Wednesday, January 23, 2013

So How Much Training Does it Take to do an Ironman?

One of the common questions I get asked by people when they find out about my ironman obsession is "how much training do you do?"

It's always a tricky one to answer.  On one hand it varies according to the phase of training I'm in.  The week or two after ironman I'll be doing nothing.  Other weeks, like now (38 days out!), I'll be doing a fair bit more.  So I never really know how to answer it without either completely underselling the amount of effort and time that goes into it or scaring people off from considering that they might be able to take on the challenge themselves.

This morning, then, I decided to figure it out.  And the results were so interesting I had to share it.

It's actually quite a simple exercise, thanks to my Garmin Forerunner 910XT.  I've had this multisport watch for over a year now and on the Garmin connect website it was a 5 second job to run a summary report of all my activities for the past 12 months.  Here's what it spat out:

When you average it out over the year, you realise that what I'm doing isn't actually that daunting at all. I'll go through the relevant stats one at a time.

Firstly, I've done 348 activities.  Over 365 days that's less than one activity per day, on average.  In fact I've had 17 days over the year with no training - and St Pete would confirm that's probably about the number of times I've cooked dinner over the past year!!!!!  In reality I've had days where I've done two or three activities, but then there have also been more than 17 days off.

You get the idea.

During that year I've covered over 5106km.  That distance includes all of my swim/bike/running - and it also includes a standup paddleboarding session!  That's around 14km per day for the year or, overall, the same as a return trip between Sydney and Cairns.

The time I've spent training over the year is 422 hours 24 minutes.  That's an average of 1 hour 9 minutes per day.  Who can't do an hour of exercise each day?

My second favourite statistic is the elevation gain. Over the year I've climbed 69,785m.   That's 8 ascents of Mt Everest (from sea level).  Eight!  For someone who hates hills, it's a pretty cool feeling to know that over the space of a year I've done the equivalent of climbing Mt Everest eight  Did I mention 8?

You get the idea.

My absolute favourite statistic, though is the calories burned.  Get this: 186,598 Calories. Now if there's one thing that helps me get out the door each day and exercise, it's this.  Food.  And I don't care what anyone says, there's nothing more satisfying than rewarding a long session on the bike, or a decent run, with an Angus Burger and large fries at McDonalds.  Or a coffee and a muffin.  Or a gelato on a hot day.

You get the idea.

Burning 186,000 Calories over a year allows me to indulge my psychological passion (food) while achieving my sporting passion (ironman).  And to put it into perspective, I could eat the following list every week and still not consume that many Calories:
  • Grand Angus Burger
  • Large Fries
  • Hot Apple Pie
  • Muffin
  • Gelato
  • Lindt Chocolate Truffle
  • Slice of Banana Bread
  • Latte (whole milk, daily)
(That little list comes to only 165,000 Calories for the year!)  Now before Coach Dave has a heart attack, never fear, I don't actually follow this weekly diet (except maybe the latte habit...), but it gives you some insight as to how a regular amount of exercise can really mount up into something significant over a period of time.

Forgetting about the food, though, the takeaway (boom, boom!) message here is consistency.  Afterall, if I said you could do an ironman on just over an hour of training every day for a year (and still have 17 days off over that year) you would probably never believe me.

But it seems you can.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Black Beauty Joins the Household (Part 2)

So I have a flash new bike.  Should be simply a case of jumping on and going fast, right?


Riding the Shiv is like jumping into a Ferrari Testarossa after you've spent your life driving a Corolla.  Well, maybe not that extreme - we're still dealing with the same engine (me) after all.  But the handling characteristics and operating rules are miles apart, and it's been a bit of a learning curve.

I have to admit I did fall into the trap of heading out for my first ride and expecting to do some blistering fast times that would make me very excited.

In reality, I came back with one of my slowest average speeds for a long time (26.2km/h over a 4 hour ride), burning and aching shoulderblades and neck muscles (requiring constant dosing of Voltaren for a couple of days afterwards) and an incredibly sore saddle area.

Not the sort of christening I had expected.

But I could sense the potential and, if I were to be really honest with myself, I knew a 4 hour ride first up probably wasn't the most sensible introduction to my new steed.  Afterall, who in their right minds takes a brand new pair of running shoes out for a marathon distance run the first time out?  You're just asking for trouble in that situation.

