There’s been a lot of talk amongst triathletes recently about getting a gauge of fitness on the brink of the 2015 season. A term I have heard a couple of Purple Patch athletes using is “benchmarks”. I like to think of them as “ohh shit” tests as the excruciating pain of 15-20 minutes all-out effort can be a rude awakening after the off season and lax holiday break. In years past I wouldn’t give much consideration to these early performance measures but this year I want to pay more attention as a means of comparing year to year improvement at a particular time in the season and not just overall, a concept that was ingrained in my head repeatedly under my last coach.
New Years Run LA 5k 1/3/15
I was unsure whether it would make sense for me to race the New Years Run LA 5k leading all the way up to the day of the event. I had reservations about competing and starting out my 2015 season if I couldn’t do well. I had taken the whole month of October off from running (my longest break in many years) in an effort to rejuvenate the system and allow my legs to truly recover from the trauma of a long 2014 season. My training had been spotty at best over an extended 18 day holiday break where I had put the focused on family and friends and only gotten in the workouts when time allowed. The weeks before that were filled with holiday parties, sickness and a little injury/back pain. I had decided after some late fall triathlons in 2014 that racing just for fun was not an enjoyable experience for me if I couldn’t compete at my best. It wasn’t until some poolside encouragement the afternoon before that I decided I didn’t have much to lose, other than my ego.
That Tuesday I ran 3×1 mile on the track with adequate recovery to get an idea of what I could push for 3.1 miles. I’m not aware of this being an accurate gauge but turns out my average pace on the track was the same of that in my 5k within a few seconds. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be capable of achieving my previous 16:00 performances in speed I was very interested to see if I could get the engine revving up to the same RPM’s or BPM’s I had hit in years prior.
2012 Jack O’Lantern 5k – 196bpm avg/208bpm max
2013 Calabasas 5k – 193bpm avg/201bpm max
2015 New Years 5k – 191bpm avg/203bpm max
I’ve heard stories of channeling inner strength to push through physical barriers in racing however I take a simpler, less romantic, more mathematical approach. Fitness is fitness, and has everything to do with how you prepare in the weeks and months leading up to the race, nothing to do with the day of. There is a pain threshold an athlete must overcome to achieve optimum potential, after that there is simple race execution, efficiency and the ability of the heart to pump blood. My heart hums in a 5k! I remember racing the Turkey Trott in 2011 with an average HR of 201bpm and a max of 208bpm. There is simply no higher performance that it can achieve (and I love the thing), this coming from years of Garmin data and the American Heart Association who claims the average 30 year old male to top out at 190bpm, which is less than my average in these races. After efficiency is taken into account, which is the ability of an athlete to achieve greatest speed with least amount of effort it all comes down to pacing in order to maximize the area under the speed/HR curve (I’m sure I’ll talk about this later). Basically, for these shorter durations, you want to dial in a pace that will give you consistent splits with a gradual but steady increase in HR topping out at your max. Otherwise you’ll do what I did, which is overcook the pace, redlining too early, resulting in a steady drop in pace, from 4:50 min/mile after the first 0.5 miles to 5:50 min/mile to close the third.
I don’t have any regrets with my performance, I simply forgot what it feels like to race a 5k and the appropriate pacing. By the time I had hit my first 0.5 mile alert it was too late to adjust, but it was fun as hell racing through downtown LA on closed streets after dark. Also, I am very fortunate to have even gotten in considering the race sold out before I arrived at the expo, but I was allowed to compete in the Elite division (well sub-elite), even though I finished before all the sub-elites and some of the elites (thinking some runners may have exaggerated on their qualifying time). I’ll look forward to giving another one of these a shot in the fall when I’m in running shape. Also, in 3 weeks I’ll return to Surf City where I ran a PR in the 13.1 of 1:15 last year. How I will run 10 more miles, only adding 15 sec/mile I have no idea!
Tower 26 1k/100 yard Time Trial 1/9/15
The Tower 26 1k/100 yard TT is a standard test we are encouraged to do at the start of the season in January with a follow up in April or May succeeding our largest swim block to gauge progress with the system. Our Coach Gerry Rodrigues says if you aren’t any faster after this period in comparing TT times it might mean the program is not right for you (although I smirk when I hear this from my experience). Last Friday I was tipped off that this secretive test was scheduled for that night so I made it a priority to get to the pool outside of my usual 4 days. I wasn’t looking forward to it whatsoever considering all my excuses mentioned above, however I was excited at the notion of doing it in an uncrowded pool remembering a terrible experience last season, climbing over bodies in a lane with 6 or so other people, all at different paces.
