Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Recovery, The Effortless Workout

One of the things that makes training for triathlons difficult, especially when you have a full time job, family, and other responsibilities outside the sport, is getting adequate recovery. Your performance is basically the sum of your stress (or workout load/intensity) added to your recovery. But all too often when obligations work in direct opposition of planned training, recovery can be one of the first things removed from the training adaptation equation.

I've been thinking about this a lot this week. Probably because for the last two days I've gotten out of bed and haven't felt recovered at all. I also have been quite sore. Everywhere. So what caused my additional fatigue and continued soreness?

This morning I went to ride my bike. I had planned an hour tempo ride with a heart rate range between 130 and 145 bpm with a cadence between 95-100 rpm. From the beginning my legs were on fire. And my heart rate was drifting over 145 after about 20 minutes. I cut the ride short at 30 minutes and went to yoga. In yoga, fortunately the normal teacher was out with a sore throat, I was able to work through some of the soreness in my thighs and relax a bit. The substitute's class wasn't too physically challenging. But I still felt fatigued.

The good thing about yoga is that it can be both therapeutic and reflective. It occurred to me I'd made some new changes to my diet because of allergies recently. I hadn't gotten as much protein as I was used to. I also realized I hadn't taken a nap yet this week. Normally I nap daily for at least an hour. Monday I had gone shopping for some of my new foods during my usual nap time. And Tuesday, I had taken over someone's rolfing appointment when they weren't able to make it. My rolfer knows my schedule during the week is flexible and calls occasionally to let me fill a vacancy. Both days I had gone without a nap.

So between the change in my schedule and a subtle change in my diet, I wasn't recovering as I was accustomed. I came home from yoga and ate a Boca Burger (I don't eat these often but I do find the protein in them is readily accessible) and had a veggie/fruit/protein smoothie. Then I took a 3 hour nap. I woke up refreshed and "Look Ma no soreness!" Later I was able to complete my daily P90X workout (Shoulders and Arms) at the gym as well as play a little basketball.

I got lucky. I was able to pin down the cause of my poor recovery and fatigue and correct it within a couple of days. Next time you feel a little more fatigued than normal, or have some muscle soreness that seems to linger just a little too long, make sure you are getting the nutrition you need and the rest you require. Make sure you schedule your recovery and stick to it just like your other workouts.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bike Review - 2007 Guru Crono

There isn't too much you can say that is negative about this bike or about Guru, the company that makes it. Guru is like the Dell of bike companies. They build their rides one customer at a time and the Crono is their flagship. This is the bike 2006 Kona runner up Desiree Ficker rode. This is the bike I thought I was going to walk out of the store with when I started looking for a new tri bike. But that didn't happen.

The hard thing about reviewing a bike like this is no matter what I say about my experience testing this bike, I will always have to use the disclaimer, "This may not be your experience." The reason for this is the bike is made custom unless you buy a used one off eBay or take a floor model from a local bike shop. The folks at Jack and Adam's stressed this point throughout my tests on this and every Guru I tried.

What I liked about the Crono was its unique styling. The bike looks like you could take it out for a ride then hang it in your living room like a museum piece. It is both cool and sophisticated looking at the same time. In my test this bike was fast and solid through corners without sacrificing any agility when changing gears or directions. On flat sections of road, the bike just moves and moves fast. As far as road shock, there was literally none. This bike was like riding a sofa. So if you are one who needs a softer ride and you have about $4500 to spend (for Ultegra) then this is a bike to consider. Also keep in mind the 10 year warranty. Ten years is really good, especially for carbon frames. But lifetime is better.

What I didn't like about the bike I tested was the same cushy feel that made me feel as though I was riding on air on the flats completely left me feeling as though I was riding through quicksand when it came to climbs. As the friend who was with me that day put it as he watched me on one hill after another, "Your legs were a blur. But you weren't going anywhere. I kept having to hit my brakes to keep from running you over..." Ok that is a bad thing. My buddy is about 6'2" and weighs close to 230 lbs. I am 5'8" and 159 lbs. You get the picture.

