Friday, December 11, 2015

Swim Training is Important for the Ironman Athlete. Here's Why.

When I was trying to come up with a catchy title for this post I had a number of thoughts. The experts will tell you that is what you need to do. Well, if you know me, you know my initial thought was exactly what you might expect to come out of my mouth, and was basically this: "Shut the f$*k up and get your a$$ in the pool."

I was so sure that wouldn't cut it I continued to think it through. Eventually I came up with the much more PC title you see above. Sounds very diplomatic, right? Swimming is important for the triathlete. Let me tell you why.

But seriously, it IS important. Swimming is a part of triathlon. If you don't want to swim become a duathlete ... or a runner ... or a cyclist.

Look, I'm a good but not great swimmer. Like many of us I came late to the swimming game. Yes, I learned how to swim when I was a kid, but swimming back then involved jumping in the local lake and having a good time. I only starting to swim laps when I was 33 years old. That puts me a big disadvantage to the person who started to swim at age four.

Now that we have established that I am no Andy Potts, I'm not bad. On a fair course (one that is pretty close to accurate with normal conditions) I can go 22ish for the Olympic distance, 30ish at a 70.3 and have a 1:05 best time at the 2.4 mile Ironman-distance swim. Like I said, good but not great.

I put this out there to you not to boost my ego but to show you what can come from putting in the pool time. When I started out in triathlon I had been in the pool swimming laps for a few years as cross training for my annual marathon prep. I attended a masters class once a week at a local college with friends. I was impressed with myself because I could swim a mile broken up into intervals over the course of 45 minutes ... Seriously.

Once I started to get serious about triathlon I began to get more serious about the swim for one basic reason - swimming is a part of triathlon. Yes it is the "shortest" part of any race, but it is part of triathlon. Maybe its because I started basically training for this sport alone, but I never really thought about blowing off the swim. Now that I have been around the scene for many years I have seen the other side.

Ask yourself this question: How many triathletes do you know who have a "reason" for blowing off their swim training in favor of  other training or no training at all? A lot of very good swimmers will tell you they don't have to do it because of their background while the bad swimmers, usually out of fear, will say they are just looking to survive the swim so they don't need to "waste all that time" in the pool. More bang for the buck spinning or running, or so they say.

Whatever the excuse you (or someone you may know) has for not taking swim training serious, I'm here to call bulls$!t. Especially if you race long distance. Here are five reason why every triathlete should take swim training serious:

Swimming develops aerobic fitness without negatively effecting your joints - Triathlon is an aerobic sport at its core. Just to make the distance you need a huge about aerobic capacity. You need sport specific endurance, for sure, but aerobic capacity developed in any of the three disciplines has a direct effect on the size of your overall aerobic engine. This is why single-sport athletes cross train.The beauty of swimming is it is non-impact and can build your capacity without breaking down your legs.

Low swim fitness has a big impact on your bike and run - You know that feeling of not having your legs under you on the run after you have blown yourself up on the bike (I know this way to well)? Now imagine that feeling at mile 35 of 112 on the bike? If you don't have the swim fitness you will not only take more time getting through the first part of your day, but you will have also burned a lot of energy that could have been useful over the next 9 to 15 hours. Does it make sense to log all those hours biking and running to not be able to express your fitness on race day because you slacked off on your swim training?

If you go anaerobic on the swim you have screwed yourself. Your eating plan is useless - This goes hand in hand with my previous point. If your swim-specific fitness is low, if your technique is for crap, you will work harder than the swim-fit athlete who gets out of the water right next to you. If your low level of fitness causes you to go anaerobic in the water I can almost guarantee the rest of your day will not go as you dreamed it would. I don't care how much visualization you have done or what a bad-ass runner you happen to be, once you go anaerobic you are screwed. After spending 60 or 90 or 120 minutes burning through your glycogen your energy systems are too out of wack to recover from. Don't believe me? Try this: Go run a marathon, but instead of even pacing it, go out 30 seconds per mile faster for the first two miles before settling into you race pace. That horrible feeling/slowing down over the final 10k ... That's what happens if you go anaerobic early on.

Long course racing is about fighting through fatigue - We train to keep the body going and going. The swim is only one to two hours of a very long day but the energy you expend here directly effects the energy you have for the bike and run. With just a minimum of 3 hours per week you can keep this from happening. Do you really want to be exhausted by 8am?

Swimming builds upper body and core strength - Swimming is a full body exercise and when done correctly can be physically taxing. Take a look at a swimmer's body and you will notice the muscular size of their backs and shoulders. And those core muscles are insanely strong. All that strength helps maintain form when you are is the saddle for six hours or running for another four or five.

Are you still with me or have you moved on to some other blog? If you are still with me I hope I have convinced you to take the swim a bit more serious than you may have in the past. For some reason it bothers me when I see triathletes not taking the swim seriously. Sometimes it's the excuses. Other times it is watching someone in the next lane just wasting their time while I'm busting my a$$ to get through a set of 200s. I don't know exactly why it bothers me like it does. It just does.

Triathlon consists of three disciplines - swimming, cycling, and running - and one of them is swimming. If you do not like to swim or don't want to train the swim, fine, become a duathlete.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Related Posts:

Why Swim Training is Important for Triathletes - What I had to say about this in early 2014

Rule #5 - That's right, I said it. Harden the f@$k up!

Rule #2 - Want to get better in the drink? Can't happen if you aren't consistent.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Off-Season Cycling - A Different Kind of Plan

Jon Soden - Quintana Roo Bicycle

The other week I stumbled upon, and joined, the Ironman Lake Placid 2016 Group on Facebook. I figured what the heck, a little voyeurism might be fun, as I am always interested to see what others are doing. I wasn't sure what exactly to expect. Worse case I simply ignore it. What I did find has been interesting.

For those of you who might not know, IMLP is a July event, meaning we are 9 months from race day. If you have read any of my recent posts you know that I have been doing more exercise than training for more than a month now. Realistically, my only goal these days is to get in good enough shape to start training on January 4th without fear of injuring myself. The bar has not been set very high around these parts.

Back to the Facebook group. What I have found is an interesting group of people who appear to be training much different than I am right now. For example, On Sunday I saw a post from someone who did a 90 minute session on his bike trainer. This morning I read from more than one person who ran outside, pre-dawn, in the rain. And while I have no idea where the rain runners are located, for December I find that to be pretty darn hardcore and worthy of a Rule #7 shout out.

(For the record, it was raining and 38 degrees when I woke up this morning. I did workout. Inside. One of my long standing rules is I will not run outside in the rain in December when I am training for nothing. Running this time of year is purely for pleasure.)

For the past 8 weeks (and the next 5) I have been following what has become my fairly simple off-season bicycle protocol. I came to this about the time I started to get serious about triathlon based on two simple conclusions. First, I quickly recognized that being able to have a better than average bike split without over cooking the legs was one of the keys to putting up fast times. Our sport is swim/bike/run, not swimming and biking and running. Nobody gets a trophy for the best swim split or the fastest mile run. You get a trophy for crossing the finish line faster than the next guy.

The other conclusion I have come to is you cannot just go full throttle year round. On the bike I dial it back after my last triathlon of the season, then take a month or so of very little riding.

So here's how it has laid out on the back half of 2015:

October - My last "real" ride of the year was with the LWM Monday Night A-ride on September 28. I had planned on making it out to Kenny's last ride of the year the following week but work obligations kept that from being possible. The rest of the month consisted of five rides outside and a few short, easy spins on the trainer, mostly to just loosen up the legs. In a very real sense October was an off month.

November - The weather was warmer than normal this year allowing me to get outside to ride every weekend. The longest ride was 23 miles and I stayed on flat terrain and kept the heart rate low. Riding outside had more to do with enjoyment of being on two wheels not gaining fitness. What differed from October is the number of times I jumped on my trainer. After two weeks of almost no exercise at all, the final two weeks of the month saw me not only on the trainer, but actually putting in some work. A nice transition to what I have planned for December.

