Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Fall Updates

2020 Powerman Zofingen

The Powerman Zofingen ITU Long Distance Duathlon World Championship has been postponed until May 2021. At this point, I'm not certain that I will make travel grants available again in 2021. Check back in January for an update.

Trans-North Georgia Adventure

Since most races were cancelled this year - and I didn't have to dedicate myself to duathlon, running, road cycling, or anything specific - I decided to have fun, try something totally different and sign up for the Trans-North Georgia Adventure (TNGA) race. I grew up riding mountain bikes in the North Georgia mountains and I was excited to attempt a traverse of the state on two wheels.

If you've never heard of TNGA, it's a 350-something mile route across North Georgia. Depending on who you ask, it has between 35,000 and 50,000 feet of elevation gain. It's roughly 20% single track trail and 72% unpaved. Every year in August, there is a "Grand Depart," where a bunch of crazy people meet on the GA/SC state line and take off heading toward Alabama. James Dunaway holds the course record in something like 43 hours. It doesn't feel quite right to call it a "race." For some, it is a race; but for most it's an adventure or a challenge and they'll take their time with it. There are no awards, a winner is not recognized, but times are posted for comparison. 

I'd never attempted anything like it; my longest ride before TNGA was something like 8 hours. Despite my inexperience at long distances, I was sure I had the fitness to do it - and I felt like my years of riding (shorter distances) had prepared me for whatever the route might throw at me. I think I'm a pretty good bike handler, a decent mechanic, I can suffer with the best of them and I can keep a cool head.

So, I bought a hardtail mountain bike in June and put in some long rides around Moscow and the Palouse (a great place to explore by bike).


Courtney and I moved out of our place in Moscow in late July and road tripped our way back East to Georgia. On the way we stayed with friends in Helena, MT and Fort Collins, CO. While we were in Fort Collins, I crashed my new hardtail on some rocks and cracked the driveside seat stay. After a day of panic, I ordered a carbon repair kit from Predator Cycling. And a few days later I was letting the epoxy cure on the repaired section of seat stay. I'm really pleased with the repair, but there were a few nervous days there where I wasn't sure if I'd have a bike to ride for the "race."

Road Trippin' across the country

Nice riding outside of Helena, MT

Cracked seat stay

Repaired seat stay, before paint

Race Rig

Courtney and I rented a place in Sky Valley for a couple of nights before the start of the race and I saw some of Friday starters take off on Friday morning. I felt bad for them - the weather looked like they were going to be in for a very tough afternoon and night of heavy rain and thunderstorms.

We woke up Saturday morning to heavy rain; packed up the car in the dark and rain and got on the road. The weather cleared on the drive to the start, and we started in a light misty rain. I was optimistic that we'd have  a dry day...

I missed the start by a minute or less and spent the first few miles chasing James Dunaway. We'd emailed back and forth before the start of the race and had agreed to ride together as long as we could. I was glad to have James - he's an experienced bike packer and knows the TNGA as well as anyone. Before the first big descent down the Darnell Creek Horse Trail, we were riding comfortably together with Peter Kraft.

Heading out from the start

A lot of people don't realize there's a bit of rainforest in North Georgia

Peter got ahead of us after we stopped for water and a bathroom break. About 30 miles in, James hit a stick that popped up and snagged his derailleur, snapping the hanger. I stopped to make sure he had everything he needed to repair it and left him to it... I spent the next several hours riding solo, getting glimpses of Peter in the distance. The rain before the start had saturated everything and there was a lot of water and mud early on the course.

It started pouring rain as I was climbing up Highway 76 toward Dick's Creek Gap. And as I was  bombing down the southside, squinting and wiping the mud and sweat out of my eyes, I missed the turnoff for the FS 164. After a couple minutes of consulting my que cards in the rain, I found the turnoff and was back on course. It was still pouring as I descended down Dick's Creek toward Lake Burton. The unmaintained road bed became a creek bed and then the creek bed "road" crossed actual creek several times. It was all just water and mud... I felt like I may as well have been swimming. The conditions were laughable. I felt like a kid again, riding my bike in the pouring rain; and I couldn't help but grin as I picked my way down the creek. I stopped at Moccasin Creek to get water and was pleasantly surprised to see my wife waiting there. She said Peter had left about 3 minutes before I arrived.

