Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Swimming & POWERbreathe

I only needed to read one of yesterday's posts on the POWERbreathe facebook page to remind myself of the potential benefits of using the a POWERbreathe device to improve swim performance:

“Increased swimming performance by up to 3.5%
Improved inspiratory muscle strength by 31.2%
Improved inspiratory muscle endurance by 27.8%
Reduced whole body effort during exercise
IMT improves 100m(1.7%) & 200m(1.5%) swimming performance*”

Its not to say that I haven’t put in a good deal of work to my swimming this year. In fact I’ve swum a lot (by triathlete standards), consistently hitting 15km+ a week for the 6 weeks leading in to the race, which culminated in 55.28 near-solo, traffic ridden swim split at Roth. Nothing unbelievable, but enough to place me in the top 5% of the men (inc. pros) at one of the most competitive Iron distance races on the calendar, something I am certainly proud of, and am sure that many of my quicker cycling and run-discipline tri-colleagues would want ;-). Anyway, this post isn't to brag, I just want to talk a little about my experiences with how POWERbreathe has helped my swim training.
Swimming in Zug lake
I'm not for one moment suggesting that my swimming hasn't been influenced by an immeasurable variety of factors, but in line with the extant research, I would certainly suggest that there has been a  improvement in my swimming that co-incided with a focused regimen of inspiratory muscle training (IMT). After about 3 weeks of training I began to notice how:
·      Sets with fins were noticeably easier, in particular dealing with the underwater fin-kicks off my turns. Normally managing at best a couple of kicks at best at full throttle, I comfortably began to manage 3-5.
·      My breathing and perception of effort also decreased across the fins sets (where I most noticed breathing discomfort), off the same or faster times at which I had previously plateaued.
·      For the first time in my swimming it felt like my breathing had ceased to be the major limiting factor to my speed and effort level.
The rationale for Inspiratory muscle training (IMT) training to improve swim performance is three fold.

First, improved inspiratory muscle strength and endurance mean that you can fill more rapidly and maintain lung volume, thereby enhancing one’s buoyancy in the water.

Second it also helps you to keep more stable trunk for longer, which further minimizes the disruption to body alignment. Both the added buoyancy and ability to maintain posture (with good technique) will decrease drag.

Finally, the more generic benefits of reduced breathing effort from IMT also hold true; through decreased activation of the metaboreflex, you can continue to send blood to the muscles under exertion - the normal reflex being when oxygen deprivation is detected, the brain will restict blood flow to the limbs, to enable you to slow down, use less oxygen and recover – no wonder exercise feels hard ;-)

Leading out the swim at Hercules triathlon
I am certainly aware that in the context of my training that the measurable performance benefits that I can entirely attribute to my IMT are all but impossible to prove. Qualitatively however, I feel that both my enjoyment and confidence in the water has noticeably increased, and for me, my POWERbreathe training has undoubtedly been a part of that. If you struggle with your breathing during swimming, as I think many do, I would strongly recommend IMT.  If you don't, no reason not to swim faster :-)
Having now completed a solid foundation phase of IMT training (8 weeks), and a short respite around Challenge Roth, I am now looking forward to incorporating IMT into my functional strength work that specifically targets my running in the lead up to transalpine. Again, the run-specific benefits I won’t be able to accurately measure, but that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to accrue the psychological, physical and physiological benefits associated with knowing that I am putting in the hard (and smart) yards!
And hey, even if you don’t believe me, the training is so minimal, why wouldn’t you give it a try?
*See Breathe Strong, Perform Better (McConnell, 2011) for critical evaluation of data

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Challenge Roth Race Report - Sunday 8th July, 2012

Swim - 55:28
T1 - 2:53
Bike - 5:49:05
T2 - 3:03
Run - 3:59:00

Total 10:49:27

First things first. I really enjoyed the whole week, largely due to the fantastic company of Tri Londoners, but also because it is a fantastically organised race! I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

If anything, this race has made me appreciate a few things. First, in iron distance races, (barring illness/mechanical misfortune etc.) you get what you deserve. Second, it is crucial to contextualize your race, and the preparation required. It is easy to be influenced by the goals of others, and fall into the trap of assuming that what is important to someone else should be important to you. Moreoever, I think we can also too easily assume that what we intially think is or should be important, actually is.
We all place value on different things, which is fine in its own right, but I believe however we should all challenge these assumptions on a regular basis. I certainly have learned that many of things I once thought I placed value on, perhaps are of lesser importance than I first thought. Finally, I think that endurance challenges - as bad as they may be for your short/medium term physical health, are a great way to focus one's perspective.

Anyway, the race.

