Friday, January 29, 2010

Stressing Out

Recently I was reading Chris Carmichael's book The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week. In it he hits upon the fundamental truth about cycling and endurance sports in general: In order to be able to perform our best on race day, we must prepare ourselves by stressing our bodies during training. Sounds simple and obvious, right? It is actually that simple, of course as with most things the Devil is in the details.
Carmichael, who is best know as being Lance Armstrong's coach, also authored another book on cycling training a few years ago called The Ultimate Ride in which he describes what he believes to be the best way to train. Simply put, it's what every pro endurance athlete does: periodization consisting of tons of long slow base-building, followed by shorter and more intense periods of fine-tuning and tapering.
The thesis of the Time Crunched Cyclist is that while the above method is best - it's just not feasible for amateur athletes with families and jobs and other priorities. If you can't put in the 30+ hour weeks that a pro cyclist does to build up an endurance base, you need to substitute intensity.
In this context "stress" (or load as Carmichael calls it) is something you do to your body to tear it down. Specifically it is the intensity of your workout multiplied by the length of your workout. So, for example, a long slow bike ride might have a similar load on your body as a shorter but faster bike ride. Sounds great right? You can cut your training in half - all you have to do is make each workout twice as intense! Not so fast. All "loads" are not the same, and long slow rides build on different systems in your body than short fast ones. Read the book for lots of details as to why, but the gist of it is that you can get away with shorter, high-intensity training and get you to your peak performance - but with one huge caveat: you can't stay there for long. You will hit the wall after your peak and probably take weeks to recover. Anyway, read the book if you train less than 12 hours a week - it's pretty interesting.
Theoretically this all sounds straightforward - just track your intensity and duration of your workouts, and you will know the "load" you've put on your body.  But in practice, what is the intensity of a workout?  Hard?  Breezy?  4.7?  That's where the Intensity Factor (IF) comes in.  An IF of 1.0 means your threshold effort - the point at which you start breathing heavy.  You can get a full description of how to estimate IF here.  Or, if you are lucky enough to have the equipment, WKO+ will calculate IF for running workouts using data from your speed/distance wristwatch and for bike workouts from your power meter.  Now, take your IF for each workout, multiply by the duration of the workout (in hours) and you have your Training Stress Score (TSS).  Perfect, but what good is that?  TSS is a good measure of your volume - in fact it's a little better than using total hours like most of us do.  Though, to be honest, the two metrics track pretty closely - below is my volume for the last few months: green line is TSS, orange is hours.
Next time, I'll talk about what benefits you get from using this method of tracking your workouts - specifically how you can use them to predict your performance, and to help you peak on race day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

PR on the Coast

Yesterday was the Carlsbad Half Marathon, and I had a good race. My previous best half marathon time was 1:53:52, and it was also done at Carlsbad. This is a good race for a PR since it's flat (see elevation below) and the weather is usually perfect - a little chilly. This year I set a new PR, 1:48:12 which is more than 5 minutes faster!

I'm very happy with that performance for a number of reasons:
- I was nervous about PR'ing because I hadn't run well in the weeks leading up to the race
- I kept my heart rate lower than in my previous PR
- I am 25 pounds heavier than I was when I set my previous PR.
- I negative split a running race, possibly for the first time ever!

Having a lower average HR means I was working less, and I could tell. I was getting pretty tired - but I never had that "oh shit, I want to quit" feeling. It was definitely a struggle - but a controlled one.
The body weight is also impressive. Not that I've put on 25 pounds (how the hell did THAT happen?) but that despite that handicap I was able to run faster. The research says that every pound of weight roughly equates to 2 seconds per mile. Using that as a guide, I should have been running 50 seconds per mile slower. I in fact averaged 8:16 min/mile, which is 25 seconds faster per mile! This gives me hope, because it indicates that I am a better runner now than I was two years ago, and I know the extra weight will come off.
On top of all that I negative split the course! I never do that. I typically go out too fast, die, then limp to the finish line. My splits yesterday are below, if you want to see all my data (I can't imagine why you would), it's all online in Training Peaks. You'll note that the elevation is horrifically inaccurate - that's because I ran with a Garmin 310XT which is known to be a huge P.O.S. when it comes to elevation. Stick with your 305's people.
Mile 18:22
Mile 28:02
Mile 38:10
Mile 48:10
Mile 58:14
Mile 68:11
Mile 78:22
Mile 88:09
Mile 98:13
Mile 108:16
Mile 118:18
Mile 128:16
Mile 137:52

On top of my own performance, KT also set a personal best (and qualified for New York!) and the weather was perfect for a run along the ocean. We said 'hi' to a lot of friends in the finisher's area, including my coach who was just as excited as I was! Aside from a little nipple chaffing, ok a LOT of nipple chaffing, it was a pretty good day. Now I'm off to find my cycling legs again!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Why St. George?

