Thursday, August 28, 2014

Race Report - TriRock Asbury Park Triathlon

TriRock Asbury Park is a relatively new race to the Mid-Atlantic triathlon race schedule with Sunday's race being just the second running of the race. Last year I considered racing here, but raced the Great Six Flags Triathlon the weekend after instead for three reasons. First, the timing for this race didn't work out for me. Second, Asbury Park was only a sprint distance last year and I wanted to race the Olympic distance. Third, I got to race in and around Six Flags Great Adventure, which is one of the few places in the world you can be running on a dirt path with a roller coaster above you and a gang of monkeys behind a fence to your side.

With the addition of the international distance this year I took that as a sign to head to the shore for a race.

Before I get into my day, I want to state up front that I enjoyed this race and, assuming it works with my race schedule, plan on racing it again next year. The venue is great (who doesn't enjoy being at the Jersey Shore), the race course enjoyable, and generally well organized. There were some issues I had with the race, but they are easily correctable.

Really, the only problem I had with this race was the disparity between the posted international distances and the actual distance of the course. On many race courses there is a small disparity between the actual distance raced and the traditional distance. The reason for this is the course design. For example, at the NJ State Triathlon the bike course for the Olympic distance event is 25.5 miles long, not 24.8 miles (40k) because of bike course loop. There is nothing the organizers can do - it is what it is - except make you aware that the bike course is long. The race is still fair as everyone is racing on the same streets, but with that information you know what you are racing. You don't suddenly get to mile 24.8 and think WTF is going on here.

So what I will do is give a breakdown of what the official results were as well as the unofficial Garmin results. And, before you think it, yes, I know that Garmin is not an exact science. But as you will see, there was something off about this course.


Normally for races 1-3 hours away from home I will either wake up early on race day and drive down or travel down the day before and spend one night in the area. Because this race was close to my parents house, I was down at the shore early. More specifically, I drove down Thursday evening and spent Friday in North Jersey with my folks watching the PGA Tour at The Barclays. We were fortunate to get a good weather day (overcast and relatively cool) and some good golf to watch.

On Saturday I headed over to the race site to pick up my race packet in Asbury Park, NJ. The race expo and transition area were at the famous Asbury Park Carousel Building. After a quick packet pickup, I walked the boards for a while checking out the sites while waiting for the athletes meeting. Normally I won't bother with the meeting, but after seeing the red flags out on the beach, it seemed smart to stick around and see how they would handle the rough seas. As it turns out, the race director was straight up about the situation and prepared us for a duathlon, not a triathlon.
Jon Soden - Asbury Park Carousel
The Asbury Park Carousel 
I arrived at the race site at 6 am on Sunday morning, scoring a parking space not far from transition. Body marking was a breeze. As I was setting up my transition area the official announcement was made - no swim. I put my running shoes on, hit the port-o-john, and eased into a short warmup on the boardwalk.

Swim Run: 1.3 miles 9:22 (Garmin - 1.45 miles)

Even as people complained, there was no way we should have been in the ocean. I'm a fairly strong swimmer and the thought of getting caught in a riptide crossed my mind. Cancelling the swim was the correct decision. That said, the run course wasn't even close to the distance they said.

The start of the race was a time trial start with four people going off ever 15 seconds or so. Being in the third wave, I didn't get started until 7:09 or so (7 am start). The course was a combination of tight sidewalks and open boardwalk. The only issue I had was passing at times was tight, but given the situation, no complaints. My run was controlled yet surprisingly fast. Overall I was happy with the effort.

T1: 0:57

Nothing to note here. Without a wetsuit to deal with it is a simple process of changing shoes and heading out to the bike course.

Bike: 20 miles 48:22 (Garmin - 19.17 miles)

I had been looking forward to this ride all week. Looking at the course profile I knew it would be a fast track with the "rolling terrain" being bumps in the road. Not as fast as I expected, the course is two loops with a 3 mile + straightaway on Ocean Ave. you ride four times. Apparently when I looked at the course I concentrated more on the fast straightaways and much less on the technical turnarounds. Still, not a slow track.

The plan was to get settled in over the first few miles, then push the pace the best I could, building the intensity on loop two. Which is basically what happened. After settling in I hit the straightaway at mile 2, taking note of the slight headwind heading north. The turnaround was at So. Lake Drive. From there it was back to Ocean Ave. for another three miles of straight before bobbing and weaving back to the transition area for loop number two.