I have a number of go to workouts and decided to use the 10 x (1 min hard + 1 min recovery) as the perfect transitional workout to getting back into training again. Just enough work to feel like I did something, but not so much to kill my mojo. Best of all, with warm up and cool down the workouts were only 40 minutes long!!!

December - This month is really about getting some bike fitness back into my legs. Weekends will be spent outside (weather permitting) on either the road bike or the mountain bike with the simple goal of logging saddle time. One day a week - then eventually twice a week - I will get a short, high intensity session in on the trainer. The goal here is to start rebuilding my high end during the week as I regain some of my endurance base on the weekends.

Like I said, pretty simple but very different from what I have done in the past. After months of hard riding the body needs a break as does the mind. With early fall running races on my schedule I backed off the bike, riding for pleasure and recovery, before taking some real downtime from triathlon training. From there I am/will be slowly rebuilding bike fitness and strength in a way that keeps me from burning out or spending too many mind-numbing hours on the trainer.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I'm Making the Most of My Triathlon Downtime, and So Should You

It has been more than three weeks since my last race of the season and the start of my off season. In my last post I laid out what I hoped to accomplish while taking some downtime from the grind of training for racing. What I really mean to say is I had some goals for my downtime, which just sounds weird to say because, you know, I'm not training for anything. Having goals for downtime is very much a Type-A issue.

But really it isn't as crazy as it may sound at first. If you are an endurance athlete, or a competitive athlete, you know it's not so simple. It is damn near impossible to just walk away for 1-2 months and completely forget about your running, or biking, or cross-fit, or whatever it is you are competitive in. More to my point, just chilling on the couch is probably the worst thing you can do. You lose the fitness gained over the year and you don't fix whatever problems that need fixing. Downtime is downtime yet it is so much more.

Three weeks into "doing nothing" has felt pretty good so far. I am doing what I want, not forcing anything on myself, and embracing having less fitness. Just this week I started to feel like adding a bit of structure to a workout or two, which in the past has always been a good indicator of where I am physically and mentally. I am making progress in three areas - fixing the body, getting the mind ready, getting strong.

Fix the Body

This is the #1 reason I take downtime. I'm a 46 year old man who has been competing in long endurance events for almost 20 years now. Prior to that I was a guy rat who could squat and deadlift A LOT of weight. Hard to believe now, but back in the day I would give my body a beat down, just a different form than what I do today. In athletic years I am quite old.

With athletic age comes issues. Fortunately for me most all of mine have been small. I fix them with my Body Work Team, which consists of my Chiropractor Kyle Werkheiser and my massage therapist Joe Przybylowicz (pronounced: Pro-bill-o-wick). I have been to Kyle twice and Joe three times since racing the RnR Philly 1/2 Marathon October 31st. The tightness in my back and the little niggles I had in my legs are just about gone.

Mental Break From "Training"

Getting out to the track and knocking out some mile repeats or doing some Vo2Max bike intervals are awesome, but one of my favorite runs is an early morning run on my "home course" (a 7.6 mile loop) at whatever pace is comfortable. There is no internal pressure to run a pace, nor any preconceived notions about what needs to be achieved. It is running for the joy of running. It is the reason why I got involved with this spot to begin with.

The past three weeks have been nice. After 4 days completely off and barely doing anything the final three days of the week, I have slowly increased the amount of swim/bike/run I have been doing. Nothing is forced; nothing is hard. Just doing what feels right. Last week a "real" swim workout felt right so I pushed a little ... just a little. This week I did a more formal workout. Six weeks ago physically I could do more in the pool but mentally it was hard. Last week the work set kinda sucked, but an enjoyable suck.

Strength Training

If you are an old man like me the only way to can really continue to race fast - or fast for you - is to hold onto your strength. Fortunately I enjoy this part. In 2015 I did a good job in-season in maintaining a strength base. Now that I'm back at it more regularly I'm pushing weight I haven't done in years. Along with traditional strength work I mix in functional strength training. This should pay dividends come next summer in the buildup for Ironman Lake Placid.

Even if you're not an "old guy" you should still embrace the weights. It can be traditional weight training or functional strength work, whichever you are more comfortable with. You will feel better, hold more muscle mass, and keep the body strong.


The best time of the year to work on your swim is right now. Outside is dark and cold. You have no race commitments to train for. You have extra time as you aren't training all that much.

Over the years I have transformed myself from a very mediocre swimmer to a pretty good "non-swimmer." I will never be able to hang with the guy who joined a club team at age 4 and had a college swim scholarship. Yet come race day my swim is usually in the top 7 to 10%, no matter what distance I race. The gains I made came from the work I put in in November, December and January over a period of 4-5 years. With the emphasis on swimming and not running or biking I could get to the pool 5 days a week. And that is real, not, "I was gong to get to the pool but blah, blah excuse," but actual pool time!

Right now I am just starting to ramp up swim volume. I am not behind by any means as I don't need/desire to start putting in solid yardage until January. As long as I continue to slowly up the volume and intensity for the next five weeks all will be well. As I am feeling some motivation to be in the pool these days I have no reason to believe I won't be where I want to be at the start of the new year.

What's Next?

I do have two races on the schedule in the coming weeks. Tomorrow (Thanksgiving) I will be in Nazareth at the annual Pumpkin Pie 5k preemptively burning off the pie I will consume later in the day. I will be running with The Mayor and not racing. This has been on the schedule for years as a fun run for me. Same plan at the Christmas City 5 Miler on December 12th. Both these races support good causes. Both have been a tradition of mine for years.

Other than that, I'll be letting my body dictate what I do while slowly getting back into training.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Patience, Confidence and Taking Some Down Time

When was the last time you took some time off from training? I'm not talking about a day (or "a day" by not training in the evening then the next morning, using the 24 hours without training as a "day off"), I'm talking about some good old fashion period of doing pretty much nothing.

After running the Philadelphia RnR 1/2 Marathon on October 31 my official downtime began. For four straight days I did not swim, I did not bike, I did not run. Four straight days. On day #5 I got back into the pool (first time in 2 weeks) for 20 minutes of what barely qualified as swimming. Day #6 was more of a real swim, totaling 40 minutes and 1600 yards. On the seventh day I ran 5ish miles in the morning then spent an hour on my road bike in the afternoon.

Week #1 in the books.

This week has been a bit more work, but not a whole lot. I have been doing what I feel like doing, making sure that there is zero intensity. This will last for a few more weeks before moving from down-season to off-season.

But here's the thing: taking time off when you are used to training on a regular basis to increase fitness is a hard thing to do. It takes both patience and confidence to have the discipline to decrease both the volume and intensity of training. Patience because it is a process which takes time. You don't beat your body up for 10+ months and then expect all those little pains to go away after three down days. It takes confidence to knowingly let fitness go away, looking to regain it and then some during the next training cycle.

In my world, 2016 is an Ironman year (Lake Placid in July). Preparing for an Ironman is a big commitment in time, energy and money. I have seen people who have trained half-assed for long course and have yet to see it turn out well. You need to be 100% on race day, an impossible task if you don't take care in your prep, which doesn't start 12 or 16 weeks before, but long before the real training begins.

The idea is to be ready to start building base on January 4. Between now and then, here's what I'm trying to accomplish:

Heal Thy Body

After a training cycle the body usually feels a bit beat up. String a few cycles together at an age that stars with a 4 and not a 1 or 2, the body needs some rest. I could fight it, but we all know the body will eventually revolt and force the down time on me.

Heal Thy Brain

Training for a race is hard mentally as well as physically. I enjoy swim/bike/run but there are times it can get overwhelming when you are training for an Ironman or some other important race. But getting outside to do a 10 mile run with 6 miles at tempo before work in the rain (as hard as this may be to believe) isn't as fun as it may sound. But when one has a goal you do what has to be done.

There is a difference between training and exercising. Without those periods of exercise the training becomes mentally unbearable.

Strengthen Up!

In 2015 I have done a better job of keeping the strength work in my weekly routine. In years past it got pushed aside and I entered my down time really feeling weak. Today it is different, but the goal right now is the same as always - get strong.

