Barcelona Marathon 2017 – 1st race of the Season

It was looking like it was going to be a cool day, which in my book is a good day.

 

I had ran the Barcelona marathon a few times before, with the last being in 2014 so knew it can always be a challenging event due to the heat. However, it’s the luck of the draw on how hot the event could be. It was looking like it was going to be a cool day, which in my book is a good day.

Pre-Race

We stayed about 1.5km away from the race start (Hotel Universal Barcelona), which is a great position as it means race morning you get a sleep in – if you can sleep. It also means if you have a bad race not to far to hobble into bed!

I set the alarm for a 6.30am race morning wake up to get in some carbs and giving me to get ready, walk up to race start and warm-up. I also always get my kit fully ready the night before (see Fig.1) as this allows me to not have to worry about anything on the morning other than getting food in and getting to start line fully warmed up.

kit out

Figure 1. Everything I need for race day.

I had a few issues over the months pre-race such as a calf strain, which kept me out for a week and another chest infection (antibiotics again). However, come race day I was injury and sickness free. My only concern was the lack of distance runs (30-33km) at race pace but given I am training for triathlon and there is only so much running you can do without destroying your bike and swim session.

Pre-race warm up done… I felt great and ready to attack the course (See Fig.2). I made no new changes to the pre-race diet and looked to take on 60-70g/Hr carbs, a gram Sodium and 100-150mg caffeine (I take also 3-4mg/kg 45-60mins pre-race). Simple but works for me.

pre-reace wam up

Figure 2. Ready to attack post warm up.

The Race

After getting a little panic on because I could not initially find the race entrance to the section containing the sub-3 runners, I eventually managed to get into position.

I had done a few fitness (form) tests a 2 weeks out and after a chat with the coach Garry (SportsTest.co.uk) the target range was 2.45 – 2.52. I decided pre-race to take the risk and go out hard over the 1st 20k and try to hold on. This was always going to be a do or die effort but its early season and not much to loose.

The course profile is in general undulating but as Figure 2 shows the first half has some gnarly little climbs with a few lasting 1-1.5km. But given much of the rest of the course (other than last 2km) are a lot flatter and the early morning (its 8.30am race start) temp is cooler I wanted to work a little harder early on.

TP analysis

Figure 3. Training Peaks view of HR pace and cadence over the marathon.

 

I managed to position myself at the race start about 12 deep away from the 2hr 45min pace runner. There was a lot of bunching over the 1ST km resulting in a fare few acceleration and decelerations to keep the pace maker in site. If I was to run again I would have made it into the start pen maybe 10mins (rather than 5) pre-start so I could get a lot closer to the front of the race – would have made the race start a lot less stressful.

My heart rate (post race analysis) was no doubt to high and for most of the 1st half of the race it was above 160bpm. I should not of let it get above 158bpm (my max for marathon) but I was laying it all out to try to get a 2.45. By the half marathon point I was at 1hr 23mins, so pretty good and felt quite strong feeling like I would be able to lift it a little or at least maintain in the second half. However, 1.45-55mins in I started to feel the pace and come 30k (I hit 30k in 2hrs ‘2.48 marathon pace’) in I knew I would have to start to ease off if I wanted to make it to the end with a respectable if not a PB. So I pulled back on the pace to get hr down to 157bpm, but was unsure how much damage had been done or what shape I would be in come the end. Whatever was to happen I had to keep on top of the nutrition (fluids, gels, sodium) and keep the cadence going.

during race

Figure 4. Hitting 30k into the race.

I tried to maintain my pace the best I could and like us all there comes a point in the marathon where the mental games kick in. Thoughts like ‘I could just walk now,’ ‘I am not going to break 2.45 why not take it easy,’ – All of these you just have to try to push to the back of your mind and convince yourself its good training, its early season, it’s a c-race but I want to finish strong.

By the time the up-hill drag of the last 2k came I was already hanging on but not 100% dying. The clock was ticking but I was reduced to a little over 5.05min/km pace and was happy to see the finish line in sight.

Finish

Figure 5. The finish line – Just a few 100m!

I crossed the line and finished in 2hr 55min 47s. Not my best marathon but for early season and focus on Ironman and knowing the risk of a too hard effort at the start of the race I was ok with the time. Out of the 16,346 runners I placed 317th, with an average pace of 4.10min/km (6.40is min/mile). That gets me in the top 2% of all runners.

medal and number

Figure 6. The spoils of war another medal and used race number.

 

POST-Race

I believe post race nutrition and recovery are very important and its something many almost forget about post-race other than having a shower, a slice of pizza and a beer. That’s great, but for me I want to be back to Ironman training ASAP. That means correct nutrition (quality protein and carbs post race, hydration 1.5lts/kg of bodyweight loss), ice bath, Stretching and compression tights. Of course on top of that a beer and pizza 😉

The next morning after a great nights sleep and a 20min recovery spin on the hotel stationary bike we (wife and I) went to a great place called “Brunch & Cake” near the seafront in Barcelona. They do some fantastic meals and I picked up some protein porridge + treats for breakfast (See Figure 7).

post race Brunch & Cake

Figure 6. Brunch & Cake…yum yum!

I would recommend this place to anyone if they are in Barcelona and looking for a great healthy lunch or early breakfast. Another recovery meal in the bag and the path to recovery has started.

Here is to a great 2017!

Stryd® – Running with power!

There is great potential for power as a running metric but a number of issues to consider before applying it in everyday training.

 

Price: $199 (circa £159.90)

Purpose: Power monitor for running

Website: www.stryd.com [Stry Gen II ‘FOOT POD’]

Summary –      Pros:    Accurate, repeatable, syncs with training peaks /    Cons:  Lack of ability to select specific metrics in IQ stryd watch app / No effective integration of run-power into WKO4

The use of power as a metric for measuring the impact of training and as a tool for optimising performance has revolutionised cycling. However, beyond real time GPS little has changed beyond measuring heart rate from the late 70s and early 80s. This may just have changed with the introduction of power measurement for runners. One version of power meters for running making the headlines has been ‘Stryd®’. I have being playing about with the Stryd over the past few weeks and thought I would share a few findings thus far.

Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 13.53.20

Figure 1. Photos of the Stryd. Super small & light-weight!

 

Benefits of power for running

Many of you will already be using power for cycling but the application to running has some significant differences –  for example in cycling the more power you put through the pedals the faster you go. However, in running you could theoretically have increases in power but no increase in speed, but why? The simple reason is you’re locked into a certain position on a bike and the measurement of power simply represents what goes into the power meter via the pedals. This is very different during running as we use power ideally fwd motion, but as you know when we run we move up and down and side to side. All of this non forward movement could result in a loss of forward propulsion from our power production. The take-home not all power results in fwd movement.

Therefore, the Stryd could be a great tool in  assessing the point at which power peaks in faster running and at what point any additional power does not further increase speed.

 

This type of data can provide guidance in technique development by helping modify our form so that any wasted power (excessive up and down and side to side) can be corrected to result in better fwds movement.

So from a personal point of view I have used cadence on Garmin’s to be more economical in my running. However,  I did not know how to ‘effectively’ apply form changes to impact other metrics such as ground contact time (GCT), vertical oscillation (VO), stride length (SL), vertical ratio (VR) that then show up as faster running or faster running for less effort (thats the goal right!).

