Athlete Guide

Day 61 – Another VO2max Day

115 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

What a day!

I’ve been on the computer for the last 10 hours and my brain is fried: fried like a Paula Deen banquet at a NASCAR rally, fried like a Bojangles family pack ten minutes before closing time.

Why is fried food so bad for us, but it tastes soooooo good? Nevermind.

I don’t have the mental energy to talk about how much I enjoyed Bob Babbitt’s latest interview with Patrick Lange. Just go listen to it yourself. You’ll thank me later.

Workout

Bike-Walk-Run. It was another VO2max bike workout and I loved it. The walk part is something Sami throws in there to approximate getting through transition. The run was just long enough to get some benefit of bike to run adaptation: 2 miles.

Bike power profile
I had to use both devices to get my stats today

The bike profile is a bit wonky. You can see that the timing isn’t exact because the red power line (watts) doesn’t line up with the planned workout (blue). The problem is that my Garmin watch doesn’t collect power data unless you manually tell it to do so before each workout and I forgot to tell it. The result is that my timing for the intervals came from the Garmin watch and the power data came from the PowerTap.

Run stats

The run numbers are probably not impressive. They have me in zone 3 more than I wanted. What scares me is that tomorrow’s workout is a swim session with Trent. If today didn’t kick my butt, Trent will.

Ive had enough of computers for one day. Until tomorrow…

Day 60 – Banned for Life

116 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

There’s a Facebook group out there that seems to not want me.

Before you label me a whiner or a complainer, let me say up front that I’m not bitter about it. I’m actually OK with it. And to prove that I’m OK with it, it’s been two years since I was banned from it and I haven’t given it much thought until now.

I was listening to a Triathlon Taren podcast. By the way, those podcasts are really quite good. I just love a good Canadian accent and he’s got a great one. Seriously. English Canadian. Not French Canadian (which is also nice on the ears).

Anyway, Taren was saying how there was a seemingly, large number of people in a certain Facebook group that were doubting his methods and throwing bad energy his direction. I don’t know if he and I are talking about the same group but that got me thinking about the culture of our sport. Actually, it got me thinking about a specific culture within our sport: The YADIAWAMWITB culture. That’s pronounced yadi-a-WAM-wit-bee and it sounds like a South American tribe that lives deep in the Amazon.

I live by acronyms and this one is great. It stands for

You Are Doing It All Wrong And My Way Is The Best

Nowhere is that attitude more prevalent than on social media. In fact, one of the podcasts I subscribe to has an episode with “You’re Doing it ALL WRONG!” in the episode title. OK. Tell me I’m doing it wrong.

That’s fine, but I don’t understand where that attitude comes from. How do you know I’m doing it all wrong? Maybe it was my intention to finish last in the one mile fun run.

Yes. I’ve had people tell me I’m doing something wrong and it has helped me greatly. However, that sage advice came from people who knew me well and knew what I was trying to do. I’m not saying anyone should stop telling other people that they are wrong. I’m just observing an interesting behavior which I believe is a result of our general lack of understanding of fitness and physiological adaptation.

It’s not that we are ignorant. It’s that there are many questions about how best to train and race that have not been answered by scientific investigation. Every year we learn more, but without answers based on reason we settle on our own methods. This is the art of training. Yet in that art, there’s self doubt because the results of our art are measured objectively (race times, placings, etc) and the relationship between our methods and the objective measures is not well understood. Self doubt makes it easy for marketers to convince you that you are doing it all wrong so they can sell you a gel, or compression boots or a transition mat. “Buy their product and you’ll be doing it all right. ”

Self doubt may also be a reason to tell people they are doing it all wrong. I’m no psychologist, but it seems that if you are unsure of something you might try to recruit others to your way of thinking. Right?

Not everyone is like that, of course, but it makes sense for some people I know.

They can tell me I’m right or they can tell me I’m wrong. Either way it doesn’t matter because I’m probably not buying their products and I’m not looking for a solution to a problem I don’t have.

