Day 54 – Training Accurately

121 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

I think a lot about accuracy. Let’s not confuse that with precision for now. Accuracy can be mathematically described several ways, but the way I think about it is the relationship between what we really want to do and what we are actually doing. When you look at it that way, it can be quantified in a correlation.

Let’s forget the math for a moment and relate this to training in our zones.

Beginners

People who are new to endurance training or those who took a long hiatus can benefit from any level of training. This group of people doesn’t have to consider zones and lactate and power. All they have to do is pay attention to relative perceived exertion and do some easy to moderate runs and bike rides. For swim, they might benefit from drills and pacing. They are bound to get more fit.

At some point, they are going to hit a plateau and they are going to stop gaining fitness unless they refine their training.

Advanced

In order to move past a plateau, it is essential to change the thought patterns that lead up to the plateau. I’m not referring to positive attitudes and meditation, although those are good things. I’m talking about education.

The term plateau is, itself, derived from a mathematical concept. Referring to the chart below, fitness stops increasing at week 12 and the red line becomes horizontal instead of sloped. That’s a plateau.

Yes. I am being Captain Obvious, but I’m trying to demonstrate the point that what our hypothetical athlete needs at this point is probably not a new bike. That would just shift the whole curve up a little (or a lot if the old bike is the same one my grandmother rode to the post office every day in the 1940’s. ) A shift in the curve is OK, but we are trying to break that plateau and in order to do that we need accuracy.

When we were beginners, we were just training our general fitness. In order to be more accurate, we need to train our aerobic and anaerobic fitness. But that requires knowledge, information and data.

High Accuracy Training

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s my father used to measure his heart rate several times during long runs. I never understood that until I began training for endurance sports.

Zone training has been around for a long time and many of us have, at least, a vague notion of our heart rate, power, or pace zones. What we don’t often think about is that most zone estimates are exactly that: estimates. Not only are they estimates, but for most of us, they are poor estimates.

Yet, even though they are estimates, they are much better than nothing. They will probably help us break that plateau because we are more accurately modeling our physiology than if we didn’t use those poor estimates.

If we stay with those poor estimates we will likely hit another plateau which can only be broken with — you guessed it — more accurate zone estimates or a more accurate model of our physiology other than the zone model.

There are labs that will measure things like VO2max and lactate thresholds quite accurately, but that’s an expensive way to get your zones calculated. On the other hand, it may not be too expensive.

For the amount of fitness you can gain from accurately measuring your zones, the money you spend on lactate testing will probably be more well spent than the money you throw at a new aero helmet.

As for me, I’m still using the poor estimates because I can benefit from them. Later in the season or early next season, that may change.

Workout

BRICK. I love a good brick. Running immediately after cycling is, for me, exciting.

I’m still in my first base period for the season, so everything is nice and easy. That will change for the bike training next week, but today was easy intervals.

The Garmin 735 watch is still dropping watts, but not as many as in previous workouts.

Looking at these numbers, we have to keep in mind that some of them are just estimates. The time, distance, speed and watts are quite accurate. But the kcal, TSS and IF are only estimates of my physiology. Actually the kcal might be pretty accurate because it is closely related to power. TSS is an estimate of the physiological impact this workout had on my body. It is estimated from FTP (functional threshold power) which is, itself, an estimate of the 2nd lactate threshold which is, itself, and estimate of physiological stress. It’s actually a good estimator of physiological stress, but my point is that the numbers should be taken with the understanding that they are just estimates.

The run part of the brick was also easy. We’ve talked enough about numbers, so I’ll spare you the run details.

Until tomorrow…

Day 53 – Becoming a Triathlete

122 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

At what point does an ordinary person become a triathlete?

Is it that point she crosses her first finish line? Or is it the moment he signs up for an IRONMAN? Maybe it’s that instant when he realizes his life has changed forever after months of hell called training and a brutal race that was the hardest thing he’s ever done. Maybe he turned into a triathlete when all the pain and suffering he endured became an integral part of his identity.

Or maybe she became a triathlete when she had had enough of the trendy weight loss programs and empty promises of popular diets. Maybe that’s the point when she realized diet alone wont solve her problems.

For every triathlete out there (age group and pro), there is an interesting story: interesting and inspiring. I encourage you to inspire others by telling your triathlon story, but there’s one catch. You have to be honest. You have to dig deep. You have to let your love of the sport show.

