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