Moccasin Creek water stop

Climbing up Wildcat Creek to Addis Gap was one of the most enjoyable parts of the ride. The sun came out again, the creek was up, people were out swimming and fishing... It was really beautiful.

I caught Peter as we were heading up Tray Mountain. And for the first time, I noticed my left knee was getting a little sore. The descent off Tray lived up to its reputation - it's a very rocky washed out road bed near the top, but then an awesome flowy singletrack toward the bottom into Unicoi State Park. I pulled into the Robertstown (Helen) gas station for a resupply and Peter was close behind. I fumbled around... faced with so many junk food options after nearly 10 hours of riding... and many more hours to go. I settled on a couple packs of peanut butter crackers, beef jerky, chocolate milk, a Snickers, a Red Rock Ginger Ale and water. The cashier didn't appreciate my waterlogged dollar bills.

I chugged the Ginger Ale as I lubed my chain and refilled my bottles. Peter was in and out, like he was on a mission. Much to my surprise, James arrived just as I was about to set off. I was glad to see he was able to fix his derailleur. In retrospect, I probably should've just waited a few minutes for James at the point, but I set off in pursuit of Peter. I'd caught up with Peter as we approached the climb over Hogpen Gap. I've ridden Hogpen a number of times - but I'd never ridden it on a loaded down mountain bike after a full day of riding. Needless to say, we weren't setting and KOM's that day. Peter and I rode together for the next few hours. 

Helton Creek Falls, about 120 miles in


It poured rain again as we were heading up Wolfpen Gap. Toward the top, as the sun was setting, we got some really nice views. I enjoyed rolling along the top of the ridge toward Coopers Creek. We passed a few TNGA riders who had set up camp for the night - and I was jealous of their comfortable accommodations and dry clothes. All I could do was try to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable dark night ahead.

I stopped at the Mulky Campground on Cooper Creek for water and Peter went on to the Cooper CreekStore. I passed Peter as he was stopped at the store. Somewhere near Dial I was treated to a surprise firework show. Shortly after that I saw my wife, my mom and our friend Gilbert on the course. My knee was trending worse at this point. I'd taken some ibuprofen and been stretching periodically, but it kept getting more and more sore...

Peter would pass me back when I stopped to stretch, grab some snacks out of my bags, set up my lights, and reapply chamois cream; all while chatting with some curious locals. They asked me if I was training for "that race across the state." I said, "No, I'm not training. I'm in it. Right now. This is it." Then they informed me that it would be all downhill once we got over the Cohuttas.

The climb over Stanley Gap in the dark was slow and tedious. I was forced to hike several steep and technical sections. I caught up with Peter once again on the descent down to Rock Creek Rd before heading into Cherry Log. Once I got to Cherry Log, I tried to find water spigots at the church and the post office, but they were all locked up.

Around this point, I started having trouble pedaling without a lot of pain from my left knee. I tried more ibuprofen, stretching, and massaging, but it was getting really bad. I had several miles to mull it over... If I pressed on, I was pretty sure it wasn't going to miraculously get better (it had only been getting worse over the last 8 hours). And if I continued on, I might not have cell service for a while... and I might have to spend a really bad night in the Cohuttas. The climb up Bushy Head Gap helped me make up my mind - I felt like I was pedaling with one leg, barely able to put any power through my left knee. I couldn't go on, it just wouldn't be right.

And so, around the halfway point of TNGA (180 miles) and after 18 hours after setting off, I called my dad. Fortunately, he answered at one in the morning. Even better - I was less than 10 miles away from his house. The conversation went something like:

Me: "Hey Dad. I'm out. My knee isn't holding up."
Dad: "Where are you? Do you want me to come get you?"
Me: "I'm at the top of Bushy Head Gap Rd. Yeah, I can't really pedal anymore. I can meet you down at the bottom at Boardtown Rd."
Dad: "Alright, I'll start heading that way."

It wasn't until I hung up the phone that I realized it was 1 AM. And just then, I saw someone coming up the hill. It was James. I told him I was out, but he was only a few minutes behind Peter. I wished him good luck, rolled down to meet my dad and that was that.

James would go on to set a new course record in 43 hours.

