Monday, February 8, 2010

Jiminy's Baptism, and Questions Answered

This weekend it rained in San Diego.  I'm talking torrential downpour, God opening up the skies and really dumping on us kind of monsoon.  Or, as people in other parts of the country call it, "rain".  We're in an El Nino year, and it's been raining a lot lately.  I've always been careful with my bikes not to get them wet.  I was concerned about what water does to carbon fiber, and I don't want all the expensive intricate metal bits to rust.  Then I saw how professionals clean their bikes with a hose, and got over it.  So Saturday I took Jiminy out for his first real taste of water.
The conventional wisdom with cycling is that you plan your big weekend ride for Saturday.  That way, if there's bad weather you can push your ride to Sunday and get a second chance at good weather.  Worst case you ride in bad weather on Sunday, which you would have done anyway.  I like this plan, though to be honest "bad weather" in SD is pretty damn rare.  I've had to cancel my weekend ride exactly once in 3 years - and I've ridden in cold or wet possibly three times.  All three of those incidents were crappy weather Saturdays, followed by crappy Sundays.  So the conventional wisdom has never paid off for me.  It would have this weekend, Saturday being in the 50's and rainy with Sunday being sunny and gorgeous - but I had given up on conventional wisdom (and lost confidence in the local meteorologists) and went for my long bike ride on a rainy Saturday.
In the process I answered a lot of questions, some of which I had been wondering about for a long time - others which I never anticipated every wanting to know.  Things like:

Q: Is my nice new Pearl Izumi jacket waterproof?
A: No, no it is not.  I was soaked to the bone before I even made it to the coast.  Thankfully I put my phone in a ziplock.  I wish I had done the same with my food.

Q: can you hydroplane on a bike?
A: Yes you can, though I don't recommend it.  Turns out bikes are very light and at relatively low speeds (30 MPH) will hydroplane nicely in about 1/4 inch of water.  The front wheel will go first, which is quite concerning since that's your only way to steer.  Forget about braking, your rims and brake pads are so wet it would take a mile before they would grip at all.

Q: Will a late model Toyota Prius hydroplane across a bike lane?
A: Yes it will.  In fact they don't seem to have any compunction about doing so.  It did not make me feel any better knowing that they probably don't have the greatest brakes.

Q: Will the residents of Oceanside (or O-Side if you're a huge d-bag) sit in a boat parked in their driveway in a rainstorm wearing life jackets and drinking boxed wine?
A: I think we all know the answer to this one.

Q: Is there an angle at which you can hold your pedals such that the spray off of your front wheel will funnel directly into your shoe?
A: Turns out yes!  If you place your foot just past the vertical on the downstroke (about 7 o'clock) you'll get a nice solid stream right down ankle and into your shoe.  Cold wet feet for 5 hours makes you strong.  and cold.  and wet.

Q: Can the s#@t hole streets of Leucadia possibly get any worse than they are normally?
A: I previously would not have believed it, but yes they can - just add water!  Not only are the pot hole ridden roads sans-bike lanes, they also have zero drainage.  The entire right lane was under about 3 inches of water (it only rained 1/2 an inch in the area) forcing cars to go around, and forcing me into the second lane of traffic.  The only thing worse than riding directly in traffic is riding directly in traffic along with SoCal drivers on wet roads.  Russian Roulette has better odds.

Q: Can it rain saltwater?
A: Turns out yes, kind of.  I noticed in Torrey Pines that the rainwater tasted like salt.  At first I thought it was picking up salt off my skin as it ran into my mouth, but it turns out that is not the case.  The very strong winds actually blow the ocean water into the air and create a salty mist.  Good times.

Q: Is it possible to tell what town your in by the taste of the streets?
A: Maybe.  The water kicked up all sorts of nasty crap off the roads and onto the mouthpieces of my water bottles.  Not surprisingly Del Mar and Solana Beach have very similar tasting roads,  sandy with a tinge of salt.  The route through Camp Pendleton was much more mud and gravel flavored.  Who needs GPS navigation?

Q: How long does it take to dry out on a bike?  Does the air rushing over you speed up the process?
A: As any triathlete will tell you, being on a bike will dry out your clothes pretty quickly.  However, this drying effect is completely negated by the cars crashing through puddles in the road and spraying you.

