Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ironman Mallorca

It's official! I am going to Mallorca for the 2nd iteration of the Thomas Cook Ironman!

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Ironman Barcelona sold out.

I already had plane tickets, but hadn't registered yet.

Sad face.

Fortunately, There are plenty of races still open. In fact, IM Mallorca is still open, and it's only a week before. It's still in the same part of the world, I can change my plane tickets for less than 100 USD, and I can still see everything I wanted to see in Spain and the surrounding area. Flights to the mainland from Mallorca are less than 50 Euros, one-way.

I was never going to Barcelona for Barcelona; I arrived at that race primarily by a process of elimination. My roommate wanted to go to Western Europe, and Spain was going to be a lot less expensive than Zurich. The time of year is perfect. It's a beautiful part of the world, a part of the world I've never seen, and I can easily see Spain, southern France, Portugal, and maybe even Italy!

The one big change between IM Barcelona and IM Mallorca is the course. Barcelona's bike course is pancake-flat, but Mallorca has a pretty significant climb. From what I can see on the course map, there's a 15 km climb that peaks at 600 m. The descent is technical, too. I'm a little concerned about my ability to make the bike cut-off with that big climb in the mix.

On the other hand, I finally live in an area with some hills, so I can train properly for a hilly course. I was thinking of signing up for Challenge Poconos for a warm-up race, and the course will help prepare me for Mallorca better than for Barcelona. I'm planning to buy an aero road bike, which will be better suited to a climbing course than to a flat course like Barcelona. And I'm excited to have a more challenging course for my first Ironman (because my first Ironman isn't challenge enough in my brain, apparently).

So I was bummed for a couple of hours last night, but now I'm excited to switch to Mallorca. It'll work out, either way.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


That alphabet-soup title translates to Lactate Threshold Heart Rate Time Trial, for those in the know. Here's a 60-minute workout that will help you approximate your LTHR for the bike (keep in mind it will be different on the run, and LTHR isn't an accurate measure to use in the pool). You can also use this workout to estimate your functional threshold power (FTP), if you have access to a power meter. There's a 20-minute warm-up to get you ready for the time trial, and the time trial is 30 minutes long. You should go as hard as you can for those 30 minutes. If you're testing heart rate, hit the lap button 10 minutes into the time trial; your LTHR will be the average heart rate you sustain for the last 20 minutes of the time trial. If you're testing FTP, take the average for the whole 30 minutes (so you'll hit your lap button at the beginning of the time trial).

Click the link below to download the workout:


Spin & smile!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Training with Heart Rate

Since the beginning of 2015, I've been teaching my cycling classes some of the ins and outs of training with heart rate and power. Heart rate training isn't as cutting-edge as it was at the turn of the millennium, when Polar was all the rage and heart rate monitoring was considered the truly scientific way to train. NBC specifically mentioned Mark Allen's relatively innovative chest strap in its broadcast of the 1990 Ironman. In the years since, we've learned that heart rate doesn't provide as absolute a measure of intensity as was originally believed (or promoted by companies like Polar). In short, monitoring heart rate doesn't necessarily lead to "scientific" training; it just provides additional data to the overall picture.

Still, heart rate training remains a valid training tool, in spite of any drawbacks associated with its use. It may not be the best tool; you shouldn't use it for every application; it might not be appropriate for all athletes; but it is still a tool in the athlete's box of tricks. I think it's worth examining the pros and cons of training with (or without) heart rate.

Body Awareness
Heart rate monitoring allows you to tune out. This can be a positive or a negative, much like running with music. On the one hand, heart rate monitoring may encourage you to pay attention to a somewhat arbitrary number rather than listening to your body. Especially because heart rate can fluctuate so much based on external factors (heat, overtraining, lack of sleep, dehydration), you may end up working lighter than you could or harder than you should based on the number flashing on your wrist.

Even with a heart rate monitor, you should learn to pay attention to your body. Your heart responds differently when you're overtrained, hot, or dehydrated. There will be days when your heart rate tells you you're not working hard enough, but you really need to back off. Or maybe your fitness will improve (i.e. your numbers will change) before your next fitness test, and your body will tell you that you can work harder, even though the numbers tell you to slow down. Like with all data (yes, power junkies, ALL data), heart rate monitoring has its limits, and it can't replace mindfulness and awareness of what's happening in your body.

Delayed Response
Heart rate doesn't immediately change when you change intensity; it lags by anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. That means that on short, high-intensity intervals, heart rate tells you nothing until after the interval's over. Even worse, on longer intervals, you may be tempted to work harder than you should for the first 30-90 seconds, waiting for your heart rate monitor to show the change in effort. You end up performing the first 2 minutes of a 4-minute interval too hard, the last 2 minutes too easy, and you totally defeat the point of doing a 4-minute interval.

The best (but harder) solution is to learn to pay attention to your body and its signals. The easy (but more limited) solution is to train with a power meter, which I'll discuss next week (because training power has its own advantages and disadvantages).

