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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ironman Training Review: Week of August 25 - 31 and September 1 - 7,2014

Without a doubt I am an East Coast guy. The year round temperate weather of Southern California sounds compelling, as does the altitude training available in the Rocky Mountains. Sometimes very compelling. you know those days where it is 90 degrees with 75% humidity? Or how about those days where it is 70 but the humidity is 100% and not raining (people in SoCal surely don't think this is even possible)? Then the winter comes with the darkness, snow, sleet and cold, making biking a near impossibility, with running on a treadmill at times a necessity.
The Complex Triathlete
Milford, NJ

Yet here I am in Eastern PA, likely to be here for just about forever. And not unhappy about it either. We have some great roads to ride on, a great trail system to run on, and weather. Lots and lots of weather. In the past two weeks I have trained in the rain, under the sun, in heat, with humidity, and in the dark. It has been as hot as 90 degrees and as cool as 52 degrees. Crazy. But good.

Coming off of TriRock Asbury Park the early part of the first week was a little lite on volume, even as I would be increasing the overall training volume. The goal was to get a block of higher volume training with a focus on the bike and swim. My personal reality is truly large run volume won't be happening now or ever. Is what it is.

And from a volume perspective the last two weeks have been a success. Both weeks included 17+ hours of training. In the pool I have increased my overall yardage, maintaining my "speed" and increasing the duration of my endurance swim sessions. On the bike I have continued to log 200+ mile weeks with 1 -2 interval workouts of varying intensity. My running volume has increased as well, with my first long run of 10 miles since surgery, while intensity has stayed high. With my limit on overall run volume I have been including hill repeats as well as road intervals. I have stayed away from the track because ... well I hate going to the track. I do it, but only when I feel it is necessary. Right now, not necessary.

My default is to overcook myself as opposed to not doing enough. It comes as no surprise, then, that my legs are a bit more fatigued than I would like. This week is a recovery week, but I have Rev3 Pocono 70.3 on tap this Sunday. This week is a real recovery week, hoping to shed the fatigue before Sunday morning.

Workout of the Week - The Long Ride: To be properly prepared physically for an Ironman one needs to develop a deep level of fitness, developed over the course of not weeks but months of dedicated training. Consistency (Rule #2) is important. During the build period leading into the even there are a number of "key" workouts that most everyone completes. One of the most important is the long ride. While it can be done in a variety of ways, one of the key objectives of this ride is to spend a substantial amount of time with your butt in the saddle. Some are long and some are really long. On Sunday August 31 I completed the first of the really long rides in this cycle.

Solo Long Ride = happy like Elmo
Some people like to do these longer rides with a group, be it small or large. Personally, this is a session I prefer to do alone for a number of reasons. I do not want to be a burden on anyone, nor do I want someone to become a burden to me. Pacing is something that varies so much from person to person, not just in general, but inside of a ride. When the distance is stretched, that variability can become great. If/when I'm going through a crappy period I don't want to hold someone back. In the same respect, I do not want to be held back because someone overestimated their abilities and blow themselves up. Nor do I want to have lunch at the top of Blue Mountain waiting for you to catch up.

Attached to this is the fact that when I am going this long, I rarely plan out a route beyond the direction I start riding and a type of terrain I want to ride (flattish, hilly, rolling). Sometimes I take a road I've been past but never rode, while other times I may ride big loops. It is really annoying to have someone ask me where we are going when I am not really sure.

The objective I had for this ride was to simply ride 100 miles in a reasonable amount of time, with only short stops when I needed to refuel, while working on my fueling strategy. I decided to do some climbing at the start, hit some flat sections to work on riding in the aero position for an extended period of time, then do some hillier/rolling terrain on the back end to see how the legs hold up. 

Overall I held up well for my first century ride of the year ... but there is still work to do. After a very quick stop at Genesis to fill up my water bottles, I climbed up Northampton Street in Easton. This was around mile 71. After getting through traffic and into Palmer Township my legs were a bit heavy for the first time all day. Next time I expect it to go better.

Jonathan Soden
Long Ride Data File

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

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

For longer than I can remember, I have a New Year's Eve run that I do with anyone who is open to running it with me. It is a 10 mile out-and-back which starts and ends at Sand Island in Bethlehem. Unlike a normal run on the trail, this run travels over South Mountain with a total of 3.5 miles of serious climbing. A great run to talk about for sure, but the main reason we started the tradition has nothing to do with "starting the new year off right" and everything to do with off-season training.

Seems really strange that I would be writing about the off-season rule here in early September as I prepare myself for a half Ironman and my A-race (Ironman Florida) in less than two months time. Here it is crunch time and what rule do I whip out of my back pocket? Take an Off Season.

