Wednesday, 29 February 2012

February

The year is a sixth over, winter is more than two-thirds behind us, it's no longer pitch-black when I leave the house in the AM or when I leave the office at night, and Lance Armstrong has settled the debate about whether he would be competitive with the best athletes in the sport. 

This month in Triathlon
The biggest story in February was the inaugural Ironman 70.3 race in Panana, where only days before the event Lance Armstrong announced he was making his return to on-road triathlon racing.  Lance's story is well-known, but people often seem to forget that before he went on to be a world champion, Olympic champion and 7-time Tour de France winning cyclist, he was one of the fastest triathletes in the world...at age 16.  At ages 18 and 19 he was the US sprint-distance triathlon champion, and only gave up the sport to move to the more lucrative sport of cycling.  
Big Tex in Panama
In Panama, Lance raced very tactically - his swim is good enough to make the lead pack, and despite being the strongest cyclist in the field he rode with a group of strong riders for the 90K bike segment - likely at a much lower percentage of his threshold than those around him.  He likely started the run much fresher than his counterparts, and lay down a solid 1:17 half-marathon in stifling heat to come second.  It took a huge effort by the 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, Bevan Docherty, to run Lance down in the closing miles of the race.  Panama was a big KPR ('Kona Points Ranking') race for the pros, so Lance's goal to qualify and compete in Kona in October is alive and well early in the season.  People seem to either love or hate Lance, but regardless of your feelings towards the guy he's going to bring a huge amount of exposure to the sport this season.

Also in Panama, Canadian Angela Naeth won the women's racing in convincing fashion, beating a strong field that included Leanda Cave who was 3rd in Kona last year and won Ironman Arizona.  Naeth is coached by one of the great personalities in the sport, Chuckie V.

The biggest news locally in February was the announcement of the Toronto Triathlon Festival to be held in July.  In late 2011 there were rumours that WTC was trying to put on a 5i50 race in downtown Toronto that would have the bike on the Gardiner and the DVP; in the end it looks like the city went a different direction and this event is run by a new group featuring the support of the ITU, Triathlon Canada, Triathlon Ontario, and the superstar backing of Simon Whitfield.  This race will compete head-to-head with the Muskoka 5i50 which is on the same day just up highway 400, which is unfortunate as both races will be fun and I would have liked to race them both.

February Summary
Targets for February:
1. Double bike hours from January.
2. Bring Friday AM swim pace down to 1:22/100 or under by the end of the month.
3. Take Tremblant by storm for JT's 'Last Waltz'.  And maybe strap on those Nordic skis one more time.

Swimming - 21:00 hours, 70,306 metres
With January topping my biggest single-month meters total in 2011, it was a tough ask to follow suit in February with two less days in the month and a four-day weekend out of town with no access to a pool thrown in.  The volume in January made it possible to consistently bang out 4-5K per session in February, making it my biggest volume swim month since 2000.

Key session was a 5300 meter swim session on February 19: Main set was 2000 meters for time (long course).  My time was 28:07, with 500 splits of 7:04, 7:02, 7:02, 6:59.  Average pace per hundred just over 1:24, so not quite at the 1:22 I had hoped but I feel that I'm on the verge of a speed breakthrough in the pool with a steady build of volume through the end of 2011 and two solid months to start off 2012.

Cycling - 28:30 hours, 888.1 kilometres
Didn't quite hit the target of doubling January hours in the saddle, but did put in a lot of solid work and set the foundation for March, which will be my first big bike build of the year.

Key session: A short-but-sweet one hour on the trainer doing FTP intervals, coming off a solid week of FTP testing.  Encouraged with the power output, though there's still a lot of work to do.  Not sure how much Luke McKenzie weighs, but according to Inside Triathlon magazine, he rode Kona at 271 watts which was 82% of his FTP...so 330 watts, which I'm not quite at yet.  I rode Kona at 215 watts, which was conservative based on my estimated FTP at the time of 290 (74%).  Garmin link: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/153208142.

Inside Tri illustrating the benefits of making the lead swim pack, as well as proper bike pacing.
Running - 15:42 hours, 204.6 kilometres
February started well, knocking out 90KM in both of the first two weeks of the month.  During a 30K run in Mont Tremblant I aggravated an old calf injury, so took a week and a half off running to let it heal up.  (Note that staying injury-free during the trip to Tremblant was inversely related to goal #3 for February of 'taking Tremblant by storm', which we definitely did.)  I've run the last three days (short and easy) and feel no pain, so hoping to get back to regular distance weeks soon and bring back some intensity by mid March.

