Monday 15 October 2012

Ironman Hawaii 2012 Race Report

So, race day went by and I had to drop out after developing some intense low back pain on the second half of the bike course. I was actually hoping to write a different kind of race report but this time it just didn't work out... Now, I have to think about what happened, why it happened and how to go from there. Here are a few first thoughts.

1) Did I push too hard on the bike?
I would say that this wasn't the case per se. My quads felt good and my nutrition went perfectly well. I ingested about 1600 calories of CarboPro, had one bottle of water on every aid station and another bottle so spray on my arms, legs and through my wicked water hole in my aero helmet :) Energy-wise I was ready to go. The weak point this time was obviously my lower left back which couldn't handle the force and therefore in a way I did push too hard. In this situation I had to decide whether I want to keep on pushing and stay on schedule, or just roll back into town and give my back some rest. I then asked myself why am I here? The answer was clear, I wanted to place top 5 in my age group and not just finish another Ironman. So, I decided to push it and see how things will turn out during the run. After I came into transition, my back was very sore and I had hard times putting on my runners while bending over. I ran out still hoping the problem will resolve but the pain just didn't want to stop. Then, after the first eight miles or so, I felt a decision and stopped running and dropped out of the race. It was a strange and new feeling for me to not finish a race. That's my first DNF, however, in some way it also feels like a valuable experience since it clearly showed my limits and what has to be improved.

So, what to do? I certainly won't stop doing long distance endurance events,  BUT I have to accept that I need to take more care of my back, core and other stabilizing muscles. I actually did feel the same issue at the Great White North triathlon (2km/90km/21km) but not as severe and it disappeared after the first couple minutes into the run. I also had the same experience on a few longer training rides, but again it resolved by itself. It may sound silly but all this tells me I am reaching an age at which I have to take more care of my back and core muscles or else I won't be able to keep on performing at these levels of intensity. Unfortunately, I just cannot jump on my bike anymore and hammer it out. SO, for the next season I will spend some time in the gym strengthen my back and core on a regular basis.

2) Maybe it just wasn't the right time to accomplish such a goal?!
Since I also became a father to a wonderful son (August 23), plus finished and defended my PhD in the same time period (September 7), plus spending time training with only a few hours of sleep (all the moms and dads out there will know), I should have decreased my expectations and rather adjust my goal than push through it. In the end that would have probably been the smartest move given the situation. However, I decided the way I did and this DNF is a result for which I am fully responsible and which cannot be blamed to anyone/anything else.

3) Miscellaneous (or things that shouldn't have happened)
a) I decided that for my next salt water swim I will just swim in my speedo and not risk chafing on my neck. I severely chafed and this in combination with sweat, sunscreen and the Hawaiian sun was not a great feeling. I guess the time you lose by swapping your speedo with a trisuit in the transiton tent is marginal if there is a difference at all. Or, alternatively, if you have the luxury to live at the sea test it and find stuff that works for you in the ocean.

b) Don't forget to put a towel in your T2 bag! It's an open water swim and it's on a beach (not in the local pool at home) -  so chances are high that the transition tent is wet and full of sand (a severe case of baby brain ... haha).

c) Make sure your googles are tight enough so that they not fill up with water all the time. Again, it's not a pool swim at your local pool, it's a mass start and feels like a washing machine (again, a case of baby brain?!)

d) Take your Garmin off the bike before running out of T2, or else you are running in no man's land. Then you better have a good gut feeling about pacing ---  if you are still able to pace at all at that point.

4) Okay and finally some impression from the race:
a) I did find a good spot before the swim start and was very happy. At that point I thought it will be a good day. Then the canon went of and the first couple hundred metres were still okay up until my goggles started to fill up with water. I had to stop a few times to fix that and right away people are swimming right over you. "Stupid idiot why is he seeding himself in the front and then starts breaststroking" :) Not even half way through the swim I could feel that my neck is experiencing some serious chafing. One good thing was that the turn around came pretty fast, or at least it felt that way. On the way back things slowed a little, possibly due to the current, but more likely due to the fact that I couldn't properly recover my arm anymore in order to minimize chafing. Finally the shore came closer and the last 100 metres were the hardest because the surf always pulled me back a little bit. I wonder if other people also felt this way... so if you did the race and read this please comment!

b) I went out of the water, hosed off a little with fresh water, grabbed my bag and headed into the transition tent. It took me a while to organize myself but made it out found my bike ride away and left T1 at about 1h:10min into the race. On my way up Palani road I could hear Sanja yelling and screaming "Stefan Go Go Go!!!" We first looped through the city and then we were off to Hawi. The first 60 km flew by and we had the wind mostly in our back. The climb up to Hawi was then a bit more challenging and things slowed significantly. I wore my cool wings again and they definitely helped me stay relatively cool, but most importantly also saved my skin from sunburn. After the turnaround I was expecting crazy gusts of crosswinds but it wasn't as bad as I remembered from two years ago and I was able to stay in my aerobars all the time. Then during the last 60 km my low-back pain flared up and intensified all the way back to town. I had to stretch and change the angle of my pelvis about every 10 minutes which interrupted the flow of pedalling. As mentioned above I decided to keep the speed where it was at and not back-off, hoping the pain will disappear during the run. I finished the bike leg in just above 5 hours.

