Thursday, May 24, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- No pain, no gain?

"No pain, no gain."

We all secretly dig the macho, hard-core approach to training. It seems so logical that you've got to push hard and suffer if you want to excel. Swimming/biking/running needs to improve? More intervals, more hill climbing, more "God I'm going to puke" efforts. Toughen up. Hang with the big dogs. Pain is only temporary, after all.

No doubt there's a time when that's necessary. But so far IM training is nothing like that.

First, some science. Ironman racing is an aerobic activity, and to successfully achieve a balanced, well-executed race, athletes must be able to sustain long, non-maximal efforts. We're talking efforts that are in the lower heart rate and power zones. In fact, respected authorities on IM racing suggest you never exceed Zone 2 (out of 5 heart rate zones), also known as the Extensive Endurance zone, during the race.

So what's that translate to in my training? At this point, lots of easy-paced distance work.

So the long bike ride where you want to throw in a set of hard intervals or tough hill climbs becomes an easy-paced long ride with one eye on your HR monitor and the other on your power output (with an occasional glance at the road ahead). Ride easy and make sure that your butt gives out before your legs do. It's the same in the other disciplines -- swims have longer intervals at steady paces, and runs are conversational-paced jogs.

It's a process of building the base -- training the body to operate efficiently and adapt to the stress of longer times and distances. It's necessary, but it's rarely exciting or fun. No more weeknight tempo rides with the boys or fast morning tempo runs -- you've got your marching orders -- steady as she goes!

Yet there's a certain satisfaction that comes with this, too. You start to take pride in your ability to smooth out your effort and tackle the obstacles along the way with a calm, steady approach. And it's pleasurable to get off the bike after riding 3+ hours feeling relaxed and strong, not tired and beat up. You realize that that's the way you're going to need to execute the race -- under control, with smooth relaxed execution throughout. In the macro sense, this is probably some of the most important training I'll do, both physically and mentally.

Increased intensity will come later, of course. Once the base is in place harder efforts will be added to the workouts to add strength and speed. But that's the icing on the cake. Right now I need to bake the cake.

15 weeks to go!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lost in Transition -- Kinetic 1/2-Ironman Race Report, 5/12/12

Can't say I was terribly impressed with my performance on Saturday.

Last year, under ideal weather conditions, I posted my 1/2-IM PR, a 5:09. I didn't expect to best that this year, for two main reasons.
  1. I hadn't really been training specifically for this race. Everything's pretty much been about IMWI this year, and with the "official" start of IM training a few weeks back, I'd been doing a lot of low HR zone training. As a result, this race was pretty much a "B" race, at best.
  2. Lost training time. The more I look back on my bout with pneumonia this spring, the more I'm realizing how much it set me back. Not only the two weeks of complete non-training, but also several weeks of slowly getting healthy again. Toss a school backpacking trip into the equation, and I probably missed about 5 weeks of solid training this spring. 
That's the down side. The plus side going in was that I felt great. I'd had a good run of training since the Rumpus in Bumpass International, and was running especially well coming off of the bike. And I'd begun the process of straightening out a few things with my swim, and was adding longer intervals into the mix. So my plan was simple -- try to knock out a good swim, stay controlled on the bike, and then nail the run. Didn't quite work out that way.


I don't think I've had a more pleasant competitive swim. The water was in the high 60s, pretty clear and flat, and the sun warm. Right from the beginning this swim felt great. Good body position, smooth sighting, very relaxed. Usually an international or 1/2 swim will have a couple of "when will this be over" moments. But not today. I hope I can build on that!   Swim: 35:24, 7/31 AG, 144/344 OA male.

T1 -- Here's the drama of the day.

Feeling good about the swim, I trotted up to transition and ran along the racks. I ducked in and ran to my spot, 357. Wait...where's my bike? There's no bike?! Somebody took my bike!! I did a passable impression of a headless chicken for what seemed like an eternity, running up and down the racks looking for my bike. Finally I looked down at my hand, where they'd marked our numbers. 457.

Oh s#@*. I sprinted over to the correct rack and found my bike -- right where I'd left it, of course. A couple of deep breaths, a quick laugh at my rookie mistake, and off I went.   T1: 3:46(!) 13/31 AG, 211/344 OA male.


No drama here. The plan was to keep the bike in a controlled zone and get off ready to run strong. A beautiful day for riding, and a fun course. Stayed right on schedule with my eating and drinking and felt plenty strong, though a little tight, towards the end. Picked up the pace a bit over the last few miles and felt good heading into T2. My time was slow, though, especially compared to last year, when I laid down a  2:40. But, like I said, I haven't been doing the riding that builds speed, at least in the short run. Bike:  2:51:25, 15/31 AG, 206/344 AG.