My bike, does that rear tyre look flat to you?
I had put a suggested 'best time' of 10 and a half hours when I signed up for the race, which put me in a start wave at 07.10am. The girls were starting at 06:45am and a few Tri londoners in a couple of the waves before me. My plan was to really go for it on the swim. I've put in a good amount of work in swimming this year, and its something I'm proud of. I wanted to see what I could do. As an indication, I've swum a little over 200km this year up until the race, and 100km of these have been done since mid-late May. I acheived my goal of 15km a week for the 6 weeks preceding the race, and had seen my times come down and down. After a good swim at Wimbleball, I certainly felt very confident going into the swim of a time around 55 minutes, with a draft maybe even faster.

The girls entering the water
Having watched the previous waves go off to the second that they were scheduled, I knew I needed to get to the front row of my wave of approx 250 swimmers, to be ready for the start and have a chance of getting the feet of any fast swimmers in my wave. I eagerly waited in the holding pen and made my way right to the front of the swim start. A guy asked me in German my predicted swim time to which I responded funf un funfzig (55). He said something back I didn't understand but slowly tread water backwards away from me ;-)

Nervous smiles before the swim?

The girls....

The gun went and I went "f****n' mental" (as was the plan). I pushed as hard as I could, until I could barely breath, and settled into some feet just ahead, but this guy wasn't settling and sped off into the distance. I merged across and swam alongside 2nd in the wave for a good while and then settled onto his feet. Within 4 or 5 mins we were starting to swim through the waves ahead and the guy I was drafting was obviously doing a fair amount of navigation to steer through the crowds. I would have personally chosen a line closer to the buoys, but I preferred the draft. After the turnaround and more of the same, other than feeling incredibly hot, I decided to go it alone. I veered left and took a line closer to the buoys leaving the guy ahead of me on his own to the right. A couple of guys were on my toes and followed me. I continued to work hard all the way in, remembering all the training I'd put in, the moments at Cally where I could barely breathe, and what I would feel like knowing I'd slacked off at the end of the day when there was nothing to do but rest. The second turn around seemed to take a while to come, but the satisfaction of smoothly cruising past the stuggling swimmers ahead was great, (in fairness some of them were probably swimming around the hour mark ;-)).

I kept pushing and felt tinges of cramp in my calves, which stimulated thoughts of 'oh my god, I've done a lance!' (re: Lanza 2010). I felt ok getting out the water and charged through transition. I did have trouble getting my suit off as my arms were aching pretty bad, but with only a number belt in my bag, was away pretty quick. I saw Tomas in transition, faffing around, and gave him a shout (sadly I'd not managed to make up the ten minutes in the swim and 'dunk' him as had been bantered earlier in the week, but I'd take leaving transition before him - beggars can't be choosers and all that).  I was pleased with my swim having done a least half alone, considering the traffic, dead pleased with 127th fastest men's swim (inc pros) out of 2570. I was 20 out of 160 (inc pros) in my AG. I ended up 4th in my wave too.

To the bike. Tomas soon screamed past me shouting something, it was presumably in Irish and about potatoes?! I was taking it steady to start, and stuffed down a daim bar in a bid to recover from the swim. I noticed the wind on certain parts of the course, and was pleased to have been lent Chris Wilson's disc wheel. I felt pretty good, and was pushing with a cap of 150bpm on the flats and a cap of 160 on the hills.  I soon passed Ana and gave her some encouragement. She certainly seemed to be having fun. I saw a lot of people get pinged for drafting and was careful to ease off or make a concerted effort to pass around the many risers that caused the field to bunch.  By the Solarerberg I saw my brother who told me Lotte was just ahead and before the end of the first lap I passed Roz, Lotte and Naomi in quick succession. Jokes about whether it was a club ride were exchanged.

Coming round past T1 again, I got out of the saddle on one hill and noticed my rear tyre seemed a little soft. I ignored it, but soon it was clear it was really down. A slow puncture.....hmmm, thoughts rushed through my head, do I use a canister to refill it and hope it holds, then my second canister to change it later if necessary. I stopped, busting for a pee and got that out of the way first. I decided, no, I've got to change it. Do it once, do it right. I only had one small valved inner for the disc on the back and one long for the rim on the front. I had to get it right, as the pump I had wouldn't attach to the right-angled adaptor for the disc either. I checked for the puncture but it wasn't noticeable. Shit. No real guarantee this just won't pop when I fill it, or go down slowly again. Deep breath, and inflate. It worked!!! I didn't fill it all the way, and left a little splurge of gas in the canister in for emergency refill. By this time, Naomi, Lotte and Roz and Nick had now passed me all asking if I was ok. I got back on the bike and worked hard to catch them again in the hope that if I was ahead and I punctured again, at least they might be able to lend me a canister or tube or something. It had taken me exactly 10 mins to change the tyre, but I wasn't riding angry - these things happen. I remained positive and thought, better to get one in a long race than write-off a short one.

My brother and his wife warming up for their support act (mit der Tri London tea towel)
I soon went past Nick and had a chat, who said he was having an awful race struggling to keep nutrition down. I peed again, he repassed me, and then I went back past him again, exchanging stupid banter once again, but also telling him to stick with it! I then found Lotte on the big descent then Roz again. They seemed happy enough, and it took me another 10 mins to catch Naomi. I told her of her gap to Lotte and Roz, and to keep up the great work. She even repassed me as I stuck to my cap on a steeper hill, to which she gave me a "come on Andy". Not rising to the bait lasted about 3 seconds as I ignored my cap and pushed past. ;-)

I did feel like I had overcooked the bike a little (thanks Naomi), but had done well with nutrition and soon enough I was onto the last stretch into Roth. My calves had continued to cramp a little, but other than a few aches I felt good. Looking at my splits I had slowed on the second lap of the bike quite dramatically, which is an honest reflection of the long rides I've done. Only 2 rides of over 100 miles in May, and reduced cycling volume through June as a result of a knee niggle from using someone else's bike in Geneva. Estimations from the pros of the bike were 10-15mins slower compared with other years due to the wind, and 10 mins for my puncture, puts me around the 5.30 mark on a good day with which I would have been happy before the race, so all things considered I am pleased with that leg.

In T2, the little kid struggled to find my bag, and I went for another pee costing me precious time on the split competition.

Onto the run and I planned to take it steady until 30km, put my music in, then see what I could do. Nick came flying past early on with some banter, but knowing he'd not got much nutrition in on the bike, could be a risky strategy. On the first out and back I saw, Jo, then Tomas, with Kris hot on his heels, then I saw Russ all coming the other way, giving them my encouragement. I just tried to keep it rock steady, walking the aid stations to make sure I got on everything I wanted. I'd said to myself before the race I'd rather have a steady yet unremarkable race than blow entirely.  My HR was sitting pretty at just under 150 bpm. I saw Nick a couple of times at the turn around and marked my splits to him. By 20km I had reeled him back in, chatted for a short while then pushed on at 21km, he looked like he was in a bad place. Here I took on some bananas, and over the next few km started to feel an horrendous stitch that slowed me to a walk! ARRGH! Take it easy, just recover and get moving again. I walked the 60-70m or so into the next aid station, and had some more coke, but no solids from now on. I stopped for ANOTHER pee!!! and at the final turnaround seeing I had made 4 mins on Nick, but only had 9-10 mins on Roz and Naomi, wanted to really push on. At this point, cramp had returned, (despite) regular salt tablets, for which I stopped shortly to stretch it out just before the 30km mark. This really was a no option rule - I was going to run, and run hard to the end, so thought it best to treat myself to a stretch while I could. I saw Lotte who looked like she was having a bad day at the office, then Ana (WHERE DID SHE COME FROM!) only moments behind. A dark horse indeed! She looked very happy and I screamed some support. Some caffeine pills and my final salt tablet, a coke, some sports drink and a gel, music in. Let's do this.

Early celebrations with 3km to go...
I ran trying to find the limit for the final 12km between cramping completely and speed. The music really helped me dig in and I began to pass quite a few more people (music in sport is the area of my dissertation, and I am utterly convinced of the benefits of its application). If I was in any doubt before I only need to look at the declining trend it helped to halt in my run splits, and the stimulation it provided to my heart rate which had begun to sink. Obviously to be taken with a pinch of salt, but I didn't exactly plan to fade between 20-30km.

km time avg/km
10 0:54:04 05:24.4
20 0:56:03 05:36.3
30 1:03:10 06:19.0
42 1:05:05 05:25.4

You can see a in HR recovery at just after the 580 min mark split (where I put my music in)
The time really flew, and soon enough I was back into Roth. I remembered the short hill and ran it all with my bro alongside letting me know the layout of the last 2-3km of the course. I had started to slow a little, as the cramp was now really knocking at the door. Ignore that, and then upped it as best I could until the finish - 3:59. Again, I felt like I executed the run very well, but just my volume of running had let me down a little in the lead up to the race. I had a great April, but after that, it had been a gradual decline in run fitness. Combined with going a little hard on the bike meant I came away with a time I think is quite a lot slower than what I am capable of.  I felt pretty sick at the end, but after I'd sat down for a while and had a massage and shower, I felt almost back to normal (if a little tired) within an hour.

Final pep-talk
On reflection, I am utterly confident, that with work I can go considerably quicker in an Ironman. The question is whether I am willing to do the work to get me there, as it would require a financial and time sacrifice I think at this point in my life I am probably unwilling to commit to. Furthermore, would going quicker necessarily make me happier?! It's hard to say. The improvements I have made have certainly been rewarding, and I know I'm a competitive individual, but just how competitive? I raced at Roth without the specfic pressures of a time goal I had previously put on myself, and feel I was better for it. That isn't to say (as is clear from my report) that I still am not naturally drawn to looking at times and those relative to others.

I will race another, of that I am pretty certain, but it won't be without a level of preparation that matches my ambition. We had some in depth discussions of time goals and the reasons for them, and I need to have a long hard think as to what those are, why, and when I might be ready to commit to them.

Next up, Transalpine! :-)

The finish and medal...