Sunday, March 10, 2013

Catching Fire, Calendar Patterns and the Incompatibility of SC and LC

I've been keeping the triathlon logs smoldering since the physical and mental throwdown I took from one Cerro Aconcagua.  Readers of these missives will have noted my slow climb back from that nadar over the last 4-6 weeks.  Well this week, the smoke turned into fire.  Its not a blazzing conflagration by any stretch but I definitely caught fire training wise this week.

And what a strange week it was weather-wise.  Saturn threw us for a loop M-W and then a fair approximation of spring broke out down the stretch and low and behold the abundant joys of training, and yes, riding, outside!  With any luck the weather will continue to improve and my body will hold together and I'll begin to snap into early season shape in the relative near-term.

This week featured hill/speed work on the run, a pair of 2,500 yard swim sessions and a bike FTP test that registered 242 watts (yes I know this is low for me at this point--normally around 270-280 watts at this point in the year) but I did it in the midst of a high TSS week and in any event, I'm expecting to add 20+ watts over the next few weeks....

Here were the week's aggregate totals:

Swim: 8,500 yards
Bike: 218 miles
Run: 37 miles
Cross-train: 3 hours
Total time: 25:39

While not a true Ironman training week, these totals would not look entirely out of place in my 14-week IM build and this was 8+ more hours than any prior week this year.  This might seem rash but with my 12-year base and my recent training work I could feel that my body was ready for a week like this.

On the analytical front, I have been reveiwing how my prior seasons have typically unfolded to see if there were any lessons to be learned from calendar patterns.  The first exhibit is a chart that plots my 126 races by month over the last 12 years:

The above chart depicts what I suspect most people would expect--that my peak months for racing are in the summer.  It also shows that I have raced in all but Jan, Feb, and Dec.  As I looked at this and other related data I reflected on how I have tended to break the racing season up into 4 distinct phases.  They are:

Pre-season: January-April
Early-season: May-June
Mid-season: July-August
Late-season: Septermber-December

Why this is so is not immediately apparent from the above chart.  To get a better sense of my race patterns consider the chart below:

This chart depicts the distribution (as measured by percent) of my races and of the time I raced by month.  The blue line is the same as in the first chart except that it's expressed in percentage terms.  The red shows how this distribution shifts when expressed in terms of time raced as oppossed to just simply the number of races.

What should be evident is the dramatic shift towards the right when we plot time.  The reason for this is my emphasis on long-course racing latter in the year (and conversely my emphasis on SC, especially sprints in the earlier part of the year).

So the four parts of my season split out this way (% of races, % of time):

Pre-season:  12, 8
Early-season: 34, 24
Mid-season: 33, 27
Late-season: 21, 41

Let me add one more chart and then I'll tie my racing and training strategy together and the illustrate the basic incompatibility of SC and LC training and racing.  The next chart shows my win and podium percentage by month:
It should be clear that relative to my AG, I tend to do better earlier in the season.  My win percentage peaks in pre-season and my podium percentage peaks in the early season.  I hit a lull in the mid-season and then have a little resurgence in September before falling dramatically off in the rest of the late season.

Why is this?  Well (not surprisingly) it has to do with my approach to training as compared to my AG competitors approach to training over time.  Here is the thesis in bullet point form:

-- I'm a "B" level triathlon talent (more accurately, I'm a B at swimming, an A at biking, and a C at running).  However, and I have a lot of comparative data with the hard core folks at Slowtwitch, I tend to train considerably more than my competition--especially early in the season.

-- I tend to put in lots more training effort during the winter months than my competition and this training tends to be focused more towards speed/quality than endurance/quantity.  As a result, I am more fit for Sprint and SC races in the pre and early season periods.  This is why I am relatively successful early in the year (I have 61% of my wins in just 46% of my races in these periods).

--By May, as the weather improves and then increasingly thereafter, my competition at these sprints are now coming into form and my win and podium percentages fall off.  Here, I began to be beaten by stronger athletes who are now matching my sprint specific training and fitness.

-- As I approach the mid season I generally turn my attention to preparing for and then executing LC specific training.  While this leads to more training stress and a higher level of pure fitness, it reduces my sprint/SC specific fitness.  To illustrate consider two key bike workouts.  Early in the season my key bike workout might be something like: 10 min wu/5X(8min@115% of FTP/4min easy)/10 min wd.  This might yeild a TSS in the low 100s.  During LC preparation my key bike might be: 6 hour ride with 4 hours at 75% of FTP which would yield a TSS of 200+.  In the former case, I am training explicitly for a sprint bike leg and the aggregate stress from the workout is not that bad.  In the later, I'm doing nothing to help myself with sprint fitness AND I am generating a lot of fatigue--I'm a lot more tired when I'm banging out 30+ hour IM build weeks!

-- Still, I like to race in the mid-season, it's just that I train through these races and I'm often very fatigued and certainly not tapered.  Plus, my SC sharpness dispates as I pile on the miles and ignore supra-FTP workouts.

-- September is a tweener month--I'm very fit then and I'm often tapering or at least very used to high training volume.  My competition often calls it a season around Labor Day and so my percentages spike.

--The rest of the late-season is all about LC/IM racing (8 of my 11 IMs in this period).  Here, while I am very fit IM-wise, it's just a whole lot harder to win, place or show at Kona than it is at the Hammonton Sprint (Joe Bonness is tougher to beat than Mickey Syrop)--thus my numbers plummet down the stretch.

Now in theory, I could raise my win/podium percentages by focusing on one or the other.  Indeed in 2009, I just did SC and in my 14 races I had 8 wins and 6 seconds.  However, I have found that I like to do both.  I have tried to incorproate both SC and LC key workouts at the same time but this 55-YO body quickly breaks down (I'll leave that approach to 25 YOs or pros).

So in case you were wondering why I crush it early in the season only to get wumped in the dog-days of summer, now you know.....

The above has helped me refine my pre and early season race plans which I'll share with you shortly.

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