c) I handed my bike to the volunteer, forgot my Garmin on the bike (which I realized about 10 min later), grabbed my run gear and tried to get my shoes on, which pretty hurt because of my sore back (see above). I ran out of transition and was in severe pain. I saw Darren who took pictures and giving me some info on times and placing in my age group, but at that point I wasn't able to say anything. I kept on running still hoping things would get better. After the first turn around point on Alii drive, I decided I will stop any second now. However, I still kept on running almost till I was back at transition. I just couldn't stand the fact people looking at me while I was walking home. Then I saw Andrea taking pictures of me. That's the point when I started walking. I didn't want to have any documentation of my misery. Of course she didn't know what was happening to me but I was so grateful that both Darren and Andrea also joined us to come here to Kona and help us out! Thanks guys!!! Andrea and I walked back to transition where we could see Pete Jacobs finishing. She told me also that Sanja was at the King Kam hotel, and after officially dropping out, grabbing a piece of pizza and ice cream, I found Sanja nursing our little Sean under a tree. Her back was towards me and I just sat down beside her and told her I dropped out. We both understood each other without a lot of words and I was really happy that this burden is off my shoulders now. Now I can finally start enjoying our little family 100% :)


Thursday 20 September 2012

Less than 4 weeks to go!

The big day is coming soon and I feel very strong and ready for this day. This will be the end of my 2-year "Next Stop: Kona 2012" project and trust me I will be in the shape of my life when I set off in Kailua Bay on October 13!

This past weekend was the final test to see where I am at. The last "big" weekend. In fact, it was the biggest weekend of my training plan. I did a 40 km run on Saturday in the Edmonton River Valley in 3:02:47 averaging 4:34 min/km with an average heat rate of 142. I ran the first 28 km relatively conservative and did not feel tired at all. Since I felt so good, I decided to go for it and pick up the speed. It worked out and I ran the the last third the fastest.
On Sunday, I went out for a 180 km bike ride from Edmonton via New Sarepta, Camrose and Bittern Lake and turned around after 90 km straight into a headwind for the rest of the ride. If you live and bike in Alberta you know what I am talking about. Nonetheless, I finished this ride in 4:50:56, with an average of 37.2 km/h, 261 watts and a heart rate of 122 bpm.

These results allow me to enter the 4-week tapering period with confidence and excitement. I did everything the best I could given the time I had available. I worked very hard on the bike this year, kept my running and swimming form from last year and may have even increased it a bit. Although the big work is done, the intensity still remains high, however, the duration of my workouts will slightly decrease. I will now also focus more on brick- and race specific workouts, including practising fast transitions - I don't want to lose a single second due to a slow transition etc.  Relaxing will happen post race on a chair on our patio watching the pacific while sipping an ice cold beer with my family and friends who are also coming with me.

I still cannot believe that the big day is coming, but I am looking forward to it!!


Monday 10 September 2012

A quick update on my progress: II

The past weeks have been extremely busy and some major events happened in my life. The first one was that Sanja and I became parents of a baby boy named Sean :) This little guy is absolutely amazing and the best that could ever happen to us.

Secondly, I successfully defended my PhD degree! Given these circumstances I wasn't able to train as focused as I did before, nonetheless I am very happy how my training progresses. I have to say though that I am mentally quite tired now and cannot push hard intervals on the track and in the pool anymore. On the bike however,  I am still working as hard as I can, and to my surprise, I am still progressing significantly. As for running and swimming I increased distance since it's easier to deal with mentally. Although I increased the distance, these runs/swims are not slow. I am able to run and swim comfortably and steady 4:40min/km for 30+ km runs, and swim 1:35min/100m for 4km, respectively. I guess this is good enough and with the right motivation on race day, I am sure I will do well!


Monday 20 August 2012

ITT Provincials

Yesterday, I took part in the Alberta Time Trial Provincial Championships. It was not really on my race calender and more a spontaneous idea to test and see where I am with my training. The moment I signed up for it, I knew it will be hard especially because my legs are very fatigued from the training program I am on (see previous post). That being said, I mentally prepared myself to only treat this race as a hard training session in which my goal was to hold 360 watts steady over the 38km. Since my theoretical functional threshold power (FTP) was 353 watts (see here), I thought it might be possible even though my legs are pretty tired. So, I chiselled 360 watts in my mind and was only thinking about this, ignoring the other competitors and also ignoring other aerodynamic benefits such as racing wheels etc. Essentially, I rode my bike in a training set-up but with an aero helmet.

The race course was nice and relatively flat with only a few turns. So, a perfect location for power testing. During the race I felt very strong and was pushing close to 400 watts consistently. I knew I was riding above my theoretical FTP and was hoping I will be able to hold this pace all the way. After the turnaround point, it started to feel a little bit harder and it definitely took more effort to keep the watts high. During the last 2 km, I was able to stay above 400 watts and I knew I would have met my goal to average 360 watts. In the end Brian came in first (pretty awesome performance from this guy), second was Josh (strong as always) and I finished third. It kind of reminded me of the Devon Grand Prix in which the three of us finished in the same manner.

Here are the stats of my ride:
Time: 51:39 min
Average watts: 374
Average heart rate: 173
Average cadence: 89
Average speed: 43.6

New functional threshold power: 367 watts, which represents an increase of 14 watts! Thanks to Jesper Bondo Medhus! Your training plan is working well!

And here is a screen shot of the ride:

With this results I am very motivated to hit the last week of hard training before next weeks down week (which I am really looking forward to). Then, I will have another 2 weeks of hard training before I start tapering (or peaking, a term which I like better).

