Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Race Report: Jerseyman Sprint Triathlon - AquaVelo

Every race you do serves a purpose. Sometimes it's your "A" race of the year, others it's to support a good cause, and other times it is a good excuse to go get breakfast with your friends. No matter what the race is about for you, you are there for a reason.

On May 17, 2014 I raced the Jerseyman Sprint Distance Triathlon at Spruce Run Park in Clinton, NJ. When I signed up for this race in early January the goal for this race was to simple go out and race hard while shaking out the racing cobwebs before Eagleman 70.3 and Ironman Coure' d'Alane, both in June. And breakfast ... don't forget breakfast.

Unfortunately, if you've been following this blog for a while you know this season hasn't started the way it was planned. Since signing up for this race I've torn a meniscus, had surgery to repair said meniscus, and haven't run in three months. As a result, IMCDA isn't going to happen and Eagleman will be a planned DNF swim/bike training session.

Since nothing was going to plan so far in 2014 I simply changed the plan here as well. Once I was cleared to swim and bike by the surgeon, I contacted the race director who allowed me to change divisions and race in the AquaVelo division (aka the injured guy division). After months of limited training and no racing, just getting back out there to see what I had became the new plan. Being back on the bike and in the pool for less than three weeks left me with no time goals whatsoever.

Race morning turned out to be an almost ideal weather day. At the start of the race it was sunny and 53 degrees. The air was warming. The lake was around 62 degrees.

After taking a quick dip with Em in the lake I lined up with the first wave (Elites and AquaVelo). After the national anthem we were all ready to roll ... except for the swim safety crew who decided it was time to have a quick meeting. Eventually they jumped on their kayaks and into position. About 10 minutes late, the gun went off and into the water we went.

Overall my swim was fine, but the first few hundred meters kinda sucked. After warming back up again during the delay, the cold water tightened my chest a bit. Past race experience told me this was normal and I just kept swimming, knowing it would go away. What I couldn't believe, however, was what was happening in front of me.

Normally in a small race like this I end up swimming alone. This happens not because I'm a great swimmer or a horrible swimmer. Quite the contrary, I'm just fast enough to get out in front of the slower swimmers but not fast enough to find the feet of the "real" swimmers, so swimming seemed normal. There were, however, two surprises.

First, what I saw in front of me was an unorganized mess. The elite wave was swimming all over the place with no real organization. It looked familiar, don't get me wrong, I just didn't expect to see this with an elite wave of athletes. The second thing that caught me off guard was when I caught up to two swimmers at the end of the 1/2 mile swim. Again, this is an elite wave I'm with and this is a short swim. If you have the ability to put space between us you should be able to not slow down and let me catch you before we exit the water.

Moral of the story: even elite racers can be a bit of a mess during the swim.

Official Swim Time - 13:39 (0.60 mile)  Garmin Swim Time - 12:20 (0.50 mile)

Out of the water and up to transition. My time was horribly slow ... partially justified. What was justified is the reality of having to walk, not run, the transition. With a longish trek from the lake to the bikes I could only move so fast. What can't be justified is the amount of time it took to remove my wetsuit. Between the rust of not racing and the huge timing chip on my leg it felt like forever. While grace is not my strong suit, me rolling around on the ground trying to get this rubber suit off my leg must have been comical.

Official T1 Time - 1:52 Garmin T1 Time - 3:11

Jon Soden - The COmplex TriathleteFinally, onto the bike. The plan here was to ride hard, pass as many people as I could while trying to not get passed from behind. Over the first nine miles I did just that, taking out 6 or 7 people, some of whom were racing in the duathlon, the rest of which were racing the triathlon. At mile nine there was a nice one mile climb that separated me from everyone I would pass on the day. By the time I reached the top I could see no one in front of me and no one behind me. I was still racing, but now I was racing alone, with 8 people in front of me and the rest of the race behind. For the next 10 miles or so I rode alone, concentrating on pushing my pace and not missing any of the well marked turns. Last thing I wanted to do was end up in Trenton.

Around mile 19 I was passed by an age grouper racing with a 46 on his calf. With his wave starting three minutes behind mine, dude obviously could push a pedal. From here on in he was in front of me, but still in sight. Honestly the happiest part of my day was finding out I could hang close to him, especially after I later found out he is more of a timetrialist than a triathlete. So while my bike wasn't all there, it wasn't so bad either.

Jon Soden - Jerseyman Sprint TriathlonOfficial Bike Time - 24 miles in 1:06:10 Garmin Bike Spit - 1:06:11

After completing the bike I walked over, handed in my timing chip, got my medal and, for the first time ever, was the first person in line for the post-race refreshments.

