Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes - Book Review

Like many people, when I was a kid I learned how to swim. It was the 1970s and back in my hometown - Lakewood, NJ - we didn't have a pool at the high school or down at the rec center like you see in many communities these days. We were old school and learned how to swim in Lake Carasalgo. At one point they literally put us in a boat, took us out to the middle of the lake, the tossed us off the side to swim to shore. Apparently I lived to tell. Like I said, we were old school.

These days I am a triathlete and not a swimmer. Yes, I can swim. In fact, if I do say so myself, for a non-swimmer I can swim pretty darn good. But the swimming we were taught back in the day was more about learning to stay afloat and move forward, not win state titles. No big deal until I decided I wanted to do triathlons. All of a sudden a swim program would have been more helpful than Doc Lipzen tossing me off the side of a row boat.

Learning to swim as an adult is hard. Like many age groupers I am not, never have, and never will consider myself "a swimmer." I didn't start perfecting my stroke before my 4th birthday. Also like many other age groupers, I am basically a self-taught swimmer. I have had some help along the way (thanks Bill, thanks Steve) but for the most part I have changed my stroke by figuring things out on my own. Figuring it out has meant purchasing books, reading blogs, and watching YouTube videos.

In my pursuit of a faster, less taxing swim split about a year ago I came upon Sheila Taormina's first book, Swim Speed Secrets. This book focus is on just the freestyle stroke, which is perfect for a triathlete looking to work on the main stroke you will use come race day. While I got a lot form the book and highly recommend it, I have wanted to be more than a one-trick pony in the pool. According to my swimming friends, doing different strokes will make you a better overall swimmer. The other strokes, I have been told, work your body different, taking some of the stress off the muscles used in freestyle. On a different note, swimming all four strokes (or at least more than one) helps break up the monotony of  staring at the black line doing the same stroke over and over and over.

Just in time for my off-season Sheila (may I call you Sheila?) came out with her follow up book, Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes. The book is a fast read that should be read slowly. I could have blown through this is a few days time, but took the better part of two weeks to sift through the material. This not a cheap novel ... there is a lot of information here that you should really take in. That said, let's take a look under the hood.

Understanding The Why

Just as she did in Swim Speed Secrets, Taormina starts off with "Understanding the Why" of swimming. Unlike some other books on the subject, she wants to make sure that the student understands the background of how the swim stroke has developed over time. Now, this may seem like a waste of  time for the Type A, just tell me what to do type of athlete, but I would disagree. I found it very enlightening to understand the science behind the stroke. For me, having an understanding of the why helps with the practical execution of a (hopefully) better stroke.

Swimming well is a complicated thing. The next three chapters are dedicated to breaking down the different areas of importance - lift and drag; the kick, core movement, and connection; stroke data - with a deep dive into the what and why of swimming. Again, to some this may seem like a waste of time ... just show me how to swim!!! ... but I assure you it is not a waste of time. Once I read in detail about the catch or the core, or the kick, I found a heightened self-awareness every time I entered the pool. Did I start to over think some things? For sure. But with self awareness of your faults comes the ability to fix the problem at hand.

Pictures, Pictures and More Pictures

Fortunately, the book is not just talk about what one wants to do. For me, the hardest part about trying to improve in the water is seeing exactly what I need to do. Others have shown me with varying levels of success. Here, what you have is some of the best swimmers in the world modelling the form they developed over millions of meters over many years. One of the things I noticed was just how many similarities there are between the four strokes. Different, but built off the same platform. On each chapter dedicated to an individual stroke the detail is as good as it gets.

Why Would Benefit From Reading This Book?

The book is an excellent read and I would recommend it to anyone who would like to improve their swimming. If you are a swimmer I think this book is a no brainer. For the triathlete, there is even a nice section dedicated to open water swimming worth the price of the book. Apparently I've been sighting in an inefficient manner for years. Who knew!!!

And for the triathlete who doesn't feel the need to go beyond freestyle, learning the "other" strokes can be helpful in the long run. If you become a better swimmer you become a better triathlete. As a former one-trick pony I understand where you are coming from, but can tell you that diversifying your strokes makes sense. 

You can purchase Swim Speed Strokes for Swimmers and Triathletes here

Disclaimer: I purchased this book on my own.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Rule #12: The Post-Ironman Decision Rule

In the world of endurance sport Ironman is a different beast. There are other incredible endurance challenges (Ultraman, Badwater, Leadville 100, Race Across America) for sure. These events are small in size and really only available to a small number of elite athletes. Completing an Ironman, however, is achievable by Joe or Jean Average if he/she has the desire to pay the entry fee, put in the work, then go the distance. Nothing is quite like an Ironman.

Completing 140.6 miles of swim/bike/run in 17 hours or less is a huge accomplishment, taking months of dedicated training and personal sacrifice in the pursuit of crossing the finish line to Mike Riley's voice pronouncing you an Ironman. Those last few hundred meters are emotional for everyone - from first-time finisher to grizzled veteran. For some it is the highest of highs, for others it is pain and frustration. I've yet to meet someone who crossed that line and said "eh, that's was OK."

Ironman Florida - Jon Soden
Ironman Florida Finish - 9:37 finish (swim cancelled race)

Post-race, the emotions continue for sometime. For some the immediate thought is they have checked the Ironman box; for others it is a high like no other. In race terms, one either wants to get back out and race tomorrow, or never, ever go the distance again.

Over the course of the next 4-5 weeks an interesting thing happens. The day after the race everyone is walking around town in their finishers hats and shirts while the best of the best get the opportunity to punch their card to Kona. Once home it continues on with friends and family congratulating you and asking about your race. The emotional highs (or lows) just keep coming as you tell your Ironman story.

And then it happens ... life get back to normal. You are no longer Joe Ironman, but simply Joe once again. Now, after a few weeks time, you can finally get some perspective. What went right? What went wrong? Do I want to give 140.6 miles another try? After about 30 days time one can truly reflect back on race day, get a grip on what happened and decide on future racing.

The rule then is this:

Any decision on racing a future Ironman-distance race should not be made until at least 30 days have passed since your last Ironman race.

Exception #1: The professional triathlete who is racing for a living and KPR points.

Exception #2: The injured triathlete who already has a second Ironman scheduled for the year can decide to opt out of race #2 if physically necessary.

One month ago, on November 1, I crossed the finish line at Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach, for my fifth Ironman finish. Since then I have embraced the off-season, keeping active but without any structure. Mentally I'm starting to get back into it. On Saturday I felt motivated to do a short swim workout, which is a good sign. It was short and sucked, don't get me wrong, but it is good to once again start coming out the other side of the Ironman experience.

As for next year ... time to start making some decisions.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Don't Panic ... It's the Off-Season

For most serious or semi-serious endurance athletes there is a goal race (the "A" race) that a season is focused on. This could be an Ironman and a try for a Kona slot, or it could be stepping up to the 1/2 marathon distance for the first time. Whatever your big race is, the question always arrives: What do I do now? How do I train once all the training for the year has been done?

Welcome to the off-season. 

Triathlon Off Season
A little bit of this ain't such a bad thing.
There are a number of approaches that people take to the end of season. Some, just continue on after a short break or no break while others make their couch and a beer their new best "training partners" for a few months. There is a middle ground between these extremes, of course, and I fall squarely into that middle ground. Hell, I believe in having a true off-season so much I made it a part of The Rules (specifically Rule #11). If you follow the link you can get a bit more in detail, let's break it down into three words - Fat, Dumb and Happy.

Fat - After a season of racing the body needs a break away from rigors of trying to reach peak fitness. Putting on a few pounds this time of year is not only likely (think Thanksgiving pie and Xmas cookies), it is suggested. Staying at race weight year round puts undue stress on the body. Check the ego, do what's right for your long-term health.

Dumb - No, I'm not saying go out and do something stupid. What I'm saying is, no matter how good or bad your year turned out, now's the time to let it go and just get some easy training in for the sake of training. What happened happened. Let. It. Go. And while you're at it, forget about structure, and intervals, and data file, and anything else that makes you think about your past racing or the racing you will do in the coming year. For a few weeks do what you want, when you want to do it. Your body will tell you when it is time to start thinking about getting serious again.

Happy - This is a different kind of happy from that which you get from a 5k PR or finally getting the Strava KOM you have been trying for all summer. This is the happy you get from a little r&r; the happy you get from an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning; the happy you get from a ride with friends where you enjoy hanging out on the quiet back roads without concern for your average pace or how far you went. All that stuff you neglect because you have a 20 mile run to do at 6 am on Saturday morning? Yeah, that.

With that said, if your goal is to be better in 2015, there are things that can and should be taken care of during the downtime. Everyone is different, but there are some things that are universal. Here's my list of constructive things to do during your down time:

Heal Those Little Injuries - That little niggle in your calf? Give it time. Same for the tight hamstring or shoulder. Take the time to do what is necessary to feel 100% going into your base training phase.

Strengthen Up the Body - If you trained and raced hard you have broken your body down to some degree. hit the weight room, start taking a TRX class, or start doing the core work you "didn't have time for" the past few months.

Like this but different.
Let the Mind Relax - Peaking for a race takes mental focus. Racing hard takes mental toughness. Give yourself a break or risk being checked out mentally when you really need to be there next year.

Embrace the Non-Training Side of Life - If this isn't self explanatory I really can't help you.

Plan for Next Season - If you consider yourself a triathlete, a cyclist, a runner, or any kind of endurance athlete your personality almost certainly runs somewhere from Type A to obsessive Type A. If you have actually managed to take some downtime you need something sport related to fill your head. Set your goals, determine your limiters, research what you need to do to get better, and plan out your race season.


For me these down weeks are different than in years past. After sustaining a knee injury I never completely gave the injury a chance to really rest. With an Ironman on the schedule I returned to the pool and riding in less than two weeks after surgery. Running took some more time to ramp back up, but by Summer I was back building mileage. I made it to Florida ready to race, but now I need to give the body proper care. Here's what I expect to be doing during the off-season, into the early part of 2015:

Unlike years past I will NOT be doing any racing for an extended period of time. Will I be at the Pumpkin Pie race on Thanksgiving? Yes, weather permitting. Will I be racing the Pumpkin Pie race on Thanksgiving? No, no, no, no, no. Plan is to participate and support a good cause. (Imagine that!!!) There are some other races I might participate in ... after all, it's a great excuse to grab some breakfast with friends!!! Participate is the key word.

As I tried to do last off season I will be focusing in on getting stronger. Over the years I have been a high volume guy, building up as much aerobic endurance as I could. Twelve months ago I came to the conclusion that my strength had become more of a limiter than anything else, so strength workouts were on the agenda. Once circumstances changed what I could and could not do, I did what I could. So heading into 2015 I will be focused on something I wanted to concentrate on in 2014.

As I have always done I will continue to focus on longevity in sport. I really, really enjoy swimming, biking, running and competing. I did my first race, the Chili Pepper 5k in 1995 (still have the unwearable, heavy cotton t-shirt) with not a major injury for almost 19 years. I have been the guy who is always there for training runs/rides. Consistent because I remained healthy. Not doing too many stupid things has helped, but focusing on health and wellness during this time of year is a huge contributing factor.

I will be ramping up much slower than I have in years past once the new year is upon us. It makes no sense to be in 5k or marathon shape in February when the races I care about will be much later in the year. I have a few goals I would like to hit next year and can't be concerned with the noise or wear that comes with a long race season.

I will be planning my 2015. Change is good and 2015 is looking like it will be a bit different than year's past. 2014 turned out to be a much different year than planned, but a good year nonetheless. The challenge I faced was not the one I expected. The unexpected twist has inspired me for the new year. I want to stick with some of the old but add a few new twists into the equation. Not much more to say about this right now.

As for the official start of my training year? Meet me for the annual mountain run on New Year's Eve day to see just how Fat, Dumb, and Happy I've become.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Rule #11: When It's Time to Take an Off-Season, Take an Off-Season

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ironman Florida Race Reivew - 140.6 miles of ... err 138.2 miles of fun

On November 1, 2014, approximately 3,000 people stood on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida in anticipation of the start of Ironman Florida. The wind was blowing and the Gulf of Mexico did not look happy. Around 6:40 am, just 10 minutes before the professional men were set to start their race day the official announcement was made - due to unsafe conditions the swim was cancelled. The event would go off as a bike-run only with a time trial start beginning at 8 am.

And so my fifth try at the Ironman distance began, not with a swim, but with a walk back up to my rented condo. My 2014 triathlon year has been an interesting one, starting with a major injury, a DNS at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, a planned DNF at Eagleman 70.3, some solid racing over the Summer months, and now this. Really, I shouldn't be surprised. Nothing went as planned all year, so why should this be any different!!!

Ironman Florida was originally intended to be an experiment. I have never done more than one 140.6 distance race in a year and this would be #2 in 2014. I figured what the hell, give it a shot and see what happens. Honestly, this is not a race I would normally consider doing because the race course doesn't really fit me. Yes, the course is flat. Really, really flat. Which means that the course is "fast," or so the theory goes. But there are issues with as much undulation as you get on your bike trainer.

For a certain type of athlete - the big unit - this is an awesome course to be competitive on. I am not a big unit. Me likes me some hills. Lots and lots of hills. My previous four efforts were in Lake Placid (twice), Wisconsin, and Coeur d'Alene. What do all these races have in common? Climbing on the bike.

The other issue I have with flat terrain is what it does to the body. Specifically, sitting in the aero position for 112 miles and one gear is not fun and hard on the back. Yes, you can get up out of the saddle and stretch out, blah, blah blah, but not what I would consider ideal for Jon. Making matters worse, I know how I am and what could happen ... that moment of saying "eff-it" and laying down the hammer at mile 50 of the bike is much more likely when the road is flat than when I know there are hills down the road that need to be climbed.

The Complex Triathlete
This is what flat looks like.

Must. Fight. Inner. Urges. Must. Fight. Inner. Urges.

This race ended up on my schedule because a friend wanted to do it, and she wanted someone to do it with her. Obviously, the list of people most of us know who can and will do an Ironman is not the longest list. I made the decision to help her out and do it, which with the way my season worked out did give me the opportunity to race 140.6 miles this year ... or so I thought.

Anyway ... before I get into how the race day went I want to be perfectly clear about something: WTC and the local race officials absolutely made the correct decision in not proceeding forward with the swim. There was no way in hell it would have been safe to put us out there for the swim. There was a rip current that made it hard for the boats and nearly impossible for the kayaks to get in place. What do you think would have happened to the weak swimmers? How many DNFs would there have been if we ran into the ocean at 7 am?

The weather reports leading up to race day had been getting more sketchy by the day. We arrived on Wednesday, but The Queen and Shelly didn't come down until Thursday. This worked out well as I called The Queen before she left for the airport to have her retrieve some arm warmers I left behind because, really, who needs arm warmers for a race in Florida?

The picture below is what the ocean looked like on Friday morning, 24 hours before the start of the race. This is also what it looked like 24 hours after the race. Oh, what could have been.

On Saturday night a front came through the Panama City Beach area. By Saturday morning the temperature was 44 degrees, the wind was howling at 20-30 miles sustained with gusts, and race day started to look like an interesting little adventure.

This is what the ocean looked like on race morning:


So back up to the condo to take the wetsuit off and figure out what to wear for 44 degrees and windy conditions. Also, I started to consider how this changes the dynamics of the race. With a TT start and no swim, there would be a much different mix of people out on the course around. Being the 2696th person to start, there would be a lot to consider, as well as a lot of weaker cyclists to pass.

Swim  Pre-Race

Around 8 am Emily and I got back to transition. I had taken in a gel around 6:30 in prep for the swim that didn't happen. Back in transition I was unsure of exactly what to do from a nutritional standpoint. I drank water, a bit of EFS, and hit the port-o-john twice. After Emily went off around 8:40 I found a semi-wind-free area to sit. Not exactly warm, but not unreasonably cold. Around 9:45 I finally could jump on my bike and start my day.

Bike - 112 miles 5:23:17 20.7 mph

The original game plan for the bike was simple: ride steady, stay within my abilities, stick with my nutrition plan through the entire ride, and get off the bike ready to run. With the change in the race I contemplated what to do. During the almost 2 hour wait in transition I decided to take things out a bit harder than the original plan. Without the energy burn of the swim and the expected headwind during the first hour plus, I felt the extra effort would be OK.

So after sitting around for almost two hours I took the initial minutes of the bike to get clear of the people immediately around me and get some blood into my legs. Without a 2.4 mile swim as a warmup the start felt more like the beginning miles of a long training ride than an Ironman ... except for the log jam of cyclists out in front of me. With conditions being less than ideal, I made sure to swing wide when passing, worried about swirling winds causing a crash.

The first 7 miles of the bike took us west along the coastline before making a right hand turn due north, almost directly into the NNW winds for the next 16 miles. These miles were harder than ideal conditions would have handed us. While fighting the winds I kept reminding myself that we would be coming back this way with the wind in our favor.

Then it happened. Just before making the turn to the east, somewhere between mile 21 and 22 it happened ... the train came rolling through. Not two. Not three. But four guys in my age group came riding by, sucking wheel, blatantly cheating.

I nearly lost my $hit.

I picked it up, passed by with a few choice words for the three wheel suckers before informing the dude up front that he was escorting a group of douches. Felt bad for the guy as he was working hard. Well, not too bad as he knew what was happening and he did nothing about it. They passed me back and I let them go. Then I made the decision to let it go, worry about my race, and make sure I had legs for the run.

F'em. Let the cheaters cheat. Get your head back in the game.

The pace picked up when the wind was at my back but, honestly, I really didn't feel good. The downtime in transition had me feeling a bit tight. Didn't feel bad, but didn't feel good. Around mile 30 this all changed, suddenly feeling like my legs were finally ready to ride.

Jon Soden - Ironman Florida

The ride here is nothing special. The roads are flat, there isn't a whole lot to see, and the biggest worry is the traffic on some of the roads and the rough road on the out-and-back from miles 53 to 58. I continued to ride along just staying in my zone thinking about running well off the bike.

Around mile 47 I did something I have never done during an Ironman, then again around mile 72 - I got off the bike to pee. I saw this as a great sign that I was doing what was necessary to set up a good run. And yes, I know that you don't necessarily need to stop to take care of business, but it was windy and cold. Better to "lose" a minute for the stop than freezing up the junk. Just sayin'.

Bike Data via Garmin Connect

Other than the woman who crashed at mile 58, I had no real drama on the bike. After my mile 72 pee break I felt good and pushed a bit into the wind before making the turn south around mile 83. By mile 100 I finally had little company as I passed most of the riders I would pass for the day while the faster riders were up the road. For a good 40 minutes or so it felt like it was just me and my bike.

T2 - 6:11

Coming off the bike I felt better than I did at my first 4 attempts at the Ironman distance. I was hydrated, fueled up and ready to run. I had my own volunteer in the tent who helped me prepare for 26.2 miles of running. I could have been faster, but wanted to make sure I took care of two important things before starting the run - get a new layer of suntan lotion applied, and pee.

Run - 26.2 miles 4:07:53 9:27/mile

How the legs will react in the first few miles of the run is always the great unknown. More so this time around as my run training had been limited all year. Heading into the race my longest run logged all year had been just under 17 miles. With the low run volume heading into the race I had a simple plan: head out easy, take a walk break through every other aide station (approx. every 2 miles), and stay on top of nutrition by taking in some EFS gel and water at every aide station.

Heading out of transition all was good. After getting my nutrition right on the bike, I felt energized, hydrated, and ready to run with a smile on my face. As I headed out I was greeted by cheers from family and friends. The first mile had a supportive crowd, a group of Captain Americas, 10 people dressed as Chiquita Bananas, and a crew of young ladies dressed for Halloween. All were nice distractions as I settled in.

During the first loop I found a sustainable pace between 8:00 and 8:30 per mile early on. All was going to plan and by mile 10 my pace had slowly moved up to a steady 7:50ish pace. Unlike previous efforts at this distance I made it to the halfway point without an unplanned walk break.

Around mile 13 the runners return to town where you get some love from the crowds and a chance to get your run special needs bag. Which leads me to kudos to the volunteer who not only had my bag ready for me when I reached the bag area, but he ran in stride with me, handing off my gel flask on the move. Thanks for taking the extra effort.

Jon Soden - Ironman Florida

Heading out onto the second loop I remained steady ... and then ... it happened. My first (and only major) mistake on the day. Stomach problems.

Somewhere along the line I started burping. Nothing unusual, but it is a sign that you aren't processing the nutrition you are taking in. Solving it is simple - stop taking in calories while taking in water until it passes. The sugar isn't getting into you so there is no reason to take in anything but water. Once the burping stops you are good to resume calorie intake. Where I got into trouble was ignoring the blatant sign.

For the next 45 minutes or so I ran when I could, walked when I had to, while drinking as much water as I could manage, hoping this would eventually pass ... which it did ... in the way that it always does ... with a few huge farts. Suddenly my gut felt much relief and running could proceed. Shortly after I began running I could take in nutrition once again.

And for those of you who may be wondering, yes, this is a thing. This whole process is eloquently referred to as the burp-fart method.

Back to the race: at this point the sun had gone down and it was getting pretty darn cold. The second mistake I made on the day was leaving my gloves in T2, figuring I wouldn't need them. My hands were freezing. Completely forgetting the early sundown time in early-November and that I started running around 3:30 and not 1:30, running in the dark and cooler temperatures weren't the consideration they should have been.

From mile 20 on in I ran slow, walking in spots, enjoying my best marathon off the bike. It became clear that the inability to put more run miles in were an issue. Nothing I could do except keep on moving forward to the best of my ability. Yes, a 4:07 isn't a super fast time, but a 59 minute PR. This represents not only how well I held it together on the day, but how piss poor I have done in the past.

Overall: 9:37:27 43rd in AG 45-49, 286th overall male, 320th overall finisher

When it comes to Ironman racing the race you imagine is never the race you get. Something always happens, even for the best. There is never that perfect day. But my day here turned out to be pretty good. My bike split was 13+ minutes than my best effort (a 5:36 at IM Wisconsin, 2007) and my run split 59 minutes faster than the 5:06 I ran in Lake Placid in 2011. While you can't just throw a best-guess swim time in front these results and say I would have gone XX:XX:XX, I think it is safe to say this effort turned out to be my best one to date. Still, there is an asterisk next to these results, because without a swim ...

The Complex Triathlete - Jon Soden

Overall Impressions and Final Thoughts

As I stated previously, IMFL is not a race I would have chosen to do on my own. I prefer to race a hillier course and am physically more suited to that type of terrain. I signed up to help a friend out, get another Ironman under my belt, and try and get a PR. Due to the cancelled swim, the PR will have to wait. I did help out a friend and I do have race #5 under my belt. With the highly competitive nature of my age group and my lack of physical gifts, my best bet to getting to Kona is likely to come from either the mother of all days or, more likely, a legacy spot after 12 finishes.