Yes, I am almost there! Kona is around the corner!!


Monday 13 August 2012

A quick update on my progress

Finally, after submitting my PhD thesis, I did find some time to get some good workouts in during the past two weeks. Although I couldn't train the way I wanted during the last months, my form is coming!

My cycling program is really working well and I can feel and see how I am improving. After the first 4 weeks, I was able to average 306 watts with a heart rate of 143 over two hours and felt very strong. Yesterday, I finished a three hour bike on my trainer with an average of 284 watts and 135 bpm. Both rides however, included some intervals at higher intensities meaning that without those I might have felt even better. But I also have to say that the purpose of these workouts were not to discover my 2/3 hours maximum power output. The wattages I mentioned are just the result of general 2/3 hours workouts that included intervals and rest periods in order to lift my critical threshold power. Nonetheless, these values tell me that my Ironman race pace will most likely fall between 280-300 watts.

In general my legs are very tired though. The training plan is very challenging and takes up all my mental strength to complete. Especially the VO2max intervals are killer! Whenever I ride my commuter bike, my legs feel so empty that I start to wonder how am I going to finish the next workout?? But so far it has always worked somehow :)

I also started to cycle with a higher cadence. On average, I am now at about 92-94 compared to 88-90 before I started the training plan. I guess that's a result of pushing the big gears with tired legs. The only way to get up to watts beyond 340, while having tired legs, is to pedal quicker and becoming more efficient.

Despite my tired legs, I also had an awesome 32 km run last Friday. I finished the workout in a time of 2h 25min, resulting in an 4:31min pace per kilometre with an average heart rate of 143. Since it was quite a hilly run through the river valley of Edmonton, I am very happy with the result.

I also feel that I have developed "2 sets of legs", one for cycling and one for running. Whenever my cycling legs feel empty and tired, my running legs are still ready for a fast and long workout.

Swimming has moved a little big in the background, which doesn't mean I am neglecting it though. I switched back to the Swim Smooth Ironman Training Plan. This plan has served me well for my race at IM Cozumel last year and I totally believe in it. I only need to do what needs to be done, without spending to much energy thinking about it.  If you haven't checked out their recent book yet, you better should! This book is priceless!

Although everything seems to work well (given my current situation), there is still a lot of work to be done during the next weeks. But generally speaking my training results tell me that I am on track for a 9:00h Ironman time. I am hoping to swim an hour, finish the bike in 4:50 h and run a 3:10h marathon. 

So long,

Sunday 22 July 2012

Sylvan Lake Half without me

The past weeks have been incredibly busy. Besides training for IM Hawaii, I am also about to finish my PhD thesis. Since the latter is more important, I decided to not start at the Sylvan Lake Half today but rather spend the time polishing things up and get it out of the way. Thesis submission is this week and I am very excited about this.

So long!

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Great White North Triathlon 2012: Race Report

On Sunday (Jul-01), I passed a big milestone on my way to Kona. I finished the Great White North Triathlon 2012 with a solid performance. Of course, there is still a lot to improve but given where I am right now and what I have trained so far I am very pleased with my result. This race was the end of my first training block in which I focused mostly on speed and interval work and not on volume (you can read more on that here). My second training block is heavily tailored for a fast bike split in Kona, but also has a focus on reinforcing my running speed and increasing distance. Now, I have a week off, and then 14 hard weeks of training ahead of me.

And here is the report:
Sanja, Jan, Lenka and I arrived at Hubbles Lake bright and early with enough time to spare. Lots of friends were there and the University of Alberta Triathlon Club had a huge contingent of people racing and also spectating. Although the weather forecast didn't really look nice, Keegan, Derek, Emily and Antony rode out to Stony Plain on their bikes even though it was raining till about noon! THANKS GUYS!!! Also a huge thanks to Andrea, Lenka and Becky for taking awesome pictures of the event!!!

Since I experienced some restriction in the shoulder area with my old wetsuit, Dave gave me his wetsuit for the race, which is way more flexible. Thanks Dave!! I seeded my self in the front and a few minutes later the race was on. For me this was the roughest start ever! It was super wild and intense for the first couple hundred metres. After the first buoy the field was stretched out a bit and things calmed down. The rest of the first lap as well as the second lap was normal again. I exited the swim with a time of 29:34 min and headed on to the bike.

Again my transition wasn't the fastest and I still have to put some more effort into getting things changed quicker. I left transition, passed the huge support crew and was out in the rain for the next 2+ hours. Although it was raining and a bit chilly, I was very focused and didn't mind the rain at all. In terms of effort my goal was to average 300 watts which worked out very nicely! My actual average power was 301 watts. After about 20 km into the race I got passed by Trev Williams, whom I know is a time trial specialist, and I tried to keep him in sight. However, looking at my power output I knew this wouldn't be a good idea. So after about 10 km, I decided to back-off again and do what I wanted to do. Before the turnaround I rode up into fifth place and then shortly later I was in fourth position in which I remained till the end of the race. On the way back my power slightly decreased, and my heart rate immediately dropped as well (see Figure below) - and this time it was not necessarily the fact that it went slightly downhill (see previous race report), but rather a lack of strength to keep pushing the 300+ watts. But this will be very thoroughly addressed during the upcoming 14-week training block.

I came into T2, put my socks on (which proved difficult with cold fingers and feet), shoes on and off I was. Again, the transition could have been quicker, but given the conditions I guess it was okay. Good thing I had fair amount of baby powder in my socks and in my shoes, which helped to dry up my feet a bit.

