Saturday, April 28, 2012

Things are Proceeding... As Usual

I've been seriously neglecting this blog lately - mostly because I don't want to sound like a broken record every time I race.

It's the last week of my taper for Ironman St. George.

Two weeks ago, I went through the panic. I'm not ready. I didn't train enough. I didn't train HARD enough. I don't know if I did the right things in my training. I didn't do enough nutrition training. I didn't train for the hot weather. I didn't train for the cold water. I didn't eat well during training. I didn't get enough sleep...

That's what happens during a pre-race panic attack. Every. Single. Time. And, as usual, it happened after a few bad workouts during my last build period.

The sad truth is that I've trained harder this year than last year. I did strength training. I was more consistent than ever in the pool, and my workouts were both harder and longer. And yet, in the last three weeks, my intervals are slower than ever. I rode more long rides and harder short rides this winter than last. But the last time I did a long ride, my power and speed hit a training low. And the one thing I pride myself on, my running speed, which I painstakingly fostered weekly on the treadmill during this whole buildup, is anything but fast and my legs now feel like jello.

And to top it all off, last week I got slammed with an upper respiratory infection that knocked me for a loop.

So, yes, I panicked.

And now I am trying to stay calm. Because there's nothing I can do. I can't cram in anymore training. The weather forecast for next Saturday in St. George is close to 100 degrees F. And my bike is already on it's way to Utah. I have to trust that I've done all I can, that I will make good decisions nutritionally and pace-wise on race day, and the weather is something I can't control. And let the chips fall where they may.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Yes, More Data

I'm back to my old tricks - gathering shreds of comparison data for confidence-building before Ironman St. George. A month ago, I posted a blog comparing last year's CompuTrainer data to this year's data for the Ironman St. George real course video. I rode the simulated course several times last year to prepare for race day, and each time, I saw improvement. This year, I've done the same thing, but now that I've actually ridden the "real" course and know what to expect and what I'm capable of, I've been comparing this year's data to last year's data to get an even better idea of my preparedness.

Besides a slight increase in power over the course this year, what I've found after a few data comparisons is that I'm comfortably riding at a higher heart rate. I have yet to determine if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It's mostly just a confusing thing. Because I don't FEEL like I'm riding with an elevated heart rate. Yet, on the average, it's several beats-per-minute higher than my course rides last year. Is it possible for a person's max heart rate to increase (instead of decrease) with age?

What I DO know is that in my best races, I've gone on "feel" (perceived effort) and not on measurement. So unless I learn something new in the next few weeks, I'll be going with the only thing I know - my own perception.

On with the data. The following charts are comparisons of my power, speed, heart rate, and cadence on the CompuTrainer IM St. George course. The red line is from March 31, the blue line is from March 3, and the gray dotted line is from April 3, 2011 (last year's last course ride). And the bottom plot is not my implosion, it's the IMSG course profile:

Ideally, I wanted the red line (the most recent ride) to have the highest average power and speed and lowest heart rate and cadence. Although it's not overly obvious on the plots, I succeeded on three out of four of those counts - when I checked the averages, my power and speed were about 4% higher.

I was somewhat surprised to see my cadence had an obvious drop on the most recent ride. I say "somewhat" because I've been working at this but I don't usually see such blatant effect in such a short time. The reason I was working at it is because I've learned my heart rate is more affected by cadence than any other variable. I've noticed on the trainer that I naturally gravitate toward a very high cadence - somewhere in the high 90s to just over 100 (I guess that means, in technical terms, I'm a spinner not a masher?). But this year I've been working to reduce it - to push a higher gear at a slightly lower cadence, say between 90-95 rpm. In combing the internet for information I saw the following quote and couldn't help but laugh: When asked if it was better technique to mash a big gear or spin a small gear, Eddy Merckx thought for a moment and said "Its better to spin a big gear." I guess THAT, in a nutshell, is my ultimate goal. (Isn't it everybody's?)

In the end, the only thing left to do is give credit where credit is due. My power increase has been, once again, the direct result of working my butt off on the CompuTrainer in a 12-week program devised by a fellow athlete named Mark Gorris. Mark created what's known in local circles as the "CompuTrainer Challenge." Starting in January, he generously and tirelessly sends out weekly workouts to a local email list. I noticed last year that the Challenge appeared to be a competition for bragging rights as the list engaged in some amusing smack talk. But as the newbie and not-so-secure-in-my-abilities cyclist, I sat on the sidelines and just did the work. And, well, the simple fact is this: if you do the workouts, you get stronger and faster. It worked last year before St. George, and I'm hoping the above charts indicate that it worked again this year.

What I do with this is information is now the most important thing. Along with the long distance stuff and the biking strength, this year I've also been working at my running speed, my swimming strength, and my nutrition strategy. And, as a self-coached triathlete, I've been reading a LOT about Ironman racing and race-day strategy. It's boils down to another very simple fact: if you race stupid on race day, all the work you put in beforehand is completely worthless.

I have four weeks left to ram home the this fact. Because, as the Disaster Magnet, I have always been aware that, along with natural disasters, nothing can derail my race quicker than stupid [mental] mistakes made on race day.