Sometime to much information can be damaging if you cannot find a practical home for it. I am all about practical application rather than just measuring something because we can. To that end lets have a look at the Stryd and how we can use it at a practical level.

 

How Stryd Works?

In essence the Stryd works using 3-dimensional accelerometer and some clever algorithms to estimate power production. According to the Stryd team the product and its data has then been then validated against force plate embedded treadmill in a lab (gold standard of directly measuring force/power).

As such Stryd can measure force production in 3 dimensions (up and down, sided to side and forwards and backwards). This is at a theoretical level is superb as with the right software to extract the data you could not only look at the metrics we see currently on the likes of Garmin 920xt but also some other metrics such as ‘breaking’ during running (something you get if you’re a heal toe runner). Therefore, the Stryd could be an affordable micro-biomechanics lab that could be used not only to measure power (next section) but also to monitor and manipulate in real time, running economy and form (#Free Speed).

 

Power measurement and running

I have to say this blog has been a bit delayed because I have had in my possession the Stryd for a few months. However, I wanted to have a play about with the stryd in multiple conditions and paces (Intervals vs long runs etc etc) to see what it can and cannot do. Being from a wet and windy part of the UK this has made for a challenge when it comes to finding a dry and non-windy day.

There are a few metrics that are a must have for me when running – pace, heart rate, distance and time. As a new bonus power is now a possible ‘new’ metric to add to that list.

 

The Stryd App

At present there are 2 apps available for Stryd when using watches such as Garmins 920xt or similar. These can be accessed by the IQ connect and include:

  • Stryd IQ (official app)
  • Stryd 10s power (non-official / unsupported app)

Then we have additional ways to see the data when using and for post analysis:

  • The stryd app for your phone (during running on a treadmill)
  • The stryd online power centre (post run data analysis)

I have had a play with all of these and the phone is nice if you want to see a big screen whilst in the gym, but on the road is not practical. So I will focus on those ‘other’ apps and the data given from the watch displays and via Stryd’s own website ‘the power centre’.

Before that I want to just give a quick overview of some metrics you can get from the Stryd outside of those typically available with a Garmin such as cadence, hr, vertical oscillation, ground contact time etc.

  • Power: The stryd records real-time (instantaneous power) however, there is a workaround app to give 10s average as discussed below.
  • Leg Spring Stiffness: Based on variance in ground contact times (typically less ground contact means running faster and to a point more economically). In general we see swimmers having very flexible ankle (not stiff) and as such transitioning from swimmer to runner is harder.
  • Form Power: This is the power to raise one’s centre of mass against gravity with each step and is independent of speed and gradient. The application of this is when your form (body position etc) is altered to decrease this number is associated with improved economy and reduced vertical oscillation.

 

My testing of the Stryd

To look at the way the Sytrd works I wanted to check out a few different types of sessions that are typical for most runner and triathlete training sessions. These are the long run (outside) and intervals (treadmill). These are a nice mix of sessions on different surfaces and should be able to highlight the pros and cons from using the Stryd and its related software.

Before we start using the Styd we need to find out our training zones. For me these are carried out during a lactate threshold test (see previous blog on BSx). From that test set training zones are based on Hr, Pace and Power.

 

The Power Centre: Analysis (Pro’s and Cons)

The 1st session was intervals (warm up, then 3 x 11Min reps at 3.45/3.45 min/km or 6.15min/mile if you like imperial). As you can see below (Figure 2) we get some nice square wave power level shapes (orange line) for each fo the 3 intervals. When doing bike intervals and using a power meter these shapes are very similar, and like using power on a bike we can see a lag in the heart rate (purple line) getting up to 160bpm (the goal pace for mid to upper Level 3 work).

pc 1

Figure 2: Stryd’s online power centre – Data analysis from Interval training on a treadmill.

 

The lag in Heart Rate for me was about 5-6 mins before hitting what would be level-3, therefore power allows us to instantly work in the right zone rather than consistently upping or lowering pace until you hit the right the heart rate. However, it could be said why not just set our training zones off pace as that’s a way to cut out the delay (lag) in heart rate rising to the hight level?

Well again we have external issues than can increase or decrease the physiological demand (effort) of maintaining a specific pace. Pace does not take into consideration the effort it might take to get up or down a hill or running into a head wind. What’s great is that (theoretically) using power would make issues as weather (wind) and terrain (hills) irrelevant to a large degree – resulting in consistently hitting the right training zone in every session.

pc 2

Figure 2: Stryd’s online power centre – Data analysis from easy long run!

 

The figure above shows some metrics from a very easy zone 2 run and from it you can see the blue line showing pace (min/km) and its nice and steady and tracks closely with orange line (power) below.

At present what I don’t like from using the Stryd is the variability. The power measurement (see the orange line above) is taken in real time. As such its readings of power jumps quite often (unlike the trace we get on a treadmill – see orange line on Figure x) as power can fluctuate from second to second. The result is constantly checking your watch to try and stay in the right power zone. This is not great and a distraction when it comes to pacing a workout on the road.

The solution to this would be to have the ability to see and average of power measurements over say 5-10 seconds as we can do with power as measured using a Garmin on our bikes or like average pace on a watch. The averaging effect would smooth the values (variability) you see on your watch, making running at a constant power more achievable and less stressful. I will discuss the possibility of a workaround for this in the ‘Watch App’ section below.

PC3

Figure 3: Stryd’s power centre – Lots of metrics available on the power centre for data freaks.

 

When you use the power centre there are a whole host of data fields that can be looked at (See Figure 3 above). But for my own view there are only a few that seem of interest at this time. ‘Form power’ (see the ‘Stryd app’ section above for what this metric means) and ‘cadence’ are the main 2 beyond power.

When you run (On a treadmill) is easier to keep a check on ‘form power’ during the session. My view is that keeping form power low is typically due to leg turnover (cadence) and also how you toe-off when running. It provides some pretty quick feedback and typically as form power drops you will also see the power to maintain a set speed falls (more efficient?).

What I cannot say is how this metric is useful across a range of abilities. For myself whilst I don’t have a very high VO2max, my running economy is very good as is my cadence. Therefore, I do not see a huge benefit for an economic runner. However, in others I see run cadence a major issue in them becoming more economic. Many can achieve high (>180) cadence figures when running at 5-10k pace but this drops of significantly as the distance increases and pace drops. I believe that truly economic runners with good form will hold a cadence of circa 180 almost irrespective of run pace (recovery vs. marathon).

As such I see some nice options from the metrics but outside of ‘form powder’ and ‘cadence’ I think they are just nice metrics to perhaps compare overtime (something you can do in the power centre i.e. compare metrics from one workout against the same workout a few weeks later).

 

 The watch app

The biggest downfall of the Stryd is the watch app. The primary App is available from the GARMIN connect store (Stryd IQ). The app allows you to download the data post run to the power centre and also to training peaks. the issue is that there is no ability to decide what metrics you can see on each data field. You simply have to accept the data fields the app allows you to see with power.

watch app

Figure 4: Watch metrics – well at least the useful ones!