Made up for T1 on this one, or at least salvaged my pride. T2: 1:03, 1/31 AG, 29/344 OA male.


The three-lap course can demolish you if you're not careful, so I started carefully, keeping my pace and breathing under control, especially up the first long hill. I was rewarded with a good first 4 miles, with my pace slowly dropping into the mid to low 8's. With a little luck I had a good chance to go under 1:50 or even better.

But it wasn't to be. Around mile 4 my calves started cramping. Never bad enough to cause a complete train wreck, but plenty bad enough to drag my pace down. I walked the water stops and pushed fluids, but never could overcome them. By the third lap the sun and heat were a factor and I was cooked. I kept turning the legs over and dug in for pride's sake, but it wasn't going to be my day. Run: 1:56:09, 11/31 AG, 149/344 OA male.

Looking forward:

Just as well to chalk this one up to experience. And, for what it's worth, I could have given in and had a much worse run than I did, so I'll award myself a couple "mental toughness" points. But it's going to be a long summer of training, with plenty of opportunity to get myself into the kind of shape I want to be in.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Race Ready?

For the second year in a row I'm doing an early-season 1/2-Ironman race. Last year I decided to do two 1/2-IM races, one early in the season, and the other late. The plan started well, with a pretty solid 5:09 at the Kinetic 1/2 in May, but I crashed and burned (figuratively) at the Patriot's 1/2 in September -- though I can chalk that up to some external factors, like a very hot day and a summer of training interruptions and stress.

This year the plan is to do Kinetic 1/2 again this Saturday, and continue on into my IM training with a longer race in the bag. A fair amount's been going on since my last race at the Rumpus in Bumpass. Ironman training has "officially" started (it said so on my training plan!), I've gotten a wheel with a PowerTap, and I've become a slave to my heart rate monitor.

HR zone training has been the most significant of these. Everything on my training calendar for the last 3+ weeks has seemed to have been at Z1 or Z2 -- real extensive endurance stuff. It's not always easy to do, especially when you go to a group ride and watch everyone ride into the distance while you soft-pedal up the hills. But I can accept it as a totally necessary component of the training I have to do if I'm going to make the journey I've committed to for myself worthwhile. There just aren't any shortcuts to doing this right...

As for Saturday? I'm looking forward to the race. The weather looks excellent, and I've wrangled accommodations with a group of other triathletes about 10 minutes from the race site. No long drive in the morning for me! I feel like my fitness is improving, and I've gotten a few good long rides in the bag. And if this morning's run is any indication the HR training is starting to pay off -- I was running easy and at a nice pace with my HR comfortably in Z1.

We'll see what the weekend brings!


Thursday, May 03, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- Pool Time

Swimming can be frustrating for me. In the big picture, I've got no problem with swimming. I don't suffer from the anxiety of open-water swimming that bothers many less experienced triathletes, and I can put in some pretty respectable yardage in my workouts (for an age-grouper triathlete that is. Real swimmers are a whole different breed...).

So what's the problem? Simple -- I can't seem to get any faster. Some years ago I made the leap from plodding along at 1:50 to 2:00 per 100 yards down to 1:30 to 1:40, depending on the distance. And there I've stayed. Occasionally I'll feel like I'm ready to make a leap forward, but I eventually settle back down into the same old rut.

Now for a little self-analysis. It has to be technique. I'm pretty strong in the water, but as Coach Don Easterling once told me, "If strength were everything, a bull could catch a butterfly." It's telling that my speed decreases the further I get into a workout.Fatigue can play a factor in that, but I can feel my stroke falling apart as I do sets of intervals or longer distance sets. What was pretty smooth and relaxed at the beginning devolves into a choppy mess at the end. I fight to stay smooth, but there's some missing key that I can't grasp hold of to get me on the right track.

But you might wonder why I'm worried about it. Generally my swim times in races are respectable -- top 1/3 or so in my age group, and I don't come out of the water excessively tired.

It's because I like to compete. Giving away 3-4 minutes in an Olympic-distance race to my competitors sticks in my craw. Sure, the fastest swimmer doesn't always win, but I'm tired of starting from behind the guys I want to compete with. And any efficiency I can pick up along the way is sure to pay dividends in Wisconsin. It'll be a long day, and energy saved in the water is energy I can use later on.

So, only one solution. Laps alone aren't going to get the job done. Time to get professional help. I'm meeting with Val Oswald, local swim coach and former University of Texas swimmer, on Friday to let her take a look at what I'm doing wrong (and right). I'll let you all know how it goes.