Despite the outcome of my "race," I really enjoyed being out there. And the relaxed "all day pace" was a refreshing change from always pressing the effort like I would in shorter races. For sure, I underestimated the ruggedness of the course and I underestimated just how difficult it was going to be. But I also underestimated how much I would enjoy it. I think I prepared well and I was up for the challenge... all except for my knee. I want to say thank you to the ride organizers, especially Jeff "Honcho" Williams for pushing this event forward this year. 

Six Gap Century

Since TNGA, I haven't had much to train for. I took a week off and my knee was feeling a lot better. The only race I kind of cared about (Duathlon Nationals) was cancelled last week. Then a few weeks ago, I remembered that the Six Gap Century might still happen. I've known about Six Gap for at least 20 years, but I'd never done it. This year, I finally had the opportunity to ride.

I had some decent prep riding in the hills around Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee in the last month and much to my surprise, I had some good interval sessions. I thought, as long as I didn't ride like an idiot, I could do well at Six Gap.

It was a mellow start, mostly easy pedaling until the first test of the day up Neels Gap. A group of two or three got a small gap and I found myself on the front riding tempo up most of the lower half. We crested the top of Neels with a group of 20-25 riders and went on towards the next climb up Jacks Gap. Again, a couple of guys went off the front on Jacks and I bridged across - we rode at a good clip for a few minutes but the pack of 15 or more chased us down before cresting the top. 

We hit Unicoi and all rode tempo up. At some point, a car pulled up, said something in Spanish and handed a rider a bottle of water. I gave the universal gesture of "drink" and they handed me a bottle too. Thanks!

Heading to Hogpen, the pace relaxed and guys were resting up for the first timed KOM segment. Jimmy Schurman went off the front early on and I settled into a sustainable 25-30:00 effort (I didn't ride with a power meter). We caught Jimmy in the last 2K and I dropped back to follow any moves. I sprinted away to bag a few seconds as we were coming around the final curve up to the gap.

I got down the backside of Hogpen with a small gap and rode a comfortable tempo. It wasn't long before Jimmy, Ulisses, Giancarlo and Nelson caught up. We mostly worked together, rotating through on the way to Wolfpen.

We hit the start of Wolfpen together and I eased into a steady tempo. Ulisses attacked coming out of the switchback... and for a moment or two he put me on the ropes. But I caught up and did my best to sit on his wheel up to the top. We were rejoined by the three others on the descent and we more or less rode together from there to the finish on wet roads.

I really should have done some recon of the finish. I had no idea how or where it finished. When Ulisses and Giancarlo jumped with 400m to go, I was able to get on their wheels, but I'd already been beaten because as soon as we came out of the last corner, there was the finish line - and I wasn't going to take any unnecessary risks on the wet road in that corner.

So, we went sub-5 hours and I finished 3rd. That was fine. At least I had taken the KOM competiton… Or so I thought! Turns out, some guy who rode the course in over seven hours sandbagged the entire race just to hammer the timed KOM segments. So he took home the KOM jersey... Whatever, man... Congrats.

Worth noting, I took what seemed like a ridiculous amount of carbohydrate during the race - and I felt great. In five hours, I had two GU Stroopwafels, five gels, one and a half bottles of GU Roctane, and a pack of fruit snacks. That's ~280g of carbohydrate in 5 hours. And it made a huge difference. Also worth noting, I rode this race on a pair of wheels that I built myself!

So, now what?

Yeah, good question... I'm looking forward to more running this Fall and Winter. The long distance duathlon championship is in Miami in November. Maybe that'll happen... and maybe I'll be there? Or maybe I'll just take a break from training and get reset for Powerman Zofingen in May.

If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments below!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

2020 Zofingen ITU Powerman Travel Grants Now Available for Elite Athletes

The application period for travel grants is now open for qualified US elite athletes.

Grants, up to $1500 per athlete, will be awarded to 2 male and 2 female athletes to represent the United States in the Elite Categories at the 2020 ITU Long Distance Duathlon World Championship (Powerman Zofingen) in Zofingen, Switzerland. The race date is September 20, 2020.

Having traveled overseas to compete, I recognize the financial barriers and lack of incentives for elite athletes. With these travel grants, I aim to make travel more feasible and provide incentive for elite athletes to participate in the elite categories of the Long Distance Duathlon World Championships.

Athletes must possess USA Triathlon Elite License (in duathlon) and be eligible to compete in the Elite Category of the World Championship. If you do not currently possess a USAT elite duathlete license, you may apply for one on the USA Triathlon Website.