To put this into further perspective, a couple of days later I was on my road bike sailing up the same climb. I was able to bridge up to local pro triathlete Andrea Fisher who was on her tri bike. Andrea is a human specimen to put it mildly, about 6' and at least 165 lbs of solid muscle. My point here is once we hit the flats again she was gone and I couldn't stay with her. But on every small rise I could gain ground. This experience got me thinking about the Crono. The wheelbase on this bike was one of the shortest I tested and it was the least effective climber in the bunch. From my experience on these bikes the shorter wheelbase helps get you in a steeper position and further forward over the cranks. This is great for triathlons because it saves your quads for running. But you pay for this positioning on climbs because you don't get the same angle to apply leverage to the cranks by using your seat as counter-leverage. On a flat or gently rolling course this won't hurt you much. And if you are a larger rider able to produce more power on the flats you get this time back and more anyway just like Andrea did to me that morning. But if you are an efficient climber, one who can sustain high speeds going uphill, this bike could cost you unless the folks at Guru can address that concern specifically when your bike is being built.

All in all the Crono is an excellent bike. It is aero and fast and silky smooth. And it is one of the best looking bikes I've ever seen. The difference with this bike is probably how well you can communicate the specifics of your riding style to the folks at Guru so that the bike can be built to emphasize your riding strengths and not take away from them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Outlaw Trail 100

This weekend I did the Outlaw Trail 100. This is a very well organized and supported ride. I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to get some good mileage in without having to worry about food, water, mechanical issues or routes. Actually for most cyclists or triathletes these types of rides can be a good test of fitness as race season approaches or they can be casual base building affairs. And as I've indicated here in the Austin area this is a very good ride. These folks do it right. I've done this ride for about 10 years and I've never been disappointed. The day before the race at packet pick up there is a free pasta dinner for ride participants. The tee shirts are usually long-sleeved due to the time of year. The routes change from year to year largely due to road closures and development, but the courses are always clearly marked. There were signs designating every thing from direction, to gravel, to the conditions of water crossings. Aid stations were spaced approximately every 10 to 12 miles or so. SAG wagons (city pickups and local bike shop vans with racks), Bicycle Sport Shop mobile mechanics, and several motorcycle patrols radioing rider status were all visible throughout the ride.

My friend Karen and I chose to do the 100k. For me this ride was to be a completely aerobic effort. I had my heart rate monitor set for a threshold of 151 bpm. This is approximately 15bpm below my aerobic threshold. The ride was set to start in waves beginning at 8:00 AM. Unfortunately, because I got off work at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning, we were about 45 minutes late starting. This really didn't concern me, however. I looked at it as a blessing because it made riding my own pace easier for me.

The first half of the ride was windless and the skies clear, the air cool. A great morning for some base training. It also allowed us to keep the pace high because my heart rate stayed pretty low. We skipped the first 3 rest stops because of this and had ridden about 50k in 1:30. The course wasn't completely flat. It had some pretty gentle rollers and long straights so keeping this pace wasn't difficult. At least it wasn't until the front came in. That's when the 25 mph winds kicked up. From this point on the course and day that had been so pleasant was now a complete nightmare. It was so bad that my friend Karen, who is normally quite engaging and chatty, was pretty silent except to point how much it sucked riding into the wind. About the same time the wind came into play so did the climbs. Over the first 50k, my heart rate averaged about 135 bpm. Over the last 50k all I heard was the incessant beeping of the monitor just above the roaring wind.

Unlike the first half of the ride, we stopped at each of the last 3 rest stops to fill our bottles and stretch our legs a bit. I was pretty good at eating on a schedule. About every 45 minutes or so I had a bar and at the rest stops I ate oranges and bananas. I don't normally ride with sports drinks because I don't drink them. (Perhaps I should clarify that. I do drink them if they are all natural. I just don't drink gatorade, powerade, or any of the other common "ades" on the market). For rides lasting over 4 hours I drink Ultima. Unfortunately because the water at the second to last rest stop was so bad, I had to use the powerade instead. As a result I think I drank less than I would have normally had I liked the water. (Note to self, always bring your camel bak). Anyway the last half of the ride took us 3 hours to finish. But get this. We still came in with a large group of the 100k folks because even though we weren't riding that fast we must have been moving faster than they were to have made up 45 minutes on them. I really didn't notice much at the time but Karen pointed out later that we had passed quite a few people on the course after the halfway point and none had stayed with us.

