Learning to Train with a Heart Rate Monitor

My primary race this season will be Barcelona Olympic Distance triathlon. While I have a fairly good aerobic base and training experience for endurance events, you will know from my previous entries there are a few difficulties I’m contending with …
·         I’ve come into the season late
·         I have some serious work to do in swimming and cycling
·         I don’t really seem to have many options when it comes to joining a group or finding a coach in Amsterdam.

So what’s my plan? I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and think I can coach myself for a while. I figure I’ve been coached for long enough by some truly excellent coaches that I can work on my own for a while. (Plus, my new ironman training buddy coached himself to a 10 hour ironman, so I know it can be done!)

I’m reading Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt, and making my training plan around what I learn from them. They recommend a lot of stuff by heart rate training, so the first thing I had to do was take out the heart rate monitor strap that accompanied the Garmin I bought last year. And I was kind of shocked. Both Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt recommend a lot of training in Zones 1 and 2. Basically, at this rate: Breathing rate and pace increase slightly. Breathing slightly deeper. Conversation still possible. Legs still comfortable. A lot of the workouts are in this zone.

Running in Zone 2

When I run, I’m having a lot of difficulty training at this level. I feel like I’m not working at all, and therefore couldn’t possibly be getting fitter. But according to Joe Friel, this is a really important level to train at:
Riding two or more hours at this effort challenges the body to make some improvements. One is to become better at using fat for fuel while sparing muscle glycogen stores. The longer your races are, the more important this shift is. The other critical shift has to do with increasing the capillary bed in the working muscles. The more capillaries you have the easier it is to get fuel and oxygen to the muscle.
See: http://www.trainingbible.com/joesblog/2009/11/aerobic-base-ride.html

Listening to podcasts and doing some other reading where triathletes find gradually their pace increases within Zone 2. So I’m tryin’!

Cycling in Zone 2

On the other hand, I realise I have barely worked at all when I have done cycling training in the past. Wednesday night I had to do my training at the gym, so sat on a spin bike and started “working”. My heart rate was exceptionally low, and my cadence exceptionally high. I know your cycling heart rate is lower than you running heart rate, but not by 50 bpm! I started increasing resistance, trying to find the resistance where I was in Zone 2, with cadence at 90. I eventually found it. Immediately, I thought, “How on earth am I going to sustain this? I’ve never even cycled this hard in a race!” Yep – it seems I’ve never cycled at even Zone 2 in a triathlon … No wonder I’m so slow on the bike!


So here’s what I’m going to do: for running – slow down to get faster; for cycling – speed up to get fast (yep, not just fastER – but FAST)! And how does this fit into my training? Quite well – considering my issues dealed with finding running partners it’s good I can run by myself and not be pressured to run faster; and for cycling I have a small group who will push me to reach my potential.

So I’ve done two weeks of solid training. This week I take my foot off the gas – until Sunday, when I have my first triathlon in more than a year: the In Flanders Field Triathlon in Belgium. 1km swim, 40km bike, 10km run. Wish me luck!

Time to Tri Again: Part 3: The Run

So I guess some people could be reading my blog, thinking, “This girl doesn’t seem to be a strong swimmer, or cyclist … Why is she doing triathlon?” Well, sometimes I think the same thing!

I can run though. Generally in triathlons in Australia I would pull myself from the end of the field as I came in on the bike (once dead last), to mid-field by the end of the run. Sometimes a bit better. And that was over 3km – 5km runs. So yeah, I can do okay in a triathlon. Should I focus all my energy on running? Possibly … I ran a 3:01 marathon last October, so logically the next step is to go for sub-three hours. But there is something about triathlon that is so addictive … so compelling … And I am convinced if I get the cycling up-to-scratch, I am going to be a real competitor.

But I digress, I want to fill you in on how I am fitting in my running training in Amsterdam …

Talk about the loneliness of the long distance runner! It is virtually impossible to find running groups here in Amsterdam … Let’s review my options …

Swimming (Tri)athletes?

Four weeks ago, I contacted Amsterdam’s only triathlon club and asked if I could attend their one run session for the week. Today, I finally heard back from them.