Key session: 27K run including 3*12 mins tempo (avg 3:35/k) with 2 mins rest.  Felt uncomfortable but not terrible, stride felt great.  Will hopefully get that speed back by the end of March after the short running layoff in February.  Garmin link: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/147061923.

Total - 65 hours
Four hours more than January with two less days, and 23 hours more than last February.

March Preview
Targets for March:
1. Lay down some 3-5 hour outdoor rides on the weekends.
2. Bring swim pace down to be consistently 1:20/100 SCM and 1:22/100 LCM.
3. Burn up the slopes at Smuggler's Notch for my once-every-Olympiad attempt at downhill skiing.

Watch for some wicked-fast racing in March as the following top-shelf events are kicking off around the world:
- March 3: Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, a strong field of uber-bikers and a fat prize purse.
- March 3: Ironman New Zealand, one of the oldest races in the circuit and the first IM of 2012.
- March 24/25: ITU Mooloolaba World Cup, an early-season test for a lot of the Olympic hopefuls.
- March 25: Ironman Melbourne, the Asia-Pacific championship just loaded with talent.

With all the talk about Bevan Docherty's race against Lance in Panama, I'll sign off here with my favourite finishing-kick video in triathlon for a race that doesn't involve Simon Whitfield (as Sydney takes the gold, Hy-Vee 2009 takes the silver, and Beijing the bronze in the Simon-inclusive category):

Monday, 27 February 2012

Teamwork

A friend of mine stumbled across this blog post last week and sent me the link - it's written by Steve Johnson, who's a crazy-fast age group triathlete and multisport coach.  Steve and I ran the majority of the marathon portion of the Ironman World Championship race together back in October, and I'm glad one of the photographers on course was able to capture us having fun.  Steve's blog has a link to the photo in an online tri magazine and also talks about our teamwork out on the course:

http://darkhorsemultisport.blogspot.com/2011/12/worth-1000-words.html

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Power Meters

History of Cycling Data Feedback
In 1983, Avocet launched the first electronic cycling computer which displayed speed and distance to the rider during a ride.  While pace is a great indicator of effort for running, it is more of a byproduct of cycling effort than an indicator of effort.  Wind resistance and terrain affect pace significantly, such that riding at 30KM/H can be done at either no effort or maximal effort depending on the conditions. 
We've come a long way, baby.
The first integrated cycling computer and heart rate monitor was launched by Polar in 1990.  Heart rate provided a more accurate measure of effort than pace, as it was a reactive measure of the stress put on the body by the cycling effort.  This reactive nature of heart rate feedback meant that heart rate was telling us the result of the strain we had just inflicted on our body in the past as opposed to measuring the current output of our efforts. 

Technology to measure the torque a rider applies to a bicycle whilst pedalling was developed during the 1980's, culminating in the launch of two power-measurement devices in 1989: the Power Pacer used by Team Strawberry in the 1989 Race Across America, which measured torque in a unit built into the hub of the rear wheel, and the crank-based power meter created by German company Schroberer Rad Messtechnik (SRM - literally translated as 'Schoberer's bike technical measurement') that was used by Greg LeMond during his 1989 Tour de France victory.  The Power Pacer eventually faded away, as the data was stored in the hub only to be retrieved after the ride was over, whereas the SRM data was displayed for the rider to see instantaneously.  

Power Meter Options
Despite the technology being launched two decades ago, it took many years for the price of these units to drop sufficiently to make them accessible to the every day cyclist.  There's currently three major manufacturers offering on-the-road power options:

1. SRM: The original and still the most popular choice amongst the pro peloton, also the priciest (around $2,700 to 3,700, depending on which crank you get it built on).  
2. Quarq: Another crank-based system, which comes in just under $2,000 from a company founded in 2006 and selling units since 2008.  The company was bought by SRAM in 2011.
3. PowerTap by Cycleops: PowerTap wheels have the power sensor built into the hub of the rear wheel, allowing for relatively easy swapping between bikes.  The cheapest of the three options, currently you can get a wheel for $1,000 new or as cheap as $400 for a used wheel.  