You might just start to think my head isn't in the game ...

I assure you, my head is in the game. I write this now as I have had a number of conversations with friends who, like me, are prepping for their big race of the year who, quite frankly, fear the off season. Do they fear the lack of training structure? Maybe ... but probably not.

Me thinks that what the fear is all about is fitness. Or more to the point, losing some fitness.

Before I go on I want to make two things perfectly clear. First, when I talk about the off-season I make a distinction between off-season and early season. The off-season is designed to heal the body and get your mental mojo back. The early season is about base building, building strength and skills, and consistent training. For me, the off-season is generally the time from my last race of the year to about Christmas. The early season is from New Years Day through the end of March. If you don't live on the East Coast, the timing of your off-season could be different than mine.

Second, when I talk about losing fitness it is a relative thing. After completing Ironman Florida on November 1 I will be taking my down time. Come January 1, I promise you that I will be in no shape to complete an Ironman. I'll still be able to swim and bike and run, just not as fast and as far as I could on November 1, when I should be in peak condition for the year.

And I am good with it. Been doing this for years without issue. In fact, it makes the early part of the year feel great as I can feel the fitness coming back.

Seriously. No bull$hit. It's really true.

Still, I can feel your skepticism seeping through the computer screen. It is hard, for the most part, to just stop training. Which, really isn't NOT Training ... it's just not nearly as much volume as you have become addicted accustomed to doing.  And really, when compared to the average human being, is still quite a bit of training. Still, you fear losing all that fitness you gained over the last 10+ months of training AND YOU ARE SURE IT'S NEVER COMING BACK. EVER!!!

So here's the deal: when you stop training like an animal you will lose fitness. But, and this is a big but, if you allow yourself to get "out of shape," taking the time to concern yourself with health and well-being as opposed to just race fitness, your body will heal itself and you will come back stronger in your next training cycle.

Here are the rules for a true off-season:
  • Continue to workout, just not structured or on too regular a basis. If you feel like getting up and doing something, do it. If not, go back to sleep.
  • Train different than you do in-season. When you do train, swimming is better than biking and biking is better than running, although maintaining a base level of running is important. The less stress you put on the joints the better.
  • Strength train. This is the best time of year to strengthen up the body and work on any weaknesses you may have.
  • Keep intensity low. Remember those social runs you used to take? All runs should be social (or social paced).
  • Gain some weight. Yeah, you heard me, gain some weight. Staying at your race weight year round is great for the ego but isn't so good for the body. Come January 1 I will be 5-10 pounds heavier than I was on the morning of my A race.
  • Work on your nutrition. Yes, it is more than OK to partake in holiday festivities, but that doesn't mean your diet should go to complete crap. If there is something you have been thinking about changing - going Paleo, eating more vegetables, whatever - now is a good time to start integrating it into your routine.  
  • Do non-triathlon/sports related activities. Take the extra time you have from lower training volume and do things you don't normally have time for, like reading, writing or taking care of things around the house (Note to The Queen: please don't read this to mean that I should be doing things around the house).
  • Plan out your new year of training/racing. While your training load is low and you have extra time on your hands, reflect back on your past year and look forward to the next race season. Are there any destination races you are ready to check off the bucket list? A new distance you want to step up to? What limiters held your performance back and need to be addressed? 
What the off-season comes down to is balancing the desire to continue to hammer your body and the desire to become a lazy bum. You will continue to workout, just at lower volume and intensity, and not so regimented. Keep in mind, even when you are "barely training" you are probably more active than the average human being.

In reality what I have found is that in the first few weeks after my final race of the year it is easy to get back into the gym for strength training while the desire to swim is about zero, and sitting on my bike in the basement isn't going to happen. Running easy and short is a pleasure as it is running for pure pleasure of running. If I can get outside on the bike on a weekend I'm good as well. By about day 30 my desire to train starts to come back and things get more consistent. I do make sure that I'm not overdoing it, which is kinda a strange thing in this sedentary world we live in. By the time Ryan Seacrest is standing in Times Square rockin' in the New Year I'm asleep on the couch ready both physically and mentally to get back into that training routine.

Getting back to the New Year's Eve run ... that run has never been about just starting the New Year out right or anything like that. I may have said that out loud to people. If I did it was a lie. Really, what that run represents is the chance to go out and see just how out of shape I am to start the early season. Some years I can run up both sides without stopping to walk, while other years have been a bit of a disaster. Either way, I know where I'm at.

Moral of the story: If it is the end of your race year, it is time to rest!!!

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

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