Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ironman UK Power Graph

The power graph you see above was produced by one of the athletes I coach--Eric VanMoorlehem. It is from Ironman UK on August 19. Eric races in the 35-39 age group. He had a difficult preparation for IMUK due to a nagging Achilles tendon inflammation which stayed with him most of the summer. Because of this he didn't run much. He also felt the bike aggravated the Achilles (he has switched over to a midsole cleat position since the race to take the load off of his Achilles and calf). So he was a bit limited on training there also. So he went in to the race with both of us concerned that he may not qualify for Hawaii which he had done each of the last two seasons. There were three IM slots in his age group and we couldn't count on a roll down so we felt he had to get 3rd.

Eric is very good at maintaining a steady and consistent power output despite hills and even heat. This is evidenced by his 1.06 variability index (VI). VI is determined by dividing normalized power by average power. A VI of 1.0 would mean perfect pacing, but hills make this quite a challenge. IMUK was quite hilly.

He posted a 5:09 which is 18 minutes slower than his best IM bike split. He started the run in first place in his age group and ran as best he could given his limited run training coming into the race. He ran a 3:21 and finished in 9:33 for a 3rd place--22 seconds ahead of 4th. So he did qualify.

What I especially like about this graph is how little "decoupling" there is between power and heart rate over five hours of riding. Decoupling is basically a measure of cardiac drift. But, of course, heart rate could could stay constant with power drifting downward during the race. So rather than refer to this as drift I call it decoupling. The power and heart rate graphs remain almost perfectly parallel throughout this race graph. He experienced only 3.83% decoupling. I like to see this be less than 5% in a steady-state race such as a triathlon or time trial. Contrast Eric's decoupling with that in the race graph below. You can see a significant difference.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Another Race Analysis

Above is a graph of one of my athlete's Mt Lemmon Hill Climb from last Sunday. It is the same athlete described below. She once again won her age group despite less than stellar fitness. The graph confirms what we saw the previous week and lends support to our proposed direction over the next few weeks as she rebuilds lost fitness. You can read the comments on the graph for the details.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Quick Race Analysis

Above is the WKO+ power-heart rate graph of a 40km time trial from last Sunday done by one of the athletes I coach. She had a good race winning her category and finishing 4th overall. And bettered her time from the previous year. This despite not being even close to the fitness she had earlier in the season before she injured her foot by dropping a heavy object on it and losing several weeks of training. We're making good progress but we've got a ways to go with her training for late season races.

The graph includes my comments and provides great feedback on what we need to work on. We need to rebuild her pedal force to boost power and lift her cadence (it was 80 but obscured above). We also need to continue lifting her anaerobic threshold fitness. This is evident from the "decoupled" power and heart rate graphs. This should be less than 5% when in good shape. She did a great job of riding a steady TT as shown by her Variability Index ("VI") of 1.0.

Without this feedback she and I would only be guessing as to how her race went and what we need to work on.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

It's All About Recovery

If you could wish for one athletic-enhancing gene it should be the one that improves your capacity to recover quickly from workouts. Athletes with this gene seem to naturally become the best athletes in their respective racing categories. There isn’t any scientific data to back this up, but there seems to be a strong correlation between one’s ability to recover and the rate of one’s fitness progression. Recovering quickly also means getting in good shape quickly.

Why is this so? There is an easy explanation: It’s during recovery following hard training that the body realizes the changes that we call “form,” which is simply to say one’s potential for performance in a race or in subsequent training. These changes may result in fat-burning enzyme increases, more resilient muscles and tendons, decreases in body fat, greater heart stroke volume, more glycogen stored in the body, and on and on. Besides overloading your body with the stresses of hard exercise, focusing on recovery is the most powerful thing you can do in training to perform at a higher level. But this is the part of the training process that most self-coached athletes get wrong. They don’t allow for enough recovery and overwhelm their bodies with stress.

Recovery may be thought of in many different ways. In terms of periodization, when you insert it in the training plan is important to your eventual success as a triathlete.

Yearly recovery. “Transition” periods are needed after “Race” periods. The purpose of these low-volume, low-intensity Transitions is to allow your body and mind to rejuvenate before starting back into another period of hard training. So that if you have two A-priority races in a season you should also generally have two Transition periods. The first Transition may only be three to five days, but the one that comes at the end of the season may well last four weeks or even longer depending on how challenging the previous season, and especially the final part, was.

Monthly recovery. Build recovery into your monthly training plan every third or fourth week. This regular period of reduced workload may be three to seven days depending on what you did in the previous hard training weeks, how fit you are becoming and other individual factors.

The accompanying figure illustrates what happens when you do this. As your fatigue increases over the course of two to three weeks of increasing workloads, your form diminishes. Form is your potential for performance. In other words, how well you may train or race at any given point in time. Notice that fatigue and form follow nearly opposite paths, but that form lags behind the changes in fatigue. It takes a few days of reducing fatigue to produce increases in form. A key principle of training is to unload fatigue frequently which has the effect of improving your readiness to train well again. Without unloading fatigue you become a zombie doing workouts with low quality and no enthusiasm.

Weekly recovery. Within each week there should be hard and easy days. No one, not even elite athletes, can train hard every day with no recovery breaks. Easy days are as necessary for fitness and form as sleeping at night is for health and well-being. Some athletes need a day completely off from exercise every week. Other athletes, especially those with the quick-recovery gene who also have a high capacity for work, can exercise seven days a week. These elite athletes will still need easy days, however. “Easy” days are relative to the individual. There is no standard that every athlete must abide by. That said, it is important even for high-capacity athletes to occasionally have days completely off from exercise.

Daily recovery. Multiple daily workouts are especially challenging. When doing two-a-day workouts there will be times when both are challenging sessions, but there will also be days when both are light workouts or one is hard and one is easy. This is what makes any sport, but especially triathlon, so complex and why having a coach is often necessary to achieve high levels of success.

How often you insert recovery in your training program; how long this period of recovery lasts; and what exactly recovery means to you in terms of workout duration, intensity and frequency is an individual matter. The only sure way for you to determine each of these is through trial and error. Some athletes will find they can recover quite nicely on short periods of infrequent recovery. Others will discover they need frequent long periods to recover adequately.

Be aware that the need for recovery is a moving target and is always changing as the total stress in your life and how fit you are changes. Be conservative when trying different recovery programs. “Conservative” in this case means erring on the side of too much recovery.