For more information about Powerman Zofingen check out the race website here. Or the ITU page here.

The travel grant application process is now open. All applications must be completed by July 1, 2020.

If you have any questions, contact me at albertharrison@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

"Overtraining" in the News

An NPR article caught my attention last week. John Hamilton's article, "Too Much Training Can Tax Athletes' Brains" was effectively instant click-bait to me. And it has provided much food for thought over the last few days.

Hamilton interviewed the authors of a new study exploring the effects of training induced fatigue on exercise performance, cognitive fatigue, decision making, prefrontal cortex activity, etc... You can read the full text of the cited article in Current Biology here.


What's it all about?


The study divided 37 "competitive" triathletes into 2 groups - a control group maintained its normal training volume and an overreaching group (OR) that increased its training volume by an average of 40% for a 3 week overload period. Both groups were given a psychometric questionnaire every 2 days to assess subjective fatigue/mood. Brain activity was assessed via MRI pre- and post-training period. Subjects were also asked questions to assess decision making abilities. The questions were designed to assess whether athletes were more likely to seek immediate gratification or long-term reward. Questions like, "would you like $10 now, or $50 at a later date?" Essentially, what's the athlete's discount rate?


They found the OR group was more inclined to choose immediate gratification rather than seek the long term reward - in other words, they became more impulsive and chose the "easy-out." The MRI results showed that the OR athletes exhibited less activity in a prefrontal cortex area that's thought to be involved in complex decision making.


So What?


One issue I have with the article is the bias to recognize overtraining syndrome as a syndrome. Instead of calling it "overtraining" can't we just call it fatigue? In fact, most sports scientists are starting to use the term "overreaching;" overreaching can be further divided into functional and non-functional. Obviously, there are ethical and health constraints that prevent scientists from trying to truly overtrain athletes in the lab, but if your study is supposed to address overtraining, can you do that if you don't have overtrained subjects? Is it fair to assume that overtraining, or non-functional overreaching, is just a more extreme version of fatigue?


If you'd like to read the European College of Sports Medicine and American College of Sports Medicine's joint consensus statement on overtraining, you can see the full text here.


Overtraining, fatigue, a shift in priorities?


The abstract of the latest article starts with, "Overtraining syndrome is a form of burnout, defined in endurance athletes by unexplained performance drop associated with intense fatigue sensation." Well, if you've ever been several weeks into a block of hard endurance training, you know you're tired - you may experience "intense fatigue." But does that mean you're overtrained? I'm not sure it's that easy to define. If you believe you're doing good work and the work will pay off in the form of a strong race performance, you might be able to justify the pain and suffering of training and continue on. But if you start to believe the work is not worth the reward anymore, and you give yourself the excuse of being "overtrained," does that mean you are? Does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading you down a road to sub-par performances because you think something is wrong with you?

I take issue with a few points from the NPR article and the study. But I recognize I am biased - I don't like to acknowledge "overtraining syndrome" as an actual syndrome. Primarily because I do not think that there are any physiological parameters that can indicate someone has overtrained. One cannot simply take a blood test or strap on a heart rate monitor and determine whether he/she is overtrained. We can test for and athletes can feel fatigue, but fatigue is reversible given adequate rest. Rather, I think that "overtraining" or "burnout" is often a state of mind - it's a loss of interest and a lack of motivation. It's the point where the athlete believes the reward for suffering through hard work and training is no longer worth the sacrifice. But what I find interesting about this study is that it links physical and mental fatigue. It appears that when you're physically exhausted, your brain may not work in the same way.

I used to love listening to Mike Creed's "Open Mic" podcast - and one of my favorite episodes was an interview with coach Dean Golich. Golich has coached multiple Olympic and World Championship athletes. My favorite quote from the podcast is Golich's take on overtraining. He states,

"When people say that someone 'over-trained' or got 'burnt-out'... I don't know if that's the case. It's that you come to the realization of what it takes to succeed and you're just not willing to do it anymore."

And I think this sums up some of the findings from the article - at some point, athletes can no longer justify the work, the suffering, and sacrifice. And when they're tired, it's that much easier to justify stopping.

This is not to say that athletes cannot do too much. They certainly can and do. Fatigue is real and overuse injuries happen. But this has become my view of overtraining - it's not so much a physical ailment as it is a lack of motivation and will to continue fighting; to continue suffering and sacrificing to be the best athlete you can be.

