Thursday, May 20, 2010

New Toys and my travails with exercise electronics

So, I've been fascinated by the Suunto exercise computers, aka sports watches. I learned of them from @TriBoomer, and then learned the host of Zen and the Art of Triathlon (@zentriathlon) uses one. For triathlon training, you kind of need serious equipment. The casual shopper can easily end up paying about $600 for all the goodies. (I can just imagine it too, once you've paid $2k to 4k for a tri bike, you're going to accessorize it with all the stuff at MSRP.) Well, while I'm not exactly budget constrained, I do look for a value, especially since I'm in no danger of breaking any AG records any time soon. No sense looking for state of the art, when for the most part, off the discount rack will do the job.

Not wanting to spend on expensive equipment has meant I've compiled hodgepodge of equipment I use. Swimming doesn't have too many accessories, so a simple stop watch does the job there. Up until today, I used a basic Timex Ironman, 50 lap counter ($49). I used the lap counter to, well, count laps. I used to do 50m, i.e. there and back, but some of my workouts are too long for my watch memory, so now I measure 100m laps. I could have used my 30 lap timex, but the velcro strap doesn't stay on in the water.

For riding and then running, you start needing some exercise computational power. A heart rate monitor is a key component, so I purchased a basic Timex "wellness" HR monitor which cost me $45. I've not gone the full monty with HR calibrated training sessions yet, but this device has been found suspect as it was interfering with my Bike computer and vice versa.

To measure distance on the bike, I use a Trek computer that I got with my bike (cough) 6 years ago, and up until the interference issue, this was a trooper (I probably paid about $80-100 for it). It gave me average speed, odometer, trip distance, and gave me a readout of my current speed. I liked my bike workouts, because I felt most confident in the distances recorded. Well, since the interference, it would appear, the bike computer is under recording my distances. I could trouble shoot it, but essentially, I can't use my cheap HR monitor on the bike.

For running distances, I used to use the Nike+ connected to my iPod Touch, and now my iPhone. This worked really well for a long time. It helped me train for my Marathon, and the website log was fun. But, when it starts crapping out, there aren't many options to trouble shoot it. It started crapping out on me and I can't tell if it was the sensor (I went through 3 @ $20 in less than 1000 miles), or the software. I think Nike and Apple have missed the boat on really leveraging the popularity of the iPhone to provide a really useful exercise tool. I guess, there wasn't enough revenue to keep them interested. After I gave up on the Nike+, I started using Runkeeper Lite, because, well it's free. Runkeeper is based on GPS in the iPhone and is a great product. Unfortunately, and I'm not sure if because it's free the GPS can be a little sketchy. I've run the same route multiple times and get different readings on the run keeper. My basic 10k (6.2 miles) route has been measured as 5.8 miles and 6.5 miles. A little too inconsistent for my liking. Don't get me started on using it for cycling. It's been way off a circuit that is shaded. Plus it sucks down the battery on already "mature" iPhone battery, if you know what I mean.

So, picture if you will the following. If I'm riding, I have my stop watch to measure laps of the circuit I ride and elapsed time, my chest strap and HR monitor (on the other wrist), the bike computer for real time speed, and a belt with a pouch for my iphone which measures distance just in case the monitor screws up the bike computer. When I run, I have both wristwatches, heart strap and the pouch with the iPhone.

Well, I knew someday I'd consolidate. But researching didn't tell me clearly which way I'd go. My options were Polar, Timex, Garmin or this little known brand (for me), Suunto. I was initially biased toward Garmin. An online running friend bought a Garmin 350 which is actually quite affordable ($165). The issue for tracking triathlon training is that you want something that will consolidate all the statistics from all your workouts. (Actually, you want something that will ideally interface with software or a website that consolidates your workouts.) When you add up all the accessories, namely bike related stuff, you're in the $400 range easy pretty much regardless of what brand you choose.

Well, from my history, I knew I wanted something that would measure/track my bike speed/distance. I required it use a pedometer based sensor, as opposed to GPS, for distance on the run, and would have a wireless HR monitor that wouldn't interfere with other devices, or more importantly be affected by other devices. The Garmins that were in my price range look like a brick on people's wrists and I'm sensitive to that. (I can't use my iPhone in an arm strap because it gives me back pain, seemingly from the imbalance from running with too much weight on one arm. Thus the belt and pouch. Yeah, I'm that sensitive apparently.) The Polars are actually pretty attractive, but still on the large side. I really didn't look at Timex, although now I realize they're pretty affordable. The problem I've had with Timex is that well, they're just too basic. No frills and aesthetically, the equivalent of a Chevy Malibu.

