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.

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