Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A New Approach to Training – Part 2: The Bike

Continuing the series started with this post, today I’m going to talk about how I’m training differently on the bike since having started a coached training program.

Like all of my workouts since the first of the year, rides are characterized by bursts of intensity and then recovery. This is true at both the micro and macro level. By that, I mean that there will be intense periods within a workout followed by recoveries intervals as well as full recovery weeks. Given how hard some of these workouts are, I think the recovery periods have been a key factor in staying healthy—i.e.: not injured.

Fundamental Changes

A couple of years ago, I actually invested some time in bike intervals doing multiple repeats out on the bone-jarring roads at Cherry Creek Reservoir. While I didn't much enjoy riding on the bumpy surface, I did get the benefit of improving my speed. When I ran the 2012 Greeley Triathlon I was second in my age group off the bike having been beaten only by the guy who one the division by a comfortable margin. It was a course well suited to sprinting being only 10 miles long and mostly flat.

Unfortunately, I did not stay with that effort figuring that it made more sense to just go for long rides as I prepared to do my first 70.3 race. Until I got back into it this year, I had not done anymore purposeful intervals. Hills on a long ride create a natural interval, of course, but on the trainer, I just got on and rode.

When my coach and I started working together this year, he gave me my workouts with some specific intervals and sections. Like all my workouts, they begin with a warm-up which is usually just some easy spinning and no specific heart rate target. Main sets consist of either a strength building series of repetitions or a set marked by high cadence. Both typically come with a set goal for both RPM and HR. So far, we have not used power, but I think that will be more likely when I start doing more and more outdoor rides.

I’ve gotten through all of the rides okay and they are starting to increase in time each week. All but one have been indoors which is testimony to what a lousy winter it has been here in Colorado. No, we’re not in the middle of the polar vortex, but even weekends (especially weekends) have been particularly nasty. The good news is that I can do a lot to control the terrain I’m riding in and more specifically meet the targets assigned to me by my coach.


Three years ago I started using my first Trainer. It was a Schwinn branded (yes, Schwinn) magnetic trainer that was pretty basic. I used gearing to change my resistance and while not ideal, it gave me a place to ride when it was cold and dark outside.

Back in November, I bought a Wahoo KICKR trainer which has proven to be more useful than I could have imagined. I figured its greatest use would be in its ability to simulate real world courses through one of the services out there. So far, I have not subscribed to a service, but I have adjusted hill grade and wind speed to create resistance as needed. It also has a built-in power meter which is affording me power metrics for the first time ever.

I suppose it’s true that once you start using power, it’s hard to go without. Considering the desirability of having a metric that can be consistent despite wind and hills, I’ve decided to go with a Stages model mounted to a SRAM Rival OCT crankset. They are back-ordered on the model so I’ll have to wait a few more weeks and then take to the LBS for installation, but well ahead of my first race, I should have power data both inside and outside.

Net Improvement

This is a tough one to measure. I doubt my average speed is anywhere near where it was last year at this time, but I’m just as sure that my average power output is considerably higher. Since I wasn't measuring power last year, there’s no way to say for sure. But I know I never had a workout where I would have to mash my pedals at a low 65-75 rpm and drive my HR into upper Zone 3/lower Zone 4. I also was riding at much lower cadences on my normal rides whereas now I’m something like 10 to 15 rpm higher.

Of course the real test will be race day, about two months from now. I am hopeful that all of this training will propel me two or three miles per hour faster than in past years at the SOST. Time will tell.

The run is probably one of the more interesting aspects of my training and clearly an area where I’m making great strides—literally!

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A New Approach to Training – Part 1: The Swim

Any regular reader of this blog will know that a few months ago I hired a triathlon coach in the hopes that I could improve my times—particularly at long course events where I’ve often struggled.

I did okay with my own training and I still view 2012 as something of a watershed year given my strong performances at both the Boulder Peak and Rattlesnake Olympic distance events. I struggled in between at HITS 70.3 but that was also my first attempt at that distance and (as you can see in my race report) there were several factors making it a more challenging race.

Due to injuries, bad motivation, poor diet, over-racing and inadequate training, most of my 2013 was not a particularly good year for me. I did manage to turn things around in my last two races, but I also knew that I wanted to make significant strides at the half-iron distance.

Until January, how that would happen with a coach was something of a mystery to me. I noted in this post that the intensity of the workouts I was being assigned was far higher than anything I had previously done. No more just getting in the pool and swimming for 1500 to 2000 yards. Even the “easy” workouts are characterized by higher intensities than I’ve ever had in a practice and even most of my races.