There are a number of different ways to gain strength. Some prefer CrossFit, others functional strength work. Personally I have always been a fan of traditional strength training. These days I add in functional strength as a compliment to basic movements. This starts in the down-time and continues into the off-season.

Do Other Stuff

Away from sport there is life to attend to. If you train a lot there are things that simply get put off. I've been catching up on some of that, and you should too. Seriously, there is more to life than endurance sport. It should be noted that my definition of doing other stuff might differ from The Queen's list of me doing other stuff.

Sounds easy, right? Take some time off, lift some weights, all's good. Yeaaaahhhh ... not so much. If you're a Type-A personality you know exactly what I'm talking about.

It takes some real patience to make it happen. When you are programmed to swim, bike and run as much as you can it is hard - really, really hard - to just stop and rest. Physically you want to keep going. Mentally you want to keep going. Get a 68 degree Saturday afternoon and the road bike is just calling out to be your afternoon companion. And sometimes we try to fool ourselves and pretend to rest. Cutting your run volume by 60% for 6 weeks doesn't work if that mileage includes three 5ks and a 5-mile races.

Deep down I have never really understood the whole theory on rest anyway! Isn't it whoever can grin and bear the most work reaps the most rewards with speed? Apparently it doesn't work that way.

Look, I get it. Getting "out of shape" sucks. I hate it as much as you do. Yet, over the years I have learned to understand, if not necessarily like it. Time down allows the body to repair and recharge, giving you the platform to build a stronger and faster body for the next big race.

To make it happen it takes patience and confidence in knowing the time down right now will do for you what no amount of work can do. After many years of racing I think I have what it takes to let some fitness go in the immediate to reap the benefits when it counts on race day.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Race Report - Rock-n-Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon

The Rock-n-Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon is a race that has been on the race calendar for more than 20 years. Originally this race was known as the Philadelphia Distance Run, and is traditionally run the final weekend of September. For 2015, however, race organizers were forced to change the date because of an out-of-town visitor ... the Pope. And apparently his holiness' schedule is not very flexible. With the craziness that is a visit from the Pope the race couldn't happen as usual and a new date of October 31 was agreed upon by the powers that be.

Other than the race date, nothing changed. The race course is one that I have run more times than I remember and is one that I really, really like. The race starts and ends at Eakins Circle which is right in front of the iconic Philadelphia Art Museum. The first three miles (which has changed over the years) tour you around center city, including a loop around city hall. After an out-and-back on Spring Garden Street that gets you to about mile 4 1/2 you take a loop around the Schuylkill River, heading out on Kelly Drive and returning on MLK Drive. The finish is right in front of the Art Museum.

I signed up for this with Cassie and The Mayor as my last race of the season. With 2015 being about racing more, shorter events, I thought it would be a great way to end my season. When I plotted out my season one goal was to run an open half marathon at 1:30:00 or better. With a knee injury in 2014 it had been a while since I ran that fast so the motivation was there.

As I got closer to race day I knew the big goal would be unattainable. Unfortunately sometimes stupid happens. After climbing Pike's Peak over Labor Day weekend I raced a 10k in Colorado on Labor Day, then proceeded to run the first leg of the Via Marathon relay for a team The Queen had put together six days later. I could have cruised the 10k but ... just had to race that sucker.

Which turned out to be a stupid decision.

The next day my left calf ached, forcing me to shut it down for the next five days then taking it easy for the next few weeks. I raced the Runner's World 10k on October 17, gutting out a 41:59 on low miles and zero intensity. Fast (for me) but no way fast enough to expect a sub-1:30.

New plan - 1:32:xx.

With the race being held on a Saturday I drove down on Friday morning to pick up my race packets for me and The Mayor. After a quick loop around the expo, which I thought was just OK, I was back at my office for a late lunch. I had no traffic issues which made the trip less stressful than it might normally be.

Philadelphia Rock-n-Roll Half MarathonOn Saturday me and The Mayor left my house at 5:30 am for the drive to center city Philadelphia. Things went smooth with a quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts for some eats and no problem finding parking in my favorite race day neighborhood. Our timing turned out to be perfect as I entered Corral #1 about 30 seconds before the start of the race.

My game plan was simple - go out comfortably hard for the first few miles without looking at my speed. If I feel good at mile two, continue to push. If I feel too much on the edge, pull back a notch. Whatever happened, race by feel and not by the pace on the Garmin.

After the gun went off it took me about 20 seconds before crossing the start line. Even though I had a no look at my Garmin policy I happened to be directly behind the 1:30 pacing group, which included 40+ athletes. With a few turns at the beginning of the race this caused some congestion, but also told me just how fast we were running. Just before the two mile mark I had started to slowly fall back from the pacers, knowing that a 6:50ish pace would not be sustainable for 13.1 miles.

As I looped through town at a slightly slower pace I felt good. Good enough to decide that I would run smartly on the edge and see what happens. In practical terms, it meant I would work to stay faster than a 7:00/mi pace for as long as I could, then hang on to the finish. My thought was that I could sustain to mile 10 or 11, before sucking it up for the final few miles.

Once out onto Kelly Drive I felt darn good. Running totally by feel the miles were clicking off at a 6:50 pace, amazingly right on target for a 1:30 through mile 7. Mile 8 and 9 were slower (7:01 and 7:05), but that was a conscious decision to kick it back a bit. I still felt good, but this section is on a slight incline, including the Falls Bridge.
Philadelphia RnR Half Marathon

Just after crossing the bridge you pass the 9 mile mark on MLK Drive, which is where I picked it up again. At this point I just kept thinking about one mile at a time. I also started to recognize a number of people who went out with the 1:30 pacers who were coming back at me. Mile 10 was a 6:58 and Mile 11 clocked in at 6:55.

With just 1.1 miles to go the pace became harder to maintain. The legs were moving, but hurting. Picking the pace up would no longer be an option. At the 20k mark I felt like toast, but continued to move forward at a solid pace. I became very aware of the people around me, hoping to not get passed by anyone. I almost succeeded, but did get taken on the final stretch by a young woman who still had an extra gear, which I certainly didn't have.

After crossing the line I stopped my watch with an unofficial time of 1:31:38 and a big smile on my face. Success!!!! I thought I could race a 1:32 and I did. Just as important, I raced it smart. As for Cassie and The Mayor, they both ran well.

Technology can be good or it can be bad. When I first started to race we had a $20 Timex and assumed that the mile markers were set correctly. Over time I have become too tied to the Garmin, using it as a pacing guide on race day. In my experience this is not a great situation as it can cause you to go too hard on a day you aren't 100% (because if I think I can run a 6:50 pace well damn it, I'm gonna run that pace no matter what) or hold back on days you feel great. I have worked this year to regain that feel for my run and become more aware of my body while racing. Over the 13.1 miles I only glanced at my Garmin a handful of times. Those looks were earlier in the race and more about having an idea of how close my perceived exertion level was to what the data had to say.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Training Update

Been some time since I posted a training update ... actually it has been some time since I have been able to post on a consistent basis. Life has been busy but, isn't life always busy? In my case it hasn't even been racing that has gotten in the way. Really not much of an excuse.

To take this back a few months, the last triathlon I raced was Steelman on August 9th. I did well, winning my age group, swimming and running well, while throwing down the 3rd fastest overall bike split of the day. I had planned on finishing out my season with the Quakerman Olympic Distance Triathlon at the end of September, but that never happened. More on that in a minute.

Long and winding roadAfter Steelman I took a bit of a mini-break from structured training. I continued to swim/bike/run, just not on plan for a few weeks. Physically I needed a break and mentally it was nice to get away from the grind. Training with a purpose is great, but sometimes you just need to run for the sake of running, or ride with friends.

Which speaking of riding with friends ... the best part of the late season has to be the Monday night ride from the Velodrome. This year I have been riding most Mondays with the Lehigh Valley Wheelmen "A" ride. For the first few months the ride was led by Brian, who really did a great job of having an organized, safe ride. It was a drop ride, but I can't remember anyone getting dropped. Climbs were every man (woman) for themselves and a regrouping at the top, just like it should be. The fact that there were some strong climbers who would regularly show up really helped me keep the pressure on myself to push my limits.