Jon Soden - Triathlon

Shortly after passing transition for the second loop I had a fast sprint guy pass me in the first turn. This was good as I had been riding alone up to this point. Over the next 9 miles or so we were around each other. I took his presence as an opportunity to sit legally behind him as we traveled north on Ocean Ave. Mentally it was nice to be able to just follow someone, knowing that even at 12 meters back I was able to catch a little draft action.

Back at transition I had a small problem getting off the bike. The final turn is not very far from the dismount line. Totally my fault, I got caught with one shoe off and one shoe on, awkwardly trying to get off the bike and onto the run.

T2: 0:48

Once off the bike nothing to talk about here.

Run: 6 Miles 44:36 (Garmin - 6.31 miles)

Coming out of T2 I knew that I had some ground to make up if I was to win my age group. Two weeks ago at Steelman I managed to meet my goal of a sub-44 run on sheer guts and stupidity. There, the goal was to run well and let the placing be whatever it is. Here, I decided to go for it the best I could, knowing I have had problems with the duathlon format in the past, and that injury has kept me from running to my ability.

I started out fast (for me at the present time) but in control. There was a water station at the one mile marker and the kid handing me water missed my hand. I figured no big deal, there will be another aide station in the next two miles. I continued to push the pace. My first three mile splits were 6:58, 6:49, 6:58.

Jon Soden - Triathlon
I hit the first turnaround just after mile three and headed north into the wind. It felt good as the temperature had started to increase. My legs were starting to tire a bit and I still hadn't seen an aide station. Apparently that assumption about the water stations was wrong. There was no water until the four mile marker, which was actually more like mile 4.5.

After a 7:04 split I was clearly slowing I made the decision to walk through the water station to make sure I had some fluids in me. The result is I felt a bit better but mile five was my slowest mile of the day, clocking a 7:26. We headed north through the convention center, hit the turnaround and back south to the finish line. I finished off with a 7:20 mile 6 and a 6:45/mile pace for the final 0.31 miles recorded by my Garmin.

Overall: 1:44:07  10th Overall 2nd in AG45-49 

Believe it or not I signed up for this race and just assumed it was an Olympic distance course (because sometimes I don't necessarily read all the details, like, the actual distances). The goal was a PR at that distance. Once I realized my mistake, the goal became ride fast, run well and give it a good effort. On this level I would call it a success.

And while I really, really would like to believe that I rode the officially reported 24.8 mph, I think the Garmin data and 24.1 mph average is more in line with reality. Overall my bike split was 5th fastest on the day, about one minute slower than the fastest rider, so that's satisfying. But, there is room for improvement. I came to the realization on the second bike loop that I need to work on my technical skills on my tri bike. I'm racing on a new bike this year (Quintana Roo Illicito) and still am a bit jittery at times. Never gave this much thought until the second bike loop where I watched the Sprint guy pull away from me in almost every turn.

My run it is still a work in progress. My feel for pace is better than it was two weeks ago, but not quite back yet. Same for run specific fitness.

As for the race, I would recommend it to anyone who is new to racing or anyone looking to race fast. Racing at the beach is a nice change of pace. Even at the height of beach season access to the race venue and parking were not an issue.

TriRock does a good job with their races. The metal was impressive, the beer mug for placing was nice, and the post-race food was great. And, just down the road, all finishers had access to free beer!!!! Can't beat that!!!

I only have two complaints, both of which are easily fixable. As mentioned earlier, just tell me what the actual distance is I'm racing. If the run is longer and the bike is shorter than a standard International Distance, that's fine. Just tell me. Related to this is the really, really poor mile markings on the run. The first mile marker was long, the second mile short, number three either didn't exist or was so discreet I missed it, while mile number four was somewhere around the 4.5 mile mark. I didn't see a 5 or a 6 mile marker.  

Thanks for reading.

Up next: Two weeks of Ironman focused training then Rev3 Pocono 70.3 on September 14.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ironman Training Review: Week of August 11 - 17, 2014

Here it is, the dog days of summer. It is hot, humid, and simply brutal here on the East Coast. Training in August is about not just getting the work it, but getting enough fluids and electrolytes back in the body so as not to tip over that nasty edge of dehydration ... oh, wait, not this year.

Unlike every other year maybe ever, we have been having just unbelievably nice training weather. So nice, in fact, that early morning bike rides have made me think about what to wear other than tights and a jersey. On Friday I wore arm warmers, gloves and a vest. It was 56 degrees!!!! This is sooooo nice but has me a bit worried. Training for an Ironman crazy things go through your head like, what if it snows in September and I can't get a long ride in?