I had no game plan or target this time other than to go out relatively conservative. I was second in the lane, swimming 10 seconds back, and opened with a 1:18, catching James the lead swimmer after 200 yards. It then became a game of attempting to pass in a circle swim with three people and a weak wall push off. Passing was exhausting and I could feel him on my feet right away for a couple hundred when I allowed the pass back but in James draft was all of a sudden barely working, so I gunned it to move up and remain in the lead for the last few hundred, finishing in 13:47. The hundreds came next, leaving in two groups with mine second. I didn’t think it would be possible to die so much in a 1 minute sprint (58 seconds for Brad Austin), but I went out in 32 and only closed in 36 for my third 1:08 100 yard TT time in a year.
I am very encouraged by my performance as I am with all the numbers coming out of Tower26 over the last year and change (with the exception of my 100, however this means very little in the world of triathlon where my usual swim is one to two miles). I knew I would be better than this time last year, what I didn’t expect was to be faster than I was in my peak last year. It can be tough getting in a cold dark pool at 5:45am most mornings but the thought of swimming fast and narrowing the gap out of the water makes it so much easier to get out of bed.
FTP Test 1/13/15
Last up – bike power!! So I’ve been reading a book that was recommended to me by Stacy Stern, a fellow Tower26’er called Training and Racing with a Power Meter. The general message of the book is understand power, test regularly and address weaknesses. I’ve had a power tap for the last few years however only recently made the purchase of a Computrainer (Wahoo Kicker) and started doing power based workouts instead of going by heart rate or perceived effort alone. It has been a huge convenience to be able to program power intervals in Erg mode and tune out to a movie on Netflix while suffering rather than staring at my HR to stay in zone. In past trainer workouts I would gaze at that number for 4 or more hours, VERY TEDIOUS, and with today’s bike gadgets and technology completely unnecessary in my mind.
Bike power tests are one of the most horrible experiences I have ever felt, worse than my 5k and pool TT combined!! Perhaps it’s the monotony of the trainer or the torture of doing it solo. Afterward I had to lay flat down on the ground for 5 minutes and try and not pass out, feeling the blood pulsing in my head and legs. It’s a little harder with power tests to confirm data because of variances in equipment (first time using the Kickr vs my Power Tap). I’m willing to admit that I’m weaker now than I was at my peak last season but certainly much stronger than when I started taking riding seriously a few years ago.
Here are my numbers from last night’s test –
Unfortunately I don’t have data from the last 2.5 years to show my progress. According to my coach I was at 309 watts when I started with QT2 2 years ago and am now (Aug 2014) in the 325-330 range with magic proclaimed to happen at the 340-350 threshold at 165lbs. My plan for this season is to consistently hit a threshold workout each week to build FTP, low cadence session to build muscular endurance and long ride with plenty of hill climbing for Ironman aerobic fitness, all within the parameters established under my previous regime (with the exception of turning down volume slightly) and prescribed in the books I’ve been reading. I may not know what I’m talking about but I have all the numbers from the past 4 years and intend to look at them to be able to say after my 2015 season either “that made sense” or “I don’t know what I’m doing”.
I’m not proud but not afraid either of the numbers I generated over the last week and a half. In my mind the most unfortunate thing an athlete can do is set a goal such as qualify for Kona and feel sad at falling short without an understanding of the qualifying standards in each discipline in comparison to their own ability/potential. A successful performance is one part the appropriate fitness and another part putting it all together on race day. My main goals for 2015 are very simple
- Understand my progress as compared to previous seasons with race data and performance indicators
- Achieve consistent race outcomes in consideration of these figures (translate fitness to results)
- Learn to listen to my body and achieve better life balance
This year is my first after the last decade of being coached by world renowned, professional athletes and Olympic hopefuls trying things on my own. Part of it is the financial component and the other is the thrill of seeing what I can do. When you’re coached it’s kind of like being a horse with blinders on, directed each step but unaware of the big picture. I think knowing the numbers and having more of a sense of accountability will be a driving force. I don’t intend for this to be more than a season thing and hope that it will be a good learning experience and stepping stone for the future. This last week was a first step and I’m happy with the direction.