Would I come back to Panama City Beach to race again? Maybe, but not because I disliked the race. The area is nice, the race venue is very user friendly, and the host hotel condo we stayed in worked out nicely for the two of us racing as well as our support crew. (Please note: if you are going to stay at the host hotel, pay up for one of the condos, which is a much better experience IMHO than the basic hotel rooms). For the big unit or the person who doesn't want to deal with hills, I would most definitely recommend this race.

For the 1000+ first timers I feel a bit sad. After months of training to have the swim cancelled is a hard thing to deal with. Yes, you crossed the finish line. Yes, you have your finishers medal, t-shirt and hat. Not sure if you really can say you checked that box off without the first 2.4 of the 140.6. It's tough, for sure, but with the conditions being what they were, better to not get the swim in than to see 100s of people DNF on the swim, or something so much worse. Safety first. WTC made the correct decision.

As for me, I am deep into my off-season doing very little in the way of swim/bike/run. Last week I started back up with the strength training, looking to build my strength back up. I will be at a few local running races in the coming weeks in participant-only mode. There's a time to stress the body. November is not that time.

Will there be another Ironman on tap for 2015? Maybe. I don't know. At some point I will contemplate what I would like to do next year. Now is not that time. The Ironman experience is too fresh to think clearly about next year.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ironman Florida - Game Plan, Goals & Thanks

Ironman distance (and longer) racing is unlike any other distance a triathlete will race. With shorter races it's all about speed. The Half Ironman (calling it a 70.3 still feels awkward) distance is more about pacing than the shorter races, but still has that element of speed to it and poor race-day nutrition can ruin your day.

Ironman is a different beast.

When you are lining up for 140.6 miles you need to be fit. To race "fast" you need to be super-fit. If you don't put the miles your best-case scenario is a long day of hurt and struggle. If you are fit you will still have periods of hurt and struggle. Why? Because it's an Ironman.

As my training cycle progressed I had a general idea about my fitness level and what I should, in an ideal situation, be able to accomplish. I'm not talking about what I think I can time trial 112 miles in without a marathon to follow, but about a time I can realistically step off the bike and have my run legs under me. Same for the swim. Same for the run.

I have some numbers in my head for each of the three disciplines as well as an overall time goal. And yes, I know, we shouldn't have time goals, even as we all have them in some form or another. Those times I have in my head, however, are not really relevant.

My PR at this distance is a 12:06:xx, which is nowhere near my physical capabilities then or now. Ironman is about being physically fit, but also about race day execution.

At four attempts at the Iron-distance my execution has been for shit.

Goal number one for tomorrow is execute my race plan. Here's how that breaks down ...

Swim: Over the years I have become a respectable swimmer. As a late starter I will never be able to hang with the big boys and girls, but I certainly can post a respectable swim time/placing. Tomorrow's swim is in the Gulf. Execution of my plan is to get into the water in a good position to find feet that are a bit faster than mine and use the draft for a comfortable warm for the day. While I am not the fastest swimmer in a pool, I have developed the open water skills to conserve energy but still swim fast (for me).

And because it is a mass start, goal #2 in the water is to not get kicked in the face.

Bike: Here in lies both my strength and my Achilles heal. There is a saying in triathlon that you "ride for show, run for dough." Me likey show ... and that stops tomorrow. At my four previous attempts at the distance I have rode respectable and ran for shit. Coming out of T1 I need to hold myself back. I need to listen to my own advice. When someone goes by me I need to let them go. Truth be told, dude is either going to blow himself up or he is flat out better than I am. Either way, that's his (or her) race, not mine.

After settling in I need to find my effort level and stick with it the entire ride. I train with power and heart rate but race with heart rate only. After settling in, I have a heart rate cap I plan on sticking to.

Nutrition on the bike is vital for my success. My advice to others is always that their job on the bike is to get the liquids and calories in. You are fueling on the bike to not only get 112 miles of riding in, but also well hydrated and fueled to run. A good bike ride will have me coming off the bike feeling ready to run. Bad fueling = bad ride.

On my best half and full Ironman rides I have always found a group to legally ride with. Sitting at a legal distance you get a small drafting effect. More important, I find it easier to follow a steady wheel than a completely solo time trial. Think about the strategy the pro men use when they race. With this being a flat course I expect to find guys to ride with. While there will surely be drafting out there, I promise it won't be me.

Run: Slow and steady out of T2. Get my legs under me, then find a steady rhythm. Continue to fuel at every aide station. Walk aide stations when necessary and keep the heart rate in check. A good run is one without extended walk breaks. A good run is one where I keep my head in the game. A good run = a great race.

My default when I race any distance is to push my limits and see what happens. Which is exactly how NOT to race an Ironman. In a real sense I will spend the day fighting my own inner instincts to just go. A good race will be well paced, well fueled, and include a respectable run. Do all that, and the overall time will work itself out just fine.


One of the things about racing in Florida is you need to be prepared for weather. the weather I expected to be concerned about - heat and humidity - is the furthest thing from what we will have on race day. Take a look at the weather forecast for Panama City Beach for Saturday morning and two things will pop out at you. One, the temperature. At the start of the race it should be in the mid-40s and a high of 61. Second, the wind. Right now they are calling for 20-30 mph sustainable with gusts.

Guess the crazy, windy rides the past few weekends will come in handy.


To get to the starting line of a long distance triathlon takes a lot of time and personal dedication to a goal. On race day it is you who is out there racing the race, challenging yourself on the day. If you have ever gone the distance, or live with someone who has, you know that it is not a solo journey. Getting to the start line is a team effort for sure.

Of course I have to start with The Queen who gives me the time to train and puts up with the large quantities of food necessary to train on a daily basis. She lives with a middle aged man with the eating and laundry habits of a 16 year old boy.

Speaking of training, it wouldn't be possible without my training partners. Between the Towpath Running Crew, Kenny's Wednesday Night Ride, and Char's Kick Ass Sunday Morning Ride I always have someone to push me when needed. Not to be overlooked are both Cassie and Danielle who let me periodically take them out for a ride and kick their asses. Hahahaha.

And speaking of training partners, I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Emily. More than a year ago she said she wanted to do an Ironman and Florida was the one. At the time my response was, "what the hell, I'll do it with you." And here I am, ready to roll.

Speaking of ready to roll, I must thank Dr. Robert Palumbo at OAA for making it possible to even make it to the start line. Coming into 2014 Ironman Florida was to be my second full Ironman of the year. After tearing my right meniscus IMCDA was off the table. Fortunately I had a great surgeon in Dr. Palumbo who had me back on the bike two weeks after surgery. Now just six months later here I am.

Finally I would be remiss if I didn't mention my parents - Bob and Hilda Soden - who think I'm crazy for doing this but still follow me to big races, as well as my partners at Magellan Financial, who cheer me on and let me slip out at times for a swim, bike or run.

Again, thank you to those who have helped me make it to tomorrow morning's start line.

Train hard.Stay focused.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some Quick Thoughts on Saturday's Ironman Florida

Wow. Finally time to get 'er done. After a rather interesting year, my final race, my "A" race, is less than 48 hours away. After a full day of flying, then driving yesterday, Emily and I had a chance to get out for a quick bike in the morning and a few minutes swimming in the gulf.

Here's a few thoughts I've had since stepping foot in Panama City Beach yesterday afternoon:

From an accommodation perspective, we made the correct choice on where to stay. The host hotel (which could best be described as what you might stay at in Wildwood, NJ) has condos associated with them. After seeing the hotel rooms we opted for the condos. Turns out, great choice!!! Full kitchen, a lot of room, and a great view. If you do this race in the future, this is the way to go.

Seriously, how horrible is this view from out room?

Flying isn't fun, but hours in a car is worse.

You can get some really good food in some off the radar places.

Not the fanciest joint but good eats for all - Flamingo Joe's Grill and Seafood 

Ironman is not a cheap endeavor, but for the money you get a very well organized race experience. Both the athlete's pre-race meeting and check in this morning were smooth. With 3,000 volunteers for the event all the bases are covered.

Florida is really, really flat. We rode 17+ miles today and my Garmin showed a net elevation gain of less than 30 ft. The 112 mile bike course shows 620 ft of vertical, which I find hard to believe. Must be a bridge out there somewhere.

Swimming in open water can be just awesome. We spent about 20 minutes in the water this afternoon, looking to get used to the ocean. Took me about 10 seconds to get over it. Swimming straight out away from the shore in crystal clear water is pretty awesome.

Training can be grueling while tapering can be mentally challenging. After months of training big, slowing down to freshen up isn't as fun as it sounds. Healing legs tend to be sore or dead or something other than fresh. Now don't get me wrong, I am feeling good. Going through two weeks of getting to this point ... never feels good.

November 1 is late in the year to do an Ironman. Part of the challenge this time around has been staying motivated to get in the pool and get out on the bike. My last triathlon has traditionally been in September. Scheduling like this has allowed me to back off the swim while preparing for a running event. Even last year, when I did a half Ironman in early October, I cruised through September on lower swim volume. As for the bike, pre-work rides have been in the dark while weekend rides have been done in some of the windiest conditions I can remember.

Having a race-day plan is a must. Once you have the plan you must go over it many times to make sure it sticks. For an Olympic or sprint distance race it is simple - go as hard as you can until you hit the finish line. For a 70.3 I usually pull back a notch or two on the intensity and I'm good. Iron-distance is a different beast. It takes planning and focus on the plan.

For those who have an interest, my race number is 2696 and Emily is 1192. The event will be posting updates at www.ironman.com along with live video feed at the transitions and finish line. In the past Ironman.com has had issues with timely updates, but have no fear ...  The Queen will have possession of my phone and Facebook page for updates as well.

Tomorrow I'll have another post up with my thoughts on the race.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ironman: A Queen's Perspective

I am not an athlete.  Never was.

Yeah, I take CrossFit classes. I run.  I've even finished two half-marathons.  But I really don't consider myself an athlete even though I've been accused of being one.

You see, I hate running and I hate CrossFit.  I REALLY hate to sweat.  But I love it. All of it.  And I'll tell you what else I love...I love to eat. Running and CrossFit give me caloric freedoms I've grown to depend on. But I'm not an athlete.

I am, however, married to one.  Not just an athlete, a TRIATHLETE.

Jon Soden runs. He bikes. He swims. He puts more miles on his body in a week than I put on my car. And he's good at it. He strives to become better.  He's an athlete.

When we got married Jon was a powerlifter.  Nobody saw this triathlete thing coming.  He started running one day and then things just "ran away" so  to speak.  I'll never forget the day he told his mother and I he had decided to do an Ironman.

We were in New Hampshire for a triathalon eating breakfast when he broke the news.  I think he figured he had safety in numbers to deal with our reaction.  His mother was there, so I probably wouldn't kill him and there were witnesses.  His Mom and I had the exact same reaction, "What the F$&K is wrong with you?" 140.6 miles.  I told him to get his affairs in order. I was convinced he would die.  He didn't.

And now, this Ironman thing just won't go away.  He is ready to take on #5 in Panama City, FL. Although I do respect anyone who completes a physical competition of this kind,  I still think it takes a special kind of crazy to do this. I've come to find enjoyment in asking the people who have joined this growing "cult" to please take note of the moment they ask themselves on that long, grueling day, "What the F$@k was I thinking?"  Because the fact of the matter  is, I don't care who you are, that question is going to cross your mind.

I won't ever have to worry about asking myself that question because you will never see this "athlete" riding that crazy train and here's why...

10. 140.6 miles.  I honestly don't put that many miles on my car in a week.

9.   I'd rather drown trying to save my cocktail from going overboard than getting kicked in the head at the mass swim start.

8. The last time I rode a bike it had a basket on the front. I probably fell off.  I do that a lot.

7.  Port-o-potties. Or worse yet, not making it to one.

6.  Chafing.  In all of the places.

5.  140.6 miles.  Did I mention that already?

4.  The 17 hour time limit. If I trained for this thing, you better give me a month to complete it if that's what it takes.

3.  The fact that you can simply walk around in the tin foil warmer blanket and people will congratulate you on your Ironman finish.  It happened to me for real.  All of the glory, none of the pain.

2.  The only thing I can do for 12 straight hours (or more) is sleep.


But, like I said, Jon Soden is.  And regardless of how crazy I think Ironman is (and I do), he seems to "enjoy" it.  There's something to be said about that.  There's something to be said  about someone who has the dedication and love for the sport that enables them to complete countless hours of training and 140.6 miles of competition. There's something to be said about riding that crazy train for the 5th time...voluntarily.

I've stood at an Ironman finish line before.  Sometimes it's pretty, sometimes it's not...but it's a finish, an accomplishment.  And a HUGE one at that.

I guess that's what happens when you're an athlete.

The Queen

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ironman Florida Training Review

So ... the original plan had me writing up a blog post each week with a training summary over the last 12 weeks of my Ironman Florida prep, detailing the process, both good and bad. In reality there was not enough time to work, train, sleep, spend time with The Queen, eat, and eat, and eat, and write a new blog on training every week. Yeah, I did get a post out most week,but there were other things I wanted to write about. I had every intention of getting a training post out ... but it just. never. happened. Instead of a week-by-week analysis, what we have is an overview of what I have been doing since early August.

But first, I have a fun announcement to make ... Later this week or early next week The Complex Triathlete will have a special guest blogger. Special, because it will be the first guest to our little piece of the internet. Special, because the guest blogger will be The Queen herself!!!! She has been treating the exact topic of her post as if it were a state secret, but I am sure it will have to do with Ironman. I can guarantee you will be entertained as she is smart, witty, and a much better writer than me. If there is a post worth reading, it is her's for sure.

With that said, back to our post.

This is my 5th go at the Ironman distance and the first time around as a self-coached athlete. Over the last 8 years I have learned a lot about how to train and, just as important, how I need to train. This cycle looks different than the previous four in a number of important ways.

Lower overall volume. I have done well in the past with lots and lots of base miles. My body responds well to volume and I enjoy it, so it always made sense. This time around there was still an awful lot of volume, just not as much. I'm older now and, quite frankly, I need more rest than I have in the past. It's a reality I have come to accept. Fortunately I have a large aerobic base from years of doing this so I do not see this as a problem.

Lower run volume. Heading into 2014 I wanted to put in a solid 10 week run focus early in the year. Knee problems, then surgery in April, put the kibosh on that idea. By July I was back to running on a regular basis again, but much more limited than before. Twenty five mile weeks became the new 50 mile weeks; Thirteen mile long runs replaced 20 milers. Going into Ironman Lake Placid in 2011 I had multiple 20 mile runs under my belt. My longest run this time around was a 17 miler.

Bike centered training focus. I enjoy riding my bike. Coming into 2014 I decided that once the winter weather broke, the bike should be the central focus of my training. When you become a stronger cyclist you not only improve the bike leg, but there should be more in the tank during the run.

More intensity. With less volume I was able to crank up the interval training during the week in all three disciplines.

The Big Training Day. This comes directly from Joe Friel. The Ironman Big Training Day is a great opportunity to test out race day pacing as well as race day nutrition. I got some good knowledge from this workout and have adjusted accordingly.

More Transition Runs. With the limited amount of running I have been able to do, it became important to make the miles I could run count. Most weeks I ran multiple times off the bike. Most short, but long enough to get comfortable with running off the bike.

Racing early in the cycle. I like to race, but this time around I used it for two purposes - building fitness and relearning run pacing. After coming back from the knee surgery I have had some problem regaining the feel of how fast (or slow) I am running. For Ironman this is important, especially the first few miles out of T2. I ended up racing Steelman and TriRock Asbury Park in August. Rev3 Pocono Mountain in September was more of a fitness test.

Overall this cycle was a good one. Not perfect, as it never is, but good. My body, while tired and ready to taper after Sunday's last long ride, has held up well. Fatigue is reasonable. For the first time in a long time I completed my specific race prep with no injury issues.

The last two weeks before an Ironman are the "all you can do is f$&k this up" zone. There is no more fitness to be built this cycle. "Testing" fitness can only screw things up. Negative thinking can do as much or more harm that stupid training. Worrying about things that are out of my control - like the weather - can only screw me up. Recovery and mental race prep are in focus now.

Right now - 10 days out - I am fully in taper mode, trying to do things right. My legs do not feel good ... but the will soon. Substantially less training volume plus small doses of intensity, if done correctly, should equal fresh legs on November 1.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Motivation and the Saturday Group Run

Many, many years ago I was a "new" runner. And by new, I mean really, really new to running. Before I started hitting the streets of Bethlehem I had avoided running more than the distance around a baseball diamond at any and all cost. Kinda funny to think about now, but a true story.

I looked exactly like this,
but different
I began running after a major back injury while lifting weights. Back in the day my thing was putting large amounts of weight on my shoulders and squatting up and down. Every Sunday I would be joined by Bill and Al in the squat rack for our weekly ritual. My other thing was putting large amounts of weight on the ground and dead lifting it up. I'm 100% sure that this had nothing to do with the back pain I experienced at the ripe old age of 26.

At the time (1995) I started hitting the streets. I knew nothing about endurance sports, other than there were local 5k races and most big cities had a marathon every year. A few days a week I would run loops around the industrial park my business - Body Dynamics - was located. I couldn't tell you how far or how fast I went, but I suspect it was short and slow. Real slow.

This went on for a time and then a funny thing happened ... a couple of the guys from the gym joined me on a run one Saturday. Same thing happened the next weekend. Then the next weekend. Pretty soon it was a regular thing.

Jonathan Soden - Rev3 Maryland
Almost 20 years later I still meet up with friends most Saturday mornings. Of course, it has evolved over the years. At the beginning we ran a few miles from my business as a way to keep fit. Pretty soon we all began to race local road races and training started to get more serious. By 1999 we were ready to take on the marathon distance. Since those early days the players have changed as people lose motivation, have a change in their life situation, or simply move on to other things. Today, my Facebook friends know this run as Jack & Jon's Saturday Morning Run.

Today this run is more than a run. Today, it is a social event that almost always includes breakfast and lasts most of the morning. What started as a few guys looking to log a few miles has turned into a mix of people who have different agendas and different paces. Running 9 minute miles? No problem. Heading out for a hilly run on the roads or a tempo run on the towpath? Awesome. We may (mostly) start at the same time but we always try and end around the same time. There's breakfast after all.

Bike Porn
Love, love love this ride.
Over the year's Jack & Jon's Saturday Morning Run has been my greatest source of motivation. This goes beyond the fact that I know people are waiting for me. The people I run with - both the regulars and the infrequent faces - are not only great athletes, but great people as well. No matter what my mood is when I wake up, I feel great after that run ... even if I haven't had my best.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, the Saturday morning run is about more than just running. It's about friends, it's about keeping our sanity. Many a run has become a therapy session after a bad race; Sometimes it's working out some issue in somebody's personal life; we even have solved all the world's problems over the course of 20 miles; And sometimes it's bragging about the awesome new bike you just bought for the upcoming triathlon season. And when I say you, I mean me ... and the Quintana Roo Illicito really is an awesome ride.

Nobody gets left behind. Back in the mid-1990s, Jack and I went out for a long run one Saturday morning around 11 am. The month was July and we were in the middle of a major heatwave. As we were the only two people on the trail everyone else apparently got the memo that running in that type of heat is really effin' stupid. It got ugly. Really ugly. We somehow made it back to the cars. The world was spinning, but together we made it. Without Jack that day I could have very easily become a carcass on the side of the path. I think he would tell you the same.

Over time I morphed from a marathoner into a triathlete but the Saturday morning run remained a constant. In 2006 I trained for my first full Ironman event with Jack and the crew by my side. For the four months leading into the race my Friday afternoon conversation with Jack would start with the same question - what did I have to do to be ready for Ironman Lake Placid? For four months Jack put aside his training goals to help me prepare for my event. Whatever pace, whatever distance, our runs became all about me.

For almost 20 years I have had a weekly standing date with some of my best friends who have not only pushed me to reach my goals, but have also been a huge source of motivation in the pursuit of those goals. I try and do the same for them. The players change from week to week and over time, but the motivational factor remains the same. Earlier this year I couldn't run after tearing the meniscus in my right knee. For the first time ever, I wasn't physically able to run on Saturday mornings with the crew.

I showed up for breakfast, but couldn't run.

It sucked.

Fortunately, I am again healthy and meeting up with whoever shows up on Saturday morning. Hitting the pool alone just didn't cut it with me. I missed the comradely ... I missed the time with friends on the trail ... I missed the motivation.

Whether you are new to exercise or a long time committed athlete, finding a group of people to train with, even if it is just one day a week, can be a great source of motivation.

How do you stay motivated? 

Real quick before you go, if you are reading this blog you must be concerned about your health. As a part of my day job as a partner at Magellan Financial  I come upon some interesting things that overlap between giving financial advice in my business life and my passion for health and fitness. One of those things I have stumbled upon is a new player in the health insurance field, Oscar Insurance. Currently available in New York and New Jersey, what they offer looks to be well ahead of the curve of both technology and common sense. If you are in that area and in need of health insurance it would be worth your time to check them out.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why Ironman?

On July 23, 2006 I was in Lake Placid, NY racing Ironman Lake Placid. When we jumped into Mirror Lake that morning it was about 50 degrees with a light rain. By the time I started the marathon the sun came out and the temperature climbed into the 80s. From a fitness perspective I was ready to race. My big mistake that day had to do with nutritional intake, or more to the point what I didn't take in. The back half of the marathon took me close to three hours to complete. After crossing the bridge after the River Road out and back I thought about laying down on the big rock right next to it. Which would sound completely rational except for one thing - there is no big rock. Yeah, I screwed up my nutrition so bad I literally saw things that weren't there.

After the race The Queen took one look at me and said, I quote, "this isn't over, is it?"

I smiled that smile that says this is only the beginning. I was hooked.

In thirty days I will be in Panama City Beach, Florida for my fifth go at the Ironman distance. I am older and, hopefully, wiser. This year hasn't panned out as I originally planned, but that doesn't really matter. My fitness is solid and I have some big goals for November 1. In 30 days we go and get 'er done.

But why? Why Ironman?

When asked, I tend to blow it off with an "I don't know, it's just something I do." Really. I don't think anyone buys it, but that's my usual response.

Truth be told, everyone who toes the line at a full Ironman-distance race has a reason for being there.

For some people they do an Ironman for a cause. Others do it to reach a life-long goal. The professionals do it for the paycheck. There are as many reasons as there are Ironman finishers.

For me it's more complex. It's been said that the Ironman is the worlds hardest one-day endurance event. I don't know if racing 140.6 miles of swim/bike/run is the hardest one-day event, but it certainly ranks right up there. I like that.