Anyway ...

After racing Steelman last week (see here), this week was the first week of focused Ironman specific training. After a few days of easier training I was back at the intervals on the bike as well as on the run. Well, really three days of easier workouts. The original plan was to ride hill repeats on Wednesday after work with Cassie. I called an audible when my legs were still not feeling happy at the end of my work day. Apparently Steelman took something out of my legs ... or I'm just getting older. Either way, it took three days for recovery.

I did get some interval sets in this week. On the run I did some hill repeats on Thursday. On Friday I did  4 x (5 min @ OLY pace + 5 min recovery), throwing in a short t-run to boot.

The weekend is normally dedicated to longer workouts and this week was no different. Friday I got a mind-numbing swim set in after work, Saturday morning I managed my longest run post-surgery, then on Sunday I capped it off with a three hour ride. In between the longer sessions I managed some shorter run and bike workouts.

Workout of the Week - Pre-Race Swim Set: This is the set I did the Friday before racing Steelman on August 10. I have a few go-to workouts that I do in the days before a race. For years I have been doing the same basic set. Last week I decided that change can be good and modified things a bit. After reading an article from Triathlete Magazine featuring swim-stud Sara McLarty's recommendations I modified what I was doing. Previously I was doing a quick warm-up followed by a bunch of 50s as 25 hard / 25 easy. Pacing in everything and the 200s made me feel like I had a better feel for where I wanted to be on race morning. Here's the set:

1 x 200 on 3:20 easy
1 x 200 on 3:30 pull
1 x 100 on 1:40

Main Set:
6 x 50 on 0:55 (25 hard/25 easy)
2 x 200 on 3:00 @mid-race effort
6 x 50 on 0:55 (25 hard / 25 easy)

200 easy

You can find the article and it's three variations here.

Last, I heard the song "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds the other day and just can't get it out of my mind. Good tune, but I hate when that happens.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Race Report - 10th Annual Steelman Triathlon

This past Sunday was the 10th running of the Steelman Triathlon held at Lake Nockamixon in Quakertown, PA. While I haven't raced this every year, I have raced it eight times, only missing the two years I raced Ironman Lake Placid. For those of us in Eastern Pennsylvania it is a chance to get out and race against some of the best triathletes in the area.

Normally a great mid-season race, due to early season injuries this was my first triathlon of the year. And without much running at all this year the challenge would be holding it together for the 10k run. A nice challenge for Jon.

Race week was a bit different for me this year. With a late season Ironman on my schedule I would be training through this race, taking a three day taper to freshen up the legs. Those three days was coming off a higher volume 10-day training training block which included 300+ miles on the bike, some hard interval work on the run, and the heaviest volume swim work for the year. And just to spice things up, I changed around my training in the "taper" to experiment with a few things.

So how'd it go?


Every year it's the same thing. About ten days out the barrage of emails from the race director (Dale) with two main points - read the athletes note and make sure you get to the park at 4 am to secure parking. I didn't get there at 4 am, electing to "sleep in." Due to my laziness I arrived to the park at 5:30 am and was forced to park 3/4 of a mile from the start line. Where the people who entered the park after me parked, I have no idea.

Note to Dale: while it is great that you are on the ball about just about everything is great, you really need to quit stirring the pot on parking. And yes, I am glad to see such great participation, you really need to cap the race at a smaller number of athletes. There is just not enough parking.

Moving beyond the parking situation, we had quite the day to race. Temperatures were in the 60s, there was no wind and the swim was wetsuit legal.

The race day packet pickup was quick, transition setup was smooth, and I found my crew in short order. The only problem was the relatively small amount of pot-o-pots available. The line was crazy long from the moment I got there until the start of the race.

Note to Dale: If you have more competitors you will have more fully hydrated people who need to use the facilities. Take some of the extra money and use it to rent a few more toilets.

Swim: 1500M 20:56

If there is such a thing as the perfect swim, this was pretty darn close. Starting in wave three with the 40-49 year old men and the aquavelo competitors, I lined up at the front and not far from the inside. Unlike past races I stayed in control for the first 100M and, surprise, surprise, I found a pair of feet to draft off. After a few strokes in the draft I looked ahead, we were swimming straight, and I was sitting in the third position. For the next 1400M I stayed on those feet and enjoyed the ride. The final result was a PR swim.