 

You also cannot alter the sampling rate for power i.e. per 3, 10, 30 Seconds etc. As above this causes some issues. There is a workaround for those wanting average power and that’s in the form of an app from the Garmin Connect IQ store called ‘Avg Power 10s’. This is the metric I now use on my runs but unfortunately it does not record the power data from that session – so although you can see the data field during the run (average 10s power) and your other chosen metrics such as heart rate and pace etc its not downloadable. It’s also not supported by Stryd.

https://apps.garmin.com/en-IE/apps/ae28e863-89d6-408c-b4a6-94a1683aec7e;jsessionid=A8BF8154DDBF09E083FF08EEB10F970A

 

Is it fit for purpose: Future proofing?

There is great potential for using power for run training and racing but there are still some significant issues to be resolved. I live in the north of the UK and we can get some real windy days and the effort to run in side winds are not fully transferred into the Stryds power measurements in my experience. As such to measure physiological effort in such conditions you need to fall back to heart rate.

However, in days where wind is below 10mph the Styrd is spot on in its accuracy and reproducibility. You can set you training zones using the stryd but take care on what surface. You will get different readings depending on the surface you run on. In my own testing the harder the surface the higher the power recorded. From one treadmill to another despite the same gradient and speed there is circa a 10w difference. Therefore, you will need to build in this when considering your training zones and perhaps power to use if for a race on the road vs. off-road / x-county.

The app needs a major makeover – its very ridged and at this time its not very intuitive in setting it up. What you want is the ability to connect to Stryd as you would a heart rate monitor and for your Garmin to know that and then you have in the field data options all the potential metrics available. Metrics such as those in the power centre plus and ability to look at average power for laps, 5, 10, 30 seconds etc. This will no doubt require more co-operation between Stryd and Garmin and other watch makers.

 

Downloading Data

The final issues relate to training peaks. The only data that gets downloaded is power but no ‘form power’ or ‘LSS’ or similar metrics seen in the Stryd power centre. The other major issue for me personally is the data that shows up as power on training peaks does not sync with WKO4. As such when you want to do some in-depth analysis your cannot use power i.e. the whole point of using the Stryd.

There is also I am sure some other great metrics that you could get from the Stryd but just not accessible ‘yet’. Because it measures 3d power with the right software we could get values related to heal striking (breaking). This would be a valuable metric for helping alter run form and from what I hear from Stryd its something possible for the future.

I know from following the Stryd forums and asking staff about the issues of setting up the app etc that they are trying to resolve these early adopter issues. Similarly, the WKO4 team are working on an update for Stryd but as of yet not timelines have been released.

Ironman Barcelona 2016

Sub 10 at last…

Time for the last race of the season…Went out 2 days early and the start of the holiday was not great. I booked the event and accommodation via Nirvana and we stayed at Hotel President as it was simply close to the event and one of the few hotels left when I booked. What a shit hole, what a mistake…

After a very long journey and a delayed pick up from the airport, the hotel manager tried to stick us into 2 single beds in a hotel room that had not been cleaned (lets not even talk about the toilet). We refused to stay in the room and said we had booked a double room and not a room with 2 singles. The night manager was a total dick and clearly had an issue about Brits. We called Nirvana to sort this out and they did, but this was now 2 hours after we arrived at the hotel and over 3 hours since we landed in Barcelona. Although Nirvana did their best I would advise avoiding the place like the plague if you’re ever looking to do this event. There were other issues and although Nirvana apologised over the service we received from the hotel we didn’t get offered any discount or some sort of redress for the issues – despite the fact we had booked other events such as Austria through Nirvana that costs $1000s. So back to the race…

Pre-race reccy…I managed to get a short bike in of circa 30k before the main event and the roads seemed ok but pretty windy as much of the course runs right up the cost following the coastline. The run course was a mix of roads and gravel tracks from what I could see and it was going to be a sea swim, but I never got the chance to get out into the sea pre-race but it looked pretty rough.

SWIM: The swim was a rolling start and was very cramped down at the beach with only one way in and out but there seemed to be lots of family down at the start. This made it very tight place to wait for the gun but everyone was in good spirits and most people seemed to be putting themselves in the right area for their predicted swim time.

swim-bw-barca

We where told at the swim start that there was over 100 Pros (a record) racing Barcelona this year, which was more than at Kona. The water was pretty choppy and I found sighting pretty tough, so something to clearly work on for next year. I had not done a sea swim since Lanzarote so getting use to the chop took a while to settle in. On exiting the water I felt OK despite a pretty slow swim if 65mins. Now it was time to see how all my hard training on the bike was going to pay off.transition-t1-barca

BIKE: After Austria I realised a few things, first I needed to push on the bike and get use to holding a high power output for a prolonged time period. So for the preceding 6-7 weeks I had found a stretch of road back home that was similar to the profile of Barcelona. I looked to work up the long ride to 150k at 230w as well as adjusting my bike position from Austria to be slightly more aggressive at the front end. By reducing my frontal area the effect on my speed per watt was improved significantly, I just needed to make sure I could hold the position over the course of the Ironman.

barca1

Figure 1. Heart rate and speed over the Barcelona course.

The goal was 210w normalised power and Hr <135. The training paid off and with an average of 133bpm I came of the bike with a 4hr 52min ride (See Figure 1). A new record for me and felt that I could have shaved some additional time if I had worked a little harder. The course was pretty windy but there was at least 2 big draft packs out on the course and despite employing the refs to break them up after at least attempts at 300w efforts to get past to only be reeled back in clearly nothing was going to change. This really made me angry, some of those in the pack where sitting up trying to allow the pack to break apart many others where clearly drafters hanging of any wheel they could.

bike-on-course-barca

 

I was lucky as the pack I was trapped behind only lasted a few minutes before reaching my special needs bike station. I was there for a few minutes to change bottles and by the time I got back into the race the pack was either up the road or had been broken up by the race marshals. From what I had heard drafting was a big issue at Barcelona but other than these 2 packs I really did not see too much. I think perhaps the choppy swim might have impacted the drafting for those looking at sub 5 hour bike. I don’t know for sure but it made for a nice second lap with not many to fight past on the way back into town. There is clearly work to be done here in making sure the marshals do their job. There where at least 3 other guys I saw telling marshals to hand out penalties but to no avail. I did see some guys in the penalty tents but only a few.

fullsizerender-copy-barca

There is another option here and that is for all race marshals to wear a helmet cam / gopro’s and to place cameras around the course to both protect athletes that don’t draft or end up penalised because of being stuck behind a pack that the marshals refuse to break-up. Interestingly, Ironman has banned all cameras including gopro’s unless special permission has been given. I understand the banning of phones and hand-held camera’s is a safety issue but why not cameras attached to bike frames or helmets? Surly this would help police the issue?

I really don’t understand the point of drafting and deciding to do Ironman. If you want to draft legally then either do cycling and sportives or do olympic distance triathlon. To draft on purpose in an Ironman is disrespecting both the sport and you competitors…but enough of the rant.

RUN: Got out on the run and about 4 km in began to suffer and made it about 9km into the race before my first walk. It was hot (Race day peaked at 26oC) and I new it would be so brought a camelbak with me to pre-empt as had not had time to come out early and acclimatise as I know I need to do on hot courses from past experience.

barca2

Figure 2. Heart rate and pace in the Barcelona run course

run-bw-2-barca

Got to say the Camelbak didn’t work so I binned it after about 13k, which by that point was run walking every aid station trying to keep hydrated and temp down. I could see my average time dropping but was not going to quit this time and given if I had kept running in Austria could have still come out with a 9.40 I was determined not to waste the chance of getting under 10Hours at Barcelona.

feeling-it-on-the-run-barca

It was real graft but managed to sneak under 10hours with a 3hr 50 marathon for a final time of 9hr 54mins – a new PB all done of less than 10hrs a week training. Given other commentators had also shown the overall times had been 10-20 mins slower this year [http://www.coachcox.co.uk/2016/10/03/ironman-barcelona-2016-results-kona-qualification-analysis/] it made me believe if I kick it up a notch in 2017 I might be in with a chance of a coveted Kona slot.

Barca-finish

Ironman Austria 2016

Going so well…

Made it out to Austria 10 days pre-race and stayed at the race hotel (The Seapark). Had not had the best run into the event as could not get rid of a recurring chest infection in the month running up to the event and also had some type of viral infection in the back of my throat. Despite that after a few days in Austria and being into the taper the chest infection was on the mend but the wife still had a cough so was just hoping it would go away and stay away.

Training hard on minimal hours (10 hours a week)

I had worked hard prior to getting to Austria and felt I was in my best shape I had been in. I was down to 70kg (7-8% bf) on the nose and likely just under come race day (I tend to be strict on the diet race week and this shifts any extra lard). What I should say is that my average training is 10 hours a week. The reason for 10 hours is simply work and family commitments. My feeling is that you can still make some fantastic race performances, but you need to be consistent. So what maybe possible in say 18months of 15-20 hours training a week you can achieve doing 10 Hours but maybe over 3 years.

I never waste a workout and every session has a purpose and specific training zones. I get my physiological capacity done by an experienced professional (www.sportstest.co.uk) and this helps make sure I train based on science and not guess work. Although I know most of the local triathlon team members 99% of my training is done alone to ensure I get maximum benefit from each and every session. However, with that said if you have more time, quality training and you can recover from the increased training load (I am in 40s now so this is a consideration – train smart not just harder) then progression in Ironman can for sure can be faster.

OK Back to Ironman Austria…

The Seapark hotel was perfect in its position and the swim exit was directly at the side and to the rear of the hotel. If any one visits here its almost like a mini duck pond and that’s where you exit on race day then run over the road to bikes in T1. During the stay one evening we were at our table for tea and the Women’s World Ironman champion Mirinda Carfrae (www.mirindacarfrae.com) was at a table opposite. Knowing from past experience with working with athletes I know that they can spend a lot of time alone pre-event so we invited her to join us and she did. She was a real lady and she was lucky I managed not to quiz her for the hour about her nutrition too much as I am sure she gets sick of talking shop. It was a highlight of the holiday for sure and it was no surprise she went on to destroy the competition at Austria.

SWIM: The swim course finishes along the canal that runs behind the hotel but the start is only about 5-10 mins walk away. It’s a beautiful lake and I have to say we had a fantastic holiday, great for kids and families and more important for this blog training and pre for the big day.

I had swum portions of the swim course in the week leading up to the race following advice that the entrance to the canal was difficult to see in the morning sun. So felt come race day I would know what markers to look for. In the end come race briefing we where told that not only would it be a wetsuit legal (some concerns over this in the preceding days due to very high water temps) but also that this year there would be additional markers to help sight the entrance to the canal. Thanks – so glad I wasted time learning to site the canal ha.swim

Race morning came and it was the most prepared I have ever been and the least nervous. I had a good idea of the course having biked 70k of it, I had also completed parts of the run and swam much of the swim course. The swim is a rolling start which is a must have now for all Ironman races as the number totalling 3000 athletes just make the events plain dangerous otherwise. The whole issue of race numbers and drafting is a whole other issue that Ironman have to address. My own view is we need less than 2000 per race but I guess cash speaks over the needs of the participant for a fare and comfortable race.

The swim was ok. I felt at ease and didn’t work that hard. I came out of the water in 63 mins, which was a little disappointing as I though I would break 60mins given my pool times. I just thought get through the transition and out on the bike to pick up some time. There are a number of cheeky climbs on the course including the “Rupertiberg” (65km in) and the “Faaker See” (35km in) and if you don’t pace well over these you will feel them on the second lap.

austria1

Figure 1. Bike course profile and heart rate.

BIKE: So the goal was to stick at around 210w for much of the race with 240-250w on the climbs (See figure 1). There where a few chain gangs out on the course for sure, which as always pisses me off but nothing you can do about them and you have to just think about your own race. I only had to stop once on the course for some special needs, which lost me 2 mins (post race analysis). On the plus side I overcome the shy bladder issues – this might have been helped by the down pour half way into the second lap which included some hailstone. Nice…I had never heard of this but it was not to bad but everyone had to slow down as some of the bends on the course can be super slippy as the roads are like an F1 track.

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What I will say is the course is by no means flat its undulating throughout but because of the downhill’s and the road surface is like a race track and you make up lost time on the hills due to the roads and descents. I managed a 5Hr 12min bike (5Hr 10min moving time) at 78% of HRmax and 210w. This was my best bike time to date and felt pretty good. Key to making this a fast ride is keeping in a very aero position and this has never been an issue for me, so I am luck in that regard as I know a lot of people suffer to hold an aero position. Reminding yourself throughout to keep tucked and making movements to get your drinks etc as quick as possible helps with this.bike-2

RUN: About 2k in had a quick toilet stop and then was on my way but felt very sluggish and had in my head pre-race that I could make a 9.15 for the Ironman, if I could keep to the bike plan but was already down 15Mins (5 lost on swim and 10 on the bike). So realistically I was probably looking at a 9.30, but I had ‘Ironman brain’ at the time and was just thinking I am not going to make the time I wanted. Note: Ironman brain – long day, tired, low blood glucose a bit dehydrated turns relatively intelligent people into total dumbasses.

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So despite being on for what would have been a record Ironman time for me I was focusing on how tired I felt and how I wont make the time I set out. This negativity is not normally me in a race and I tend to plough on forwards, but this day could not shake it. About 30 mins into the run I spotted my wife and daughter and said I didn’t feel great and was thinking of quitting (you can see these stops on Figure 2).

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Figure 2. Run course profile and pace and heart rate

I never quit races and this was a real shock to my daughter (10Yrs old) who started to cry and was worried about me. So I said I would carry on (you can see my stop at 28-29.30mins), so I set of and although it felt like the slowest run ever I was actually on for a 3hr 30Mins marathon (Ironman Brain = idiot). I made it to 62 mins of the run and again spoke to the wife for another 4 mins and she convinced me to keep going and slipped me a Mars bar to eat to cheer me up (yep I love chocolate). I got just over 19km in and dropped out (see figure). At that point this was purely mental had convinced myself I was totally fatigued and had not reached my goal times.

In looking back this was a stupid decision and I will one-day return to complete Austria. I beat myself up over stopping all night and like any fool I booked myself up for Ironman Barcelona (Oct 2016) the same night. The next day I did not feel great and seeing the finishers with their t-shirts didn’t help. But we finished out the last few days of the holiday, had a great last few days.

I still had a throat infection when I arrived back in the UK so when to the doctors and they did a few blood tests and a throat swab. The results showed I had some immune suppression but also and viral infection and Uvulitis (ye I didn’t know what this was either but the reason I felt like I was choking when I swallowed). Two courses of penicillin and some other lovely drugs and virus was all gone.