Enough of my B.S. for one day. Until tomorrow…

Day 59 – A Very Short Swim

117 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Yesterday I was blathering on about how life is so stressful. Maybe blathering is not the right word (I just wanted to use it in a sentence and here I’ve used it twice!). Perhaps I was complaining which really is not like me at all, but I meant what I said about how we focus so much on the physical training and not on the psychological and emotional training.

This morning’s swim was interesting. I tested out the new beeper thing that is going to teach me pacing. I like it. I set it to 25 seconds so it would beep every time I got to the wall as long as I maintained a 1:40/100y pace. Normally, that’s a pretty easy pace for me if you add in flip turns and push offs.
I was just getting the hang of using it when I stopped for a rest interval and heard someone talking. It was the life guard talking to me. Apparently, the chlorine level in the pool was too low which meant everyone had to get out, so she blew her whistle and made the announcement. I guess it took quite a bit of time to empty the pool of people. She should have thrown a Baby Ruth bar in the pool. It worked in Caddy Shack.

Now I’m creeped out by thoughts of giant bacteria infecting me. In fact, there may have been one wearing swim jammers and swimming in the other lane. He looked like a bacterium. He swam like one too.

Six hundred and fifty yards. That’s all I got this morning. I’ll do something later like watch a funny video and laugh really hard. That’s an ab workout, right?

Until tomorrow…

Day 58 – Training Stresses

118 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

There are days when everything goes right and every expectation seems to be fulfilled. Today was not one of those days.

Currently at work, I am managing a piece of a big project. We are moving our computing resources to “The Cloud.” I can not underestimate to you the amount of stress I have experienced in the last month and I have very few words to describe it. Suffice it to say that I now understand how stress affects my workouts.

I am an age grouper: an amateur triathlete. You probably are too, so you likely know what I mean when I mention stress and I’m not talking about an intense bike interval or hill repeats. My project at work is behind schedule. Tensions in the workplace are beginning to reveal themselves. The family can not be ignored. The dog pooped in the living room again. And I’m not the only one in my life feeling the stress: Lori is getting it from all directions too. In a family, stress is neither additive nor multiplicative. When two family members are stressed, their problems feed off each other to exponential proportions. ( I have no citation for that, but I had to work in some math so I could understand this when I come back and read it in six months or a year)

My plan today was to come home and run on the treadmill, but that plan was diverted to take care of family business. I’m OK with that, but I wonder how I will be able to handle all this psychological stress without the benefit of a physical relief valve. I think what I’ve overlooked in my training is adaptation to emotional and psychological stress factors. I’ve been so focused on lactate and zones and FTP and TSS.

In hindsight, the family is good. Work will not kill me. There will always be time to workout later. The problem is that hindsight always comes after the damage is done. We just need to recover from the damage.

Until tomorrow …

Day 57 – VO2max Workout

119 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

Yesterday I told you about my bike shoes and how I consider them a couple of old friends. Today I want you to meet another old friend.

My bike may have a name, but my saddle does not. The bike’s name is Xena, by the way (as in Xena, Warrior Princess). It’s OK to anthropomorphize a bike as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Xena doesn’t mind that I talk about her like this.

Anyway… the saddle came with Xena when I took her home in 2008. I think I retired it in 2016, because Charlie, my bike mechanic, was tired of looking at it so he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: a replacement saddle at a very good price.

This old red saddle supported me through IRONMAN Arizona, IRONMAN Wisconsin, three New York City Triathlons, the Chicago Triathlon Tripple Challenge, and countless other sprints, olympics, halves and fulls. It has been very good to me. I, on the other hand, have not been very good to it. I left it out in sun. I neglected it, I even urinated on it in the middle of races when I thought stopping at a port-a-john would hurt my finish time.

Yeah. That last one was kinda gross, but I washed the saddle afterward. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden on it, but with that history, how can I get rid of it?