I started running at a good pace and I didn't feel any cramps on the first kilometre. But then after 2 km my good old friends Musculii vastus-mediales (left and right) begun to dictate the pace for the next 2 km or so. I finally managed to convince the two to work with me and from that point on I was running a consistent 4 min/km pace! Never done before in an Half Iron distance race ever! At the halfway turnaround point I saw Ben and Becky and I still felt pretty good at that point. I also saw all my other friends who were racing, as well as my Fiera Race Team buddies. Thanks to Josh who was yelling and screaming when I came by. This definitely gave me a push! Also on my way back to the finish, I passed the soaking wet UofA TriClub crew and a few minutes later Sanja and Lenka. Sanja already spotted me before I could see her, but I knew I was close since I heard her screaming at the top of her lungs :) Even though I cannot see her sometimes, I always can hear that she's there for me! I also saw Darren who only signed up for the race because Sanja did - and then she got pregnant ;) So, he ended up doing the race although he was actually not planning on doing it this year. But still, he looked like he had a good time :) Thanks for cheering Darren! On the very last turnaround point I saw that James Curran got very close in the end. Not to risk losing 4th place, I picked up the pace and ran sub 4 min/km for the final 2 kilometres. In the end I was still 33 seconds ahead of him and enjoyed my arrival!

This time my heart rate data actually suggest that I was racing. My average heart rate was 149 bpm and I spent 56:34 minutes between 148-163 bpm, and 28:55 min between 132-147 bpm. And what was really cool is that I felt my outer thighs were getting sore at the end of the race, a feeling which I usually don't experience very often since mostly I cannot run that fast to make them hurt.

To sum it up, this race turned out to be a great day, despite the rain, and I am very happy with my result. It definitely showed that I am still improving and certainly haven't reached my limit yet. It gave me motivation and I am looking forward to the next 14-weeks of training!

Thanks for reading and happy training!


P.S. Results can be found here
P.P.S. Pictures will follow! Stay tuned!

Monday 25 June 2012

An amazing weekend of road racing!!

This weekend the City of Devon was again host of a fantastic bicycle spectacle, the Devon Grand Prix of Cycling 2012 (link downloads a pdf file). I participated on Saturday in the United Cycle Downtown Criterium Provincials and on Sunday the Juventus Genessee Hills Road Race. It was my first Criterium in Category 2 and I was pretty nervous since these crits are a sink or swim. You've got to be 100% committed if you want to finish with the main pack and you have to stay always alert as crashes happen often due to the speed and the exhaustion of the riders. In our category we had to cover 40 laps of approximately 900 metres. And man, this race was fast! We averaged 45 km/h and I had an average heart rate of 163 and a maximum heart rate of 185! I cannot remember when I had 185 bpm on a bike! It was crazy! Also from a power perspective this race was quite interesting. I spent 48 % in "active recovery" (24:06 min), i.e. from 0-195 watts due to coasting, and 23 % in the neuromascular zone (11:15 min), i.e. from 534-MAX. The remaining 29 % were evenly distributed over the remaining zones in between these two extremes. Here is a nice visualization of the work done:
The winner of the race Dan Wood (ERTC), actually crashed and had some intense road rash on his right thigh and shoulder. After he crashed (~6 laps to go), he managed to get back and win the race! This was pretty impressive!

The next morning at 9 am we started for our 127 km ride and the weather was quite windy but beautiful. At about 10 km into the race there was an attack, initiated by Josh I believe, and a few other riders and me followed. This was when I felt that my legs were still torched up from the crit the night before. We eventually got caught and I was afraid I won't play a big role today since my legs felt pretty empty. After about 10 more kilometres, Josh launched another attack while we were having cross-winds. The attack was perfectly set and again, a few other riders and me were back in the break. We really were working very hard together for the first kilometres and then managed to find a rhythm that worked for everyone in the break. It was great riding with these guys and we were increasing our lead. At some point we also collected a Velocity guy, who took off sometime after our first attack and stayed away till then. He managed to hang on when we were passing him and also started working with us. At the turnaround we could see our gap and it was quite impressive! Our group got motivated right away and sped up again. With about 30 km to go, quite a few hard attacks were launched just for 100 metres or so to shake off people. And guess what, Dan Wood, the guy who left quite some skin on Athabasca Ave in Devon was attacking and eventually made it first into the finish! What a performance! When he was off the front, more short attacks were launched and we kept on losing people until it was only Josh, me and Brian from Velocity. At that point my tank was pretty empty and I switched into damage control mode. During the last 2 km we were going quite slow since no one wanted to start sprinting too early. I took a look behind me and could see the pack was getting closer. This time though, they wouldn't get us. In the end Brian had the best legs of the three of us, and Josh and I tied for 3rd place (on the results), although he actually won (see picture below).
In case you are interested here is another picture below of how different a criterium looks like when compared to a road race:

In conclusion an amazing weekend of road racing!!


P.S. Thanks to Sanja for feeding me, and to Corey from ERTC for giving Sanja a ride to the feed zones and back since the feed zone were 35 km away from the start!

Saturday 23 June 2012

Chinook Half 2012 - Race Report

This past weekend (June-16) I participated in the Chinook Half Triathlon in Calgary. This is the second time that I did this race (see here for Race Report 2010) and it's really fun and well organized. The highlight for me was definitely the beautiful run through the Fish Creek Provincial Park one of the largest urban parks in North America. On top of all that my parents were also here for the first time since I am in Canada and we had a wonderful time.