But continuing the fight requires a lot of discipline and mental energy - and perhaps this latest study sheds some light onto why people stop. Physical exhaustion is also mentally taxing - and when you're exhausted it's a lot easier to say "enough."


Improved performance through overtraining?


Another issue I have with the NPR article is that it incorrectly uses the term "overtraining." In the overreaching group (OR), the athletes increased their training volume by an average of 40% for a 3 week "training overload" period. We can only say they acutely increased their training loads. This training overload resulted in fatigue - but fatigue often is necessary to provoke a desired training response. In fact, after a two week taper the OR group's performance improved from baseline. This follows the traditional model of supercompensation in biological systems - stress may weaken a system initially, but the stimulus usually provokes a response for the system to adapt. You could say, the 40% increase in training volume was an effective training intervention - not overtraining. If a group of athletes was truly "overtraining," by definition - you would not expect to see their performances improve.


Other implications of fatigue


The authors of the study also propose extreme fatigue could leave athletes susceptible to doping. And I can believe it - I've read this excuse a few times. Some athletes are just looking for something to make training and racing more bearable. Regardless, no matter how tired you are, I don't think there can be any justification for cheating. It's worth noting the study was funded by the French anti-doping agency. 

What I took away from the article - "Overtraining" is largely a mental game and your decision making and reasoning abilities may be impaired when you are physically and/or mentally fatigued. This could highlight the importance of scheduling mandatory rest periods during the year to stay fresh and setting multiple short term goals. Short term goals could provide opportunities to get "immediate gratification" every now and then. These goals could make it easier to stay focused and motivated a few days or weeks at a time and serve as stepping stones towards a bigger goal. If you've got a benchmark training session or race every few weeks, you'll be motivated to do your best to be ready for that test. But if you don't have anything on the schedule until 6 months at a time, how are you going to keep yourself accountable? Are you going to be able to justify suffering and sacrificing for the next 6 months? Will you when you're really tired?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Don't believe everything that you read.

Leave it to Twitter to get me riled up. A tweet caught my attention a few days ago. It read:

"Greater improvements in cycling performance parameters following HRV-guided vs. block training."

I was intrigued, so I read the abstract. I didn't have access to the peer review journal at the time, but I could see in the abstract, "Between-group fitness and performance were similar after the study."

So I called out the original "tweeter," saying there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups. Claiming one is superior, misrepresents the study's findings. By this point I noticed the individual is a  professor and researcher and maintains a blog devoted to heart rate variability (HRV) research - which surprised me. If he's a professor, surely he understands statistics - I couldn't help but think he was misrepresenting the findings to support his bias in favor of  HRV-guided training...

After I pointed out there was no difference in performance between groups, the tweeter responded with a screen shot of a figure from the paper:


From the figure, yeah - it looks like HRV-guided training does outperform block periodization... but looks can be deceiving. Again, there is no statistically significant difference between the two groups. You can't say that one training method is superior to the other. So that's what I said - Where's the difference?

The original poster, responded:

"One group showed a mean time trial improvement of ~6%, the other, ~3%. If I’m investing the same time and effort into training either way, I’d opt for the method that might give me an extra 3%."

And most people would agree - Who doesn't want an extra three percent?

But it doesn't work that way - we don't know if that 3% difference was due to error or random chance. If the experiment was done again, you may very well find a different result. The difference between the groups was not great enough to be statistically significant. You'd think a PhD educated professor would understand that. And you'd hope he wouldn't misrepresent research to support his own bias for HRV gadgets and training.

This is all public, you can check my Twitter if you have nothing better to do. I don't have any animosity towards the individual, and this is not a critique of HRV-guided or block periodization - I just wanted to take the opportunity to remind people to be critical and don't believe everything that you read.

Bert

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Different Disciplines, Different Tapers?

When I was at Appalachian State, Dave Morris had us read all about glycogen, glucose and carbohydrate. I still remember reading about how muscle damage can impact muscle glycogen resynthesis. That is - the replenishment of glycogen stores in skeletal muscle following exercise.

Muscle glycogen is a glucose polymer that is stored in muscle cells. When you exercise, particularly at high intensities, it's the primary substrate used to create ATP. Maintaining or preserving glycogen stores can delay fatigue and even preserve economy.

