Catching up

It’s been several months since I posted so here’s what I’ve been up to….

Ironman Texas

Since it’s been so long, I won’t bother with a full race report, and I don’t really have that much to say about the race actually.  This was my first time doing a rolling swim start and I was really surprised how little contact I had in the water.  Practically none.  It was a non-wetsuit swim and my time was slower than I anticipated despite feeling like I swam well, although looking at my HR after the race I think I may have been a bit too conservative.  I did get a few small cramps about halfway through, which was a sign of things to come….unfortunately.

The bike was going well until about ¾ of the way through when I started getting some hamstring cramps, which is something I’ve never gotten on the bike.  My power faded which led to a slower than expected time as well.  Coming into T2, my hamstring cramped up putting on my shoes. I worked it out quickly and got on the run, where things went downhill fast.  I was struggling in the heat and fading and fighting off threats of more cramps.  About halfway the skies turned black and the rain started.  At first I was happy because I needed to cool down, but things flooded quickly and the winds picked up and they actually stopped the race for a while.  They told us we could keep going, which I did, and ran through the worst thunderstorm I’ve ever run through.  The aid stations were abandoned so we had to dig through the coolers if we wanted something.  My legs ached and cramped and I’ve never worked so hard to run so slow.  As I crossed the line alone in the pouring rain, Mike Riley said, “Tough day, huh, Mike?”  Yep.

After Texas I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my season so I did a few random triathlons here and there, my first short course triathlons since before my back injury in 2014.  It was really fun to go back to local races for a while, but my experience at Texas was eating away at me.  I couldn’t let it go, and I found myself constantly checking the Wisconsin and Louisville pages to see if registration was still open.  Wisconsin had foundation slots, but Louisville had general entry open still.  I talked it over with Courtney and we ultimately decided I should do Louisville.  Wisconsin is much easier logistically, and it’s great having so much local support, but I’ve never done Louisville and I’ve wanted to for years. 

So I’ve been putting in a lot of hours training for Louisville, more or less repeating the plan I came up with for Ironman Wisconsin 2010 which is probably my best executed Ironman to date.  More details on that in my next post. 


IMTX - The day before

For those of you unaware of all the drama surrounding Ironman Texas this year, I'll give you a quick recap.  A couple of months ago, local political BS resulted in the loss of permits for the bike course (long story).  Ironman scrambled to come up with a bike course last minute and had a 112 mile course when the floods hit and damaged a portion of the bike path that was part of the route.  That led to last minute changes, and a 94 mile bike course that winds through the city.  If you've never been to The Woodlands, it's really busy around here so we now have a 94 mile bike course through town on busy roads.  I'm not sure how that's going to work out.

After all the bike course drama, yesterday it was announced that due to the floods, the water quality in the canal where we finish the swim isn't safe so they had to change the swim course.  We now finish by the swim start.  This gives us two different transition areas and it adds a mile to the bike. 

So that's where we're at now, the day before the race.  A 2.4 mile swim, T1, a 95 mile bike, T2 and the old 26.2 mile run course.  It was images of the run course that drew me to this race so I'm happy it's the same.  We had a chance to run one loop (it's a 3 lap run) last week and it's a great route along the canal and should have lots of spectator support. Some of it is on a running path, and I think that's going to get pretty crowded on lap 3.  It's basically all concrete so it's going to be a pounding.  I hope I hold up.

I'm not too nervous right now, but I will be tomorrow.  I always am.  I feel like the Ironman distance has gotten the best of me since 2010 so my confidence isn't very high right now.  I nailed IMWI 2010, but since then I've come up short of what I feel I'm capable of. It's been a combination of not executing my race plan, mistakes, bad luck, getting sick, etc.  But none of that really matters.  What matters now is tomorrow.  The past is the past.  What I need to do tomorrow is forget about everyone else, focus entirely on myself and execute my plan, be mentally strong and push myself to my limits.

Ironman Texas is known for being hot and humid and tomorrow looks to be another toasty one.  The high is the upper 80s with a real feel in the mid 90s.  There's a chance of thunderstorms, which I'm hoping hit while I'm on the run.  I've had some great long runs in the rain so I would welcome a storm.  If it hits on the bike, things could get ugly.  The course is busy, has a lot of turns, and lots of concrete which can get slippery when wet (my only crash in a race came at Hyvee a few years ago on wet concrete in a corner).

