Friday, May 20, 2011

Results of lactate test & Ironman race plan

At first sight, it looks as though I have got worse since the tests I did back in December and January. But the main purpose of this test was to measure the blood lactate levels and this meant that the steps in the "ramp protocol" were much coarser. That is to say, the Watts at which I was pedaling were incremented by 50W every 3 minutes and I ran a whole kilometer at a pace that was increased by 10 seconds per kilometer each time. The important point about the test is to try to establish the pace / effort for which I should aim to do each leg of the Ironman. All we can really be sure about is that my heart rate should be somewhere between my Aerobic Threshold (AeT or UAE) and my Anaerobic Threshold (AT or UAN) - the question is where? Overcook it and the punishment will be severe!

On the other had, I scored very highly on efficiency on the bike. According to calculations done by Jonathan and Diego, this means that I am able to convert a remarkably high proportion of the energy I metabolize directly into Watts on the bike ergometer. I suppose that is what one should hope for after all this training - I can't expect to be especially powerful as that is not the aim but I should be efficient.

So I've just been to see Jonathan for the last time before the race. We sat down and poured over the numbers from this test and the tests I had done previously. Here's where art meets science and years of experience (and, particularly, years of experience of coaching me) comes into play. We decided to take the upper threshold on the bike (AT) from the previous test because it seems too low, especially considering that - if my reading of the random heart rate profile from Lisbon is roughly correct - I was cruising along at about 150bpm which would be over my AT according to this test. We also took the AT for the run from the last test as this time we didn't go as far as this. He did say that my lactate levels were some of the lowest he had seen in any athlete(!) which indicates that the training has replaced many of my muscle fibers with the slow twitch endurance kind. (By the way, as I understand it, you get DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - after either a very intense activity or a low intensity prolonged activity: both produce micro tears in the muscle fibers which must be repaired. The rebuilding of the muscle gives the body an opportunity to change the fibers from one type to another although it is widely believed that many of our muscle fibers are of one type and cannot be commuted to the other.)

The strategy is to do the swim at "A2", which corresponds to half way between my AeT and AT for swimming; as I don't really have any reference at this point other than the training I have done, I will swim as hard as I can while maintaining what form I have, as I did in Lisbon. I've a feeling that if I try any harder I'll actually end up going more slowly, not to mention blowing up.

Jonathan says that I should be on the cautious side on the bike: after all this is double the distance of a Half Ironman (duh!). My Achilles heel is heat and humidity tolerance and I have had a couple of races where I have overdone it and ended up suffering at the hands of the dreaded cramps. On the other hand, if I don't push it too hard, the run has every possibility of being fast and, perhaps more importantly, actually enjoyable in a sort of Ironman kind of way. All the same, I'm still not as confident with my heart rate zones and exertion on the bike so the idea is to not strictly adhere to a pulse rate but to go by feeling to some extent. Being prudent, this feeling should correspond to about a quarter way between AeT (128 bpm) and AT (156 bpm), or about 135 bpm - or, in reference to my training, half way between where I did 90% of my rides and the medium intensity (CMED). There are a couple of small hills on the course, which are pathetic by Madrid standards but can, nevertheless, send your heart rate spiking through the roof: for the hills, I can permit myself to go up to but not beyond my AT (156 bpm). In the Half Ironman, I remember that from a cardiovascular point of view, it was not too taxing on the bike - I was breathing about as heavily as I would on a prank call if if ever did such things - but the legs felt constantly tight and uncomfortable and I even wondered how it would be to run on them afterwards. As we are talking about doing twice the distance on the bike this time, before embarking on the Marathon, my legs should not feel so stressed.

The run is where I can hopefully let rip. The idea is to keep my heart rate between around 156 and 161 bpm. In any case, I have much more intuition for how to pace myself running, even if it is after having swum and cycled. More than anything else, I just hope I can get into a good rhythm. There's a certain running speed which may not be the fastest at which I can run a particular distance that just feels like the natural speed for me to run at: any slower or faster feels wasteful. I don't think I can realistically think of running the second half of the Marathon faster than the first, or even at the same pace, but I'd really like to avoid hitting any kind of "wall" if I can help it.

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