Race morning:
We woke up at about 4:45am with a lot of time to slowly get up, have a breakfast and drive to the race venue. The race started at 8am, transition opened at 7am and we were at the parking lot at about 6:40am. Everything went smoothly.

The swim was a 2 by 1km loop in Lake Midnapore with a quick run around a buoy on the beach. The water wasn't as cold as two years ago but still only 16 °C. I was really looking forward to the swim since I spent so much time in the pool during the last 2 years. At the end though my time this year was not faster than it was 2 years ago (32:56 vs. 32:36), although I felt better. I was hoping to be a bit faster of course, but that's what it was. The only thing that was bugging me was that I forgot how constricting it is to swim in a wetsuit, or rather in my wetsuit (Entry level Nineteen - Pipeline). My arm recovery felt way more difficult than without. It was also the first time since almost 2 years that I swam in a wetsuit. Maybe that was the problem... Since I am usually training without a wetsuit, I might not have trained as much those muscles required to swim well in a wetsuit. Swimming in a wetsuit looks quite different then swimming without one. But since my big race is a warm pacific ocean swim, I am not really concerned with this issue.

The bike course is a 96 km quite scenic out and back heading straight into the Rocky Mountains, but for my taste the road is too busy to give it 5 stars. The turn around was close by the town Bragg Creek. As I am now in the lucky situation to ride with a power meter (see my previous post), I was not looking once at the speed I was going. In fact, my selected Garmin window didn't show speed at all. I was only concerned with my watts and cadence. My goal was to just collect some power data to better adjust my training zones for the upcoming 14-week IM Hawaii preparation. Based on my recent 5 min and 30 min all-out efforts, I was guessing to average around 300 watts. That would be racing at 85 % of my functional threshold power (FTP, 354 watts). According to "Training and Racing with a Power meter" by Allen & Coggan 2010, it is suggested to race the Half Ironman distance at about 80-85 % of FTP.  On my way out I averaged 297 watts (normalized: 306; heart rate 142 bpm) and back 278 watts (normalized: 281; hear rate 134 bpm). The lower averages on the way back are mostly due to long descent back into Calgary (see figure below). Given that I was racing correctly at just below 85 % of my current FTP, I was right on with my effort. Compared with the 2010 results, I was about 3 min faster (2:28:49 vs 2:31:17).

As I already mentioned above the run was really beautiful (2 laps through the Fish Creek Provincial Park). It had some up- and downhills and was not boring at all. For the first 2-3 km I had some issues with my quads (nothing unusual for me). But this time they were cramping quite badly and I was considering stopping for a few seconds to stretch them. Luckily though, as fast as they came they also disappeared. I know I am prone to cramping during the first kilometres into the run, but I forgot that they usually disappear as well. So it was good to get reminded of that for the upcoming races and not become totally devastated as soon as I feel them coming. Anyway, at that point in the race I was running in second place with quite a gap to third place. So, I didn't really had a reason to push it any harder so early in the season. I paced both my laps evenly within seconds and had an average heart rate of 146 during both laps. Compared with the 2010 results it almost exactly the same time (1:30:17 vs. 1:30:22; but my average heart rate was 153 bpm back then). But I do have to say that I felt my muscles were getting tired. I guess due to the fact that I am doing so many hard interval workouts my cardiovascular system is superb but my muscles need more distance now. And this is what comes in my next training block starting in 2 weeks.

My transitions were rather slow. I took quite some time to get everything right and to not forget things. This is something that needs improvement for sure. But with two more Half Irons coming up there is also time to practice again under race conditions.

Thanks to Sanja and my parents, as well as Pat (raced the Olympic distance) and Becky, and Ben and Lindsay (raced the Aquabike) for cheering and having a good time.

Next Stop: The Great White North Triathlon next Sunday on July-1.


Wednesday 13 June 2012

Power, power, power!!

I am finally a proud owner of a Power Tap SL+. This was certainly the missing piece for my goal to finish Top 5 (M30-34) at the Ironman World Championships this year in Hawaii. Luckily, I was able to get it for a sweet deal! Thanks to Travis!

I was playing around with it these days and also bought the book "Training and Racing with a Power Meter" by Allen and Coggan. For me as a scientist this is the most amazing thing to collect data on myself, evaluate it and try to find ways to improve these numbers. Now I am truly my own experiment!

Ten days ago I did my first power workout ever and my first VO2max, i.e. all out for 5 min and I averaged 422 watts by 79.5 kg (5.31 watts/kg). Looking in the book I mentioned above, there is a Power Profile Chart (downloads as an excel file), which puts me right in the middle of Category 2 riders. I was very happy with this first result.

Last week I started the VO2max booster program by Jesper Bondo Medhus. Since I really like his time efficient and interval based training approach, I contacted him to ask whether he would be able to plan my last 14-weeks for the big day in Hawaii. He agreed since he finds my goal quite interesting. I can't wait to see how my bike performance will change. I never worked with a power meter before and I never really did real interval workouts on the bike. But this is exactly what I will do now and this will be the recipe for a fast bike in Kona.

