Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Changing the Definition of a Good Ride

Cycling is in my genes. My dad raced competitively for many years - both on roads and the velodrome. I even have his old aluminum-frame bike, named "Silver Shadow". One of these days I will get around to making it road-worthy again.

When I started doing triathlons five years ago (hard to believe I've been at it that long), I seemed to be stronger than most beginners on the bike. Despite not being on a bike in several years, I found myself near the top of my age group for the bike split in almost every race. So I naturally gravitated toward the bike and focused on using what I considered to be my strength, to my advantage. Regardless of the race distance, I would hammer on the bike. Sure, my runs suffered, but I thought that just meant that I needed to work more on my running. I wasn't (still am not) the best swimmer, so I would find myself having several people ahead of me on the bike course. I loved seeing someone up ahead of me on the road and making it a goal to catch them. I called them "rabbits" and I spent all of my energy catching as many as possible before getting to T2.

I raced this way for 4-1/2 years. I had some great bike splits and enjoyed looking at race results to see how many people I rode faster than. Too bad a triathlon is three disciplines. My run splits improved over the years, but they never got down to where I knew they should be. My open run times were considerably faster, and while I will never run a triathlon as fast as I can a run-only race, the difference was just too much.

So I decided to figure out how to ride my bike smarter. Earlier this year, I invested in a power meter for my bike. I purchased a Quarq Power Meter. This crank-based meter measures the amount of force the rider applies to the pedals. As this force is transmitted, there is a twisting, or torsion within the spyder portion of the crank (the part between the right crank arm and the chain rings); the strain gauges (embedded in the spyder) measure the amount of twisting from normal. This torsion info is then sent to a microprocessor in the bike computer (or Garmin watch in my case), and converted into wattage.

So once I had the power meter on my bike, then came the hard part - how do I use this thing? It was right around Christmas time, so I put a book called Training and Racing with a Power Meter on my list. Luckily for me, it showed up under the tree. This book is known as the "bible for riding with a power meter". It took me a few days to get into the book enough to even understand where to start. First thing was to determine my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and find out my strengths and weaknesses (short sprints vs. endurance).

After completing the testing protocol outlined in the book, I had a baseline to start from. Now I could use the workouts described in the book to improve me weaknesses and build on my strengths. More importantly for this season, I had a FTP to work from.

I had always heard about the need to "conserve energy" for the run, but aside from just riding a little easier than I knew I could - how was I supposed to "conserve energy"? After reading the book and gathering/understanding all the data from my power meter for 6 months, I finally know how to ride "conservatively". I also now understand that the difference between a well-paced bike leg and a poorly-paced bike leg is very small.

To demonstrate just how little room for error there is, we can take a look at the two Half-Ironman races I've done this year. The first was back in May. I had been riding with my power meter for several months, but still didn't have a good grasp as to how to race with it. Here are my bike split numbers from the first race:

Distance - 56.00 miles
Time - 2:40:54 (20.9 mph)
Work - 2093 kJ
TSS - 214.5 (0.839)
NP - 229 watts
VI - 1.06
EF - 1.55
Elevation Gain - 2211'
Avg HR - 148 bpm
Avg Cadence - 80 rpm

So what does all of this mean? The most important numbers to me a year ago would have been the average speed and average heart rate. My goals for a half-Ironman used to be to go as fast as I could while keeping my heart rate in zone 2 / low Zone 3, which for me is between 135 and 145 bpm. Now, neither of those numbers are important to me. I now focus on Normalized Power (NP) and Variability Index (VI).

Normalized Power is different than Average Power in one key way - it accounts for variability (wind, uphills, downhills, quick accelerations, long steady grinding/mashing, etc.). To account for these variables, an algorithm is used to calculate an adjusted (normalized) power for each ride. To simplify it, NP is the wattage you would have averaged if you had pedaled smoothly for the entire ride - the power that your body "thought" it was doing, though in reality the effort could have been very sporadic. NP simply provides a better measure of the true physical demands of a given ride than average power.

Variability Index analyses how smooth or consistent a riders power output was during a ride. A smooth/consistent ride in regards to power will reduce fatigue and pay huge dividends on the run. The closer the VI is to 1.00, the better. The goal is to keep it under 1.07, which means that the rider did a good job of pedaling smoothly for the entire ride and limited surges.

Here is a power graph from that same ride back in May.

Threshold Power (FTP) is the horizontal dashed line. Look how many times I exceed it during the race! During this race, every time that I encountered a hill, I would stand up and push to the top - spiking my power. Turns out, this is a big no-no. I was "burning matches". Each rider has a limited number of matches to burn. Once you burn them all, your chances of have a good finish or a solid run to finish out a triathlon are zero. I consider it "burning a match" anytime I go above my Threshold Power by 15-20% for more than a few seconds. So if you look at the graph from the race in May, I burned LOTS of matches. Which resulted in a very slow, painful run split of 2 hours and 21 minutes (10:45 minute/mile pace).

