Friday, January 29, 2016

Rebuilding my Aerobic Engine

Now that I'm about two months in to my MAF experiment, I thought I would share a bit about my experience so far and some of the reasons why someone would train with heart rate (but mostly specifically, with an aerobic threshold heart rate).  The biggest lessons that I have learned include being able to set your ego at the door, embrace the journey, and be patient!  This method has represented a very significant departure from my previous training, and it has certainly been trying at times, but I've made a vow to myself to be open to the process!

The Method:

How did we set my heart rate? 

The 180 formula, which Phil Maffetone developed over decades of working with athletes of all ages, abilities, and fitness levels, goes like this to determine your MAF (Max Aerobic Function) heart rate:

Start with 180.  Subtract your age. Subtract 5 if you have health issues (diabetes, heart disease, recent and frequent colds/flus, recent antibiotics use, high levels of stress, etc.).  Or add 5 if you are never sick, have little stress and are very fit.

For me this resulted in a starting MAF HR of 146 BPM.  I am 29, but in the fall I was sick for about a month after being on antibiotics.

When I started with my coach, Jon, he had me do a test workout.  He set my heart rate and told me to spend 15 minutes warming up (bringing heart rate gradually to MAF HR), then stay there for about 30 minutes, then spend 15 minutes cooling down.  We recorded my average pace during the 30 minutes at MAF. This is the primary test.

So I did my first test set at 146 HR and my average pace was 10:40/mile.  At that point, Jon determined that my aerobic system was sh*t.

Since that first test, I've tried to keep every single workout - swim, bike, run - below my MAF heart rate.  As my health and fitness levels have improved, Jon has slowly added beats to my HR, so now, at 2 months in, I'm working at a 153 HR.

According to Phil Maffetone, it is very important to stay below the MAF HR threshold during the aerobic system building phase.  Once over that threshold, we begin to use our anaerobic system and in the early stages that is detrimental to the development of our aerobic system. It can be hard and very frustrating at times to stay below the threshold.  Often I spend workouts stressed out about raising my HR and then see my HR spike because I am stressed! But I'm trying to stay patient.  I was very lucky to have started this phase when I did, since typically it's recommended to spend 3-6 months building the aerobic system in this way. As long as you see improvements in your pace during the test, you continue with the below threshold training.  Once those improvements stop, you can add in some speed work!

Now, staying below MAF HR isn't the only element.  The other key elements are nutrition and recovery.  The nutrition aspect involves finding the optimal level of carbs for you in a fairly low-carb, high-fat diet (I did the two-week test, though I'll do it again since I went straight into Christmas after mine).  I have a lot more to learn about the nutrition aspect, but the gist is that we want to maximize our ability to burn fat stores.  Getting adequate rest and recovery, as well as limiting stress, are the other keys.

Why train like this?

As competitive, always striving for stronger, faster, fitter athletes, it can be very tempting to go hard all the time.  We have limited amounts of time to train, so we might as well give'r every workout, right?! We have to train fast to race fast, right?!  Well, maybe not always. Maybe with a lot of patience, we can improve our aerobic system to the point where we are getting faster without putting too much stress on our bodies, allowing us to recover quickly between workouts and stay injury-free.  As I began to read about Phil's methodology, it really started to sound like something I wanted, particularly after spending most of last season dealing with a stress-fracture.  I'm open to trying something new in order to get faster and healthier. This phase is about improving my aerobic capacity, which will be very beneficial going into season and my first half ironman. So I'm slowing down to get faster!

So, how's it going? 

Well, it's hard to say.  I started my MAF training before the snow arrived, but since then we've had really poor conditions - snow, ice, etc. - and I refuse to run on the treadmill.  From a pace perspective, I think my MAF pace is improving, though I haven't had great conditions to test it. Likely closer to 10:00/mile now than 10:40/mile.  Ideally, I'd get my MAF pace down to about 8:00/mile. I just did my first power test on the bike with my MAF HR last weekend, so I'll have to wait a bit to see if there are improvements there.  And as we know, I haven't been in the pool at all! I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Goals for 2016

As part of my preparation for 2016, I sat down to write some goals.  I had written these in my Believe journal on my flight home from Seattle at Christmas, but I've only recently returned to them to put some meat on the bones and to really check-in with my "why" for each of them. I like the concept of measurable goals, so I added specific numbers to mine as well after a bit of research.  