All in all it was a fun, albeit hard ride. Here are my stats from the effort. 63 miles 4:25.35, Max HR 163 (probably at the end when trying to avoid a dog), Ave HR 144, Calories 2999. And if you are ever in Austin the 3rd week in October. Bring your bike. This is one of the cooler rides around. Like I said, the city of Round Rock does this thing right. Maybe next year they'll have an answer for the wind.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

P90X Vacation

I didn't plan it this way but last week wound up being a P90X Vacation. I didn't do a single workout. I did put the DVD's in the player several times but never got around to doing the routines. I was supposed to do a recovery week this week anyway and just wasn't motivated. I can attribute some of this to the arrival of the new time trial bike I bought a few weeks back. Between getting the bike fitted and test rides and tweaking, I just didn't find the time or motivation to "Bring It!" But that isn't to say I didn't work out. I got in three quality runs, fives swims, and almost eight hours on the bike. And I went to Yoga. We'll have to see how I feel this week. This is the beginning of the last phase the P90X program for me. I can say that I'm happy with the results. (I plan on posting my photos at the end of the program.) From my experience the program works exactly as it is promoted to. You put in the time, you get in shape. And honestly, right now I can say that I am in shape.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Well, well, well, Chrissie Wellington

Okay for those of you who don't know the story yet, it can be found here.

What happened in the Pro Women's race at the Hawaii Ironman in Kona this year was nothing short of incredible. The gist is basically this. Chrissie Wellington turns pro at the beginning of 2007. Does her first Ironman in Korea about 7 weeks ago and wins. As a result she gets a coveted slot in Kona. Said triathlete then goes on to win the World Championship by almost 6 minutes over a stellar field with a 2:59:57 marathon finishing in 9:08:45.

It just doesn't get any better than this...

For more about Chrissie, here is a link to her blog.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bike review - 2007 Felt B2

This bike is fast. And it looks like a stealth bomber. It is priced around 3,400. Need I say more?

I assume the reduced price is meant as a consolation prize to those whose wallets can't or won't support the next bike up in the Felt TT food chain the DA. Long story short was I really liked this bike. I liked the way it felt and handled. And did I mention that it was fast? Okay so on my tests which controlled as much as possible except for wind this bike really stood out. Solid turning, quick acceleration and adequate climbing. The bike is also very aero with many of the components being smooth-faced or tucked out of the wind to reduce drag. The bike was definitely well thought out. So why didn't I buy it? It came down to some small things really. And that isn't to say this isn't a good bike for someone but these are three things I didn't like.

1. Well it wasn't that I didn't like the price. What I didn't like was how the price was achieved. $3400.00 was quite a bit less than I thought I'd be spending on a TT bike. In fact this amount left ample room for some really good racing wheels. And I think this is what the folks at Felt had in mind. Give folks a quality frame at a price point that puts some quality aero wheels in range, perhaps even buy them the same day with the bike. That being said, in order for them to do that you get a mish-mash of components ranging from Dura-ace rear derailleur, to Ultegra freewheel, to an FSA crank and bottom bracket set. So while your frame looks like it came straight from NASA or JPL, your components are from Frankenstein's lab. Honestly I think this was born out by the shifting which I felt was a huge disappointment.

2. For a carbon bike, this bike was heavy weighing in at about 18 or so pounds. Again, we can probably trace some of that weight back to the components.

3. Another good/bad thing really. This bike was really, really stiff. Probably a factor of the high modulus carbon and the lay up. The good news is this makes climbing and accelerating on this bike very lively and responsive. You step on the pedals and you just go. The bad is that the bike ride felt rougher than I would have imagined. Honestly, I could have been on an aluminum frame with my eyes closed and wouldn't have known the difference. But I'm not a big guy. I would guess the ride would feel softer if I were a few pounds heavier. But that would also eat away at the responsiveness of the ride.