Given glycogen's positive relationship to endurance performance, athletes and coaches often employ tapers in an attempt to maximize glycogen stores prior to competitions. But as Costill et al. noted back in 1990, glycogen resynthesis may be inhibited following muscle-damaging eccentric exercise.

Eccentric exercise is any exercise that involves "active lengthening" of muscle fibers. Sports that include running, and jumping are eccentric dependent. With running - every footstrike requires absorbing an impact through active lengthening of muscle fibers. That lengthening action can damage the muscle. And little by little, as your run progresses, you accumulate more and more muscle damage. It's not necessarily a bad thing - the muscle will repair itself. But the damage may be evident when you're sore the next day. This damage and the subsequent inflammation may inhibit glycogen resynthesis.

When compared to running, cycling and swimming do not rely nearly as heavily on eccentric muscle contractions. That's one reason why cyclists spend so much time on their bikes - fewer eccentric contractions, less muscle damage, less soreness...

So then, how could this knowledge of muscle damage and glycogen resynthesis impact how the runner, cyclist, and multisport athlete approaches a taper?

Perhaps the runner should take a longer or more aggressive taper than the cyclist. This way, the runner would incur less muscle damage as the important competition approaches - ensuring that glycogen resynthesis is not negatively impacted. And the multisport athlete may want to reduce running volume more aggressively than his/her cycling and swimming volume.

If you're interested in reading more about glycogen resynthesis, I recommend you check out this review by Burke et al.

-Bert

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Pain in the Heel

     In the last eight months, I've had some good stints of training. But for the most part, I've struggled to find consistency in running. I've taken time off - up to six weeks at a time. Two months ago, out of desperation - I got a cortisone injection in my heel. The cortisone worked really well for about six weeks, but as it wore off, I started having problems again. I've attempted three or four different comebacks, but each time, the same plantar fasciitis has come back. 

     When I started the year, I thought - Once I get over this foot pain, I'll have enough time to train for duathlon nationals. Then nationals came and went, and I didn't even make it to the starting line. I never thought the problem would persist so long that I start to question whether the World Championship (in September) could be in jeopardy.

     And I never imagined something so small would have me questioning why I race in the first place. When you make sacrifices, you do so expecting to get returns on your sacrifice "investment." In reality, sport doesn't follow that logic. 

     I'm certainly not the world's most gifted athlete. I'm a mediocre runner and a decent cyclist on a good day. But dammit - I have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into being the best duathlete I can be. So to set some lofty goals, make the sacrifices, etc... then when it fails to pan out, it leaves me feeling pretty empty.

     This week, I decided to cut my losses and focus on finally letting my foot heal before trying to train for another event. It was a tough decision - I won't be going back to the World Championship this year, but at the same time - finally making a decision takes a lot of pressure off. And I hope removing that pressure to get back to training will allow me to get the rest I need - I won't be tempted to rush it this time.

     In the meantime, I've been enjoying doing more mountain biking, gravel riding, and social rides. I also hope to sponsor one (possibly two) elite athlete(s) by providing a travel stipend for him or her to race in the elite field at Powerman Zofingen. I've said it before - I think the US has some of the best multisport talent in the world. But there is so very little support or incentive for US athletes to travel to Switzerland for the long distance duathlon world championship.

     I estimate I spent $2500-$3000 on travel last year. I won ~$1550 after taxes. So I was out of pocket over a thousand dollars. After that experience, I decided I wanted to support at least one elite athlete from the US - because these races shouldn't be contested between the financially elite, they should be for the best athletes. I can't completely level the playing field - there are several barriers to entry into the privileged world of multisport, but I can at least try to help someone. So, it would bring me a lot of satisfaction to support an athlete who otherwise wouldn't be able to make the trip. I'd also like to show the Europeans that Americans are pretty damn good at duathlon.

Bert


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

An Overdue 2018 Goal Review

I know, it's March and this is far overdue, but I still wanted to review the last year and put my goals in writing again.

Objectively


The Good:

6th at Powerman Zofingen/ITU LD Duathlon World Championship
USAC Cat 2 upgrade

The Not-So-Good:

No PRs
5th at USAT Standard Distance Du Nats
DNS Long Course Nationals

Subjectively


It's messy. Yes, I had a decent year. It wasn't stellar, but I felt like I made another step forward as an athlete and person. I gained a few Watts and I gained some perspective.