Workout

I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful it was this morning on my run and I don’t have pictures. Sorry. The moon and stars through the trees lit a clear path down my road.

I kept an easy pace. That’s the plan for this part of the season. I’m in a general prep phase for the run. Some might call it the base period. The focus is on building my aerobic fitness, so the runs are nice and easy. I’ve never run this easy before and now I know what they mean by “running all day.” I could definitely run all day at the pace I kept this morning.

The planned and completed paces are quite different, but my heart rate is right on target for what I planned. I don’t know exactly what this means, but it may mean that I inaccurately estimated my LT1 (aerobic threshold). This could be a problem when trying to train my aerobic system if I run above LT1.

In my mind, there’s only one solution: lactate testing. But we’ll see about that after I talk to the coach.

Until tomorrow…

Day 52 – Running Power

123 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

I’m always amazed by the different types of technology that are marketed to athletes like us. A company called Stryd (rhymes with stride and sounds a lot like it too) sells power meters for running. If it does what they claim, then I am absolutely amazed.

To me it makes sense that power can be measured on a bike. If the amount of force between two objects acting against each other can be measured then it shouldn’t be too big of a mental leap that those two object are placed inside a hub or in a bottom bracket or in pedals. Maybe it doesn’t take two objects. Maybe tension can be measured in a solid object. I’m sure it can, like the load cells of an electronic scale.

If you know anything about physics, that last paragraph may be total B.S., but I think you know what I’m getting at. How on earth do you measure the power exerted by a runner with a tiny device that fits on her shoe? I can understand a runner harnessed to a sled with a simple device to measure the tension between the runner and the sled. But a tiny device on the shoe?

Do I really need such a device to become a better athlete? I believe it measures what they claim, but is it so much more accurate than heart rate, pace and relative perceived exertion? Of that I’m a bit skeptical. 🤨 (I never knew they had a skeptic emoji!). At $219 USD, I may break down and get one just to find out. I can probably wait until next year, but you might want to check it out.

Workout

That profile above isn’t exactly the picture of an even paced recovery ride. I have no idea why, but my Garmin 735XT GPS ANT+ sport watch dropped a lot of watts. The PowerTap was fine, but it’s a pain in the arse to upload data from my 12 year old PowerTap, so I sacrificed accuracy for convenience. That’s not very data nerdy of me.

Two things you should know about me: I’m cheap and I’m lazy.

Until tomorrow…

Day 51 – Super League Triathlon

124 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

There’s a new race format coming to The States. It’s called Super League Triathlon and it looks FUN! From what I understand, this format has been around for a while just not in the good old U. S. of A.

There’s been so much hype and media attention on IRONMAN that sprints have been either falling out of favor or seen as stepping stones to longer races. But now the short format is getting a lot of attention. The first race in the U.S. (and only one so far) will be May 22-24 in Tempe, AZ. Currently they are capping the age-grouper participation to 500 athletes, but they might open it up if there’s enough demand. This race is the weekend after IM703Chatty, so I may not be doing it. But I sure want to try the format.

And the best part… It’s draft legal.


Check out this interview on Babbittville Radio


Workout

After yesterday’s lack of a structured workout, today was almost the complete opposite. I ran for 50 minutes on the treadmill and it felt great. It’s amazing what a good night of sleep can do.

The run was pretty easy with a couple of intervals for variety, but the hard part of the interval was still only zone 1 or 2. It’s a good thing I was on the treadmill, because if my friends had seen me on the road, they would have walked with me. (that’s a joke. I ran very slowly).

You can even see in the chart below that I went rogue and didn’t rest enough for the first two rest intervals. The heart rate (red line) should have dipped into the desired heart rate range (light blue), but I just pushed it like a maniac in the upper echelons of zone 1. But I think I’ll recover nicely.

Until tomorrow…

Day 50 – The Pig Workout

125 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

No “Workout” Today

There were two planned workouts in my Training Peaks calendar today and I did neither of them. Instead I took a field trip to the farm.

I work for a very large company that produces more pork than the U.S. congress. Every now and again, I have to go to a farm to help out and today’s assignment was weighing piglets: cute little piglets.

But don’t let their little size fool you.

After five hours of bending over and picking up the three pound (on average) buggers, I am beat. I am wasted. That’s almost 200 arm curls with a squirmy, wiggly three pound weight.