All in all if you aren't picky about your components and want a fast bike for your buck that leaves enough for good wheels, the Felt B2 is definitely worth a ride. Oh and as I was looking over the specs again I noticed the free wheel is a "tight" 12-23 and the crank is a 54/42. This probably accounts for the speed factor. What I mean is the gearing on the freewheel is going to be very consistent from gear to gear. That is awesome for a time trial because it means you won't have any dead spots where your gearing is either too hard or too easy for the terrain. But with the 54/42 on the crank, you need to have some strong legs because the 23 on the back is as small as it gets. Translation? Climbing in an area like Austin, say Bee Caves or the Dam Loop won't be easy. Normal gearing on bikes is usually something on the order of a 12-24 and a 53/39 crank. Just something to consider if this is going to be your main training bike.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Starting P90X Week 8

I started week 8. Technically that means going back into a recovery week. But I'm not doing that. Because I cut week 6 short (due to the knee thing) I'm going to repeat week 7. What that means is I have to do the one DVD I truely hate, Chest, Shoulders and Triceps.

I try to do something triathlon specific to warm up for the P90X workouts. Tuesday I did an easy hour and a half ride. My max heart rate for this was 150. My average heart rate for the whole work out was 127. Hopefully next time I do this workout I'll get out of the house a little earlier and can miss some to the morning rush hour traffic. I try to keep my heart rate from getting above 145 for these rides and when I'm really motivated (i.e. I ride by myself and don't have to worry about getting buzzed by big trucks), I can keep my heart rate below 135 for the whole time.

I know a lot of folks would think I'm nuts for riding so slow. Especially if they knew what my max heart rate was. But from experience and what I've been reading lately, I'm finding that workouts like this really benefit my overall fitness. Why this works is a very important conversation to have about triathlon and endurance sports altogether, but I'll talk more on that in another post. Right now I want to let you get a feel for how my workouts are scheduled during a typical week so, this is what I've done so far:

Monday (P90X Recovery): Swim 30 min easy open water, 30 min easy run HR ave 145
Tuesday: Bike 1:30 HR ave 127, P90X Chest, Shoulders, Triceps 1:00, P90X Ab RipperX 00:15
Wednesday: Swim 30 min easy open water, Vinayasa Yoga 1:30, P90X Plyometrics 1:00

So right now I'm at 6:15 for the week. Here is what I plan to do for the rest of the week provided I feel up to it:

Thursday: Swim workout 1:00, P90X Back, Biceps 1:00, Ab RipperX 00:15, Run 30:00.
Friday: Swim 30 min easy open water, YogaX 1:30
Saturday: Bike 2:30
Sunday: P90X Legs, Back 1:00, Ab RipperX 00:15

So that's it. The whole week comes out to somewhere between 14 and 15 hours if I can do all the workouts and get enough rest. I take a lot of naps during the week to make this work. But I'm seeing the results I was looking for so I think it has been worth it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

P90X Week 7

So my knee healed and week 7 went by without a hitch. I got through all of the P90X workouts that I had planned and did most of my triathlon work as well. The only thing that I really noticed was how much I "HATE," and I do mean "HATE" the first workout of the week during this second phase of the program. Not that I don't recognize the benefit of said workout. It just really, really isn't one of my favorites.

The workout I'm referring to is the Chest, Shoulders, Triceps routine. Until I started this second phase of P90X, there really wasn't a lot in the program that I struggled with. Want me to do 100 pushups, 349 core/ab exercises, and 100 pullups with a bunch of other stuff thrown in for good measure in an hour and 15 minutes? No problem. There were some things I had to work at, but mostly I could handle whatever came my way. That was at least until I started doing the sadistic stuff on this DVD. OMFG! So what's the big deal you might ask? Well for starters a lot of these exercises are done to failure. FAILURE!!!

To be fair, Tony Horton calls failure by the PC term "maximum reps." Now while there is pain involved in doing workouts out like this, I'm not really sure this is why I hate doing it. Actually as I write this post I'm coming to understand my reluctance to put this particular DVD in the player comes more from my mental relationship to failure than it does to my ability to handle pain. Both of these things together (pain and failure) are really tough pills to swallow every Monday for three weeks in a row. So I find myself putting this workout off until I'm almost ready to go to bed. (There are some reasons this wasn't a very good decision -- namely it jacks up my sleeping pattern).