Overall - 1st out of 11 in the AquaVelo Division - 1:21:40

After having a very different winter than originally planned, it was nice to get back out and race again. Being able to push again felt good. And the breakfast at the Country Griddle did not disappoint!!! The girls all placed in AG25-29 - Cassie 1st, Katie 2nd, Emily 3rd - and the Philippe raced well with an outstanding effort the run.

This is a race I have done before and plan on doing again. The timing at the start of the triathlon season makes Jerseyman the perfect race to shake the cobwebs off, race hard, and get any mistakes out of the system. Race Director Ray Campeau has done a nice job here with a fun course to race, a great post-race food spread, more than enough toilet paper for the port-o-johns (this is a HUGE deal), and nice awards. And because it is on a Saturday morning, there is same day packet pickup!!! For me, that's another huge win.

Next up: a planed DNF (will swim and bike but no run) at Eagleman 70.3 on June 8, 2014 in Cambridge, MD.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Rule #8: Don't Think, Free the Mind and the Legs Will Follow

I'm a morning person. Always have been, always will be. I generally wake up between 4:30 and 5:00 am and get a workout in before heading into the office. Really, really a great way to start the day, once you get into the habit. Except, every now and then ...

You ever have one of those days where you wake up with your head in the wrong place.Not such a big deal if your morning routine only consists of $h!t, shower and shave. Safe to say we all can suck it up and get through that routine, and out the door for work, even when we don't really feel like driving down Rt. 22 and putting in our 8-10 hours at the office. It is, however, a big deal if you have to hit the track, ride some Vo2Max intervals, or swim 4200M. Such a mindset can - likely will - destroy your workout.

Or how about that race ... you know the one ... the one you obsessed over the weather or the hills, or the swim or how much you "suck" at running off the bike. For weeks the inner-speak was completely negative. "I can't swim!" you told yourself. And guess what? Your swim was for $h!t.

Don't forget that race technology we all use these days. I certainly love me some data but, man, it can become a distraction at times. I'm thinking of those days where you hit the road, start running and your legs feel absolutely dead. May be that you just need to get warmed up a bit, or maybe invoke the 20-minute rule. But you look at your Garmin and notice your heart rate is way low ... or way high ... or just right.  Doesn't matter because whatever it says you start to tell yourself that something just isn't right. Why? Because you started to think too much.

Too Much Technology - the Complex Triathlete
Technology can be a great tool. Too much technology
and you become a tool.
I have a good friend who, before he moved from the Lehigh Valley, was a part of our Saturday morning run crew. Let's call him Two Banana Tim, mainly because his name is Tim and ... well, that's a story for another time. So Two Banana Tim (TBT) is a bean counter during the day, which naturally leads him to doing the same thing with his running. One of the worst things that could have happened to TBT was the day his sports technology went beyond a simple Timex watch. Totally got it in his head that all those numbers he was seeing in real time were the be all and end all of how he was feeling and how his run was going. See the picture on the side there, that could be TBT.

The other bad habit TBT had (and I have been plenty guilty of this as well) is doing  in-race math. Now, I'm not talking about thinking I'm on pace for "X." No, what I'm talking about is the in race inner talk that goes something like this:

"OK Jon, you're at mile 21 and the clock reads 2:38:17. You have just under 42 minutes to break 3:20. That's good. That's good. Can still reach that, even if you slow down to an 8:00/mile pace."

You know what happens at that point, every single time? I slow down. Mind you, I wasn't already blown up physically, running a pace that would make the goal impossible. But that tiny little conversation subconsciously justified taking the foot off the throttle and led me to a slower finish time than could have been possible. You should also keep in mind that these conversations are usually not a once and done type thing. Because, at least in my case, once the brain starts talking it doesn't shut up.

Happy Face - The Complex Triathlete
Tame the brain on race day and this will be you.
What has worked for me is essentially shutting down the brain and staying completely in the moment. For a short race or series of intervals what has worked is just putting my head down and embrace the suffering. Running a 5k hurts when you are pushing your personal limits, but it is over fairly quick. Same thing with a 10 minute bike interval or a set of hard 100s in the pool. Just Rule #5 it.

For longer races and training days the advice I found has helped me the most with this comes from the coaches over at Endurance Nation , who tell you to focus on the now and very immediate future. They refer to it as staying inside the box. On the bike, ask yourself, "what do I have to do between now and the next aide station to keep my race on track?" For the run it's the essentially the same thing. I have found this simple question  is very powerful, forcing me to revisit my original race plan/nutrition plan as well as staying aware of my form and technique.