When Jesper agreed to write me a 14-week training program he also wanted me to do again a 5 min and now also a 30 min all-out ride. I did these rides today and yesterday (see below) and averaged 438 watts by 79.5 kg (5.51 watts/kg) as well as 368 watts (4.63 watts/kg) for 5 min and 30 min, respectively. My average heart rates were 168 and 160 bpm with an average cadence of 94 and 91 rpm. Using these test results, I calculated my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of 354 (4.45 watts/kg), which again puts me in Category 2. FTP was calculated using Cycling Power Model and Golden Cheetah and both programs gave me the same FTP. The later is the program that I am using to manage my own power data.

5 min all-out

30 min all-out

This weekend I will also do the Chinook Half in Calgary and I can't wait to see how my power values compare to cycling on the road (I did all my testing on my stationary trainer).

Happy Training!


Monday 28 May 2012

First results of my Speed and Interval Training Block

This Sunday, I will already have finished the first 8-weeks of my 13-week Speed and Interval Training Block  – and the results are unbelievable!! Last Sunday I did a brick run on my 10 km loop through the river valley of Edmonton. This loop is everything but flat and also includes two set of stairs: One going down and one going up for about 30 sec each. Last year my personal best was a pace of 4:16 min/km (stand alone run) now it is a 4:06 min/km (off the bike). What was really amazing is that it felt way better than last year and I could have gone farther, although my average heat rate was 7 bpm higher (161 vs. 154 last year). To me this is clearly a sign that my body becomes used to faster running due to the 400 and 800 m track intervals that I am doing and gets more comfortable at higher heart rates.

As for cycling, my first race in Category 1/2 at the Pigeon Lake Road Race yesterday (137km) also turned out to be very successful. My goal was to keep my effort controlled, stay passive and just observe how people in the highest category in Alberta are racing – but for some reason I always find myself in breakaways. I just cannot resist the temptation to follow if someone is going for an attack :) 

In short: After a few attacks, I finally managed to be in a breakaway for 90 km with 3 other riders. We got caught with approximately 12 km to go. A series of attacks followed and for some reason I managed again to be in the breakaway. This time with two riders (one of them was in the first break as well) but I was pretty beaten-up at that point and I was suffering A LOT. About 600 m before the finish line the two started their sprint games and I just tried to rescue myself into the finish somehow and remain in third place, but as so often before it didn’t work out and I eventually finished 6th. Nonetheless, I was extremely happy and it showed that my Speed and Interval Training Block already pays off.

Now, I can’t wait to see how that translates into triathlon! In three weeks (June-16), I will have my first half Ironman distance race in Calgary and I can’t wait to see the results.

Until then train safe and check back in three weeks!


Friday 4 May 2012

What is performance and how to increase it?

The other day I spent quite some time thinking about what are the ingredients of high performance and how to manipulate them to become a faster athlete.
I identified six components (see below) which I think contribute most to performance and which can be easily altered just by my own will, determination and organization, e.g. they are for free and only require me to:

  1. Actively dissect my past training
  2. Make appropriate changes to increase performance
  3. Test them and re-evaluate their effects
  4. Repeat the procedure

The following list shows these six components:

  1. Speed
  2. Skill (Technique)
  3. Strength
  4. Stamina
  5. Endurance
  6. Recovery time

This list is ordered in my own personal way and reflects my focus. Things at the top need improvement, things at the bottom are pretty much under control and only need to be maintained.

The big question is however, how do I know what needs to be changed in my training regime, so that it would result in increased performance?

Well, here we are: The million-dollar question :)

I think there is no single answer. The answer depends on the character of the person who is devoting his or her time to it. If someone likes and needs detail and sophisticated methods, simple and uniform interval workouts probably won’t convince that person to devote their time and effort to it. For that person, in order to get a similar physiological response, this training session would need adjustments to meet his or her own needs. Ultimately, we have to believe in what we are doing since the muscles don’t really mind whether workouts are simple or sophisticated; I rather think we must sell the whole training package to ourselves and discuss with our inner voice whether to accept or reject it – whether we want to devote our time and effort to it or not. In other words, some training plans work better with some people and not as good with others. It’s like finding the perfect pair of running shoes. You have to try and experiment!

Coming back to the question above: In order to figure out what I needed to change, I decided to do all the things I usually neglected or didn’t like to do (see list above). That included speed and skill/technique for the most part. I would have always preferred a longer endurance session to an eyeball-popping interval session, and this year I will opt for the intervals (trying to keep my eyeballs in though!). The main idea is to first increase my general speed and economy on short intervals (1-1:30 min), in which I hope to increase my base speed, and then transfer this new level of speed into distance. I think that at my current training level just trying to run faster over long endurance intervals won’t make me significantly faster.

Please comment and let me know what you think and how you would try to improve your performance!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday 1 April 2012

28 weeks of dedication

Tomorrow I will start my 28 week journey to to be in the shape of my life for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. I feel very good and I am extremely motivated. My training schedule is broken into two chunks: The first chunk is a 13-week training block ending with The Great White North Triathlon (GWN) on July 1st. Two weeks earlier I will also race the Chinook Half. This will be my first triathlon of the year and I already cannot wait to be at the start line. Within in these first 13 weeks there will also be a few cycling road races, and finally, I will do the Frank McNamara Cross Country Running Series this spring for the first time since I am in Edmonton. I am pretty excited about that! These first 13-weeks are mainly characterised by speed and fast interval workouts. That means I will not spending so much time doing long distance stuff during this period but rather push myself out of the comfort zone!
After GWN I am going to have a week off and will then start the second chunk of 14-weeks Ironman specific training. The goal of this training block is to carry over the speed I have hopefully gained into more distance. That means I will decrease the intensity somewhat, increase distance and spend most of the time at goal race pace in each sport - not more or less. So, what's goal race pace? Well, this will be something that keeps my on track for a 9 to 9:10 hour finishing time. Pretty stiff goal but as my supervisor likes to say "Go big, or go home". It will be extremely tough, there is no doubt, but I feel I can do it and I will funnel all the energy I have into that one goal of being Top 5 in the age group M30-34 at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii 2012.

