Monday, June 29, 2009

TT Pacing Research

One of my peculiar habits is that almost every day I read from a stack of research abstracts looking for interesting stuff that I might be able to use in training. This morning I found one on a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m sure you can guess what it is: Pacing in cycling time trials. This research would also apply to the bike leg in a triathlon, I believe.

In this study Mattern and colleagues at the University of New Hampshire examined the effect of different pacing strategies in the first 4 minutes of a 20km time trial (Mattern, et al. 2001. Impact of Starting Strategy on Cycling Performance. Int J Sports Med 22(5): 350-5). The 13 subjects were experienced and competitive road cyclists (average VO2max was 71.7). They did three time trials at this distance over several days. The first was done at a self-selected pace for the first 4 minutes and for the remaining times. We’ll call this self-selected trial ‘SS.’

A few days later the same riders repeated the 20km TT. And a few days after that they rode the third one. On these latter two occasions they were told to ride for the first 4 minutes at a power output that was either 15% less than in SS (‘-15’) or 15% greater (‘+15’). These two were done in random order. In both instances after the first 4 minutes they could ride at whatever power and effort they wanted trying to produce the fastest times possible.

On average, the fastest times came from the -15 trial. Power was significantly higher after the first 4 minutes in this trial compared with SS and +15. There were no differences after the first 4 minutes between the 3 trials in terms of heart rates or ratings of perceived exertion. Everbody still suffered later in each of the trials, but in -15 the suffering started later.

Is holding back 15% for 4 minutes the perfect strategy for you? Maybe. Maybe not. But the take-home message here is that you will probably have your best times by holding back a little early in the race.

Although this study did not address the start strategy for running events, I expect the results would be similar for age grouper runners in a mass start race. That may not be the case for the elite runners in such a race due to the need to factor in drafting into the wind (they’re moving pretty fast) and the pacing strategies of the other elites.

The -15 trial is basically the strategy I strongly suggest to the athletes I coach. I’ve found that the only way to get them to do this in a race is to repeatedly rehearse it in training with graphic feedback so they know how they did. Even then it can be very difficult to hold back the first few minutes of competition. Patience and confidence are the keys. If you are impatient or lack confidence in your ability the tendency is to start much too fast (+15% or even more) and then limp home the final fourth of the race. I’m afraid this is what nearly all athletes do.

Realize that you can go too slowly at first, also. The best way to get your start pace figured out is to to try it several times in training and in races. The latter is the more important. Give the -15%-for-4-minutes strategy a try in your next B- or C-priority race and let me know how it worked for you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ironman Results

In regards to the post below (Ironman Race Plan), I've had a number of people ask how my client's Ironman race went last weekend. Rather than post all of those questions I'll just summarize it now. The swim was a bit slow but it seemed that was the case for many due to some chop on the lake. The bike numbers were right on. The run did not go as we had planned. We're currently discussing why that may have happened and making plans to correct our weaknesses and qualify still this season.

Revolution Bikes, Delta, Colo

What would you do if someone walked into your bike shop and said, 'Could you fix this broken derailleur cable? Oh, and by the way, I only have $3 and no credit card.' That was me when my bike broke down in Delta, Colorado on a ride from Grand Junction to Montrose. I still had 30 miles to go and didn't want to do it all in my 12. A few minutes later I was out the door with a working bike and well wishes from Chris Davis, the owner of Revolution Bikes. No charge. Great guy. Thanks, Chris!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ironman Race plan

One week before a challenging A-priority race such as an Ironman Triathlon I ask the athlete to prepare a written plan. This is based on what we have learned in training and shoud include such things as goals, keys to success, race-day nutrition, pacing in each sport, key thoughts before and during the race, and anything else the athlete believes is important. The following is a race plan from one of the athletes I coach who is doing Ironman Couer d'Alene this Sunday.


