Thursday, February 11, 2016

Setting 2016 Baselines


My run regression test yesterday completed the first round of testing in this training season. I say first round because my coach typically does this all again in the spring. In fact, I normally would have wrapped this up a few days ago but a healthy layer of snow on the running track forced me to push this last one back a few days. Now that the initial round is complete, here’s where I stand.

In the Water

We did two tests during the first week of assessment. First was a variation on the test I’ve done three years now. Previously, this consisted of a long warm-up, a 200 yard all-out effort, a minute’s recovery and then 800 at max effort. This year’s version was a little different.

Rather than warm up for 1500 yards, I was instructed to do 300 easy just to loosen up and then do a series of 4 100’s at max effort resting 30 seconds between. This is in line with my coach’s philosophy of intensity over duration.

With that complete, I took my one minute rest and then swam for 50 yards as fast as I could. That time turned out to be a little over 39 seconds (39.13). This was followed by another full minute and then I was off to swim 100, also at max effort. This I did in 1:27.94 and was pretty tired afterward. Fortunately, the next rest was 90 seconds allowing my heart rate and breathing to return to something more like normal.

The last part of the test is 800 at the best possible effort that can be sustained for that distance. Last spring, I managed that in 13:09but I knew that I would be slower with less total swimming under my belt. In fact, I was not expecting to do especially well at this one. I was pleased when my time turned out to be 13:57.71 though I was really tired at this point. The session finished with a really long 42 minutes at easy pace to finish out at a little under one hour and fifteen minutes.

Several days later, it was time for the swim regression test. This began with the same warmup as the longer test which had me a little tired but mostly just warmed up and ready to go. Then it was a 200 yard swim as fast as possible for that distance which for me turned out to be 3:10.74. This was followed by a long 2 minute rest. Then it was on to a 400 yard swim which may be just about the hardest there is to swim at max effort. It’s too long to be over quickly but not short enough where you feel like you can slacken your pace a little. Four hundred yards and 6:36.76 later, that proved to be true!

Results are in from these tests and it says my max pace for 100 yards is around 1:26.6 and my regression rate is 6.74% which is an improvement from the last time I tested, but I am also a little slower overall. I take all of this with a grain of salt too. The forecasted finish for an Ironman would be 1:28:52 but I swam faster than that without a wetsuit last year. I might be slower this year, but not by much.

On the Bike

I suppose there are endurance athletes out there that eat pain like candy and don’t think that the FTP test is so bad. To me, it’s positively the hardest of all the assessments. I think there is something inherent on the trainer that makes it feel worse than riding outside but I can’t really say what that is. Suffice it to say that this year’s first FTP test was just as painful and miserable as any other.

Because of the prolonged period at a high wattage, there’s a long warm-up of 30 minutes. This is then followed by the 30 minute test period itself which is broken down into a 10 minute segment followed by a 20 minute segment. I’ve never been clear on the reason for the separation but it really doesn’t matter. There is no break between the sets.

During this 30 minute time frame, the idea is to find a power output you can maintain for the entire set. Obviously, the higher the power during this time frame, the higher the FTP. I’ve been actively training on the bike since the beginning of October and went into this feeling pretty confident that I could beat the threshold I set last spring. With that in mind, I dialed the KICKR up to 235 watts during the first 10 minutes. However, my heartrate was starting to spike toward the end of the set and the thought of maintaining that much power felt overwhelming. I dialed back to 230 watts for the next ten minutes and then to about 225 watts for the remainder. By the time I finished, my cadence was falling into the mid 80 rpm range and my heartrate was near its max. The average power for the entire 30 minute set was 227 watts which more or less ties where I was back in April—roughly 209 Watts. Not as good as I hoped but still much better than this time a year ago.

On Foot

Like swimming, running also comes with two tests, both of which are done on a track. First up was a 4 X 1600 (basically a mile) with 90 seconds between each interval. The recoveries are jogged at very easy pace but I made a point of not walking until after the fourth set was complete. Prior, I did some warm-up exercises consisting of some dynamic stretching techniques and a few stride-outs. Last spring, I pulled a hamstring on a track set and it never really healed for the rest of the season. It’s made me more cautious so I made sure things were truly loosened up and I was warm heading into the repeats. This test comes with a goal of the last mile being no more than 3 percent slower than the first. My splits worked out to 8:08.03, 8:02.78, 8:06.3, and 8:01.85 so it was actually a negative split between first and last. This was definitely slower than last spring’s test, but again, still better than a year ago. In truth, I probably could have gone just a bit faster but it’s hard to tell how fast is too fast to finish all four reps. 

After the snow delay, I managed to get back out onto a mostly melted track last night and complete the 1600/800 regression test. As the name suggests, the test is aimed at how much pace is lost. In this case, how much is lost when the distance is doubled. I went through a similar set of warm-ups making sure that muscles were loose and heartrate was up but not too high before going into the first 800. This was followed by a 5 minute walk. Seriously, the directions on the workout say walk so I did so to bring my heartrate back down. Then it was 1600. Clearly I could not hold the same pace as the shorter distance, but my aim was to try to stay below 3% loss of pace. Mostly, however, I just gave it all I could.

Another five minute walk break was followed by series of 400 and 800 meter runs at moderate to hard effort with jogging recoveries in between. These appear to be just there to ware me out a little before the second set of 800 and 1600. The second set was tougher and slower but I just took solace in the knowledge that once they were done, so was the workout. My 800’s clocked at 3:25.59 and 3:37.25 and the 1600’s at 7:20.28 and 7:21.03. It’s that last set that is providing me with the most encouragement. Losing only a second at the end of fairly exhausting workout seems to bode well for having the kind of long endurance I’ll need in August.  I’m still awaiting my results from my coach but my guess is that my regression rate is around 4.2% which is right where I need it to be.

While this is mostly a recovery week (last night’s test notwithstanding) I am still seeing a tick up in swim volume. I expect to log more than 6500 yards this week. Fortunately, the tests seem to have been a bit of a catalyst and I’m finding the laps are not nearly as overwhelming as they were back in January.

If we follow last year’s schedule, and I think we will, the next round of testing will likely take place in late March and early April. I’ll update progress on testing then.

Thanks for reading.