Monday, March 23, 2015

Warm Hearts 5k Race Report

We all race for different reasons and every race has its place within a plan. Last time I entered a race was the Christmas City 5 Miler in December, which I run every year but rarely ever race. Last time I raced was Ironman Florida this past November 1. After a laid back few months I decided the time had come to once again pin on a race bib at the Warm Hearts 5k this past Saturday, March 14, 2015.

The race has been around for three years, originally run in Nazareth before making the move to Bethlehem in 2014. Stating at the JBN building on Higland Avenue, the course is on slightly rolling roads, entirely within the industrial park. Roads were open to traffic but quiet. Start time was 10 am.

Normally for my Saturday morning runs I am out the door early for a 7 am or 8 am start time. With such a late start I took my time getting to the race site, giving myself enough time to get my race packet and a 15 minute warm up. A little extra sleep was a nice little benefit.

This race was very my a "C" race for me. I am not a runner and have been doing very little volume or intensity for the past four months. I did not taper (unless you consider the 4 1/2 months between IMFL and this race to be a taper). My only goal here was to get an idea of baseline run fitness. I was hoping to break 20 minutes but whatever the number on the clock I would not be disappointed as long as I gave it a good effort.

Weather conditions were not ideal. And by not ideal, I mean 37 degrees with a steady rain. So basically, the weather sucked. Being that it is the middle of March this did not come as a huge surprise - and it was better than icy road conditions or snow - but that didn't make it any better. In all seriousness, it really turned out to not be all that bad, and this is totally NOT the fault of the race organizers. Weather happens.

The Course

The course is a lollipop shape with a run out Courtney Street, a right hand turn onto Commerce Way, a loop around Commerce and Broadhead Road, then back to the parking lot via Courtney Street. You can see the course below or on MapMyRun here.

The Race

After taking a 15 minute warm up run I lined up near the front of a small field of runners. With the weather being what it was, organizers were quick in getting things started and right at 10 am we were off. About a quarter mile in I passed Mark A with a quick "hi" and settled into a hard but what felt to be a sustainable pace. At the turn onto Commerce Way I had moved into 8th place overall with the eventual winner slowly pulling away from the eventual woman's winner (Lauren, who ran a solid PR time of 18:08) who was slowly pulling away from the rest of us.

Over the next mile or so I passed everyone in front of me before catching the third place finisher at the top of the Brodhead Road incline (it is really not a hill). I managed to stay with her for a 1/4 mile or so before she got a gap on me. After the final turn onto Courtney I was simply holding on to the end. Just before the turn back into the parking lot I was passed for 4th overall. I did manage to hold off the two gentlemen behind me to finish in 5th overall (out of 174 finishers), 3rd Male, 1st in AG40-49 and a time of  19:47.
The Complex Triathlete - Jonathan Soden

My Thoughts

Not every race we do is about getting a PR. Here, my goal was simply to run hard and determine my baseline level of fitness. I hoped to be under 20 minutes. From this perspective I would call this effort a success.

As for the race itself, I would recommend it to everyone. From packet pickup to a nice post run spread, the race itself was well organized. Out on course there were more than enough volunteers. The cost was a reasonable $25 and benefits the Sam Vlasics Foundation. The only negative on the day is the cold rain but, as we all know, you cannot control the weather.

Train hard. Stay focused.


Warm Hearts 5k Website

2015 Warm Hearts 5k Race Results

Race Course at 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fast After 50 by Joe Friel - Book Review

Fast After 50 Book Review - The Complex Triathlete

If you have been a cyclist or a triathlete for more than a day it is almost guaranteed that you know who Joe Friel is, and you probably have a book or two of his sitting on your bookshelf. Friel is the author of The Triathlete's Training Bible, The Cyclist's Training Bible, The Power Meter Handbook, and Triathlon Science, to name just a few. I personally own all these books and read his blog on a regular basis. I like to keep up on both the science behind training as well as the art of getting it right.

Yeah, he knows his stuff and, yeah, I'm a fanboy.

Fast After 50 is a little different than much of his past writing. In fact, I read a fair amount of books each year and I do not remember reading anything quite like this before. If you are looking for information on how to prepare yourself to race anything from a 5k to an Ironman triathlon you have volumes of information available on either the internet or book form. All of this information, or at least what I have ever come upon, has never been focused on the needs of the older athlete. And as a 45 year old who has been racing for almost 20 years, I can tell you that it does get different as you age up.

Fast After 50 is a result of the research Friel was doing as he approached his 70th birthday. Then, starting in mid-2013 Friel began what became a series of blog posts on  how to limit the deleterious effects of aging on athletic performance. From those posts, and the research he did in writing them, comes this book.


The book is divided into two parts and eight chapters. Part 1 (three chapters) is an overview of the literature and Friel's personal experience with aging and performance. Aging happens, but it is different for the aging athlete than it is for older Joe Average. Fortunately, those differences are for the positive for athletes. He even delves into how society is, in general, really not being helpful the the majority of us who aren't athletically active.

The final five chapters (Part 2) get to the meat of how to slow the aging process and continue to race fast into your older years. These chapters are designed to help incorporate the knowledge presented in Part 1 into your training.

