Pushing the limits

We're less than 2 weeks away from race day, and with all my big training behind me I can't help but wonder if I'm ready.  I have set big goals for myself, and I question my ability to reach those goals. I'm filled with as much doubt as I am anticipation for the race to begin.

So.....am I ready?  I don't know.  I've got two iron distance races under my belt and even though I struggled with the heat in Florida last year I won my age group.  It was a different race, but winning my age group gives me a level of confidence that my goals aren't completely unrealistic.  Most importantly, I learned a lot from that race and if it's hot in WI this year I'll know how to handle it.

My training began on Jan 4th and since then I've trained for more than 500 hours.  I swam more than a quarter of a million yards, ran more than a thousand miles and biked more than five thousand miles.  My longest swim was 3.6 miles, my longest bike was 132 miles and my longest run was 21.5 miles.  My longest brick was a one mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike followed by a 13 mile run. 

I got a bike fit and improved my position.  I also bought race wheels, new handlebars and a compact crank.  I learned more about using my powermeter and analyzing data.  I learned how to better distribute my power and what cadence is optimal for me to run well off the bike (I learned all this the hard way).  And I finally got my FTP above 300.

I nailed down my nutrition strategy and finally figured out exactly how much sodium I need.  I ran in the heat, the rain, the snow, the mud, the ice, thunderstorms, blizzards, etc.  I did hill repeats, tempo runs and track workouts.  

So am I ready?  I still don't know. 

A friend of mine asked me what I think about on a long swim, and my answer was that it varies.  I swam at Devil's Lake Sunday and thought about everything listed above.  I couldn't get it out of my head.  Am I aiming too high?  Am I strong enough?  Fast enough?  Did I train hard enough? 

What if I fail?

And then, out of the blue, I thought about the No Fear poster of Jeremy McGrath that hung above my bike back in my motocross days.  It said:

You must always push the limits.  Because if you never fail, you will never succeed. 

And suddenly I didn't worry about it anymore.  Looking back, I had a great year.  I had a lot of fun did a lot of racing.  I pushed myself and learned more about training for and racing triathlons.  All I can do at this point is race the best race I'm capable of and whatever happens happens.

I don't know if I'll fail or succeed, but I do know that on September 12 - while I won't be the fastest guy out there, or the strongest or most talented - I'll be the guy who refuses to stop pushing his limits.

No fear.


It's NOT A Taper

It's that time of the training season....the dreaded taper.  I say that because it's the part of training most people fear (me included).  Screw up the taper, and you just screwed up a year of training. 

This year I'm taking a little different approach to my training and so far it's been paying off so hopefully I'll nail the taper and head into my 'A' race feeling well-rested and race ready (shred ready as a friend of mine used to say back in my motocross days). 

The first thing I'm doing is ditching the word taper.  I don't like it, mainly because it conjures up images of resting and relaxing and just sitting around waiting for race day.  That's how I've thought of tapers in the past, and the result is that I tapered too much and lost some fitness going into race day.  This year I'm calling it a sharpening period.  Yes, my training is tapering down so it's still a taper, but what I'm really doing is sharpening.  During a taper, your volume decreases and your intensity increases so you sharpen your skills and go into the race well rested and....well....sharp.  In my mind, "taper" makes me want to lay on the couch and "sharpening period" makes me want to workout but be very smart about it and make sure every workout is right on target.  

The other thing I'm doing differently this time around is relying more on the numbers.  What can I say?  I'm an analyst.  It's what I do.

But how do I use the numbers better this time than in the past?  That's the trick.  In the past I've focused mainly on weekly hours and tapering them down as suggested in the many books I've read.  That's all well and good, but I tapered too much for too long and while I felt great on race morning I wasn't as fit as I needed to be.  De-training had already begun.

I'm going to try to explain this without making it too confusing (for my benefit as well as yours).  To start with, I use a piece of software called WKO+ to log all my workouts.  From there, I upload them to trainingpeaks.com which is what I use to schedule all my workouts and track my hours and mileage and all that jazz.  WKO+ is used for analyzing the data from the cycling and running workouts.  WKO+ assigns a Training Stress Score to each workout and with that score I'm able to track my fitness, fatigue and 'freshness' through a chart called the Performance Management Chart:

I know....a little confusing.  Basically, the blue line represents my fitness (it's based on the past 6 weeks of training) which has been steadily climbing all year as planned.  You can see where it dips in June, which is from my first 'A' race.  If it sounds weird that I would lose fitness doing a race, it's because I tapered for that race and rested/recovered for a week afterwards.  So my volume was pretty light for about 3 weeks so even though I raced I lost fitness because my training volume (training stress) dropped significantly.  Fitness disappears very quickly (I actually did notice the loss of fitness in my early workouts after the race - it wasn't a big loss but enough to make a few workouts disappointing).  It's frustrating how quickly fitness fades away.  

