June 29, 2011

Cumulative Fatigue

So a close training buddy and I were chatting many years ago on one of our trips up to the North Country about this common phenomenon in endurance athletics and athletes.  The phrase "cumulative fatigue" came up in conversation and I asked him to elaborate on what he meant.  Basically what he meant was that this is the residual fatigue of the relentless breaking down of your bodys muscles over time in training for an endurance type event.  Even though we take "rest weeks" and train with periodization, we never FULLY recover from weeks past as the season goes on.  So what we are left with is a phenomenon that cannot be measured, but still lingers - cumulative fatigue.
So let's shoot an example out there to see how this would affect John Doe Athlete.  John is training for an ironman and he's putting in some good hours every week.  He typically abides by the traditional 4 week build structure to enable him to do 3 weeks "on" and 1 week "off" of reduced volume.  Generally he tracks his progress by total # of workout hours and over the course of the year, will typically start off with 15 hours per week for his "on" weeks and then drop down about 40% when he has a rest week to about 8-9 hours on those rest weeks.  John's goal is to work up to a consistent 20-25 hours per week over the course of the season, eventually peaking only a few weeks before he races to ensure that his taper will take effect.

In years past, John previously thought that 15 hours were "maxing" him out and he wasn't able to get much more done in his normal life because of his 40+ hour work week and other committments.  This year, John was pretty comfortable with the 15 hour base to start and began his training program at that level with a keen eye on his "Stress Budget" and recovery among other factors.  Triathlon Coach Jesse Kropelnicki wrote a solid article a while ago about the potenial "Stress budget" that an athlete has when training for a race.  We all know that "life" gets in the way of training and we all have commitments and other things that would keep us occupied when we're not swimming/biking/running.  Jesse goes on in the article to define the Stress Budget as "the maximum level of stress that can be added to your system, without it becoming counterproductive"
John realized that his body was able to handle the 15 hour weeks pretty well and he was able to recover properly and then also have a little extra "spare time" to get things done outside of training.  John started his training in January for a late summer Ironman.  As the season drew on, he was increasing his longer rides and runs inside that 15 hour week and eventually pushing it towards 20 hours and ultimately peaking out at about 25 hours.  As this season drew on, John realized that he wasn't feeling peppy and his legs weren't coming back around until later and later in his rest weeks.  This is a prime example of cumulative fatigue.

As John's season drew on, he was pouring on the hours and while he was able to handle a 15 hour week with relative ease, when he got to 20, he was getting cramped for time and sacrificing things like rest, down time, and stretching.  This creates kind of a snowball effect and as type-A athletes that are incredibly numbers driven, we all want that massive XX hour training week in our logs.  So by the time John got up to 25 hours per week, he was feeling pretty smoked and wasn't really recovering to 100% on his rest weeks because he was digging himself into a hole with other training.  John might have been able to previously handle one or two 20 hour training weeks, but throw 3-4 of them in a row on top of eachother and week over week, John was feeling rather sluggish and pretty much at the end of his rope. 
This is how I explain cumulative fatigue.  It happens that when you are doing 3x15 hour training weeks and then you have a rest week, you could probably do that all year and recover fully to 100% after each training block and have no problems at all.  But once you start increasing hourage, increasing the stress budget and life gets in the way, you might only recover to 95% after a build, then 90%, then 85%, and maybe as low as 80% of your max.  I know my speeds and paces as of late have been a little low because of this.  The good thing is though that a solid taper will fix this problem.  Taper comes, you reduce volume for a few weeks, rest, recover and your body gets back from the cumulative fatigue that has been plaguing it for the weeks past and you're ready for race day, like a man being shot out of a cannon.  A caged animal ready to attack, you're ready to roll. 

It's a good feeling to taper and that's a no brainer.  You've been trashing your body for a good 8-9 months prior to your race and it's time to let it heal up and get ready.  Keep it sharp my friends, watch your stress budget and know that your taper will take effect and you'll be ready to roll when the time comes.  Get after it.  Cheers!


So I know this is a ridiculously cool picture from back in the day of a guy with some seriously LARGE pants (think Big Pants Racing...) but I wanted to just shoot up a quick little note about power and cranking on the bike.  (amongst other ramblings...so hang on this one might get convoluted)
With the last post I got a lot of positive feedback and vibes coming from everyone I knew about the massive downhill into Keene on the IMLP course.   As discussed previously, I went up there over Father's Day weekend again with the idea of dropping down the descent several times until I was comfortable enough with going down it at a good enough speed for race day.  In retrospect, I only went down it 4 times total the entire weekend, but after being nervous as all hell about my initial drop in, I went down the first time and realized about halfway down that none of the research that I did on speed wobbles was helping.  None of the antecdotes that were online helped my wobble, other than peddaling thru it, riding the brakes a little and telling myself it was going to be okay. 

I dropped down the first time and got to the bottom and felt good, not really solid about the speed that I just did reach (never crested 35mph) but I had complete control of the bike by peddalling thru and riding the brakes a bit.  I never truly felt wobbly and the bike did NOT feel like jello underneath me...score.  I went on to do 2 loops on the bike course on Saturday and then another loop on Sunday before we left and by Sunday's downhill I was looking over my shoulders for cars coming down the hill, arms and shoulders were loose and I was feeling really in control of my bike.  It was like I had conquered the hill.  I know I will never really be up to 100% again "speed-wise" on that downhill stretch, but I could at least get going pretty smoothly down it and feel in control (which is what I wanted to achieve)

As for the other training that I've been doing, I've been putting in some SERIOUS miles lately.  Last week capped off at 24.9 hours of training and I'm on a rest week now.  I've been meticulous about the amount of miles and keeping track of training since 2005 (if you want to see my excel spreadsheets that I have saved, just ask!) and compared to my lead-up for 2009 IMLP, this year I'm about 200 miles ahead of schedule for running and about 30 hours ahead of time on the bike.  So I'm hoping to be a little bit faster indeed.  I've been rocking some sweet really long back to back long rides and the heavy training is almost done.  Now I'm just on a rest week and absorbing the training that I've been doing over the last few weeks, then it's 3 weeks of taper then the big dance.  Should be a good show if all goes well :o)
I'm resting and starting to feel a little bit better today, so that's a good sign.  This is the first time this year I've snagged a rest week after only a two week build (traditionally I've done 3-4 weeks of build and one week of rest) so I'm feeling rather good in the early portion of this rest week.  This year's IM race is plotting out to be a good one, so be prepared.  There's been a lot of fireworks already this year and I've got a lot to prove out there on the course.  I'm just itching to get out there and get this puppy underway.  The big thing is going to be to try and curb the overeating that inevitably comes with taper and rest weeks.  I'm a culprit of the old "eat the entire box of pasta" and chalk it off as a carbo-load.  I've worked hard to get down to the slender 155-160lbs that I currently am at right now, but I can already see the scale creeping up towards the high end of that according to my workout logs.  So, just something to keep in check.

Other than that, things have been going well.  It's about 4 weeks to race day and I'm trying to prepare a mental list of all the things that I have to get taken care of before race day.  (it's a long list) But I know that it's the little things that will help on race day and I want to make sure that I focus on my mental state of things too in order to keep things sharp.  This race is so long that I need to hone in on the mental focus to keep me going and on the right track.  I know what I'm capable of and I just want to get after it now.  It just can't come soon enough.  Sorry that was such a jumbled post. I have a lot of ideas that I wanted to cover but as of right now I'm patiently waiting for race day to come. Rest hard my friends, cheers.

June 15, 2011

Face your fears - the downhill

de·scend   /dɪˈsɛnd/   verb (used without object)
1. to go or pass from a higher to a lower place; move or come down: to descend from the mountaintop.
2. to pass from higher to lower in any scale or series

This weekend I will be facing my biggest fears on the bike and hopefully coming out alive on the other side.  Kind of like "shock therapy" I am heading up to Lake Placid for the 2nd time this year to hit up the course and get some more miles in on the bike and run routes (while probably swimming a few loops in calm Mirror Lake as well)

I made the trek up to the North Country a few weeks ago and did a grand total of 3 loops on the course over the Memorial Day weekend and did okay.  My nerves have really been wrecked since the accident in 2009 and I've had some big troubles mentally with downhills that I cannot see the bottom of. Most of the hills around Rochester I've gotten fairly confident on because as I head down them I just internalize my thoughts of, "you're gonna be okay, this is fine, just keep the bike in a straight line"

Now, I've gotten fairly good about not riding the brakes at the hills around here and even on our standard loop around Canandaigua Lake, I've gotten okay with just sitting up and coasting on the descent into Naples, NY.  However, that hill is only a fraction as long as the descent in Placid and I've been able to mentally push thru the few minutes of discomfort and made it down in one piece.  Mainly I've realized that the reason I'm able to handle some of these smaller type hills around here is being able to pedal on the downhill sections and that makes me feel more in control of the bike and not so squeamish on it.
But, when up in LP a few weeks ago, I hit the downhill signs my hands start sweating and I automatically tense up at the sight of those awful yellow diamond signs.  The hill is so damn steep in some sections that you cannot even pedal, you just kind of spin out and that causes me to freak out.  The first time down the descent, I actually dismounted my bike along the river section and made sure that my skewers were tight enough because it felt like my bike was freaking jello underneath me (not the feeling you want when going 30mph downhill).  I was wobbling all over the jagged shoulder of the road.  I think each time I went down the hill, I rode my brakes, got a speed wobble that was controllable and took longer each time I made my way down.  I mean I came out at the bottom and I had cramps in my hands from squeezing the brakes so hard...
So this weekend is my shock therapy. I'm heading back up to Lake Placid for another large training weekend and will be boarding my bike immediately upon unpacking the car and heading over to the 7 mile downhill section on the bike course.  I will be descending as many times as needed until I feel comfortable on the course.  I've researched some methods that should help me to stabilize the bike (lean a knee against the top tube, stand up a fraction on the pedals and get your butt off the seat to lower your center of gravity on the pedals instead of keeping it high on the saddle, etc) and I will be conquering this downhill.  I'm going to be followed by a car to block traffic around me and hopefully that will simulate race like conditions.  All in all it's just an exercise to get me more comfortable on the same area that scares the bejeezus out of me on that course.  I WILL get this...it's my last weekend to before race day.  Oh and I've got some massive training to do while up there, but I'm not too concerned with that, that's the fun part.  First priority is the downhill...

So, I'll write back with a report after the weekend, but keep the rubber side down my friends, I'll be doing my positive visualization exercises of me zipping down the hill with no problems up until race day comes (and maybe even after!) but get out there, scare yourself and do whatever it takes to get it done.  Cheers.

June 9, 2011

Keuka Lake Triathlon Race Report

This past Sunday marked the 6th year that I have done the Keuka Lake Triathlon in Penn Yan, NY.  I'd done the Olympic (International) distance race since 2005 and this one holds a dear spot in my heart as being the first triathlon I had ever run in 2004 (I did the sprint tri that year and that's the one that got me hooked)
This year was going to be a little bit different.  I knew going into this race that I wanted to do well, as I had won it overall last year, but I also knew that would be a fairly lofty goal considering the condition that my legs were in from all of the training over the last few weeks/months.  My legs definitely did not have the "spring" to their step as they had in years past, but regardless I was bound to put in my best effort of the day and see what transpired. 

Getting down to Keuka College nice and early this year was a good start to the day.  Most of the time if the race starts at 7:30am, I sneak in at 7:20am and scramble to get my stuff set up, chip on the ankle and down to the water before the gun goes off.  This year was a nice relaxing change of pace.  Our wave was the male under 35 wave and we went off first.  Most of my big competition was in wave#2 and starting 5 minutes back and I knew I was going to get chased down, just didn't know it was going to happen so quickly!
Race morning came and I was putting on my wetsuit leisurely and ripped my right heel COMPLETELY thru the back of the right knee.  We were waiting for a sherriff to show up for the race to begin and cracking wise at the waters edge and there were several funny comments about my "new-vented-wetsuit".  I told folks that I'm probably going to just duct tape it for Lake Placid, and that's the truth. 

Regardless, the sherriff finally arrived and I hadn't even braved the extremely cold waters to warm up yet, so as the race started and I dove in, my shoulders were very tight and not quite ready for the shock of 1500 fast meters.  They were more used to the last several years of doing a little warm up at MCC, then stretching deck side and having some coffee while we waited for the main set at Masters swim practice.  I led around the first bouy and there were some fingertips tickling my feet.  I made it about halfway around the "triangle" before I felt them again and I knew we had pulled a group of three of us separated from the main pack of swimmers in our wave.  (I knew it was three of us because I flipped on my back and did a few strokes of backstroke about midway to catch a glimpse) 
Around the last swim bouy, the guy that was in third place in the water, just completely sling shotted (is that a word?) around us all and into the lead.  He was wearing a white cap.  I tried to get on his feet, but he went wide and I decided to keep the straight line.  He exited about 20-30 seconds in front and the guy that was tapping my feet all swim (who I would later find out was Greg Horrocks) came around and we hit the stairs about even. 
That's me being really dainty on the stairs with half of a wetsuit ripped off trying not to slip on the wet wooden stairs.  I think Greg passed me up the stairs and as we neared the timing mats, I slyly looked over at him and sprinted towards the mats trying to get my chip to signal first.  As we ran towards our bikes in transition, I apologized for the "veteran move" of getting the better swim time and Greg was cool with it. We introduced ourselves too right then and there while sucking wind.  But as karma would have it, even though we had the same swim time in the results, they listed Greg as the 4th fastest swim and me as the 5th, blast! :o)

Transition was nothing special, other than the first guy out of the water seemed to take forever and I ended up being the first one on the bike course.  I was right behind the lead vehicle and my legs were feeling not-so-fresh this day.  Maybe it was the prior three weeks (including this current week) of over 760 miles of cycling (230, 310, and 230 miles respectively), maybe it was the massive hours that I've been putting in, I don't know.  I don't want to sound like a douche, but I went into this race last year at the end of a rest week (kinda tapered) and had something to prove (with it being my first triathlon after the accident).  This year, it was the last day of a MASSIVE three week build and my body was pretty beaten up.  As I've said, I've never really raced on dead legs and this was my shot at it.  I still wanted to go after it 100% though becuase as I've said in many conversations before "your body is capable of MUCH more than you actually think it is...".
My goal for the race was to just bike with COMPLETE disregard for the run as I have in years past and just ignore my FTP and my power meter watts and just go by feel.  I turned the pedals round and round with high hopes, however the first uphill section, I knew that I was in for a long day.  I kept on trying to produce higher watts, but my legs were truly flat and I wasn't able to get anything else out of them.  About 10 miles into the bike, I got passed like I was standing still and it was Nick Brodnicki who rode by me.  I mentioned something about needing to borrow some of his extra gears (as I was tapped out) but I don't know if he knew what I meant. He just completely rode away from me too, I mean I looked up and he was GONE.  At both turn around sections on the course I saw resident fast-guy, Jeff Henderson tearing it up on the bike too.  Oh and did I mention that he started in the 2nd wave? Yeah, he was about a solid minute behind me on the course (meaning he had already made up 4 minutes) and looked like he was gaining speed.  Crazy fast...

I got done with the bike portion and tried to wrap my head around the 10k that I had to now run.  I had a little bit of problems putting on the new Pearl Izumi Iso Transition tri shoes in transition, but that might have been because I didn't body glide them prior to leaving them out in transition and the laces were a little tight.  I went out and thought for a minute that the training I had done in the days/weeks/months prior wouldn't catch up to me.  As I hit the first mile in 5:38, I honestly thought maybe I could pull this off?? Nearing the turn around (and STILL not catching up to Nick) I started to realize that even a "best effort" run wouldn't pull off the win today.  I was already in 3rd place overall (Jeff had made up that 5 minutes from wave#2 and Nick was in front of me) and the only thing I could do was maintain.
Hitting the 5k mark in 18:20, I pulled a spin move for the little kids there watching and they all cheered :o) However that time would come as a dissappointment to me because I've always chased down the ellusive 36 minute 10k at this flat and fast course and today (with the way my legs were feeling) that was just NOT happening... I decided to dial my efforts back and not really turn myself inside out for the rest of the run and the proverbial wheels kind of fell off at mile 4.  So I started cheering everyone on around me and getting folks to come with me as I passed the sprint tri folks turning around at the cone.  I made it to the line in a little over 2:10 and I knew that was far off from my PR of a 2:06 last year.  Regardless I was happy and had no idea how I had placed.  (turns out I'm glad I didn't ease up any more as there was a guy 2 seconds behind me in wave#2!)
I eventually hit the line and got a 3rd place overall finish, behind Jeff and Nick respectively.  Above is a shot of us on the podium each with our etched wine glasses, race logoed steel nalgenes and belt buckles and gels for the top 3 overall.  Not a great performance by me, but I will take it for being as trashed as I was at the start line.  My times in years past have been pretty consistent at this race and are as follows:
I didn't race in 2009 as I was holding off and stoking the fire for IMLP, but I've been consistently on the podium or JUST off of it every year that I've raced this race.  Which I'm uber proud of.  It was a good fun day with lots of busting chops with friends (whoooomp whoooomp whooomp) and seemed to be exactly what I needed to get my racing fix started this year.  Congrats goes out to Matt Curbeau for nabbing his first overall win in the Sprint tri against some seriously old dudes :o) No more racing until the big dance in July and I'm hoping my nerves will be as settled as they can be so I can get down the descent appropriately without any issue this year.  But right now there's a HUGE rest week and I cannot look more forward to it.  I'm putting my feet up and getting some sleep because after all that training, it's MUCH needed.  So feet up friends and rest hard, cheers!