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 along with live video feed at the transitions and finish line. In the past 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.