“Did you already get an answer from one of us? I was on a holiday so didn’t see your message. Sorry.

You’re more than welcome to train with us but we have mainly swim trainings so if you only want to do running you should better go to AAC. At the run training there are not a lot of triathletes.”

Bizarre … How can you be a triathlete if you only swim? Isn’t that a mono-athlete?


I recently met a guy at a barbecue, who told me he ran with some “Run Holland” group. I was immediately interested, and asked him to tell me more about it.

“Well,” he began, “there are five levels. I am in Level 5, the fastest level, but you would probably be in Level 3.”

Given that I hadn’t told him anything about my running background, I asked why he thought that.

“Most of the ladies are in Level 3 and below. Only a few fast ones are in Level 2,” he responded.

Alright, so I’m not a raging feminist, getting up on my high horse demanding women should be allowed entry to Level 1. I know the differences between fast men and fast women can be large. But still, I was curious.

“What do I have to run to be Level 1?” I asked.

“Oh, 10km in 40 minutes,” he responded, pushing his chest out proudly.

Now, let me take a moment to tell you about 10km. The US qualifying times for the Olympics for 10km are 27:50 for men; 31:45 for women. So you see 40 minutes is good … but it’s not that good. It’s not what I would expect for the “top level” in a running group.

In Melbourne I trained with a group of 15 girls, more than half of whom could run sub-37 minutes. My PB was 38:50.

Getting back to the Level 1 runner… “I run that,” I responded.

“Oh,” he responded … And pulled out a cigarette!

This time I did get on my high horse, and advised him, “You could run a lot faster if you didn’t do that.”

“Well, it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Most of the guys in the group smoke.”

Scratching that one from my list!

Ironmen? Sure!

I recently met a guy at the gym after a spin class, who came up to me and asked if I was a triathlete, based on my clothes (I wear a lot of 2XU stuff, which is primarily a triathlon brand). He explained he was training for a half ironman – which was going to be his first triathlon. He was doing this training with his friend, who had recently completed an ironman race in 10 hours (that’s fast – 3.8km swim/180km bike/42.2km run).

I jumped. “Do you want to train together?” I asked.

And so these are the guys I train with when I get the chance. I just kind of invite myself to their Sunday runs, but they don’t seem to complain:)

… And so here I am, finding it’s time to “tri” again …

So I’ve now introduced myself to you as a runner, cyclist and swimmer. Join me on my endeavours as I train for Ironman 70.3 Austria in May 2012 … and beyond!

Time to Tri Again Part 2: The Bike

Often in a triathlon, as people surge ahead of me on the swim, I think to myself, “Swimming is my weakest leg!”

Unfortunately, when I get out on the bike, it becomes evident that swimming is not my weakest leg, and I find myself thinking, “No, cycling is definitely my weakest leg!” It’s really depressing. To the point that after I had my road bike shipped over to join me in Amsterdam, it stayed in the bike box for more than three months. The only reason it came out when it did was because a friend needed to borrow it.

After I took it out, I posted a picture of it on facebook. A girl who I’d recently met at a bbq, Hayley, immediately commented, “Monica! I have a road bike too! Let’s ride together!”

We went out a few times … and it was fun.

Now, when I trained in Melbourne I trained with an awesome group of triathletes – who were all super good on the bike. What I found was, I might stick with them for the warm up, but as soon as we started doing efforts, they left me for dead. Without anyone around to push me, I wasn’t really motivated to put in my best effort. I would tell myself I was pushing hard but … come to think of it, I probably wasn’t.

In contrast, it was lucky for me that Hayley only started cycling this year. We were about the same speed. When she would start pushing the pace, I would respond – and keep up! Suddenly I started getting more out of cycling – and enjoying it more.

Finding a Cycling Group

Finding a group to ride with has been difficult. There’s an Amsterdam Cyclist group on facebook, but no one ever seems to post anything.

Hayley and I post rides to a meetup website with an Amsterdam cycling group. The group has 33 members. About five of those are active … So that’s our crew! But they are nice guys, and we all ride well together.

The downside of the meetup group

A couple of times, we have had people turn up on their Dutch bikes for a relaxing Saturday morning ride … only to see the rest of us with fast race bikes decked out in lycra. Most of the times, they have gracefully bowed out …

One time, however, an English guy decided he would still join us. This bike he had must have weighed about five times what our bikes weighed – before you added on his saddle bags filled with who knows what!

He was determined to prove he could keep up for the whole 70km ride. Unfortunately, in order to prove this, he pushed himself to the front of the pack at every opportunity – and particularly when either Hayley or I was in the lead.

I will give him credit for the fact that he kept up for a long time. However, he was one of those real talk it up types – at one stage he spent 15 minutes telling me about his running prowess. This included telling me of his fastest marathon which he ran in 3:35. I decided that would be an appropriate time to speak up.

“I’ve two marathons,” I said.

He pounced, “Oh yeah? What’s your PB?”


Silence. “Wow … Um … That’s pretty fast,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied laconically.

To my amusement, he obviously felt the need to reassert his manhood, and he picked up the speed, cycling ahead of me.

At last the moment came when he couldn’t keep up any longer… “Go ahead!” he called out. “Next time I’ll bring a race bike!”

You do that …

Young Men Pushing out Young Females …

Hayley was recently on a ride with one of the guys from our meetup group, Brendan. They came across a big peleton, and started to ride with them. They moved through the pack steadily, and went out wide to take the lead. Brendan moved in smoothly. The next cyclist – a young guy looked over at Hayley, did a double take, as though thinking, “What? We’re going to be led by a girl?” He moved up quickly and closed the gap, keeping Hayley out and forcing her to move back …

Unfortunately this was not an isolated incident, and we often find if we ride up beside young male cyclists they will do a double take and pick up their pace … Or if we start drafting behind a young guy, if he turns and notices we’re girls he will pick up the pace and zoom off.

Old Men Helping out Young Females

Fortunately, the old man are much more helpful! On a difficult ride this weekend we had about four old guys go past us at various points, and yell out, “Kom mee” – come with me; jump on my wheel (draft off me). I sat behind one old guy on a difficult, windy stretch, and he kept turning to make sure I was still on his wheel, and still feeling okay.

Hitting the Hills

The Netherlands is known for being particularly flat. Occasionally we will be faced with a minor rise, at which point we tend to get really excited. “Hill! Get in the biggest gear! Make the most of it!”

Whenever I ask Dutch people where I can go for hill training, they suggest the sand dunes at Bloemendaal. We headed out a few weeks ago, joining up with some new triathlete friends who were training for a half ironman. These guys are tough. The weather that day was absolutely awful, and I realised that as they were leading us to the sand dunes, they were inadvertently leading us into a storm. When I pointed this out, their response was to grin and pick up the pace – taking us to that storm faster.

I think the weather was the worst bit however. There was a bit of undulation, and the wind was strong … But it was not really much more than cycling along Melbourne’s Beach Road. In fact, I thought perhaps we’d only done a small section of the dunes (and an easy section at that) and suggested to Hayley we go back again and do the whole thing. She looked at me like I was crazy, “Unfortunately, that was the whole thing!”

A Lack of Coffee Culture …

In Australia, a huge part of cycling is the visit to a café at the end of a long ride, with a delicious coffee and breakfast. A lot of bike shops have a good coffee machine and a decent barista. Many rides start and end at a café. Now I know a lot of you who read the blog are probably not the biggest fans of the lycra-clad cyclists clomping around in their cycling shoes in your local café every Saturday and Sunday morning … But I miss it! There’s no good coffee here, and most little cafés don’t open til after 11am – which can be a little bit late!

But despite the lack of hills and decent coffee, it’s all good. I’m getting faster, making friends and having fun … and actually a bit sad that winter is approaching and I won’t be getting out on my bike so much!

Tonight’s “Swim” In

A quick addition to my first post about swimming in Amsterdam’s overcrowded pools … Swim rage!

This evening I was down at my pool doing my session. I’d done my warm up, drills, and was starting my first of five 200m efforts.

I was the only girl swimming in the “fast” lane. I looked around me at the guys with big shoulders, looking down at me (when you see my shoulders, it’s clear swimming is not my strongest leg on a triathlon!). They looked like they were wondering what I was doing there, but I was confident I could keep up. I shrugged, and commenced.

40 metres – bam – my first toe tap. No, no one was tapping my toes, I was tapping toes of one of the big shouldered guys in front. I tapped once, moved back a tad, and waited til we hit the end of the pool. He stopped to let me pass.

115 metres – bam – I tapped another guy’s toes. We finished the lap … and he continued on. Hmm… This was frustrating. I stayed in his wake, and as we neared 150 metres, I tapped his toes a couple times more.

150 metres – at the end of the lap, the guy just turned around, and started swimming again. What? He wasn’t going to let me through? In frustration I screamed under water, “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I turned, and it was on. Bam – bam – bam. This was no longer toe tapping. This was ankle tapping. Respect pool etiquette, dude!

Suddenly the guy stopped, stood up and looked down at me. Perhaps he was expecting me to stop so he could have a go at me. I pulled ahead. He jumped right on my tail, and tapped my ankles – hard.

“You wanna play this game?” I thought. “You can’t – slow poke!” I took off, and by the time I finished my 200 metres I was almost 10 meters ahead of him. What a jerk! At least he didn’t decide to stop and have a go at me. Speed always wins:)

Time to Tri Again … Part 1: The Swim

Last year in Australia, I dedicated a considerable amount of time to training for and competing in triathlons and then Melbourne marathon. After running 90+km a week for a year, I decided to take a break when I arrived in Amsterdam, and get back into it when I felt like it.
A few months ago, I  got back into the gym. Then one of my new friends in Amsterdam discovered I had a road bike, and encouraged me to join her on weekend cycles. Then my godbrother suggested I join him in Austria next year, and take on the Half Ironman Triathlon with him … and somehow I said yes. So here I am back in triathlon training …

What’s interesting is how triathlon training differs here in the Netherlands to Australia.

Join a Club?

To start with, the whole of Amsterdam has only one triathlon club! According to the website, they have one cycle training session a week, one run session a week, but five swim sessions… For a comparison, my group in Australia probably had five or six swim sessions to choose from, plus three bike sessions, and three run sessions… Most of the time in a triathlon is spent on the bike, then the run, then the swim. So why the focus on swimming? And how can you possibly do a triathlon on one bike session a week???

For now, I seem just as well to train myself. So first up: the swim.


The local swimming pool has a “competition pool” and a “recreation pool”. The “competition pool” is 25 metres long, with five lanes. These lanes are:

1 X freestyle lane

1 X fast breaststroke lane

1 X (slow) breaststroke lane

2 X joined up “free for all” lanes. I am not sure why these people need to do a free for all in the “competition pool” rather than the “recreation pool.”

Therefore, for the first time in my life, I am in the fast lane! Unfortunately, so are at least 7 other people every time I go to the pool…

Once you finish in the pool, it’s time for your communal shower! Yes, to get back into the change rooms, you walk through a massive shower area with about eight showers. These are the only showers. So I wash the chlorine from my hair, wash my face etc in a swimsuit, with everyone else who is there – female and male. It’s bizarre. The Dutch just take it in their stride however. Except for one creepy teenage boy who stood staring at the wall the other day, whilst stealing furtive glances over his shoulder at the ladies in the shower …

The pool opens at 7am. It’s kind of late when you consider you need to do a workout, shower, get ready for work, and be in the office at a reasonable hour… And it’s not just this particular pool. It’s not that I’ve picked a strange pool either. All pools seem to open at 7am (same with the gym). In Australia, I used to teach spinning classes at 6.15am – I was pretty much done with my workout by 7am! Anyhow, I’m learning to fit it into my schedule a couple of mornings each week …

Next entry: the bike – and how I am improving my weakest leg in triathlon in this land of bicycles …