That brings me to Suunto which has a novelty not unlike Saab and Volvo did when they first came to the US (at least for me). Well, I've been researching the Suunto, and their newest offering is the T6c. I've learned not to go for the latest greatest since that is at the highest price points. Being the highest price doesn't guarantee remarkable functionality not available elsewhere. Much as I hate to say it, while the T6c is gorgeous and has a couple of nice features (basically compatibility with software pretty much right out of the box and configurable display), I don't think it justifies the premium.

So to make a long story, only a little less long, this afternoon I found myself at Whole Earth Provision, directed there by the Suunto website, looking at a T3c and T4c. They didn't have the T6c, so I wasn't even tempted to spend approximately $100 more for it. I probably would have just taken note that both of these models do the job for me and shopped online, but the clincher was they had a special on the foot pod. Evidently they're being upgraded, so the old inventory has to go. Regularly about $100, I could get it for $50. I couldn't figure out the difference between the T3 and T4 other than nicer aesthetics so the price made me choose the T3c ($165).

I ordered the bike Pod online ($50) so essentially, I've cobbled together my "triathlon" package for less than $300. I'm kind of proud of that. I think this kit is essentially a bridge until I potentially get more serious about Triathlons (namely take on an HIM) and then I'll actually know what a power meter can do for me.

I'm having issues getting the foot pod to work, but I'm pretty stoked at this new purchase. I can't wait for my first run tomorrow with it. I'll keep y'all posted.

Feel free to tell me what equipment you use and what you do and don't like about it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

9 Hour Volume Week, in the books!

Ok, it's not 20+ hours like a certain someone who's training for IMCDA. But when I laid out my plan back in January, I saw a build from about 4 hours/week to just over 9 hours in about 13 weeks and gulped a bit. My only comparison had been Marathon training, and that never exceeded about 6.5 hours on the worst week. The plan got adjusted because of a change in goal race, but I've been pretty much faithful to the mileage and duration laid out. A week ago, I came down with something on a Thursday night, and missed a Friday work out and had to cut short a weekend long ride. My long ride has also had to be capped at about 2 hours since Lead Sherpa K had laid down the law that no workouts beyond the nap time of A & P.

So, about three weeks away from my goal race, I was starting to panic because I'm not hitting my training targets. I've been fine from an build perspective, but frankly, I feel I may have peaked too early.

Well, a 44 mile ride today at a good clip makes me feel like I'm not that far off peak conditions. I need to restock on my in race fuel and experiment on nutrition plan, but other than that, I'm ready for my taper. I'm hoping to add a couple of Open Water swims to the training regimen in place of my long swims and I think I'll be as prepared as I can be for this race. Also, will do a couple of bricks to see how the new HR monitor tells me how the ol ticker deals with those pesky transitions.

Full disclosure, I don't really practice hills. Where I live it's tough to get to hills on my time schedule. Also, I only recently got my HR monitor, and it's very simplistic. It has been invaluable though showing me how hard I'm going on my rides or runs. In terms of varying the intensity of my workouts, I can honestly say, I've got one speed for most of my workouts which is as fast as I think I can last. Using the HR has let me zero in on intensity a bit better. It's still hit or miss, but I feel it's got a lot of potential to help me improve.

I'm now reading the Friel's Triathlete's Training Bible and realize how much more I can get out of my training. For now, I'll be happy to get an Olympic under my belt and then reassess where I go for the last race(s) of the season.

Technically, I've got two more weeks of training, just short of 8 hours the first week, and 4:45 for the last week of tapering. I've got some ideas to work in some race specific issues and get some Open Water techniques honed.

Hotel is booked for Austin, checklists are starting to be made. Excitement is starting to build.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Triathlon Training First Quarter Recap

So, three months and change in the books and this is what it looks like. I'm going to use this to give insight into my Oly Tri plan I'm following.

Swim Bike Run

Month Meters Swam Time Swam Miles Ridden Time Ridden Miles Run Time Run Total Effort

January 2,375 1:05:22 29.7 1:33:21 7.69 1:04:42 3:43:25

February 18,250 7:49:31 178.7 9:54:21 35.71 5:12:01 22:55:53

March 24,200 10:22:24 214.6 11:56:25 50.87 7:36:43 29:55:32

April 22,609 9:02:21 166.2 9:53:08 51.67 7:37:58 26:33:27

Grand Total 68,934 4:55:33 615.1 35:02:43 150.00 22:08:51 62:07:07

Keep in mind I ran the Houston Marathon on 1/17/10 and don't include the mileage from that race in these stats. This mileage and my goals are coming off a Marathon Training which you can read about elsewhere on my blog.

I'm obviously pleased with March. Some nice build base there.

My original 13 week training plan had me building to 4/25 and Lonestar Oly, but after a consultation with the Lead Sherpa K, we reconfigured the plan. "A" race became CapTexTri on 5/31 and I entered Gateway to the Bay Sprint on 4/10 as a warm up (as well as a 1M open swim) to get a feel for the challenge. This meant all my training essentially got reset to a level from 5 weeks previous.

I feel a little like I may have stepped back too much. But I shouldn't complain. It's been complicated to complete the mileage and workouts regardless, so it's probably a wash at this point. I am a little concerned though that May is IT. Frankly, I should be concerned I haven't really improved my form much. Well, having said that, I can point to some real improvements that in my head I'm taking for granted as I expected to improve my splits.

Swim: Beginning 100m pace 2:48 at it's worse, but typically around 2:30. I had no stamina and reverted to breast stroke repeatedly. I'm now swimming at about 2:10-2:15 although I realize the Open Water dimension issues need to be addressed if I'm to improve my 2:30 averages I had in my two OW Swims.

Bike: Beginning at 18.2 mph when eliminating dealing with traffic. Recently, I had a great workout where I pipped 20.4 mph average over 36 miles. The bike has been pretty encouraging.

Run: I thought I could easily keep under 9 minute mile pace and I started with a blistering (for me) 5.5 miler at 8:31 pace. Well, I haven't maintained that and while I have for the most part kept it under 9 minutes (lots of 8:53's in here for 5 to 8 milers) I really haven't seen marked improvement from what you may recall I did my barely under 4 hours marathon averaging 9:10.

My target paces for the race are: swim 2:15min/100m which may be aggressive. Bike, 19mph which seems achievable and 8:45 minute miles for the run which frankly I don't know where this stands.

All in all I'm doing well. I enjoy the bricks and don't see too much of a problem. I'm starting to get back into the distances where I need to practice my race day nutrition too. Nutrition plan is essentially two water bottles on the bike and 2 gels (GU, it's what I'm used to from Marathon training). One gel after about a mile on the bike and one about 3 miles from end of bike segment. Aid stations for the run. I usually don't stop, but may have to rethink that since I lost a lot of fluid on Marathon basically because I couldn't figure out how to run and drink at the same time. Am actually considering running with a camel back or fluid belt.

My learning from my race experiences other than it expends lots of energy to breast stroke in Open Water are that nutrition and pacing will be key. I do have a time goal for this race, but I'll be glad to finish it.

Time is getting short. I've been slipping from my planned workouts more than anything because of illness (bout of something I guess I'd call flu although the Dr doesn't think it was that) and because it's impossible to get good mileage on a bike mid-week if you can't do it after work. Kids get all the daylight hours post work, so I'm squeezing everything else in the mornings and at lunch.

By the way the schedule is essentially 3 swim workouts, 2 runs and 2 rides a week with two-a-days on Tues/Thurs. Personal training 45min overall body strength training as well on Tues/Thurs (yeah, crazy, but you know it's worked). Rest days are Sunday and Wednesday.

We're at T-minus 26 days and counting. Seems like it's a lot, but it's really NOT.

Anybody see any glaring train wrecks about to happen?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

2010 Houston Marathon Race Report (3 months later)

Well, I've been promising a race report on my big race, and here it is. It's a little late, but since I've been caught up doing my Triathlon Training, I don't get much time after kids are asleep to blog (frankly, I prefer to sleep I'm so exhausted normally).

Weather conditions were pretty much ideal. A little cold, but we'd suffered a cold snap for a few weeks before the race so it wasn't really a big deal. In fact, given the race is in January, what can you expect? I've not trained for other races, but a January date really means potentially tough weather to train in.

I was as ready as I could be for this race. I'd set out an 812 mile training program covering 25 weeks. By race day, I'd completed 801 miles of it. This included 3 long runs over 20 miles. It also included runs on holidays thanks to my Family and in-laws being around for sitter duty. My favorite was getting in a 10k on the morning my baby was going to be induced. That was great, the hospital calls and asks us to be at the hospital at 5am. I'm like, why, we're going to sit around for hours? I tell my wife to tell them we'll be in a 8am. Sure enough, I get my 10k in, and we go to the hospital and have a baby 10 hours later.

Surprisingly, I slept pretty well the night before. Got to bed a little late, but not too many jitters. I think it was the 3 20+milers that gave me confidence. I had resigned myself to not breaking four hours since my long runs had me at about a 9:20min/mile pace and you need to beat 9:12 to break 4 hours.

I hitched a ride with my neighbors who were in a way responsible for this madness. They had encouraged me to do the race and convinced K to let me do it. (I was not keen and wouldn't have tried to convince K myself.)

As soon as we park downtown, I realize I've forgotten my wireless headphones. Yikes! I've done all my long runs with my podcasts. Unfortunately, the race day didn't fall on a particularly rich day of podcasts, but I would have listened to music. Oh, well, if that's my race day snafu, I'll take it. Turns out, my iphone was on quick burn that day so I'm certain I wouldn't have had enough juice to last the race anyway and given the turn of events, who knows, it may have slowed me down.

So, I'd already decided given projected race day conditions that I'd wear long sleeves. I'd done most of my long runs in long sleeves since it had been pretty darn cold in December in Houston. I had this one Adidas shirt I'd bought cheaply online that had orange piping making it look like my home team Dynamo's warm up shirt. Well, I thought I'd go one step further and I got my company's logo borrowed from the Houston Dynamo stenciled on the front. (Corny, I know, but you gotta pump the sponsors! Especially since they help pay the mortgage!)

I had my Texas flag running shorts with awesome pockets for my 3 gelpacks. I wasn't too color coordinated, but compared to some other runners, I was positively GQ.

The toughest choice was what to wear for the start. Most folks who run Marathons will tell you the worst thing you have to dress for is the wait at the start of the race. It's typically the coldest you'll experience (it's really early morning usually) and can be interminable. Well, I decided on this wind breaker my Dad had picked up who knows where. It was fluorescent green and had "Sports Illustrated" on the chest. It had long ago faded though. I think it was a giveaway like they used to do back in the 80's with a subscription. I'd run with it before on a rainy day, but decided it wasn't something I'd use again. It spent 5 years in my golf bag as a deterrent for rain on my golf days, but it would do for the pre-race wait. I was a little sentimental since I knew my Dad had used this as rain gear. But I figured this was going to be my way of honoring my Dad. Letting a little bit of him run with me. I knew I'd be jettisoning it, but I thought it a suitable end to my association with it, almost like burial at sea.

I was in the second wave which essentially meant the race clocks would be 10 minutes fast for me. I didn't think that would be a big deal. But in hindsight and for next time, you want to be in the first wave. The good thing about being in the second wave, I was right at the front. I saw my first pace runners. Two guys each carrying a little stick with balloons and ribbons that said 4:00 on it. I was like, "Hmm, as long as I stay ahead of these guys, I'll be okay." Little did we know how this drama would play out.

The gun went off for the first wave and of course nothing happened since I'm in wave 2. But you can feel the intensity growing significantly. I really have to say, I was really relaxed. I was a little concerned about possible starting out too fast, but really, I felt really good. Again, didn't think I'd break four hours, but felt I could have a good run at it.

The gun went off for our group and we were off. As expected, it was tough to get settled into a good pace at the beginning. It was very crowded and almost right off the bat, we're heading onto an over pass further constricting the circuit at it's busiest point.

I'm told race starts have a delusional effect on people. Everyone is running at or near the same pace (normally too fast for the whole race) and since you don't sense progress against this pace, you feel you're moving too slow. Well, I pretty much fell for it. I did feel I was going a little fast, but I moved to the outside in order to pass slower runners and got into a nice groove.

Sometime past the bottleneck overpass and into about mile 3, I jettisoned the wind breaker. Thanks, Dad, you got me off to a great start.

The first milestone was 10k. I did it in 54:36. I didn't know this at the time, but I did know my mile pace (8:48) since there were volunteers at most mile markers yelling out the pace. This is where I learned that they were yelling out two paces, one for the first wave, and another for the second. This was perhaps a little faster than I thought, but then again, who doesn't expect to burst a bit out of the gates.

At mile 9, the route passes nearest our house so this was the obvious place to meet with the family. I was a little concerned that racing too quickly, I'd beat them there. As I started the lookout, I was shocked to see a sign with my name on it. Turns out, one of my B-School buddies who I keep up with on Facebook had come out and even made a sign for me. Way to go, Mark! That was sooo cool. I would end up seeing him again at mile 23 and again at the finish! Well, that distracted me a bit, but by the time I'm at the designated rendezvous point, I can't find the K and the family. I thought I probably came out too quick. I also realize that marshaling the troops (a toddler, a newborn, and my sister before she's had coffee) could be a logistical challenge, so I lingered a little bit, looking down the road they'd come up before continuing. Oh, well, we had another back up rendezvous point later.