Workout

VO2max week! … on the bike.

This is the first week of the season I’m focusing on raising my aerobic capacity. This morning wasn’t exactly a killer workout, but it did have its intensities. I felt strong going into the trainer ride, so I knew I wouldn’t have problems holding the prescribed wattages. The burning in my legs is what I felt the most. Breathing and heart rate felt fine, but the legs are what hurt. Joe Friel talks about the different abilities in training. My limiter here is definitely muscular power and muscular endurance.

The pink line (watts) has several deep valleys that I can’t explain. I think either the hub or the Garmin 735 is dropping watts. It’s probably the hub, because results from the PowerTap head unit show a similar pattern.

I think tomorrow is another day off. Until then…

Day 56 – Old Friends

120 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Old Friends is the name of a great song by Ray Price, Roger Miller and Willie Neslon. They absolutely nailed the sentiment and the music is both sweet and sad. I love that song.

Today I want to tell you about a couple of old friends of mine. They have traveled to every triathlon with me and have been on every training ride that I’ve ever done. I met them in 2008 at the Bike Cycles bike shop in Wilmington, North Carolina. They were young back then. I don’t even know their names other than Lefty and Righty.

In the last 12 years they’ve aged more than they should have. They don’t talk, but they tell some great stories.


Way out near Sampson county, there’s a place called Newton’s Crossroads and it was at this cross roads that Mike, Marty and I met the bitch from hell. We didn’t plan on riding intervals that day but we ended up doing one. When the dog with teats dragging the ground appeared, she scared the crap out of us and we took off to get away from her. For two miles at 25 mph she chased us: she stayed right off my crank, running and barking.

So how do Lefty and Righty figure in to this? Marty blamed them for the dog chasing us. Specifically, he blamed their stench. They don’t really stink, but they’re old, they’re stained and they just look smelly.

I love my old friends.

Until tomorrow…

Day 55 – Get Naked… Sort of

121 days until IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga

Commentary

I didn’t actually get naked. I got Naked.

Naked is the brand name of a three dimensional body scanner. I’m sure it tells you all kinds of information, but I only got my body fat percentage from it today.

Body scanner by Nakedlabs

One of my coaches brought the scanner to the pool, so after swim workout a bunch of us lined up to get our bodies scanned. The percent fat analysis you get from this device is supposed to be better than hydrostatic weighing and almost as good as the Dexascan. When I say “supposed to be better” or “almost as good as” what I really mean is someone told me it was better or almost as good as. I haven’t checked out that claim yet, but probably will soon. And given the $1400 price tag, it had better be accurate!

So up to this point I’ve been using one of those home scales that tell you your fat %. It uses some kind of electrical current and a formula to estimate body composition. Fat is less conductive than muscle, so if a tiny electrical current has trouble passing through your body, you might get a call from Jenny Craig. The scale tells me my body composition is about 15% fat. No calls from Jenny yet.

I’ve become comfortable with that estimate of 15%. I don’t know yet if that is high, low or just right, but it’s just a number and needs interpretation. You can imagine my surprise when Trent read my results from the 3D scanner: 25%. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT? Actually, 25% is not so bad. If I’m carrying around forty pounds of fat, just think how much faster I would be if I lost half of that. My watts per kilogram would at least put me in the CAT5 level.


Just when I was getting comfortable with 25%, I received a text from Trent saying the machine was not correctly parameterized when I was scanned. In another week or two we will try it again.

Workout

I love swimming. It is my best sport of the three. Today’s swim included more time than usual in the diving well which is where we do our vertical torture; you might know it as vertical kicking.

Triathlon swimming doesn’t require a strong kick, yet we do a lot of kicking in our swim sessions. The reason we kick so much is to develop taughtness which is what gives the body a hydrodynamic form. So far, I have to believe that it is working. Lately I’ve been able to swim well with my ankles banded together.

Or maybe that’s due to buoyancy from the 25%. Until tomorrow…

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…