Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Week 2/9

In spite of getting another head cold (probably from being underdressed when I ran with Chema Martínez) to the point of completely losing my voice, I am quite pleased with how this week has gone. Apart from doing a couple of reasonably hard quality sessions (9 x 1,000 running at 17 kph and 2 x 6-5-4 minutes at 150-160-170 bpm on the spinning bike) I managed to ride an hour without breaking the aero position on the turbo trainer as well as swim for an hour without stopping. I also did a couple of sessions in the pool mixing in a bit of Half Ironman pace for example,  4 x 10 minutes easy + 5 minutes at HIM pace or 2 x 15 minutes easy + 15 minutes at HIM pace. It's hard to say whether this would really be my pace but, in the pool, it worked out at the equivalent of about 35 minutes for 1,900m.

Just as in Marathon training the long run is the pinnacle of the week's training, the most important workout for a long distance triathlon (in my opinion) is the "brick" which, this week, consisted of 90 minutes on the bike followed by 50 minutes running, of which the last 20 minutes were run at 3:45 min/km (16 kph) pace. Round here it is fairly hilly so there is no such thing as an "easy ride" and, in any case, I've decided to do my lighter rides at 130-140 bpm (as opposed to the 123 bpm at which I did most of my Ironman training two years ago). I'm not 100% convinced that my thresholds on the bike should be so much lower than for running and I'm also not convinced of the benefits of really low intensity riding, especially when I don't really have enough time to dedicate to it. The reason why the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds should be lower is because less muscle mass is used in cycling compared to running. On the other hand, when you are climbing on the bike it has more to do with running than cycling on the flat as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, most of this week I'll be in London at another conference. I just hope I get my voice back by Friday when I have to give a talk. As far as training goes I guess I won't get much of a chance to cycle or swim but that's OK by me...

Monday: 2 x 15' easy + 15' HIM pace swim + 30' aero position on turbo trainer
Tuesday: 9 x 1,000 @ 3:45 running
Wednesday: 3 x (10' easy + 5' HIM pace) swim + 8 km running
Thursday: commute by bike + 2 x 6'-5'-4' @ 150-160-170 bpm on spin bike
Friday: 60' swim + 60' aero position on turbo trainer
Saturday: 75' running
Sunday: 90' bike + transition to 30' @ 4:30 + 20' @ 3:45 running

Total hours: approximately 11.5

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Another barrier broken

Although this one is a bit of a silly one. I've noticed lately that my weight has been going down - its around 83 kilos right now - but after a particularly sweaty session, I was seeing 80.5 kilos and I thought it must be possible to break the 80 kilo barrier. Today sweated loads doing my series on the spinning bike and, just for good measure, spent about 5 minutes in the sauna afterwards. Here is the result

That's me + iPhone (without iPhone I weighed 78.8 kilos!)
To put this in perspective: I haven't been this side of 80 kilos in 20 years! Although I should say, that when I did last weigh less than 80 kilos it was without having to lose several kilos in sweat beforehand.

Running 1km+ with Chema Martínez

As a result of buying a couple of "Buffs" I was entered into a lottery in which I stood to win a training session with Chema Martínez, the former European 10,000m Champion.I was only one number off winning a slot (I had 230 and 231 but 232 was one of the winning numbers) so I thought nothing more of it. Nevertheless, I was offered someone else's winning number (presumably they weren't as psyched as me to run with a top Spanish athlete) and so I had to actually go home for my running kit as I had only planned to go swimming. I was in such a rush that I forgot that, in Spain, being changed and ready at 12:45 means something different to its literal translation into English. Before we headed out of the door, there was a quick photo-op in which I felt like a superstar, having all the cameras flashing at me, or rather at Chema who was standing by my side.

I asked him if the new fashion in elite running circles was to run with untied shoelaces and he remarked on my equally unusual choice of footwear, saying that he thought they were very "aggressive". He told me that he had difficulties even adapting to his racing flats before a major competition due to a plantar fasciitis but then he runs about three times as many kilometres a week than I do (as well as a lot faster), so it's perhaps not surprising. Still, I am waiting for the day that Vibram or Vivobarefoot sponsor a top athlete - maybe then we can see some records fall.