The pink line represents my fatigue.  It takes into account the past 7 days of training so when the pink line jumps up suddenly you can tell that was a period where I increased my volume suddenly (the big jump with the highest peak is the Endurance Nation Training Camp I did in early July - big volume that weekend).  The training load becomes heavy and you get tired.  Fatigue is especially bad when the pink line is well above the blue line.  Basically that means I'm training way above what I'm trained for since the blue line is my fitness and the pink line is my current training load.  

Yellow is the Training Stress Balance, the balance between the pink and blue lines.  It represents what they call 'freshness.'  As the pink line (fatigue) goes down, yellow goes up indicating I'm fresh and ready for a good workout or race.  

Now the tricky part...the sharpening period.  When you decrease your volume the blue line (fitness) is going to start decreasing.  You're losing fitness.  You do this in exchange for freshness, because your yellow line will begin moving up and pink (fatigue) will move down.  That sounds easy enough, but the trick is finding the right balance which is what I've screwed up in the past.  While you may think you want the yellow line as high as possible, you don't.  Too high a value is most likely an indication of lost fitness.  Likewise, you don't want the blue line to drop too much which is definitely a sign of lost fitness.

I've been reading a lot about sharpening periods lately and they say they work best when preceded by high training stress and when the volume drops off suddenly and exponentially.  Two to three weeks is what works best for long races such as marathons and ironmans.  I'm doing three weeks (this is week one) although my first week is still very high volume with big weekend workouts.  Week two and three is when the volume drops off suddenly, mainly week 3 which is race week.

So how did I screw this up in the past?  I rested too much.  Last year for Florida, my fitness (blue line) peaked 20 days before the race.  By race day it had dropped 19%.  Joe Friel (whose training philosophies I follow) recommends no more than a 10% drop.  I broke it down by discipline and the results made a lot of sense.  I rode well on the bike but felt more fatigue than expected late in the ride.  My bike fitness peaked 20 days before the race and dropped 22% by race day.  My running fitness dropped 15%.  

Yesterday was a really long brick and my numbers going into the workout were right where they should be and I had a great workout.  I felt great and never faded, although the sun bearing down on me did start to take its toll but there's not much I can do about the weather.

So what I've been doing is crunching the numbers and I planned my workouts over the next 3 weeks based on training stress score rather than hours.  I'm still watching my hours and those are right in line with the recommendations too, but I'm really focusing on making sure my training stress scores are where I need them.  

Based on that, my fitness will peak 14 days before the race and will drop 9% by race day.  My fatigue will decrease and fall below the blue line and my training stress balance (which Joe Friel recommends being between 10-20 - it's often a negative value - on race day) should be at 19 on race morning. My training stress balance for Florida was 31.4 and it was 31.5 for the Liberty Half Ironman earlier this year which I struggled at. 

Yes, I have a spreadsheet.

Although I didn't taper for my big brick this weekend, I did have a recovery week prior so my volume had dropped.  My fitness peaked 14 days before this workout and had dropped 10%.  My fatigue fell below the blue line to where it represented 75% of the value of the blue line (exactly where it will be on race morning) and my training stress balance was 16.5.  

Based on how well my brick went yesterday and where the numbers were going into it, the numbers I'm shooting for on race day make sense.



IM Marathon Prediction Test

Last night I headed to the Verona High School track to do an ironman marathon time prediction test.  

It was a hot, humid night which I was happy about.  Not because I like the humidity, but because this test is a heart rate based test and I knew the heat and humidity would raise my heart rate and affect the test.  That may sound like a negative thing, but I was thinking that if I could hit the numbers I wanted on a hot, humid night, I'm set.  Plus, I think the increased heart rate from the heat more simulates the ironman because you run the marathon in the afternoon and you're already fatigued from the bike so your heart rate is going to be higher for a specific pace than it would be if you were fresh.

The first thing you need to do is set your heart rate zone.  There are two ways to do this.  The first way is to take your lactate threshold heart rate (your 5k heart rate) and multiply it by 82% and 88% to get your zone.  Doing that gives me 145 bpm for the bottom of the zone and 155 bpm for the top of the zone (my 5k heart rate is 177 bpm).  

The other way is to subtract your age from 180.  That's the bottom of the zone.  Add 10 beats and that's the top of the zone (I believe this comes from Phil Maffetone, not positive).  I'm 35 so 180-35 = 145.  Add 10 and I have a zone of 145-155.  Interesting that both ways came up with the exact same zone.  

The workout starts with a warm up. Then you run until you get your heart rate up to the bottom of your zone.  I find that it helps to do a full lap at that heart rate before beginning the test.  Otherwise your pace is off for that first lap.  