T1: 2:07

Uneventful with one exception - getting my wetsuit off. Never my strong suit, the problem was compounded by the oversized timing chip provided to us. Damn thing got caught on my wetsuit and I struggled a bit.

Note to Lin-Mark: I think I speak for many when I say that I would be more than happy to pay an additional $1 for each race I do next year if you promise to take the additional revenue and upgrade your technology. There are better options out there ... please.

Bike: 40K 1:04:58

This is a fun, but not the fastest, course to race. Normally you want to take the start of the bike to settle in and let your heart rate settle down before starting to push the pedals. Here, that is not an option, as you have a nice climb out of the marina out to the two loops on route 563. Key is to have your bike in a small gear coming out of transition and not overdoing it on this first climb. From there you can settle in, get your $hit together on the slightly rolling park roads ... which was exactly what I did.

Once out onto the main race loop I dropped it into a big gear and got to work.  Last year I burned too much on the first loop and couldn't push in from the final turnaround as hard as I would have liked. My plan this year was to push the first loop hard, then kick it up a notch for loop number two. Much to my surprise I held to plan, with a slight negative split. I rode fast but within myself, knowing that the true unknown was ahead of me - the run.

Note: Technically this is an easy course to navigate. The roads are closed to car traffic and the visibility is excellent. Best of all, Dale has a street sweeper come out and get the gravel off the road. Thank you Dale!!! However, there is little flat terrain. Thus, you are almost either climbing or descending so be prepared. It is very easy to over do it and not know it until you start to run.

T2: 1:16

Smooth and without issue.

Run: 10k 43:43

Jon Soden - The Complex Triathlete - Steelman Triathlon
Photo Credit: Kevin T
Out onto the run and the real mystery of the day would unfold - how would I hold up on my first "real" run off the bike since last October. Still nursing my knee, with little running at all this year, I did manage to get two very short runs off the bike in, just to make sure it wouldn't be a total disaster.

This run course is a bit pesky. For some reason I always remember it as being flat. I don't know if this is because it is by a lake, or on trails, or my old age, but I just always do. That would be fine, if it was actually a flat course. After taking the quick left out of transition and completing the short out-and-back the trail turns from flat into just enough of a rolling terrain to make it a bit uncomfortable ... especially off the bike.

Coming out of transition the course I felt normal (legs a little heavy but coming around quick) but different (no sense of pacing). The lack of feel for pace showed when I hit the one mile mark in 6:55, a bit faster than I expected. The next two miles were a bit slower, but on target with both coming in right at a 7:02/mile pace. So far so good.

After getting some water at the aide station (big shout out to Endurance Multisport for the job they did) and some cheers from Kevin, I headed back in from the first loop, hoping to maintain my pace. With the trail now full with runners I made sure to be more aware of my surroundings.

All was well until it wasn't. Around 4.2 miles in my legs were calling for a short time out. After a short walk I picked it up again and continued on until I had another brief walk break around mile 5.5.

Normally, walking a part of the 10k would have me  upset with myself. Having to walk means I screwed up my pacing, either on the bike or out of transition. No worries for two reasons.

First, I paced the bike just fine. Coming into and out of transition my legs were where they should be, no questions. Second, the breakdown was a total muscular endurance issue. With the small amount of running I have been able to do I knew this could be an issue. Better pacing may have helped, but without having many miles in I don't yet have my feel back. But I will.

Overall: 2:12:58  10th Overall 2nd in AG45-49 

Jonathan Soden - Steelman Triathlon
Men AG45-49 Podium
Every year my goal at this race is the same - place in the top 10 overall and have a top three bike split. Admittedly these are terrible goals as they are performance based, not process based, and you can't control who shows up to race. Still, this is our local race and these are the two things I want to accomplish every year. Competition be damned. Age be damned. From this irrational perspective success was achieved - only two guys out biked me as part of my 10th  place overall finish.

Back to the rational world of goals, I really wanted to have a good run. Prior to the race I explained to The Queen how I had no clue how my run would go. Realistically I thought I could go about 44 minutes, but would be happy with a 48. The 44 is the high end of what I have run the distance over the past few years. The 43:43 I ran certainly qualifies as a success.

More important, however, is the fact that I somehow managed to just miss an Olympic distance PR by a mere 2 seconds. I honestly did not have any expectations of going below a 2:14:xx so, while disappointed I couldn't find a few extra seconds of speed somewhere, really stoked to have such a great overall race.

Jon Soden - The Complex Triathlete
The crew, post race, all blinged out. Photo Credit: Alison

Thanks for reading.