The second Half-Ironman I did this season was just a few weeks ago. Leading up to this race, I had a much better handle on how to properly pace my ride. I calculated that I should maintain a NP of 80-83% of my FTP for the entire 56 miles. This translates to 215-223 watts. I also promised myself that I would not stand up on the hills - in an attempt to keep my VI low. It wasn't easy, I wanted to push it harder, but I didn't. Here are my bike split numbers from the second race:

Distance - 56.00 miles
Time - 2:47:55 (20.0 mph)
Work - 2109 kJ
TSS - 185.3 (0.815)
NP - 219 watts
VI - 1.05
EF - 1.66
Elevation Gain - 2026'
Avg HR - 132 bpm
Avg Cadence - 84 rpm

So as you can see, my overall time was slower than in the first race. In the past, I would have looked at this as a negative and said that I had a better ride in the first race. But if you look at the numbers that really matter in a triathlon, this second race was much better. My NP was right where I wanted it to be. My VI was good, my average HR was much lower and my cadence was higher...all things that should translate to a better run off the bike. Compare this graph to the one from the first race - notice how few times I spiked above my Threshold Power in this race versus the first?

So did it work? Were my legs fresh coming off of the bike? Yep! My run split for the second race was 1 hour and 51 minutes (8:28 minutes/mile pace) - a full half an hour faster than the first race and a PR for the run split of a Half-Ironman. So I lost 7 minutes on the bike, but gained 30 on the run...seems like a good trade-off. 

So now I have a very specific definition of what a good ride is - and it's a much better and more accurate definition than I used to have!

I will use this same strategy for Ironman Louisville next month. My bike split may be slower than it was last time I did the race, but my run split should be much improved...and more enjoyable!

Be sure and visit all of my sponsor's websites. I sought out these companies because they provide great products and services.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cardinal Triathlon Results

News came via a text message at 12:13am on Friday morning that the swim was cancelled due to "dangerous current" in the Ohio River. Not the best news to be see on your phone when it wakes you up in the middle of the night.

So while I was disappointed in the fact that this race was no longer going to be a full triathlon, my goals for the race were based on the bike and run legs anyway.

I woke up at 5:15am and had my standard pre-race meal - a plain sweet potato. I had almost everything already packed and loaded up the night before, so I really just had to go over my checklist one last time and head out.

I made it down to Otter Creek in a little over 45 minutes. Once I arrived, it was interesting to see everyone trying to figure out what to do. With no swim leg, there were lots of questions.

Turns out the plan was to have the bike leg start just like a time rider at a time. After some pre-race instructions regarding the bike and run course details, we were told to head up from transition to the top of the hill and get in line. I walked up the hill and found myself first in line. I knew I didn't want to be there, so I told a few guys to go ahead of me. I eneded up starting third.

Getting ready to cross the mat and start my race.

The start was a short incline, so getting my shoes clipped in the pedals was a little tricky. Once I got going, I went over my strategy again in my head. The plan was to ride based on power only. No looking at speed, no looking at heart rate, no looking at distance. My Garmin screen was programmed to show me Nominal Power (NP), 3 sec Power Average and Total Time. I wanted to keep my power in a range of 80-85% of my FTP, which works out to 215-228 Watts. The other goal was to keep from spiking my power on hills. I watched it very carefully and spent a lot more time in low gears - not the way I typically ride. No standing and mashing up climbs, no pushing it just to get over the crest of a hill. I shifted down as soon as I felt like it was getting harder. Every hill, all 56 miles, I did this. It was tough. I'm used to pushing the bike pretty hard. I'm not used to getting passed, which I was, several times. I had to keep telling myself that I was saving my legs for the run...and that I would catch some of these people then.

My NP was pretty consistent and I did my best to keep my power below FTP (269W), even on hills. I couldn't keep it under on a couple of the hills, but I was in the lowest gear I I had no other choice. The chart below shows my power for the entire ride. The dashed line is my FTP that I was trying not to exceed.

As you can see, most of my ride was done in power zones 2-3. I was watching my 3 second average power numbers to try and keep my power low on the hills. I also made sure to never coast. I shifted and pedaled hard down all the descents. You can see I had a power reading the whole time with the exception of the very beginning, once early on, and then again coasting into transition at the end.

My NP ended up being 219 watts with a Variability Index of 1.05 - which is within the 1.00-1.07 goal range. Meaning that I didn't stray from my NP too often.