Garmin is currently working on a product called the Garmin Vector, which will be a pedal-based system, allowing for the easiest swapping between bikes.  June 2012 is the projected launch date and the pricing is looking like it will be somewhere between the PowerTap and the Quarq. 

Why Train with Power?
1. Power measures the work performed during a workout, whereas heart rate and perceived exertion measure your body's response to that work.  Check out the output from my workout this morning, with graphs for both HR and Power:


The goal for the 20 minute segment in the second half of the ride was to hold power around 335 watts for 20 minutes - you can see the power graph is relatively consistent over that 20 minutes, whereas heart rate over that same 20 minute period drifts consistently upwards, starting around 163 and rising to 180 by the end.  If the workout had been to hold 170BPM, the result would have been decreasing power output over the 20 minutes, in order to keep the HR consistent.

2. Being able to hit prescribed efforts in training regardless of conditions.  By recording your power output during workouts, you can establish a baseline level of fitness, and target specific power ranges in subsequent workouts to measure improvement over time and quantitatively measure the work performed in each session specifically, without having terrain, wind, or temperature affect the data.  300 watts of effort on a flat road with a tailwind is the same amount of work as 300 watts of effort going uphill into the wind.  Your speed in each of those scenarios will be vastly different, however, speed is simply an outcome of the power you create and the conditions under which the power is created.

3. Using a power meter won't make you a more 'powerful' cyclist on its own, but it could teach you to be a faster cyclist even on your first ride with power.  My first ride with power was a group ride, where in the peloton I was putting out 180 watts on the flats, then we'd hit a hill and despite my RPE increasing slightly, my power spiked to 400 watts.  I knew I was working 'harder' on the hills than on the flats, but didn't think I was working more than twice as hard.  Seeing my power during a ride allowed me to adjust the effort levels going up the hills and increase the effort in sections where I *thought* I was pushing hard, but found out the watts said I wasn't.  Watts don't lie. 

4. Pacing on race day.  Through training with a power, you develop a sense of what watts you're capable of maintaining over various distances.  This helps solve one of the toughest equations of long-course triathlon racing - how hard can I go on the bike without compromising my run?

The most common reason people don't train with power is that it's too expensive.  A friend of mine bought a used wired powertap for $400 on ebay, which is about the cost of a 70.3 race and two thirds the cost of an Ironman.  If you're committing the money and time to race long in 2012, you should consider putting a portion of your racing and training budget towards investing in power - your run split in your Ironman will thank you!


 

Monday, 13 February 2012

Mont Tremblant

Mont Tremblant is a mountain in the Laurentian mountain range in Quebec, just over 100K from both Montreal and Ottawa.  The name of the mountain is French for 'trembling mountain' which was the name the local Algonquin natives called the mountain before Samuel de Champlain, the 'Father of New France' brought the Europeans to settle the area. We were in town with a motley crew over the weekend for some skiing, suds and shenanigans. 
Les Pistes!

Seeing how I'm a blue-run skier at best, I stayed off the slopes but got in a few runs around the Tremblant Ironman run course.  Most of the course is on an old rail bed that is transformed into cross-country ski trails in the winter, so I stayed on the roads that are close to the course.  That race is going to be a certified quad-buster, my legs were thoroughly trashed after 50K of up-and-down.  The following elevation chart doesn't do the course justice as Garmin Connect's scale is terrible and you can't adjust it:

For comparison purposes, check out the elevation gain on this 30K run versus the two Ironman marathons I ran in 2011:

Tremblant 30K: 408 metres (574 metres prorated over 42.2K).
Hawaii Marathon: 230 metres.
Louisville Marathon: 55 metres.

I much prefer the rolling terrain in Hawaii to the steep ups and downs in Tremblant - I find it punishing to brake going down steep hills, and rollers allow you to get into a better running rhythm.  The area is beautiful though, and I'm sure the community will put on a great show on August 19th for those that are racing.
The weekend's theme was 'The Last Waltz' and the crew killed it, just like Van Morrison on the actual Last Waltz night:

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Triathlon Training Seminar

I'm hosting a triathlon training seminar at the University of Toronto on Monday February 13th - if you're a member of the U of T athletic centre or a U of T student, come and check it out!


Happy training!