Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

French Creek Triathlon: Win and a CR

In the professional side of triathlon, 'times are a changin'. While a few years ago, olympic distance and half distance racing had prize purses in many series (REV 3, 5150, etc.) but as of this year, the number of races with prize purses has dwindled further to some Challenge half distances, ITU events (where one must be doing well in a world cup to break even), the full distance ironman events, and then some local races. My friend, and fellow professional triathlete/race director John Kenny, put his money where his passion is and put up a decent prize purse for a local triathlon. Because of this, I decided to race here at French Creek (1 hour away) versus Challenge Knoxville (9 hours). In the end, I ended up winning, setting a course record, and volunteering at the kids race the day before. It was a great event and I would love to see more local races putting up small purses and using local pros to their advantage (volunteering, clinics, etc.)

Here is a little recap of the race.

Swim: 18:17, 2nd behind Pierre, a solid triathlete with a swimming background from University of Pittsburgh. I tried to hold his feet to the best of my ability, and we ended up putting a solid gap into the rest of the field in the two loop swim. He exited the water 6 seconds in front of me.

T1: 35 seconds and got out on the bike course first.

Bike:1:11:50, fastest split. The bike is a hard and hilly ride. About 2400 ft climbing during the 24.6 mile leg. My race file is here:

The course is two times out and back with two significant climbs/descents each direction. I saw a speed >50 mph on my garmin on one of the downs and was happy with that. My plan was to go very hard up the hills and recover a bit down but keep spinning my legs and stay very aero. I saw by the first turn around, I had about 2 minutes on second and then 4 minutes at the half way mark. I felt like I eased up the second lap a little but was only 10 seconds slower. I came into T2 with ~9 minute lead

Run: 36:20, fastest split by 3 mins. To try an elucidate how hard of a course this run is might be a job better suited for a dramatic poet. You climb and climb and climb for 4 miles. When you think you will turn around, you continue on a fire road path to the top of a small "peak" at French Creek around 1100 feet (Transition is 300 feet). I saw that Philly Pro Tri teammates Zach Smith and Luke Davis were in 2nd and 5th, respectively and was pretty pumped to share the podium with friends.

The other positive of these local races is representing local sponsors that help support triathlon. Kevin  McCauley from Square One Investments (not only spectated, but took all of these pictures!) and all of Team Philly Pro Tri were at the race, which is fantastic as I am supremely thankful for their support.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spring 2015

I have not updated this in awhile, and I attribute that to racing not going very well and a general lack of time to get training and triathlon related things done in the winter, which caused a lack luster spring.

This winter and early spring, I had some great life related things happen: I defended my masters thesis, got accepted into a PhD program at CU Boulder in the Neurophysiology of movement lab (along with my girlfriend) and have submitted two papers for peer reviewed publication. This has however, left my triathlon and running times a bit behind. But, it is turning around!

I started with a very early season race, February 1st, in Punta Guilarte, Puerto Rico where I placed 13th, but I was really out of the race after a poor swim in big chop. I believed I was in good shape coming off a strong January but the swim was decisive and the race went down hill from there. I opted to not race Clermont/Sarasota continental cups due to a general lack of fitness as they were right around when my thesis defense was. Instead, I raced a road 5k (15:12) and two track races that did not go so well. It is interesting how a poor race can have two results: either motivate you or depress you. My first race of the year in Puerto Rico was the latter, and I was down on racing and traveling far to compete. I even took a week off riding and had very low numbers otherwise during February. After getting many academic obligations accomplished, my last track race at Penn Relays did the opposite. I was disappointed with my time, but the next day I was motivated. I put in two really solid weeks (and had been training pretty well for the 4- weeks prior). I had a fresher perspective on training and wanted to race with the goal of mentally and physically putting myself on the line. That is what I always have enjoyed most about racing, the sheer pain that brings the satisfaction of a job well done.

I raced Delaware Half marathon on Sunday, 5/10. I had a bit of pressure as defending champion, but there was a stellar field with Mo Trafeh's former training partner, Ryan Lee, Darryl Brown, Daniel Hoyne, Dave Berdan (1:05 half guy from Baltimore), and a couple of younger guys that were running well. I had been mostly displeased as a result of not really putting myself out there in races and was determined to change that trend today. I wanted to rattle the cages, stick my nose into the race, and get a lot out of myself. On a hot and (99%) humidity day, we went out in 5:04 with two africans, 15:25 at 3 miles and 26:10 at 5 miles before the hills really kick up. While I couldn't hold pace with Youffif, Dan Hoyne and I ran together until mile 10, where he put in a solid move that I could not counter. The difference today was that I put myself in that position to be up there, where in previous races I have not. I am excited to keep this trend up.

I race next weekend at French Creek tri followed by Challenge Williamsburg, Philly Tri, and Challenge St. Andrews. That brings the season to July, where I will be moving to Boulder and will reevaluate what races to do once I get settled in.

I want to thank my mom for cheering at a 7 am start on mother's day! and Melissa for coming by. Also, I am so thankful for sponsors for 2015: Square One Investments, Philly Pro Tri, PowerBar.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The simplified statistics behind the most recent running debate

Very recently, a paper was published in the American College of Cardiology Foundation about the supposed dangers of strenuous running. Alex Hutchinson, from Sweat Science did a great piece that summarizes the results well and points out potential flaws in how many are interpreting their results.

I am going to digress discussing triathlons for this entry in favor of delving into the statistics in this study that says running more than 20 MPW and fast could be dangerous. The original paper may be Found here and Alex Hutchinson's review here:

This journal article has quickly gained recognition as "proof" that running too much can be dangerous for your health. While this is true (anything in excess can be dangerous), there is not enough evidence that 20 MPW is the cut off for health and overtraining. There are certainly hazards to overly stressing one's body, but those are generally outweighed with moderate exercise. The other problem is the average American is nowhere near that maximal border, and much closer to the minimal border, which is costing healthcare billions, not to mention decreasing the quality of life for many. The current state of society may need more encouragement to exercise, not excuses to skip.

In this study, a large group of individuals was followed since 2001 and assessed for mortality rates. Fairly complex statistical methods called Cox proportional hazard regression analysis was used to interpret the results because the study did not have what is referred to as a "balanced design." Without a balanced design, each group has a different number of individuals, and each group has very different vital statistics (age, BMI, etc.), and is referred to as non homogenous. Because of that, simple comparison of average death rates is not possible. In order to rectify this, certain assumptions must be made and adjustments made to their formulae that should take into account the covariate of age. There are inherent risks whenever such assumptions are made, and whenever possible, a balanced design is more helpful. For a more basic analysis of the numbers, see below.

The four groups analyzed were as follows (the number in paraenthesis being the total number of individuals in the group) 1. sedentary (413), 2. light (576), 3. moderate (262), and 4. strenuous (40). As you can see, the numbers are far from being balanced. This creates a basic problem when trying to compare averages. At the most basic comparison, one would want to compare average mortality rates across groups. (Note: the actual data analysis used Cox proportional regression analysis, but this is a simplified explanation). An simple comparison (ANOVA, or analysis of variance) would be an incorrect assessment tool because it does not take into account covariates. For this explanation, however, we will discuss the fundamental ideas behind the results.

A basic rule of statistics is, when you have a large number of subjects, you have more "statistical power" meaning you can detect smaller and smaller differences between groups. For a hypothetical example, if you have two groups of 500 individuals, and one group receives a medical intervention, where the other gets placebo. After six weeks, you can detect a relatively small difference in the effectiveness of the drugs. A difference as small as 12 people could be seen as "significant". However, if your sample size is 50, you need a far grater difference between the groups to detect a "significant" difference. "Significant" here refers to statistical significance, where you accept a 5% likelihood that your results will not detect an effect that is actually there. Whether or not statistical significance always equates to real world significance is a topic for a different entry. When you have small numbers (such as the last group), it becomes very difficult to detect small differences because there is more chance of random events affecting your results (such random events could be a death unrelated to running). If each group had 500 subjects, smaller differences could be detected, but because there are small numbers in some groups, the analysis loses statistical power. With the small sample size in the strenuous group, it becomes difficult to show if there was a significant difference in death rate from no running (which had a high sample size).

While it would be very inappropriate to compare direct proportions of deaths because the groups were very different in age groups. A simple comparison of death rates would yield:

Sedentary: 31%
Light: 1.21 %
Moderate: 3%
Strenuous: 5%

This data only gives four data points, and would suggest that doing some running, significantly decreases your death risk (you can do a simple ANOVA and see all groups are significantly better than the sedentary group). The problem is this data is misleading, but one could speculate that the root cause of misleading data is because the groups were sampled at such different age ranges. These data do not give statistically significant differences between light, moderate, and strenuous runners. One cannot tease out the effect of different starting age on death rate versus the level of running on death rate.

Using adjustment equations, the group goes on to say that a U shape curve exists where moderate exercise is optimal for lower mortality rates, but given the above data, can we be so sure we have found it? Given their survival data equations, they adjusted for age and claimed that the light running group had the lowest mortality rate. While this is fair, if you take away the sedentary group and just compare the three running groups, 1.21, 3, and 5% mortality rates, is there a glaringly obvious answer? Not necessarily because back to the original point. The groups are not evenly matched for numbers. The strenuous group only had 40 subjects and two died. If one died, 2.5% would be the death rate, and if three died, 7.5% would be the rate. Compare that to the light group, if one extra person died, the rate would change from only 1.21% to 1.39%! You would need 22 more people in the light jogging group to die for the rate to go all the way to 5%! Simple 'back of the envelope' calculations reveal that you need a much larger shift in death rates to change the death rates in the light running group.This illustrates the point of needing equal sample sizes pretty well.

When it comes down to the root of the issue, addicted runners will likely not stop running (as they love it), but it is possible to change the attitude of sedentary individuals, and they may be encouraged to exercise. The authors do not argue against exercise, and one is a doctor who freely admits exercise is very beneficial (though we are not sure of the optimal level). This data can only hurt those individuals who we need to be encouraged to exercise. News articles will read "Running; too much may be dangerous" because it is a catchy headline. They will not tout the fact that running at all made for much lower mortality rates, because that is "old" news. The research done in this article is sound research, but the interpretations are crossing into dangerous when news outlets read them! It is important to take a step back, simplify what they found, and try to understand what the data really suggests at it's core. Moderation is key for any aspect of life, and each individual is likely going to respond differently to doses of running, so don't stop exercising!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Physiology of Bike Training

I have wanted to follow up on a plan I wrote out for run training in triathlon (or just in general) since last year, but have been too busy! Now biking is probably my "weak" point of triathlon, but it's not for lack of understanding of how to improve, but just is a long process! Below is a good method to follow if you are just getting into building fitness on the bike.

Similar to the run, biking requires muscular and cardiovascular fitness. I separate the two types of fitness because by simply running or swimming a lot, one will build plenty of cardiovascular fitness, but it is not specific to the musculature responsible for propelling you forward on a bike. However, there are a lot of cross over gains to be achieved by high volume swimming and running, to get good at biking, one must bike a lot. In George Hincape's book, he mentions, "he who is on their bike the longest, usually prevails." Outside of doping issues, this is a realistic statement. In order to build a robust musculature and aerobic system for biking, many individuals will improve with simply 12 weeks of "base" building, where total mileage increases are the focus.

In the base phase, a lot of people think it only means long and slow riding. I do not recommend only long and slow riding because not only it is tough to stay motivated to do that, but scientifically your body needs a new stimulus every 6-8 weeks to keep adapting. During this base phase of 12 weeks, most of the riding will be easy, by necessity. If it were too hard, injuries will occur because too much volume and too much intensity is not sustainable. Take the average number of hours/week you were riding in the previous year and try to increase by as much as your schedule will allow. Personally, I rode between 8-10 hours/week in my base before, and in this build, I am trying to sustain 12-15 hours per week. It is important to not neglect your other events if you are training for triathlon, but if you are simply riding… ride away! During this base period, I have a few 'go to' workouts that break up the monotony, but should be planned on days when you will not be overly fatigued before. Examples of these workouts are:
30 minute- 1:30 'tempo' ride. Tempo is really a nebulous term that gets thrown around a lot, but I personally like to think of it as "comfortably uncomfortable." Perhaps a more finite description would be applicable, so I try to ride around 160-165 HR, which represents 70-80% of a maximal HR. The important part of these is that your power (or speed, or feeling) improves through the base phase. If you start out the year riding 30 minutes at 250 watts within this zone, hopefully you can maintain that for 1 hour or 1:30 by the end and the 30 minute tempos are now slightly better, say 275- 280 watts. For me, I like to begin the base by pacing off feeling and HR, and reading associated power numbers as my 'output.' As the season looms, power becomes the 'input' or the pace you plan to ride.
During this time, some other 'fun' drills can be employed during long rides (especially if you are forced to be on the trainer) as they can build power but also break up monotony. Power is made of two components; force and velocity. Overgear work can be useful to put your bike into a gear in which you will ride at 50-60 RPM to work on the force component of power. Undergear work can be used to boost your maximal cadence and may help with neural facilitation. Examples of this would be 10 by 30 seconds at 120-140 RPM.

After this longer base period, a robust musculoskeletal system has been crafted, and it is time to really begin to hone in on race specific training. Total mileage or hours/week will stay relatively high initially but the focus begins to shift to having more quality over sheer quantity. For the next 4-6 weeks, workouts such as 8 * 5minutes with 3 minutes recovery should be performed with the goal intensity being best average. This ideally can be measured by power output during each 8 minute interval. Recording HR data is useful to pair HR and power data ad hoc. Other workouts are variations of this: 4 by 10 minutes, 10 by 6 minutes, etc.
During this period, the weekly long ride should be continued as the increases in capiliarization are generally always beneficial. If you are training for a longer distance race, incorporating race specific pacing to these longer rides can be beneficial too. For those longer races, I believe it is crucial to maintain the "long tempo" ability to suffer, so 40 minute - 1:30 minute blocks of "tempo" riding as before are helpful. Similarly, the longer the race, the less intense the race pace should be, so these longer blocks begin to be close to race pace.

The final 'block' I want to write about includes the last 2-3 weeks prior to racing. After a longer base period and a strong interim 4-6 weeks of relatively high mileage with solid workouts, it begins time to taper or refocus depending on your season goals. If you have an "A" race coming up, now is the time to reduce mileage and increase intensity in shorter workouts such as 10 by 2 minutes with 2 minutes recovery or a pyramid of 1,2,3,4,8,4,3,2,1 with best average being the goal.
On race week, it is completely about doing what you need to succeed. A lot of people think this means take time off, but this strategy does not work for everybody. Steve Magnuss has written a few useful articles on maintaining muscle tension before races. This means we should still have that "strong" feeling about ourselves and intensity should be performed on race week, but the extraneous mileage should be decreased. I like to have my last hard workout three days prior to the race, and it includes something like 5 by 5 minutes on the bike or 1,2,3,3,2,1 fartlek running. After that, it is all about recovering for the race.

I got a lot of great feedback on my running training post, so please feel free to contact me with questions or comments.

Happy training

Monday, September 22, 2014

Princeton 71.8

At the beginning of this year, I wrote down a few goals. I did not achieve all of them, but that is ok. Many of them were for the future, not specifically this year. One goal pertinent to this year (and really every year) was not to DNF any races unless I absolutely could't move anymore. This half ironman in Princeton was an example of a race I wanted to DNF, but I remembered my goal and soldiered through a really rough day.

                                               Here is an apt description of how I felt today.

Anyway, to the race. There were definitely some positive parts and good take aways from the day.

Swim: 24:09- 3rd out of the water behind super swimmer David Kahn and Drew Scott. I had the intentions of swimming lead pack, and I was very happy to be comfortably swimming in the front group sitting on Drew's feet. We took a bit of a wide line on the bouy line coming home, but I saw we had a decent gap behind us, so figured I would stay in the pack and get ready for the bike.
At this point, I made a few rookies long course mistakes. I did not take a gel immediately out of the water and figured I would take one in the first few miles. The first few miles (read: 10) were super bumpy and I delayed the gel until 28 minutes in. I was riding with Swen Sundberg at a legal distance but then he slowed pretty down around 35K so I passed him and was solo for awhile. Came through 48.4 miles in 2:00, and I was happy to see I was still 24.2 mph and had not been caught by many on the bike. At this point, I was 8th and if the run started here, I would have had a positive outlook. The next 9.5 miles (1.5 mile long course) were really tough. I started bonking pretty badly. I took in 4 gels and two bottles of power bar drink mix, but apparently this was not enough. My last 7.5 miles were an abysmal 20 mph and I was caught by three riders going into T2 and legs were feeling like junk. 2:26 total time- 23.6 mph.

On the run, I kept thinking, I have to finish no matter how slowly I go. I started competing with Swen again and ran my 3rd mile in 5:35 and was hopeful this trend would continue. However, I was then led off course accidentally by a volunteer and lost 2-3 minutes. While I was not running fast, this hurt a good bit. Got to half was in 41:30 and started cramping in my hamstrings and quads. Just walked/ran to the finish. I was sad to see if I had run how my training had indicated (1:12-1:!3 range) I would have contended even with a poor bike split, but there are too many 'ifs' in that statement.

This race leaves quite a bitter taste in my mouth to end an otherwise successful season. Outside of this race and a few ITU races where I was not as high up as I would have liked, I felt like I grew a good bit as a pro triathlete this year. Racing 1:53 in Philly felt like I was on a new level from the 1:56 range I had been doing for olympics. I also made a huge swim improvement from the spring until August when I was able to exit the water near John Kenny and September, where I swam lead pack at 71.8 Princeton. Up now is a break from training for a bit to tidy up some parts of my masters degree before a winter of hard training.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Luray Triathlon Double (Olympic and Sprint)

This past weekend, I went down to Luray, Va for the Luray Triathlon.
For the first time, they were putting up an elite prize purse for both the olympic and sprint distances held on saturday and sunday, respectively. The break down was 600- 400- 250 for males and females.

I love when local races do this because it adds another dimension to the field- making it more competitive and really legitimizing the sport, as well as allowing local pros to connect with local racers. I held an open water swim clinic and transition clinic that help newer triathletes become fans of the sport and become more comfortable with the race. i had 40 people attend the transition clinic and many were first timers. When you can make first time racers feel more comfortable before race morning, it will allow them to relax, have a better experience, and get more into the sport. With a lot of talk recently discussing the value of professional triathletes- I think this is a good example of benefits of having pros.

It was great to get some solid racing in for two days in the mountains and come away with two wins and course records. Sharing the podium with John KennySteven Rosinski, and Matias Pavecino.

Now to the race. Luray, Va is in a beautiful location nestled near Shenandoah National Park and provided a tough and hilly bike and run course.

Beautiful Shenandoah pre race
I initially had intended on racing in Kewlona, Canada for the ITU continental cup to chase some much needed ITU points, however, when this race popped up with the prize purse. I made a change about two weeks prior to race here instead. My rational was that I could drive there, make more money than in Kewlona and the race director was allowing me to run a transition clinic, which I enjoy doing. I was a bit leery prior to the race as I could not bike or run the monday- wednesday before the race due to hamstring and knee pain. I rested it, swam a couple double swims in the pool, and thankfully was feeling ok by Thursday to start riding again. I have chronically tight quads, so I just let stretching lapse and the pain came on pretty strong Sunday after a long run. I am very glad to have it taken care of quickly. 

The Olympic race on Saturday started with 48 degree air temps and I was glad I whimsically brought my toe covers for my cycling shoes thinking there was a small chance of cold weather. The other cool thing about the Olympic race was my childhood friend, Travis Peck, was competing in his second ever triathlon, so I got to hang out with him as he got ready to go. That helped ease any nerves that may have been there. 

Racing with a friend is always fun

Swim: 19:10 1500m (2nd 18 seconds behind leader) I had studied who was racing in the pro/elite wave and knew that John Kenny would be a tough swimmer (former national 25K OW champ and one of the fastest tri swimmers I know of), so I just planned to hold his feet as long as I could. It was a wetsuit swim in a pretty warm lake (magical 77* water temps) that made the swim quite hot, but I felt good in my Roka Maverick- I am continually amazed by how comfortable that suit is. I managed to hold John's line for 1k or so, and by the end of 1500m he got 18 seconds on me. I was stoked about this as this showed all my swimming work this summer has paid off. We got over one minute on the next swimmer and 3- minutes on Steve, who would end up third today. On the 500 meter run to transition, I made up some time on John and we set out biking about 10 second apart.

Bike: 1:06:08 for 26.5 miles (3rd best split): Here is a link to my bike file with HR data.
As you can see from the elevation profile, the race has some very solid hills. To get an idea of how fast the downs and steep the ups could be, I hit 50 MPH on the first downhill and on the way up, it was 12-14% grade going up. The course is a lollypop style with two circles of about 14KM. I just tried to hold as close to John on the downhills as he gapped me on them, but I was able to get some time back uphills. John said that is from extra time at the buffet line and simple physics. Anyway, got back to T2 about 90 seconds down on John and had about 1:30-2' on 3rd place. 

Run: 34:11 for 10K, fastest split in the race by 1:05. On the run, I set out fairly hard to catch John. The course is two laps with 2.5K being rolling but net downhill and the opposite coming back. I figured I could roll on the downs and not feel too beaten up. I ran 5:05 and 5:10 for my first two miles and caught John at 2.5 miles. At this point, I tried to get to the turn around well (5:44 for the uphill mile) and then run conservatively to maintain the lead but not be too beaten up for the next day's race. I crossed the line in 2:01:40- a new course record by about 3 minutes and happy that I had won $600 plus an engraved wine craft. 

The next day, I lined up for the sprint race. It was going to be a harder race for me since the bike was on the long side (17.4 miles) compared to the swim and run- and I knew there were some bike specialists that were looking to capitalize. Because of this, my goal was to swim with John (or close) and hold everybody within striking distance on the run. 

Swim: 9:38 (750m), 2nd 15 seconds behind John. This was pretty similar to day one except more pain chasing John around the lake. My arms immediately hurt and I knew I wasn't swimming much slower, it just hurt more. We exited and I looked back, relieved to see that we had a solid 90 second gap on the main players. 

Bike: 44:01 for 17.4 miles (3rd best). The bike course is the same as the Olympic, but only one 14 KM loop. You still get 1200 ft climbing over this short distance, so it is not a fast overall course. I do have my bike computer split every 5 miles, and my second 5 miles was 10:30 or 29 mph average, giving an idea of how up AND down the course is. I again chased John around the course and managed to catch him at the top of the very last hill, 500 meters before transition. At this point, I noticed Matias had also bridged up and we were all entering T2 together.
I got into T2 second but used the ITU skills to get out 1st. I got out onto the run pretty hard running 5:00 for the first mile
Run: 17:00 for fastest split- not really sure how long it was 3.2 or 3.3 mi probably. I just tried to carry a hard pace the whole first 3km and then let myself enjoy leading a bit. I came down the finish shoot and was relieved to be done two races in two days. 2250m swimming, 47 miles biking, and 9.5 miles running racing is a good weekend, plus another $600 helps tremendously. 
I finished in 1:13:04- another course record by about 90 seconds! 

I am really grateful to David Glover, the race director for putting the race on and putting up an elite purse. It was a great race that was immersed in the community and had lots of local support. I will certainly be back.
As always, thanks to Powerbar, Team Philly Pro Tri, Champ Sys, and Roka for supporting me and very importantly, my mom who came to support me at both races and volunteered as a body marker at the races. Time to finish a bigger training block before Princeton 70.3