56 mile bike
2:47:52 (20.0 mph)
Nominal Power = 219W
2nd out of 6 in my Age Group
10th out of 48 Overall

I cruised into transition and racked my bike. I pulled my helmet off, changed into some dry socks (I had to pee twice on the bike), slipped on my shoes and grabbed my hat and sunglasses as I ran out.

1st out of 6 in my Age Group
5th out of 48 Overall

Heading back up the hill for the 2nd loop of the run.
My legs felt good as I started the run. This was a good sign and the whole reason I rode the bike the way I did. I started off the run with my buddy Jeremy. We ran the first mile or so together, which included an out-and-back with some brutal hills. The whole course was full of rolling hills and I was able to average 8:30 or so miles while keeping my heart rate in check. I wanted to keep it in the low 150's and once I settled in, it was not a problem. I really didn't feel like I had to ask my legs for more until around mile 9 or so. After that it was hard to hold my pace, but my HR never soared. The last few miles were a little slower than I would have liked, but overall, it was a completely different experience off of the bike than I had at the Half in Taylorsville back in May.

13.1 mile run
1:51:15 (8:30 min/mile pace)
1st out of 6 in my Age Group
9th out of 48 Overall

It was a good race in the fact that I accomplished all of my goals. Having the fastest run split in my Age Group is not something that I am used to...but it means that I did the bike right and conserved my legs.

Total Time
2nd out of 6 in my Age Group
8th out of 48 Overall

With Mom and Dad after the race.

Gear Used:
Pearl Izumi Elite Tri Jersey & Shorts
Tifosi Dolomite sunglasses
Garmin 910XT watch
Argon 18 E-112 Triathlon bike
Bike Javelin aero helmet
Asics Gel-Noosa Tri 7 shoes

Nutrition used:
  • (1) Medium Sweet Potato (about 2.5 hrs before race)
  • Water bottle with NUUN tablet
  • (1 pack) GU Chomps - ate about 30 minutes before race start
  • (2) Bottles full of Infinit - 5 scoops (845 calories)
  • (2) 24oz. bottle of water - replaced bottle at aid station around mile 30
  • (2) GU Roctane gels - at 1:00 and 2:00 - followed by 8-10 oz of water (200 calories)
  • Water and Hammer HEED at every aid station
I'll devote my next post to telling you exactly what I learned on this bike leg and how I will use this information during my Ironman race in August.

Be sure and visit all of my sponsor's websites. I sought out these companies because they provide great products and services.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Cardinal Triathlon Preview

This Saturday I will compete in the Cardinal Triathlon for the third time...yet this will be the first time I've done this race. Confused? So am I. 

Every July, Headfirst Performance puts on a Half-Ironman in the Louisville area. For a long time, this race was know as the Cardinal Harbour Triathlon, because it started and ended in Cardinal Harbour subdivision in Prospect, just a few miles northeast of Louisville. This was the venue when I competed in 2010. Because of some conflicts with the residents, the 2011 the race was moved from Cardinal Harbour to Captains Quarters Restaurant. This venue is only about 2 miles down river from Cardinal Harbour, so the bike course remained almost the same - going through Oldham County and covering a lot of the Ironman Louisville course. Then in 2012, there were some last minute issues with the Oldham County Police Department and the race had to once again be moved - this time to Taylorsville Lake. Fortunately for me, I wasn't planning on doing last years race. With Headfirst already doing a Half Ironman at Taylorsville Lake in May of every year, they needed a completely new venue for the 2013 race...

Enter Otter Creek Outdoor Recreational Area. Otter Creek is now owned and operated by the Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife after being left for dead in 2009 by the Louisville Metro Government. It's about 40 miles southeast of Louisville and is right on the Ohio River...making it a logical place for a triathlon. Headfirst already does a trail race and an adventure run in Otter Creek every year, so they were familiar with the logistics of putting on a race there.

So this will be my third time doing a Half-Ironman in July that is put on by Headfirst my third different location.

The 1.2 mile swim will be in the Ohio River, which thanks to all of the resent rain, is in pretty bad shape. Lots of debris and a strong current should make for an interesting swim. Not to mention all the "overflow" that will still be coming downstream from Louisville! I really have no idea how the swim will be set up, but I imagine if the current is strong, it will be several loops of a short course. The water temperature is in the mid-70's, so there will be no need for a wetsuit.

56 mile bike course
The 56 mile bike course will take us straight up a hill to get above the river and then once we are out of the park, we will do three loops of 16 mile course. Although I've never been on the course, the elevation profile tells me that there are lots of rolling hills and one big (1.2 mile) climb on each loop.