I did what I could for heat training at home, and I've been here for a week and have had a chance to do some training in the heat, but the heat concerns me.  I've struggled in the heat in the past, but I have a new fueling plan based on my sweat test results.  I've only had a couple of chances to test it out, but those workouts went well so I think I may have a solid plan.  I thought about increasing my power target with a slightly shortened bike course, but I've decided to race it as though it's the full distance and save my legs for the run. I think the 18 miles missing from the bike will shorten my ride about 50 minutes, which is less time to deal with the heat. I think I'm better off pacing conservatively rather than taking risks on a hot day.  There is a ton of time to be made up on the second half of the run if I feel good. 

If you happen to be following along online, I'm #726.  



Hooray for Science! Sweat Testing

Last year, a friend of mine told me about an at home sweat test she did where she got info on her sweat rate and electrolyte loss.  I've done a few sweat tests to figure out my sweat rate (weighing yourself before and after a workout) but those were informal tests that didn't give me any info about electrolyte loss.  I was intrigued, but didn't act on it....until I ended up in the med tent (again) after the Galveston 70.3.  It's time to figure out how to end this med tent streak.

So I ordered a test from Levelen.  A couple days later a package showed up in the mail containing my sweat test kit - an alcohol swab, cotton swab, a little plastic vile, tweezers and info card. 

The cotton swab on my arm....ready to start sweating.

You're supposed to replicate race conditions so I rode indoors and cranked the heat and humidity and got the temp up around 80 with 70% humidity.  I didn't use a fan (mistake) because I wanted to make sure I'd sweat enough to get good results.  I rode for an hour at Ironman power, but the heat, humidity and lack of a fan made for a pretty intense workout.  I was burning up and ready for the hour to end so I could drink something and cool down.

As soon as I finished I used the tweezers to remove the swab and put it in the vile and I weighed myself.  I had lost 3.8 pounds - 60 oz.  Ouch.

I dropped everything in the mail the next day and a few days later they emailed results...


 I was and wasn't happy to see these results.  This does help explain why I keep ending up in the med tent, especially the significant electrolyte losses.  This will definitely help me prepare for races, but losing a lot of fluid and electrolytes can definitely make long course races more challenging than they already are, especially hot races.  

But now I have some real numbers to work with.

I lose:
- 53 mmol of sodium per liter of sweat
- 8.1 mmol of potassium per liter of sweat
- 51 mmol of chloride per liter of sweat

That comes to about 1200 mg of sodium per liter of sweat (34 oz).  I've done a few sweat tests in the past and on hot days outdoors I tend to lose between 40-50 oz per hour.  That's about 1400-1750 mg of sodium lost per hour.  

They recommend replacing 60-70% of fluid and electrolytes lost.  So I need to drink around 30-36 oz per hour and take in about 850-1200 mg of sodium per hour for a hot race.  I'm probably getting about 300-400 mg of sodium per hour right now...maybe.

I asked them if electrolyte losses stay the same per liter of sweat lost regardless of sweat rate and they said yes, so now that I know how much I'm losing I can adjust my intake based on conditions and how much I think I'll sweat.  

I got my results back about a week ago, so about 3 weeks before IMTX.  It's a little late in the game to make changes, but what I'm currently doing isn't working so I'm taking a chance and more than doubling my electrolyte intake.    



Race Report: Galveston 70.3

As part of my Ironman Texas build, I raced the Galveston 70.3.  I did this race back in 2012 and decided to return this year to see if I could improve on my time, and I thought it would be good prep for IMTX.  With Galveston being so close to IMTX, I wasn't able to do a real taper but I did give myself a few easy days and my legs felt pretty good on race day despite less rest than I'm accustomed to for half ironmans.

Swim - 32:59

I have a habit of dunking my goggles in the water prior to swimming.  I didn't even think about it, but Galveston is a salt water swim.  The water isn't very salty, but it was salty enough to put a thin layer of salt on my goggles.  I didn't realize this until I put my goggles on right before jumping into the water for my wave start and realized I could barely see.  I had a sliver of clear lens near the top and the rest was cloudy.