Then you run 6 laps at that heart rate - 145 bpm for me - and you record each split.  Here are mine:


Then you get your heart rate up to the top of your zone - 155 bpm for me - and run 6 laps at that heart rate and record your splits.


Then do a cool down and you're done.

What you do is take the numbers from your first set and figure out what your average pace was.  I ran the whole set in 11:54 which is a 7:56 pace.

Then take the second set and do the same.  I ran that in 11:11 which is a 7:27 pace.  

Then add 30 seconds to your second set pace.  That puts my second set at a 7:57 pace.  Then you take the two paces and average them together and that's your ironman marathon goal pace. 

I've been targeting an 8 minute pace for this whole year of training so coming up with a 7:57 pace on a hot, humid night for this test is very reassuring.  Of course, it's just a test and you have to compare it to other workouts to see if it's realistic because there are a lot of variables that can affect your ironman marathon.  But I've felt like my workouts lately have been indicating my 8 minute pace goal isn't out of line so this test gives me confidence.  

A general rule of thumb is that successful ironman athletes can hold a heart rate approximately 20 beats below their threshold.  That would mean I could hold 157 bpm, and I'm hoping to keep my heart rate below 150 on the run...definitely below 155.  I did a 21.5 mile run on Sunday at a 7:40 pace and had an average heart rate of 137.  That was in cool weather in the morning, but I think that run and this test shows that I'm on target. 


A Weekend In The Pain Cave

That pretty much sums up the weekend.  Pain...and lots of it.  It started with one of my hardest bike workouts ever on Saturday and ended with a long run on Sunday. 
Saturday morning was the state time trial championships at Bong Recreational Park.  It was a 40k TT (24.8 miles), which I haven't done in nearly two years.  I've been doing threshold intervals the past few weeks, and based on how those went I thought I knew what I could do.  Unfortunately, things didn't go as well as I'd hoped.

On my way to the race I got a little lost detouring around a closed road and got to the race later than I wanted so my typical warm up got cut down to only 10 minutes.  Then, I forgot the rules.  I don't have a skinsuit so I figured my tri gear would be more aerodynamic than my cycling gear.  But my tri gear is a tank top and you have to have sleeves so I was told to change when I headed toward the starting line.  Luckily, I had my cycling gear with me so I hustled back to the car, pinned my number on my cycling jersey and made it to the start line one minute before my start time....whew.

I started the TT conservative, struggled in the middle and finally got it back together and got into a good rhythm at goal power for the final 10 minutes.  Unfortunately, it was way too late to hit my power goal so I came up quite a bit short and was pretty disappointed.  My time was better than expected for my power so I was happy with that.  I finished the TT in 56:44 which was good enough for 33rd overall and 2nd in my category.  That shows me that all the time I spent early in the year on aerodynamics was time well spent. 

After the TT, I rested for a bit, refueled, put my training wheels on my bike and then hit the road for part II of my workout.  A 40k TT takes a lot out of you, so I was starting the second half of my workout pretty tired so it was going to be a big test, mentally and physically.  

Part II was 5 30k (18 miles) time trials at ironman power with about 5 minutes rest between them to refuel.  The 40K route was a two loop course, so I rode most of that plus a section that added a few miles to bring my loop up to 18 miles.  It had some rolling hills, but was mainly flat which was perfect.  I wanted a flat route so I would be forced to pedal and hold my power steady the whole time.  Hills mean downhills and an opportunity to rest, and I didn't want that.  I wanted a course that was relentless. 

I nailed part II of the workout, so that helped with the disappointment of the TT.  I held the same power for each interval, my power quadrant distribution was perfect, my VI (variability index) was extremely low, my cadence was where I want it....all of the numbers were exactly where I wanted them. I was hurtin at the end, but I could have held that power for one more TT.  Maybe two, but that's hard to say. 

With warm ups, cool downs and both parts of the workout added together, I probably got in about 120-125 miles for the day. 

Sunday, I got up early for my long run because I've been running in the heat lately and my pace has suffered because of it.  Training in the heat is good, but sometimes it's nice to avoid the heat and work on pace.  This was my longest run before ironman, so I wanted to make sure it was a good one.  My plan was to do two loops on the ironman run course, with two sections cut out so each loop was close to 11 miles rather than 13.1. 

I started the run at 6 am with dark skies and scary lightning.  Luckily, Courtney was in MN visiting her family this weekend because she never would have let me run in lightning like this.  I considered holding off on the run, but the last forecast I saw had a 20% chance of storms and I really wanted to run before the heat set in.  So I ran.

The first few miles were dry with plenty of lightning.  About mile 3 the rain started, but it was a light rain and felt good.  About mile 6 the torrential downpour began, the winds picked up, the thunder and lightning continued.  It was pretty ugly for the next 4 or 5 miles. Puddles were nearly ankle deep and water was flowing down the streets.  After that the rain settled down a bit, but never stopped...neither did the thunder or lightning.  