Worthless in the Water
Heart rate training basically doesn't work in the water. Your vascular pressure is so different in the water that pulse doesn't accurately reflect your work rate. To determine intensity in the water, you have to go by pace and rating of perceived exertion. This link will help you set training zones based on pace. If you're water jogging or doing water aerobics, you're better off with perceived exertion.

Preventing Overtraining
One of my favorite uses of heart rate monitoring doesn't even require the fancy equipment. Just take your pulse every morning. Elevated resting heart rate is an early indicator of overtraining; it usually shows up before other symptoms, like crankiness and weakened immunity. If you keep track of your average resting heart rate, and back off on days when it's elevated, you're more likely to avoid the nastier aspects of training too hard.

For example, I take my heart rate every morning using an iPhone app. I get up, go pee (for some reason my heart rate's higher before peeing), lay back down, and take my heart rate. My fully-recovered heart rate is around 52; my normal in-training heart rate is around 56; if my first-thing-in-the-morning heart rate gets above 61, I take it easy for a day or two. Just make sure that you take your resting heart rate at the same time and in the same circumstances every day. First thing in the morning (right after peeing) is best, to make it as repeatable as possible. Even if you take it after breakfast, the results might be affected by variations in what you ate or drank.

Getting Out of a Rut
Probably the greatest benefit of training with heart rate zones, having that number handy may help knock you out of a steady-state aerobic rut--it may help you to vary your training intensity. Many (most?) cyclists, runners, and triathletes fall prey to the cardinal sin of endurance training: going too hard on the easy days and too easy on the hard days. Improvement stagnates with that training method, and using a heart rate monitor to set and train within zones helps you avoid that pitfall.

I use lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR) to set my training zones. To find your approximate LTHR, you can perform a 30-minute time trial on the bike or run. Warm up thoroughly (I recommend 15-20 minutes of warming up, with some light accelerations towards the end), then start riding/running at race intensity. After 10 minutes, hit the lap button on your heart rate monitor (if you have a lower-end heart rate monitor, it probably doesn't have a lap button, in which case you can stop and then re-start it with a new workout). The average heart rate for those last 20 minutes of the time trial is your approximate LTHR. Keep in mind, though, that just because your first 10 minutes don't count in the average doesn't mean that you should ride them at a lower intensity.

Once you have your LTHR, you can set your training zones at this link (zones based on a bike TT), or you can do it the old-fashioned way:

Zone 1 (recovery): <85% LTHR
Zone 2 (sub-aerobic): 85-89% LTHR
Zone 3 (steady-state aerobic): 90-94% LTHR
Zone 4 (aerobic threshold): 95-99% LTHR
Zone 5a (lactate threshold): 100-102% LTHR
Zone 5b (aerobic capacity/VO2 max): 102-106% LTHR
Zone 5c (anaerobic capacity): >106% LTHR

Keep in mind that your training zones will be different for the bike and the run; your running zones will be higher because of body position and the increased effort of supporting and moving your body weight.

That's all that I have to say about heart rate, for now. I am working on a free cycling workout to help you do a 30-minute time trial indoors on a trainer or stationary bike. Look out for that next week, as well as an article on the basics of training with power.

By the way, this is the heart rate monitor that I use.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Runner's High: No, a Real High

Every now and then, after a long, hard run, I experience a genuine runner's high. It actually feels like the kind of high you get when . . . well, never mind. Not like I know anything about that, anyway.

My working theory is that I'm running so hard that I'm killing brain cells.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Update on Strength Training

I've been reflecting on my 2014 season, thinking about what went right, what went wrong. I want to have a very successful season in 2015. I'm turning 30 and doing my first Ironman; when I look back at the end of next year, I want to feel successful.

In racing, my biggest limiter this year was endurance. I didn't have the base to have a good run after a 40k ride, let alone a 56 miler. I lacked the base because I didn't do enough training, and I didn't do enough training because I kept getting hurt.

It was a stressful year. I started my half ironman training at about the same time that I moved to Kansas City and started two new jobs. I ended up with cat scratch fever, and couldn't train for 2 months on doctor's orders. When I finally got the all-clear to start training again, I almost immediately sprained my ankle, and took myself out of the mix for another month. I missed almost all of my base training workouts during that time, and had to play catch up for the rest of the season.

The stress of last year is behind me, now, and I don't foresee any super-stressful phases of life coming my way (certainly nothing that would compromise my immune system enough that I get cat scratch fever again).

But the ankle sprain was the other monkey wrench in my training plans in 2014, and that was something that could have been prevented. Over the past 2 years, I was much more susceptible to injury: twisted ankles, shoulder impingement, I even threw out my back a couple of times. I think the main reason that I had so much trouble with injury was that I wasn't strength training consistently. Then, when I moved to Kansas City, I stopped doing yoga, too. The lack of any strength or flexibility training increased my vulnerability to injury, and thus threw off my whole training season.

That's the long way of saying that I need to do more strength training and yoga.