Finally, I would also like to thank Jack Cook for putting me on the Fast Trax 2012 Run Team and I am very grateful for his support. Thanks Jack!!

UPDATE (13 April 2012): I will also do the Sylvan Lake Half this year on July 22, that is 3 weeks after the Great White North Triathlon.

Monday 19 March 2012

Bike fitting

A few days ago I went to Calgary to get a bike fit at the Speed Matrix. Adam Redmond, the owner, is fitting bikes to his clients using the Retül Fit Technology. I met Adam in October 2010 in Kona. Actually, we shared the same room in a hostel and it was pretty funny when we found out that he is from Calgary. Anyway, after a first examination of my body (femur length, flexibility, etc.). I eventually got hooked up with sensors on my joints (wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle and foot) and started cycling. Any possible angle was measured and his first comment was "We'll get you faster!" It turned out that my fit was not optimal to allow for a consistent long-term power output. In other words my seat was too high and my aerobars were to low. This was not surprising to me as I did this adjustment myself. I wanted to have a very aerodynamic fit and thought I can deal with the discomfort. After Adam did a few changes, I was still super aerodynamic and now it also feels really good being in aero position. I was really happy about this first result.
Then, he also found that my vertical leg movement was a bit off (looking almost like a "V" from behind and not straight like an "H"). He inserted a super thin plastic wedge between cleat and shoe that helped to transform the "V" shape into a more optimal "H" shape (note: these terms are entirely made up by myself and are merely used to better describe what happened during the fit). This was the second adjustment he made and I can't wait to start racing now with the new bike fit.

My conclusion:
In general, all adjustments were very minimal and carefully made. Tiny adjustments may have an enormous effect when one sums up the pedal strokes made in a 5 hours bike ride (~ 90 rpm * 300 min = 27,000 pedal strokes on each side!). Being able to detect differences of a degree is a really powerful way of probing out the optimal cycling position given body type and race distance.
After this session with Adam, I am sure that I got quite a bit closer of reaching my cycling goal time of 4:45-4:50 hours in Kona this year.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Pareto Principle

My training philosophy was always to train as less as possible to gain maximum fitness in order to reach my desired goal. I am very fond of this minimalistic approach. When I was training for Ironman Canada 2010, I logged less than 10 hours per week over the course of 20 weeks, however, neglecting swimming quite a bit. The core of my training plan was a Minimalist Marathon Training Program. This program consists of three key workouts per week, leaving the other days for recovery or cross training. My focus in 2010 was clearly to become a better (triathlon) runner and 90 % of my workouts were brick workouts of 1 - 1.5 hours hard cycling on my trainer followed by running a few fast mile repeats and then settling down into a longer goal pace run (everything on the track). Eventually, I ran up to 38 km on the track. Now, you probably think this guy is crazy, but I can tell you once you get used to it, you'll love track workouts. The benefit is that you can train without interruption and record progress very well due the to homogeneous conditions, which also keeps you motivated! Training on the track also allows you to bring as much fluids you need for the workout and you can nicely practice your race day nutrition.

So, coming back to the minimalist approach. The other day, I bought a training program from training4cyclists. It's called Time Effective Cycling Training and is written by Jesper Bondo Medhus. His ebook introduced me to the Pareto Principle (or the 80-20 rule), named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto and states that 80 % of the effects come from 20 % of the causes. So, since I am in the unlucky situation of not getting paid for swimming, biking and running, this principle is key for me to reach my goal of placing Top 5 in the age category M30-34 in Kona this year, and still be able to finish my PhD this summer and start a new job. For me this means I should avoid unnecessary time swimming, biking and running and focus on the 20 % (approximately) in each sport that actually make me faster, i.e. goal pace training, interval workouts, track running and indoor cycling. Although I intuitively applied this principle already before I actually heard about it, it's good to see it written out. On a final note however, I also have to say that every now and then training without any pace prescription turned out to be very beneficial for my overall performance, recovery and well-being.

Happy Training!


Sunday 5 February 2012

Sweet Spots

Today I did the Swim Smooth ramp test to discover my optimal stroke rates. It turned out that I have two sweet spots, i.e. two stroke rates at which I have the highest efficiency given pace and perceived effort. The first one lies at 61 strokes per minute and second one at 76 strokes per minute. What does that mean? At 61 strokes per minutes my pace clearly dropped by 3 seconds per 50 metres, compared to 58 strokes per minute, while maintaining approximately the same rate of perceived effort. This can be considered my long and steady pace stroke rate, which clearly supports what I have been doing during training. At a stroke rate of 76, I dropped 2 seconds per 50 metres compared to the preceding stroke rate of 73, an outcome which was absolutely new to me! However, swimming at this stroke rate is hard work. This stroke rate can be considered my CSS stroke rate. CSS stands for Critical Swim Speed and is an approximation of the lactate threshold speed. CSS can be calculated by doing a 400 and 200 metres time trail (see CSS link above). Over the last 6 months my CSS decreased from 1:32 to 1:28 and now to 1:25 minutes per 100 metres (as of last week). Looks like I am on the right track!