So the last few weeks has been spent riding the Shiv exclusively.   And it's paying off.  My average speed is coming up and things are now feeling more natural.  So natural, in fact, that my first ride on the Avanti for several weeks last weekend felt decidedly odd!  To give you a feel, then, for the sorts of things that are different, here's an outline of what I've changed or adjusted to:

1. Positioning over front wheel:  The first thing I noticed when I rode her for the first time was how wobbly up front it felt.  Talk about a danger to traffic!  Thankfully it was an early Sunday morning and a relatively quiet road, so I wasn't about to give any drivers a heart attack.  However you are positioned further forward and over the front wheel and with the extra weight the wheel is much more prone to turning.  When on the aero bars the weight becomes more stable (than when you are holding the bars where the brakes are) but it did take a bit of time to get the feel for tracking in a straight line and compensating for any shifts in position (i.e. when getting a drink etc).

2. Gel management:  With Black Beauty I have had to say goodbye to my trusty Bento Box.  The Bento Box was the little container that sits on the top tube of the Avanti and holds my supplies of gels during races and any other paraphenalia when I'm training.  On the Shiv a Bento Box isn't possible if you need to refill your water during a ride as it would sit right over the top of the rubber lid of the water bladder.  So, an alternative way of holding gels was needed and that has been answered, so far, by the introduction of a gel bottle.  A gel bottle simply holds several single serve gels so that you're not having to bother with individual serves and the associated rubbish that goes with it.  The idea is that you transfer the contents of 4 or 5 gels into the bottle and then carry it with you, running or biking, or whatever you're doing.  In my case I picked up a Fuel Belt gel bottle in a bike holder with the idea that it velcroes around your top tube just under the saddle.  Problem was, the velcro straps weren't long enough to go around the top tube of the bike!  So another solution was needed, and found.  My anatomy.  Yep, we women are graced with natural gel bottle holders and so my gel bottle now sits happily nestled down the front of my top while I'm riding!  It works best when you're wearing a tri top with a shelf bra rather than a fitted bra, so there is a natural gap front and centre available for the bottle to nestle into.  That takes care of five gels but for an iron distance race I'll need double that, so I'll be carrying a spare gel bottle on race day and that will most likely sit in my back tri top pocket.  When the first gel bottle gets emptied I'll simply throw it away and move the second one around to the front.

3. Gear changing:  So, no more gear levers sitting next to the brake levers.  I now have buttons.  Yep, four of the little blighters sitting at the end of the aero bars.  My hands sit right at the end of the aero bars with the thumbs resting on the buttons and so when I want to change gear all it needs is a press of the top or bottom button and next thing you know it's done.  What I've had to get used to here is which button to press!  I spent a bit of time trying to work out how to remember which button to press and then figured out it was actually dead simple.  If you're going uphill you press the top (up) button.  If you're going downhill you press the bottom (down) button.  All I have to do, then, is align what I'm doing to either the effects of uphill or downhill riding.  And it works both sides!  So front and rear sprockets change the same way - uphill uses the up/top button and this changes into an easier gear and downhill uses the bottom/down button, to go into a harder gear.  Confused?  Hopefully not!

4. Taking in Water:  Drinking water is now a nifty arrangement whereby a bladder sits inside the frame of the bike, thus reducing drag.  It's also easier to drink out of rather than fiddling around with a bottle.  So a drinking tube emerges from the frame and sits on your aero bars, held there by a magnet which you can shift around according to your own preference.  While I'm riding in aero position, then, I can pull the tube off the magnet, take a drink, and move it back to the magnet and not change cadence or position.  It took a bit of practice to get used to that movement and get used to moving the tube back to the magnet without looking down or weaving across the road (!), but I've got that sorted now.  I also did a couple of practice runs with St Pete, picking up a water bottle and refilling the bladder on the fly.  It works really easily - genius.

5.  Taking in sports drink:  Normally in an iron distance race you have two bottles on the bike - one holding water and the other sports drink.  I've got the water sorted and, for the sports drink, I've retained  that bottle and moved it to a bracket sitting horizontally between the aero bars.  The latest thinking is that this is more aerodynamic than the set up I've got on the Avanti where there is a bottle hanging vertically between the bars.  Again, then, this was a balance adjustment as I had to adjust to riding in aero position and holding the aero bars with one hand and pulling out the bottle, drinking, and putting it back in the cage all while staying in position.  Again, it took a bit of practice to do this without weaving across the road but I'm pretty good on it now.  Thank goodness for Captain Cook Drive at Kurnell and it's fab bike lanes!

6.  Aero position:  You might be getting the impression that there's a big emphasis on riding in aero position.  And you'd be right.  The whole bike is engineered for 100% aero riding and that in itself takes a bit of adjustment.  Those of you who have ridden with me will know that I was always comfortable in aero and took every opportunity to ride in that position.  Realistically, though, on the Avanti, I wouldn't spend much more than 50% of any ride on the aero bars and so Black Beauty has been a real shift because it's actually awkward to ride off the aero bars.  So I am now doing 4-5-6 hour rides that would be 99% aero and the first time especially took a bit of getting used to.  The great news is that the position I've been put in has eliminated all the back pain that I had been getting after around 3-4 hours.  My shoulders and neck, however, did have to adjust and I suffered badly for a couple of days after that first ride.  As I said before, though, 4 hours first time out probably wasn't the best idea!  This video, though, gives you an idea of the new regime.

7.  Braking:  The most important thing to remember is that if you're braking there aren't any gear levers alongside the brakes for you to change down easily while you're slowing down.  If you need to brake you have to change down beforehand, or you brake with one hand and (awkwardly) change gear with the other.  It's not an ideal position with one hand up on the aero bar pressing a button and the other hand down on the bar with the brake lever while maintaining a straight line...  All of this reinforces the fact that the Shiv isn't designed to stop!  And she isn't really suited to riding through the city, either, through lots of stop/start traffic lights and intersections.  Kurnell is her ideal playground where woman and machine can get into the groove and motor for hours on end.

8.  Saddle:  Last but not least, the saddle.  I've heard of pros putting their scungy, well worn saddles on their brand new bikes and I can now understand why.  When you get used to one saddle it's definitely a challenge adjusting to a new one!  The saddle I've been fitted to is wider at the back - measured for my "sit bones" and it also rises at the back rather than being flat.  I imagine it's to help you with rotation onto the aero bars and to stop you moving backwards.  The result, however, was great initially, but there were obviously different pressure points to get used to, which I hadn't gotten used to!  Again, it's been a time thing, and comfort down below has definitely improved over time.  It has also brought to mind, however, a piece of advice I read on a forum somewhere that said "if your saddle is sore it just means that you're not putting enough pressure on the pedals!".  i.e. you're not pushing hard enough and resting on the saddle too much.  Don't know how much truth there is to that - I'll leave you to consider it for yourself.

So, all in all, lots of little things, lots to learn, but a month on it's coming together and I am really beginning to feel as one with Black Beauty.

She really is something special.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Black Beauty Joins the Household (Part 1)

So I've been pretty quiet on the blog front these past few weeks.  But never fear, life has been far from quiet for this irongirl.

Training has continued apace, work has continued apace (yes, despite what a couple of Facebook friends have said, with the help of St Pete I do somehow manage to hold down a busy full time job alongside my ironman passion!), and 2013 continues apace.

2013 brings with it an exciting new challenge.

This year I will be taking on two ironman events.  Yes, I know, I have two ironman official finishes in 2012 but, with New Zealand being shortened to a half, Ironman Cairns became my single actual iron distance race completed.  This time I'm going to do both Ironman New Zealand (in March) and follow that up with Ironman Cairns in June.

To help me in my quest St Pete decided last year that it was time to upgrade my favourite ironman race tool.  No, it wasn't time to upgrade him (!), rather it was time to move on from my trusty and faithful Avanti Cadent road bike and onto a triathlon-specific bike.  And who was I to argue?

Enter Black Beauty.

A few months had been spent researching the various options and for a long time I had considered that my next bike would be a Trek.  They are known as one of the top producers of triathlon bikes and the ability to customise the colour options via the website was particularly appealing. (It's a girl thing.)

Last season, however, my opinion started to sway when Specialized introduced the Shiv.

For any triathlon geek this bike looks like sex on wheels.  Added to that the very cool integration of water bladder inside the frame and nifty drinking tube held to the aero bars with a magnet and I was seriously reconsidering my original dream of owning a Trek.  The buzz around bike geeks is that the Shiv is not UCI-legal.  So you won't find any pro bike teams racing it in time trials.  What Specialized has done, then, is be the first company to throw away the UCI rules and design a bike specifically for triathletes.

And given I don't give a toss about time trialling, it's got to be worth supporting.

Besides the sex on wheels thing, the other thing that finally swayed me in favour of the Shiv (Pro Di2) was the gearing.  Thanks to the wonders of Shimano's fancy pants electronic gearing, the Shiv has been able to achieve lower gearing ratios than the Trek which means climbing is easier - and for a hill-phobe like me that's a big plus!  Oh, and having a bike with electronic gearing might have also played a part in the decision-making....just a little...

...OK, a lot.   :)

So, at the beginning of December, and after a Body Geometry bike fit with Jet Cycles, Black Beauty came home.

Do I look happy or what?

Goodbye gear levers, hello buttons

Merry Christmas to me....