Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Wanna Go Fast!

I get asked all the time, "How do I get faster?"

Well, being the wise sage that I am, I suppose it's time to provide some wisdom to the masses.

Truth is, I'm just learning to get fast myself.  If I was an expert I'd already be in the Olympics and on your cereal box!

But I do know some fun tools that have helped me progress from the slightly pot-bellied, lethargic, couch potato to the stunning, statuesque, Adonis-like semi-amateur-professional triathlete you see before you today.


To get faster you must first realize how fast you are now.  Very zen, right?  Here are some good ways to start.

I am a huge fan of Strava.  Swedish for "strive", it's an easy to use and highly useful website/app to track activities and analyze feedback.  I use it record my rides and runs and compare my progress with past activities.  It gives me data on elevation changes, total distances, splits, and even calculates calories based on my physical stats entered into the database.  My favorite part are the race segments.  After completing an activity you can go back and create a segment on the route you just completed and compare yourself to everyone else who passes through that segment using Strava.  Doesn't matter when they pass through, so you can "race" against other athletes and compare your performance anytime.


My favorite part about the app is the simplicity of using it.  I hit the record button, do my ride or run, then hit the stop and save buttons.  Done.  I can play around with my phone or computer later on to analyze to my heart's content and I never feel overwhelmed with the amount of data or features.

Of course, there are some that abuse the segment chasing features on the app, leading to some very serious and even deadly consequences.  Some great articles about the deaths and insanity caused by misuse of the app can be found here and here.

Another great tool I discovered in the last year, is to get your metabolic rate and VO2 level tested.

Your metabolic rate is how fast you burn calories when resting and working out, and helps build a nutrition plan to fuel your athletic pursuits.  Your VO2 level measures your oxygen intake and how you process lactic acid and will give you the "workout zones" for your cardio measuring to determine when you are pushing yourself, and when you are just sandbagging.

The only way to get faster is to work outside of your comfort zone and push your limits, so you need to establish what those limits are.

Charla and I are fortunate that we can get tested on the local military base at the Army Wellness Center, for free.  Usually, testing like this costs quite a bit which is why so many amateurs don't partake.  There are devices and online tools that can help you determine your own VO2 level and metabolic rates, but I highly recommend seeing a doctor or professional sports physiologist to get a more accurate reading.  Your body will thank you later.


What my heart rate monitor usually says.
Our next step was purchasing heart rate monitors for training.  We found some inexpensive sets on Amazon.com from Timex.  Each comes with a chest band monitor and a wristwatch display.  The wristwatch also has the basic Timex stopwatch modes so it doubles as a regular workout watch.  Supposedly, these work in the pool, but I haven't tried them out yet.  One hint, use a little Body Glide or anti-chafe ointment for the chest band if you're going out for a long run.


Our testing gave us 4 zones to work with.  Resting, Endurance, Threshold, and VO2 Max.  Using these zones we can determine how hard we're working and how hard we need to push ourselves to either get faster, or recover. 


Basically, it works like this.  In the Resting zone, you're not really doing anything and can do this all day long without fatigue.  You should probably get off the couch and start moving eventually.  If you're riding your bike, you need to quit drafting off everyone and start pulling your share.

Go Squatch, Go!
In the Endurance zone, you are working but not producing more lactic acid than your body can process.  You can keep this pace for a long, long time.  You're probably running a marathon (slowly) or pedaling on a relaxed group ride.  At the upper end of this zone, you will eventually get tired, but it will take a long time.

In the Threshold zone, you are producing more lactic acid than your body can handle and you're going to tire out in a few minutes.  How many minutes depends on how deep in the zone you are and how in shape you are.  I can run about 7-10 miles with my heart rate in this zone, but I'm also part animal.

If you drop back into the Endurance zone you should recover somewhat and keep going for a long time.  The pro-cyclists that you see in the Tour de France typically push themselves into the Threshold (or beyond) to sprint ahead of the pack or catch up with a breakaway, and then drop back down to just inside the Endurance zone to keep racing.  They can do this all day long because they train for it and it makes them seem insanely fast.

Above the Threshold zone you are approaching your VO2 max and will drop dead very soon.  You're probably sprinting in a 100 meter dash or outrunning a T-Rex.  If you don't slow down, you will fall down.

The Threshold zone is great for building some speed and endurance.  You will get faster and develop slow twitch muscles to support your endurance.  Pushing your VO2 max will develop your fast twitch muscles, give you super speed in short bursts, increase your ability to recover from a hard workout and will hurt a lot.  Good for you.

Learning more about your bodies abilities is a good first step into improving upon what you can already do.  Know your limits, then push them.

Then, you have to have a plan.  You need to find a goal to work towards.  It can be a specific race, event, obstacle course, or distance that you want to accomplish.  Don't focus on anything banal like a pants size or weight class.  We're here to get fast, not diet.  Those tips are for another blog.

Backwards plan off your goal.  Think about all the steps and obstacles you have to overcome before you hit your goal.  Common wisdom says not to increase your weekly total by more than 10%, so always plan plenty of time before you hit your goal to incremently lengthen your run/ride/swim.  I don't always follow that rule, but then, I also don't respect any of my physical limitations.

There are all sorts of programs and training schedules to pick from.  And, it doesn't matter which one you choose, just so long as you stick with it.  The key is to know yourself, what you're capable of, and where you want to be in the end.

Know your limits!

Respect your body, work towards your goal, and stay motivated. 

And don't get eaten by a bear!  Seriously.