In July Brian moved out of town but the "A" ride remained. It changed a bit, which turned out to be good. Most of the time the ride wasn't posted, but instead just a loose gathering. There were times we went out with Bruce and the "B" ride (which is no slouch ride btw) but most weeks we had 5-10 riders. Without a posted route we were able to kinda wander around Lehigh County.

Jonathan Soden - Rev3 TriathlonWith the shortened days we are done for the year. It was fun and I miss it already. Cannot wait for April so we can do it all again.

In the pool this year I had purposely given myself a pass from long, grinding sessions. With only short races on my schedule I found no reason to up the yardage for the sake of seeing a big number in the training log. Typically I lose some swim focus after Labor Day. This year that came early. After Steelman I struggled to get to the pool consistently. A few weeks ago that all changed.  All of a sudden I have motivation to swim again!!! Maybe it's some new workouts I've been trying out or just a burst of motivation, but getting into the pool has started to come more easily. Doesn't matter why, just matters that the mojo is back!!!

As for my run, things have been up and down. This year has been a very low mileage year for me, typically logging 15-20 miles each week. The plan had been to increase that mileage heading into a Fall half marathon, which I started to do before heading out to Colorado for Labor Day weekend. All was going well as I climbed Pike's Peak then raced a 10k on Labor Day at 5,800 ft of elevation. I didn't blog about the race, but it went well, placing 11th overall and 3rd in AG45-49. What a trip that was.

When I got back into town I ran the first leg (10k) of the Via Marathon relay for The Queen's CrossFit Lehigh Valley team. That went well, running a 43:30 then a jog from Allentown to my car in Bethlehem. All seemed well.

The next morning I woke up and a familiar pain had formed in my right calf ... a strain. This is something I have periodically dealt with over the past few years, and something I had hoped to avoid this year. Or every year really. I have trained all year long injury-free. My streak was over.

My typical protocol with any little pain is to take three days off from running then reassess the situation. I have found that three days is almost always enough time for some minor little thing to go away. I have also found that taking three days off of running tends to freshen the legs up. Mid-week the issue was still there so I elected to take an additional two days.

Saturday morning I went down to the tow path and ran an easy 6 miles with The Mayor. This worked out fine as my body could handle slow and flat. Still, I wasn't 100% right. What I needed was a good sports massage from the best darn therapist in the Lehigh Valley. Joe P. That visit did the trick and I have been back running my regular schedule for almost two weeks now.

Unfortunately the calf strain caused me to pull the plug on the Quakerman Triathlon. With a hilly run course I knew there would be a good chance that the strain would get aggravated. And not being 100% it made little sense to risk racing at that point in time.

The good news is I appear to be past the strain and back racing. On Saturday I'm running the Runners World 10k. Two weeks later (October 31) I'll be in Philly for the Rock & Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon.

Originally I wanted to finish my season by going sub-41 and sub-1:30 respectively for these two races. Realistically neither of these times will happen. Right now my fitness isn't that great. Having to take time off from running right when I needed to be out there getting in some miles didn't help as well.

I am perfectly good with my current reality. There are other races in the future. Big picture, there are races that are more important to me. 2015 has been about rebuilding strength around my right knee while enjoying shorter races. I have done both. So no matter what happens in the next few weeks, my year has been a success.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Five Interval Workouts for a Better Triathlon Bike Split

A few weeks ago I wrote about my favorite leg of a triathlon - the bike - and how to improve your triathlon bike split. More volume (read: time in saddle) can make a difference for those with limited bike experience. When I first started training for Ironman I made some great progress by simply riding more. I gained endurance and strength, especially when I consistently rode hillier routes.

Just using volume to improve has one major drawback. As an age group athlete there is only a limited amount of time to train and recover. At some point we all hit the limit of the time we have to spend in the saddle.

I faced this issue a few years back. My riding was good, but I still felt like I had more potential. After years of basically "just riding" I took the leap over to the wild side, adding in interval sessions while reducing the total time spent in the saddle. Since making the change I have set PRs at all distances from sprint to Ironman.

Jon Soden - Ironman Florida Bike
Dropping a 5:23 at Ironman Florida in 2014

What follows are five of my favorite workouts. This is not an exclusive list of what I do, but these are the sessions I enjoy the most. What you will notice is they are nothing fancy. Some people "need' to have "fun and exciting" workouts, which I always take to mean a lot of variety. I am not that person. What I prefer is simple, measurable workloads that can be easily compared to past efforts. I want to not just be able to measure what I am doing today, but I want to be able to look back and see improvement over the course of a season, or from year-to-year.

All of these workouts can be performed on either the trainer or outside, unless otherwise noted. Always include a proper warm up and cool down.

Standing Strength Intervals 3-5 x (2 miles + easy ride back to the start)

This is a favorite of mine that I like to put into the mix early in the year, right about the time I start to ride outside again on a full time basis. Because I am in Pennsylvania this is usually late-March or early-April. Anyone who has been training mostly inside all winter can appreciate how different it is when you get back outside again, dealing with the elements and bumps in the road. After a few months of interval work inside I hope to feel strong. Problem has been, that strength inside doesn't necessarily translate outside right away. For me there always seems to be a delay.

This workout, given to me by Coach Bill about a decade ago, is what I use to get my legs back under me in short order. You will get some good work in the standing position, get the legs used to working hard outside in the elements, and get some good strength work in pushing a big gear. And speaking of the elements, I think you get more out of these if the conditions absolutely suck.

Where: This is one I do exclusively outdoors. My preference is to do this in just horrible conditions with wind and cold. A cold, stiff headwind is perfect.The more suffering the better. If for some reason you can't suck it up in the great outdoors, doing on the trainer this would equate to 3-5 x (8 min standing + 5 min recovery seated ez spin).

When: I do it once a week for 3 or 4 weeks. If done correctly this is very effective in jump starting your legs in the early season.

How: After an ample warm up I head out to a road not far from my house that gives me 2 uninterrupted miles, is flat to rolling and is usually into a headwind. Ideally you want the road to be a slight incline the whole way, I just do not have access to such a road.

The intervals are done standing with your bike in the heaviest gearing you have available (53/12 in my case). The cadence should be low. You simply ride as hard as you can to the two mile mark, where you drop back into an easy gear, turn around and head back to the start. I usually start with 3 intervals week one and increase the workload each week.

T-Max Intervals 4-8 x (2 1/2 min all out + 5 min recovery)

Sometimes you can find truly great things where you least expect it. I have read Bicycling Magazine most every month for years. I find it to be a nice read that gives good general advice. It also reminds me of things you sometimes forget or stop doing that maybe you should, like cleaning your bike chain on a regular basis. What I never really imagined was finding anything that could make a significant difference in my riding. That is, until I read this article on T-Max Intervals.

From the article:

"Laursen's findings, which have been backed by other recent studies, show that the workout he dubbed T-Max can, on average, increase maximum power output by 5 to 6 percent, and raise VO2 max sky-high. The T-Max Interval is effective because it tailors work and rest time, and intensity, to your genetic ability and fitness level, rather than prescribing an arbitrary set of conditions. Here's how it works: T-Max is the length of time you can hold your peak power output before succumbing to exhaustion--or, scientific jargon aside, how long you can ride really, really hard until you feel so much like you're dying that you stop. For most of us, that's about four to six minutes.Laursen found that cyclists improved the most doing intervals at 60 percent of their T-Max with double that amount of time for recovery between efforts. For instance, someone with a T-Max of four minutes would ride hard for 2:30, followed by five minutes of recovery." Source

I love these intervals for the pure simplicity of what they are.  I tend to keep the intervals at 2 1/2 minutes that will creep up to the 3 min range later in the year.

Where: These can be done inside or outside, but you need to be careful outside. If I'm doing them outside I have a piece of road I use that is slightly uphill to start then flattens out.  Because you are going all out, however, my personal preference is to do these on the trainer so I can focus on the work, not traffic.

When: These can be done all year long, although you should use caution on the timing of these during race season.

How: This is pretty straight up hard riding. If you are using power you want to try and stay at 120% of your FTP, if you are not these should be really, really hard efforts. If your power (or speed) dips more than 15% for an interval you are done, even if your plan says you have more intervals.

Aerobic Endurance Intervals 3-8 x (10 min @ OLY Effort + 3 min recovery)

This is one of my favorite workouts to do outside. Inside, I can tolerate these every now and again, but that is about it. I have a loop I like to do these on which is rolling terrain and I do not have to stop for traffic or lights. If I hit it right I can go 30 minutes without even seeing a car, let alone have to think about stopping. I also use this same loop for 6 min interval work as well .

Where: Inside or Outside, but I think mentally these work better outside.

When: Anytime of the year but I tend to do these once I get closer to my first race and periodically throughout the race season. It is one of my "go to" sessions.

How: I warm up by riding from my house out to the loop (approx. 30 minutes) then hit pace once I make the left turn onto the loop. Between efforts I make sure to hydrate and fuel up, pedaling as easy as I need to to get a full recovery.

If you train with power these intervals should be right at your FTP. If you do not, the effort should be about the effort you would put out for an Olympic distance triathlon.

Time Constrained Intervals: 10 x (1 min hard + 1 min recovery)

There are times where you just don't have the time to get a full workout in but you still want to get something done. This 30 minute workout is just the ticket for those times.

Where: Always inside. If you had time to get dressed, pump up your tires, clean your Oakleys you wouldn't need to do this workout

When: Anytime you are time restricted but still need to get a workout in.

How: These start with a 10 minute warm up where you want to build the intensity and maybe get 2 or 3 spin ups in before starting the main set. For the main set you gear up and pedal as hard as you can for 1 minute, followed by a 1 minute easy recovery spin. Repeat 10 times.

Seated Hill Repeats 3-8 x (10 min climb + full recovery)

I have this listed as a 10 minute climb because that fits the parameters of what I have readily available to me. These can be a bit shorter if needed or longer if you desire (and have an adequate piece or road or are inside on the trainer). These will make you strong if done correctly.

Where: I prefer outside but have done these many times on the trainer. If you are inside you can prop up the front of the bike to get a more realistic simulation of climbing.

When: During a strength-building phase of training.

How: Due to the muscular stress of this workout I err on the side of a longer warm up. For the intervals you want to use the largest gear in which you can sustain 60ish rpms in the seated position. Once you start you want to keep continuous pressure on the pedals until you make it to the top of the hill or your allotted time is completed. Turn around and head back to the starting point, making sure you get a full recovery between sets. If you are inside on the trainer you want to spin easy and make sure you are fully recovered before starting the next interval.

The first time you do this outside it will be a bit of a guessing game, which is fine. You may also find that due to elevation changes that you will have to periodically switch gears to maintain the proper intensity. Key is to make sure you're using consistent tension on the pedals and your rpms don't go below 50 or above 70. I find that the power numbers take care of themselves.

So there you have it, five of my favorite, most productive workouts for the bike. There are others, of course, but these are the ones I like and continuously come back to.

If you have any questions, leave a comment or hit me up with a private message or email.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Getting Out of My Comfort Zone - "Running" Pike's Peak

There are challenges that we all face in life. Some are imposed upon us while others are self-imposed. We all have to deal with the former and some of us avoid the latter. Easier to slide through life than it is to take on a big challenge ... at least some people think that way. I am not one of those people.

At the start of Labor Day weekend I drove down to Philadelphia International Airport to catch a direct flight to Denver, CO to spend the weekend with friends. On the agenda was one of those big, self-imposed challenges in life - running/hiking up Pike's Peak.

The story started a few months ago when Phil and I were squaring away plans for my trip out west. Phil and Becky are both much more into trail running and hiking than I am. When I say "much more" I mean they do it and I do not. I have never hiked up a mountain and have exactly one trail race on my running resume, a 10 miler so long ago I couldn't tell you when I ran it. And when I ran it, I had no desire to go do something like it again.

So here I am going back and forth with Phil, who wants me to do a 14er with him. I agree because ... well why the hell not? He's naming all these different peaks, wanting me to look into them, yada, yada, yada. After he finally stops talking the conversation goes like this:

Jon: Why don't we just run Pike's Peak?

Phil: You want to do Pike's Peak?

Jon: Yeah. If I'm going to climb thousands of feet of vertical to go to 14 thousand feet above sea level I would rather do something that people know. If I go up Mount Whatever-its-name-is I'll have to explain what I did. If we go up Pike's Peak, everyone knows what it is. No explanation necessary.

Phil: Hummmmmmm .... you know, Becky wants to do Pike's Peak. OK. We'll do Pike's.

What is missing from the above conversation is the reality of just how over my head and outside of my comfort zone I had just put myself. I am a road guy. When I run trails it is something like the D&L Trail that runs through Bethlehem and is flat and well maintained. No big rocks, no tree issues, not even loose sections of gravel. As a road guy I would much rather deal with traffic and idiot drivers than wild animals or messy terrain.

So, so far out of my comfort zone.

But here's the thing. When I work with someone getting ready for their first Ironman I always find it good to not let them in on the true suffering that one goes through so as not to scare them off or psyche them out. It can be good to go into a big event a little naive. While I did my research and had a general idea of what I would be in for, I made sure that I stayed "a little naive" about what I was about to experience.

Fast forward to Saturday September 5, 2015 at 6:30 am in Manatou Springs, CO where I am staring up a this mountain of a mountain, readying myself to somehow make it to the top.

It's all fun and games until the running begins.
And so it began at 6:42 am with Phil, Becky and myself slowly running from our car to the start of the Barr Trail. When we got there, we came upon this warning sign:

Maybe I should have read that warning before we started running to the sky.
And from there we headed up the trail.

From an elevation perspective the first four miles are steep, but not stupid steep. We started off running and soon ended up in what is best described as a brisk walk. Partially the result of the trail's grade and partially due to the trail itself. Or, in my case, my lack of trail running experience and my desire to remain upright without injury. Looking at my Garmin data we were moving in the 16-18 minute per mile, which felt doable. We ran when we could, walked when the trial dictated.

After about 4 miles the trail "levels out" a bit. Miles 5 and 6 came in at a blistering 15 minutes per mile as I could run some as the trail became more manageable for me. Somewhere along the way I fell off the back of Phil and Becky who are way more experienced than I am on the trails. For Phil this would be his fourth time up the Barr Trail.

Whenever one of our friends does an Ironman The Queen has one piece of information she wants to know. What she wants to know is at what point during the day did you first ask yourself, "what the eff was I thinking?" For me, that thought crossed my mind around mile six. After said thought crossed my mind I chuckled a bit and stopped to take a picture. This, my friends, is what my WTF moment looked like:
That point where you start to ask yourself, "what the eff was I thinking?"
Clearly the effort and elevation were starting to get the better of me. Just a few minutes later I see Phil coming back down the trail. He tells me that Barr Camp is just up the trail. I take this as a good sign as I knew that put us at just over 10,000 ft. When I got there I went inside, purchased some Gatorade, and took a seat on a bench outside. And for the next few minutes I contemplated life over a $3 Gatorade wondering just what it is I still have ahead of me.

After not nearly enough rest we were back onto the trail. About 90 seconds after we started running again, Phil and Becky were gone. Which was more than fine with me.

Going into this adventure I knew Becky wanted to do this trail for some time, and she wanted to do it well. I also knew at some point my body would start to yell at me and the elevation would become an issue. I don't do this, they do. Running trails - especially this kind of trail - is a much different effort than running on roads, no matter how steep.

Leaving Barr Camp my calves and hips were feeling the effects of the trail and getting air had become more challenging. With my goal being to just get to the top I had no problem being out there alone with my thoughts. I knew they wouldn't ditch me so all was good.

This is about the point where a sharp left turn can end the misery.
About a mile up the trail I passed a group of three than a few minutes later a husband and wife. After I took a rest they all passed me. Then they took a rest and I passed them back. For the rest of the trek this is how it went.

Which worked out great. For those most brutal of miles I had some really nice people around me to encourage and be encouraged by. We were in this together.

At 11,000 ft the elevation really hit me. Above the tree line (12,000 ft) I could make it roughly 150 yards before having to stop and catch my breath. A slow walk was a high end aerobic effort. Fortunately, the views were spectacular.

The last mile of the trail is the 16 Golden Steps, which is the final 16 switchback pairs you have to maneuver to finally make it to the top. The start of this final section is quite rocky, which on my tired legs and the lack of oxygen ... let's just say I had the most challenging mile of my life ahead of me. As I moved forward I fell into a routine of moving for a brief period of time, then placing my hands on my knees and catching my breathe. I also became very aware of the time, being we had a train to catch at 12:40 to take us back down.

After maybe a half mile of this I see Phil heading back down to get me. It could have been a runner heading back down but I knew better. And I have to give him props for just the right amount of "we got a train to catch" and whatever else he was saying. Being low on glycogen and oxygen I really didn't comprehend all that much.

Finally, after 5+ hours, 11+ miles and 8,000 ft of vertical I'm at the top of this amazing mountain. It wasn't pretty. Well, it was pretty, I was not. But mission accomplished, I made it.

After 5 hours I made it!!! Now don't let that train leave without me!!!
If I have one regret about the whole experience it is that I was just a little too late to get a picture at the summit. And I didn't get to eat a doughnut (that's a thing). My arrival at the top was at 12:39 and we weren't missing the train down. So I jumped on the train and that was that.
Phil & Becky standing at the summit.
I have to give a big thanks to Phil and Becky for helping to make this happen. Going in I knew I would be in over my head. I surely would be the laggard of the group. I'm sure they understood this as well, yet they let me tag along for a big morning of running, hiking, and contemplating life.

Would I do it again? 

Well ......... I still need that picture at the Summit.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

5 Ways to Improve Your Triathlon Bike Speed

I enjoy riding my bike. Been like this since the days of training wheels. Back in the day I didn't grow up in an area where the bike community was a thing, so riding became more of a transportation or general fitness thing, not my sport. Back then I enjoyed lifting heavy things - barbells, dumbbells - at a place called Ottmer's Ironden ... which looked exactly like you think a place called an Ironden would look like.

I began riding again in my 30s as a way to cross train for marathons. Nothing real serious or long, just some aerobic work that didn't beat up the legs. Eventually that joy of riding led to more bike miles, which eventually led me from marathons to triathlon.

Over the years I have improved my bike split at all distances from the Sprint through Ironman, with the bike being my strongest of the three disciplines. I have become a good swimmer, and my run is for the most part adequate. It is my bike which I think I have made the most progress.

These are the five things I have done to develop the best ride splits I can:

Work Hard on the Bike

One thing I have noticed over the years is there are a whole lot of people who will put an amazing amount of effort into their run training. This breed of athlete will dig deep when on foot, often when they maybe should be taking it easy. There is something compelling, for sure, about running fast. It's fun. It feels badass. And there is nothing wrong with big efforts on the run. Take that same athlete and put them on a bike and it is different. Get this athlete on two wheels and they just kinda cruise along.

Unlike swimming, which is very much about technique, and running, where genetic abilities play a big part in how good you can be, there is a much more direct correlation between the effort you put into bike training and how fast you can ride.  I know, you need to have some natural talent to become an Olympic gold medalist. But anyone who puts in the work can become a very good cyclists.

Ride with Roadies

Every triathlete should own a road bike and every triathlete should spend some time riding their road bike with the roadies. Out on a group ride you can learn a lot about how to handle your bike. You can learn a lot by just sitting in and observing, then mimicking how others approach a long climb, how they corner, and how they push themselves to their limits in a final group sprint.

Riding with a group will also take you out of the steady paced ride mentality we triathletes get into. Head out on a group ride and you will quickly notice the difference, from the slow, steady warm up to the inter-ride surges the stimulus will be different. Different in a good way. Different in a way that will help your triathlon bike split.

Intervals, Intervals, Intervals

When you race a triathlon of any distance you want to have the ability to find your groove and basically sit in that zone for whatever distance it is that you are racing. Obviously the effort will be much greater for a sprint distance (10-15 miles) that it will be for an 112 mile Iron-distance effort. But how do you know what that effort is, or feels like? Interval work.

Other than my self-mandated 1-2 months of off-season recovery I have at least 1 quality interval session per week. Early in the season when the work is less race specific I tend to do more intervals (especially in the deep winter months when most training is on the trainer), which becomes more focused closer to my A-race. As a race approaches the intervals are all about dialing in a race day effort. For an Ironman it will be something like 4-5 x 30 min @ IM effort while prep for an Olympic distance event will be more like 3-4 x (10 min @ OLY effort + 3 min recovery).

I will post specifically about intervals in the near future. In the meantime, you can find one of my favorite sets (T-max intervals) here.

Ride More Miles

While intensity is important, getting in miles is important as well. You cannot expect to race 56 or 112 miles then run without putting in some saddle time. Even racing an Olympic distance race takes a lot of endurance.

What is great about getting in more miles is you have so many ways to do it. If you are an early bird you can just get outside before work. Not into doing it alone, no problem. Just about every place you can think of has a local cycling club or bike shop that hosts group rides of all levels.

A great place to start your search if you are unsure of what is available in your area is You can also just do a Google.

Here in the Lehigh Valley we have almost too many options available. You can start with the Lehigh Wheelmen and I am pretty sure all of the local shops have at least a few rides every week. If you have any questions you can just hit me up via email or in the comments section.

Don't Hate Your Trainer

Living in the Northeastern Pennsylvania during the winter months can be a challenge for a triathlete. During a good (read: "warm") winter it is possible to get outside and ride safely most weekends. This, of course, is dependent upon the temperature and road conditions (ice, snow). Riding a trainer for these months is a must, like it or not.

A trend that might be gaining some steam in the triathlon world has more of us staying inside even when the weather outside is ideal. Pro triathlete Andy Potts does most of his training inside while uber-cyclist Lionel Sanders does all of his riding on his computrainer, with the exception of an easy ride the day before a race. I know of others who have opted for more trainer workouts because they don't want to deal with traffic.

I am not suggesting giving up the roads for the confines of your basement ... not for all your rides anyway. What I am suggesting is embracing the trainer for what it is - a tool for better bike fitness.

Interval work, for example, works extremely well inside for a number of reasons. From a time perspective it is awesome. There is little prep time necessary, including the warm up which can be shortened. The actual intervals are much more effective (with the exception of hill repeats) inside as well. There are no stop signs, no stop lights, and zero traffic to contend with. Interval work on the bike is just you and the pedals. Finally, you can hold your wattage (effort) consistent, which is impossible outside. Even the slightest rise or decline in the road has an effect on your effort.

If you want to improve your bike split you have your simple, but not easy game plan -  ride more, do some harder intervals, and learn how to really ride your bike. With some focus and a plan you can be riding faster than ever.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Race Report - 11th Annual Steelman Triathlon

There are some races that end up as a one-off event, either because it is a destination race or the race just sucked and you don't want to go back. Others appear on your race schedule year after year. For me, there are a number of races I do most every year because I like the event or I like the cause. Thanksgiving morning I am usually in Nazareth, PA for the annual Pumpkin Pie 5k. A lot of my friends are there and it raises a fair sum of money for the Nazareth YMCA. There may be consumption of the complimentary donuts as well.

The Steelman Triathlon is different. Held at Lake Nockamixon in Quakertown, PA, it is close to home on roads and trials I like. I have done this race every year I have been involved with triathlon except for 2006 and 2011 when I raced Ironman Lake Placid just two weeks prior. If Steelman were about going out and just "having fun" I would have been there those years as well. Steelman, for me anyway, is an opportunity to throw down and see what I have in me. Steelman is a chance to compete in a familiar setting on a course that is consistent from year to year.

This year's race was this past weekend on Sunday August 9th. With my previous two races being defined by horrible weather and weather-related changes made to the race course, it was nice to get a nice day with no unexpected surprises.


If you are going to race here you have to get up early. Start time is 7 am but due to limited parking (due to the approx. 1,000 competitors), you either show up early or you park on the other side of the park. So wake up for The Queen and I came at 4:30 am with a departure from home just after 5 am. The ride down Rt. 412 was quite. Much to my surprise, parking turned out to be just perfect this year. For some reason, even with my relatively late arrival (and cars being parked in the upper lots) I scored a spot at the marina. No post-race hill climb back to the car this year!!!

Dale offers race-day packet pickup, a very nice luxury, which is as easy as it gets. Thank you for that Dale!!! From there I got my transition area set up, took care of the port-o-john business, then hung around till my 7:10 start time.

Swim: 1500M 22:55

Strava File

Last year I had close to a perfect swim that I did not expect to repeat. My goal in the water was simply to swim smart, draft as much as possible, and exit the water at the front of my swim wave.

Fortunately this is exactly what happened. After taking off hard I found a set of slightly faster feet within the first 150 meters. The quick start had me anaerobic, but the draft allowed me to dial back to a sustainable effort.

My lead out was a good swimmer, easily maneuvering the back of the waves in front of us while getting around the first two turns efficiently. One problem I tend to have is passing whomever I am drafting on the turns, but not this time around.

Unfortunately, on the back side of the swim the person I was drafting started to swim off course. I quickly found another set of feet to sit on, finishing the swim without having to burn any matches, in an official time of 22:55.

T1: 2:33

Last year I had trouble getting my wetsuit off. This year ... I had trouble getting my wetsuit off. In fact, I would guess I lost a good minute fooling around with it. The biggest problem I had was the left leg got caught on the huge timing chip I had around my left ankle. (Note to LinMark - invest some money in modern equipment and get rid of the timing chips that were new technology 10+ years ago.)

Basically, any chance I had of a PR disappeared the moment I had to sit down to remove that damn wetsuit.

Bike: 40K 1:04:09

Strava File

The course profile is one that plays to my strengths. I find a flat course to be rather boring and enjoy the challenge of dealing with varying terrain. Here you get a bit of everything. The race starts with a short, steep climb right out of transition, follows that with two loops of various types of rolling terrain, and concludes with a short, steep downhill back into transition. If there were any course I feel comfortable on, this would be it.

So after a very short flat section I dropped into my 39 CR and comfortably headed up the first climb and through the park, using the 1.5 miles in the park to get myself situated. Once onto the two loops on route 563 it was game on.

My first loop I passed a good number of people from the waves in front of me, including both Lauren and Cassie who had started in the wave just prior to mine, as well as the two guys in my age group who out swam me. I had a feeling this would not be the last I would see the ladies as they are both great cyclists as well as more fleet footed than I am. While I wanted to put as big a gap as possible between me and my age group competitors, I also wanted to finish the race in front of these two very fast ladies, even with the 5 minute head start they received.

The start of the second loop is where things can/have gotten interesting. By the time the Olympic distance racers get around to the park entrance the Sprint distance people are flowing onto the bike course. It can be good for the psyche to pass a lot of people. But it can be hard to deal with a crowded course, especially at the two turnaround points. Fortunately there were no issues.

I felt better on lap number two and pushed the pace all the way in. I hit the timing mat in 1:04:09 for the 3rd fastest bike split of the day and 49 seconds faster than I rode in 2014.

T2: 1:00

Smooth and without issue. Nine seconds faster than last year.

Run: 10k (really 6 miles) 44:41

Strava File

Heading out onto the run I felt pretty good but knew that I just do not have the run miles in this year. I have been running between 15 and 20 miles each week, not the 35-40 miles I have done in years past. It is a non-Ironman year. I have made a conscious decision to not beat my run legs up with high mileage in 2015. I'm not a kid anymore and I know I have issues that could someday come to the surface. Not making any excuses, just putting it out there.

One more important thing: this is NOT a full 10k run course, but a 6 mile run. Always has been. If you don't believe me just check out the Strava file, then ask yourself when is the last time your Garmin shorted you distance on a race course. The answer is never. If anything your Garmin will measure a bit longer. I say this to make sure it is very clear when looking at my run time exactly what I ran. That extra .2 miles would have added another 90 seconds to my overall run time. People can fool themselves into thinking they are faster than they are. I may be a fool but I prefer to not fool myself into thinking I am better than I really am.

Anyway, my run started out just fine running a "comfortably hard" 7:10-7:15 for the first 4 miles. It was here that my lack of muscular endurance came into play. And by came into play I mean I simply didn't have the legs to hold pace. My heart rate was fine but the legs were just done. Last two miles I ran 8s and called it a day.

To be clear, I do not believe that my not-what-I-wanted-it-to-be-run is a result of over-biking. Been there, done that on many occasions and know exactly what that feels like. If I came out running a 7:35 first mile feeling like I wanted to die ... that's a bike induced implosion. And if I blew myself up I would just say it.

Anyway, what I did get to see out on the two-loop run was a battle for top overall female between Lauren and Cassie. These two young ladies are incredible athletes who came to throw down and they did. At the end Cassie did squeak out a small victory but they were both winners on the day. Danielle came in not very far behind as fifth overall woman and first in her age group while Alison won her age group and KT set a nice PR in his race.

Overall: 2:15:15 M 45-49 1/34, Overall 13/328

Racing a new venue is fun and challenging, but so is racing the familiar. With my last two races being disasters (here and here) it was good for the psyche to race well.

Steelman Triathlon - Quakertown, PA
First Place AG 45-49
Steelman Triathlon
Lots of hardware among this crew.
Women's Overall with Cassie and Lauren going 1-2

How Could I have Raced Better?

More run training, which just isn't/wasn't in the cards for 2015. With my overall mileage way down from where it has been in the past my fear has been not having the muscular endurance to run to my capabilities. I have always responded well to volume. I will continue to experiment with my training to get this right.

Overall Impressions of the Race

I am a personal fan of this course. The lake is a nice place to swim, the bike course is challenging, and the run is on a shaded trail. The trail does get tight when both the Olympic and the Sprint athletes are all out there, but it really isn't that bad if you pay attention to your surroundings. Dale does a great job as the race director.

The only real complaint I have is with the big hacking timing chips provided by Lin-Mark. Seriously, you spent the money to redo your website and get the ChronoTrack System. Couldn't you now upgrade your timing chips to something a little more modern and smaller? Please?

Full results can be found here.

Up Next: Not much racing for a while. On September 13th I will be a part of The Queen's relay team at the Via Marathon right here in the Lehigh Valley and then on September 26th I will be back down in Quakertown, PA to race the Quakerman Triathlon (Olympic distance).

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, July 24, 2015

NJ State Triathlon Race Report

Being born and raised in New Jersey I have an affinity for the one state that has not always received the best reviews from just about everyone else. You know the stereotype - loud and obnoxious, curse a lot, say "yo" every other sentence, say "Joisey" and don't know how to pump my own gas.

As for the state itself, there's this perception that "Joisey" is dirty, loud and congested. And if your only view of the state comes from your car while driving on the NJ Turnpike north of exit 7a, than I can almost understand. But if you open your eyes just a bit you come to realize that New Jersey is a pretty kick-ass state with great expansive suburbs, lots of farmland (it is called the "Garden State" after all), and quick access to both Philadelphia and New York City.

The site for the NJ State Triathlon, not far from both Princeton and Trenton, is a perfect example of what is right about NJ as well as a wonderful setting for a race. The swim and run are both inside Mercer County Park with the bike portion on the surrounding roads.The park itself is massive, with just about everything you could ever want inside a park, including a concert venue. Traffic and parking for the race were as easy as can be expected.

And the lake ... ah yes, that beautiful, clean lake. I have raced a lot of places along the East Coast and this is, by far, my favorite swim venue. The water is clear, the course is spacious enough to deal with an Ironman-sized mass start, and sighting is a breeze.

On Saturday I drove down to packet pickup, making sure I arrived in time to hear the pre-race meeting. At races I have done multiple times I will often skip this meeting as there is nothing new to hear. For 2015 the bike course had been changed so I wanted to hear what the race director had to say about road conditions, aid stations, etc. as well as wetsuit status for the swim.

Good thing, too, because the water temperature was a balmy 83 degress (no wetsuit) and there would be no aide stations available on the bike course. According to the race director, the only logical/obvious place for an aide station was 2 miles from the end of the ride, which is basically useless from a practical perspective. Instead of carrying just a bottle of EFS I added a bottle of water.

That evening I stated with my parents who live 30 minutes from the race. We hit an Italian restaurant for dinner, where I had a usual pre-race meal of pizza and a salad.

Race Morning

Around 5:15 am my alarm went off and I started my usual pre-race routine of some dynamic stretching, a carb-rich meal and clearing out the pipes. With everything all packed the night before I hit the road around 5:50 am. The biggest issue of the morning had nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the weather. Driving to the race felt more like driving through the clouds as the 72 degree temperature was nearly matched by the dew point at 71. Eventually I knew the fog would burn off, leaving us with a very hot, very humid, sunny day to race.

Parking was quick and uneventful, save one interesting side note. A few minutes after parking a young guy walking through the parking area was asking to everyone in general if they had an extra helmet as he forgot to bring his with him. He seemed to be freaking out a bit. No helmet, no race, so his concern was understandable. That desperate look on his face changed when I uttered two words: "I do."

Much to everyone's surprise I did actually have an extra helmet with me (an extra pair of bike shoes as well). Seemed like a nice guy so I let him borrow it. Years ago I raced the Lighter than Air Duathlon at the Lakehurst Naval Air Force Base in a pair of running shoes. Seems I made the mistake of leaving my bike shoes in Bethlehem. Fortunately for me the bike course that day was completely flat so I could manage without clipping in. The lesson I learned was to throw an extra helmet and shoes in the car a few days before a race, just in case.

Other that that there would be no more drama. I set my transition area up, used the port-o-johns, and hung out at the race start until my wave (10th out of 12) went off at 8:15 am.

Swim 1500M 24:24

What a great swim venue
I am not a swimmer, but came to it because of my desire to do triathlons. My goal is never to be at the front of swim, but in the first group behind the "real" swimmers. With 110 people in my wave start the plan for me would be simple - go out hard for the first few hundred meters then sit on the next set of feet that pass for (hopefully) the rest of the swim.

Which is exactly what happened. I hit it hard from the start. Well before the first turn at 250 yards I had my draft all set up, finding a fellow age grouper who is just a bit faster than me. For the next 1,000 yards or so he guided me through the back end of the swim waves in front of us, before I lost him at the jam up at the third turn. While not my ideal, getting a draft for two thirds of a crowded swim worked just fine. Expecting to be around 25 minutes I was pleasantly surprised by the 24:xx my Garmin showed.

The online race results show my swim rank as 93rd overall, placing me in the top 10%, which is always my goal for the swim. I was 5th out of the water for my age group.

T1: no official time reported

Nothing special here, other than the longish run from the bike racks out to the mount line out at the road.

Bike: 19.4 miles 50:27

Strava File

Somewhere around 7 am an announcement was made regarding the bike course. Specifically, due to a downed telephone pole they were forced to cut 3+ miles off the bike route making it 20.5 miles, according to the announcement. This course is short to begin with (officially 23 miles) but now it is really short. Even worse, according to my trusty Garmin 810, the actual distance traveled came in at 19.4 miles.

It takes less than a mile to get out of the park and out onto the open road. Most all of the course is coned off for cyclists, and flat to slightly rolling, making it a relatively safe course to ride, even with traffic still around.

The first 10 miles were great. There were few turns and I was able to get into the aero position and get into a good groove. Within the first few miles I passed a few of my fellow M45-49 as well as a fair number of those who started in earlier waves than I did.

The back half of the course was completely different. Instead of long open sections of road we hit a series of tight turns on tighter roads. As a result riders it felt like a constant slow and go for the next 6 or 7 miles. I did continue to pass people, steadily moving my way through the early starters.

Around mile 16 or 17 we reentered the park for a small loop in a parking lot, followed by a short stint on the main road, before we reentered the park toward transition. Did you get all that? Because the way that sentence is written is exactly how riding that section felt.

Shortly before the dismount line I got out of my shoes, swung my leg over the bike and headed into transition for the run.

There are no rankings for where my bike split ranked overall, but I know I was the 5th fastest split for M45-49, which is a bit slow for me. There were only 2 other M45-49 that were more than 1 minute faster than I was, with the others not much faster. There was a long run from the dismount line to the transition mat and, because of the heat, I purposely jogged it into transition. Get rid of the run to the mats and I am sure I actually rode as fast or a bit faster than the two guys in front of me. Whatever, it isn't a bike race.

T2: no official time reported

The only thing of importance here is the fact that I moved much slower than I would have in more normal weather. At this point temperatures were above 85 degrees and the humidity in the 70% range. I am terrible in the heat (see below) and consciously slowed myself down to keep from overheating.

Run 10k 57:19

Soooooo ... this is simply horrible. Coming into race week I had a plan to run aggressively, hoping to have a shot at winning my age group against what I knew would be a competitive field. Once the weather forecast shifted from hot to just effin' awful, I knew I had to scrap the original plan. This may sound like some BS excuse - and I'm sure there are people reading this who are thinking I'm full of crap or I over-biked (take a look at the watts and zone distribution on the Strava file above if you think that) - but I am just not designed to run in oppressive heat and humidity. Making it worse, I have very little opportunity to train during the heat of the day, so I can only get so acclimatized.

Anyway, my plan went from racing to try and win to jogging to survive. I came out of transition slow and steady. I ran an 8:11 first mile which, just for comparison, was only a few seconds faster than my first mile of the marathon at Ironman Florida last November. All I wanted to do was keep running.

Unfortunately, from there it only got slower. Try as I might, all the ice and wet towels I could grab did not keep me from overheating. My head seriously felt like it was going to explode. By mile 2 1/2 I was running when I could, walking when I had to.

It is what it is.

Overall 2:16:25 M45-49 11/110, Overall 182/1272 

Racing in New Jersey in July is always a gamble, and this a gamble I lost. Sometimes you have a bad day, while other times you get the hottest day of the year. I didn't do what I had hoped for here. If it were a good weather day and I crapped the bed due to a lack of fitness or a rookie racing mistake I would be upset with this showing. Reality - my reality - is that I have never been able to function in these weather conditions. I would have been very happy to keep the run around 50 minutes, but that didn't even happen. Instead, I'm moving on and looking ahead.

How Could I have Raced Better?

I'm not really sure I could have. I swam within myself, biked conservatively, then melted on the run. Could I have taken in more fluids? Maybe. I just have always had problems with crazy hot conditions.

Overall Impressions

This is a race I have done before and will do again in the future. I love racing in New Jersey because, well, because it's New Jersey. I love racing here because it is a great venue with a seasoned race director who is good at what he does.

The organization is excellent. Everything ran on time, the staff dealt with a down telephone pole on the bike course with ease (and apparently a huge thunderstorm that caused havoc at the Sprint distance race on Saturday), and they go one step beyond what you would expect. The best example of this is the signs at each bike row showing which race numbers were in which row. This is extremely helpful when you are running into transition with a 160 heart rate trying to find your bike. Well done.

The one issue I have with this race is the bike course. Prior to 2015 the Olympic distance bike was two loops and a little over 25 miles (so it was a little longer than the traditional 40k). This year they replaced it with a one loop course that was 23 miles, quite short of the standard distance. Worse yet, the new course doesn't flow very well. There are a lot of turns. The section into the park and around a parking lot has an awkward, random feel to it, like they needed some extra distance so they just threw it in.

Full race results can be found here.

Up next: Steelman Triathlon on August 9th.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.