The Ironman is not something you can just wake up one morning and say, "I think I'll go do an Ironman today" and then go out swim/bike/run 140.6 miles. You could try, I guess, but even the fittest among us would have a tough go of it. To go 140.6 it takes time, persistence, discipline.

Just getting to the start line of an Ironman is something I find impressive. It takes work ... lots of work, over an extended period of time to get ready to complete the distance. I like that too.

My training for Lake Placid in 2006 started on January 2 of that year. For almost four months I trained almost every day just to get my body ready to specifically train for the race. Then, for the next three months I swam, biked and ran more than I did the previous four months. Waiting on the small beach area of Mirror Lake I felt confident I would end up in the speed skating oval slapping spectators hands as I headed to the finish line.

But unlike single sport athletes, the work you do is not so straight forward. If you are a runner, you go outside and run; If you are a cyclist, you hit the road and ride; If you're a swimmer, you spend your time looking at the black line as you go back and forth. To excel, or just improve, at any of the three sports, you put in the time, you do the interval work, you work on the technique. As a triathlete you need to do this for all three sports, all at the same time. This takes work and discipline.

Just to complete a full Ironman distance race you need to have at least a base level of competence at three separate sports. You may be able to get away without swimming and doing a sprint or Olympic distance tri, good luck with swimming 2.4 miles without putting in the pool time. Or for that matter, biking 112 miles or running a marathon without a certain level of fitness specific to those sports, let alone on a whim.

Once race day comes you need to have patience, discipline and focus for the 9 - 17 hours it takes to complete the event. I admit is a challenge for me. The swim is about getting through without getting kicked in the face or punched in the nose while burning as little energy as possible. Biking 112 miles requires one to stay well within your means while properly fueling for the run. The run is about pacing, then survival. Sounds easy in theory. It works in practice. But damn is it hard to execute (at least for me) on race day. But that's what makes it appealing - having the ability to stay within myself so that my fitness can be reflected in my final results. Haven't done it yet ... but I will.

So while I would like you all to believe I don't really know why I do it, I know exactly why I'm out there: It is the pursuit of the patience to build fitness, the focus to do the work, and the discipline to keep from doing something stupid that will ruin my day so my fitness level reflects my performance. Over the years I have been able to figure out how to get to the starting line rested, injury-free and fit. As for race day, that continued to be a work in progress. The plan on November 1st is to make the 5th time the charm.

For you, my friend, if you are doing an Ironman in the future, or are thinking about doing an Ironman at some point, you really need to know why you are out there. When training gets hard you need to remind yourself of why you are doing it; When the racing gets hard (and it will, I promise) you need to remind yourself of why you are out there.

Do you have an Ironman on your schedule or do you want to do one in the future? What's YOUR motivation?

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why We Race

In late 1994 I woke up early on a Sunday morning, drove over to the Lehigh Valley Mall area with my buddy Matt, and ran the Chili Pepper 5k. I have no idea haw fast (or slow) I ran that morning, but I clearly remember eating Chili and drinking free beer at 9 am. For my efforts I received a thick cotton t-shirt that could keep you warmer than any Goretex jacket that hangs in your closet. I still own that shirt.

I had been doing some running along with the heavy squats and deadlifts that were a more typical part of my normal fitness routine in those days. I'm sure I had something to prove to myself, but 20 years later the free beer is what I remember as the compelling factor. You can bet it wasn't the free t-shirt.

Over the last 20 years my reasons for racing have changed. Free beer is nice, don't get me wrong, but that is no longer my driving force. No, today things are much different.

There was a time where my sole focus was simple - go longer, get faster. It started with short running races - 5k, 10k  - which soon led to half marathons and marathons. During the late 1990s if I toed the line and didn't return home with a PR I wondered what I had done wrong ... and I did a lot wrong. Truth be told, I really didn't know what I was doing. I have a lot of stories from those days, most ending with me blowing up or doing something stupid. The longer the race the funnier the story.
Jonathan Soden - Ironman Bike
IMCDA: June, 2008

Over time I talked to people who knew more that I, read some books on running, and learned a thing or two. I got fitter and I raced faster. As I applied what I was learning to my training the race became something different. Yes, I wanted to be faster. Yes, I wanted to "kick ass," whatever that meant to me at the time. Yes, I wanted to place as high as possible. Yet with more knowledge racing became more about the process leading up to the race. If the process built more fitness and the results were not what I expected, I could deal with it. Figure out what happened, modify the system and move on.

I went through the same process in the early 2000s with triathlon - race for performance only while training without a clue, do my homework, then focus on process. With the help of a coach (thanks Bill), on July 23, 2006 I did my first Ironman in Lake Placid with one goal - finish. The process worked great and I met my main goal of hearing Mike Riley call me an Ironman.

No matter what my focus there were two things that always remained at the core. Racing has always been about stretching my boundaries, seeing what I am capable of at any given time. Most of those blowups come from pushing my personal limits, not stupid in-race decisions (although I have my fair share of those as well). I would much rather have 10 races in a row not go as planned in order to get that one great performance in race number eleven.

Racing safe is hard for me to do and I can count the number of races where I played it safe. I don't honestly understand it. Racing safe gives you the best chance of being successful, assuming your definition of success is completing the race in a reasonable (for you) time. Sure you keep from that big blowup, that big failure, but you never get the chance to truly test the limits of your ability.

Since that first Ironman there have been many different goals and many more stories of blowing up. Some of them for really stupid reasons. One year at the Philadelphia Triathlon I killed it on the bike before the crash around mile 3 on the run. Why did I ride so stupidly fast? There was this guy in my age group who passed me and I didn't like his attitude.

Seriously. That actually happened.
Jon Soden - The Complex Triathlete
Totally blown up at IMCDA, June, 2008

The other thing that remains is I always have, and always will, race for myself. I ran on that cold day in 1994 without a care of what anyone else thought. I did the event and earned my chili and beer. In 2006 my family and friends were in Lake Placid cheering me on, but it was all about me. The drive came from within. If you had a problem with it, so be it. I race the races that make me happy, and I race when I want to race. You don't like it, too bad.

Point is, goals of training and racing change over time, but the fundamental reasons we race should remain. As an almost 45 year old triathlete I am much different than the 30 year old marathon runner I used to be. Beyond defining the type of athlete I am (triathlete vs. runner), I have a different perspective on racing. I suspect in 10 years time my perspective will be different than it is today.

In the end it comes down to doing what is best for you and what you enjoy doing. If that's jogging a local 5k great. If it's qualifying for the Ironman World Championships ... well that's great too. No matter what you race just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Race Report- Rev3 Pocono Mountain

Rev3 Pocono Mountain is a new addition to our local race scene in Eastern Pennsylvania. Just 40 minutes north of Bethlehem, this race is new, but not so new. In 2010 and 2011 there was a race on a course very similar to the one we raced on Sunday, but it was put on by WTC as an Ironman branded race. I didn't race either of these events for one reason - the race was in the Pocono Mountains on the first week of October. While I am not a fan of crazy hot conditions, there was a legitimate chance of race day temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s which I just didn't want to deal with.

After a year with no race, Rev3 decided to put the race back on the schedule, offering up two race distances - Olympic and 70.3. I raced the 70.3.


Packet pickup was on Saturday afternoon. The Queen and I jumped in the Prius and headed north a little after 11 am. The trip was easy, mostly on major roads. We arrived shortly before noon to a steady rain. The expo was small and packet pickup was simple and fast. The staff were helpful in eliminating my confusion about the race course. Unlike most races, Rev3 Pocono Mountain features two transition areas between a point-to-point bike. But we'll get to that latter.

We hung around waiting for the pre-race meeting, talking with friends and goofing around. See, Rev3 is a bit different than other race production company. Before races they have an iPad set up for pre-race pictures. Some people take it serious, and other people do this:

Didn't even stick aroundfor the meeting.

