Who is Ted?

I'm the father of two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife. For fun, I enjoy the long hours of seemingly endless suffering that endurance sports (mostly running, cycling and triathlon)provide. During my "down time" I'm an avid beer snob and self-described gourmet chef (in other words I like to burn things on a stove or grill).

Monday, February 16, 2015

Trainer Road Review . . . an update!

Last November, I joined Trainer Road in an effort to bring a little more intensity and purpose to my riding.  It is now about two months later and in that time, I've logged somewhere around 500 miles on the trainer.  All of these rides have been done using Trainer Road.  In short, TR has been a great tool for training so far this year.  Here are the benefits that I've noticed:

An affordable way to train with "Power":  Since I don't own a Power meter, I usually gauge my effort according to Heart Rate and/ or perceived exertion.  TR allows you to establish a virtual power based on the trainer that you use (they have a list of many different brands/ models, so you're likely to find yours).  Whether or not virtual power is completely accurate is difficult to say, but used consistently, it allows you to establish a basis for comparison with yourself, which is really what matters.  However, for a middle of the pack guy like me, it fits the bill at a nice price point.  In the nearly 30 rides that I've done, I've definitely developed a sense of what my effort feels like at different power levels. Since HR and cadence are also detailed on the TR software, it has helped me to get a sense of how hard I'm working at various stages in any given workout.
 I've also done two FTP tests using TR.   Each was an hour long ride building up to the last 20 minutes done as hard as is sustainable.  From that last 20 minnutes, an FTP is established.  Subsequent workouts are done in relation to this FTP so if a workout interval requires you to ride at 90% of your FTP, it will automatically adjust to that percentage.  The first test I did right after I joined TR.  I established an initial FTP of 182 on that ride.  In mid-January I completed a second FTP test with a score of 196 watts.  The graph from each test is listed below (Note: The initial test was set with FTP at 200 which was just a "guess" as I hadn't tested before.  The second test shows an FTP of 182, the result from the first test.  After the second test, a new FTP was established at 196).  I'll plan on doing another FTP test in about a month to see how I've progressed.
First FTP test in Late November with a result of 182 Watts.
Second FTP in January.  Result was an FTP of 196 Watts.
Increased frequency of rides:  The allure of data (along with the powerful incentive of working towards an Ironman) has been a strong incentive to get on the trainer and ride.  By the end of the month, I will have over 500 miles for the year (including 300+ this month).  This is way above my seasonal average.  I'll admit I'm a bit of a data nerd in this regard.  The opportunity to analyze the outputs from a ride are extremely satisfying and a great way to finish up after a workout.

More purposeful riding:  In the past, I would usually get on the trainer and spin at a steady cadence for somewhere between 30-50 minutes.  Very rarely would my ride extend beyond this level.  And while my average trainer ride is currently only at about 1.2 hours, they involve a lot less mindless spinning and much more purposeful training.  In the last few months, I've become familiar with everything from Isolated Leg Drills to Over and Unders to 30 second bursts at 130% of FTP.  The rides on TR do an excellent job of maximizing your workout time.  Now keep in mind that they aren't at the same level as the insane and appropriately named "Sufferfest" videos (that shit really is crazy!), but they also don't let you sit back and relax.

TR captures "Career" stats, documenting the data from all of your rides.
They also have a variety of extended training plans.  My introduction to TR was the "Sweet Spot" Low Volume training program that averaged about 3.5 hours of riding a week for 6 weeks. This was found in the "base training section" as all training plans are divided into either base, build, or specialty phases.  It was a great introduction and perfect for someone like me who was starting to ramp up their training.   After the Sweet Spot, I've moved on to a Triathlon program.  It's a Half-Distance Mid Volume plan that averages to 5.3 hours/ week (although many of them clock in at 6+ hours).  In a regular week, I will usually ride an hour on Monday, 75-90 minutes on Wednesday, and finish the week with a couple of 2 to 2.5 hour rides on Saturday and Sunday.  The creators of TR have promised an Iron-Distance program, but so far it has not materialized.  I'm hoping that it will soon, although I imagine I will begin to get outdoors a bit more as the weather warms.

A "snippet" of the Sweet Spot Plan.
Convenience= more time to train:  While not limited to TR, there is definitely truth in terms of the ease of going downstairs and getting on the trainer to ride.  Normally, getting ready for an outdoor ride takes a fair amount of time (even more if I'm driving somewhere to start).  With the trainer downstairs, this time is greatly reduced.  Given the fact that most of my weekday rides occur in the morning, there's simply no way that I could be riding outside, so there is definitely an advantage there.
But does it work?:  Last weekend the weather was just too nice to stay inside.  I decided to go for a 40 mile ride outdoors.  I looked at the planned two hour ride on TR that basically consisted of 4x25 minute intervals at a higher pace (still below FTP however).  Using my Garmin, I set up an interval workout to use during my ride, and although I didn't have the benefit of Power, I made an effort to ride at a higher cadence/ effort during each interval.  I rode the 40 mile route in just over two hours with an average speed of 19.7 mph.  I also noticed that my average cadence was 84 rpm.  This is an improvement from other rides where I usually average anywhere from 74-77 rpm.  Right now, my riding seems similar to where I would be in early to mid- Spring.  For the Ironman, I'm hoping that my average speed is not below 17 mph, so I feel like the time on the trainer is helping me to get closer to that goal.
Results of an outdoor ride after 2 months on TR.  
What lies ahead: I'll continue using TR as a regular training tool for the next 5 weeks or so.  That will put me into spring break where I hope to start integrating a few more outside rides (particularly on the weekends if the weather cooperates).  TR also has software that allows you to create custom workouts.  You can build a workout that includes different levels of workouts and adjusts to your FTP.  For example you can build warm-ups, interval sets, etc.  I'm working to set up a custom ride of about two hours that will help me to dial in the intensity that I'll need for IM Boulder.  No doubt it will take some tweaking, but it should be a good way to measure the intensity that I'll need against my current level of fitness.
TR is good if:

  • You want to train indoors, but find the trainer a bit boring.
  • You would benefit from having training plans and workouts available that meet your riding needs (whether that's triathlon, criteriums, or cyclecross).
  • You are time-crunched and need to use the trainer to get workouts completed.
  • You love data

You can skip TR if:

  • You plan to do more than 70% of your riding outdoors.
  • You just want to spin and aren't focused on a long term goal or plan.
  • You have no interest in data.
  • You don't ride a bicycle at all.
I'll continue to use TR during the next several weeks and I imagine that it will still play a big part in my training until early summer when my schedule "lightens up" a bit.  

Sunday, February 8, 2015

1 Month Down, 6 to go

It's still half a year, but somehow that milestone makes it feel very real! This past Monday marked the 6th month countdown to Ironman, a good time to do an update on my progress so far.  Overall, it has been a busy January and I've worked hard to start locking in those important habits in terms of training and nutrition that will pay off this summer.  It hasn't been perfect, but I feel that overall I'm off to a good start.

My January goal-  For the month of January my goal was to develop consistent training habits and not "miss" workouts unless I was injured or sick.  With about 32 workouts planned for the entire month, this was going to be no small feat to accomplish, especially with the long hours of work and some travel at the end of the month.  In the end I managed to hit 28 of those workouts, which is right around a 87% completion rate.  The workouts that I missed came at the end of the month when I battled a stomach illness for several days during my trip back east.  Thinking I was better, I did manage to get an hour ride on the exercise bike at  the hotel, only to be struck back down later that evening. It was a shitty experience . . . literally!  As a result, I didn't get the strong start into February that I'd hoped as I wound up taking about four days off just to make sure I could jump back into training closer to 100%.  

T.I.T.S.- My biggest focus area for training this year is "the bike."  I plan to spend more time on the bike, but I'm also working at riding with more intensity.  Through my first 5 years of triathlon training, I've put in plenty of miles to be sure, but they've tended to be longer rides or lower intensity.  What's more, they've tended to be spread out to the point where I might only ride 1-2 times over the course of a week.  Since I've added Trainer Road, I've upped that just a bit to at least 3 times a week although February calls for 4 rides a week.  These rides have been the most consistently intense rides that I've done.  From FTP tests, to Over and Under Intervals, to longer intervals, I'm riding at a much more intense level than I have before.  As a result, the rides are supplanting my running for the month to a certain extent.  I'm still running but that too is at a shorter distance with a little more intensity. A fair number of these runs are "off the bike" runs.  These aren't full "brick" workouts, just an attempt to stay comfortable running after cycling.  Looking back a year, I rode 9 times in January for a total of 150 miles. This year, my January totals were 12 rides with a total of 238 miles (I would have added another 60-80 miles had I not been sick).  For me, those are fairly high numbers when I look at my total volume over the last year.

Nutrition- At the beginning of January, I made a commitment to try and eat a lot better.  I had no plans to go Vegan or Paleo or anything of that nature.  I just wanted to try and eat better portions and healthier meals overall.  This has gone very well as I've found myself eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, and just cutting back quite a bit on junk.  When I do indulge, I'm trying to limit my intake a little bit, so if I decide to have some ice cream, I'll have a small dish instead of a giant bowl.  By eating more fruits and vegetables, and limiting my portions, I've found that I feel much better on a day to day basis.  My appetite has subsided a bit so I don't feel ravenous every time I sit down for a meal.  Between the training and the healthier eating, I've lost a fair amount of weight in the last month (about 12-15 lbs), a bit more than I'd like in fact, so I'll be looking at getting a few more calories into my daily diet.

Conclusion- Am I where I'd expected to be at the end of a month's training?  Well, I'd say I'm close. Even though I haven't managed to hit all of my training targets to a tee, I'm certainly there in terms of spirit.  Last month I only missed workouts due to not feeling well.  I've even managed to get up and get a few 5:00 a.m. workouts done, proving that an Ironman distance race is a great motivator! At any rate, I'm close enough to where I want to be to move into the next month of training with confidence.

Looking ahead- February is my month to really dial in those bike rides.  After adjusting for the time off in the first few days of the month, I'm looking at about 13 rides totaling a little over 300 miles.   Running and swimming are consistent but not a focus for the month.  In terms of nutrition, I will continue to eat healthy and manage portions.  I'm also going to work at taking in more nutrition/ hydration during exercise.  I've tended to neglect this aspect of my training, but I understand that I won't be able to just "get by" come Ironman.  Now is a good time to start experimenting with different options to see what will help maintain my energy levels without upsetting my stomach.  Today, I hope to get in my first ride outdoors since last September.  It will be interesting to see how it feels being out on the road instead of stuck in the basement on a trainer!