I realize I should just be thankful I've had the opportunity to pursue some crazy dreams, and thankful for the support I've had from friends, family and people I don't even know. So I want to make it clear that I am thankful and I know I'm privileged - but I also hold myself to high standards. So if I sound crass or unthankful - it's only because I want more (Ok, I'm also greedy). But once you're in it, there's a phenomenon like a positive feedback loop - where the closer you get to the top, the more you want it. At the same time, the lesser results become "devalued" even though they may still be good results.

My one obvious result was 6th at Powerman Zofingen - and I'm proud of the result, but it is hard to condense a year's worth of work into just a few hours for one result. I'd like to get a bit more return on my investment this year and have more results to point to when I look back on this year. 2018 was the year of Zofingen, but outside of the personal experiences I had while training, that one result is about all I have to show for it.

The Positives


Another year, and it was another year of developing. I'm 30 now. So, I'm right there in the middle of my "prime years" as an endurance athlete and I feel like I am beginning to realize my strengths, particularly on the bike. This past year was a great year of consistent training from late February to late August. I logged more miles than I ever have on the bike (nearly 11,000 for 2018). And I felt it paying dividends in my ability to hold power during those 3-4 hour training rides.

Running didn't progress quite as much as my cycling, but it was still a good year. I ran more and more consistently than I ever have over the summer. I also felt stronger - I didn't have to nurse myself through week after week. I just ran and I was able to recover from the long runs and interval workouts better than I have in the past.

No doubt, the endurance I built up through this consistent training helped me through Powerman Zofingen.

One thing I think I did well was adjust workouts from day to day depending on how I was feeling. There were some days where I was dead tired - and I modified the workouts or just skipped them all together. Of course, you can't always do this - Part of the training process is having some really, really hard days on tired legs. You can't always feel sorry for yourself and bail-out. You have to be a bit mad to voluntarily put yourself through hell (and be accountable only to yourself). You have to be able to balance fatigue with quality of training and weigh the possible benefits against the possibility of injury.

Last year, a friend asked me, "How do you have the energy?" I responded, "I eat a lot and sleep a lot."

And I do - the occasional espresso shot also helps. But really, it's not a question of energy. Eat enough, sleep enough and yes, you have the energy. The human body has vast reserves of energy - thousands and thousands of Calories. The difficult part is making yourself do the work. It's getting your tired and sore ass out the door and putting the work in when you feel like shit. That's the most challenging part of training. It's not an energy problem - it's mental fortitude and motivation. If you're properly motivated, you'll find a way to get it done.

Fatigue does happen, though. And I think I did a good job of modifying workouts in 2018 to meet daily goals, but also meet my physical capacity on any given day. I used to write out my own training 2-3 weeks in advance and stick to the plan, but now - It's day to day. I make season plans - each week has a focus, but the day to day details may not be determined until after the warm-up. I think my education and experience has given me the ability to properly adjust workouts for a desired stimulus. And I'm always learning more about what I can handle - but I think I did a good job of adjusting last summer.

I really enjoyed working with a massage therapist regularly in 2018. Suzanne Kaplan at Roots Nutrition and Massage helped me tremendously last year. I tried to see her at least once every two weeks for some specific work (usually my back, low back, IT bands, hip flexors and lower legs). And I think she kept me feeling good and injury free for so long. It was really nice to have a knowledgeable "physio" in my corner.

I think I did a better job of eating and drinking during long rides and workouts. Thanks to GU Energy, I was regularly taking gels and sports drinks which helped fuel me through training bouts and formulate nutrition plans for racing. I feel a lot more confident now about my nutrition strategies now.

I also experimented with longer (4-4.5 hr) rides and longer intervals (as long as 60:00). I'm not totally sure these bolstered my fitness, but they did help me get more comfortable at riding around that aerobic threshold or "Powerman Power." I'll continue to include long steady-state reps in training, particularly late in the build as I approach race day.