How It Relates

Since 2009 I have used the TSS model to measure the accumulated effects of training loads and I still use it today. In order for it to work properly I need to account for those stressful activities outside of my training plan. For instance, that field trip to the farm today will undoubtedly have an impact on my training and recovery. Therefore, I added a workout to my Training Peaks log that approximates the stresses of weighing pigs. It’s just an estimate: a wild ass guess. But I believe it is better than nothing.

My fatigue (the pink line) is getting pretty high

By recording it in the log, I’ll know why I feel like crap in a week or two.

Until tomorrow…

Day 49 – Scary Thought

125 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Here’s A Scary Thought

What if you were so completely focused on training for a race that every waking thought was about squeezing the most physiological adaptations out of your daily routine?  What if you ignored your family and made mistakes at work because that goal race sucked every bit of attention you had?  

That’s not even the scary part.

What if you traveled to the race and, upon arrival, realized you forgot to make hotel reservations?  

That’s the scary part.  

One athlete I heard about drove a couple of hours to a race and forgot to bring his bike.  I hear he made the best of it and volunteered for the race instead.  I hope I have an attitude like that if I do something stupid. 

So, please excuse me while I avoid a future moment of stupidity. I’m going to make my hotel reservations for IM703Chatty.

Until tomorrow…

Day 48 – Stress and Fatigue

126 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

I’m stressed.

Of course I can’t expect you to know that. You haven’t heard me yelling at my computer and you weren’t aware that the project deadline at work is January 17 which means my coworkers get to experience my psychotic behaviors for five more days. Actually, all this stress is manageable: I can handle it. But how does it affect my training?

This morning I got the answer. Seven hours of quality sleep wasn’t enough. The body felt fine, but it took another two hours to fully wake up. I walked around the house and slept on the couch and stumbled over the dog. It was a sad sight.

By the time the mind was clear enough to make some oatmeal, I realized that this was the result of accumulated work stress, family stress and training stress. The realization came from the training journal.

I love numbers and quantifiable things which is why I record everything in Training Peaks, but just recording the numbers like power and heart rate is not enough. If you want to understand why certain things happen the way they do, you have to record everything that impacts your training.

I decided to swim today anyway, because I have a full day off on Monday (tomorrow).

Workout Summary

The fatigue mentioned above had a noticeable effect on my swimming. That’s the first place you’ll notice it: in the swim. I have had many days like this where I feel pretty good as I enter the water and then wonder why I feel like I’m drowning after 50 yards. If your swim form is suffering, you may need to clear the next day in your training calendar for some much needed rest. Something to thing about.

Until tomorrow…

Day 47 – Training The Engine

127 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Jan Olbrecht has an interesting way of training his athletes.

If you are envisioning an athlete trying to swim upstream while tethered to a john boat loaded with two coaches, I’m sorry to disappoint you. That’s more like what my coaches in this video would do. Instead, I’m talking about a very complex way to accurately describe an athlete’s physiological condition and response to training.

Dr. Olbrecht holds a Ph.D. in physiology and was once an elite swimmer. He has worked with hundreds of athletes and their coaches with great success. The basis of his methods come down to two concepts: capacity and power. Using lactate data and complex simulation models, Olbrecht determines if his athletes should train for one more than the other.

You can think of these two concepts in terms of a car engine. The capacity may be the number of cylinders or cubic displacement. Power can be thought of as anything feeding into or constraining the engine: fuel system, exhaust system, fuel quality, air flow, driver experience, etc. The example I just used on coach Sami is that of a Toyota Yaris and a Jaguar (the car, not the animal).

Could my Yaris beat the Jaguar in a race?

The real answer is, “not likely.” But hypothetically, it could. The Jag might have almost 6 times the displacement of my 1.1L engine which is a difference in capacity. But if the fuel system on that Jag is not working right and the timing is off, then compared to my perfectly tuned Yaris, that Jag may not be so hot. That’s a difference in power.

The upshot of Olbrecht’s work is that both systems need to be trained, but only one system can be trained at a time. Also, in order to know which system of yours needs training the most, you have to undergo quite a bit of lactate testing and your data has to be analyzed by complex simulation models.

Not all of this is out of reach of the age grouper. There are some lessons to be learned from Olbrecht’s work. Most of those lessons are in complete agreement with many other experts: train a lot below LT1 (aerobic threshold), train a little above LT2 (anaerobic threshold) and don’t get stuck training in between the two.

If you want to know more about Dr. Olbrecht and his philosophy, have a listen to this interview on That Triathlon Show.