The gun went off and I did my best to hold a straight line, but it was tough.  Looking up, I could barely see the buoys.  Fortunately, I don't think I went off course too bad.  I know I was out by the paddle boards at one point so I did drift a bit, but I don't think it cost me too much time.  

It was a stupid mistake, and it definitely made the swim a bit of an adventure, but other than that it was a typical swim.  I feel like I'm capable of better, and have concluded that I'm simply not swimming hard enough on race day.  I think I fear wasting too much energy on the swim so I get conservative, but if I'm going to swim the times I want to swim I need to take a few chances and push the pace a bit more....not swim stupid, but push it more than I have been.  Something to work on.

Bike - 2:19:14 (24.1 mph)

There's not a lot to say about the bike.  Despite focusing on my run all winter, my threshold is right up there at an all time high so I felt like I could go a tad conservative on the bike and still manage a competitive bike split so that was the plan.  Other than a few sketchy moments working through traffic due to being one of the last waves, the bike was pretty uneventful.  I held steady at about 230 watts and felt much more comfortable staying in the aerobars the whole time uninterrupted than I did in 2012 (I did a ride on the trainer a few weeks prior of 3 hours straight without getting out of the aerobars once). 

Run - 1:38:05 (7:29 pace)

I really wanted to have a good run, and by good run I mean sub 1:32.  Ideally, sub 1:30.  That's my ultimate goal, one I've been chasing for a few years now, but I didn't feel quite ready to hit that goal in Galveston so I was hoping to come close.

I started out right about a 7 minute pace and felt good.  My legs were a little heavy and tired from the bike, but nothing too bad.  I held this pace pretty steady until about the 4-5 mile mark when I took a gel and a little Red Bull.  Not long after, I got a terrible sideache that forced me to do a little walking almost every mile to get it to ease up.  I didn't really drink or eat much after this, and my pace dropped and I struggled to the finish.  On a positive note, my "struggling" pace has improved, but I'm pretty frustrated with my run.  I've never gotten a sideache like that before so I need to figure out what caused that and how to prevent it.  It happened not long after the Red Bull and gel, and if I had to blame one of those it would be the Red Bull although I don't think this was nutrition related.  

As for the race itself, I liked Galveston in 2012 and wanted to come back and I liked 2/3 of the race this time.  The swim and bike were good, but they changed the run course this year and I thought it was pretty bad.  There was one out and back section that was so crowded the only way to pass was to run right down the middle and run into everyone going in each direction. The weather was perfect and Moody Gardens is a great race venue, but that run course needs work. 

 Despite not having the run I wanted, Galveston was a big step in the right direction.  Last year, I struggled at every race and set some of my slowest times ever.  This was a good time for me and I finished in 7th in my AG and I can finally say that I wasn't affected at all  by my back injury.  

A few lessons learned:

- I don't perform as well as I want/expect at early season half ironmans.  I either need to stop doing them, learn to better prepare for them, or adjust my expections.

- I need to push the pace more on the swim and take a few more risks in the swim.

- I went to a less aggressive position on the bike this year, by quite a bit actually, and my power/speed were in line with other races so I don't think it's costing me time. My power is actually better so I think I can push more watts in the future and still run well.  I'm much more comfortable now and I think that's ultimately going to help my run.

- I finish way too many half and full ironmans in the med tent and I need to figure out how to end that streak.  Once again, after Galveston I was in the med tent with really low blood pressure.  *sigh* 

Just a few more weeks of training before Ironman Texas.  Even though I was hoping for a better run in Galveston, this race was good for confidence.  My running legs were there, but I couldn't execute.  The challenge now is figuring out that piece of the puzzle, but I feel like if I can do that the fitness is there.


Adding Intensity Back In

After my last post, my Maffetone experiment officially ended and I started adding in some intensity.  One thing I learned from my FTP test was that I might not need as much intensity as I’ve done in the past to maintain my threshold.  My threshold has been between 285-305 for several years now so I decided that this year, rather than beating myself up all winter hoping for a few more watts, I’d take a chance and let go a little bit on the bike and see if I could improve my running.  My bike is generally strong enough to get me to my goals, but my run needs work, and I’m banking on being able to get my bike fitness back quickly since that’s been my strength. 

