Archive for May, 2008

Peaking in all three disciplines at once: Is it possible?

Well, according to the NY Times, apparently not.  The article, which quotes Triathlon mastermind Joe Friel, basically says that the varying strains that the various disciplines put on your body make it nearly impossible for an amateur athlete to peak in all three at once (i.e. having a personal best in swimming, cycling, and running in the same race).

The article is worth a read if you’re at all interested in learning about how your body works.

One takeaway point might be to vary up your training schedule from time to time and really see how your body adapts to various strategies.  For instance, if you give your legs two days off do they feel sluggish when you start a workout or do they feel fresh.  If you go light on running one week, does your cycling improve?  

These types of variations will allow you to customize your peak session for your races to your body.  Ideally, one would like to peak in all three at once, but since that’s probably not possible, aiming to peak in cycling, running, and then swimming (in that order) is probably your best course of action.  Since about 1/2 of the time in any give race is spent on the bike, it makes sense that you’d want your best time to be on the bike.  

Additionally, if you can get off the bike with a good time and still have a little left in your legs to turn in a decent run, you’ll be in good shape.  Take the following hypothetical into consideration:

You come out of the water with a ho-hum time because, well, let’s face it: you’ve accepted the fact that you’re not an olympic swimmer and you didn’t grow up swimming.  You get on the bike and your legs feel good and by the end of the first mile, you’re churning away at 19 MPH.  This is your speed.  All your training rides have been at this speed and you know that you can push your average speed up to 20 MPH for the course of your half-ironman, but if you do, your run will suffer by 30 seconds a mile, or about 1/2 a mile an hour.  What do you do?  Well, give the distances you’re going, choosing to push it on the bike at the expense of the run will net you about 2 1/2 minutes over the course of the race.

Why is this important?  Well think about it in real terms.  A 1-2 MPH increase on the bike is pretty realistic and can be accomplished with minimal additional power output (especially if you find a way to make yourself more aerodynamic).  A .5-1 MPH increase on the run, on the other hand, is much more difficult to do (think about kicking up the speed on the treadmill by that amount when you’re already tired…not so fun, huh?)  Consequently, you’re better off pushing it a little on the bike at the expense of your run (as long as you don’t completely kill your run) since your legs will be fresh on the bike and you won’t have to worry about making it up on the run.

A perfect example of this idea is a comparison of two finishers in the Male 25-29 category at the most recent Ironman California 70.3 in Oceanside (the event I’ll be doing next April):

Racer # 1 had the following average paces: Swim: 1:47/100M; Bike: 20.5 MPH; Run: 8:00/mile (or about a 7.5 MPH pace)

Racer #2: Swim: 1:28/100M; Bike: 18.6 MPH; Run 7:11/mile (or about 8.35 MPH).

Racer #2 beat #1 out of the water and crushed him on the run, but finished behind #1 by nearly a minute in the race.  

It should be noted that the time difference between the two racers can be attributed almost entirely to the time gap in T2, but still, the amount of work these two riders put into the various legs seems disproportionate to me.  Maybe it’s just me, but personally, I’d much rather have to get my bike pace up 2 miles an hour over the course of 56 miles than get my run pace down by 50 seconds/mile over the course of 13 miles.  Admittedly, if you have a background in running, the hypothetical and my conjecture go out the window.  I’m approaching this from the perspective of somebody like myself (i.e. somebody who’s obviously done all three sports at varying points in his life, but none of them competitively).  For these types of athletes, increasing cycling speed is typically much more realistic than increasing running speed significantly and as the numbers show, if you have to make a choice, choose cycling for the faster times.

Keep on Triing!

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May 30, 2008 at 8:05 am Leave a comment

Going Compact: Standard vs. Compact Cranks

If one were to take a tally of standard cranks vs. compact cranks at any T1 transition area at any triathlon in the country, standard cranks would be the runaway winner.  The reason for this is obvious: many top triathlon bike companies stock their bikes with standard cranks.

