Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Triathlon Training (and training and training and training...)

I had meant to blog this triathlon training thing on a regular basis, however, as usual when taking on something new, I underestimated how time consuming and difficult this training would be. My guitars are gathering dust, so intensive have been the last few weeks. The kids do get dusted off occasionally, but even they are temporarily orphaned on this altar of athletic achievement. So here I am, half way into my nine week training program and nary a blog post published, at least none concerning progress of a sporting variety. So, this is how it has gone:

When I decided I was going to do this, there were two major obstacles: my torn meniscus (more later), and time. A wise man once told me that while it's possible to have lots time, and lots of money, having both simultaneously is a rare thing indeed.Although I have very little time, I am gainfully employed, so it seemed throwing som some money at it might enable me to maximise my time. With that in mind, I joined the Endurance Performance Centers, and I also arranged for a friend, experienced in such things, to draw me up a nine week training plan, scientifically designed to deposit me at the start of the Wildflower triathlon, in peak form. The fact that my friend had previously worked for Endurance was not a coincidence. They are an outfit specifically geared towards getting bikers in peak shape. To do this, I first had a fitness assessment. This meant wearing a gas exchange mask, and a heart rate monitor while riding a bike hooked up to a computer. I first rode until the test showed that although working hard, I had reached the limit of my bodies ability to absorb oxygen, i.e. my VO2 max. For the next test, I rode constantly while the watts I needed to put out increased every two minutes, until I could go no further. At 310 watts I topped out, my legs screaming at me to stop. Previous to all this, I stood on a super dooper high tech weighing scale that weighed me, calculated my body fat, and the individual muscle density of my legs and arms, and my basal metabolic rate. All this was used to calculate my VT1 and VT2. These are my training thresholds and each one is a combination of heart rate, wattage and VO2. Ideally you train within them, pushing above VT2 for short periods to increase your lactate thresholds. Then I got a review of this with an expert, explaining what it meant and how I could apply it, and how I should fuel as I trained. I came out as fit and healthy, although any dreams of a future stint in the Tour de France peloton were well and truly scuppered. With a V02 max of 47, I was in the high end of my age and of an average person, but well below that of a professional. For example Lance Armstrong's VO2 max is in the 80s. It seems I am in no way a superman, not that I needed a test to tell me that. The most important thing they measure is your efficiency, how well you use the energy you produce. Mostly this is all about pedaling technique. My score wasn’t great. However this is not a bad thing. You may be able to up your V02 max, but often its limit is genetically defined. Your power output may also increase but for some people it doesn’t improve much. Efficiency however, can always be improved. This explains why there are professional athletes with lower VO2 maxes who are incredibly efficient.

After all this, I started on a program of twice weekly 90 minute eCycling classes at Endurance. This is basically a class of bikers with their bikes mounted on a CompuTrainer (device for generating wattage load). Each person has four wattage zones. Z1 is easy, Z2 a little harder, Z3 is hard, and Z4 is only sustainable for a minute or so. The instructor brings the class through sets of intervals designed to help build endurance and simulate real world cycling, hills, descents, time trials, pace lines, and sprinting. All of this is done with a constant focus on efficient technique. “Keep it pretty!” our trainer shouts as we try to hold 25 miles an hour in Z4 for a minute. “Dance with a swan, don’t wrestle with a pig!” I finished many classes smelling of bacon. The classes do an eight week rotation, getting progressively harder, after which you get tested again. You should show substantial gains in every area. Although I haven’t retested yet, I am already working way above my initial numbers. Concurrent to this, my friend developed a training program that included twice weekly swims, starting at 2500 metres and working up to 3500 metres, and runs that incorporate some hill sprints to build strength. On the weekends I get to ride outside, usually a long ride three or four hours, but never too hard.

Over all I feel great, a little tired most evenings, and early to bed is the norm. However I’ve lost almost 10lbs, my max wattage on the bike has jumped dramatically, and my efficiency is hugely improved. When I ride with my friends that train all year round and race occasionally, I can now keep up. So, at the half way mark it’s all working as planned. My greatest worry was that my knee wouldn't hold up, but to my delight as my legs have gotten stronger my torn meniscus seems to have healed, and bar an occasional twinge, seems to be fine.

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Blogger gimme a minute said...

Inspiring. Keep it coming.

Both the training and the odd report.

2:31 AM  
Blogger John Mc said...

Thanks Gimme!

8:21 AM  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Well done John. That's some impressive work.

9:10 AM  
Blogger John Mc said...

Thanks FMC,

gotta say I'm surprising myself. I never committed to something sporting so thoroughly and intensely. It really is a case of enjoying the journey, the race is almost an after thought.That said, after experiencing this I would hate to be a professional athlete. Although I love it now It would be too much as a permanent lifestyle - although I definitely intend figuring out a maintenance fitness program, and at the moment I hope to do another tri, but first I'll get this one over with and take it from there.

