A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a friend of mine “why do you spend so much time training and money on coaches just to do so terrible in all your races??” The question may have been considerably off base however it did lead me to contemplate the fact that I have been spending a disproportionate amount of time on training for my results as of yet this year in comparison to years prior. This realization urged a deeper look at training/racing data to see how I have been performing, whether I have been hitting my potential and if so why might my fitness be less than what it was in comparison to the past.
To understand further I decided at the end of a recovery week to throw in a race simulation to determine with certainty if my uncharacteristically high HR in races thus far in 2016 has been a fluke or more indicative of something greater, after all once may be a fluke, twice a coincidence but three times is the start of a clear pattern. The simulation was performed at Santa Monica College and replicated race conditions as closely as could be imagined with a 1.2 mile long course wetsuit swim followed by a quick transition to the trainer for 60 minutes and then right onto the track for 3 miles, all targeting 70.3 race effort. My hope was that this experience would show that my high HR so far could be due to the stress of racing, heat/humidity or something else tied to race day. The unfortunate truth however was consistent with what I have experienced at Desert Tri, Oceanside and Texas, shown below using Vineman 2014 as a gauge with Vineman 2016 being the goal approaching in 3 weeks.
Simulation Pool Swim
The purpose of the swim was nothing at all about speed or performance rather laying down a strong effort before jumping on the bike to help elevate my HR and simulate race day. Swimming in a pool removed the need of sighting however the lane was jam packed so swimming around others felt at least a little like the real thing. The result was very similar to what I would expect for a decent 70.3 swim (30:12).
2014 Vineman Swim 30:47
Simulation Trainer Ride
At the end of my swim I quickly jumped out, stripped off my suit and ran with gear in hand about the quarter mile to where I had set up my trainer on the track. I even sprinted 100 yards up and down on the football field so that I would feel just as I might mounting my bike in a 70.3. The plan was very basic and simple, 5 minutes at 240 watts, prepping for the next 15 minutes at 260 watts (race effort), 25 minutes back down at 200 watts to recover and the last 15 minutes at race effort again to tire the legs before jumping off for the run. I had hoped that my HR would come down by the end of the first 20 minutes however I completely expected it to adjust for the last 15 minutes after 25 minutes of recovery. The unfortunate result was a consistent 170-173bpm, compared to my previous target of 159bpm at similar power back in 2014. This is 100% consistent with my HR/Power at Oceanside which was 171bpm at 260 watts averaging over the 56 miles.
2014 Vineman Bike
(Average Power 251 watts – Average HR 162bpm)
Middle 3rd 260 watts at 161 bpm
Simulation Track Run
Having paced and fueled on the bike just as I would on race day, and already noting my unfortunate result, all that was left was to jump off and run 3 miles at race pace to see how my body would respond, hoping that it would recover. On the positive side my pacing ability is still just as spot on as in college, splitting each lap to the second, targeting 6:13/mile. On the negative however despite a strong but manageable effort I checked my watch afterward to see I was in the low to mid 180’s for the majority of the less than 20 minutes, a completely unsustainable effort for what would have been 13.1 miles on race day.
2014 Vineman Run
(Average Pace 6:13/mile – Avg HR 171bpm)
To break down the days workout into two components, perceived effort and performance, the perceived effort, even going completely solo, was not very difficult or more than what I would have anticipated for a Half Ironman HOWEVER performance as represented by HR was way beyond what my body could be expected to handle for 5 hours of exercise. My old program preached familiarity with race day fueling to maximize efficiency through the body’s ability to absorb nutrients at a sustained effort. I may be able to handle 56 miles on the bike at 170bpm however when it came time for the run I would inevitably bonk from lack of fuel, this is exactly what happened at Oceanside and Texas where my bike HR was consistently 170bpm or above.
So what does this mean?? One of 3 possibilities –
- Lack of Fitness
- Equipment Failure
- Health Concern
It’s easy to eliminate Equipment Failure by checking past data or swapping devices. Is it possible my Kicker is reading low? HR monitor reading high, maybe, if it wasn’t for such consistent results. I also checked my HR by pulse a few times on the bike to confirm, it was screaming. Health concern?? I don’t know. I brought this up to my Doctor who knows very little about athletes. I once told a Doctor after an 8k post college that my average HR had been 201bpm to which he said “we need to get you to a hospital right away!!”. General physicians, in my experience, just don’t understand how an athlete’s body performs compared to the vast general public. Lack of Fitness, I’m thinking BINGO however it’s a hard solution to accept considering my bike and swim numbers have been just as good as ever in this years Time Trials and Power Tests. I have stuck to the plan prescribed as best as one can for the better part of 6 months.
The reason I use 2014 for comparison is not just because it was one of my latest and best performing years, it’s also because my race calendar and periodized scheme matches that of my current 2016 plan exactly. April 70.3, May Ironman, Vineman 70.3, with Vineman being my current PR, despite racing through 3 Mega weeks including 25, 26, and 27 hours of strong work back-to-back. The point being if I’m tired now because of my race plan I was definitely more tired then, still kicking ass despite my body hating me.
Running may be the most significant variable in this equation. In 2014, off of very little running volume I was able to throw down a 1:15 open to start the season. I remember cruising 6:36 pace comfortably on long runs and even hitting a 6:00 Z1 mile at one point. Then in 2015 I hurt my calf and was forced to take time off. Since I have not been able to push much of a fast pace without fear of re-injury. The sad result I believe is that I am not as fast as I used to be when it comes to running.
The purpose of this post was simply to recognize a concern, look at it objectively to decide how to respond. I realize I am not in the same place I was in the past and should consider adjusting my expectations accordingly as I move toward my next Half Ironman or else suffer an inevitable fate. I don’t see racing for 5 hours over 170bpm average as a relistic option. I appreciate any input that can be provided!!