Sprint, Power and Speed -  Continuing RPE, HRM, and Joules on a Saturday Morning

August 24, 2016


The last few weeks we've been discussing levels of perceived effort and using a heart rate monitor to help you identify your training zones.  (Click here if you need a refresher or just like to read bad English.) Sprint Triathlon is all about speed and power delivery - an almost anaerobic effort (except for the swim.)  So it would obviously lead us to assume all your training has to be at the high end of your training zones (3 to 4).  Not so.

The latest research (Seiler Jonathan Esteve-Lanao, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research) is verifying what has been suspected for quite some time that all time spent in either very high or an average pace/power distribution may be detrimental to speed/power development.  Conversely it has also been identified that if your longest bricks (that's our Saturday morning workouts) are in the middle zones (high 1s and 2 only) then you may not be getting the returns you need for your best performance (read "fast" or "fun" depending on your goals.) 

Now before we get into this let me start by saying there's a caveat to all this: any time on the road, even at all 1 & 2, is fine and wonderful.  Especially in triathlon as technical management of the road comes from experience not any thing else - that means confidence on the bike and transition from cycle to run is improved just by doing it.

Let's leave the swim alone for now.  Yup, we can call it a super warm-up but it'll never get your heart rate and aerobic systems up there unless you're doing the Butterfly against Michael Phelps.  We'll discuss developing speed and power in the swim separately (hint: it has more to do with form and turnover.)

First, let's discuss a few terms and we won't get too deep into them.  Just enough so we know what to do on the road.

Power - is that rate at which you expend energy.  If you have a power meter you'll see this expressed in Watts/KJoules but just like any electronics you have it is a relative figure.  (Read my whole nonsense about heart rate monitors if you really want to get in deep about that.)  Your average power is what you expended over your whole ride and/or run (yes, you can measure power on your run but that's a narrative for another day.)  Your instantaneous power is what you're expending at any given moment.  And your Power Profile can be either instantaneous power over a certain length of time or the profile given to you by your coach to do.  If you really hate yourself Google, "Power" and "Triathlon" and you'll find other funnier terms but we're going too deep right now.  (An aside: I have a degree in Electrical Engineering and the fun and games athletes have with power is stunning.)  Ok, you know what power is and there's a wonderful assortment of toys that you can put on your bike and yourself to measure it.  The important part to remember is that it is the energy you are expending and is being measured.  Next week in the Absolute Beginner's section we'll discuss Power at length.

Speed - That you know as your bike computer or watch will gladly tell you - it's how fast you're going at any given moment.

So Power and Speed complement each other well.  You may going very very fast and using little Power (cause you're on a down hill) or going very slowly and using a lot of power (because you're on a uphill or your brakes aren't aligned properly.)   Your Coach could tell you, "I'd like you to average blah-blah power over this ten mile course."  That is different than saying I'd like you to average 15 mph over this ten mile course.  Which is better - as always the answer is - it depends.

So how can you work being in a high level zone (high 3s) as well as low level efforts into a workout when you're trying to stay with the team cause there's good gossip?  Well if you want to improve you're going to have to find wisdom on your own.  Let's use this weekend's 24 miler as an example - first because you're a sprinter let's repeat the holy mantra, "Thou shalt not work on speed and endurance at the same time."  Thus if you have not gone this distance before the focus is on a controlled ride all the way through with a little bit of tempo work (peak at the Olympics section next.)  But let's assume you can do 24 with no problem.  Use the first 2 miles as a warm-up and weak-leg-turn-over exercises keeping you a few gears/mph below what you're going to average (look at your last 20 miler for a figure.)  After mile 2 increase your speed to a couple of miles over what your average would be.  If you're using your brand new power meter do likewise but also keep an eye on your cadence so it doesn't get too high.  In these first miles you're looking to be in a very low HRM zone (easy!)  You should be able to gossip with no problems what so ever.  Then after two miles slowly ramp  to where your HRM is putting you close to a high 2 for a couple of miles.

Now, notice we haven't discussed elevation.  This Saturday's ride starts off with the first 18 with some moderate hills but nothing to write home about.  The last 8 though are a problem.  But back to our example.

So your profile could look like this so far (again use speed and power as you see fit but the important part is level of effort):

Miles 1 and 2: HRM (1 -2)
Mile 3 through 5: HRM High 3
Miles 5 through 8 : HRM 1 - 2
Miles 9 - 12: HRM High 3 - 4

As you can see this is a saw tooth kind of  profile (up and down, etc.)  but notice that its missing long stretches at your average speed or power or in HRM 2 - everything should be either pretty damn easy or pretty damn hard.  For you Suffer Cave and Strava fans it'll look like a mess.  Once you get to Baker Bridge Road and start doing stupid hills you'll be too fried to really focus but keep trying.  And for you folks that are in incredible shape here's a hint: if your average power power or pace doesn't vary much then you really are in incredible shape.

Now there is another way to do this and that is to pick time intervals and ramp as you please.  Just stay out of the "friend zone" with your heart - it's either all in or all out and easy.

As for the run: ditto!  Now here is the fun part - doing this kind of training will wreck havoc with your energy efficiency during training (you guys really don't need me to say that your race won't actually work this way - right?)  Yup, what destroys an athlete is not extended power/speed at a KJoule/velocity.  Its the constant shift in energy expenditure - that's what makes you improve your efficiency but I see I went over my word count on the section so I'll leave that for next week when we discuss how to vomit on the bike like a pro.

Talk to your coach about what kind of profiles are appropriate based on your development and goals.  Some people want to take off 10 minutes off their previous Sprint best.  Others want to get to beer tent in plenty of time.  There's profiles for both.

Next week we'll tie it all together with a sample training session profile and how to work this all together during a training week and season.  We'll also discuss why Sprint Triathletes tend to have a more even energy expenditure than the dummies who race longer.  Oh yes and how to vomit without messing up your $600 Garmin 1000 GPS.

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