12:26 PM  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

I totally get what you mean. Ifelt a bit like that training for the marathon. I enjoyed the 'me' time of the long distance runs and getting fitter and even the peace that comes after a hard training session. I'm sort of sorry I was so cautious last year, but I'd heard so many scare stories about walls and what not that I didn't get to fully relax into the race. But this year I plan to train and prepare properly-now that I know what's involved.
This tri will be such a brilliant experience for you, what a challenge! I marked your race day into my diary so I won't forget. I'll be mentally cheering you on from here.

12:51 PM  
Blogger John Mc said...

Thanks FMC

I'll take all the cheering I can get! Its a huge event, up to 40k people in attendence, so we are renting an RV, bringing the 2 older kids and making a weekend of it. Some friends, (one is my trainer,a Dubliner who has twice done the half Ironman at Wildflower), are also coming with their kids, and a couple of the ex-pat Limerick lads I ride bikes with, (their are 4 guys from my neighborhood living out here, all ride, 3 of us were in the same class, and arrived here by a wild coincidence), may come along to cheer. I'll defo need some encouragement over the last 3 miles of the run!

1:10 PM  
Blogger madness rivera said...

Holy shite, man . . .

After the marathon, I decided to start training for a tri too -- a baby sprint; one at the end of July, one mid September. (You're doing an Olympic tri?) This has been my first week in training. Here are the key differences I see in our training styles: Uh, you're awesome and hi-tech and efficient and I'm all, "I just took 5lbs off my bike because I took the baskets off; that should do it." I'm highly impressed with what you're doing and you're going to do great.

I'm still tackling the horror of how I look in a speedo having not tried one on in 18 years. Wow. I might swim in a wetsuit -- not for buoyancy or to fight 58 degree water -- but for pure vanity's sake. I think full sweats would create too much drag, but again, I'm not an expert. ANYWAY, I look forward to more inspiring training posts!

9:37 AM  
Blogger John Mc said...

Good for you Madness. The wetsuit is a good idea, I am using one for Wildflower, but not really for training, unless doing open water swims. It's speedo's for the pool I'm afraid! I got the kinda bicyle short swim suit as opposed to the briefs, it's a little more flattering!

Re the bike, the best thing you can do for comfort and fitness is get a proper road bike (get it fitted properly) and shoes and learn to ride smoothly. It's an expense but there are few things as pleasurable as riding a light well made and fitted road bike, and as a friend put it,it's a guilt free expense. A no pollution beautifully engineered happiness generating machine that gets you outside and keeps you fit. The price tag( a carbon framed bike will be over 2k, but there are a lot of cheaper options) doesn't seem so high then.
There are some online sites where for a small fee they will send you a training schedule. http://www.ontri.com/ for example.

http://www.swimplan.com/ is great for swimming routines, and is free.

http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/3257/swimming.html is great for swim technique.

Good luck!

10:31 AM  
Blogger madness rivera said...

I checked out a book from the library that has a good 12-week training schedule, though I'm extending that a bit further. Quite a few people have also told me to get a proper bike and I've been investigating and reading a ton about it. Some of the components-speak can get tedious, but it's been a great education so far. Most likely I'll soon be parting with a chunk of change for a two-wheeled beauty with a carbon fork; the carbon frame will have to wait until I'm recruited by some team . . . Thanks so much for the links and the encouragement.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Primal Sneeze said...

Well done! Good going. Keep 'er lit, Mac.

By the way: .“Dance with a swan, don’t wrestle with a pig!” I finished many classes smelling of bacon. - a peach of a line!

1:09 AM  
Anonymous Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Ah Sneezy commented on the line I was going to.

Well done - it must be thrilling to feel real progress made when you're out on the bike. You're working so hard for this and reaping the rewards, I'm full of admiration for you.

2:11 PM  
Blogger John Mc said...


Thanks my friend. My trainer has many bon mots, all designed to keep the knackered cyclist focused.


Thanks for the encouragement. It is thrilling. I have never been this fit. I am now curious as to what my limit is. All that said, every one who has done the race before tells me how hard it is. I am slightly worried about the run, it is going to be hard to manage my pace on the swim and bike so that I don't blow up on the run.

3:53 PM  
Blogger aquaasho said...

"I finished many classes smelling of bacon".

Great line!! Ha ha! Hope the training is going well. You're probably easing up with one week to go right?! I'm sure you're flying!

1:33 PM  
Blogger John Mc said...

Thanks Aishling

Tapering indeed, and kinda going up the walls. My body wants to be doing things! A few short sharp workouts to keep things in tune.

10:50 AM  

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