Instead, me and The Queen headed over to the lake to race my bike in T1. Other than some rain, everything went smooth.

The Complex Triathlete
Pre-race on a cold morning. Source: Rev3 Pocono
On Sunday morning I woke at 4:20 am, loosened up, had my normal pre-race meal, and cleaned the pipes before hitting the road around 5 am. I arrived around 5:40 am and easily parked close to T2. After chatting with Danielle, I quickly set up my T2 and headed for the bus over to the lake. Philippe ended up on my bus, which worked out well for both of us. It gave me someone to talk, while my chattiness appeared to help clam his nerves.

I arrived at the lake about 30 minutes before my 7:05 swim start. Being the almost too laid back pre-race guy that I am, I still had my pants on 10 minutes before I entered the water. After Philippe zipped up my wetsuit we headed down to the shoreline where Danielle, Cassie and just about everyone else were waiting for their turn in the water.

Swim - 1.2 miles 32:16

Men 40+ and Aquavelo were in the second wave, scheduled to go off at 7:05 am. The 1st wave (men 39 and under) started a few minutes late, so we did as well. From the chatter in transition I got the impression the water was 70 degrees. Getting into the water told a different reality and a water temp probably closer to 67. With the air temperature around 44, not bad. Personally I prefer cold to hot so no big deal.

When the gun went off I worked to stay on a pair of feet. Unfortunately for me, the feet I tried to draft were faster than I expected. There were a few guys who just hit the gas pedal and there was nothing I could do about it. Spent the rest of my swim in a place I find myself a lot at smaller races - swimming alone. I'm not fast enough to hang with the speedsters, but too fast for everyone else. Oh well.

After the first turn it became hard to see as we were swimming directly into the sun. Fortunately I had started to swim through the first wave, giving me people to sight off of. I swam steady while purposely staying a bit to the outside to avoid contact. Such a strategy gave me a drama-free swim and a slowish time of 32:16.

Source: Rev3 Pocono
The only complaint I would have of the swim is that it had to be long. Unfortunately, I don't have very good Garmin data. For the first half of the swim I kept feeling the watch buzz, meaning it was losing connection and reconnecting with the satellite. Then, I didn't hit the button until after I ran into transition and was at my bike. I know it wasn't the 1.97 miles my watch said it was, but swim times were generally slow on the day, as the best swimmers on the day were in the 29:xx range.

T1 - 4:03

Slower than one would hope for two reasons. First, with this being a two transition race, all participants were required to pack up everything into a bag before exiting for the bike. The bag would be brought up to T2 and placed at your station there. Second, I wanted to make sure to stay warm on the bike, so I took some time to dry myself off and put on a long sleeve shirt.

Bike -56 miles 2:27:57

A very interesting bike course with the most fun I have ever had during the first four miles of a bike section of triathlon. After a short jaunt away from the lake we started a 4+ mile descent down to route 209. Because of the previous day's rain a bit of caution would be necessary on the descent. But just a bit. Honestly, it is just too fun balling down a winding road with, in some spots, as much as a 9% decline, to ride with too much caution. So I went fast, but not stupid. I passed a half dozen people and was passed by one.

At the bottom of the hill we made a right hand turn and rode a short ways to the first turnaround on route 209. After the turn it was a 20 mile out-and-back before the final 10 miles to T2, located at Shawnee Resort. The final 10 miles were mostly on Community Drive.

The 40 miles on rt. 209 were rolling and, for me, a bit lonely. After the first turnaround I had only a few people around me, all of whom I passed except for one relay cyclist. When he passed me around mile 8. I thought about going with him, but opted to race my own race (I have a bad, recurring habit on the bike of racing whomever comes by me that I have been working on). Really glad I did as the rollers were a touch more of an energy drain than I had originally anticipated.

After the turn around I did see people coming at me but still no sight of those in front of me. Until ... around mile 38 I see a cyclist who appears to be struggling. Turns out relay guy went out too fast and was now paying the price. A few more miles up the road  I passed another rubber legged cyclist.

At this point I had two things going on. First, my legs were feeling less than ideal. Not cooked, but not what I wanted. Second, I had to pee. This is not a usual feeling for me, and one I embraced. Having to pee = proper hydration. So here I am happy to be hydrated, yet a little concerned because the legs are feeling heavy.
Bike Profile

Community Road changed all that. After making the turn onto this section you almost instantly hit the biggest climb of the day. Into the small chain ring, out of the saddle, I made my way to the top in as efficient a manner as possible. Totally forgetting about the need for a toilet, as I hit the modest descent my legs started to feel much better again. Apparently a nice little climb equals happy legs!!!

Back to the rolling terrain ... and the worst roads of the day. There were potholes everywhere. Not the fault of Rev3 by any means, but a problem none the less for two reasons. First, there was tree cover and, with the sun out, it because difficult to see exactly what the road looked like at times. Second, there is a section where the runners and cyclists shared the road, making it feel even tighter, especially with other cyclists around. Again, not Rev3s fault, but I would hope the local authorities would at least patch the road.

T2 - 1:33

Shoes and helmet off, shoes and race belt on. Other than nearly falling over while putting on running shoes, no drama here.

Run 13.1 miles 1:49:51

If you recall, I had to pee while on the bike but opted to keep running. With no port-o-johns in the transition area I had to take a stop just after entering the bike course. That stop took 2 minutes. I raced in a one piece tri-suit which I normally only do at shorter races for just this reason. My inner klutz took over. Long story short, I really had to go and I really had technical difficulty. Rookie mistake.

Once on the course I was feeling OK. My nutrition to this point had been good so no stomach issues while my legs were hanging in there. The biggest concern I had is the lack of run miles my legs had on them. The longest run this year had been just 10 miles. That 10 miles had been run on the flat towpath, not rolling or hilly terrain.

For the most part I hung in there until mile 9 when my lack of run legs showed up. By mile 10 it became a struggle. By 13.1 I was glad to be done running ... or should I say "running."
Jon Soden - Rev3 Pocono
Run Course and Profile

Overall - 4:55:42 36th overall 5th in AG45-49

When I put this race on my schedule it was for the sole purpose of testing out my fitness in prep for Ironman Florida. Judging from my results I feel I am on pace, but with some concern when it comes to my run legs. With limited run mileage I need to step it up a notch over the next four week to make sure I give myself the best chance for the day I think I can race on 11/1.

As for Rev3 Pocono Mountains, it is a race I would recommend and plan on doing again. The swim venue is interesting, the bike is a nice challenge, and the run course can eat you up if you've overdone it on the bike. The venue is an easy trip with adequate parking. The two transition areas - something I had concerns about - turned out to be no big deal. In fact, it is a nice change of pace to ride point-to-point.

Just as important, the bike and run were accurately measured as well as well marked. I really can't stand an in accurate race (see here for an example). When you hit mile 10 on the bike, there was the 10 mile marker.

The run course we ran was not the original course, which turned out to be a good thing. What we ran was a nice combination of road and trails. If there were one thing I would change it would be to add a additional water station between miles 4 and 7. My hope is they stick with what worked this year.

You may notice there are no pictures of me racing. Appears I was a ghost as there was not a single picture taken of me by the on course photogs. Even for the free finishers photo, they got 10 of the guy in front of me and 10 of the guy behind me but not a single picture of yours truly.

One more thing worth mentioning: If you take a look at the picture below you can see what looks like a black dot just up the road on the side opposite the cyclist. I heard some rumblings about a bear out on the course but didn't know if I should believe it or not. That black dot ... yeah, that's the bear. I guess he was friendly enough.
black dot = black bear

 Thanks for reading.

Up next: it's all focus on Ironman Florida on November 11 with (maybe) the Runners World 10k as a fast workout on October 18.

Train hard. Stay focused.