2016-05-30

Weekend in Charlottesville

This weekend Katie and I sneaked off for a brief trip to Charlottesville, Virginia. I hadn't been to Charlottesville since looking at colleges 20 years ago; some things have stayed the same but much has changed as well. Charlottesville is now full of farm-to-table restaurants and posh gastropubs. While much of the city was closed for Memorial Day Weekend or recovering from the chaos of Commencement one week prior, many places were open so we conduced a bit of a culinary tour of Charlottesville.

To balance all our eating, we got some running in. I was very pleased to discover a network of trails circumscribing the city so I spent ample time exploring trails along Charlottesville's creeks, streams, and ridges. There is plenty left to discover so I will have to return!

Saturday we visited Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. This too had changed quite a bit since I had seen it as a child. Now the topic of slavery is woven into everything from the house tour to the grounds, painting a more complete picture of life on the plantation than I had seen previously.

The trip was short - less than 48 hours - but it was a welcome, relaxing change of pace and a good excuse to spend time with dear friends from high school.

2016-05-20

Training Results with Power

One of the key metrics when training with power is known as Critical Power (CP) or Functional Threshold Power (FTP). It is analogous to your Lactate Threshold (LT) and, like LT, your training zones are calculated as various percentages of it.

CP is effectively the amount of power you can sustain during an all-out, 1-hour running effort. Because repeatedly testing an all-out, 1-hour running effort is hard (increasing likelihood of sub-maximal performance and/or injury), Stryd has developed a protocol that uses shorter maximal efforts to calculate your CP. On a track you run 2 laps easy, rest, run 3 laps at maximum effort, rest, and then run 6 laps at maximum rest. This creates a power curve that can be used to predict with relatively high accuracy your CP.

Back in February I completed my first CP test. Then I trained for 12 weeks, ran a key race, and completed another CP test.

February CP test:
3 laps: 4:24, 401W, Max HR 185
6 laps: 9:30, 376W, Max HR 187
Calculated CP: 347W

April CP test:
3 laps: 4:16, 436W, Max HR 183
6 laps: 9:18, 409W, Max HR 186
Calculated CP: 370W

My 3-lap power:


My 6-lap power:



A few notes on protocol: these are max effort runs for me, leaving me exhausted. I used 45 minutes between runs (and ingested coconut water) instead of the prescribed 30 to ensure that I could give the 6-lap run the effort it deserved. During each run I tried to run relatively even splits but still gave an all-out sprint at the finish. These were all run on the UNC track, which is soft enough that I can run comfortably barefoot - but I ran these with minimalist footwear anyway since that is what I use for off-track running, where I spend most of training and racing time.

By any metric it seems that I improved. My power numbers for the same effort level were consistently ~9% higher than my power numbers in February. This led to a CP calculation 7% higher than in February and, perhaps most importantly, the increased power translated to faster speed, shaving 8 seconds off the 3-lap and 12 seconds off the 6-lap run. I don't believe that 100% of the performance improvement can be attributed to fitness improvement; as Andy Coggan has noted, experience with the protocol will improve performance slightly even if fitness remains constant. Still, I believe this shows that fitness/performance has indeed improved since February.

Based on this new CP, my new training zones are:
Endurance: 258-295W
Tempo: 295-332W
Threshold: 332-368W
Interval: 368-405W
Repetition: 405-442W

As I look back on my previous training program, I may have been overtraining the longer, sustained runs. My last long slow distance run averaged 296W, which is slightly over my threshold between Endurance and Tempo. Similarly, my Tempo runs were sustaining 360W, which is up in my Threshold zone near CP - that may be OK but I need to clarify if those runs were meant to peak in the Tempo zone or Threshold zone. My track intervals, on the other hand, seem dead on, with my last session averaging 371W; it seems I even have room to push it up a notch there.

Wednesday night was our first track meet of the summer and I set a new mile PR (5:45) by 6 seconds. Considering that I haven't been training for the mile race at all, I have to attribute this performance improvement to the success of my power-based training.

My mile PR power:


2016-05-19

Training With Power

Last year I moved from running just about every day to a lower-volume methodology that had me running just two key training runs a week plus running for fun in between. The results for me were:

* super simple program to administer
* increased race performance
* reduced injury rate
* time and energy for all of the other athletic activities I enjoy
* rediscovered JOY in running

I don't necessarily advocate this approach for others but for me it has been a good fit.

Enter the Stryd. After "getting to know" the device for a few months, I made my first foray into training by power in February. Mike Ricci published a power-based training plan that I adapted to my 2-key-runs-a-week approach. After some base building, this effectively meant alternating one week of a long slow road/trail run and intervals at the track with a week of road/trail tempo and road hill intervals. Other days of the week I would be doing strength training, swimming, playing beach volleyball, hiking, bootcamping, or taking my dog for an easy half hour jog.

Let's take a look at each of these workouts in turn:

Long Slow Distance: Since I'm a short and middle distance runner, my "long" distance may not seem very long to most of you! I started the program with an hour in power zone 1 and worked up by the end of March to 90 minutes in Z2. My goal for these runs was to maintain consistent power and to focus on form throughout.

Track Intervals: These started as a mistake. This was apparently supposed to be a Repetition workout, with Ricci's program specifying 1-minute intervals at Critical Power followed by 3-minute recovery periods. The first time I tried it I mistakenly read 1-km intervals, rather than 1-minute, so it was much more of an Interval workout for me than repetitions. It felt great, though, and I thought it would be helpful in preparing me for my first key race of the year, the 4-miler I posted about yesterday. So I started with 5x1km, averaging 351W and worked my way up to 7x1km, averaging 377W. https://www.stryd.com/powercenter/run/209340019 It was freeing to focus on wattage rather than splits on the track!

Tempo: These began as 15 min Z2, 15 min Z3, 15 min Z2. Over the course of the program I pushed these up to 25-25-25 with 5 minutes of Z1 on either end as a warmup and cooldown.


Hills: These are my favorite by far - which is ironic since, moving to Chapel Hill from flat, flat Houston, these were and still are my weakest point. Still, running up hills is the closest I come to pushing weighted sleds on the football field and it just feels good! Chapel Hill is aptly named and I've got a great, miles-long 6% grade sidewalk right outside my door. Per Ricci's prescription, I started with 6x2 minute Z5 intervals, then slowly increased the reps to 10, and then slowly increased each rep duration to 2:30. Initially I was sustaining ~385W for 6 reps of 2 minutes but by my last session I was sustaining 405W for 10 reps of 2:30.



This was about a 12-week program for me, including the taper before last weekend's race and has been my first attempt at training by power. At the end of the program I conducted a Critical Power test, which I will post about tomorrow, but, spoiler alert, my Critical Power increased substantially over the course of this program.

2016-05-18

Tar Heel 4 Miler 2016 Race Report - This Time With Power!

Last month I competed in my third Tar Heel 4 Miler, the biggest race each year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I live. They offer a 10 mile version too but I lose interest once I hit double digit mileage so the 4 Miler has become one of my key races each year since we moved here.

Last year I placed second in my age group so this year I was gunning for the win. They changed the race course this year so I didn't have a baseline to work from. Instead, I ran the course a few days ahead of time and built a race strategy from there.

I only had one road race under my belt with Stryd so far, an 8k (5 mile) race last Thanksgiving. My average power in that race was 363W. Given that this race would be shorter and I had been training by power during the intervening months, I figured I could run at substantially higher power in this race. But how high? I simply didn't know so I decided to run a progressive race, starting off around 360W (excepting the first km because I always go out hard) and then increasing 10W each KM if I felt good. I would be looking for ~4:20 KM splits but that was really an afterthought; I would be racing by power, not pace.

This is a "flat" race by North Carolina standards but still very hilly by mine. Although I have very strong legs, smaller/lighter runners usually have an advantage over me going up hills. All my fast twitch fibers help me cruise past them as I stride it out on the downhills, so my goal was to "hang on" during the uphill segments in the middle of the race and attack the downhills. The race ends on a big uphill where I usually do pretty well by virtue of not needing to leave anything in the tank afterward.

Such a short race is very anaerobic so I tried to fuel up in the preceding days to fill up my glycogen stores. This included my traditional chocolate cake the night before the race. Science tells us that, by then, the window for fueling is already past - but I conveniently ignore science when it comes to justifying chocolate cake!

The morning of the race I jogged from my house to the starting line as a warmup. It's pretty much all uphill so I took it easy but still had a healthy sweat going by the time I arrived. I found lots of people I knew at the starting line (including my "nemesis" who is always very close to me in these races), which kept the atmosphere nice and relaxed. After a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem the starting gun sounded and we were off!

KM 1: Again, I always go out hot A. to avoid getting stuck in a pack and B. because I can't NOT do it! The first KM was largely uphill so my goal was to rein it in at 370W. Long story short: I failed to hold back and the first KM averaged 414W. On the plus side, I had good positioning on the road so wasn't hemmed in by other runners. My first KM split turned out to be exactly 4:20 and my heart rate reached 171 BPM, which was fine; I expected to run most of the race in the 170s.

KM 2: This was much flatter, even slightly downhill. My goal for this KM was to settle in at 360W and I almost achieved it, averaging 371W. This split was 4:09 and I was clearly cruising along as my average heart rate dropped to 168 BPM.

KM 3: I was feeling good so I elected to try to hold steady at ~370W. This had a long uphill segment, though, and my performance turned out to be identical to the first KM: 414W, 4:20. Heart rate averaged up to 175 BPM.

KM 4: Here we had another flatter, slightly downhill segment. I was feeling good, though, so I aimed to up the ante to 380W. I wound up averaging 385W and finished in 4:15. My heart rate average dropped to 174 BPM.

KM 5: Still feeling good; let's take it up to 390W! This was a net neutral segment with both uphill and downhill portions. I averaged 399W and slowed significantly to 4:34 - but I passed my nemesis. HR still 175 BPM, which was fine.

KM 6: Less than a mile to go so time to stop thinking about holding onto any reserves; let's keep it up at 400W! There were some significant downhills in this segment so I made my move and passed several of the runners who had been pretty close to me for most of the race. I averaged 392W but Stryd underreports downhill running power so I think I was actually pretty close to the mark. 4:15 split, 177 BPM.

Final 400M: This was just an uphill gutcheck: target 450W. A young marine who had been running with two other members of his battalion passed me on the hill and made it look easy; he must have been holding back to run with his buddies for the rest of the race. I still had a strong finish: 505W, 1:41 split. Heart rate hit 187 BPM, which is just a few BPM shy of my maximum.

Final time: 27:34 and I won my age group! 403W average power, much higher than I anticipated! Running by power really does take so much of the guesswork out of pacing when you're on a course of varying elevation. The main question in my mind is: would I have run faster overall if I had run a more even power race - especially during those 1st and 3rd KMs? Now I have a pretty good average power target to shoot for during my next 4-mile road race (July) so I can aim for more consistency.

If you're interested in my actual power data, here you can see how it is much better than heart rate for instantaneously monitoring intensity:



2016-05-17

Stryd Blog: My Background

My first post as a Stryd Ambassador was meant to introduce myself to the rest of the early adopters:

Hello, follow Stryders! I'm Bryan Guido Hassin, a 37-year-old green tech startup entrepreneur based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.  I played [American] football through university (Go Rice Owls!) but now I run and play beach volleyball as more "life long" sports. Having spent the first half of my life never running more than 100 yards in one go, it's now a fun challenge to tackle (pun intended) longer distances, especially on trails and with obstacles. I'm primarily interested in short and middle distances, although I will run longer distances on occasion as a way to experience beautiful places.

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to work out with some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the NFL. They impressed upon me that their goal was to help their athletes achieve their maximum genetic potential - within the constraints of the enormous demands on their time and energy. Their athletes weren't working out all day every day; on the contrary, they were taking a surgical, "rifle shot" approach, using the minimum amount of training to achieve the maximum result. Their emphasis of recovery, mobility, and injury prevention over training stress was a real eye opener to me.

As a CEO, I also have enormous demands on my time and energy but I find that I am most effective when both my mind AND body are in peak condition. Motivated by what I learned from the NFL coaches, I am always searching for tools that will help me work smarter-not-harder to improve my physical conditioning. Every year I get older, this approach is increasingly important as I seek to prevent injuries as well - i just don't recover from them as quickly as I did when I was 18!

This quest for smarter training methods is what led me to Stryd. Cyclists have been using power meters for decades to optimize training so I was intrigued by the prospect of doing the same for running. I run a lot of interval and repetition workouts in which heart rate is all but useless as a metric - both for the interval and for the recovery period. Power offered me a much more instantaneous measurement of my output.

Training by power is especially interesting now that I live in a very hilly locale. We moved here from Houston, Texas, which is as flat as the day is long. Once we arrived in [aptly named] Chapel Hill, I quickly realized that training by pace was useless. Power seemed like an appropriate way to "normalize" pace based on the constantly change grade.

My hopes for Stryd extend beyond training too as I believe that it can be a powerful (again, pun intended) weapon in races, when emotions are tense, paces need to change based on grade, and heart rate is so laggy that, once you realize that it's too high, it may be too late.