Q: Can you get dehydrated while simultaneously being soaking wet for 5 hours?
A: Yes.  It turns out osmosis is a horrible hydration strategy during a workout, and you probably should drink more than 32 oz. of fluid on a 80 mile bike ride.  Failure to do so will result in a headache that rivals the worst champagne bender you've ever been on.

Q: How long can you ride alone before going crazy and begin singing John Mayer songs to yourself?
A: About 3 hours before you get a song stuck in your head.  Four and half hours before you start singing aloud because there's not a single soul outdoors in the entire county.  Who Says I Can't Get Stoned?

Q: What am I willing to do to be successful at my events this year?
A: Apparently there's no end to my stupidity.  I left KT at home alone for a whole day to go out and nearly kill myself on a marginally useful workout, which was completely miserable.
To those of you who wisely rode indoors on Saturday, or delayed your ride until the weather cleared on Sunday - you were right.  I was wrong.  It was dangerous and stupid, and lots of fun :)

"The spirit of Ironman is about not quitting - at any speed, that is a lesson worth learning."
Gordo Byrn, from his blog 8/28/2009

Friday, February 5, 2010

Quandrant Analysis

I just discovered quadrant analysis in WKO+.  I've used WKO+ for several years, but QA is a new feature in the latest version, and I hadn't gotten around to looking at it until recently.  It's pretty damn cool, but really it's a little more sophisticated than I need.  The gist of it is that there are four ways you can pedal your bike:
  1. Fast and Hard: high cadence, lots of power (Sprints)
  2. Slow and Hard: low cadence, lots of power (Strength workouts, hill climbing)
  3. Slow and Easy: low cadence, little power  (Recovery ride, Warmup and Cooldown)
  4. Fast and Easy: high cadence, little power (Criteriums, long distance rides, technique drills)
So they take information about your ride from your power meter (force, cadence) and figure out for each second of your ride in which category you were in, and plot it.  Technically I just lied to you.  They don't really plot power vs. cadence - it's actually force vs. pedal velocity.  There are legitimate reasons why they do this (read here) but they derive force and velocity from power and cadence - which is easier for my brain to wrap itself around.  The plot looks like this:

  This graph is from my hill repeat workout this week which consisted of six climbs up Torrey Pines (400 ft climb over 1.4 miles, 5% grade).  The red dots are samples from my first trip up the hill, which was a strength building climb using my big chainring.  The yellow dots are from my 4th trip up, which just happened to result in a similar power figure than the big chainring climb (258 vs. 263).  The blue dots are "everything else" in the workout and can be ignored for this discussion.  The sweeping brown/yellow/grey arcs just indicate my threshold power and can also be ignored.
So looking at the red and yellow dots, it's clear that they are all grouped together.  The red dots are significantly further up and to the left of the yellow dots.  This equates to the first trip (big chainring) being at a lower cadence (left) and higher power (up) than the other trip.  Same power output (258 vs. 263), same distance (1.47 miles) yet accomplished in drastically different ways.
I guess none of this was news to me, of course there's two ways to climb a hill: spin up it in an easy gear, or power up it like a weightlifter.  But it's kind of cool to see it graphically.  Plus, it might be good for planning future workouts.  Got a flat, short race coming up?  You're going to want to do a lot of Quadrant 1 (top right) workouts to prepare.  Recovery ride today?  Stay in Quadrant 3 (bottom left).  Working on perfecting your pedal stroke?  Maybe Quadrant 4 is right for you.  Instinctively I think most people already know this - but here's a tool that lets you (or your coach) go back and verify that you did it right.  I think this is more of a "isn't that interesting" feature than a "I have to use this daily" thing - but I must say I like graphs :)
Just in case you're interested, here is the graph from one of my CP30 tests.  This was done on Fiesta Island here in San Diego, which is a pancake flat ride.