So in final review I loved Austria despite the fact I pussied out and didn’t finish at all costs (the Ironman way) and after getting home and seeing the doctor perhaps this was the right thing. However, in my head I felt this was a mental defeat rather than physical but who knows – you tend to push on through no matter what in this sport but I promised myself I would not quite at Ironman Barcelona come October no matter what.

Outlaw Half Ironman 2016

The Outlaw has become a bit of an event in the UK at the full distance (Ironman). So after hearing the good stories thought I would throw my hat in for this middle distance tri to see how my swim, bike, run was improving after taking much of 2015 off.

Again I went into the competition with only a few days of easing back as this was simply to be viewed as a hard training session rather than a real competition. The course is pretty much flat with only what I would call a bump at about mile 20-21 on the bike course. The swim is a single lap and the run is a mix of tarmac and off road running but nothing to sponge so you can make the run fairly fast.

SWIM: I had an OK swim at 30mins and although race morning was pretty cold the forecast was it would heat up later on in the day. I wish I had got to the race start a little earlier to make sure bike was fully racked and sorted and to then get in a little paddle – but that did not happen. Also made rookie mistake of not brining any warm clothes for race morning as the forecast was supposed to be sunny – it turned out cold but will learn from this.

BIKE: I was motivated to get out on the course as had a new TT bike and felt in good shape. Pre race plan was to limit the effort to 220 watts and to see where my legs where after that as this was 1st Tri after last years work. This would be a great tester of any improvements and jumping up from averaging 175w in 2014 to 220 watts and with a bodyweight now at 71kg (3-4kg less) made me feel like I should do OK. (Figure 1 see post race analysis average watts 218 – close to plan).

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The bike turned out to be as it looked on the online maps, pretty flat and not to technical. Despite a shabby swim I was soon cutting through the racers on the course. By the end I came off the bike in 2hr 37mins but probably lost over 5 mins having to stop for a ‘comfort break’, also a few mins over last few km’s of the bike its full of crap roads and speed bumps resulting in a bounce out of my front bottle and Garmin, so had to stop and pick them up and re-attach. I was through T2 in under a min and it was time to test out the run legs.

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Figure 1. Heart rate and power over the Outlaw half course.

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RUN: Got onto the run and legs felt good but needed another ‘comfort break’ – a issue I need to sort for future races (Going on the bike ;-)…). So despite the lost minute I broke into the 1hr 24min range averaging 6.30min/mile at 88% HRmax.

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Figure 2. Pace and heart rate over the Outlaw run course (Hr average 156/ 6.30m/mile).

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This gave me 4th in my age group just short of the podium and 30th overall (4hr 37mins). So all-in-all pretty happy but a few mistakes to fix, a taper and an easy 5-10 mins can be shaved of this one, which would have had me win my age group and break top 15…So looking forwards to 2017.

http://dload.osb.s3.amazonaws.com/results/outlawhalf16results.xls

North Lincs Half Marathon 2016

Kicking of the new year!

I have been running the North Lincolnshire half marathon for the past 3-4 years (albeit slowly ha) and the tape2tape.co.uk team have been putting on a great event on a great course. The locals also do their part including the kids from scouts and brownies at the feed stations. So I know the roads pretty well after running it previously. Its nice a flat, normally great weather and this year was to form part of the building for Ironman Austria (A-Race) and the Outlaw half (B-Race) later in the year.

The aim was to do a minimal taper and just take a few easy days before the race and on race day do an extended run. So that means a 3-4Mile run to the start and a 2Mile run post race as a cool down to make an 18-mile session. I stayed at a hotel just around the corner from the race so had no long journey to do on the morning of the race. The 5 km warm-up prior to the start of the race went well and was 100% ready to go before the start of the race. I had chosen to run at 6min/mile pace and if I blew then so be it, and would then just make the rest of the race jog as long as I got the miles in. So no pressure…

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The day was dry but a little windy so decided where possible to tuck in behind anyone who is tall or larger packs where possible. The usual madness ensured with a massive amount of people running off at what must have been 5.30min/mile pace, by 5km in most of these jokers where already going backwards.

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Figure 1. Heart rate and pace over the North Lincs course.

The take home was I had a great race managed to stick to pace of just over 6min/mile (Hr 164 – 93% of max) and rolled over the line at 1hr 18min 53sec. This was a new PB and gave me 29th overall and a first time podium in the old man’s age group (3rd V40). The day was a confidence builder to tell me training was paying of so next stop Outlaw middle distance triathlon, Nottingham.

http://www.stuweb.co.uk/race/1ff/

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Hull Marathon 2015

The start of 2015 was the Boston marathon and man did I pick the wrong year – windy and freezing but it was one for the ‘bucket list’ and my 3hour (ish) run from the 2014 Barcelona marathon got me a place. A big reason to do the marathon was not only to run the oldest marathons in the world, but also to support the fight against those who live to cause fear through terrorism and the survivors from Boston who can never be beat. Despite everyone trying to keep warm in the open tents it was a great event and I dragged out a 3hr 7min marathon with only xmas training under the belt (and maybe Santa’s belly).

The main goals for the year where to improve the bike and run so only signed up for one ‘A’ race [The Hull marathon], and one ‘B/C’ race  – the Ironman 70.3 Stafford in June (Update – no blog on this but I managed a top 20 at the event without a taper).

So to the hull marathon…

I had a great year of training with significant improvements in bike and run, so was looking forwards to Hull. In advance I had done some great training sessions in prep at an around 6.30min/mile for 17-18Miles. This gave me some confidence going into the race and helped me set a realist target pace and heart rate.  This was the first year of the Hull marathon after a non-starter (wrong length) a year or so before, so getting some reviews on the course was not possible. However, looking at the elevation and where the course was run there seemed only to be a few sections that might be difficult and need some additional pacing consideration. There was the Humber Bridge which was open to the wind and then a section of the course that had a slight gradient about mile 11.

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Figure 1. Pace and heart rate over the Hull marathon

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During both I tried to stick to HR (Average over whole course 159bpm/90%max hr) rather than pace (See Figure 1) so I left some effort in the legs for the return journey (a marathon is a long old day – especially if it all goes tits up).

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As you pass over the Humber I got to see where I was in relation to the rest of the marathon runners and from what could tell I was in the top 15. I was pretty shocked but excited as never have been so close to the front end of a race before and I began to think, “still 7-8miles to run maybe I could break the top 10 if I held my pace.”

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By the end of the race I had chipped away another 5 or so places by sticking to the race plan and crossed the line in 9th in a time of 2hr 51min. I felt great and not the usual pain in my legs. The best bit was seeing the shock on the wife’s and daughters face as I cam round the last bend with only 8 other athletes in front of me. It was a great end to 2015 and indicated that taking almost a whole year to train rather than to race was really paying off and to train smart for 2016. It was at this time I begin to think making Kona the Ironman World Chaps was a real possibility if I could build on my bike for 2016 and it all came together on the day.

http://www.sportstimingsolutions.co.uk/rd.php?id=68

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Ironman Florida 2014

Ironman Florida 2014 [9hr 27mins] – Holiday time

After Lanzarote I wanted another race before the years end but also it needed to be a holiday as it had been a super busy year with work and training so booked up for Ironman Florida (White sand and sun). It was a flat bike course and I would have enough time to recover from Lanzarote and fit in another training cycle with some efforts to improve the run off the bike in hot weather. So for this one I would get out 10 days before the event to give myself enough time to get use to the heat.  I will keep this race report pretty short as the swim was cancelled.

