Thursday, 28 February 2013

43 > 21… in many ways!

Evening folks! Sitting here at 10 p.m. trying to log this week's sessions before diving into some more homework marking. And you thought schools finished at 3:30 p.m.!!!

Well, I turned 43 on Wednesday and had a great day. Got some funny cards, a few renditions of Happy Birthday (thanks Marc!) and some lovely presents (a new Rapha Softshell Team SKY Pro Cycling jacket to be exact!). I'm really looking forward to using this outside in the next few weeks. Had a lie-in on my birthday which was such a luxury - that extra hour in bed was definitely needed. But the training continued in the evening - no rest for the wicked (I must have been very naughty in a previous existence)…

It's been a really busy and enjoyable month, training has gone well and I've racked up the hours in the pool, on the bike and on the hoof.

February statistics:

53 Activities

Covered 851 km

Exercised for 52 hours, 37 minutes and 10 seconds

Elevation gain of at least 2,276 m (and that's not counting all the treadmill runs at 5%)

Average heart rate of 126 bpm

Average cadence of 91 rpm

Burned 33,429 kCalories

So March is almost here and we're only 4 months (or 121 days) away from the big day.

And for the post title? Well, you'll know that 43 is greater than 21… but if you'd asked me back in 1991 if I'd be fitter at 43 than at 21 I'd have laughed… thankfully I'm still grinning now, I think this is the fittest I've ever been. It looks like it's never too late to get exercising, so set yourself a goal, no matter how large or small and take the first steps to a new improved you!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Another busy week!

It's been another busy week this week. So far I've done 8 hours exercise, averaging 2 hours per day given Monday is a rest day. Tomorrow I'm heading back out with the ATHelite team for a long cycle and Sunday is a fairly short run (only down for 1 hour)... depending on the weather I may make this a little longer!

After using ankle bands in the pool on Tuesday I can confirm that my legs are actually made from lead. After two laps using the bands, a pool buoy and paddles I was essentially walking up and down the pool (trying not to drown). Don Corleone could use these instead of concrete shoes when sending folks to 'sleep with the fishes'.

Tonight's swim session was cut short since the Swim Team at Virgin Active Lanarkshire would find it difficult to organise an escape from a paper bag. Two weeks ago we were told that the swim club was going to be split into 2 groups, one at 5:30 p.m. and one an hour later so that one lane would be free for club members to swim laps. However, tonight the 5:30 p.m. session actually started at 6:10 p.m. with both sets of young swimmers taking up both lanes… Seemingly they'd tried to contact all the parents to let them know - although 75% of the folks I talked to had not been informed. It turned out they were using a phone number that I'd changed 4 and a 1/2 years ago - looks like their record keeping skills could do with a little TLC. So I only managed 35 minutes tonight, not too bad, but I was hoping to squeeze in an hour (aiming for 3km). Grrrrrrrrrr!!!! Rant over! I'll feel better about it once I've refuelled with curry/rice/nan bread and a beer or two!

The cycle and run sessions are now introducing short, high intensity bursts into the endurance sessions. These help to increase cardio-vascular fitness, speed and help to stretch out where your lactate threshold kicks in - i.e. you can run harder for longer. They can be pretty challenging (and super sweaty when training indoors) but they actually break the monotony of the session and help to give your mind something to focus on. That's one area of training that I've not gone into much at present as most of the work has been training the body to cope with the constant exercise - as time progresses I'll need to come up with strategies to keep my mind focused, and positive, for the duration of the race.

Anyway, on happy topics I treated myself to some trick new carbon fibre wheels for my road bike this week. The 52 mm deep section carbon rims should aid aerodynamics and help the bike slice through the air… that's the plan, although if that fails they do look uber cool  :-)

Remember, all of my detailed training sessions are updated (pretty much daily) in the Training Logs tab at the top of the page… If you really want data, click on the Detailed Garmin Training Logs tab and then click any of the blue hyperlinks to be whisked off to the Garmin Connect site where there is more data than you can shake a big stick at!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Pushing it to the max!

Well, I'm just back from my VO2 max test on the treadmill at the University of the West of Scotland.  Only about 14 minutes of exercise - but enough to max out my heart rate at 180 bpm.

In order to correctly determine this value you are connected up to a gas analyser that measure how much Oxygen (O2) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) you are breathing in and out. It's not exactly the most comfortable thing to be connected to, and even 2 hours after the test I can still feel where the nose clips have been pinching!

The start of the test is basically standing still for 3 or 4 minutes whilst the computer collects baseline data, then the treadmill was turned on to 9 km/hour for about 5 minutes allowing me to get warmed up for the test. Then the fun really starts. Each minute the speed is increased by 1km/hour. I managed to complete a minute at 18 km/hr before deciding that flying off the back off the back of the treadmill whilst connected to a very expensive piece of equipment may not be the best idea. Probably a wise decision!

Could I have managed another minute at 19 km/hr? Possibly, but as it turned out I had reached my maximum heart rate anyway and the data had levelled off (reached a plateau) so I'm not sure whether the scientists could have obtained any more useful data.

You're probably wondering what this VO2 max stuff is and why it's important…

Here comes the science!!!

According to
VO2 (or oxygen consumption) is a measure of the volume of oxygen that is used by your body to convert the energy from the food we eat (which is stored in our muscles) into the energy molecules, called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), that your body uses at the cellular level. VO2max (or maximal oxygen consumption) is simply the maximum possible VO2 that a given person can achieve. VO2 and VO2max are important in the context of exercise, because they are a measure of your body's ability to generate ATP, and ATP is the energy source that allows your muscles to continue working while you are exercising. Therefore, by definition, a VO2max measurement is ultimately a measure of your cardiorespiratory fitness level.  

There are a number of what are called 'energy pathways' in the body but to keep things simple, let's consider the two main types of fuel; carbohydrates and fat. The body stores carbohydrate as glycogen and typically we have around 3 hours worth of supply for an intensive exercise like running. We have many, many more hours (days/weeks/months!) supply of fuel in the form of body fat.

The body can process this fuel in one of two ways: aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen). You can think of this as a sliding scale as you begin to exercise your body will work aerobically at low intensities and then as you work progressively harder, the anaerobic pathway begins to kick in before becoming the dominant way of producing energy when you are pushing your body to the limit!

When working hard anaerobically your body starts to produce a chemical called lactate and hydrogen ions. As these hydrogen ions build up they create an acid which cause the 'burn' in your muscles. After a while this stops (or inhibits) your muscles from moving - essentially a warning from the body's central nervous system - forcing you to stop before you cause further damage. At this point you've had it and you can no longer keep on going! Not ideal when competing in an endurance race such as triathlon.

The other energy pathway is aerobic - i.e. your body is consuming oxygen together with fat and glycogen stored in your body. We can liken this to burning a candle: the glycogen is the wick and the fat is the candle. Fat stores a great deal more energy than carbohydrate, however, it is a slow burning fuel and is therefore better suited to longer, less intensive exercise.

The reason the VO2 tests are really important are they determine how hard you can work in both your aerobic and anaerobic zones. Essentially the data will provide a heart rate zone (zones 1-4 as mentioned previously in my blog) which helps the athlete to ensure they stay in their aerobic exercise zone, burning as much fat as possible, and not depleting their glycogen stores in the body. Staying aerobic is the goal for long endurance races such as Ironman.

You may have heard of some people hitting 'the wall' in a marathon… this is because over 20 miles or so they have been working too hard for their aerobic system to cope and have slowly but steadily been burning their carbohydrate stores (anaerobically). Once these are gone, that's it and the body starts to break down the protein in the muscles to put glucose back into the bloodstream to ensure the brain's continued survival! The brain is telling the body "(almost) game over" - you're slowing right down, generally to a crawl!!!

Hopefully that now makes a great deal more sense and why I subjected myself to the following tests:

My VO2 max treadmill test - definitely needing to jump off the treadmill at the end of this!

I'm waiting for the full data and analysis on both the bike and run and I'll post it up when I receive it from Zak. Many thanks to everyone there; Zak, John and Chris for the use of the facilities - I hope you get as much out of my data as I will :-)

The data will help to ensure I'm working hard enough on the bike and run so that I build up my aerobic endurance without pushing it too far. 

So what did I get? My VO2max value was 46.6 ml/kg/min - nowhere near the highest recorded value of 90 ml/kg/min of a Norwegian cross country skier, but high enough (according to Heyward et. al.) to put me in the excellent category for my age. Pleased with that!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Now entering the build phase!

This week is the first week in the build phase of the training plan. According to Mr Fink we gradually include some high intensity sessions in both the run and the bike and in a few weeks I'll do a practice race. This may be at the training camp during the Easter holidays or done at home.. probably an Olympic distance race (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run). Part of me thinks this will be a good idea and another part thinks that it may just suddenly dawn on me how long the Ironman distance actually  is… Until then, I'll carry on in blissful ignorance and keep telling myself that if I stick with the plan everything will be great on the day ;-)  Ahhhh the power of positive thinking.

Tomorrow I'm off for my VO2 max test on the treadmill - I'm looking forward to the results, if not the torturous 20 minutes or so connected up via face masks to a gas analyser… Once I get all the data I'll explain what it all means and how it will help to structure the rest of my training: train smarter not harder!!!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The first brick...

An eventful few days so far this week! Nick's great Chi-running course on Saturday, Monday off but rushing about all over, so would hardly call it a rest day and then on Tuesday I had my first proper VO2 test on the bike. I'll explain more about this in a separate post once I get my hands on the data. I'm scheduled to go back on on Friday to do another VO2 test but this time on the treadmill.

Tonight was the first brick session: a bike ride very quickly followed by a run. If you've never watched a triathlon before, get yourself along and check out the transition 2 area… this is where the triathletes who have already completed the swim and bike have to jump off their mean machines and start running. The first time I did this at the Stirling Sprint triathlon I thought I was having an out of body experience… my legs felt totally disconnected - I took a few wobbles before eventually getting the signals in tune so I could control my wayward legs!

Tonight I belted along on the bike for 45 minutes, pushing pretty hard at 90 rpm to maintain my heart rate around 140 bpm whilst trying to distract myself from the pain by watching the Man U vs. Real Madrid game on the telly. 45 minutes have never passed so slowly and the final few minutes seemed to drag until the magical 45:00 came up on the Garmin and I jumped off, removed my bike shoes and got the running shoes on. I started off at my usual 5% incline and 5.5 mph but this felt very slow coming off the bike so I steadily decreased the incline and upped the speed until things felt more natural. I managed to get up to about 9 mph keeping the heart rate in zone 2 until 15 minutes had passed and then it was time for cool-down and leg stretches followed by a protein shake.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled for another 1 hour cycle and a swim session so I suspect the alarm will be going off at 5:30 a.m. With that in mind, I'll sign off for now!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chi-running Part 2

Back at Pollok Park again today for a refresh on Chi running with Nick Constantine.

Another great day of drills and feedback on the technique - I spent as much time as possible running as it was rather on the nippy side, even for a Geordie!

My good lady wife came along too - a refresh on a course she did with Danny Dreyer over in Ireland many moons ago. I remember looking after the kids in Dublin, going to the zoo and sampling the Guinness, how times have changed!

I'll post up more thoughts once I receive the feedback and video files from Nick - I'm currently still trying to defrost.

Been a bit of a frustrating week up until this point, a fairly innocuous head-cold turned into a 30 minute long nose-bleed on Wednesday which messed up the training. Turned out the cold and flu medication I'd taken to relieve the congestion had a 'rare' side effect of 'excessive bleeding' - yep, now you tell me! I think I'll just wait the cold out next time around.

Getting into the new training plan from Don Fink - what look like easy(ish) sessions on paper turn out to be a little bit more challenging. The 1 hour and 15 minutes in aero position on the tri bike at a cadence of over 100 rpm was a very sweaty affair and boy, was I pleased to get off the saddle at the end of that session :-)

Just a 3 hour Zone 2 cycle planned for tomorrow - gulp!

FFWD 24 hours...

Right, it's Sunday evening and I've just replenished my calories after a decent day's training. Spent 3 hours - yep, 180 minutes, on my turbo trainer pedalling like crazy this morning whilst watching Oliver Stone's JFK. Maybe not the greatest film to watch whilst on the turbo as the noise was blocking out some of the dialogue but it was one of the few films in my collection that was long enough to cope with the session!

I've just received the following video highlights from Nick Constantine (Chi-running instructor extraordinaire) from both my first course in November and the follow-up course yesterday.  It's worth a watch if you've ever thought you'd like to change or improve your running technique:

Chi running course: before and after 

Like I said to Nick, the best analogy I can think of is my running prior to the course was like driving with the handbrake on; expending a lot of energy, not reaching the speeds I knew I was capable of and more prone to damage. Following the course the handbrake has been released; the ‘soft machine' now flows, it’s much more efficient  and I’m running with a grin on my face. I now actively look forward to my run sessions.

Many thanks to Nick for the truly excellent coaching - this is going to make a significant difference on the 30th June 2013 and for many years to come.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A new use for long films...

Well today I was scheduled for a 2 hour 45 minute bike ride, despite the fact the weather was reasonably ok for February I'm sticking with the indoor turbo trainer until I am 100% comfortable with the aero position.

Now, once you're midway through a session like that you really don't want to get off and change the TV… there is a distinct possibility of not getting back on the bike!

I checked through my video collection and found the perfect distraction; Gladiator.

Organised a couple of bottle of water and some yummy banana flavoured energy bars and commenced pedalling.

2 hours and 50 minutes later and I was glad to go and stand under the shower - although I used up all the hot water (allegedly) so I'm now in the bad books with my better half - her shower was rather chilly it seemed!  Ooops.

So this week I've put in 12 hours and 25 minutes exercise, covering 186km. I'm looking forward to a rest day tomorrow… now I'm off to walk the dogs :-)

Saturday, 2 February 2013


Thankfully not a true flat-line in the sense of the word, otherwise writing this would prove difficult! Heart rate data from today's treadmill run; 90 minutes at 5% incline and 9.0 km/hour (6:49 / km):

Managed to burn 1,347 kCalories - but there is a curry on the way so I'll be replacing those food stores soon!

Still doing most of my training in zone 1 (<80% maximum heart rate). For me, this is less than about 151 bpm. This is an approximation at present but hopefully over the coming weeks I'll get some more scientific data on lactate thresholds and VO2max values and explain what it all means in terms of fitness levels and training...

Friday, 1 February 2013

Hello February!

Well January turned out to be a good month of training. Still in base training phase - the bigger runs and cycles will build up gradually over the next few weeks.

January statistics:

61 Activities:

Distance: 428.1km

Time: 42 hours 9 minutes and 6 seconds

Average heart rate: 123 bpm

Average bike cadence: 86 rpm

Burned: 24,956 kCalories

No wonder this is the most used room in my house:

February has started well: 57 minutes of running and stretches this morning and 56 minutes of swimming this evening. I'm certainly ready for tea now - have a great weekend!

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