In the end, I survived the storm (Courtney's not very happy I ran in a thunderstorm even though I reminded her I had my Road ID on so they'd be able to identify the body - how ironic would it have been if my Road ID was what got struck by lightning and killed me?) and had a great run.  It was fun running in the rain.  

I did 21.5 miles in 2 hours and 45 minutes.  It was a 7:40 per mile average, which I'm really happy with considering how tough my bike workout was the day before.  I was hoping to run a 7:30 pace, but I didn't have the confidence to go for it in the beginning so I never really gave myself a chance.  I went out conservative, but finished up the run dropping the pace down to 7:20 a few miles before the finish and ran my last 1.5 miles at a 7:15 pace.

I never struggled on the run or even felt much pain.  I did, however, feel the pain later on when I woke up from my nap.  Sore, stiff, tired legs.  Luckily, this week is a recovery week, which I'm in desperate need of.  I screwed up my last recovery week (the week of Door County) and did too many hours so I've averaged over 19 hours of training for the past 7 weeks.  That has left me pretty tired recently so this will be an easy week so I can recover and get ready for my final few weeks of training before ironman.


Fly Me Courageous

I think, regardless of religious or philosophical beliefs, a lot of people like to believe that things happen for a reason.  It's debatable, of course, but anyone who has taken a philosophy class in college knows where that debate leads.  It starts here, leads to free will and before you know it, you're trying to defeat the argument that you don't actually exist; you're just a brain in a vat hooked up to a super computer and everything is an illusion created by the computer.  Yes, mom and dad, some of your hard-earned money you spent on my education went toward a philosophy class where I was unable to prove I even exist.  I still haven't decided if I actually exist, but I have decided that philosophy isn't for me (or perhaps the super computer made that decision for me).

Whether or not things happen for a reason, I do not know, but I do know that we tend to believe things happen for a reason when bad things happen.  When good things happen, we don't credit the universe.  We take the credit ourselves. 

"I got fired today."
"Things happen for a reason.  It was time for you to move on to a better job."

No one ever says that the "reason" that happened was because you sucked at your job. It's the universe making your life better by making it suck for a while.  It's all part of the master plan and was clearly out of your control.

"I got a promotion today."
"Looks like all the hard work is paying off."

We also talk about things happening for a reason when there's a coincidence because the human race, I have concluded, is incapable of accepting that coincidences are possible.  Nothing is a coincidence; it happened for a reason.

I mention this not because I got fired (it's not time to move on to a better job yet apparently), but because someone gave me wings.  Logic tells me this is just a coincidence and means absolutely nothing. 

I haven't been feeling the best the past few days because I've been ignoring the 'beach closed due to high e-coli' warnings and swimming anyway.  I've done some hard intervals where I accidentally swallowed some water and have paid the price.  What this means is that I started my long workout Saturday a little dehydrated. 

Do not start a 112 mile bike ride dehydrated.  It only gets worse, and eventually your headache that started at mile 20 turns into blurry vision and then you find yourself laying down at a gas station at mile 80 thinking death is a better option than finishing your ride.  But I finished - somehow - and felt so run down at the end that I wondered if death was in fact the better option.

Swim in a closed beach - drink the water - get diarrhea - get dehydrated - have a horrible workout. Things happen for a reason.  What I should have been given was a brain.

But I was given wings instead.

Here are my wings someone put under my windshield wiper:

It says I should take it home and then log on and tell them where I received my wings and if I'm an organ donor.  I'm sure it's a direct result of the Transplant Games being in Madison this weekend and has no real meaning at all (nor can I figure out what it could possibly mean - again, need that brain unless, of course, I am a brain).  But it's interesting that I was given this on a day that I really needed some wings (the brain - that I needed a few days ago).

I hate to admit it, but the first thing I thought of when I read that I was given wings was that Red Bull also gives you wings.  If someone had put a Red Bull under my windshield wiper I would also be posting about how I was given wings.

Since I had a terrible workout (one of my worst ever, actually) and was left feeling completely discouraged, I choose to believe I was given wings for a reason.  It's not a coincidence, because those don't exist.  It's the universe giving me something I need at a time that I need it. 

I was given wings, so tomorrow we will see if I can fly.

By the way, I'm also an organ donor.  Someone with the Transplant gGames gave me something I needed at a time I needed it, so when I get run over by a truck on a bike ride I'll be able to return the favor by giving someone else something they need when they need it.  I can't help but feel I drew the short straw on this deal, but I'll have to see what kind of super powers these wings give me before I make the final call.


The Last 28 Days

Trainingpeaks made some changes to the dashboard a while ago, and one thing they added was the ability to select and quickly show your volume for the last 28 days.  I've gotten hooked on watching how my 'last 28 days' volume fluctuates.  

Here's my last 28 days: