Blogs tagged with "CompuTrainer"

Time to put on my goggles and look at data.

It's that time again - time to go all "mad scientist."

Choosing to do an early-season Ironman when you live in the northern U.S. is a huge commitment. It means many weekends of indoor long rides and runs. Mostly alone. It means if you run outside, you spend most of your time running in the dark. Alone. It means frozen hair after every swim. It means very few opportunities to race before the Ironman (unless you have the budget). And it means difficulty in simulating race conditions during training. But if you tough it out, you stand at that starting line knowing that you have developed not only physical strength, but a new degree of mental strength because of the harsh training conditions.

Because I spent January through April training for Ironman St. George last year, I already knew I had the physical and mental fortitude to tough it out. What I didn't know was whether I WANTED to do it all again. But I made the commitment before thinking it through because Utah was good to (and for) me. Now there's no turning back and nine weeks separate me and my early-season Ironman.

The difference this year is that I know what to expect from the terrain and the weather in St. George. This can be a blessing or a curse. I know how to race St. George, but now I have expectations for my performance. And despite a decent performance, things did go wrong last year - there's that problematic nutrition thing hovering over my head like a storm cloud.

To give myself the best chance for a good race in St. George, I need to keep my anxieties in check. There are two things that will help me do that: I must define realistic goals and expectations about my race and I must formulate an intelligent race plan. Yesterday, I started digging for my realistic set of expectations.
Expectations should be simple and based in fact: I should know what I'm capable of from experience and by testing my limits in training. Despite this, emotion almost always gets in my way - and it goes BOTH ways: my expectations can become hopes (of good performance), or my expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies (of poor performance). So I must go back to the egg, to the only way I know to remove the emotion from my racing - data! I needed something concrete - a one-to-one comparison. And I knew exactly how to get it.

On March 4, 2011, nine weeks before Ironman St. George 2011, I rode a loop of the Ironman St. George RacerMate Real Course Video. Saturday was March 3 - exactly nine weeks before Ironman St. George 2012. If I were to ride the Ironman St. George Real Course Video this past weekend, I would HAVE my one-to-one comparison. Same weekend, same course, in training for the same race - this would surely be excellent data to compare and draw conclusions from.

So that's what I did. On Saturday, without looking at last year's performance, I got on the CompuTrainer, warmed up, and pulled up the St. George course. To be totally fair, there were some differences:
  • I rode earlier in the day than I did last year (yep, the stats file was date- and time-stamped).
  • I was not using the same nutrition regimen as last year - I have switched to Gu Roctane drink, and I am still in the process of determining my electrolyte needs with this new fuel.
  • And finally, I was watching different movies. This year, as TV scheduling would have it, I was treated to Goodfellas, and I can't say this didn't affect my ride intensity - although I don't know what I watched last year or even if it was a gangster movie (which, I argue, trumps all film genres for long trainer sessions).
Sunday morning, I plotted points - this year's ride vs. last year's. After Excel threatened to make the data analysis harder than the ride itself, I called in my husband Jim, the Excel-whisperer, to finish up, and here is the result - a set of comparison graphs of speed, power, heart rate, and cadence. The first plot (top) is the St. George bike course profile (the start plus one loop).

I was looking for notable differences. In the case of power and speed, I wanted the blue line (this year's ride) to be higher than the red line (last year's ride). And for heart rate and cadence, I wanted the opposite to be true. Although it wasn't overly notable, I was relatively successful in three of the statistics and horribly unsuccessful in one: heart rate.

The heart rate stat was confusing for more than one reason. While I was riding, my perceived exertion was relatively low but I noticed (and wondered why) my heart rate seemed high. I don't know if sustaining a higher heart rate (even with a lower perceived exertion) is something to worry about. I'm happy I could ride with my heart rate so high for so long and not be seriously affected by it, but I find myself wondering if it's a sign of overtraining - or something worse. What's more confusing is that usually my heart rate and cadence go hand in hand (pedal faster - heart rate goes up). This is the exact opposite of what happened in the two rides. I've also read that dehydration can raise your heart rate, so that's also an avenue to explore. I need to figure out what's going on with my heart rate before race day.

Another confusing stat was the lower average power output and higher speed over the last ten or so downhill miles of the course. Both Jim and I got hung up on that one. If you think about it, in the real world, coasting downhill is speed without power, right? But on the trainer, there must be power to make the wheel move at all and more power = more speed, right. I feel like an idiot here, but it's baffling me. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense - higher speed at same power (= higher gear?) = good, right? Ok, now that I wrote it down.. the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. If anyone has a clue, help me out. I was calibrating the CT every half-hour - so, unless it's broken (eek), that wasn't the problem.

The other thing I learned on this ride was more about my nutrition requirements (and, something that might back-up the theory of elevated heart rate due to dehydration). After the one IMSG loop was finished, I kept riding because I had a longer ride planned. I did no additional electrolyte supplementation because I needed a starting point for the Roctane. Near the end of the ride, I got really nauseous. I took two Thermolytes - it took a few minutes to recover, but I did recover, and then I felt much better. In my upcoming long rides, I will further refine these needs, and, perhaps, warm up the temperature in the room because, on race day in southern Utah, it could be 90 degrees or worse - and the heat seems to be where everything falls apart nutritionally for me.

Now.. about that swimming and running data...

Scene from "The Goonies"

The title is a quote from one of my favorite scenes in "The Goonies" - it's when the young Sean Astin realizes the only way out for him and his friends is to follow the pirate treasure map. It's not so much a statement of excitement as it is a statement of resignation. Basically, it was the beginning of the adventure and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Today, I feel the same way about my 2012 season. Once again, I find myself registered for Ironman St. George. I have resigned myself to the training necessary for racing an Ironman the first week of May. I did it (and survived) last year, but I can't say I'm looking forward to an adventure. Instead, I'm looking at a long, dark, and cold winter of power-building and epic-long sessions on the CompuTrainer, long runs in well-below-freezing temperatures, wind from the Alberta clippers, ice and snow, treacherous driving to the pool, and wet hair in the cold after swimming. I'm looking at dry, chapped skin from the cold and the chlorine, numb fingers and toes, constant shivering, even more lines on my face, and heaven-knows-how-many new scars from slipping on ice.

My husband Jim has to live through my constant over-analysis of CompuTrainer stats, complaining that I'm always cold and numb and my skin is always dry, and wondering if the next time he sees me I'll be covered with blood - from slipping on the aforementioned ice.

When I cross that finish line on May 5 in Utah, will I (we) be able to say that it was all worth it? (I mean, that's the big question, isn't it? Knowing the hard work paid off?)

As I get older, I am reminded of a former cycling buddy who, on the worst (cold, rainy) days, would ask: "Jeanne, are we having fun?" If we agreed the answer was "No" (not frequently), we would pack it in and go have a beer (or breakfast). Training has to be more than just the sense of accomplishment, but I do  enjoy that daily "high." I also enjoy the hard training as it gives me internal rewards - feeling stronger or tougher for having done it. Racing has never been a need, but it can be the icing on the cake.

Racing Ironman, however, requires a huge commitment. It doesn't just give me a reason to do what I love. It involves a serious financial commitment - currently over $600/race plus travel expenses - well before the training commences. And I don't think I could do Ironman without goals because I can't say I enjoy the training enough to just do it for fun. So here I am, looking at the beginning of my training cycle for Ironman St. George.

There has to be a starting point, so I chose to start with a comparison. As I'm coming from my "off-season," I decided to do my first long-ish ride on the RacerMate St. George Real Course video and compare it to the first one I did in training for IMSG 2011. This year, I rode for 3 hours and covered 49 miles of the course. Last year, my first course ride was in mid-January - I rode for 3.5 hours and covered 54 miles. Thus begins the CompuTrainer over-analysis:

On the IM St. George course, this plot shows that on Saturday (red line)
I reached the same point (49 mi) faster than my first ride in January
I also plotted my power and heart rate vs. miles on the SG course, just to see how that compared:
Power (watts) vs. miles on IM St. George course.
My power on Saturday (red line) was similar to Jan 15, but in some
places was consistently higher (good, right?).
Heartrate (BPM) vs miles on IM St. George course.
My heart rate on Saturday (red line) was of similar shape but was
consistently higher for most of the ride (not good). I hope that the point where it
looks like I died was when I got off the bike to replenish my water bottles.
I'm not exactly sure that the differences are of any significance - I guess my higher heart rate has me a bit concerned that I'm in worse shape, but I am encouraged that it is earlier in the training cycle, and I rode slightly faster and was able to hold that higher heart rate for so long. (It may also have something to do with the fact that I currently have a raging sinus infection.)

Overall, I feel like I'm in decent shape at the start of my Ironman training, but only time will tell if I can stay healthy and motivated through winter of 2012, and come out fighting in May. I hope it's the beginning of a long and rewarding season - oops, I mean "adventure."

Enjoying the third day of the off-season surfing in Maui

It's been a while since I had a real off-season, but the planets have aligned this year to provide me with a little post-season, holiday, do-nothing block of time. Even though I ran the New York City Marathon two weeks ago, my post season off-time began the day after Ironman Kona. It started with a trip to Maui and ends right about now, in my kitchen, in front of my computer.

Why now, you ask? Because six weeks is enough! I've realized that there is still nothing interesting to watch on TV. I've fallen victim to the Halloween-candy-at-the-office five-pound weight gain (which, at my advanced age's metabolic slowdown, will no doubt take the next six months to eradicate). And I'm ready to stop looking at the past and now look at the future - a.k.a., my 2012 triathlon season.

To go forward, though, I feel the need to contemplate the past so that I can learn from it. The first mistake I ALWAYS make in reviewing the past is the one I'm going to try to avoid this time: remembering only the failures. In looking at years past, I usually only remember the things I want to change, like my poor performances. That's all well and good if I logically analyze what caused the poor performances. But I always forget to review what went right.

Why do we do that? Maybe the question should be: am I the only one who does that? Why does the negative emotional impact of my bad races outweigh the positive impact of my good ones? In other words: why do we dwell?

I don't have the answer to that. (All the psychologists of the world just breathed a collective sigh of relief.)

So, to focus on a positive review of last season, I will not mention the disasters that were two of my biggest races of the year: the USAT National Championship and Ironman Hawaii. Instead, I will review what went right:

  • I won my age group in Ironman St. George by more than an hour, came in tenth overall and fifth amateur. (Who cares if it was with an embarrassingly-slow marathon?)
  • I won my age group and set the age group course record in Ironman Lake Placid.
  • I won my age group in Ironman 70.3 Muncie.
  • I became the 2011 world champ in my age group at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas.
  • I ran two marathons - Walt Disney World and New York City - just for fun, both with respectable times (and won my age group at Disney).
Punks, me and Ron in Vegas
Unlike last year, I am able to make that list this year because one of the other great things that happened in 2011 was to develop a great friendship with Ron, aka Punk Rock Tri Guy and @PunkRockRunner, who felt compelled to write me a motivational list before Kona - to remind me of the things I should remember about myself. He has been on a mission to turn my thinking around from dwelling on the disasters. Between Ron and my husband Jim (who has been on that same mission since I began running marathons in 1991), it might finally be setting in.
In addition to athletic endeavors, there were other positives in my life this year. I was able to get out of a dead-end job where I lived daily with fear and stress - and started a new job at a world-class institution, The Cleveland Museum of Art, doing something I love (web application development). It's amazing to me that a simple change has done so much for my attitude. I am now surrounded by positive and hard-working people who understand my training (many of whom have athletic lifestyles - and even run marathons). Several of the technical gurus I work for and with are women that I have developed a deep admiration for. Most importantly, people's eyes no longer glaze over when I go all technical (i.e., "geeky"). My favorite conversation of the last week was with our designers who were trying to create a model of our floor based on the terminology from Star Trek. Yep. Geeks. My people.
Elking around in up-state New York
Working at the museum also re-exposed me to the art world, something I didn't realize I missed until I was back in it. I was even bold enough to enter one of my prints in the staff art show. (This is huge if you know that every time in the past I had "chickened out" at the last minute - even after I had framed my art and had it all ready to go.) It appears I am letting go of some of my insecurities. I hope to be working more on my art in the near future because of the daily inspiration I get at work.
Thus, with a new mental foundation, and some successes in 2011, I am inspired to work hard(er) next year to build on the positive attitude and be able to capitalize in big races. If I'm fortunate enough to get another Kona slot, I will take what I have learned this year and apply it throughout training to eliminate more chances of something going wrong again.
Here are the things I've learned from my 2011 season, in no particular order: 
  • Training with power is what works for my biking (thanks to the CompuTrainer). I don't think I can afford a power meter on the bike, so I will stick with the trainer for power workouts, and work hard during the winter months when I can't ride outside.
  • I still need to figure out what is going on with my nutrition in the heat. Apparently, more sodium isn't enough and maybe it should be "lots more, even more than you think after you've taken more" sodium. I will be consulting a trusted nutritionist. I will also look into having these things (like sweat rate and sweat composition) tested. This is where I think my money will be best spent.
  • My swim training this year reached a sort of plateau, but I'm confident I can get through this one because I managed to do the same time in my three Ironman races this year no matter how hard or how easy I trained for the swim. I broke a rib and lost two weeks leading up to Lake Placid and still did a 1:02. I trained mostly two days a week, sometimes three - so, if I consistently get that third day in, I have high hopes to break that one-hour barrier again. I know I'm capable of going well under it, but so much depends on what happens in the race (i.e., if I get clobbered).
  • If I want to race well in short distances, I should not train for Ironman. ('nuff said.)
  • Sleeping the night before a race fully depends on how confident I am that I can sleep before a race. It has nothing to do with how confident I am in my training. (I am NOT making this up.)
  • More on nutrition: the paleo diet works (and I don't even follow it religiously)
  • Even more on nutrition: despite what the guy from Infinit Nutrition told me in Kona, I do believe that protein is detrimental for me during a race. Once I switched to products without a complete protein ( Closing the book on 2011, in Kona
    I'm sure there are many more lessons I will dig up in the next few months as I review my training from last year to revamp my training for this year. I still have not been able to justify getting a coach because of the expense and also because I feel like I know myself very well and I've been able to coach myself pretty well. I am considering it now because my one issue is knowing when enough is enough and learning to take it easy to let the hard work pay off. I read a great article about self coaching in Lava Magazine recently: The Self Coaching Conundrum featuring recommendations from pro triathletes Amanda Lovato and James Cunnama.
    Thus, there is a lot to consider. But first things first. Get back into training. Build that base. Avoid the pitfalls of eating too much at Thanksgiving. Yikes, that's THIS WEEK! Y'all have a great one!
The P3 steps out in spring

Until yesterday, the last time my bike wheels were on pavement was November 13 in Clearwater, Florida. The last time they were on pavement in Cleveland was over a month before that. I've been riding indoors on my trainer exclusively for over five months. But yesterday, spring broke in Cleveland, as it does every year. With no warning.

The temperature went from a high of 45 degrees F on Wednesday to a high in the mid-60s yesterday. I couldn't get out of work fast enough. When my computer shutdown process lasted one second past 4:30 pm, I was panic-stricken. I had to get home, get my trainer tire switched out, and get out on the ROAD - for crying out loud! This was the most excited I have been about biking since I got my CompuTrainer in December.

All day yesterday, I had dreams of crushing my time from last year on one of my common routes. All that hard work on the CompuTrainer would finally pay off. I would, so to speak, leave myself in the dust this time. I called my husband Jim to tell him I would be out on the bike before he got home from work. He said two things to me: make sure you take a blinkie light with you in case it gets dark and be careful. It. Is. Windy.

Windy. It didn't register. He didn't say it was windy enough to be blowing his car around on the highway. But it was. All I could see was the sun and dry road.

I changed my tire in record time, donned a short-sleeve bike jersey and shorts, and ran out the door with my bike. I had to go back in not once, not twice, but three times. Once for my helmet. Once for my sunglasses. And once more for my water bottle. Yes. I am truly out of practice for this road-riding thing.

As I was leaving, Jim pulled into the driveway. Before I was off, he said it one more time: "be careful, it's really windy."

By the time I got to the first great hill followed by flat road, I understood what "windy" meant. The wind was directly out of the south - directly against me with gusts reaching almost 30 mph. So much for my assessment of how strong I had gotten over the winter. My speeds were about 5-6 mph slower than last year and after 32 minutes of riding into the wind, disheartened, I turned around and headed home. My great breakthrough on the bike would have to wait until some other day.

But the return trip was not without its own surprises. I was now riding WITH the wind. On my way back, not only would I reach speeds 5-6 mph faster than the same roads last year, but my my speed on the flat roads reached numbers I've NEVER seen (almost 30 mph). It brought back memories of the day I rode my first racing bike after 10 years of running only. THIS was what biking was all about - the proverbial "need for speed." It's something I never felt as a runner. Even though it's never the thing that gets me out the door for a workout, it IS the thing that keeps me out there even when my workout goes to hell. The speed. The fun of it.

I felt so good about riding with the wind, I decided to tackle the BIG hill - a three-mile climb out of the valley (Note: Northeast Ohio is far from Colorado. Our ski resorts - and subsequent hill rides - are actually made from slopes into river valleys). With the hill, I finally got my spring payoff.

The last time I climbed the hill in 2010, I had to shift into my lowest gear at least once to maintain a pace above 5 mph. Yesterday, that gear never saw the chain. Neither did the second lowest. By the time I made it to the top of the hill, I was trying to recall my fear in the "olden days" when I dreaded it so much. Today, both my brain and my legs are having trouble recalling any sort of struggle at all.

I still have work to do though. I have yet to do my first outdoor 100-miler (planned for this Sunday). But, thanks to the CompuTrainer, I feel I've made progress on the bike this winter. And, to my extreme surprise, I'm developing just the tiniest bit of confidence going into my next race. Which just happens to be my first race of the season. Which just happens to be an Ironman. Which just happens to be in mountainous terrain. Talk about tempting disaster. I'm gonna need all the confidence I can get.

Here's a neat little chart of yesterday's weather, to prove (mostly to myself) that I wasn't being a wimp. Yes, the engineer in me still loves graphs.:

Weather Underground: Akron, Ohio, March 17, 2011
(my ride took place between 5:30 and 7 pm)

The view from my bike
CompuTrainer Real Course Video (IM St. George)

I thought long and hard about writing this article because I don't like to jump the gun in declaring success in any aspect of my training for fear of impending race disaster. The reason for this is because in the past, statements such as "my training is going well" or "I've noticed a measurable improvement in x, y or z,"  have caused the planets to instantly align against me and anger some cosmic deity who will then extend a giant hand from the sky and thwack me down.

In light of this, blabbering about increased speed or fitness without repeatable (or race) evidence has become somewhat of a no-no for the Disaster Magnet. But this week, after analyzing performance graphs of my weekly long rides on the CompuTrainer (CT), I've discovered something rather neato - something that might, ever-so-slightly, fall into the "progress in cycling" category.

First, a little background. For the last six weeks I've been doing three bike workouts per week as part of a "CompuTrainer Challenge" among a group of local cyclists and triathletes. My workout intensities are all based on my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) - a wimpy 196 watts - obtained in a time trial in January. Two of the weekly workouts involve intervals at paces from tempo (76-90% FTP) to anaerobic threshold (91-105% FTP) to VO2 max (106-120% FTP). The third weekly workout is usually a long ride of 1.5-2 hours on the trainer to be done at an average power output of 76-90% FTP.

Because my first race is very early in the season (May 7) and it's an Ironman, I've replaced the weekly "long ride" with my own "very long ride" (double-it-and-add-some) of 4-5 hours. For several of these, I've ridden the simulated Ironman St. George (IMSG) course from Racermate's library of Interactive Real Course Videos. The most recent was this past weekend - February 12. Because I'm a geek (some use the term "mad scientist"), after Saturday's ride, I could not rest before coming up with a way to compare my performances from these same-course rides. (Note: doing things like this have illustrated to me the power of the CompuTrainer as a training tool. They have also illustrated to me my husband Jim's mad skills at Microsoft Excel, my lack thereof, and all the reasons I find Excel to be a maddeningly-frustrating program.)

I plotted all sorts of data for several rides on the CT IMSG course - power, heart rate, speed, cadence, etc. versus miles and time. I decided the graphs I like the most, i.e., that make the most sense to me, are the ones that compare power and heart rate versus time or miles. This way, I can see exactly what happens each time I ride the same course. With Jim's help, I now have a single plot - see below - of power (left y-axis, upper data) and heart rate (right y-axis, lower data) versus miles for three CT IMSG course rides. Two were in January and one was this past weekend. Note on January 15, the blue line, I only completed about 56 miles of the 67-mile course (also known as "getting to the top of the BIG hill").