As always, the #1 goal for 2016 is to HAVE FUN!! Without fun, the rest is just not possible and frankly not worth it at all. 

Let's review my 2015 goals though first: 

The big one:  Win my age group at Worlds.

Okay, so that didn't quite happen (and I had adjusted it to top 3 as the race approached).  It's great to have streeeetch goals, which is exactly what this one was.  With my stress fracture, this one sort of slipped away, but it was also a factor of who showed up to race on race day, which is entirely out of my control. I was happy with my race at Worlds and finished in a very respectable 11th in my AG!

Swim: Love swimming 

I think I got there by the end of the season. I was swimming super fast and I was enjoying my open water training immensely.  However, I've apparently had a severe aversion to the pool since the end of last season. 

Bike: Enjoy biking with confidence

I rode my bike a LOT last year, and I had a lot of fun doing it.  I achieved some of my furthest rides ever, including my first few rides over 100k. And I participated in weekly time trials with Ottawa Bicycle Club, which pushed me outside my comfort zone. 

My time goal was to go under 32:00 on the Chicago course, and I ended up going 32:30! Pretty close!

Run: Go fast

My goal was to figure out what it felt like to "go fast" and to leave it all on the course.  I didn't have many opportunities to do that though unfortunately given my injury, so I will work on that, as well as staying injury free for 2016. 

My time goals: <21:00 for in tri 5k (not quite, but that is okay because I only had two chances post-injury and none pre-injury) 
 <20:00 for stand-alone 5k (closer at 20:26, post-injury too!) 
<42:00 for stand-alone 10k (close at 42:18 at Ottawa Race Weekend, pre-injury)

So, what's ahead in 2016?? Let's see: 

Goal: Qualify for Age Group World Championships (Olympic Distance)

Why: I had an amazing experience at AG Worlds in Chicago as part of Team Canada, and it would be an honour to go back to Worlds. Plus, I like travelling and I'd love to go to the Netherlands!

  1. Consistency in my workouts
  2. Get in the pool! 2x per week
  3. Stay injury free through strength work, pre-hab and lots of rest / recovery
  4. Build bike strength - power, big gear work
  5. Build bike endurance - MAF training, long outdoor rides
  6. Build run endurance - MAF training
  7. Run speed through targeted anaerobic work
  8. Use winter to build strength and aerobic capacity through x-country skiing
Measure it:  Top 10 finish at Ottawa CAMTRI Nationals or Top 3 finish at Montreal ITU race
  • Swim: 21:30, 1:26/100m
  • Bike: <1:08, 21.9 mph / 35.3 kph
  • Run: <44:00, 7:05 mile
  • Transitions: as fast as possible

Deadline: July 23 / August 6, 2016

Goal: Qualify for 70.3 Worlds (2017) at Timberman

Why: This is a big stretch and will push me out of my comfort zone mentally and physically!

  1. Consistency in my workouts
  2. Get in the pool! 2x per week
  3. Stay injury free through strength work, pre-hab and lots of rest / recovery
  4. Build bike strength - power, big gear work
  5. Build bike endurance - MAF training, long outdoor rides, riding with stronger cyclists!!
  6. Build run endurance - MAF training
  7. Use winter to build strength and aerobic capacity through x-country skiing
  8. Use shorter races to improve transitions
  9. Practice fueling and hydration in race-like conditions
  10. Build mental strength through meditation and mental training
Measure it: Sub 5:00 at Timberman 70.3 (this might not be enough though!!!)
  • Swim: <28:00, 1:27/100m
  • Bike: <2:47, 20.1 mph / 32.4 kph
  • Run: <1:40, 7:35 mile
  • Transitions: ~1:30 each

Deadline: August 21, 2016

Goal: Learn new skills!!

  • Diversifying my athletic tool kit will allow me to have more fun with friends and be a more well-rounded athlete!
  • Learning new things helps to push me outside of my comfort zone
  • Learning new things requires me to practice patience and to believe in myself
  1. Skate skiing lessons or outings with Mike 2x weekly through winter months
  2. Snow shoe running 1x per week in winter
  3. Trail running session every other week in spring and summer
  4. Mountain biking adventure in summer
Measure it:
  • Improvement to P10 to Keogan hut time by March (bring it down to :45 minutes)
  • Snowshoe 5k race (~30 minutes)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Training and Life Update: First few weeks of January!