Workout Summary

I blew it. I went out too fast.

Today was supposed to be an FTP test on the bike. The goal for such a test is to push the most watts for 20 minutes, but I pooped out at about 15 minutes. The legs just seized up for a split second and then there was no strength left. The blue block in the chart below is the intensity I expected to perform and the pink line is the actual watts I produced.

FTP test that didn’t end well

Pushing the watts on an indoor trainer ride by yourself is not only a test of physical condition, it is a test of mental toughness. Needless to say, Im going to have to do it again except next time I won’t be alone. I ‘ll do it in a group which may give me a psychological advantage over being alone.

I just hope I can recover enough from this workout to swim tomorrow morning.

Until tomorrow…

Day 46 – No News Is…

128 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

I can’t comment on much today. The Iranians are upset with the U.S. The U.S. is upset with the Iranians. Over one billion animals have died in the Australian fires. And backyard hockey rinks are all the rage in Canada.

Do you see why I can’t listen to the news? It’s totally depressing. Even the hockey rink story is depressing because I live in North Carolina, so the closest I get to a backyard rink is the mud hole made by the dogs in the front yard. I think it’s mud.

That’s why I listen to podcasts on my way to work. There are some good ones out there.

Workout Summary

This morning’s workout was optional. I’m not sure if “optional” is part of a disciplined plan, but today is different from other training days because tomorrow will be my second FTP test. The FTP test will estimate my power and heart rate at the second lactate threshold.

Do you like the jargon so far? Neither does anyone else.

Let me just say that FTP is a benchmark against which all other workouts are measured. If you are familiar with heart rate or power zones, it might help if I explain it as follows: In the physiological model I’m following, all my training zones are based on that magic FTP number.

But that’s tomorrow.

Today was a very easy zone 1 run on the dreadmill. For me, the upper heart rate of zone 1 is 133bpm, so the workout goal was to keep that heart rate below 130 just to be sure.

Did you notice the shoes? I just bought a pair of Hokas. Many people I know rave about them. I’m not so sure. I’ll give them one more try and if I still feel soreness on the outer edge of my feet, those Hokas are going back.

Until tomorrow…

Day 45 – Triathlon Linguistics

129 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

Today I want to mention something that may seem a bit silly on the surface, but actually irritates some people to no end. How do you pronounce the word triathlon?

My friend and fellow triathlete, Charles, lives in the South of England, so being English and speaking with an English accent he is likely to be seen as an authority on the english language by most Americans. I’m sure he will deny such a position, but Americans have this thing about people with English accents. We Americans can be just as foolish as anyone.

Charles claims there is no letter A immediately before the L in triathlon. I would have to agree with him on that. However, some people pronounce our sport as tri-ath-A-lon and that irritates Charles to no end. It’s not only Charles that gets irritated so I can’t just call him crazy for this.

I’ve noticed this pronunciation with the second A is more noticeable by those with southern U.S. accents. But then again, Southerners have a way of adding syllables to words. Take the word shit for example: one word, one syllable. I have some friends with a beautiful southern drawl that extend this somewhat offensive word into shee-it: pure poetry.

Workout Summary

Swimming is my best of the three triathlon sports. Too bad it has the least impact on overall time.

Working out in the pool today was very strange, because there were more people there than I’ve ever seen at 5am. Until a month ago I never had to circle swim outside of a coached session. For the second time in a month I’ve had to circle swim with swimmers of different abilities and doing different workouts. For me that gets a little unnerving. Should I pass? Should I wait at the wall? I decided to cut the workout a bit short by about 400 yards.

The main focus today was form: fins and pull buoy (not at the same time, of course). Mixed in among the form focus were breathing exercises. I’m sure you’ve done those before: breath every 3, every 5, every 7, every 9, hold your breath for 30 minutes. I may be kidding about the 30 minutes, but breathing every 9 was one of the drills. That didn’t happen for this air loving human. I broke down at 8, but those exercises are a good way to test your form. If you can keep your form in an air deprived state you must be doing something right.

The stats are not quite accurate. My T-pace is 1:50/100y, but I think that has inaccurately predicted the TSS and IF numbers (they’re too high). That means my T-pace is probably faster than 1:50/100y. Either that or the TSS model on TrainingPeaks doesn’t accurately describe my physiology. That must mean I’m different from everyone else… well shee-it.

Until tomorrow…