Power (upper data) and Heart Rate (lower data) vs. Miles for rides on same CT course (click on image for larger version)
 Note: data was smoothed by simple averaging of nearby points

In comparing the three sessions, I try not to focus on speed because it depends on the CompuTrainer calibration, which might change from one workout to the next (note in the table below that my average speed on Feb. 12 is lower than on Jan. 22, and yet my average power output is higher, and on Jan. 15 my speed would likely have been higher had I made it to the downhill portion of the course). Still, my ride averages were as follows:

AVE: Power (Watts) Heart Rate (BPM) Speed (mph)
Jan. 15 157 139 15.6
Jan. 22 156 145 17.0
Feb. 12 163 137 16.9

So, then, the big question: does this graph and table indicate progress on the bike? I'd like to think so and here's why:

  • My latest ride, Feb 12 (red line), shows the highest power throughout the ride, especially in the late stages (close to 4 hours effort). In comparison, the first two rides were only a week apart and even though they were different in length and time, my average power for each ride was almost identical.
  • The heart rate plot shows that on Feb 12, I was able to maintain this higher power/wattage over the distance/time at a lower heart rate than in January. Even during the hardest climbs (between 35 and 55 miles), my heart rate was lower in my latest ride. I'm guessing this indicates an improvement in my cardiovascular fitness.

Other than these rides on the CT IMSG course, my regular workouts have not been as taxing (or next-to-impossible) as they were in the first few weeks. It will be interesting to find out if and how much the increase in FTP will be when I do my next time trial. Or better, if and when I ever get out on the road again (assuming winter 2011 comes to an end before April), I am very interested in seeing how fast I can go on my old tried and true road courses.

    My cat's manifestation of today's general feeling

    Sometimes I get ahead of myself. And that's how anxiety and panic begin to take hold. For instance, this weekend, I conquered the monumental task of spending five hours on my bike trainer. But I didn't see it as an accomplishment. Instead, based on my "trainer" speed and distance, all I could think of was: "I just had the crappiest bike ride of all time that proves no matter how hard I work, I still suck on the bike."

    The truth is, I've been training my arse off on the bike. But I'm getting ahead of myself. After the Disney Marathon, I dedicated myself to complete a three-month workout plan known as the "ComputTrainer Challenge" in my circle of training cohorts. It started with a time trial to determine my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) -- which I did four days before the marathon -- and continues with three workouts weekly, designed to increase our sustainable power output. The one thing I've not told anyone (in that circle) is that because I'm racing Ironman St. George in May, I've been doing a really long ride (obviously, now up to five hours) every weekend (this was not advised). But in reading others' assessments of the training plan and improvements in their fitness levels, I realize I'm not making the same gains. Instead I'm tired and cranky and my legs are screaming with fatigue. And I'm sick and tired of doing all my workouts indoors during this horrible winter.

    So today I called my good friend and fellow athlete, Ron, to complain, and he helped put it all in perspective. I WAS getting ahead of myself. He reminded me that my trainer speed and distance has no comparison to that of the road and I need to just focus on power. He reminded me that I have to deal with stresses at work in addition to training. And he reminded me I'm doing exactly what I need to do. And I need to stop comparing myself to others.

    But then I was still doing it. Affording a CompuTrainer was a stretch, but I determined it was the best option (and nothing speaks louder than "guaranteed to make you faster"). But here I may also have gotten ahead of myself. I'm now hanging out with a group of "CompuTrain"ing athletes, and I've fallen back into that behavior pattern of comparing myself to other triathletes -- this time financially.

    It reminded me to address the third bullet in my Seasons End article from December: "Where on earth will I scavenge up the cash to pay for ever-increasing race entry fees, gear (including necessities like running shoes, nutrition and supplements) and travel expenses?" Every time I turn around or read other athletes' blogs or forum posts, I feel like I'm the cool triathlete's poor relative -- the one riding a purple ten-speed, running in cotton sweats and (white) Chuck Taylors, and wearing a stop-watch around my neck. Remember those people? Oh my God, I've BECOME one of those people!