One of my goals is to get back to blogging regularly in 2016, particularly now that training is underway for the upcoming triathlon season.  Checking in with the blog and with my coach helps to keep me honest and accountable.  It's hard to get up at 5:15 to hit the pool when it is cold and snowy, but it is also harder to admit that I haven't actually been swimming... at all lately!  So back to blogging and back to swimming it is for me, starting NOW!

Work commute chic!
The first few weeks of the new year have been characterized by new routines.  I started a new job in December, and the office is an easy, though longer trek from my house.  Before the snow arrived, I had been cycling to work, but my nervous nelly syndrome appeared along with the snow, so I've been hitching rides once in a while, but mostly running to and from work. The run commute is definitely challenging to manage logistically, as it requires me to be super organized in the mornings with all the clothing and gear that I will require for the run and work day. My body is still getting used to the extra mileage (up to 50 minutes of running per day).  On Monday, I rode the bike into work though, despite a decent dump of snow overnight, and I survived!

Night skate skiing

I've been continuing my ski lessons with my patient, kind, and excellent coach, Mike.  He has vast experience coaching athletes up to the highest levels and his patience runs very deep. Lucky for me!!  The lessons are definitely helping, and I've begun to get the hang of skiing.  However, I'm still working on overcoming my fear of people skiing anywhere near me. Apparently I prefer the trail all to myself!

Sometimes the climbing on skis is worth the view!

I've also continued biking with power at Eurosports and also started co-leading, along with Coach Dave, the HPS group at OTC on Wednesday nights! I definitely need to work a bit more time on the bike into the schedule though (and space it out, since both are now on Wednesdays).  I'm working on organizing our garage at the Trifecta House to be an official pain cave. When I'm done, I'll share some pictures!

And like I said, I really, really need to get back in the pool. I went once, with Mike, to help him with his swimming (as sort of a very lopsided trade for my ski lessons), but I only swam about 800m, and mostly just hung out on the pool deck! The swim will always be the part of triathlon that I least like to train for, mostly because I spent those 11 years training for swimming 20 hours per week. I'm hoping the motivation comes back soon though!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Learning New Things: Skate Skiing

Last week, I commenced Operation: Skate Ski!  I had been eagerly anticipating the snow to arrive in Ottawa, and last week, we had a huge storm that left us with 20-plus centimeters of snow.  The parkways and trails in Gatineau Park were able to officially open for ski season after the storm.

In anticipation of the snow, I did two things when I arrived home from my Christmas in Seattle, 1) I finally put my winter tires on my car, and 2) I visited Fresh Air in Ottawa with the BF to get myself some skis!  My skis are awesome, and I even got some hot pink poles!  It took me quite a while to find the perfect pair of boots, but I am happy that I searched high and low to find the ones that were most comfortable for me.

So far, I have had two lessons from the best coach (and if I am allowed to be biased, most handsome) around.  The lessons are already starting to help, though I have quite a long way to go.  It is certainly humbling to learn an entirely new sport, but it has been (mostly) really fun and exciting!  I am trying to remember that patience is key, because all good things take time.

My goal this year is to truly embrace winter.  In fact, because I was so eager to start learning to ski, I was actually looking forward to winter, for perhaps the first time in my life!  Skate skiing allows me to get outside to enjoy nature in a new and challenging way.  Ottawa and Gatineau (as well as the surrounding region) are full of beautiful places to ski, so it is quite easy to find a trail and get out the door quickly.  Skate skiing also opens doors for fun activities, like our New Year's Eve celebration picnic at one of the cabins in Gatineau Park.  We skied in with wine and delicious food to ring in the new year.  There is some talk of doing a winter triathlon relay as well!

Another benefit of skate skiing is that it will help me become a stronger, more well-rounded athlete. The lateral movements of skate skiing are something that my body isn't used to at all.  It is quite challenging to make the mind-muscle connection after all my linear swim-bike-and running.  Skate skiing will not only challenge my muscles in new ways, helping to prevent injury by improving my coordination, balance / stability, and strength, but it will also help to further develop my aerobic system.  Here is a great summary of some of the benefits of nordic skiing for triathletes!

Finally, this little experiment checks off a few boxes on my "30 in 30 List" as well as my intentions for the new year - to develop my patience, to learn new things, to do things that scare me, and to believe in myself!