Monday, April 6, 2015

Two Weeks of Assessment

If I’m being honest, this is going to be a post where I do a lot of patting myself on the back. In truth, blogging about my triathlon experiences is a fairly self-indulgent exercise.

However, I also think that there is something of value to share with others: If I can do this, so can you.

My coach is a rocket scientist. I mean that literally. That’s his day job. As such, he has mind for data and information that is incorporated into my annual plan, my workouts and the feedback with which he provides me. Of course, in order to have something to analyze, he needs input. As Sherlock Holmes quipped in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,“Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay.” Hence, several of my workouts during the last two weeks have been tests.


Coming off a recovery week is a good place to start these because quite frankly, they are very demanding. First up was a swimming test used to determine my baseline paces at various distances from 50 to 1600 yards. Future workouts will be based on the paces derived from the test. The test itself was simple in format: warm up for 1500 yards, rest one minute, swim 200 at all-out effort, rest for one minute, swim 800 as fast as possible and then cool down for about 1500 yards or until reaching one hour and fifteen minutes. 

A week later, I was given another test to see how much I regressed in speed as distances increased. This consisted of an easy, short warm-up, 50 yards all out, rest for one minute, 100 yards all out, rest for two minutes and then 400 yards as fast as possible. Swimming for 550 yards is not such a challenge, but I was completely fried when it was over.


The standard measure for a bike is, of course, Functional Threshold Power. There a lot of ways to measure this such as just finding the highest wattage you can sustain for an hour. To be a little more practical and beat up my body a little less, I was tested in the following way: Warm up for 30 minutes at an easy spin, ride hard a best possible wattage for ten minutes and then continue at best possible wattage for another 20. By taking 92% of the average power output during that last 20, you have a reasonably good estimate of your FTP.


Like swimming, running consisted of tests on back to back Saturdays. The first was again simple in format but demanding in execution. At a track, I did my warm-up and then ran four 1600 meter (basically mile) repeats at my estimated effort for a 5k race. In between were recovery intervals of 90 seconds. Ideally, there would be less than a 3 percent slowdown from the first to the fourth set.

A week later, my coach actually met me at the track along with another one of his athletes. This was to conduct a run regression test where we see how much speed I would lose between an 800 and a 1600 twice with some exhausting inducing sets in between. He also took this opportunity to shoot some video of me running by on the track and analyze my form. In this test, the goal was to regress by no more than 6.5%. The 800 and 1600 were run twice for purposes of normalization. In between, we did some 400 and 800 meter runs with sprints at various places along the way. There was not a lot of distance, but the intensity of doing things like running 400 meters at all out pace made up for that.


Of course, the purpose about all of this is to learn about my current state of conditioning and preparedness for the rigors of a full Ironman race. Overall, I was very pleased with the way things are shaping up but that’s not to say that there aren’t areas for improvement.


I did my 200 at just a fraction over 3 minutes and the 800 in 13:09. Those represent improvements of 6.7% and 7.1% respectively. I also just felt generally better. For the regression test, we discovered that I regress at a rate of 7.35% which is a little high but there is still a lot of time to work on that. If you were to take my fastest predicted 1600 time and extrapolate that out to the 2.4 mile swim distance, I would finish in about 1:17 and change. Factor in a wetsuit and I suspect I could do it less than 1:15 depending on how accurate the course is. I’ll keep working hard on the swim, but it is the area in which I am most confident at this point.


I’ve struggled a lot on my bike. Despite all my hard work last year, I felt like I had to give up too much during Harvest Moon and it left me pretty fried when the run started. I’ve spent a lot of time in the off season working diligently to improve and it looks like it’s starting to pay off. I managed to bring my FTP up to 213 watts which is still pretty week but almost 14% better than where it was tested back in September as part of my lactate threshold test. I still need to do a lot more on the bike, but the progress is encouraging.


For me, the great thing about running is that hard work seems to yield results. That’s been true going all the way back to high school cross-country and track. Since my first set of tests eight weeks ago, I’ve been working very hard at hitting specified paces and heart-rate levels on my runs and it paid off in a big way during my trips to the track. The first 4 X 1600 test had me averaging about 8:15 per and I had knocked that down to 7:49 on the second test. My regression rate was 6.8% on the first test to 3.72% most recently which means that aerobically, I’m right where I should be.

My form is not bad, according to my coach which is great to here because for most of my life, I’ve been hearing about how terrible it is. He noted that when my front foot is going forward, it needs to be a little more perpendicular to the ground rather than closer to straight-out from my knee. He also noted that I tend to “backseat” or lean back as I run so he’s had me trying to lean forward at the ankles (not the hips). Doing all of this while just trying to run is really tricky but I’m going to focus on it. If I can gain greater economy, then I’ll take it. Any efficiency I can gain on race day will be essential.

The Future…

All of this great information is a kind of road-map to a successful race in August. Taking that out of the metaphorical, it will mean focusing on form when I get tired during runs and swims. A mind set of “keep going and get through this” is great, but remembering to be efficient and economical with limited energy is more effective. I can only imagine that workouts will become longer and more demanding now that there are less than four months until race day. I’m happy to take on all of that if it means I’ll be as prepared as I can be.  

Finally, as I mentioned at the start of this post, if I can do this so can you. I am not blessed with any particular athletic talents. I started doing triathlons at a time when I could not complete a three mile run and a mere twenty minutes of swimming seemed like a long workout. Success—however you define it—in triathlon is ultimately about mental discipline. Persuading yourself to keep going when your heart is beating out of your chest and you’re sucking wind is about putting that suffering in perspective. It’s not about some gene that allows you to endure it. Committing to the long game, meaning years to accomplish some goals is about mental stamina. 

I know a lot of readers find this site via Google search (I’m currently coming up on the second page when you enter the blog name as the search term). You can read through other posts but I’ll save you some time and tell you that when I first got into this I was doubtful and before my first meet, even a little scared. I’ll also tell you I got over it and have never once regretted my decision to train for and compete in triathlons. Nothing else I’ve done compares.

As always, thank for reading.

Have a great week!

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