In the few weeks following my threshold test, I did 3 hard bike workouts.  The rest were either easy or a mix of zone 2 and 3.  A month after my test, I did another FTP test…a spontaneous test.  I loaded a route on Cycleops Virtual Training and picked a couple of virtual partners to race against for a threshold workout.  I got going and felt really good so I decided to continue after the “race” ended and finish off the hour.  To my surprise, I held 310 watts for 60 minutes, an all-time PR by 2 watts.  Just 3 really hard workouts got me from 295 to 310.  Normally I do about 2 hard bike workouts per week, plus a ride that includes a mix of zone 2 and 3, so I was very surprised to set a PR on only a few hard workouts (lots and lots of tempo though – my entire 12 weeks of MAF).

You can see where MAF ended and my easier rides started because my avg drops quite a bit.

Running -  Rather than running the same intensity all the time like I did when I was doing MAF, I backed off a bit on my “easy” runs (easy in quotes because I only backed off a bit and am not running very easy anymore) and added some tempo runs as well as 800s.  I’ve also been using the treadmill more than in the past, partly because it’s winter in WI but also because the treadmill doesn’t beat me up as much so I can log more miles and recover quicker.  I’ve been doing my 800s on the treadmill, which has allowed me to target a really specific pace and finish the workout without feeling so beat up.  I’ve also been doing most of my long runs on the treadmill, which has been kind of nice because Courtney has been riding the trainer while I run.  We don’t get to work out together very often so this works out well. 

A couple of weeks ago we had some nice weather on a day I was supposed to do a tempo run at lunch.  I ran my usual route, doing a mile warm up, 6 miles of tempo and a mile cool down.  Normally, I’m between 6:50 and 7:10 pace for tempo on this route so I was really happy to hold a 6:32 average pace this time.  That’s a pretty solid improvement.  Maybe the Maffetone training worked, and it helped me rebuild from my injury and give me a big base to build off.

These are all my runs on my tempo run route.  They're not all tempo runs though.

Despite a good tempo run, I had some lingering doubt on my running improvements.  For weeks, I had been doing long runs on the treadmill.  I felt like I was getting quality workouts, but I do find the treadmill a little easier than outdoors so I feared that I was losing my ability to sustain the pounding of the outdoors for long runs.  With Ironman Texas less than 3 months away, this was starting to hurt my confidence, and one good tempo run wasn’t enough to build that back up. 

Fortunately, this past weekend we got a good blast of spring weather.  I’ve been doing my long runs on Thursdays after work and I mixed up my week so I could run long on the weekend in the warm weather.  My route was pretty flat and with 15-20 mph winds predicted I decided to do a double out and back so I wouldn’t have to deal with the wind in my face for a really long stretch.  

Double out and back on the bike path.

This was easily my best long run ever.  Normally, a good zone 2 long run would have me running a 7:30-7:50 pace.  I expected faster than that because my MAF pace at the end of my experiment was around 7:10 so I was hoping for that or maybe even a tad quicker.  What I didn’t expect was a 6:50 average pace for 14 miles.  I actually felt like a runner out there.  I felt smooth and surprisingly comfortable at a sub-7 minute pace.  It was a great run and really good for confidence. 

My Ironman run PR is 3:26 and I’d love to run 3:20-3:25 at Texas, but if I plan on running that pace in the heat and humidity after riding 112 miles I need to be able to (somewhat) comfortably hold ~ 7 minute miles on a 50 degree day with no bike before my run.  There’s still a ton of work to do in the next few months, but for right now I feel like I’m sitting in a good spot. 


My Maffetone Experiment - Part 2: The Results

In my last post I talked about my training using the Maffetone Method.  This past week was a recovery week where I did some testing so I thought I'd share those numbers as well as some thoughts on training by heart rate.

On Wednesday I did my last MAF ride and held 257 watts.  My first ride was 224 watts, and my best MAF ride was 2 hours at 264 watts, so I gained about 33-40 watts on my MAF power over 12 weeks.

Thursday was my last MAF run and I held a 7:12 pace.  My first MAF run was an 8:12 pace so I gained about a minute.