Ironman Couer D’Alene 2009

1) 9:14:59 (59/4:56/3:15)
*Dream day 9:05 (:56/4:52/3:12)
2) Top 3 Age Group
3) Qualify for Kona

Keys for Success:
· Bike pacing (no power spikes, aero)
· Nutrition especially on bike
· Run pacing (first 10 miles)
· Any changes are gradual changes (pacing, nutrition, focus)
· The race starts at mile 16 of the run

Race Week:
· In bed by 9pm
· 1 hour of personal quiet time daily to gather mental energy and visualize race
· Decaf coffee only
· Minimize stress and avoid “freaking out” triathletes
· Focus on healthy foods and lots of fruits and veggies
· Very low fiber consumption after noon on Saturday
· Arrive Thursday am, register and spend 60 minutes at expo
· Revisit key sections of course in training: swim @7am, bike rolling section, run along lake

Race Morning:
5am Wake up “Boy do I feel light and strong!”
5:05 Big glass H2O and energy bar
5:15 Good stretch, active warm up
5:30 Bathroom
5:45 Sunscreen, race kit, HRM
6:00 Leave House
6:10 Race site: Drop Special needs, Body marked
6:20 Bike ready: bottles, computer, tires, Vaseline, shoes, towel
6:35 Wetsuit on, body glide, gel, goggles and cap
6:45 Swim warm up: swim 3minutes, drills 5min, 3x pickups
6:55 Ready to go
7:00 “Be strong at the finish!”

SWIM: Goal 57 minutes (1:30/100m)
*55:45 (1:28)

Keys for Success:
· Fast first 300m then find fast feet
· Accelerate around turns
· Increase kick last 500m

Head down and grab water
Settle and focus on technique
Long and narrow
Whip forward

T1: wetsuit/ goggles off, get bag, bar and gel in pocket, glasses and helmet on the way to bike, mount line, on bike, shoes done up, Ride to run!

Bike: Goal “Ride to run strong” 4:59

Keys for Success:
· 210-230 watts on flats
· First hour ridiculously easy
· Aero on the flats
· 1250 calories as follows
o Carbo pro (CHO) 700
o Bar 250
o Gel optional 200
o Gatorade 300

“Ride to run”
“First lap is a warm up”
“Head tucked in, eyes rolled up”
“Narrow and aero”

0-20k out and back: Let stomach settle 15min then sip of Carbo Pro(CHO)
20-30 leaving town: Stay aero, half of bar
30-60 first rollers: Limit effort, focus on aero and smooth. Half of CHO done
60-75 finish rollers: Stay smooth
75-90 back to town: Aero, finish bar, special needs if I need it (CHO and gel)
90-110 out and back: Stay focused on Aero and smooth shifting
110-120 leave town: Finish CHO
120-150 rollers: Execute plan, stay focused and smooth
150-165 finish rollers: Gel, stay smooth and aero
165-180 Leave town: Stretch and stay aero

T2: handoff bike, helmet off, socks on, shoes on, glasses on, visor on, race belt, “Be Strong at the End!”

Run: Goal 3:15

Keys for Success:
· Ease into first 3 miles
· Focus on form (cadence and footstrike)
· Pace the first 10 miles then lift effort
· Gel every 30-45 minutes
· Start coke at mile 13

“Do what you can do right now”
“Smooth turnover”
“The race starts at mile 16”

0-3miles: Ease into pace. Breathing
3-10 miles: Focus on form and efficiency
10-16 miles: Keep focus and lift effort
16-20 miles: The race begins. DIG!!!
20-26 miles: Be strong at the finish. Do what you can do right now!!


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Build Period Specificity

As you start the Build period of training following a successful Base period your training intensity and duration should become more like the event for which you are training. The Base period is not nearly so specific to the demands of racing. In the Base period there is even a lot of similarity between what a road cyclist and an Ironman triathlete do in training. But by the Build period the training for these two sports is considerably different since the demands of the races have little in common. Let’s examine this more closely with some examples from these two sports.

Here you see the bicycle power distributions by zones from the Base period for a competitive road cyclist and an Ironman triathlete. Each zone is labeled with its percentage of the total training time during te Base period. Both are very successful age-group athletes I coach and both Base charts are from their 2009 winter training. The power zones on these charts follow the Coggan system commonly used in WKO+ software. I’ve renamed the zones as follows:

Zone 1. AR – Active Recovery. Less than 56% of Functional Threshold power (FTP). FTP is similar to the lactate threshold inetnsity discussed in my books.