One of the great things about the Houston Marathon is it runs along all the parts of town I'm pretty intimately familiar with. So from a sightseeing perspective, it's quite comforting to see the transitions from place to place. The first miles are the only unknown for me and I'd left those behind before even thinking about how far I had left to go.

Well, after Montrose (my neighborhood), it's a hop skip and jump to the half-way point. Running through Rice Village, which is a quaint little University style section of town I passed Houston Dynamo player Wade Barrett and his wife spectating. For the second time that day, I got a "Go Dynamo!" from someone mistaking my shirt for a Dynamo shirt. And this time, it fooled an actual Dynamo family member.

I crossed the half at 1:56:47. Listening to the volunteers I was at 8:55 pace. Quite a drop off, but considering, I'd slowed to wait for my family probably about 30 seconds, maybe not so bad.

I was starting to feel a little tired, but I'd had my first gel at about 10 miles and was getting through it.

Miles 14 to 18 were a bit of a blur. The route had us going toward a highway, on the frontage road and then underneath the beltway before we get to more audience friendly sections. At some point, probably mile 16 or so I started hearing my mile pace over 9:00, but I felt I had a good chance at keeping the deterioration at bay and maybe squeezing in under 4:00. Mile 17, our second rendezvouz came and went with no sign of K. By this time I had convinced myself they weren't going to be able to come out there as it would involve driving as opposed to walking a couple of blocks.

At mile 20, came the moment of truth. As most marathoners know, the race consists of two halves, the first 20 miles, and the last 10k. Well, I'm just crossing the 20 mile marker when I get passed by the 4:00 pacers. Remember them? Well, I'd totally forgotten about them. I start to panic, but that doesn't help, I start to lose them, but somehow find some resolve to keep up the pace.

After they get about 20 or so seconds ahead, they slow down for a water station, I'm like, "Woot", I can catch them up! By mile 23, sure enough I've passed them and am on the home stretch. Of course, I'm foregoing most water stations at this point. I'm unable to sip water while running and I can no longer afford to stop for water. Probably not the best strategy, but this is crunch time.

Mile 25, we're in downtown which is perhaps a bad thing because now you can't see beyond the next corner. I'm starting to wonder if the finish line is after the next corner, only to find out it's not and I have what looks like 10 city blocks to the next corner.

Well, mile 25, the first of the two 4:00 pacer passes me and I don't have anything left in the tank. I'm like, "Oh, well, I'll be close." I'm a little comforted by the fact only one of the pacers has passed me. But I've pretty much given up the ghost of sub 4 hour.

At last, I see the finish line (and I can't see the pace guy that passed me any more). I've seen race clocks throughout, so I'm pretty certain to get my estimated race time, I just subtract 10 minutes from the race clock. I was at the start of my wave pretty much so my chip time will be close to the adjusted race clock. Well, I can see the clock, and it's at 4:09:xx. I don't remember what it was exactly, but I remember thinking, "No way...I can do this!"

Someone told me they saw me in that last stretch, yelled at me but I didn't hear them. And I'll tell you why. I found something, some unspent energy and bolted for the line. The rest as they say is history.

I crossed the line and corny as it sounds started crying. It didn't last long, but it was karmic release. All the positive energy I'd invested in training just returned in an instant.

It's tough to put in words the satisfaction of a completed marathon. Few things in life allow you to invest toward such a tangible yet difficult goal. You can't just go out and run a marathon. You need to get in shape just to start training for it. You can't let training slide because you will fail at your goal or worse hurt yourself trying to catch up. So unlike other more important, but much more vaguely defined milestones of achievement a Marathon feels really good.

My official time as 3:59:34. Hah! 26 seconds to spare baby! I looked to my iphone to see my Nike+ what it had registered and it turns out my iPHone had run out of juice about mile 12. This meant that I wasn't going to be able to call my wife to set up my pickup for home. Well, after asking total strangers to let me use their cellphone (not something polite society condones), I finally arranged the reunion and hugged K and my daughter P like I hadn't seen them in years.

Just a couple of notes. When I started my 2009 health and lifestyle resolutions, I weighed just over 230 pounds. Pre-race, I weighed 196 pounds and post race, 191. (I need to learn to hydrate on these races). A year later and about 35 pounds lighter. And all it took was running about 1200 miles. I wonder if I could make a video and sell this as a diet regime. Like this post though, it would probably be a loooong video.

Next to follow up on a Marathon...