Bike Course Elevation Profile
After my long ride last weekend, I know what I want to do on this course - keep my Nominal Power at 200W and try not to let my cadence dip below 70 - even on the hills. I doubt that I will have a small enough gear to make this happen on the long climb, but I will do my best to keep my watts from getting too high. This is a new riding strategy for me. I'm used to just pushing hard on the bike and dealing with whatever my legs have left once I get to the run. After 6+ months of training with a power meter, I now have a very detailed plan for the bike...we'll see if I have the patience and discipline to hold back.

13.1 mile run course
 We will finish up the bike in a different location than we started. This will be the first race that I have done where T1 and T2 are in different locations. I'm not sure how we are going to get between the two for set-up before the race...maybe there's a trail through the woods? 

Run Course Elevation Profile
The 13.1 mile run consists of a double out-and-back that will be done twice. It looks fairly flat with the exception of a 1.1 mile long hill that we'll have to conquer twice (once at mile 5.2 and then again at mile 10.5). I'm curious to see what my legs feel like after the bike. I pushed the bike pretty hard (NP = 229W) during my Half-Ironman back in May and my run was horrible. It was a true suffer-fest. I'm hoping that even though it's going to be hot and sunny on Saturday, that I will feel strong on the run. This will tell me a lot about how my Ironman race day will be - which is just 44 days from now! I'm placing my faith in the power meter to keep me from "blowing-up" my legs on the bike. I'll use my heart rate as a tool on the run, keeping it below 150 bpm for at least the first 6-8 miles. Then, depending on how I feel, I'll either struggle just to get to the finish line or I'll have enough juice left to pick up the pace for the remaining 6-7 miles.

Be sure and visit all of my sponsor's websites. I sought out these companies because they provide great products and services.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


With less than two months until Ironman Louisville, my workouts have really ramped up in intensity and frequency. I'm also now scattering in one or two long runs/rides once a month. If you've asked me how my training is going, I've no doubt told you that I'm going with a non-typical approach to Ironman training this's call HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Most of my workouts are only around 45 minutes to an hour long. But they are intense. Once Ironman is over, I'll dedicate a post or two to my training methods and give some details on what I did and why it worked (hopefully).

Since almost every workout leaves my muscles feeling fatigued and my body feeling drained, it's important that I make sure I recover as much as possible between workouts. My training all takes place early in the morning. My alarm goes off at 4:30am or earlier six days a week and I'm either out the door to run, driving to the pool, or headed to the basement for some time on the bike trainer. Some days I combine two of the disciplines. 

My recovery actually starts at the beginning of my workout. I always do an active warm-up to get the blood flowing. As soon as the workout is complete, I'm normally into a cold shower within 10 minutes. When I say cold, I mean literally as cold as the water can get. I turn on cold water only. The cold water does two things. First it helps to prevent muscle soreness and it also cools my core temperature down. 

After the quick shower (I don't stay in there any longer than necessary), I usually try and get some food in my body. Most days my breakfast consists of Greek Style Cultured Coconut Milk (yogurt), a piece of fruit and either some quinoa or oatmeal.

If I've had a really hard running workout, I might put on compression socks under my dress socks to stimulate blood flow and keep blood from pooling up in my lower legs while I sit at my desk during the day. If it's the weekend, I'll pull on my full-leg compression tights for a few hours (my wife and kids love to make fun of me when I'm wearing these). 

I try to eat healthy, as I know that what I eat has a huge impact on how I recover. I also drink plenty of water. If I notice my urine is yellow, I'll up the water intake. If it's clear and I'm going more than once every two hours, I'll reduce the amount I'm drinking.

A few nights a week I spend about 20-30 minutes with my foam roller. Working on my legs from top to bottom. Some nights this is followed by some icing if I've got a spot that is particularly sore or tight.

The one area that I know I'm lacking in is sleep. Optimal sleep is critical for the recovery process. I typically only get around 6-1/2 hours a night. In an ideal world it would be closer to 7-1/2 or 8...but I've decided to sacrifice sleep to keep the training schedule that I have. My body seems to have adapted.

I also drink a special blend of Chinese Herbs made just for me by Meridian Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine. They make the herbal tea and put it into mason jars so that I can drink a little bit every day. There are a total of 10 different herbs that make up my recipe. The highest concentration is Sheng Di Huang - which, when combined with some of the other herbs, promotes body fluid production and relieves thirst. Other herbs in the mix help to nourish blood, reduce soreness, aid with sleep, sooth tendons and strengthen bones and tendons. My coworkers like to refer to my herbs as "dirt water". I admit, it doesn't look appetizing...but it's an acquired taste.

So being diligent about all of these things has helped me to feel fresh and ready to hammer my workouts each morning. Some days are easier than others, but the majority of the time, I have little to no soreness and plenty of energy to get in a high-quality training session.

In my next post, I'll tell you all the methods/tests that I use to make sure that I'm recovered and not approaching overtraining or the dreaded adrenal fatigue...which would literally end my season!

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