My goal this off-season (before I start training for a March marathon) is to build consistency in strength and flexibility training. I have a battery of corrective exercises to do, along with myofascial release, stretches, and strength exercises. Here's what I'm doing:

Perform 3x/week:
Warm up
Light jogging, high knees, and butt kickers

SMR (self myofascial release)
M: Plantar fascia, gastro, soleus
W: ITB, hip flexors, quadriceps
F: Gluteals/piriformis, pectorals, rhomboids

Corrective exercise
1-leg bridge (Cook hip raise)
VMO seated leg raise
Eccentric calf raise
Eccentric toe raise
Quick release (anti-rotational exercise)
Neck flexion/extension

Dumbbell or kettlebell squat
Assisted pull-up
TRX push-up
Plank on foam roller
Cable row + hip extension
Cable lat pullover + tricep extension
Cable high-low chop

Hip flexors

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Race Report: President Lakes Olympic Triathlon (Grind in the Pines)

Every time I go to New Jersey, something goes wrong. Google Maps drops out just past the GW Bridge; I get accidentally shunted off onto a toll road; the traffic is inexplicably terrible in the middle of nowhere . . . Things just don't go well for me when I go to Jersey.

During this particular trip to Jersey, we got lost in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black after midnight and couldn't find the state park campground. Turns out that we were actually in the state park. New Jersey's signs are not well-lit.

The race itself didn't go poorly, though; let me tell you about it.

As you may have guessed, we stayed in a state campground for this race. We drove up on Friday night after work so that we could make more of a weekend of it. We had trouble finding the campground, but the park ranger was super helpful. We called ahead to tell her we were going to be late, and she left all of our papers for the camp site at the park office, which was long-closed by the time we showed up. The campground was really nice. New Jersey's signage may suck, but the state parks are beautiful!

On Saturday, we went to the race site to swim and play. The lake was small, warm, and the color of . . . iced tea? I was pretty freaked out about the water color, until the guy who was setting up the bike racks told me it's from all the cedar trees nearby.

We had hot dogs and s'mores for dinner. That's what we always have when we're camping.

We had the campground mostly to ourselves, except for another woman (in the 30-34 age group, not mine) and her mom who had the same idea. I met them in the bathhouse the next morning while I was getting ready.

This race had day-of packet pick-up, which was terrific. I like to see races that still have same-day packet pick-up. I think that's one of the signs that it's a grassroots race.

Lots of expensive bikes there, though. That doesn't always bode well for the asshole factor (i.e. the number of assholes present who think their races are more important than anyone else's).

Swim: 1500 m in 31:28
Not terrible, especially considering I was still freaked out to be swimming in a lake full of warm iced tea. It was a wetsuit legal swim, but I didn't wear mine. I would have gotten too hot, and I don't like the constriction on my chest and shoulders. I don't remember much of the swim, except that my back really hurt by the end of it.

T1: 1:35

Bike: 40 km in 1:20:36 (19 MPH)
This was, hands down, the easiest bike courses I've ever seen. It was almost pancake flat, lined with trees on both sides, absolutely no wind. The road was completely closed to traffic, too. Great course for a fast bike split. We did three or four loops of the same stretch of tarmac, though, so it was kind of boring.

The assholes were out in force, blowing past slower competitors on their aerobars with their spaceman helmets with nary a "Passing!" or "On your left!" One guy blew past me close enough to have knocked me over without making a sound. Not sure what the point of that was. Triathletes are notoriously poor bike handlers. How did he know that I wouldn't flip out when he got that close to me and knock both of us over? And really, does it consume so much oxygen that a simple "On your left" is going to blow your race performance? Is it that you're less aerodynamic when you open your mouth to speak? These are the guys who pay $1,000 to do an Ironman in Manhattan, aren't they?

I have to admit, though, that I did do kind of an asshole thing of my own. It was near the beginning of the course, winding out to the main looped section. There was a woman on an aero bike slowing waaaaay down for a corner, so I took the inside line. I yelled at her, "On your inside! ON YOUR INSIDE!" She almost clipped me, swinging back into the corner. I had to hit my brakes. As I got out of the corner, she shouted after me, "You mean on your left?" She passed me within a couple of miles anyway, so I'm sorry for being an asshole, lady in the pink tri suit. I needn't have been in such a hurry.

T2: 1:09

Run: 10 km in 1:10:12 (11:20/mile)
Ugh. Half of this run course was on sand. It was awful and I hated it. I don't know if I will come back to this race or not, but if I don't, a big part of it will be because of the awful sand on the run course. And it's not hard-packed sand; it's soft, thick sand. It really destroyed me.

Coming back towards the finish line, about half a mile from the end, I heard people cheering for the girl behind me. I knew she was pretty close, so I put on a little bit more speed and finished strong. That little burst of speed at the end won me first place in my age group, and the chick behind me got second. If I'd succumbed to exhaustion a bit earlier, those places would have been switched!

Total: 3:04:59 (1st F25-29)
Not my worst olympic time ever, but certainly not the best. This was a really fun, down-home race (even if there were a bunch of assholes there). I don't know if I'll go back or not (because sand), but I enjoyed the weekend.

If you're considering signing up for this race and you have more questions about it, please leave a comment!