Blogs tagged with "data"

I'm back to my old tricks - gathering shreds of comparison data for confidence-building before Ironman St. George. A month ago, I posted a blog comparing last year's CompuTrainer data to this year's data for the Ironman St. George real course video. I rode the simulated course several times last year to prepare for race day, and each time, I saw improvement. This year, I've done the same thing, but now that I've actually ridden the "real" course and know what to expect and what I'm capable of, I've been comparing this year's data to last year's data to get an even better idea of my preparedness.

Besides a slight increase in power over the course this year, what I've found after a few data comparisons is that I'm comfortably riding at a higher heart rate. I have yet to determine if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It's mostly just a confusing thing. Because I don't FEEL like I'm riding with an elevated heart rate. Yet, on the average, it's several beats-per-minute higher than my course rides last year. Is it possible for a person's max heart rate to increase (instead of decrease) with age?
What I DO know is that in my best races, I've gone on "feel" (perceived effort) and not on measurement. So unless I learn something new in the next few weeks, I'll be going with the only thing I know - my own perception.
On with the data. The following charts are comparisons of my power, speed, heart rate, and cadence on the CompuTrainer IM St. George course. The red line is from March 31, the blue line is from March 3, and the gray dotted line is from April 3, 2011 (last year's last course ride). And the bottom plot is not my implosion, it's the IMSG course profile:
Ideally, I wanted the red line (the most recent ride) to have the highest average power and speed and lowest heart rate and cadence. Although it's not overly obvious on the plots, I succeeded on three out of four of those counts - when I checked the averages, my power and speed were about 4% higher.

I was somewhat surprised to see my cadence had an obvious drop on the most recent ride. I say "somewhat" because I've been working at this but I don't usually see such blatant effect in such a short time. The reason I was working at it is because I've learned my heart rate is more affected by cadence than any other variable. I've noticed on the trainer that I naturally gravitate toward a very high cadence - somewhere in the high 90s to just over 100 (I guess that means, in technical terms, I'm a spinner not a masher?). But this year I've been working to reduce it - to push a higher gear at a slightly lower cadence, say between 90-95 rpm. In combing the internet for information I saw the following quote and couldn't help but laugh: When asked if it was better technique to mash a big gear or spin a small gear, Eddy Merckx thought for a moment and said "Its better to spin a big gear." I guess THAT, in a nutshell, is my ultimate goal. (Isn't it everybody's?)
In the end, the only thing left to do is give credit where credit is due. My power increase has been, once again, the direct result of working my butt off on the CompuTrainer in a 12-week program devised by a fellow athlete named Mark Gorris. Mark created what's known in local circles as the "CompuTrainer Challenge." Starting in January, he generously and tirelessly sends out weekly workouts to a local email list. I noticed last year that the Challenge appeared to be a competition for bragging rights as the list engaged in some amusing smack talk. But as the newbie and not-so-secure-in-my-abilities cyclist, I sat on the sidelines and just did the work. And, well, the simple fact is this: if you do the workouts, you get stronger and faster. It worked last year before St. George, and I'm hoping the above charts indicate that it worked again this year.
What I do with this is information is now the most important thing. Along with the long distance stuff and the biking strength, this year I've also been working at my running speed, my swimming strength, and my nutrition strategy. And, as a self-coached triathlete, I've been reading a LOT about Ironman racing and race-day strategy. It's boils down to another very simple fact: if you race stupid on race day, all the work you put in beforehand is completely worthless.
I have four weeks left to ram home the this fact. Because, as the Disaster Magnet, I have always been aware that, along with natural disasters, nothing can derail my race quicker than stupid [mental] mistakes made on race day.

I'm back to my old tricks - gathering shreds of comparison data for confidence-building before Ironman St. George.

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...

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