My Pinarello FT1, on the other hand, came stock with a compact crank which may be a reflection of fact that compact cranks are much more dominant in Europe than in the U.S.  The question is what, if any, advantages does one type of crank have over the other?

I’ve seen a few articles and many online forum advice givers try to answer this question.  Those in favor of standard cranks typically denounce compact cranks as for “weaker” riders or that one “will lose speed.”  Even an article by Triathlete Magazine entitled The Pros and Cons of Going Compact does little more than explain the physical differences and changes that may occur on your bike.  The article completely fails to address any differences in top-end speed (other than saying you’ll lose some) and likens going to a compact as a halfway house to a triple crank.

Of all the articles I’ve seen, the only one backed up by actual testing  is an article by Slowtwitch.com.  The Slowtwich article lists a few general benefits of going compact, including:

  • Easier climbing.  The smaller gear ratios make it easier to climb.
  • Reduced weight.  The compact crank weighs less than the standard crank and you can get maintain similar climbing with a smaller, lighter cassette (e.g. an 11-23) versus needing to carry a 12-25 or a 12-27 with a standard crank.
  • Closer gear ratios.  Closely related to the previous two items, the larger your cassette span is the more your gears are spaced out.  A standard 12-25, for instance, has a gear ratio of: 12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25.  A 12-23, on the other hand, has a gear ratio of 12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-21-23.  On the 12-25 cassette you are skipping the 18 cog in exchange for the 25 with the result that the biggest 5 cogs in the cassette all skip at least one tooth.  Not that big of a deal except when you’re looking for a very minor change in gearing.
  • Reduced knee stress.  Pushing the big crank is hard on knees, but the compact crank reduces this stress a bit.  This was one of the biggest reasons I chose the Pinarello over the Cervelo P3: my knees (old football/wrestling injuries) hurt on the P3 from about two minutes into the ride whereas they rarely hurt on my compact.
All this is great (read: boring), but where this article separates itself is in the actual testing it did to try to find out the true difference in top-end speed.  The tests were performed based on 700c wheels and 90 RPMs for the cadence.  Here’s the first result:
  • With the smallest cassette (11-21) on both the compact and the standard, the top end speed on the standard crank was higher: 33.2 MPH vs. 31.3.
Here’s where the arguments for the standard go down the tubes.  First off, there probably isn’t even a elite professional athlete (let alone an age grouper) pushing these types of speeds so the difference in top-end speed is meaningless.  You would have to be physically capable of pushing faster than 31.3 MPH on a compact crank for a standard crank to benefit you in any way in terms of top-end speed.  Sure, if you’re pushing the same tooth ring in the back on both a standard crank and a compact crank at the same RPMs the standard will go faster as this proves, but you can always use a smaller cog on the compact because it is easier to push.
A more interesting result occurs when we look a a more traditional standard vs. compact set-up:
  • With a 12-25 on the standard crank (very common stock setup) and a 11-23 on the compact crank, the top-end speed on the compact is actually faster: 31.3 MPH vs. 30.42.
In other words, with this setup, not only do the top-end speed arguments fail, but you get all the benefits mentioned above (easier climbing, lower weight, closer gear ratios, etc.) and you’ll go faster!
Even with this difference, I’d like to point out again that there is NO DIFFERENCE IN SPEED unless you’re pushing over the top-end speed which, based on the event results I’ve seen, doesn’t happen.
I encourage you to take a look at the article and judge for yourself.  If you can stand the hit to your ego before your group ride or race starts, you’ll be fine because you’ll be passing those who laughed on the hills and running faster than them afterwards because your knees and legs still feel fresh.
[UPDATE: See my recent thoughts on this topic]

May 28, 2008 at 8:22 am 2 comments

Ever Feel Like You’re in a Rut?