Up next: A week of solid training then TriRock Asbury Park on August 24.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ironman Training Review: July, 2014

So far 2014 has been more about training and recovering from surgery, not racing. Yes, I did go out and "race" Jerseyman Triathlon in the aquavelo division a few weeks after surgery. And yes, I also went to Eagleman 70.3 and did the swim and bike before handing in my chip (still couldn't run). But that wasn't racing. Those events were more about just getting out there and proving to myself I could still toe the line. Nothing more, nothing less.

That has changed. On July 4th I raced the Firecraker 4 miler in Palmer Township and I did the Steelman Open Water Swim (OWS) on July 14th in Quakertown. I didn't do a specific write up on either event because ... well, I really don't know. I just didn't. Both events went well.

For the 4 mile run my plan was to just go out and see what I was capable of doing 11 weeks post-surgery. With minimal running miles - none fast - I entered the race with no expectations other than getting a baseline. Run hard, see what happens.

Jon Soden - Firecracker 4 Miler
Photo Credit: Firecracker 4-Miler 
What happened was an official time of 26:01 on a slightly short course. According to my Garmin the course was 3.89 miles and my avg. pace was 6:38/mile. No one was more surprised than me. If I had held a 7:20 pace I would have been ecstatic. Something to be said about having base fitness.
Jon Soden - The Complex Triathlete
Best part of training is going to places you
would normally not in the company of friends

Next up was Steelman OWS on July 13. This is an event I added into the schedule when I made the decision to forego racing Ironman Couer d'Alene. After entering the 5k swim a few years ago I have since stayed with the more sane, 1.5 mile race. My total time was 43:44, just a few seconds slower than my PR, good enough for 4th in AG40-49. Clearly, nobody showed up in my AG, and the time was satisfactory. The water was a bit choppy and I didn't feel like I swam particularly straight all day.

Here's the breakdown for July (and the first 3 days of August):

Swim: Admittedly I had trouble getting to the pool this month. When I got there, motivation was waning. After 10+ years of training in the pool I finally hit a stretch where I just wasn't as motivated as I should be this time of year. I attribute the situation to a number of factors - no need to put huge volume in with my A race so far away; not having an outside pool to swim at as I have had for the past 5 Summers; a bit of swimming burnout.

This past week I emerged from my funk and had three quality swims.

Bike: Unlike the swim there is no lack of motivation to ride. In a little more than a month I logged 883 miles in the saddle, finishing off the month with my longest ride of the year (81 miles). Not just logging miles, I have completed the specific workouts I had scheduled, including my favorite - hill repeats on Applebutter Road. The only real "lost" bike ride this month was the result of a horrendous thunderstorm that left the Wednesday Night Ride stranded in the park for 40+ minutes waiting for it to pass.

Bethlehem PA - Jonathan Soden
One of my favorite roads in the Lehigh Valley
On July 27th I did my last ride with the Sunday Morning Cycle Fitters group that rides from the Jersey side of the free bridge in P'burg for the next few months. This is a great group of riders, led by Charr, with a desire to find the biggest hills on the Jersey side of the boarder and climb them. While I will miss the group, I need to have long rides that are more focused on the steady-state riding necessary for Ironman Florida.

No worries, I'll still be riding hills and will be back charging up those hills with the group once I've recovered from IMFL.

Run: Things are going well. I have managed 4 runs per week for the past four weeks without any knee issues. Volume is nowhere near where it has been in the past, nor will it be as I prepare for IMFL. Reality for me is the next three months will be an experiment of n=1. In the past I have responded very well to volume ... which just can't happen now or likely ever again. Uncharted territory to say the least.

I did, however, do my research and have a plan of what I want to do. Theory is nice so now we have to see how it plays out in the real world. The next test will be at the two Olympic distance triathlons I have scheduled for this month (Steelman and TriRock Asbury Park) and then at Pocono 70.3 on September 14. If I can run reasonably well I continue on the path I am charting. If not, we reassess the situation.

Overall: I'm starting to feel pretty good again and, more importantly, my body feels ready to take the pounding of Ironman training. Good thing as $hit gets real now. Starting now (August 4) I need to stay focused on the big picture and Ironman Florida.

This will be the last weekly report as I will move to weekly updates up through Ironman Florida.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Ironman Training Review: June,2014

Ironman Training Review: April & May, 2014

Ironman training Review: March, 2014

Ironman Training Review: February, 2014

Ironman Training Review: January, 2014

2014 - The Year for Ironman Racing