Fundamental Changes

Since I started swimming regularly back in 2010 when I decided I wanted to be a triathlete, I’ve never done much kicking in the water. I think sometimes my feet would twitch a little bit, but there was no concerted effort to kick. One of the things about my coach is that he is not only a triathlon coach but also a swim coach. As a result, I’ve had to get used to using my legs both as part of the swim as well as on kick sets with a board.

Since a test in early February, most of my swimming is built around a set of numbers specific to my ability. This was done after having me swim two specific distances after a long warm up and with only a one minute rest in between. Now I get a set of distances with my targeted speed being somewhere along the scale. Each yardage amount has a value so the speed for 100 yard intervals is much higher than it would be for say 600 yards.


Previously, I never saw much value in items like paddles and fins. It seemed to me that they just made the swim easier. Turns out, I was pretty wrong about that. Paddles actually create more resistance during the pull thus making you work a little harder. They also slow down the overall stroke and force you to work on form.

Likewise, proper swim fins (not the really big ones you use on snorkel trips) have a similar effect on the kick. I’m using either or both multiple times a week and though it’s too early to tell if they have made a difference, I think they will.

Rest Intervals

During my training, I almost always went out and swam my targeted distance without stopping. If that meant 45 minutes, I kept going until I was done. That’s not an altogether bad thing, but keep in mind, all of my training now is based on targeted intensity rather than just long steady-state work.

In practice, this means that a really hard interval (like 200 at near maximum pace) will include both a rest between then intervals and then a longer rest once the set is done. These rest intervals are not particularly long—they can be anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds with up to 60 seconds after a set—they do serve the purpose of allowing me just enough recovery to go hit it hard on my next set.

Net Improvement

This is another case of it being just a little too early to tell if the effort is creating any improvement, but I am swimming much further than in the past. At this point a year ago, my weekly average was less than 1500 yards a week. This year it’s over 4700 and I’m in the water twice a week. I am reasonably confident that if I were to do an open water competition today, I’d turn in one of my better performances.

Fortunately, it’s still only March and my first event, the Summer Open Sprint, is still more than two months off. That means there will be several thousand more yards of swimming between now and when I swim off the beach of Union Reservoir.

So that’s the short and sweet of the aquatic portion of my coached training. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss the bike (all on my trainer so far) and the run. Both have their own intensity characteristics and I’m pleased to see that I’m getting better at both.

Until then, thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Special Runs

Okay, I probably could come up with a better adjective but then again, I expect most people have a fond memory of a run that was especially memorable.

One of the aspects of these kind of workouts is that they are often unexpected. Such was the case last Thursday night in Phoenix.

People who know me know that I have no particular affinity for the city that was my home for three years in the mid and late nineties. It's ridiculously hot in the summer, air pollution is often so high as to necessitate public warnings, crime is high and traffic is worse than terrible. But the town is not entirely without virtue.

One of those virtues is especially nice weather this time of year. It was a very pleasant and dry 75* or so just before 7:00 after I had checked into my hotel and headed out for a schedule 1:15 run with a mix of speed intervals. My own calculations suggested that the distance was going to be a little over 8.5 miles so with some help from MapMyRun.com, I found a route that combined some familiar territory (the Biltmore Circle) with some a new route--specifically the trail that runs along side the Arizona Canal

For those of you not familiar with Phoenix, one of the reasons such a large city can thrive in the middle of a desert is that some 60 years ago, a massive project brought water into the city from the mountains to the north. The result of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) is a series of canals that provide water to the entire area. An ancillary benefit is that trails consisting mostly of packed dirt line these canals and create a nice lace for running
It was dark when I left but I had plenty of light to see well enough as I ran through the neighborhood consisting of one of the largest concentrations if high-end real estate in the country. It's really unbelievable how nice some of these homes are.

As I reached the north end if the circle, near the Biltmore Hotel, I stepped onto the path with no real idea what to expect. This is generally a nice area so I did not expect to have to hurdle vagrants or avert my eyes from drug deals going on, but in Phoenix, a nice neighborhood can turn into a lousy one in the space of a block. Fortunately, that did not happen. In fact, I probably came across half a dozen other people doing the same thing as me.

The stretch was really something. There was no moon, but the lights of the city created enough reflection over the clouds to provide just enough ambient light to see. My views were of Camelback Mountain (a rocky hill that looks remarkably like a kneeling camel) on the way out and of Piestewa Peak on the way back.

As for the run itself, I felt pretty good the whole way. My higher heart rate on certain sets was noticeable, but getting through the sets was not a problem and I felt a definite sense of satisfaction once the run was complete.

I'm headed back to Phoenix in a few weeks and I look forward to revisiting that trail. It will probably be in the daylight hours so maybe I can get some pictures for an upcoming blog post. In the meantime, here's the map from Garmin Connect: