Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Race Week Countdown: 5

Well we are now in race week, let the count down begin. For me today was a pretty light day, starting with a solid swim over half the course, with Roger. We both wore our blue seventy ‘swim like a bullet’ suits, and I wore my race day kit on under as a test to see where I would be rubbing and in need of tape on race day. We agreed to swim out a a solid pace – me on Rogers toes, working at a little below race effort, and injecting bursts between buoys where I’d swim out around and level, aiming to get ahead by the next bouy. This required an above race pace effort o about 4-5 min, before I’d drop back for recovery. This worked great for me since it was suffieciently moderate effort to stay on his toes and fun to swim side by side with an almost evenly matched swimmer both of us working quite hard. We took a few hundred meters break to swim easy around the 3 buoy which roughly mark halfway to the turn point o race route, before doing the same work-out on the return. We found ourselves coming into shore at about the same time as several hundred others were making their own way out to sea, and I stuck close on Rogers’ feet letting him navigate between the crowds! He’s such a gent.

The rest of the day was very relaxed – breakfast with my mum and sister in Tante’s, joined the boys and Douglas (from Epic Camp) for coffee in Splashers, a short spin on the bike and the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Steven and Roger at Roger’s hotel.

We spent a lot of time discussing methods for determining swim training ‘load’. Measurement of training load is something that both Steven and I introduced into our training logs about a year ago – training load is a measure of work done in a session, or how hard a session was compared to 1 hour at Functional Threshold (the intensity you can work at for 1hr). Programmes such as WKO, Training Peaks take this data and spit out ‘intensity factors’ and load each workout … and use complicate algorithms to generate a TSS (training stress score) over various periods (acute and chronic) and a result Stress Balance. Intensity, load, stress -acute, chronic and balance - seem to be the current hot topic amongst our group of training friends, but t is fairly clear that whilst easy to use and enjoyale to analyse, none o us has a very clear idea as to what it actually means to our training. In paticulr the debate is about how to calculate an Intensity Factor for a swim session – and having spent time in the past researching this myself, find that it is also much discussed on many of the endurance training forums and site on the web, too. Most folk who analyze their training to this degree are using power measuring tool on their bikes, and pace measuring for their runs. Programmes such as WKO, Training Peaks take this data from the gadgets and spit out ‘intensity factors’ and load each workout … use complicated algorithms to generate a TSS (training stress score) over various periods (acute and chronic) and make graphs for the athlete or coach to marvel at and track training impact. But there is no such gadget to record work done whilst swimming…so how best to do this?

It seems bizarre to me that despite the fact that swimming is the most absolutely measurable of all triathlon sports, few people seem to have their head around assigning an intensity factor to it! Whilst quite happy to accept the values given by the gizmos that measure their cycling and runnig workouts without much thought as to what these figure represent, many people struggle to log the intensity of their swimming work even though in the pool there is very little by way of external factors, its very easy to measure pace and we repeat workouts on the same course daily. For me, it’ s simple – define your range, assume IF is linear and simply plug ‘distance swum’ and ‘time in pool’ into the equation. However this was not satisfactory to Roger, who wanted a ‘complicated equation’ or Steven who makes an argument for measuring absolute work done, rather than how difficult it was to do the work – a set of 100’s in 90sec of 2min is a lot easier than hitting 1:30 and going off the 1:40 but at the end of the day, the body has swum at the same speed for the same time. Which by the way is another discussion entirely – what is the purpose of measuring intensity – is it an objective or a subjective measure?

To obtain your session cycling IF is a lot simpler, if you have a powermeter. You just need to plug your device into your pc and …it’s done! But what is it doing? Normalised power makes some sort of correction for zeros…all the little bits of recovery that you get during a ride, and so it seems analogous to including the rest intervals in the swim session. When running, I’m monitoring HR, which picks up to how well I’m recovering how hard my body is working throughout the set. If the recovery is short, my heart-rate drops less during each rest interval and rises faster and further during the reps, the average will be higher and thus accounting for the difference in rest interval. Have I just contradicted my self? This would imply that there is no need to account for rest intervals in the session. I’ll admit, I’m still getting this all figured out, and I’m digressing a bit – lets go back to the fact that what I currently do is based on a standard method of recording run loads called TRIMPS, which looks at heart-rate and is therefore a measure of effort undergone by the individual rather than actual work done (pace x duration). There may be better ways – actually, I’m told that Training Peaks software does use pace, to give IF. I’d be interested to find out how it deals with variance in pace during a run.

Either way – it seems that the fact that the ‘scientifically’ minded can build layers and layers of data into their training logs very easily with the aid of GPS, powermeters, heart monitors and sophisticated software. We then spend hours and days marveling over the curves and graphs that result - but without necessarily understanding the what this data really means or questioning it’s validity.

Personally I have a simplified, manual method of calculating IF for rides (based on Powertap data when available, HR when not and a bit of fudging based of what I have recorded and observed over the last few years) runs (based on Heart-rate) and swimming (based on dist swum/total session time). I use the square of this IF with my session (total) duration to give me a LOAD value, which I log in my training diary alongside hours. As you probably figure from all the waffle above, I’m still tweaking this as I read, discuss, learn and ponder more – I do have some graphs demonstrating acute, chronic and training stress balance, which I enjoy looking at – but remain well aware that ‘shit in = shit out” no matter how robust the software or complicated the equations! So, I continue to collect data until such time as I am totally satisfied with what I record and how it can be of use in planning my training- or, more likely, that of others – and be able to look back over past seasons and identify the crucial factors which contribute to a good/bad race, burn out/awesome fitness. At which point i'll feel more comfortable proving Roger with a 'complicated equation' for his swim IF!!

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