The other thing that struck me about seeing him in the flesh is how skinny he is, especially his legs. They must be so efficiently packed with muscles because, at first sight, you wonder how he has the strength to run up a hill, let alone run 10,000m in 28:08. He told us that he currently weighed 62 kilos but that his "racing weight" was 59 kilos. I wonder where he can possibly lose three kilos (although his shoes would be a good start).

We set off at a fairly good but obviously easy pace and ran about 7km in a group. Everyone in the group was clearly used to running (unlike the time we ran with Fernando Alonso, who evidently has a wider fan club). In fact, I wasn't even the only one running in Vibram Five Fingers - the two of us made for a fairly unrepresentative sample of the general population.We then stopped for a session on running technique in which he emphasized all the aspects which are common to any school of running technique: balance, posture,  coordination, active landing on ball of foot. Having said that, we ended up doing some pretty ridiculous drills. The drills weren't ridiculous in themselves, of course, but I at least felt and must have looked so.

To finish off, we ran "1 kilometer more" with him and this time he let rip. OK, he was probably just jogging (or "trotting" as they say in Spanish) but we got up to around 18 kph (downhill but into a very strong headwind...). Of course Chema took the full brunt of the headwind and I tucked in behind him and another guy from the group. It was a nice illusion to think that we were there really in contention for a win but of course nobody even bothered to challenge him, we would only have been either shown up (unlikely) or it would have been like when your dad let you win your first game of chess.

I've heard a lot about Chema's charisma but it was nice to experience it at first hand. He seems genuinely to enjoy his sport and the social aspect of it. In fact, while he was having all his achievements read out in the photo shoot, he interrupted to describe himself as "un corredor de populares" (someone who likes to run local amateur events). Actually, in the last race I saw him win, he was dressed as Santa Claus... So now I have run with Chema Martínez and Fernando Alonso, I have only to run with Mariano Rajoy...

By the way, you can buy the Buff as well as other merchandise from "Corre 1km+" from this website but, unfortunately, they only deliver to Spain and Portugal. I have to say that the Buff is a fantastic invention.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Results of VO2 Max test

The results more or less tally with what I would expect: my anaerobic threshold is definitely around 178 bpm (this is the point when my breathing takes on a life of its own) and I would expect my aerobic threshold to be higher than it used to be. It's interesting to see that my RQ (Respiratory Quotient) or, what is strictly speaking the RER (Respiratory Exchange Quotient) - the ratio between volume of O2 inhaled and CO2 exhaled - is exactly what one would expect. A RER of 100% means that the body is deriving all its energy from carbohydrate metabolism, a value of 70% means all the energy is coming from metabolism of fat and so a value of 85% equates to half and half, which is what you would expect at the aerobic threshold. When I did this test 5 years ago, however, the RER at maximum effort was 124% and 100% at my aerobic threshold. Some of this could be due to metabolism of proteins but it is more likely to be due to the CO2 being hotter and occupying more volume as a consequence. I believe that this is one of the reasons that RER is not considered to be a reliable measure of metabolism while exercising. (Incidentally, Wikipedia says that animals can have a RER > 100% if they are storing energy in preparation for hibernation!) The RQ, measured in "moles" (quantities of atoms), is a much more accurate guide but is obviously much harder to determine. Anyway, the point is that my organism has obviously adapted to burning more fat over the last 5 years, which would also help explain how I was able to run a Marathon at my aerobic threshold velocity recently but I was a long way off running a Marathon at my then aerobic threshold pace 5 years ago.

Compare with 5 years ago, the most significant difference, of course, is the velocity at which I ran. This means that my Running Economy has improved. That doesn't really tell you anything you didn't know before because, by definition, your Running Economy is how fast you can run per rate of O2 consumption at a particular threshold, so it conveniently encapsulates everything that VO2 Max tests can't tell us. Another thing that has clearly improved is the rate at which my heart recovers after exercise but, more importantly, my aerobic threshold both as a percentage of VO2 Max and as a percentage of maximum heart rate has increased. This means that I am able to perform at closer to my maximum levels while still being "aerobic".

Just as the training recommendations I was given 5 years ago were extremely optimistic (I would say they are more or less right for how I am now) the new recommendations are equally bullish:

It suggests that I do my easy runs at Marathon pace, my long series at the pace at which I do my short series and my short series at 20 kph! Still, the important thing here to focus on are the relative aspects.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Powerbreathe, Breathe Strong

Back in the days when I was even more obsessed with training than I am now, I bought one of these:

Actually, now I come to think of it, watching the free DVD that came with it was the first time I had ever heard of an Ironman. Little was I to know then, that I would be bitten by that bug. Needless to say, I have barely used this gadget since I bought it.

As Alison McConnell (inventor of Powerbreathe) says in her book, "Breathe Stronger - Perform Better", this is an example of where common sense prevails over science in that common wisdom has it that breathing limits our performance (unlike, for example, the idea that doing stomach crunches somehow "burns" abdominal fat). Science for a long time has maintained that there is no performance benefit to be gained from breathing training, based on the fact that our blood (at sea level, at any rate) is always at least 99% oxidized.

Alison argues that, while it may not be possible to increase oxidation of the blood, the breathing muscles themselves can be trained to better resist fatigue - again, contrary to the scientific assumption that the breathing muscles, unlike any other muscles in our body, are somehow super-evolved or super-trained to never fatigue. Specific tests show otherwise and, it turns out, that it is more critical to train the inspiratory (not inspirational) breathing muscles than the expiratory ones. This is because the inspiratory muscles must work harder as the lungs expand, while the expiratory muscles benefit from elasticity (and, to some extent, gravity) so the inspiratory muscles will always be the first to fatigue. Training these muscles has been shown to delay fatigue and even increase depth of breathing but, interestingly, attempts to train both inspiratory and expiratory muscles in the same breath cycle have had little or no impact on either, perhaps due to the added difficulty associated with performing the exercise. The reason she offers to explain why these muscles are not sufficiently trained as a by product of functional training is that the stresses are only enough to stimulate an adaptation at the end of a race or maximal effort which is for too short an amount of time to really have an effect.

The next question she tackles is whether breathing muscle fatigue affects performance in sports. Firstly, of course, there is the obvious idea that we feel discomfort with breathlessness and tend to slow down as a result. But what I found extraordinary is that recent studies have demonstrated something called the metaboreflex which is a reduction in the volume of blood to the limbs caused by breathing muscle fatigue! It seems that evolution has built in a physiological mechanism to slow us down, perhaps to avoid catastrophic failure in the breathing muscles. A third consideration is that the breathing muscles are not only used for breathing but also for core stability and, in some cases such as rowing, they even contribute to the propulsion itself (by the stiffening of the trunk). While the expiratory muscles are often well trained by those wanting to have a "six-pack", the inspiratory muscles are overlooked.

The training itself involves setting the Powerbreathe device such that you can only just manage to complete 30 breaths. These breaths should be as fast and as deep as possible (as the rib cage and lungs expand, the force required increases) and let out slowly. I had to start on 1.5 (out of 10!!) on my device (which is level 3) and am now on about 2 after a week or so. The scientific studies show an improvement of 2-4% in speed in a time trial versus 20%-50% increase in time to failure across a number of sports (running, cycling, swimming and rowing) after as little as 4 weeks of 30 breaths, twice a day. Arguably, the best benefit should be seen in swimming where there is no option to breath with a higher cadence when more oxygen is required and the depth of breathing is much more significant.

I'm not sure whether I will really notice a benefit but the book is certainly convincing. I haven't seen many people talking about using Powerbreathe but the science behind it is relatively new and has yet to penetrate the public domain (although there is, predictably, already an iPhone App available!). If it just helps me in those final few hundred metres of a race when I have sometimes started to wheeze out of breathlessness, then that is good enough for me. It is a relatively small investment both in terms of price (around 50 pounds) and time (6 minutes a day). I'll let you know if I manage to get much higher on the scale of 1-10!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lisbon Half Ironman Week 1/9

My idea for this week was to be a sort of anti-taper: not too strenuous but enough to get me back in the swing of training again. I also wanted get a feel for the different intensities on the bike, now that I don't really have anyone or any tests to guide me. If I have had doubts about doing so much low intensity running, I have never really been convinced about training on the bike at such low heart rates, even if they were scientifically measured. If the goal of low intensity training is to train the body to burn more fat than carbohydrate, I feel that I am doing OK on that front after my Marathon experiences recently. On the other hand, if the aim is to ensure that the high quality sessions are performed adequately then I don't think I need to worry: I am training much less than my body is capable of absorbing at the moment. I can't help thinking of what multiple Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington says about this topic: "If you train slow, you race slow". It is the opposite philosophy to that of her male counterpart Mark Allen who famously trained at very low heart rates.

Another challenge this week was to start swimming again. The first session on Monday was torture, even at a slow pace. I felt like it would never end, it was tiring and the guy with a hydrodynamic disadvantage due to an oversized belly in the lane next to me was gliding past me. The second session was much better so I hope that swimming 1,900 m at a reasonable pace will seem a lot less daunting by the time the race comes around.

I did a fair amount of quality work this week. On Tuesday I did 8 lots of 4 minutes running at 3:40 mins/km (16.5 kph) and on Thursday I had the VO2 Max test. On Friday I did some series on the bike. I had planned to do two lots of 6, 5 and 4 minutes at heart rates of 140, 150 and 160 bpm respectively. I ended up hitting heart rates about 10 bpm higher, finishing at well over 170. As I say, I'm still not completely convinced that my thresholds should be lower on the bike than while running, even if the tests say it is so.

On Saturday I ran for an hour on the treadmill, going from 4:30 min/km (13.5 kph) to 4:00 min/km (15 kph) while watching Stitches, an extremely gory comedy / horror film. My wife ended up watching it by accident and was a bit perturbed by her husband's choice of entertainment. It helps me get through the boredom and discomfort of running on the treadmill, what else can I say? On Sunday I did my first "Brick": an hour on the turbo trainer in the aero position followed by 15 minutes running at 4:00 (15 kph) and 15 minutes at 3:45 (16 kph). Incredibly I managed to get a puncture while riding on the turbo trainer! Discounting this unwanted interruption I was able to ride for about 15 minutes at a time in the aero position, taking just a minute break to recover. I'm more confident about being able to tolerate this for 2 and a half hours than I am about the swim at the moment!

(By the way, I was unable to finish watching the film I put on for my brick ride - Excision - not because it was too gory, but because my headphones were giving me an electric shock in my ears due to all the sweat. It is not a very nice sensation, I can assure you!)

Friday, March 8, 2013

The New York Marathon Resolution Resolution

So, finally, the guys at NYRR have published the conditions for entry to the 2013 New York Marathon over at But, as usual, they have managed to do so in their usual ambiguous style. Perhaps it is just wishful thinking on my part but I interpret

"Applicants who would have qualified for the 2013 Marathon entry by being denied entry three consecutive times..."

to mean those who were denied entry via lottery in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and / or those who were denied entry via lottery in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but unable to run in 2012 because of the Sandy Super Storm. I fall into this latter category but I, like everyone else in my situation, was given the option to get my money back, which I did. So if the intention is to include people like myself, there will be a backlash from those who chose instead to pay again for guaranteed entry in 2013. I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't be eligible for guaranteed entry in 2013 although there is a clear bias towards those who have shown a consistent commitment to NYRR.

The other possibility open to me is to get in on my qualifying time of 1:19:03 in the Getafe Half Marathon that I ran on the 27th of January. For my age group of 40-44, this is well below the cut-off of 1:23:00 and is within the window of 1st January 2012 to 31st January 2013. They have not changed the previously published qualifying times (that were already a step up from those which applied in 2012) but they have given guaranteed entry to only those qualifying in NYRR races while limiting to a total of 2,000 runners who may obtain entry with a qualifying time. Those, like myself, who have qualified in a non-NYRR race will be picked out of a hat. The odds don't look too good to me; I would have preferred them to have made the qualifying times more strict but, again, their aim seems to be to reward loyalty rather than quality.

I'm not in a particular rush to run the NY Marathon. After all, I have patiently waited 4 years so a couple more years won't hurt. I will be going to New York in June for work so I'll get my dose of the Big Apple this year irrespective of whether I get lucky or not.

UPDATE: The lottery entry does not apply to people like myself, who opted for their money back. It's to be expected I suppose - I mean, someone's got to lose out and we were given the (albeit expensive) option to run it this year, paying again. My only complaint would be that in my opinion the people who get in via qualifying times should be ordered by how much they beat the qualifying time by, rather than randomly selected, similar to the selection process for the Boston Marathon.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cardiac stress test / VO2 Max test

Now that I no longer have a trainer, I also no longer have periodic VO2 Max tests although, for a completely different reason, I have been doing a number of cardiac stress tests which follow a similar protocol. I decided to pay a visit to my local Reebok Sports Club where, 5 years ago I did a series of medical and physiological tests to make sure I wasn't literally going to kill myself by training too hard. The results I got at the time were surprisingly good considering I had only stopped smoking and started exercising 4 months previously. I remember that they thought that the spirometer (which measures lung capacity) was broken because the reading it was giving was "too high".

There were several reasons for wanting to go back. Firstly, I wanted to take a snapshot of where I am now, after having recently achieved personal best times in 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon, so that I can use the results as a benchmark in the future. I was also curious to see how much I had improved in terms of thresholds, maximum heart rate and VO2 Max, etc., in the last 5 years. Although I have done a number of tests in the interim, very few of them were conducted up to my maximum because I typically had a competition looming for which it wasn't convenient to push myself too hard. The cardiac stress tests I had done recently also fell short of my maximum because they were based off the inaccurate formula of 220-age for maximum heart rate. What I was mostly interested in, though, was to see whether the abnormality that had been detected in my heart function (a CRBBB - a tongue-twisting Complete Right Branch Bundle Block) was something that I had developed in the last five years - perhaps as a direct result of my training - or something genetic. I'll also admit that I relish any excuse to go to the Reebok Sports Club - it is by far the swankiest gym I have ever been to and you never know if you are going to see someone famous...

According to the records, the CRBBB was not present in the tests I did 5 years ago. As last time, I was connected up to a cardiogram and made to wear a mask which measures the rate of oxygen - carbon dioxide gas exchange in my breathing. In other words, I did a cardiac stress test and a VO2 Max test at the same time. The O2 - CO2 exchange is a way of measuring what proportion of your energy you are deriving from metabolising carbohydrates or from fats. From this you can estimate where your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds are which are useful indicators for training purposes. The device is also able to measure the absolute volume of O2 that you are able to make use of or "burn" - this is the famous VO2 Max (once it has been divided by your weight). Unlike the other cardiac stress tests I had done recently, the protocol was to increase the speed while keeping the incline at 1%, until I could no longer keep pace.

When the doctor stopped the test, I felt as though I could have gone through at least one more increase and so I was still giving her the "thumbs up" - I felt sure that I couldn't be at maximum heart rate, especially as I hadn't been anywhere near that level for years. I was also convinced that the treadmill speed was much less than the 20 kph that I actually finished at. It turned out that both my O2 consumption and my heart rate had plateaued so continuing the test wasn't going to tell us anything we didn't already know. Compared with 5 years ago, my maximum heart rate had dropped a couple of pips to 190 bpm, my VO2 Max had increased from 68.02 ml/min/kg to 68.92 ml/min/kg and the speed at VO2 Max had increased from 18 kph to 20 kph. Some of my improvement in VO2 Max comes from a slight loss in weight but, relative to the general population, I should have expected a general decline in VO2 Max, rather than an increase. Actually, I just checked it - the difference is exactly due to my change in weight but the measurement of litres of O2 per minute was rounded to the nearest 0.1 (5.7 litres/min in both cases).

The CRBBB showed up on the cardiogram, of course, but the doctor said that it was very common amongst athletes and that I shouldn't worry about it other than doing regular checkups. From my own Googling, it looks like the Complete RBBB is still relatively uncommon in athletes (3%) while an Incomplete RBBB is much more common (9%); in both cases the incidence is higher than in the general population (in total about 1.5% of people between 40 and 65). I had thought that the word "block" meant that one of my arteries or veins was actually blocked but what it really refers to is a slightly faulty electrical system. When the heart beats, there is a concert of coordinated electrical impulses which cause it to pump blood around the body. The block refers to a delay (which, if it is greater than 120 ms, is considered to be a "complete block") in the electrical impulse to the right ventricle. According to the article I mentioned, this seems to be associated with a dilation of the right ventricle as a specific adaptation of the heart to exercise. The way I understand it which, of course is likely to be completely wrong, is that the right ventricle is not activated directly but more as a consequence of the prior sequence of contractions; a Left BBB is much more serious, however. The only thing to be careful about is that the defect is not due to some degenerative type of heart disease which might lead to more serious problems further down the line.

Disclaimer: If you have a similar condition then you should know better than to trust anything written on the internet rather than a qualified cardiologist!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Barefoot running... yawn!

Why is it that everything has to be taken to extremes? I suppose just the term "minimalist running shoe" is an extreme by definition and I'm not quite sure what "barefoot running shoes" are other than an oxymoron. When I see so much nonsense about things that I consider I know a fair bit about, it makes me wonder how much I take for granted when I read about something I know nothing about.

The latest trend seems to be "barefoot bashing" with a whole slew of articles saying something along the lines of "barefoot running is not the panacea we thought it was". I don't think anybody - not even Chris McDougal in "Born to Run" - has ever seriously claimed that running barefoot or in minimalist shoes is the solution to everything and for everyone. They have, however, questioned the claims of the running shoe industry that more cushioning and less flexibility is better and - guess what - the running shoe manufacturers have responded with more flexible and less padded options.

I was passed this article from the New York Times today by a friend. It quotes a "scientific study" in which half of the participants are given a pair of Vibram Five Fingers to run in while half continue to run in their usual trainers. The supposedly clever bit is that the VFF group is told to gradually adapt to minimalist running by only running one mile in them the first week, two miles the second, three the third and then as much as they like after that. After 10 weeks - surprise, surprise - the VFF group showed signs of stress fractures.

What is "scientific" about that? How long does the body need to adapt to running with minimalist running shoes? Can you safely mix running in normal shoes and minimalist shoes or should you train in progressively more minimalist shoes? Is running one or two miles in minimalist shoes enough to stimulate training adaptations such as stronger muscles, bones and tendons in the lower legs and feet?

I can't really say whether minimalist running shoes are the solution, I can only speak from personal experience of my experiment of one. After basically making the same mistake and suffering the same consequences as the participants in the aforementioned study, I first re-learnt how to run on the balls of my feet and then gradually reduced the cushioning of my shoes and increased the flexibility over a period of about two years. I haven't had a single running related injury (touch wood) in over three years since that time I tried to make the transition too brusquely. This time around it wasn't my goal to be able to run a Marathon in Vibram Five Fingers but it became a natural consequence of the direction I was going in.

Would I recommend minimalist running to someone else? Well, it depends. Many people ask me about it and I have a few friends who are at various different points along the same path that I trod: some of them have already found their optimum and are staying there; others have gone all the way just short of barefoot. But they are in the great minority of my running friends. I tell most people that you have to have a very good reason for making the change because it takes a lot of time and patience and therefore a lot of faith. I think it is one of the best investments I have made and am convinced that I am much faster and injury free as a result and, most importantly, I believe that I have done my knees an enormous favour that will keep them going well into my old age.

All this has reminded me of something. When I first started to run (after many years of inactivity) I thought that some pain was part of the training process and that it was not only OK to run through it most of the time but that it was a necessary evil. Now, with hindsight, I can say that pain is absolutely unnecessary - in fact, if something hurts while you are running then you should stop and, if something hurts before, then you shouldn't even start. The runners in the VFF group should not have been given a rigid prescription - after all, everybody responds to training differently - but absolutely should not have run with pain, which they evidently did.

Headphone killer

I used to get through headphones more quickly than I got through running shoes until I bought the Senheiser PMX80

which, for some reason, have lasted for about 4 years and still appear to be going strong.What kills the headphones is the sweat and I sweat much more than the average person when I am working out. Perhaps Senheiser inadvertently created the equivalent of the everlasting light bulb and have withdrawn this model from the market as a consequence; I don't know whether the more recent models are as resilient. Being waterproof is not necessarily enough to protect against the evils of sweat: sweat can transform into vapour and is also corrosive. One of my iPods has been visibly eaten away around the headphone socket: the sweat must have condensed on the headphone cable and run down to the socket.

I also used to kill iPods and have got through several of them - especially the early iPod Shuffles - but it seems as though Apple has managed to solve the problem as - touch wood - I haven't had to replace any for years. The reason I wanted to change headphones is because I like to be able to change the song I am listening to while I am running. I usually have a playlist of songs that are all between 175 and 185 bpm to synchronize with my cadence but not all of those songs are good for running to.

So I bought myself the Jaybird Freedom Wireless Bluetooth headphones when I was in New York back in November last year.

These guys are so bullish on being sweat-proof that they offer a lifetime replacement guarantee for sweat damage. They may come to regret this now that I have a pair. I would say that I have worn them running around 10 times since I bought them and they have already conked out. Luckily, I bought them in Best Buy who I was able to call and get to send me an email copy of the receipt (which, of course, I had thrown away or lost). The headphones are very cool but if I am going to have to send them back every few months they will lose some of their appeal. With the next pair I will restrict myself to only using them outdoors where I sweat much less (due to the cooling effect of the air).

If any companies are looking for a beta tester to test their supposedly sweat-proof gadgets, then look no further, I'm your man...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Training plan for Lisbon Half Ironman 2013

Race Objective
I would like to try to beat my best time of 4:44 (36:23, 2:35:20, 1:24:18 + 8:26 in transitions). As the whole point of doing this triathlon is to try out my (now not so) new triathlon bike, I'd like to push the bike leg and hope that the miles I have in my legs from running will carry me through to the finish line. I don't expect to improve on the swim but, equally, I don't see why it should be any worse; the bike, I reckon I can shave off 10 minutes and another 4 from the run (taking into account that the course is about 800m short). My realistic but challenging goal would be to break 4:30 but I will be happy with any improvement, especially on the bike leg. Bear in mind that I did the time of 4:44 in the middle of training for an Ironman, for better or for worse.

Training Objectives
- Convert endurance from Marathon training into endurance for an event that will last between 4:30 and 5:00 hours
- Maintain as much as possible running speed from the last year of running focussed training
- Practice swimming technique and get used to swimming for up to an hour without stopping
- Improve upper body strength
- Get used to aero position on the bike
- Develop bike speed
- Take advantage of commuting by bike when possible

I'd like to dedicate around 12 hours a week to this for the next 9 weeks with an absolute top of 15 hours at the peak. One advantage of triathlon training is that you can use one sport to help recover from another: in other words, less days off. In any case, unlike the training plan I drew up for the Marathon, I don't have a clear idea of how much of a Triathlon training load I can handle nor where my thresholds are, so I will have to improvise somewhat. Working backwards from the "peak week" (#7), this is a best guess. I'll see how the first few weeks go (especially on the bike) and may have to make some adjustments accordingly.

Key Workouts
- Swim for 45-60 minutes, 3 times a week
- Turbo training in aero position for 60-90 minutes
- Series (intervals) and threshold runs
- Series on spinning bike
- Longish run of 90-100 minutes
- Long brick (Bike and Run) including sections at Half Ironman intensity
- Aerobic test (7 km at heart rate of 172 bpm) to gauge progress

Quality, week by week
Week #1 - Series (Run), Series (Bike), Progression run, Brick
Week #2 - Series (Run), Series (Bike), Long run, Brick
Week #3 - London, Series (Bike), Aerobic test, Brick
Week #4 - Semana Santa, Series (Run), Progression run, Brick
Week #5 - Series (Run), Series (Bike), Long run, Brick
Week #6 - Series (Run), Series (Bike), Aerobic test, Brick
Week #7 - Peak weekSeries (Run), Series (Bike), Long run, Brick
Week #8 - Taper, Series (Bike), Threshold Run, Brick
Week #9 - Taper and Lisbon Half Ironman, Series (Bike)

Series (Run)
Week #1 - 8 x 4' @ 3:40
Week #2 - 9 x 1k @ 3:30
Week #3 - 
Week #4 - 2 x (8' @ 3:45 + 5' @ 3:40 + 2' @ 3:20)
Week #5 - 70' of 2' @ 3:45 + 3' easy
Week #6 - 2 x 1-2-3-2-1-2-3 @ 3:40-3:10
Week #7 - 2 x 1-2-3-2-1-2-3 @ 3:40-3:10
Week #8 - 
Week #9 - 

Long / Threshold Runs
Week #1 - 60' progression @ 4:30-4:00
Week #2 - 70' easy
Week #3 - aerobic test 7km @ 172 bpm
Week #4 - 80' (60' easy + 20' @ 4:00) 
Week #5 - 90' easy
Week #6 - aerobic test 7km @ 172 bpm
Week #7 - 100' easy
Week #8 - 15' @ 4:00 + 15' @ 3:45
Week #9 - 

Series (Bike)
Week #1 - 2 x (6' @ 140 bpm, 5' @ 150 bpm, 4' @ 160 bpm)
Week #2 - 3 x (6' @ 140 bpm, 5' @ 150 bpm, 4' @ 160 bpm)
Week #3 - 20 x (30" max + 30" rest)
Week #4 - 
Week #5 - 12 x 2' @ 160 bpm (hills)
Week #6 - 10 x 3' @ 160 bpm
Week #7 - 9 x 4' @ 160 bpm
Week #8 - 3 x 15' @ 150 bpm (aero)
Week #9 - 20' easy + 20' @ 150 bpm (aero)

Week #1 - 60' bike + 30' run (15' @ 4:00 + 15' @ 3:45)
Week #2 - 90' bike + 50' run (30' easy + 20' @ 3:45)
Week #3 - 100' bike (incl. 20' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (40' easy + 20' @ 3:45)
Week #4 - 110' bike (incl. 30' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (30' easy + 15' @ 4:00 + 15' @ 3:45)
Week #5 - 120' bike (incl. 40' @ 150 bpm) + 50' run (20' easy + 30' @ 3:50)
Week #6 - 130' bike (incl. 50' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (30' easy + 30' @ 3:50)
Week #7 - 150' bike (incl. 60' @ 150 bpm) + 60' run (20' easy + 40' @ 3.50)
Week #8 - 60' bike @ 150 bpm (aero) + 30' run @ 3:50
Week #9 - 

A typical week will be:
Monday - Swim
Tuesday - Series (Run)
Wednesday - Commute, Swim
Thursday - Series (Bike)
Friday - Swim, Aero position on Turbo Trainer
Saturday - Long run / Threshold run
Sunday - Brick


I didn't feel too bad after the Marathon but that doesn't mean that it is necessarily a good idea to rush back to training as it would be a fairly good recipe for injury. On the other hand I find that doing something helps me recover more quickly than doing nothing, so I just did what I felt very comfortable with every day. This started off with a bit of light pedalling on the static bike, walking on the treadmill with a steep incline and some swimming.

By Wednesday I felt up to cycling in to work and I was itching to use my road bike as it had been months since I had last ridden it. I didn't choose the best of days for it as it actually snowed most of the day but luckily I missed most of the bad weather and the roads were relatively dry by the time I went home. I felt ready to run again by Thursday and on Friday I even did some weights for the first time in months.

I rode for an hour on Saturday morning on my Triathlon bike on the turbo trainer. It is still an effort to maintain the aero position (I suspect it always will be) but I found that I could tolerate it fairly well if I rode 4 minutes of every 5 "aero" with 1 minute "sit up and beg". Over the next weeks building up to the Lisbon International Triathlon, I'll try to extend this to an hour and a half with much fewer breaks from the aero position. As I don't have a power meter (nor do I think I will ever buy one unless they come way down in price and hassle) I'm keeping track of how fast my cycle computer reckons I am going and controlling such things as my heart rate and the pressure of my tyres. Of course, the average speed is much higher than it would be if I was on the road, battling against the air, but the important thing here is not the absolute value but the relative improvement.

We spent the rest of the weekend in Ciudad Real with my in-laws. They told me that there was a 10k race on the Sunday but, after investigating, it turned out that the inscription period had already closed. I also wasn't sure that it was a terribly good idea to race a 10k only a week after the Marathon. So instead I made the race part of my training for the day: I ran 10k at around 4:20 min/km pace before joining the start of the race (right at the back of the pack) and then gradually increased my pace. By the end I was running at Half Marathon pace (3:45 min/km) and, although I stopped short of the stadium finish because I didn't have a race number, I would have finished well under 40 minutes. In the end I couldn't keep my competitive spirit at bay as I had actually planned to run it in 45 minutes. Still, it was a good training session and I feel back to normal now and ready to start my 9 week training programme (which I still have to write!).