The red dots are the ones to look at here, blue are from warmup and cooldown laps.  First, you'll notice that almost all the red dots are above my threshold power of 223 watts (yellow line).  I was going as hard as I could, as you can see on the right side it was 254 watts for 31 minutes.  You'll also notice that horizontally the dots mostly fall in Quadrants 1 and 4 (right side) meaning my cadence was high.  In fact, it's listed in the bottom right corner as 96 RPM for this test.  I would qualify this as a "Hard and Fast" Quadrant 1 workout - which is exactly what it was supposed to be.  Of course, I'd love to move my dots up and to the right as far as I can go!
I'm doing hilly IM courses in St. George and Wisconsin this season, and when I climb hills I end up in Quadrant 2.  So it looks like Q2 will be my new home for the next 7 months.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

TSB, ATL, and CTL Oh My!

Earlier this week I talked about the Training Stress Score and tried to convince you that you should be recording a TSS for each workout you do.  Today I'm going to tell you why - the Performance Management Chart.
First, if you are using a power meter on your bike you need to stop reading this blog and start reading Training and Racing with a Power Meter, which I swear I've been trying to read since Spring of 2008. It describes a mathematical model of the human body which can be used to help you predict when you will peak, and to help you measure your progress in getting there. This model is implemented in software called WKO+, and in the online tool TrainingPeaks. All you do is provide information on the loads you've put on your body (data from your power meter, gps watch, HR monitor, or your manually calculated TSS scores) and it will tell you what condition your body is in, and that can help inform you as to where your training needs to go. This sounds great, a magic genie that tells you exactly what to do in order to improve your performance! Of course it's not that easy, but I find the concept intriguing - and since I've been using WKO+ for about 2 years now I have lots of my own data to evaluate.
There are a million details about how all this works, but I'm going to start with the basics: You input your workout data (your "load" or "stress") and it spits out three important numbers that you will find useful: TSB, ATL, CTL
* CTL: Chronic Training Load - This is a measure of your overall fitness. It is a long term metric, it moves very slowly. If you are training regularly, it will trend slowly upwards - if you are laying on the couch it will trend downward. Your goal should be to get this number as high as you can through regular training.
* ATL: Acute Training Load - This is a short term measurement of how tired you are right now. If you go out and do a huge workout at high intensity, this number will spike immediately. If you take the day off completely, this metric will sag. If your ATL is too high for too long, your performance will suffer. The whole point of "recovery" workouts is to let your ATL drop, so you're ready to hit it hard again later.
* TSB: Training Stress Balance - This is derived from the above metrics, and it roughly equates to CTL-ATL. It tells you how "race-ready" you are. It does you no good to have very high fitness (CTL) on race morning if you also have a very high ATL (you spent the previous week doing lots of strenuous workouts). When you do a tough workout your ATL will go up, which obviously makes you less race-ready, and correspondingly your TSB will go down. Your main goal on race day is to have your TSB as high as it can be (ideally equal to your CTL) so that you can perform your very best on that day.

The Performance Management Chart is just a plot of these three metrics.  Note that the units on them arent' terribly important, you're really looking at changes in these values more than absolute numbers.  My PMC is below, which shows my metrics for January. A couple of points to note:

- On Jan 16th I did a tough 5 hour hilly bike ride, with a transition run after. There is a corresponding huge spike in my Acute load, and a drop in my race-readiness (TSB).
- I tapered for a half marathon from the 17th through the 23rd, watch that TSB climb!
- There is general trend up in ATL which is great, my fitness is improving!

This is practically cheating!  If I woke up on Jan 21st and thought "man I feel like dog poo today", I could check this chart which would confirm that I'm pretty beat up (my TSB is low).  A mathematical quantification explaining to what degree I feel like dog poo!  I can also look at my CTL over a long period (several months maybe) and see if my fitness is improving this season, or if I'm plateaued.  Of course this is just a model of your body - there will be days where the model tells you one thing and your body tells you the opposite.  However, this gives you a lot more insight into where you are, where you're going, and how to get there.  Do you need a one week taper or a three week one?  With this data you can see how quickly your TSB rises and know for sure.  Have I sold you on purchasing WKO+ yet?  For a numbers geek like me, it was well worth the $100 I spent on it.  Of course you can use a spreadsheet to calculate ATL, CTL, TSB as well.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Excellence is Opportunistic