Finally I'm hoping that Stryd can be an "always on" coach, of sorts, to help me improve my running form. I've been able to see power decrease while pace remains constant when I focus on certain running form cues so I'm hoping to integrate that type of feedback more tightly into my training.

As a trained scientist/engineer, I'm a natural experimenter. Over the course of this week I'll share with you all some of the experiments I've run with Stryd, some of what I've learned, and some of what I think is still out there to figure out. Thanks for joining me in this journey of discovery and may the Power be with you!

2016-05-16

Running with Power

For the last six months I have been trying out a new gadget for running. It's called Stryd and it's a power meter for runners. Cyclists have been using power meters for decades to optimize their training and racing so I was intrigued by the prospect of applying the same advantage to running.

Why Power?
Whether training or racing, running is all about throttling your intensity: too intense and you will burn out too early; not intense enough and you won't achieve maximum results. There are a few possible metrics to help you throttle your intensity already:

  • By feel: Feeling is a notoriously poor metric of intensity as it is very inexact. Even seasoned runners' feelings are biased by mood, time of day, stage of the run, and myriad other subjective factors.
  • Pace: Pace seems like the right metric since, after all, the goal of most running training is to be able to run faster. In flat environments under controlled conditions, pace is indeed pretty good. However, once you introduce varying terrain into the mix, pacing goes out the window. Try to maintain your flat pace up a long, steep hill and cry as you eventually have to slow to a walk. Try to maintain your track or street pace on a sandy beach and cry as your legs turn to hot butter!
  • Heart rate: The answer to the varying terrain conundrum was long thought to be heart rate - as you climb that hill, slow to the point that your heart rate remains the same since heart rate reflects your overall level of effort regardless of topography or surface. This works well in theory but heart rate is a very laggy indicator. It takes heart rate many seconds - sometimes more than a minute - to catch up to the intensity of exercise, which makes it very inadequate as a running metric. Running by heart rate is like driving while looking only in the rear-view mirror.
Enter power. If you can measure power, you have an exact metric that provides real-time, instantaneous feedback on intensity. Measuring power on the relatively simple mechanical device of a bicycle has been easy but running humans are much more mechanically complex and measuring power on them was elusive - until now.

A brief explanation of running with power by Dr. Andy Coggan, the OG of power training:


There are now at least two running power meters on the market; I backed one of them, Stryd, on kickstarter because I liked their approach. It is a wearable 3D accelerometer that, with knowledge of the runner's mass, calculates work done per unit time (power) in each dimension. It also includes a barometric altimeter so it knows with precision how elevation is changing throughout a run.

The potential benefits of such a device are significant: training smarter with precise intensity, "normalizing" hills during runs, optimizing running form for efficiency, and running perfectly paced races. How well does it deliver? Following are my conclusions from six months of use:

The Good

  • Stryd "just works" right out of the box. Put it on, enter your weight, and you are off to the races. Running with power is indeed transformative: pick up the pace or encounter a hill without slowing down and watch your numbers soar instantaneously. Try out modifications to your running form and see in real-time how they affect your power output. THIS. IS. HUGE.
  • Stryd integrates with the tools I already use. It connects to my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch and is worn on the chest as you would wear any heart rate monitor (It also measures heart rate so simply replaces the heart rate monitor I was previously using.). This means that I can keep using the hardware and software tools I already know and love with Stryd.
  • That said, for those who don't already have other hardware and software, Stryd's Power Center website and mobile app are quite good on their own.

The Bad

  • Accuracy is not as good when running downhill. Because runners actually use power to brake some while running downhill, our power can still be quite high - vs. cyclists, who can coast downhill, using ~0 power. As such, Stryd underreports power when running downhill.
  • If you want access to ALL the data that Stryd records (like power separated into all three dimensions), you have to pair it with the mobile app (because sports watches like my Garmin only support a single power metric). For some like me, who prefer not to run with a phone, that's a negative.
  • There is a dearth of power training knowledge and programs out there. Running by power is still so bleeding edge that there aren't a lot of established "best practices" yet. For some like me, though, that's actually a positive, as we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of pushing new boundaries!

The Ugly

  • Because most sports watches don't include power as an option for running data, you usually have to "hack" the device for it to work with Stryd. For example, I actually have to use a cycling profile to use Stryd with my Garmin Forerunner 920XT. After my device syncs I then have to go into Garmin Connect and manually change each Stryd activity from "cycling" to "running" and I miss out on some of the running dynamics data - even though the Stryd records that data, it just isn't displayed because Garmin thought the activity was cycling, not running. While this aspect of using Stryd was annoying at first, I don't even notice it now and I'm sure that it will go away as companies like Garmin and Polar modernize.

The Amazeballs

  • The most pleasant surprise of all with Stryd has been the team! They are amazingly customer-centric, responding in minutes to any challenges or questions we early adopters have, engaging us in rich discussions about the data we collect, and even involving us in the decision-making process for future. Their product improvements come frequently, often as a direct result of user feedback. If you want to see some of this consumer engagement in action, check out the Stryd forums.

A couple of week ago, I even had the honor of being Stryd's facebook group featured user. This meant that I posted every day about different ways that I used Stryd to run with power. I'll replicate some of those posts here on this blog in the coming days.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in trying Stryd out for yourself, make sure to use the discount code "bryan" and you will receive a $15 discount!

2016-04-21

Beach Volleyball - Training with a Pro

Last weekend I had the opportunity to train with a pro beach volleyball player. It was a fun experience and I learned a lot!

As most of you will know, I'm not built for volleyball at all - but I've been playing it for years and really love it. My college girlfriend was a volleyball player and got me into the sport. Tall and lithe, she played with a grace that was the antithesis to my brute force, "muscle through it" approach to most things in life. We didn't play together much but it was enough to get me hooked.

Throughout my time in Houston I played with several different coed partners but I lucked out in that my favorite wingman turned out to be a terrific men's partner. He had been playing much longer and taught me most of what I know about VB - although much of it was biased by his indoor background. We did pretty well together, placing in a few A tourneys in Houston and Galveston. Because he is also an international traveler, he and I have played together in five different countries.

Katie is also into beach volleyball so now she and I play together whenever we can. We'e been very pleased with the thriving beach scene in the Research Triangle. There are dozens of sand courts scattered throughout the area and multiple opportunities to play at different levels every day of the week.

While I was enjoying playing and improving last year, I tore the labrum in my right shoulder, making it painful to hit, serve, or dive on the right side. My mechanics are terrible between my poor range of motion / flexibility and the very indoor-y style of VB (big approaches, big windmill swings) I had been taught, both of which contributed, I'm sure, to my labral tear.

Fortunately my injury did not require surgery and I have been recovering through physical therapy and mobility work. After a layoff from volleyball, I'm back at it now and trying to work on playing smarter rather than harder: being in the right position rather than diving for a spectacular dig, hitting mechanics that save my shoulder rather than swinging away, etc. I just turned 37 and I'm sure that this will become even more important as I get older.

Enter Tarin Keith, a pro beach player in the US National Volleyball League. Tarin rented out one RTP area complex of four courts and "held court" (See what I did there?) last Friday through Sunday. Some of the time she gave private lessons while, at other times, it was open play but she watched, coached, offered advice, and sometimes joined in.



Katie and I (and some of the people with whom we routinely play) did a private lesson with her on Friday and then Sunday we joined for open play to practice our new skills. Katie picked up some hitting tips and for me there were several new learnings:

* passing with my outside foot forward to help control the pass from shanking outside, away from my partner
* getting my hips around to pass the ball forward, in line with my shoulders and hips, rather than shunting it sideways
* setting my platform and then passing with my legs rather than relying on a last-minute elbow "pop" to add height.
* passing in front of me and off the net (vs my previous passing middle and on the net) so that my setter can set me in line with her shoulders and see the court to give me hitting advice - this falls under the mantra of making the game "smaller" on our side of the net.
* "finishing" my bump sets to give my partner plenty of time to approach and time her hit
* setting up outside to approach the net at 45 degrees, increasing my [right-handed] hitting options
* JUMBO!!!!!! - a high looping angle shot that makes a path like a jumbo shrimp :-)

Some of this was new to me and some of it wasn't new per se, but having an experienced coach to demonstrate it and provide real-time feedback/guidance helped me internalize it. Sunday's practice indicated that Katie and I still have a lot of work to do to elevate our game - but working on it is a lot of fun and great exercise.

Many thanks to Tarin (who also co-hosts a volleyball destination training camp in Turks and Caicos - check out her website for details!) for coming out to RTP, to the local VB enthusiasts who helped her organize the weekend, and to Katie for her patience with me as a partner. See you all out in the sand!