So what is the key to continued speed and endurance?
"... we may draw the conclusion that both training volume and intensity are important to the maintenance of fitness as we age, but intensity is more important ... (T)his conclusion holds significant implications for how you should train: Maintain your weekly volume (hours, miles, kilometers) if possible, but place a great emphasis on how hard your workouts are. Is this realistic as you age? Yes, it is ..." (p. 35)
But, and I think this is big, staying fast and fit is not as easy as just cranking up the intensity. Designing yourself a proper training regimen is about proper dosing of the intensity. Too much work will cause the body to break down and not respond the way you would like. Sometimes the older athlete will need to spread things out more than they are used to doing. This is an important concept to grasp AND implement.

Along with training Friel touches on not just training, but also rest, recovery, and diet. Fortunately, in regards to the chapter on diet, he takes a very Matt Fitzgerald approach by not directing us to one style of eating. Yes, we need to avoid weight gain the best we can, but we all need to find what works right for ourselves. If you have an interest in diving deeper into diet, I recommend Fitzgerald's book Diet Cults as a good place to start.

Who Should Read "Fast After 50"?

In my opinion, any serious athlete who plans on staying fit and fast who is 35 years or older should pick up a copy of this book. If you are a serious athlete who is 50 or over this book directly addresses the issues you currently face as you try and dial in your training and racing. For those between 35 and 50 there is a lot of value here as well. I can tell you from personal experience that how your body reacts to your training starts to change as you approach your 40th birthday. Instinctively I have made changes to my training - most notably lower volume, more intensity, more flexibility in workload - every year for the past five or six years. If Fast After 50 were around six years ago I could have limited the amount of self-experimentation I did with my training.

Bottom line: I highly recommend this book. 

Train hard. Stay smart.


Joe Friel's Blog

You can buy the book at here

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Losing Fitness Can Be A Scary Thing ...

Many of us talk a good game about taking a "real" off-season. We say we will cut back on mileage. We say we will lose the technology and "just run" or go get in a casual bike ride with friends. And in our minds this is just how it all plays out. Reality, however, just doesn't exactly line up with how the "off-season" has played out to be in our minds.

Casual group rides turn into races. The weeks of short, easy runs get interrupted by a local 5k or two ... or three ... or turn into a short race season. We justify the races as being something that they are not, and (somehow) not detrimental to muscular healing. Because, how much damage could 3 hard miles cause?

I speak from personal experience. In many a year past I have done many stupid things when it came to my training and racing. A number of "off-seasons" ended up being cover for a continuation of my endorphin fix. I would take it easy most of the time. The key word in that last sentence is "most." I won't bore you with all the stupid things I have done, but be sure that I am one of the lucky ones who didn't suffer horrible race seasons filled with injuries as a result of my inability to treat my body right. Over 20 years of endurance sport I have just one serious injury to my name.

But I have learned from my own brand of stupid. The past three months has been a different experience for me than the one just described. Starting on November 2 I have really taken an extended time off from racing and training to rest and strengthen the body. The fitness I had at Ironman Florida is nowhere to be found. Both volume and intensity have been way down. I took a full 30 days off from running. Until the last few weeks I stayed away from hard intervals in the pool and on the run, while seriously limiting the interval work on the bike (mindlessly spinning on a trainer is not an option for me).

This week everything changed. This week, we start the process of getting back into shape. For twelve weeks I have gone from doing virtually zero exercise to exercise to a small bit of training. From a pure volume perspective I am doing roughly 50-60% of what I did during my 2014 peak training weeks. From an intensity perspective, other than the sanity-saving bike intervals mentioned previously, I have done a small handful of running intervals on the treadmill, more for my sanity than anything else.

(***Please take note, when I talk about being "out of shape" I am not talking about becoming a slug on the couch while gaining 30 pounds. In this context, "out of shape" is more like being fit, just not anywhere near your peak condition.)

Losing fitness can be a scary thing. In just the first few days of this week I know I am not where I was just 12 weeks ago. The longest bike ride I have done in 2015 is 80 minutes and a few weeks ago my long run cracked into the double digits. Yesterday I did some long intervals in the pool (4 x 500) that would best be described as survival. In the coming weeks similar sets will feel a bit better every week while slowly getting back to a pace I'm more accustomed to seeing.  I'm not sure I could race an Olympic distance triathlon today, let alone an Ironman.

It takes confidence to lose fitness. I think the reason some of us everyday athletes fear the diminishing of fitness in the off-season is the fear that it will never come back. The thought process, I am guessing, is that fitness can only go up or down, but once it changes direction it will never, ever turn around? Just seeing that written down it doesn't make any sense to me. Hell, even professional athletes are not on the top of their game year round. But they know that getting that fitness back will happen.

Rebuilding fitness is a fun process. Every year I enjoy heading out and feeling my body getting stronger every single week. It is easy to get out there when the gains can actually be seen on the Garmin. And because I generally will stick with a number of my regular run and bike routes, I can see when I am compared to years past. Keeps things fun. Keeps things interesting.


So here we are in the first week of March and I feel rested both physically and mentally. The next few weeks will be both challenging and fun as I start to will my body back into respectable (for me) shape. On March 14th I'll be doing my first race of the year, the Warm Hearts 5k, more as a test of where my run fitness is than anything else. Next up will be the Emmaus 4 Miler. Triathlon season will kick off at the Jerseyman Triathlon on May 16.

There's a lot of work to get done before my A-race in June. Needless to say, after a necessary, extended break in "real" training, I'm happy to get back at it.

Better weather, more fitness, racing ... can't wait.

Train hard. Stay focused.