I rode an easy bike route this weekend with a friend from TCSD and met some new people.  I was planning on doing a very moderate ride, but the group went pretty hard right out of the gate - luckily for me they were just starting their season and wore out quickly.  By mile 20 I was keeping up without coming anywhere near my anaerobic wattage.  Anyway, I ended up riding by myself a lot.  Not really completely alone, but far enough back from the pack that I wasn't chatting with anyone, and it gave me some time to think.
The miles ticked by slowly.  It was frustrating because I could be going much faster.  Plus, if I was riding just for fun, I would have taken a different route.  I found myself just slogging away.  Doing my time in the saddle.  Punching my timecard.  Then I thought about the ILT's that coach has had me working on.  I don't do them very well, but when I do I try to do them correctly - with perfectly round pedal strokes.  It occurred to me that at that moment my pedal stroke was crap.  I had let my attention falter, and I was putting in junk miles.  What could I do?  I was stuck out here in east county, going slow as molasses, with 40 more miles in front of me.  I could practice Excellence.
I rode for 3 hours and 30 minutes, and averaged a cadence of 78 RPM.   That's 16380 pedal strokes for the day.  That means I had over 16 thousand opportunities to do it right.  To get a full upstroke, carry it over the top, evenly power through the downstroke, and "scrape the mud off" the backstroke.   16 thousand opportunities!  And I had missed a bunch of them by being lazy.  So I changed my mindset and started focusing on doing the ride properly.  I fixed my posture, got on my aerobars, and started working on getting my pedal stroke round.  It was pretty tough physically, and mentally very challenging to concentrate on doing it right every time.  That's what it takes to be Excellent.  You have to take advantage of the opportunities you have, minimize the mistakes, and let the mistakes you inevitably do make be forgotten quickly.
Too often I think about Excellence from the wrong perspective.  I look at Craig Alexander or Chrissie Wellington as triathletes, Michael Phelps in the pool, or Peyton Manning on the football field and think: "Those are lucky people to have the gifts that they do.  To be heads and shoulders above their peers, who are themselves the best in the world".  That thinking is not completely accurate - and it's most definitely not helpful.  It's fine to be in awe of spectacular athletic performances, but to write it off as "they have a gift" is insulting to the hard work and dedication those athletes put in to get there.  Sure, not everyone has the ability to play golf at the skill level of Tiger Woods.  But I assure you there are many people who had the same or better physical ability, the same or better opportunity, and didn't follow through.  There are many out there with potential to have been "the greatest golfer in the world" - but there's only one who did it.  How did he do it?  By being driven, meticulous, and opportunistic.
Larry Bird famously came to practice an hour early every day to work on his jumpshot.  He had the best jumpshot in the world, and a reporter asked him why he continued to practice so much when he already was the greatest ever.  He said he did it because "somebody - somewhere - was practicing more than me".  He knew it wasn't any of his fellow NBA competitors - but he thought that someone out in the cornfields of Indiana was out-working him, and that some day he was going to lose to that kid.
I know that this year I will be competing against thousands of people in my age group.  I think there will be 200 in my AG at Oceanside, probably the same number in St. George and Wisconsin.  How many of them are working hard today to beat me?  How many are drinking soda?  How many are working on their flexibility during their lunch break?  How many are concentrating on their pedal stroke on their easy rides?  How many are doing it right this time?  Every time?  I need to take advantage of my opportunities, because race day will come - and I will face off against a couple of thousand aggro triathletes willing to do anything to beat me to the line.  I won't be first to finish, and I won't be last.  But if I'm opportunistic, driven and meticulous then maybe I can be one or two spots ahead of last time.  Excellence is a journey, not a destination.
Meanwhile I've  got a long run to prepare for tomorrow.  Hydrate well, lay out my equipment, eat my vegetables, get a good nights sleep, and then I'll have 9450 opportunities to work on my stride.  2362 opportunities to work on my breathing.  A couple of hundred chances to remind myself to relax my shoulders.  A chance to see if I like running with my new sunglasses, or if a visor works better.  An opportunity to figure out which flavor GU I like, and whether the caffeinated flavors help or hurt my stomach.
Excellence is in the details.  I plan on paying attention.

"Excellence is not for everyone" - Joe Friel from his blog