Stroke rate     Strokes/50m     Time/50m     RPE     Comments
46 34 49.3 1 very slow
49 37 46.8 2 feels smoother but still slow
52 36 44.2 2.5 feels nice and easy
55 39 44.1 3 feels good
58 39 43.6 3.5 feels good
61 40 40.5 4 feels fast and easy to breath bilaterally
64 42 40.7 5 starting to work
67 42 39.7 6 working now
70 43 38.6 7 working but stroke feels good
73 45 38.5 8 stroke degrading; fighting the water
76 45 36.7 8 feels smoother again for some reason
79 45 35.5 9 sprint
82 46 35.1 10 sprint plus fighting the water

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Speeding things up!

After having my swim stroke analysed by Paul Newsome, the first thing I did was working consciously to avoid the 'arm press down' when breathing, as well as not crossing the mid-line with my left arm. Besides these flaws in my stroke, his analysis also showed a stroke rate of approximately 54 strokes per minute and I could clearly see that I had a little bit of a glide, i.e. a dead spot at the end of my stroke, which forced me to rush through the catch phase -- the phase which is most important for propulsion. Dead spots, or gliding, is something one should avoid since the only thing it's doing in that moment is slowing us down and as a result one has to accelerate again. Gliding and accelerating feels (and is) very inefficient. In a 60 min swim, with a stroke rate of 54 strokes/min, this would mean 3240 times gliding and accelerating!! Accelerating may also put more stress on the shoulder joints and tendons due to the sudden and quick force generated by the muscles. After having done this simple calculation, I was absolutely convinced and ready to get rid off this glide in my stroke. So, I took my Wetronome, switched it into stroke rate mode, bumped it up to 60 bpm and started swimming. During the first few workouts I felt terrible and rushed as if I was fighting the water and not working with it. And if this is not enough, I still had this little bit of a glide at the end of my stroke. I started doubting the whole stroke rate thing until I realised something interesting. It's not just about increasing the stroke rate but also to shorten your stroke a tiny bit and not reaching out so far. It's almost the same when transition from fast walking with a long stride into jogging (or running) with a much shorter stride but faster leg turnover resulting in more speed. Now, I can also do 65 strokes per minute (for longer intervals) without fighting the water. My goal is to keep my stroke rate up between 60-65, and once I am totally comfortable with it, I will go back and lengthen the stroke again while keeping it quick.
When cycling I also try to have a smooth and quick pedal stroke and not pounding the pedals down (The Art of Spinning). If you have ever biked on rollers, or a trainer, you know this uneven buzzing noise when you start pounding on the pedals. In order to achieve a smooth pedal stroke, I ride rollers, listen to the buzzing noise and make it sound as evenly as possible. As for swimming, I got myself a Wetronome and listened to the beep. As for running I do a lot of track workouts in which I aim for a high leg turnover. I recently found Good Form Running, a video which is linked on Jack Cook's Fast Trax Run and Ski Shop website. It summarises all you need to develop a quick and efficient running style.
I am confident that if I maintain a high stroke rate/ cadence/ leg turnover for miles and miles, my body will eventually adapt to it and I become much more efficient and faster by decreasing the risk of injury. Isn't that all we want? Absolutely yes! But unfortunately, there is always a catch: Changing a motor pattern that developed over many years of training requires a fair amount of time and dedication, but once it's done I am sure it will pay off!

Bring it on!


Tuesday 17 January 2012

Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome had a look at my stoke!

When I found out about Swim Smooth, approximately one and a half years ago, I was amazed how informative this site was. It's full of information, videos and most importantly you can feel that these guys are passionate about swimming. The first thing I was super interested in was their Wetronome, a little device that functions as a pacemaker and gives you immediate feedback about your stroke-rate or pace. When I first tried it, I wasn't really sure whether I like it or not. It functions like a little dictator and beeps without mercy. It seems to me that the more you dislike it, the more you need to work on your stroke and rhythm. I guess everyone who plays an instrument agrees and knows the importance of practising with a metronome to develop rhythm -- and swimming is all about timing and rhythm. The downside of this is you need to be dedicated and start to build up your swimming from scratch (at least that's how it was for me). So I put it back in its box and it took another half a year before I gave it a second try. And now I love it! I also got myself one of their Ironman training plans to get ready for Ironman Cozumel, the race where I wanted to get the Kona qualification again -- and it worked. My swim time improved by 7:27min compared to my PR at Ironman Canada in 2010, and I also got rid of my shoulder pain that always kicked in on the last kilometre of the swim.

As you probably already know my goal is to finish Top 5 in my age group (M30-M34) this year in Kona. This is a very challenging goal and it will take up all my motivation and strength. That's why I am also looking for any support I can get along the way. And now, I was extremely happy to hear that Swim Smooth Head Coach Paul Newsome will give me a few pointers to help me improve my swim on the way to Kona.

Last Sunday a good friend of mine, Darren McGregor, took some video sequences of me in the pool and today it's already analysed! If you are interested to see what Paul thinks about my stroke and where I should improve have a look here:


Sunday 15 January 2012

University of Alberta student set for second world Ironman race

The first media coverage for Next Stop: Kona 2012! Check out the article in the current issue of The Gateway. For the entire pdf with picture click here.