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about here, I'll describe a couple of the moves. The workout starts with what are called "3 in 1 Slow Motion Push Ups." So what happens is this: You start out in a wide hand position and go down very slowly on a four count and come up just as slowly on a four count four times. That is one set. The next set of the has you move your hands in a little closer to a standard push up and repeat the count. The last set is a Yogic or Chaturanga push up where the hands are close in to the side and the elbows graze the ribs. Then, immediately following those, as a bonus you get to do some standard push ups really, really fast at the end. Ugh.

The next killers are the Plange Push Up and the Pike Press. The Plange Push Up is similar to Chaturanga except that the hands are even further back. At the top of the push up you arch your back like a cat. The Pike Press is also sort of a push up with an interesting twist. Hands and feet are wide, like the Dive Bomber Push Up (or Hindu Push UP) but your body is in pike position shaped like an upside down "V". To do this movement you lower the crown of your head to the floor and back up. Like I said at the outset, a lot of these moves are performed almost to failure. So if you do not have a good gauge of where that point is, or are tired, you can face plant pretty easily. I have face planted a lot with this DVD.

Then there are the Floor Flys and Two Twitch Speed Push Ups. The Floor Flys are a combination chest fly and push up at the same time. Start at standard width with your hands then move the right hand out wide to the right, descend, then come back up moving the hand back to standard position. Four reps to the right side. Then do the same movement on the left side four times. Sounds simple till you get to about 12. From there on its a plain and simple gut check. The Two Twitch Speed Push Ups involve doing 4 fast push ups and 3 slow ones for one set. The slow ones are on a four count up and down like the Slow Motion Push Ups described earlier. Tony and his group do 4 sets. At present I am lucky if i make through 2 sets. This is another sure face plant for me weekly.

From there the workout moves to Side to Side Push Ups, One Arm Push Ups and finally ending with Clap/Plyo Push Ups. The Side to Side Push Up is one where you do a standard push up, then slide over to the right moving both feet and hands, then doing another push up before moving back to the starting position. We all know what One Arm Push Ups are. Nothing really to say about those except just like one arm pull ups, they are hard. And to be completely honest so are Clap Push Ups. Tony likes to show you what a stud he is here and does Plyo Push Ups for an advanced option. These are where he gets airborne with both his feet and hands leaving the ground, clapping while suspended in mid air.

Compared to this, the rest of the workouts for the week are a breeze. Tony likes to say that the Plyometrics workout is the mother of P90X workouts, but he is wrong. Plyo, while challenging, is no where near the psychological and physical drubbing handed out on this DVD. All I can say is I'm glad I had already gone through 4 weeks of P90X leading up to this. There is no way I'd have had the mindset to "Bring It" if this had been what we started off with. So as usual I have to complement Tony on a well designed workout series. Next week is a rest week, then pictures before moving into the final phase. And no more of this DVD for a while. Thank God.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

P90X Week 6

This week did not go as planned at all. I only got in 3 P90X workouts. Each week I shoot for 5. But I also try to get 3 bike, 4 swims, and 2 runs. Almost none of this happened. "Why not?" you might ask. Did I get sick? NO. Work get in the way? NO. Death in the family? NO.

No I didn't do my workouts because I brought a 5 gallon glass bottle of water into the house and as I was doing so I smashed my knee into the wall with a loud, "WHAM!!!!" The whole house shook. It was so hard and so loud, I almost didn't want to look down. I remember when I was playing basketball in school and two guys went knee to knee it sounded something like that. The swelling on one guy's knee grew to the size of a grapefruit. It wasn't pretty. He had surgery and wound up sitting out the season. The thought of surgery and rehab also was not a welcome one. I sort of use my knees a lot. So when I looked down and saw swelling only the size of a quarter I was relieved. The spot was painful but not when I walked. Cycling, however was another story. The pain wasn't bad, but it was noticeable.

So in the interest of healing I stopped working out on Wednesday. I did the whole RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment. Although in retrospect compression probably was overkill. I also went to my acupuncturist. Twice. And both times completely forgot to mention the knee and had her work on my left achilles tendon. The pain goes away when she inserts needles into points that stimulate my liver and kidneys. Go figure?