Zone 2. E – Endurance. 56-75% of FTP. Used for aerobic endurance training. The intensity at which an Ironman Triathlon is typically raced.

Zone 3. TE – Tempo. 76-90% of FTP. A moderately hard effort. Equivalent to half iron racing intensity and also to riding in a fast moving pack in a road race.

Zone 4. TH – Threshold. 91-105% of FTP. A hard effort sustainable for roughly an hour. At 100% of FTP you are riding at CP60 – the critical power you could maintain for 60 minutes. This is the intensity at which you begin to redline.

Zone 5. VM – VO2max. 106-120% of FTP. The upper end of this zone is sustainable for about 6 minutes depending on how anaerobically fit you are. This intensity often determines the outcomes of bike road races on hills, when there are breakaways, and in cross winds.

Zone 6. AC – Anaerobic Capacity. Greater than 120% of FTP. Again, this intensity is common in road racing, but is never a factor in non-drafting triathlons.

While there are obvious small differences, if we simply look at how much training was done in the three lowest zones (1-AR, 2-E, 3-TE) we find that the cyclist spent 88.5% of his Base period intensity there and the triathlete 91.3%. And, conversely, the cyclist trained for 11.5% of his Base in the three upper zones (4-TH, 5-VM, 6-AC) with the triathlete getting 8.7% of training time there. Again, there is not a lot of difference in the intensity spread even though the sports are so drastically different.

But in these Build period charts you see a rather significant shift in training intensities from those of the Base. In the cyclist’s chart two things are obvious: He increased his upper zones training time by half, and he increased his zone 1 (AR) time by about half also. The greater intensity appears to have required more active recovery time. I usually see a very similar shift for road cyclists as they move into the Build period. They simply need to rest more because of the more stressful, redline workouts. Notice also that the cyclist’s zone 3 (TE) time decreased by nearly a third from the Base period. This is often referred to as “No Man’s Land” by coaches and athletes. Build is the seasonal period when that moniker is best applied. There is a lot of value to zone 3 training in the early Base period for road cyclists.

The Build period shift in training intensities from the higher zones to the lower was less pronounced for the triathlete. He went from 8.7% in the three upper zones in Base to 8.4% in Build. Not much. The most obvious shift here was from zone 1 (AR) in Base to zone 2 (E) in Build. AR decreased by nearly a third while E increased by about the same amount. What this tells us is that training in zone 2, while necessary for success in an Ironman Triathlon, is not nearly as stressful as upper zone intensity training was for the cyclist.

The bottom line to all of this is that the closer you get in time to your A-priority race, the more like the race your training must become. In road cycling, races are determined by how one reacts when the intensity is very high. Therefore the road cyclist’s zones 4, 5 and 6 training increased significantly in Build while he also increased his zone 1 to recover from all of the stress. The Ironman triathlete’s intensity shifted from zone 1 to zone 2 since his race at that distance will be raced mostly in upper zone 2 with short bouts in zone 3 on hills.

The question you must ask yourself at this time of the season is, “Am I making my workouts increasingly like my next A-priority race?” With all of the technology we now have available you can measure this quite accurately. But even without training gizmos you should be able to gauge how your effort is being distributed as the season progresses.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

40k TT Pacing Example

This is yet another post from me on pacing steady state events such as time trials and triathlons. By now you should have gottten the idea that I think this is a very important topic, but one that is all too often overlooked by athletes in their race preparation.

Here you see the chart of a well-paced, 40k time trial by one of the athletes I coach. It's a "stand-alone" race (not part of a multisport event). The black line is power and the red is heart rate. The chart is broken into 10k quarters.

We have been working diligently on her mental approach to race pacing since I started coaching her in January. In this race she did an excellent job of breaking the course into quarters as explained here and managing each as individual races. Her fourth quarter proved to be her best as you can see from the power increase near the end. But the best indicator, one that I always look for, is how well the third quarter went. This is when riders typically fade if they did a poor job of pacing in quarter 1. In this quarter her power was within 1 watt of the first two quarters.