I had a pretty good idea what to expect with those workouts.  It was my FTP test that I was really curious about.  I did a test prior to my MAF training and my FTP was 280 watts.  I've never done a 3 month block of training without any threshold work so I had a tough time gauging where my threshold might be.

FTP Test

 I managed 295 watts for 60 minutes.  Physically I think I was strong, but mentally I was weak.  I was struggling already about 12 minutes in and was considering pulling the plug because I didn't think I'd make it the full 60 minutes.  I broke it down mentally into 6 minute chunks (10%) and just focused on getting to the next mark.  I was able to pick it up at the end so I think there was more physically but mentally this was brutal (central governor?).

One thing I found interesting is that my average HR was 156. Normally when I do a full hour at threshold my HR is between 165 and 168.  I don't know if this means I could have gone harder of if my threshold HR has changed. 

So my FTP went up 15 watts, but this isn't new territory for me.  My peak 60' power is 307 and it's pretty typical for my FTP to hover around 290-300. So the big change was that my MAF power went from 80% of FTP to 87%.  Probably not a bad thing for a triathlete focusing on long course.

One thing to remember about training is that the training you do now stands on the shoulders of the training you did in the past.  Now that I'm going to start introducing some threshold work, will I reach a higher peak after building a bigger aerobic base?  Or did I just lose out on 12 weeks of working on my FTP?  Time will tell.

What I'd like to do is hold my MAF power and raise my FTP, which will make my MAF a lower % of my threshold but I think that will work out because it will have me racing at a lower percentage my threshold - hopefully with a bigger aerobic base. 

Normally my training is a hard day/easy day style but for the past 3 months I've been Steady Eddie. Below you can see how that changed my average pace/power per week.

The break before 2015 was my back injury and you can see how my run pace took a hit.

I got another power meter in 2010 so nearly every ride since then has been with power.  Before that I usually only rode my key workouts with power so my weekly average is inflated.

 Sidenote - Average power/pace is cool to see general trends over time, but be careful with it.  Chasing averages makes you go too hard on your easy days.

If you use Training Peaks, maybe you've noticed a metric called Efficiency Factor (EF).  It compares your normalized power or pace to your HR.  I used that to help track my progress.  The only problem is that you can't graph it in Training Peaks so I had to track it in Excel.

You can see the trendline moving up as I was getting more efficient.

The trendline is a bit steeper for cycling.  Cycling has always been my strength so maybe that's the reason.

Some final thoughts on HR training.

What I liked - 

- The intensity felt about the same at ~140 bpm every time. All that changed was my power or pace.  I felt like I was controlling the input (HR) and measuring the output (power/pace).

- My power/pace increased gradually as I got fitter based on feedback from my body rather than a per-determined build and just forcing it.  It felt more natural.

- I was very focused on efficiency the whole time because I was limited in what I could input and I wanted the maximum output.  When I focus only on the output, I don't worry about how much energy it takes to get the desired output.

- I got to see my progress week after week without having to do a max effort (threshold) test.  Seeing steady progress is very encouraging.

- I learned a lot about HR training, which I think will make me a better coach, and it was fun to mix things up for a while.

What I didn't like - 

- My biggest complaint about Maffetone training is the 180 formula.  It put me in Friel's HR zone 2.  An athlete I coach has very similar heart rate numbers to me but he's 9 years older so his MAF range would have him in Friel's zone 1.  Another athlete I coach is 8 years older than me, but his heart rate tends to be about 10-15 beats higher so he'd be at an even lower intensity level. We could all do the same program, but we would be at very different intensity levels.

-  A lot of things can affect HR, such as heat, stress, caffeine, etc. so it's not the best measure of intensity.  All my riding was indoors so I had the same set up every time.  My running was mostly outdoors, but I never had to deal with any heat.  I think HR works best if you have a similar set up every time (and if you ride indoors get a good fan, and by good fan I mean one that was built for a construction site or barn).

Where to now?  I want to find a good mix of my old program and the program I just did.  I'm ready for some intensity, but I made good gains doing a lot of zone 2 so I want to keep that going.  I'd like to bring in some heart rate training as well as utilizing power and pace for more than just measuring progress.  Why use just one measure of intensity when you can use 2?  :)

Speaking of heart rate training, I'm in full on geek mode with my new Garmin swim HR strap.  I'll write up a post about that.  I just got it, but so far the numbers are not what I was expecting.