Yesterday I felt like I was in a rut.  The bad part is, however, is that I was literally stuck in a rut of mud about three inches deep for about two seconds before I proceeded to fall on my bike (again).  

There’s something about falling on a bike that makes me feel dumb and uncoordinated.  At least this time it wasn’t entirely my fault.  I was about six miles in on my Sunday long ride along the coast highway in Encinitas.  I noticed that I was coming up on a pretty significant crack in the road and I wanted to avoid it since I’ve blown tubes out on similar cracks earlier in my cycling career (i.e. my second ride ever).  

Unfortunately, I noticed it a bit late and didn’t have the time to look over my left shoulder to look for traffic so, in the interest of not getting hit by a potential oncoming car, I decided to go to the right of it–over what appeared to be some wet and dirty pavement.  Well, my friends, things are not always what they appear because my front tire immediately sunk about two to three inches into what turned out to be a mud-filled pothole.  Awesome!  

I went down along with my bike.  Aside from some scraping on my brake lever and the shredding of my handlebar tape, my bike was structurally OK.  However, both my tires and my drive train were now caked in mud, I was six miles from my car, and the only bike shops in the area didn’t open for another two hours.  What to do?  I improvised.  I found a hose outside of a bar and proceeded to gently hose down my bike.  I managed to get enough of the mud off to make it rideable, but it still took me about two hours to clean it completely when I got home.

Moral of the story?  Uh…well, not sure there is one.  Maybe: Triathlon bikes are not made for cyclo-cross?  In retrospect, this actually was a bit comical.  The real irony of the story is that about two minutes before this happened a fellow cyclist stopped a traffic light with me complemented me on my bike and he was right behind me when I ate it.  I think he may have jinxed me.  

In the end, if anything good did come out of this, it was that I ended up putting in a much longer ride time than I had originally planned.  I planned on about a two hour ride but since this incident cut my ride to about 40 minutes, I disregarded it partially and did an 1:40 ride on my trainer when I got finished cleaning my bike.  More on the spinnerval dvds to come later…

May 26, 2008 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

A Great Free Resource

Over the past few weeks I’ve been using a fantastic free resource: The Tri-Talk Podcast.  The host, David Warden, is a top-level triathlon coach and triathlete and does podcasts (available on the website as well as iTunes) that focus on the scientific side of triathlon.

This scientific focus is what appealed to me.  Rather that having somebody simply conjecture about the best way to perform better in triathlon, David seeks out scientific data and then tries to help you apply that data to your run, bike and swim.  

In addition to the podcast, there are transcripts available on the website (for those of you who are bored at work and can’t listen to the podcast) and a Tri-Talk forum where users can ask there questions and have them answered by Dave as well as other members of the Tri-Talk community.

Sorry if this sounds a bit like a commercial, but this is truly my favorite podcast and is the top triathlon podcast on iTunes.  The best part is that even if you don’t like it, who cares…it’s free! 

May 21, 2008 at 7:26 am Leave a comment

Back in the Saddle Again & My First Powertap Ride

Well I’m back from the City of Sin and got back on the road this morning.  Today was a great ride for several reasons.  

First and foremost, it was an absolutely beautiful morning for a ride.  Mid 70’s and a nice cool ocean breeze.  There’s nothing better than that…

Second, it was my first ride with my new Powertap.  I’m planning on spending the next couple of weeks just riding like I would normally and simply taking the time to learn what my current power profile looks like before I worry about integrating power into my training rides.  The device, however, is great.  The installation was so easy it isn’t even funny…just strap on the computer and you’re ready to go.  The computer is able to determine power, speed, cadence, distance and heart rate all in one device (plus your heart rate strap).  Simply amazing.  I’ve only had a few minutes to look through the data, but I can’t complain.  I’m looking forward to using it again.