    But seriously, what is a financially-challenged athlete to do? (Um.. figure out how to make more money, or) put things in perspective, of course! My friend Ron got an earful on this front as well. Me: "All these triathletes I know have unlimited funds, multiple racing bikes, Garmins, treadmills in their basements, Newton running shoes, compression wear - you name it." I can't keep up. If it's marketed toward triathletes, everyone else seems to have it and I can't afford it. I know, I'm getting ahead of myself once more. Ron came to the rescue, again, with one simple line: "Steve Prefontaine didn't have any of those things."

    All it took was a look back, and I'm no longer getting ahead of myself. When I got home from work today, my husband Jim reminded me that I know what I'm doing. And that I needed a day off. From the mental stress. From the physical stress. From the fatigue. And, in the midst of a massive winter storm, from the weather.

    And right now, everything is back in perspective.

    the spare-bedroom bike-training facility

    I got a new toy for Christmas this year and I've been avoiding writing about it because at the moment, it stills scares the living daylights out of me. What is it? It's a RacerMate CompuTrainer. It was an extremely generous gift from my husband Jim, courtesy of a team discount from Bike Authority in Broadview Heights, OH. Like last year, I think Jim is tired of watching me sweat for hours on my trainer only to hear me cry over and over again about how I work so hard on the bike and get nothing out of it.

    So this year, instead of books about how to train, his gift came with a "Performance Improvement Guarantee" -- I am NOT making this up. If I don't get faster, he gets his money back. That's what's so scary. As far as training tools go, improvement only happens if you use them properly. I know how to use a treadmill to run faster. I know how to use hand paddles to get stronger (and faster) in the water. But, a bike trainer is a bike trainer, right? If I haven't been able to figure out how to use a fluid resistance trainer to get faster on the bike (even with a heart rate monitor), how is this going to change? The answer appears to be the one detail missing from my bike training: power. I have no clue how much power I'm generating. This CompuTrainer thing is supposed to help with that. But HOW? Just knowing my power output isn't going to make me more powerful.

    After two days of looking at the box, Jim and I - well, mostly Jim - spent time last Thursday setting up the bike on the CompuTrainer. We then hooked it up to the refurbished Dell PC he also bought me for Christmas (specifically to run the software) after I installed the software. The first thing you have do is calibrate the trainer. Oh great! More things to worry about. Luckily, you can do this as a warm up. And guess what, it's not hard at all!

    But what else can I do with it? The anxiety starts...

    You can do so much with the CompuTrainer, it boggles my mind. I worry I will never fully know how to digest, analyze, and use all the information. But that doesn't change the fact I now think it's one of the most awesome training tools I have. And that's good because I live in Cleveland, and I will probably spend most of my bike training for Ironman St. George indoors.

    I already have one advantage. The CompuTrainer came with a free "Real Course Video" ... Jim chose (obviously) Ironman St. George. I can ride the course and the trainer will automatically adjust resistance based on terrain while showing you the exact video of the course -- not a 3-D rendering, mind you, but someone actually DROVE the course and videotaped it.

    And yesterday, New Year's Day, that's exactly what I did -- I rode the virtual Ironman St. George bike course (while simutaneously watching the great Christmas classic "Die Hard" on my television).

    I know there are a multitude of things I have to learn in order to use the CompuTrainer effectively. Right now my fear is based on the old cliche: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." It's overwhelming for my ancient brain to fathom -- I'm afraid there's too much to learn and not enough time to figure it out by May. But the bottom line is that I need to increase my power on the bike, and everyone says the way to do that is to: "get a CompuTrainer." Am I allowed to mention they're all a LOT younger than me?

    If I put aside my anxiety for a moment, my starting impression of the CompuTrainer is that it IS one of the coolest, and most fun, gadgets I ever trained on. Hopefully it will do exactly what it is "guaranteed" to do. At the very least, I will be better prepared for Ironman St. George than those who have never seen the course before. I may even be tempted to buy the Ironman Lake Placid course just to relive the horror...  I mean for the beautiful scenery.

    And, if anyone has favorite references on what they did or the best way to use the CompuTrainer for increasing power on the bike, please point me to them. I do know I will be doing a test this week to find my "FTP" (Functional Threshold Power). It all starts here.

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