Not-so-positives


While I was able to have a great stretch of training for 7 months of the year, I did struggle with a few injuries. I started the year with lingering plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which led to a disappointing result at USAT Duathlon Nationals. I had a brief scare with some popliteal tendonitis right before racing in Switzerland, but that was a minor hiccup. Then in October I did something to my left foot to trigger plantar fasciitis. The week after that, I fractured some ribs in a bike crash (ouch!). The combo of those two events kept me from going to Long Course Duathlon Nationals in November and from enjoying a productive fall of running. I hoped to take a shot at <15:00 5K, and I think I had a good shot at it if it weren't for that damn heel!

I had also planned to retest 20 minute power in the fall - regrettably, that never happened.

Moving Forward: 2019


Objective goals:
  • Top-3 @ Powerman Zofingen/ITU World Championship
  • Top-3 @ Standard Distance Nationals
  • 20:00 @ 400W
  • <15:00 5K, <31:45 10K, OR <70:00 half marathon
  • Work on the second run - particularly hills for Zofingen
  • Work on TT position (comfort and aerodynamics) 
Less tangible, non-performance oriented:
  • Stay healthy
  • Respect my competitors, race organizers and volunteers
  • Continue to promote duathlon, especially here in the US (it's a fun sport!)
  • Live a healthy, balanced lifestyle as a husband, brother, son, coach, friend... and not just an athlete

Top-3 @ Powerman Zofingen may sound like a lofty goal - maybe it is. But, I know what it takes and I think I can do it. I know I can ride with the best there but I have to be smarter tactically (it would help if officials would enforce the drafting rules). I also have to improve my run, no doubt. I expect to be a dark horse again - but I like that. I'll show them Americans can "do the du" with the world's best. Just because triathlon dominates the multisport scene here doesn't mean we're not any good at duathlon. The only reason Americans don't come to Zofingen any more is because (on top of a $400 entry fee) it costs an arm and a leg to get there. Funny story... but I digress.

Like I've said before - it's easy to be critical. It's easy to say shoulda, woulda, coulda... the hard part is recognizing what you need to do to correct the mistakes you made or prevent yourself from repeating those mistakes all over again.

Fortunately, I think the mistakes I made this year should be easy to avoid in the future:

I was taking risks descending on a gravel road when I crashed my bike into a ditch and broke my ribs... It was a spectacular crash. I can't say I won't crash my bike in the future, these things happen.

But for the plantar fasciitis, I need to stretch my calves/achilles and feet more regularly. I also need incorporate more calf and foot strengthening exercises, especially early/off season. I've also discovered cross-frictional massage which seems to help a lot. Admittedly, I also rushed back into training a bit too quickly after Zofingen. I was excited about potentially running a 5K PR and racing Long Course Nationals - and this excitement drove me back to training just a couple weeks after the Powerman. In retrospect - I should have taken more downtime to rest. For the second run - I need to do more brick workouts. I think longer long runs will also help me with the 30K after 4.5 hours of racing. I also want to include more long hill reps in my build up to Zofingen this year.

With all the snow we have had recently, I've had to do A LOT of training indoors on the turbo. It's dreadfully boring, but it has given me an opportunity to work on getting comfortable in the aero position and practice holding it for long periods of time. I've busted out the GoPro camera a few times and gotten some footage for analysis. I'm certainly no expert on bike fit, but I am learning and I feel like I am finding a good position that is hopefully more aerodynamic, more comfortable and just as powerful. Perhaps I'll post some before and after images sometime... I also have a new rear disc wheel to race with this year.

Long term goals are difficult to evaluate at the moment - My wife and I do not know where we will be living in the fall. I don't know whether I will find a real job... I'd like to - but I'd also like to continue training and racing at the highest possible level. I still want to return to collegiate coaching - but I'd love to find a position that would allow me to continue to train for duathlon.

I think that about does it. The pieces will fall into place as the year progresses - Right now, I'm still working through some plantar fasciitis, but I have been able to run a few workouts in the last 3 weeks and the foot seems to be tolerating the increase in training load well. I believe Duathlon Nationals in Greenville, SC will be my first race of the year (April 14). I'll see what I have given the circumstances.

I have been working on a tentative racing schedule. Possible races include:

April 14 - Duathlon Nationals (Standard distance)
April 28 - Mount Rainier Duathlon
May 5 - Powerman Michigan
May 11 - Penticton Bare Bones Duathlon
May 18 - Run for the Hill of It (Lewiston, ID)
August 10 - Coeur d'Alene Duathlon
September 8 - Powerman Zofingen ITU LD Duathlon World Championship

Bert