Third, I learned a little more about the effects of group riding and drafting.  During the back portion of my first loop on my ride I came up behind a group that was moving pretty good.  I didn’t want to pass them just to have them slam by me two minutes later, so I decided to just sit behind them for a while.  Apparently another rider had the same idea, because the two of us sat behind the group of 3 in a pretty solid pace line.  The first thing I noticed was that my watts immediately fell by about 33% but my speed actually picked up over my average on the ride so far.  I never realized that drafting had such a huge impact.  The group started to pick it up a little until we were averaging about 24 mph.  I noticed that my heart rate was climbing a bit so I decided to drop off from the group.  It’s fun going that fast, but it’s not worth screwing up the purpose of my ride (long endurance ride).  If nothing else, this ride showed me why drafting is illegal in most time trial events: it simply wouldn’t be fair if you didn’t.  Three riders working as a team could mow down a leader even if that guy beat them out of the water by five minutes.  

Finally, today marked the first day of my training using the guidelines set out in The Triathlete’s Training Bible. This book is very thorough and articulates a number of great principles in training.  I have other triathlon books that I purchased last year and although these books are based on many of the principles laid out in the Training Bible, the level of detail is nowhere near what Friel’s book goes into.  Very good book.  Buy it!

May 18, 2008 at 2:20 pm Leave a comment

Next Stop: City of Sin

When one thinks of a proper training regimen for triathlon training, I’m pretty sure a trip to Las Vegas is right up there with donuts for dinner and “endurance training” by couch surfing all day.  

Nonetheless, I depart for the City of Sin tomorrow and I couldn’t be happier about it.  Sure, I’ll miss at least two days of training, but Vegas is Vegas and I just finished three years of law school so what the hell.  

If nothing else, this trip marks the perfect spot for me to start my annual training plan based on the principles set forth in Joe Friel’s Triathlete’s Training Bible.  The first week on the plan will consist of a relatively light week of training but will include a testing period for all three sports.  Since I will have my power meter by Saturday evening, this works out perfectly in more ways than one.  The one modification I will be making to Friel’s recommended plan is that I will be shortening my Base 1 period by a couple of weeks since I’ve essentially been training in a Base 1 period for the past couple of weeks.  

This should be a great weekend.  I’m just hoping I leave enough in my tank to be able to do something of value on Sunday.  Everyone should visit Vegas at least once in their lifetimes…I happen to live about 50 minutes away by plane so I’ve already had enough trips for my lifetime and that of many, many others.  

May 14, 2008 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

There’s nothing like a great run

After a day of sitting around on my butt in a bar study class all day, I was ready to get the blood pumping last night.  I had originally scheduled a long run where my pace would have been pretty slow and would have left me feeling like I’ve just done something less than a good run.  

About five minutes into my run I decided that the slow run just wasn’t going to work for me.  I was already pacing about a minute a mile faster during my warmup so I just decided to go for it.  I started running faster than I had at any time during my training to this date and I felt as fit as I had in the past when I did my first run at triathlon training.  Granted, my time wasn’t anything ground breaking, but an 8:20/mile pace over five miles isn’t bad at all for me right now.  Considering I haven’t done any speed work yet and this was my overall pace (including warmup and dodging tourists in Seaport Village), I felt pretty good about it.  

The best part of the run, however, was not the end result of my time.  It was the way I felt immediately afterwards.  To me, there is almost nothing better than the feeling I get immediately after a hard workout like the one I did yesterday.  It’s hard to describe, but I think the best way to do so would be to say that I feel cleansed.  

Although I varied off of my training plan a bit to do this workout, I’m glad I did.  Every once in a while you need to break up the monotony of training.  It also helped me realize that running is probably the area that I’m in the best shape in and I probably don’t need to spend too much more time in a “base” period.  I’m going to transition my running training into a more traditional build period with long runs, tempo runs, intervals, and speed work.  I don’t think my cycling or swimming is ready for such a transition yet, but at least I can get started on one sport.  

May 11, 2008 at 10:20 am Leave a comment

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