SWIM (cancelled): So we booked a hotel (Laketown Wharf ) 2 mins from race start – not the most beautiful hotel but its position to the start of the race was perfect. The rooms where massive like a mini apartment with great shops and a Wallmart 5 mins walk away, which was perfect if you have kids. Race morning we had heard on local news of warnings of rip tides and the double-red flags out on the beach – not good. It was also pretty unexpected as the whole time we had been in Florida the weather had been stunning and the water pan flat.

Made it down to transition and it was freezing (in the low 30s from 70-80s the days prior) and very windy (25mph with 35+ gusts).  So happy I went out to Florida early to acclimatize for what I thought would be a hot day. Despite the pro’s starting the swim was cancelled before they made a few 100m out as it was just too unsafe. There was a lot of cold and shivering people who had not brought a change of clothing other than skimpy tri-suits. Then we had the announcement that the event would be a bike-run (Duathlon) with athletes released every 30s by order of race number. That for some was a 2-3Hour wait in the cold before getting onto the course.  Not great if you had come from the UK and spent big money on travel, hotels and the event, especially given there was not option for a refund as one guy I met from Luton told me (as he had tried). I was lucky as relative to the 3000ish participants I have a number closer to the front end.

BIKE (5hours 53mins): Once on the course the wind made it clear it was not going to be the super fast day I thought it would be. Out on the course I had 2 flats just to cheers the day right up, but you just have to laugh these things off and keep going. The bike course is pretty flat but and fast times I might have gained was destroyed due to the 25-25mph winds and flats. I have to say that despite what I had heard over the course being a draft-fest there was not a massive amount of drafting. This might have been a result of the timed starts so people where very well spread out over the course and the high winds meant closing that gap had taken longer.

RUN (3Hours 27mins):  I was chomping at the bit to get off the bike and had held 175w for the bike course (about 72% FTP) so was feeling pretty fresh despite the windy bike. Once out of T1 the legs felt good and I started off strong – with fresh memories of Lanzarote and the walk of shame came rushing back reminding me to stick to the pre-planned pace. The goal was to hold back and to run towards a 3.30 marathon. The temperature was cool which suits me and this really helped with my run.

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Figure 1. Run pace and hr over the Ironman.

The supporters especially surrounding the 3-5 km close to the course were great and gave a boost to all the athletes. As you can see I averaged a pretty steady heart rate (see Fig 1, average Hr 146bpm). In the end it was a relatively solid race but disappointed over the swim being cancelled and some real issues with the weather and flats on the bike but as they say never give in. I crossed the line in 9hr 27mins.

Next stop 2015 and to start thinking beyond just finishing to competing and racing these events. Looking back over the last 12 months and ending 1ST full year of training I was over competing. I had done 2 full Ironman’s, 1half Ironman, a full marathon. Given I had only had completed 4-6 months of training the year before I was still in need of some uninterrupted training to ensure I could improve my biking and running fitness. So that was the goal for 2015 and made the decisions no more full Ironman’s for at least the next 12 months.

http://eu.ironman.com/triathlon/events/americas/ironman/florida/results.aspx?rd=20141101#axzz4Sj7s0m4A

Ironman Lanzarote 2014

Ironman Lanzarote: The walk of Shame…

Summary of the course

Lanzarote one of the toughest Ironman races in the world, hot, windy, hills so why not! I have to say the place lived up to its name a truly brutal course.

I had decided xmas 2013 to get myself back in shape after almost 5 years of doing pretty much nothing as far as training goes. I had convincing myself 3 times to the gym a week whilst eating the house out was an ok way to maintain health and fitness. Sometimes we all get caught up in work and chasing material goals whilst forgetting the importance of our own personal wellbeing. Well after only 4 months training I roped in a mate to doing what was then Challenge Vichy (Ironman distance tri), which after only a few months training was as hard as you would imagine it would be. However, it gave me the appetite to get back into the endurance game, loose some lard and set some goals.

One of those was to do Ironman Lanzarote in May 2014. I always new I would be rubbish at climbing as I am just not built for the mountains (or for that matter the heat!) but the event was close to the UK and I love a challenge. It was also a good excuse to help me get back in shape so I signed up.

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Figure 1. Course profile Ironman Lanzarote

I did some reading and the course is known as one of the toughest on the Ironman circuit, with gale-force winds, temps over 30c and over 2500m of climbing. On the day it did not disappoint. As you can see in figure 1 it was not flat 😉

Pre Event

I stayed away from the main part of Lanzarote and we (Wife, Daughter, Mam) hired a villa about 45 mins drive from Puerto Del Carmen, and hired a car. I never really liked the atmosphere of Ironman’s as everyone looks each up and down, checking out bodyfat percentages, bikes etc. Staying away from the main event at least until the day before is good idea as you can keep relaxed without all the pre-event triathlon talk and bragging that comes with it.

For me these Ironmans have to be a a family holiday rather than just dragging the family around. They need some recognition for the time we as Ironman spend away from them training and who picks up the slack when your out on that long run or long bike. Its only fare to give them as much of a holiday as possible.

It was not super hot over the week pre-event but it was windy when out on the bike course route. Being from the North East of the UK the wind is a daily occurrence in training and you just come to accept. I also chose to ride Lanzarote on a road bike with some clip on tri-bars to better deal with the hills and the wind.

On the day

SWIM (66 Minutes): Was another early start pre 5am and was fully packed the day before (of course a re-check and then another recheck the night before). Been a while since any ocean swims but the forecast was not to be too windy so I had high hopes that if I made it through the swim I could get round the bike course without been blown down a volcano. The swim was a simple 2-lap circuit with a short beach run between the laps. I positioned myself just behind the hour swimmers and to the left.  The swim was ok and didn’t to bashed about and fell out of the water in 66 min –  next stop was the bike.

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BIKE (7Hours 6mins): Got to say was worried the bike but made the decision to play it conservative and hold the bike at 170w with 220-230w on the hardest climbs where possible. Most of the course is not super difficult if well paced but there are a few real tough sections and these are Mirador del Haria and Mirador del Rio. Haria has a real tough section before the special needs station and the top of the climb on entrance to the climb there where quite a few wheel suckers (drafters) working together that resulted in some amusement and choice language from a number of Brits out on the course.

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Whilst on the climbs there where quite a few walking especially just before the last turn before the summit. Keeping the watts low at the peak of the big climbs was almost impossible and is a case of damage limitation and keeping relaxed. The worse part of the course was rough Nazaret road climbing back to Teguise. The road surface (if you can cal it that) was hideous and I was gland not to be on TT bike as it would have been a real boneshaker. I was lucky to escape without any punctures and the last 15k is pretty easy back to town and its here you can start to take stock if you have gone to hard and what’s left in the legs for the run. At this point the sun was up and despite the sun block my forearms where starting to fry.

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RUN (4hours 29mins): I love to run and had already completed the Barcelona marathon a few months earlier in 3hr 4mins, but the heat has always been my foe as a heavy sweater. And given the zero shade of running the 3-lap sea front of in Lanzarote I knew I was in for a tough time. At least I knew I would finish the course becoming an ‘Ironman’ for the 1st time. Sure enough the run was tough with the temp in the mid 30s and especially when you can see the holiday-makers sucking down ice cold beers and ice creams. Despite the long walks I eventually finished and crossed over the finish line with my daughter to claim my medal, t-shirt and the bragging rights to finishing one of the toughest 1 day events to become an Ironman.

http://www.clublasanta.com/media/398052/results%20leaflet%20IM2014.pdf

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Altium i-10

Altium-i10 – Like being on top of a mountain?

