Blogs tagged with "improvement"

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.

    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.

    The struggle in Clearwater

    In my last blog, I promised to address the lingering (read: mind-boggling) questions from my 2010 season, one by one. The first one on the list, and most important because it continues to plague me relentlessly year after year no matter what I do, and it's approaching the point where I'm ready to tear my hair out and re-dedicate myself to just marathon-running, is: "how do I get faster on the bike?"

    I look at the question and think everyone is staring right back at me with accusations, thinly veiled as questions: "how can you be so stupid that you can't figure out how to train on the bike?" and "do you even ride your bike?"

    So, yes, I feel like an idiot when it comes to biking -- because I DO ride. I ride hills. I do long rides. I do trainer intervals with a heart-rate monitor. I ride a LOT. During the season, I ride three or four times a week with at least one week-day ride after work exceeding two hours. And during my Ironman build-up, I ride at least six long rides of 100-110 miles. People I've ridden with have even told me I'm strong biker (after which, unfortunately, I have to scrutinize them for signs of insanity).

    Yet, I never improve. I don't get any faster. In fact, I got slower this season. My training log says there's no way that could have happened (my training log even reached out to strangle me more than once this year while screaming "what the hell is wrong with you?"). I logged more miles and harder miles than ever before, and my race speed has not changed. And what's worse, I reach speeds in training that are faster than I ever do in a race (on similar terrain). The day before my final 70.3 in Clearwater this year, I went out for a short easy spin and my legs felt better and I rode faster than I did on race day. And the question resurfaces: "what the hell is wrong with me?"

    How is it that, for me, the laws of training and racing (i.e., hard work equals improved performance) do not seem to apply to biking. Even at my advanced age, it still works for swimming. It still even works for running. But not for biking. Is biking that much different? Does it take years to see improvement? Are my biking muscles deceptive in their behavior? Do they hate me? Am I not working hard enough when my legs are burning and I'm sweating buckets on the trainer only to get off and feel like jello for the rest of the day?

    I buy books with training plans in them. Last year I bought a book called Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. The book has an eight-week muscular endurance program for the bike that I followed religiously. Based on my performance on the bike this season, it didn't seem to have any effect at all. Yet, every other piece of advice in the book was good.

    So now what? What can I do different? I talk to other "bikers" (i.e., people that seem to have figured out this biking thing, or, pretty much every triathlete on the planet). Besides recommending things I already do, their answers boil down to the following:

    1. Add strength training with weights
    2. Ride with a group of faster bikers
    3. Train with a power meter
    4. Get a CompuTrainer
    After exploring these possibilities, I have deduced that yes, indeed, triathletes, in general, make much more money than I do (i.e., recommendations 3 and 4 are well above my income level even when eBay is selling them). I have also deduced that weight training is something I need to add. I will HAVE to figure out a way to fit it in around my work and training schedule. Riding with other bikers will take care of itself this year because I now have a team to train with -- I think I mentioned them in my previous blog, the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport team.
    Because I've heard and read such amazing things about it, a CompuTrainer would also be high on my list of training tools. There's always hope for a miracle windfall or some other way to scrape up $1600+ -- not to mention, being a Mac devotee, I'll have to come up with another $3-500 for a Windows PC.
    Whatever happens, you can be sure I'll chronicle it here and let you know what the results are... or give you the disaster fallout details.
    It's been five weeks since Ironman Lake Placid and I'm still unable to shake the funk. Sure, I've had some successes in local races, but those felt more like desperation maneuvers on my part -- attempts to pull something positive from all the work I did before Ironman -- you know, so I don't have to look back at a wasted season.
    I had an interesting conversation with one of my biking partners this past weekend. It involved my lack of improvement on the bike even with the massive amount of hard training leading up to the Ironman. I seem to have reached a biking plateau despite working my butt off. And I'm not going to lie -- I was very disappointed with my performance on the bike in Lake Placid. In 2009, I rode a much harder course at Ironman Coeur d'Alene but my time was only a few minutes slower there. Was I was holding back? Or did I really have no improvement whatsoever after a year of harder training? I'm still evaluating and coming to grips with it. At Lake Placid, I planned to go "easy" on the bike, but I still expected my time to be, at the very least, ten minutes faster. In actuality, it was about three minutes faster. It's hard to get psyched to do more work on the bike when there are no gains.
    The improvements, instead, were in the two sports I spent the least time in. How does THAT happen? My swim time in Lake Placid was even faster than expected. Although, sometimes I think my swim is governed by some unknown force in the universe because despite spending very little time in the water, I often pull a fast swim out of nowhere. I've just never been able to justify swimming more than three workouts per week knowing it's less than one tenth of the total race time.
    So, in preparation for Clearwater 70.3 in November, I've concentrated on speed work in all three sports, and, as usual, my swimming and running are the only places I've seen any obvious improvement. As a former competitive swimmer, I know how to "whip" myself into shape -- it's easy to do by imagining my swim coach's face screaming at me. In three weeks, I've managed to get my 100-yard pool intervals down to a time I've not seen since college days. Maybe I'm reading the clock wrong. Or maybe it's my vision. (There's that age thing again, as I recently needed my first pair of reading glasses.) But, even so, I do "feel" faster in the water.
    My hill run repeats have also shown surprising improvement, unless age-related memory loss has also been plaguing me. Maybe I'm choosing different start and finish points from week to week. Or maybe I'm reading my watch wrong (there's that vision thing again). But even if that were the case, I can still convince myself that I feel better each week even after increasing the number of repeats.
    Yet, I feel like I'm stuck in a post-Ironman-depression funk, and I'm worried it's related to bike speed. I'm beginning to dread that bike leg of the 70.3 -- you know, the one that "should be the fastest of my life" because of the ridiculously flat course? You know, the one that, last year, was my fastest 56-mile ride ever? It's the same one that turned out to be slower than 50% of the people I was racing against. These thoughts are now occupying my brain on a daily basis. They're sharing time with the fear that I've made a terrible mistake signing up for another Ironman in May of next year.
    And now one more thought is creeping in: it's going to be a long winter.
    It's been five weeks since Ironman Lake Placid and I'm still unable to shake the funk.
    Subscribe to

    friends and sponsors