In between thoughts of what I need to do I simply turn the brain off. Most every race you do has something to see, so might as well take the time to see it while you are out there. Same can probably be said for most training runs/rides ... unless you're on the treadmill or trainer.

As you can see, there are a number of ways the brain can keep you from being successful - obsession over factors out of your control, talking yourself out of pushing through, or over thinking the data you have in front of you are just three. No matter what your brand of mental self-destruction may be, you can make it stop. How?

It's simple - get out there and get 'er done. Don't think, just do it.

Train hard. Stay focused.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: "Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed" by Jim Gourley

Triathletes are an interesting bunch. We are, as a group, very Type-A and willing to do crazy things to better ourselves in order to get a bit faster. It could be a "new" training method, a new gadget, or even some crazy-looking piece of clothing. We not only are willing to look a little different in the name of speed, but are willing to spend crazy amounts of dollars to save a few minutes or even seconds. Heck, a true gear junkie (and you know who you are) can very quickly spend the equivalent of a nice car just at the bike shop. Throw in the latest wetsuit technology, a pair of $175 running shoes, anything and everything Garmin puts out ... you get the point.

This is where Jim Gourley steps in. In the book, Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed, Gourley uses his scientific background (he is literally a rocket scientist) and knowledge of physics, to explore the science of speed. As a triathlete himself, Gourley "get's it," and uses each of six chapters to help those of us who are not as scientifically inclined to understand the inner workings of all things triathlon.

Chapter one is a short and understandable look at the physics behind the chapters that follow. Gourley essentially lays out the base science that permeates the rest of the book. It may not be the most exciting thing you have ever read, but if becoming a faster triathlete is one of your goals, it is important information to read and understand.

From there the book has a chapter on the swim, two on the bike, one dedicated to all things running, and a look at the science behind racing. If you are that Type-A person I referred to at the beginning of this review, all of the information presented is useful. I found something in each chapter that I either never considered or considered but quickly moved on from for whatever (probably lame) reason. Here, I want to point you to two areas that I found to be the most useful - the bike you ride and the way we race.

In my day job and in real life I am what is known as a value buyer. I have been dedicated to this sport since 2004 and I'm sure I could justify spending $7k, $8k, or even $10k+ on a new ride, just like many a triathlete I see at races every year.* Funny thing is, you can find some of these bikes in slightly used condition for sale every year on Craigslist and eBay at the end of the racing season for much, much less than full retail, but that's another story. Anyway, from the very beginning, I have always by nature sought to buy as much bike as necessary without paying up for that last bit of awesomeness.

While I would love to this as my ride, there is no reason other than the cool factor to pay up for it. Source
Chapter 4 of Gourley's book presents the scientific argument for my thriftiness. He makes two arguments - there is no such thing as a "fast bike," and anything that doesn't give you a 10 watt advantage isn't worth paying for. If you think this is rubbish, I suggest you go and read Gourley in his own words on bike weight here, unless you are a gear junkie and you aren't ready to break that habit just yet. Truth be told, the best way to become a better/faster cyclist is ride your bike. A lot. And if you feel the need to push a few less pounds up that big climb, instead of paying up for top end components or whatever ... drop a few pounds of body weight. Ironically, riding your bike more will take care of both fitness and shedding extra weight you might be holding.

Once you get your swim, bike and run straightened out you still need to race a smart race. The final chapter dives into how to properly pace for any distance from a sprint to a full Ironman distance race. This might not come as much of a surprise, but this entire chapter can be summed up in one word - pacing.

Now, before you say "duh, I don't need a book to tell me THAT," here me out. The analysis goes beyond just "ride hard," "hold back early in the run," or "don't race like an idiot." Instead, Gourley gives some very specific advice for each standard race distance. This information alone is worth the price of the book.

There are a few books that all multisport athletes should have on their bookshelf. Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed is one of those books. Faster is not the book you buy if you are only purchasing one book (Joe Friel's The Triathlete's Training Bible or Going Long would be that book), but instead a work that compliments the work of others with science-based discussions on the swim, the bike, the run, and swim/bike/run.

Disclaimer: I purchased my copy of Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed on my own.

Train hard. Stay focused.

"Faster: Demystifying the Science of Triathlon Speed" is available at Amazon.com

* For full disclosure, I did purchase a rather high-end new ride this year - the Quintana Roo Illicito (specs) - at a very, very reasonable price from TriSports.com. After looking around for 2+ years I finally found a high-end bike at what I would have paid for much less of a bike at full retail.