There are lots of Ironman races, and I could have chosen to do any of them. This year I'm doing St. George and Wisconsin. WI I wanted to do because it has a difficult bike course, my strength. Plus, since I dropped out of the race in 2009 I really want to finish that race in '10.
St. George is a different story though. Originally I had planned to do IM Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. Why? Because nobody has ever heard of it, yet it's possibly the toughest IM course on the planet. It's insanely hilly with 8000 feet of climbing on the bike course (more than Lake Placid) and since it's on an island off the coast of Morocco the heat and humidity are excruciating. I wanted to punish myself. If I was going to do Ironman, I was going to do the most difficult one I could find. I have completed IMAZ, but that's a starter race - for those who want the easiest possible way to their M-Dot tattoo. Unfortunately, Lanzarote fell through. Due to a couple of factors, it didn't make sense to fly half way around the globe to visit the Canary Islands this year. I'll put it on my bucket list.
Then the gods at WTC announced a new race in Utah. It was the same time of year as Lanzarote, and the course looked brutal. In fact, the run course looks ridiculously hard. The weather will probably be difficult as well - not humid, but windy. Plus, Utah is only a days drive from home - no need to pack up Jiminy for a trans-Atlantic flight! So, short story long, that's why I'm headed to St. George in May. I feel like in the realm of IM courses the easy ones (Florida, Arizona especially) should have an asterisk by them - they're just too easy compared to the others. Not that any Ironman is easy - 140.6 miles is a hell of a thing to do no matter what the course. But I'm out to see what I can do on the toughest courses I can find. Maybe I'll find my way to the waters off Morocco one day...
For now, I think St. George is a fantastic challenge. A tough bike followed by a brutal run. All I have to do now is spend every waking moment preparing to have the snot beat out of me on May 1.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Running my A$& Off

As I've documented before - I am not a runner. In fact, I hate every minute I'm out there and I spend each moment thinking about how great it will be to stop. All of this means that over the last month I must have been a very unhappy athlete.
I've tracked my training pretty meticulously since I began training for triathlon (specifically on Nov. 3rd 2006). My early data is in a raw but usable spreadsheet on Google Docs, but in April 2008 I purchased a PowerTap, and switched to logging my workouts in TrainingPeaks WKO+. After having reviewed both records I can safely say that I ran more miles in December 2009 than in any month of my life.

Above is a graph of my weekly running distance over the last two years - both of which involved Ironman training. Each point on the graph represents one week of running - you'll notice that some weeks have no point on them - these are weeks where I didn't run at all (how does that happen?) and really should have points at the 0 mark.
Through November I had run more than 23 miles in a week 6 times, and 3 of those instances resulted in immediate injuries (shin splints, plantar fasciitis). Last month I ran 23 or more miles 3 weeks in a row! I can hardly believe it, especially considering I'm not injured, though certainly a little beat up! The reason for the jump is due to a number of factors, including:
- A winter focus on running, since it's clearly my weakness as a triathlete
- A re-introduction to a long run each week, thanks to my new coach
- A vacation to visit my parents for the Holidays, where biking and swimming were not possible

This is the most consistent I've been running in a long time, and that feels pretty good. I'm not running well - my form is still crap and I'm slower than my 4 year old nephew - but I am running, and that's something. This is all leading up to the Carlsbad half marathon in a few weeks, I'm hoping to do well. My PR for a half marathon was two years ago at this course, 1:53:52, or 8:41 minutes/mile. I'm not sure how fast I can go this year, but I'll be disappointed if I don't set a new PR - even if I am 25 lbs heavier now than I was when I set that time in 2008.
I still hate running, and dread every workout. I have a visceral fear of going to the track workouts each week. But I'll be damned if it's not working. With some tweaks to my diet I'm hoping to drop some weight this spring, so for now I'm literally trying to run my ass off.