Price: £499 (Circa $617)

Purpose: To deliver the benefits of altitude training at home.

Website: www.altium-i10.com

Summary – Pros: May work in swimming / Cons: Expensive, no clear benefit on lactate threshold or power at lactate threshold, no effect on hct and hb.

For elite athletes high altitude training has been regarded as ‘must have’ component in the preparation for elite endurance sports. The reason for this is that hypoxic (low oxygen) stress at altitude (note this ‘at altitude’) facilitates key physiological and biochemical adaptations that may improve performance at sea-level. In order to tap into the beneficial effects of altitude adaptation and performance enhancement comes the Altium i10 a piece of equipment that allows you to breath a lower level of oxygen (resulting in hypoxia – low blood oxygen) followed by normal breathing (reoxygenation). The intermitted hypoxia (IH) is suggested to trigger a response similar to that obtained at altitude. It’s as simple as that.

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Figure 1. Photos of the Altium i10

A closer look…

When you receive the Altium it comes in James Bond style case and this is a nice touch for something that is ultra-premium in its costs of circa £500. Inside we have a cylinder that you can place some circular sponges, and some poppers that can work to alter the flow rate and chamber volume which both impact breathing. For a great explanation and some additional detail check out https://altium-i10.com/how-it-works/

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Figure 2. From Top left to right – Altium taken apart, pulse oximeter, foam disks to alter chamber volume, CO2 scrubber cartridge and mouthpiece, flow controller.

The Altium oximeter links to an app for your iPhone which shows your O2 levels and pulse and most importantly tells you when to start and stop breathing on the Altium (6 minute on with 4 mins rest for each interval). At the end of the 1 Hour session you get a summary for each of your 6 intervals showing how long you spent at certain levels of O2 and what that equates to in relation to altitude. The app then gives you a summary of all session and converts them into what they term ‘ALTIPOINTS’ – the more time at higher altitude the more points.

I have to say the 1ST few sessions took some playing about with to get the volume of the cylinder and the flow rate just right so that your O2 levels didn’t drop to low. If they drop to low the app stops recording until you O2 gets back up to what they view a safe range. I found this really irritating aspect of using the app and the Altium but I can see why the do it i.e. safety and to stop you passing out. However, I would love and option to just switch this off.

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Figure 3. Altium accumulated scores and example of o2 results from a 6 minutes sessions as recorded on the Altium i10 App.

The other issue is you need also to get use to when the CO2 scrubber has to be changed. This becomes obvious if you know what to look for and this indicated by either, 1. Colour change in the CO2 scrubber from white to purple, 2. The O2 levels become difficult to keep low no matter how you breathe. OK so that’s how it works but what about the science behind it?

Some science

Over the past decade, the use of hypoxic training techniques has become increasingly popular, especially living high (altitude) and training low (LHTL). Traditionally, this LHTL protocol requires long exposure time of >12-14d to receive a sufficient ‘hypoxic’ impact that adaptation and performance benefits result. As such the duration such an intervention can be prohibitive for many athletes due to cost and availability.

Another model is live low and train high (LLTH) where exposure to hypoxic conditions are of shorter duration (<3hr, 2-5 x a week). However, this duration has been shown not to deliver the benefits of LHTL and LLTH methods.

With reference to the Altium another short duration (<3 h) hypoxic technique is intermittent hypoxic exposure (IHE) where no training is performed during exposure sessions. This has been show through a comprehensive review of published studies up until 2010 concluded that IHE alone does not lead to sustained physiological adaptations or improved exercise performance.

However, another study looking at published research concluded that IHE may improve performance in sub-elite athletes, but not elite athletes owing to the fact that elites experience more hypoxia from their day-2-day higher intensities of training compared with sub-elite athletes. Some additional study data from 2014 shows a single 4-hour exposure at 300m with no impact on genes related altitude adaptation.

One study looked at IHE (7 x 1 hour/day at 4500m at rest) and its impact on physiological responses (at 2 submaximal workloads at simulated altitudes of 2000 m, 3000 m, and 4000 m). Subjects where tested pre and post altitude exposure and the results showed blood lactate concentrations and CO2 output were reduced following altitude exposure. It was suggested that the effect might have been caused by an improvement in aerobic power resulting in lower relative exercise intensity after IHE. However, based on the study data it is not likely that aerobic power was improved because neither haematological parameters (i.e. haemoglobin concentration) nor heart rate as an indicator of relative exercise intensity had changed after the IHE application.

Furthermore, the study did not assess exercise performance so although there may have been some physiological changes there was no proof of a performance benefit.

The Altium Study: University of the West of Scotland Study (UWS)

The Altium from what I can find has been tested at a University but at present the study is unpublished. The study on 13 competitive cyclists and triathletes used the Altium every other day for 28 days (14 sessions) using 6 mins of Altium breathing and 4 minutes off for 60 minutes per session. Prior to and post Altium use subjects underwent a lactate threshold test followed by a V02max test.

The results of the study state the use of the Altium:

  • Improved vo2max [+2mls/kg](UWS study)
  • Improved lactate threshold [+18watts) (UWS study)
  • Improved cycling efficiency (UWS study)
  • Improved time trial performance (UWS study)

There where no changes to haemoglobin (oxygen carrying protein) and haematocrit (amount of oxygen carrying red cells).

Therefore, the results of the IHE study (7 x 1 hour/day at 4500m at rest) I discuss above may suggest the results on the Altium from the UWS may be effective if these responses translate to a performance effect. To date other than Altium’s own unpublished (not in peer review journal not conference abstract) research carried out at the UWS there is no direct evidence to show that the suggested method of use of the Altium i.e. 1 hour per day for 14 days or every other day for 28 days deliver performance benefits. I asked the makers of the Altium for a rationale based on published data that supports the protocol but none was provided so I cannot say what the basis is for the way the Altium is suggested to be used.

One other issue and this is important – Altitude is not only about low levels of oxygen in the body. There is also the issue of ‘Partial pressure’ of oxygen.  As we get higher (increase in altitude) the pressure decreases and although the percentage of oxygen we breathe in remains the same (circa 21%) the number of all molecules in the air including oxygen decreases. Therefore, the low oxygen tension (pressure) in the air we breath results in low oxygen availability. Therefore, unlike the Altium the way oxygen availability occurs at Altitude may result in different effects on the body.

TESTING THE ALTIUM

I have to say from the outset I am only ‘one’ subject (a case study) and in science this would be viewed as a case study therefore my results may not be representative of others using this product. However, that does not make my results (see below) irrelevant in relation to my own experience and benefits from using the product in the absence of a peer reviewed study.

As with any piece of technology ‘free speed’ or ‘free performance’ benefits without having to train to get them are a great idea. As with this and other blogs I want to try them out to see if they really work, especially if they come with a big price tag.

OK let’s get down to the results….

What I did…

The pre test for the Altium was pre (19th August) and post (September 9th) with use of the Altium for 14 days starting on the 24th August and last day of use 7th September (14 days).

So for the actual testing we carried out a Lactate threshold test following the same protocol as per the BSX (See my previous BSX blog). That means each stage lasting 3 minutes and increasing 20 watts per stage.

During the test blood lactate was taken for every stage as was inspired and expired O2 and CO2. Also pre and post-test haemoglobin and haematocrit was measured.

During the test I also wore the BSX insights as a secondary measure to assess lactate threshold (and blood measures of threshold pre and post match almost identically to that of the BSX).

The results…

The following is the data from the test results but first its important to establish the rate of change in fitness and adaptation occurring through my training alone. As such the first figure shows a number of lactate threshold tests taken around every week with the BSX building up to the laboratory tests. As you can see there is a steady increase in watts at lactate threshold of about 3/4 watts per week.

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Figure 4. BSX threshold results up 1 month pre-testing of the Altium

This data is useful as it can be used to see if the Altium really changes performance above that from exercise alone. Most blogs and reviews I have seen on the Altium have said they think it worked but because I was not consistent in my training or they didn’t measure effects of training on performance and or LT running up to the test we don’t know for sure if it’s the training or Altium causing the performance enhancement.

As such my monitoring pre use of the Altium I believe makes this review very relevant and tightly controlled.  The BSX demonstrated that over the course of using the Altium – threshold increased circa 5/6 watts, which was not different from the June from July 17 to July 26th.

Results pre and post Altium use.

Lactate threshold: The impact of the Altium pre and post-test did not increase watts at threshold (250w based on blood analysis, slightly higher by the BSx) to a greater extent than the improvements occurring as a result of training alone. As such the Altium seems not to result in a beneficial impact on lactate threshold (See figures 5 and 6).

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Figure 5. BSX results pre (19th August) and post (September 9th)

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Figure 6. Lactate threshold pre and post Altium use.

Haemaglobin, hematocrit and VO2max:

Hematocrit is a measure of the proportion of blood volume that is occupied by red blood cells. The higher your hematocrit, the more oxygen can be delivered per volume of blood.

Haemoglobin is a protein that binds to oxygen in the lungs so that the oxygen can be transported to the rest of the body. Therefore, increasing the amount of haemoglobin in the blood increases the amount of oxygen that can be carried and is a feature of altitude acclimatization.

A normal value for hemoglobin is 13.5 to 17.5 grams per deciliter (g/dl), and 38.8 to 50% for hematocrit. As can be seen from Figure 7 my values are in the normal range and although these values can be impacted by hydration and training status they did not significantly change over the course of using the Altium. This result was expected and not something that the company behind the Altium have suggested would alter and confirms the results in their UWS study.

Because Hb and Hct they can be reflective of a change in oxygen carrying capacity they are worth testing pre and post-test. As we know the are limits placed on athletes by the likes of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) for a haematocrit of 50% and international skiing federation (FIS) 18.5 g/dl for hemoglobin. This is in a bid to stop and detect the use of EPO therefore any big effects from the Altium would have been important for athletes undergoing such testing.

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Figure 7. Pre and post haemoglobin and haematocrit values.

VO2max is the volume of oxygen can be consumed while exercising at your maximum capacity or often called your maximal aerobic capacity. Unlike hematocrit and hemaglobin the effects of altitude on VO2max are not clear with some studies showing an increase but others have shown a decrease as the body becomes more efficient at delivering oxygen for the same intensity of work.

We also tested VO2max levels pre and post the use of the Altium and in Figure 8 we can see that pre and post use there where no significant changes in VO2max.screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-14-43-12

Figure 8. VO2max (absolute) measured pre and post Altium use.

Conclusions…

The 1ST thing to say is I only measured the impact of the Altium i10 on ‘cycling’ performance and physiological changes during a cycling test. Therefore, it is possible there could be performance benefits for running and or swimming.

There are also limitations in the test in so far as the measurement of VO2max as would normally only be measured during shorter duration test time frame i.e. 10-15minutes. However, the conditions of the test pre and post Altium use are the same and therefore the maximum VO2 reached is relevant.

Furthermore, threshold (lactate) maybe determined using different mathematical models and this can significantly impact the results of the test out come. As such we used a selection of methods including logging the data and visually examining threshold, used a modified dmax method, also used the BSX insights. All demonstrated no significant improvement in threshold pre and post Altium use. We have not inserted the lines on figure 6 above as we feel even the non-scientist can see the blood values do not differ significantly pre and post Altium use.

Future and benefits

Before I give a final conclusion I can say I wished I had completed a critical speed or some other performance test for swimming. The reason is I felt that there was some significant gains over the course of using the Altium.

Now this may be as a result of training or training plus the Altium I don’t know as I didn’t take a measure of swim performance running up to Altium use or post use. Anecdotally I can say that swimming became faster over the weeks and the perceived exertion was lower. My feeling is that this might be the right home for the Altium as swimming aid and by its very nature swimming is hypoxic especially for those breathing less every stroke. As such the exposure to higher CO2 / lower O2 my impact the bodies tolerance and as such the need to breath. The result would be perhaps an ability to maintain a more efficient head down position in the water thereby making the swim more streamlined and faster. Clearly more work needed here.

In relation to cycling my ‘own’ results simply don’t warrant the Altium as a performance enhancer (no increased watts at lactate threshold, changes in haemoglobin or haematocrit or VO2max). As such for me the expenditure was not worth it as it did not benefit performance beyond what I was experiencing with training.

For the makers of the Altium I feel there is a lot more work to be done on the testing side and specifically the development of the protocol. So would a 7 day 2 hours a day protocol have impacted my results differently (i.e. greater hypoxic stimulus but more acute) to the current protocols?

What about the maintenance phase? Where is the evidence for this?

What about a study assessing the effects of the Altium in more hypoxic sports such as swimming? Those who have completed an Ironman swim know exactly how hypoxic that can get and perhaps there is something to be said for the Altium in that regards.

There are issues of blinding. Blinding relates to the fact knowing you using a product you believe enhances performance results in enhanced performance through placebo effect. By using a mix of a product or protocol that does not lower O2 vs the Altium and its suggested protocol we can assess if any performance benefits are delivered by placebo (i.e. subjects are blinded to using a performance enhancer). However, that said when using this sort of equipment its unlikely watts at lactate threshold can be impacted.

Similarly, care should be taken over the run into any program over the training status and rate of performance improvements athletes are undergoing. So for my test we measure threshold in the 4 weeks pre testing to see the improvements to be made on a week-by-week basis. Similarly, the volume and intensity over the 2 weeks of the Altium use was similar. Was this assessed for the testing done by UWS?

Finally, price point – this is a big punt to spend almost £500 and for that I think most consumers want a guarantee of efficacy. But these are the risks of early adoption of technology.

 

REFERENCES

Wilber RL, Stray-Gundersen J, Levine BD. Effect of hypoxic ‘‘dose’’ on physiological responses and sea-level performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(9):1590–9.

Billaut F. A higher calling, but does altitude training work? 2011. http://theconversation.edu.au/a-higher-calling-but-does-altitudetraining-work-3055. Accessed 10 Oct 2012.

Millet GP, Roels B, Schmitt L, et al. Combining hypoxic methods for peak performance. Sports Med. 2010;40(1):1–25.

Bonetti DL, Hopkins WG. Sea-level exercise performance following adaptation to hypoxia: a meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2009;39(2):107–27.