One final note:  For anyone new to endurance sports doing the Maffetone Method who finds this post, I want to point out an important detail - I got my first road bike and went for my first ride April 1, 2006.  I did my first triathlon in 2007.  I made good gains in this 12 week block, but preceding it is a decade of consistent training.  I got injured in 2007 and my PT made me start out with some really easy running in the winter of 07/08.  I dug through my old training log and discovered that my first run was at a 10 minute pace at an average HR of 148 (which would have fallen in my MAF range back then). Be patient.  Be consistent.  Enjoy the process.  


My Maffetone Experiment - Part I

My training hasn't changed much since 2008 - keep the hard days hard and the easy days easy.  I've mixed things up a bit from year to year, but generally my training hasn't changed.  Until now...

With 2015 being a rough year I figured this was a good time to mix things up and try something new.  I wanted something completely different from how I've trained in the past.

The Maffetone Method.

I've been curious about this approach for years and after listening to many Maffetone discussions/interviews on the Endurance Planet podcast I decided to give it a try.  I figured I'd need to give it a few months to give it a fair shot so I decided on 11 weeks of training followed by an easy week with some testing.  I started with a month off completely after IMWI and then did a couple of easy weeks to build up a bit of a base before starting my 11 week block.   

If you're unfamiliar with the Maffetone Method, it's HR based training and you use a formula to find your MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) range (mine is 134-144 bpm) and then you train in that range day after day.  I've been training by power and pace since I started triathlon in 2007 so this was a big change.   

My first MAF run was 4 miles at an 8:12 pace and my first MAF ride  was an hour at 224 watts.  So now I had my starting point.  All that was left to do was train in my MAF range....everyday.

I loved the simplicity of the approach.  No trying to remember complicated workouts.  It's the same thing everyday - get your HR into your MAF range and hold it there.  The only variable I changed was duration building my overall volume slowly week after week. 

Things progressed quickly....too quickly.  By week 5 my pace was 7:30 and my power was in the mid 240s.  Day after day.  MAF was getting tough. (to add some context to these numbers, I held 236 watts at the Muncie 70.3 in 2014 and followed that up with a 7:16 pace on the run)

I needed to back off a bit so I came up with 3 workouts to do - LMAF, MAF and PMAF.

LMAF = Low MAF.  I took my MAF range and subtracted 10 beats so it was 124-134.  These were my "easy" days.
MAF = Regular MAF range.
PMAF = Progressive MAF.  Starting in LMAF and finishing at MAF.

Sidenote:  My MAF range is more or less Joe Friel's HR Zone 2 and my LMAF range was Friel's HR Zone 1 so at this point I was basically moving from MAF to zone-based HR training.  Traditional base training, I guess you could say.  Lots of zone 2.    

A basic week now looked like this:

Monday - "Easy" day
  - 4 mile LMAF on treadmill + core work at lunch
  - 1 hour LMAF ride on trainer after work 

Tuesday - MAF day
  - Swim before work
  - 8 mile MAF run at lunch

Wednesday - "Easy" day
  - 4 mile LMAF on treadmill + core work at lunch
  - 1 hour LMAF ride on trainer after work

Thursday - Long run day
  - Swim before work
  - Long PMAF run after work

Friday - Easy day
  - Swim before work
  - Yoga after work

Saturday - MAF day
  - 90 min trainer ride at MAF in the morning
  - 6-8 mile run on treadmill later in the day (MAF if feeling good, otherwise LMAF)

Sunday - Long ride day
  - Yoga in the morning
  - 2-2.5 hours at LMAF (or MAF if I was feeling good)

So that's what I've been up to.  11 weeks of Maffetone training.  This is week 12, my recovery/testing week. I'm doing a MAF ride Wednesday and hope to do a MAF run Thursday if the weather cooperates.  I'll repeat my first MAF workouts so I can compare.  Saturday is an FTP test. That should be interesting, and by interesting I mean painful. I haven't ridden at threshold in months.

I'm working on part 2 - the results.  I'll go over my progress and share the results of my FTP test and final MAF workouts.  I may write one more post about my overall thoughts on this approach and heart rate training.