Thursday, April 30, 2015

St. Luke's Half Marathon Race Report

The St. Luke's Half Marathon is one of the oldest running races here in the Lehigh Valley. When I first started racing 20+ years ago this was known as the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon, took place in the middle of March, and would have 800 participants, most all from the surrounding area. Fast forward to 2015 and the race has 2400+ finishers from all over the country and a 5k race attached to it with another 800 participants. A lot of change, but for the most part the race course has remained consistent throughout the years.

The familiarity is nice. But what I like even more is the sheer number of people from the local running community who either participate or come out to support the runners. It's a chance to test your fitness while chatting it up with your running friends.

St Luke's Half Marathon - Allentown, PA
In 2014 I was signed up to run but was forced to sit it out due to injury. Once I recovered enough to get running again I was full on into Ironman training. If you have ever gone through an Ironman training cycle you know the emphasis is on aerobic pacing, not speed. With the constraints of training for that  specific event, for the first time in I can't remember how long I didn't run an open 1/2 marathon. In fact, it has been almost 20 months since I raced this distance.

Originally, I had it in my head that a realistic goal would be a 1:30. That is a pretty fast time - especially for an "old" guy - and a nice round number. Closer to the race I started thinking more pragmatically and less emotionally about what I wanted to accomplish.

Realistically my run mileage in 2015 has been extremely low. How low is low? 18-20 miles per week in a big week, which may sound like a lot to some, but not what I have done in the past. I have always responded to volume. Back in the day volume would be 60-80 miles per week (and all the food I could shove into my pie hole). Once triathlon took over as my racing passion that dropped to the 40 mile per week range. So reality #1 was my mileage just hasn't been there.

St Luke's Half Marathon - Allentown, PA
Nice heal strike. 
Reality # 2 was a bit of a calf issue that cropped up the weekend before the race. Darn thing tightened up on me after a run. All week I wasn't even sure I would be racing. After taking the week off of running and getting it worked on by the best darn massage therapist in the Lehigh Valley, Joe Przbylowicz (Pro-bill-o-wick) I was feeling good. (Seriously, he's really the best, always keeping me going. If you need some help with a niggle here or a tight muscle there, give Joe a call. His office is in Bethlehem and his number is 610-865-1418.)

Keeping my lack of serious run racing and a less than optimal physical issue during race week I set my new, more realistic race goal at 1:35. And if something felt off with the calf I would either kick back the pace or walk off the course. No need to ruin a race season. There's always another race.

On Saturday morning The Mayor and I tested out my calf with a pre-race 4 mile run on the tow path. The first two miles things were tight but once it loosened up things were all good. After a quick breakfast we hit the race expo for packet pickup. I never find that there is much interesting at this expo so we were in and out of there in a flash.

On race morning I parked at a friend's house who lives in Allentown and walked down to the race start with her. This worked out perfectly. The walk was long enough to loosen up the legs and the weather was picture perfect. I had 30 minutes to hang around, talk to friends, and get to the start line. There may have been a little dance move as well. Just after 8:10 am the gun went off and so did we.

Pacing this race is always a challenge. The first mile can really screw with you as it is downhill and fast. I held myself way back, still crossing the mile mark in 6:58. From there I settled into a steady 7:00 - 7:05 clicking off the miles at a comfortable heart rate. As I was getting close to the turnaround on MLK Drive I passed Lauren who was out ahead of me, looking incredibly strong, and running 2nd female overall. After making the turnaround I saw so many familiar faces, including The Mayor, Kevin, Kari, Kate and the Lehigh Valley Crossfit Crew. Everyone was looking fan-tastic!!!

After passing through the 10k mark in 43 minutes I started to prepare myself for the park. I hate that park. Don't get me wrong, it's very nice, very well kept. But those cinders are just slow. Too slow for my liking.

The Complex Triathlete - Lehigh Parkway
Little Lehigh Parkway (Source - Discover Lehigh Valley)
Once into the park I did manage to keep my pace up for a few miles. After passing the Lehigh Valley Road Runner's clubhouse the trail starts to get a bit hilly, which is normally fine. I wasn't feeling bad, but once the trail started to rise I began to feel my calf. I pulled back on the pace, deciding to just get up and over the inclines to not risk causing an issue. This slowed me down a bit, which was fine. Whatever. Certainly better than hurting myself trying to save a few seconds.

After passing over Bogert's Bridge I was determined to keep my focus and simply carry on. The only concern I has was the short and steep climb at the 10 mile mark. Last time I ran this race that bugger of a climb cooked me. This time, I slowed it up a bit and made it over without issue.

From there I continued on, not feeling great but not feeling bad. Around mile 12 1/2 Cassie, Danielle and the rest of their crew were screaming their heads off. Perfect timing. Once onto the track I realized I had a chance to make it in under 1:35 if I picked it up. I did, making it in in an official time of 1:34:59.

Overall I am happy with how I performed. Going sub-1:30 would have been awesome, but at this point in time was far fetched. After such a long period of time without racing this distance, my result was a good first step back. I now have a baseline for Runners World Half Marathon in October, and maybe R&R Philly 1/2 Marathon in late October.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Secret Conversations of Older Athletes

A few Monday's ago was one of those perfect for riding weather days. The skies were blue, the sun was bright, there was little humidity, and the temperature clocked in around 74 degrees. Around 5:30 a group of 11 of us took off on the Lehigh Wheelmen Monday Night A-Ride from the Velodrome for 32+ miles of two-wheel fun. Afterwards I hung around talking to one of my speedy young friends when one of my older, strong-rider friends comes over to chat. Haven't seen Strong Rider since last Fall, so we get caught up on what happened over the winter months.

Ironman Florida
Run Mile 17 at Ironman Florida 2014
Eventually the conversation moved in a direction Young & Speedy didn't expect (as her wide eyed surprised look indicated). Mid-afternoon naps, heavy legs, Raynauds' Disease, and slower ramping up training after brutal winter. Not what she is used to discussing after a ride or run. Of course she's 26, not 46.

Things change as we age. Not saying its good or bad, just reporting the reality. When I shifted my focus from the weight room to running I was in my mid-20s and giving the body a beat down was just par for the course. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I read a lot, talked to everyone I could, and learned a thing or two along the way. After selling Body Dynamics in 2001 I started cross training which led to the logical transition (in my mind at least) to triathlon. That happened 12 years ago. In my early-30s at the time I had new ways to train hard. Again, didn't have much knowledge at the time but learned a thing or two along the way.

Eventually things start to change. Somewhere around my mid- to late-30s there were little changes. By the time I hit 40 things were different. Again, not bad, just different. Some of it is physical and some is mental. From at training perspective, in my younger days I could basically follow a training program from a book or magazine without issue. Any modifications were because of schedule. Those plans, after all, are written for the masses ... more likely the younger masses.

After 40 things are different. Every year now is a new challenge of not only trying to get better, but attempting to feel good doing it. Here's a look at some of the things us "old guys" talk about when you aren't there:

You Can Still Train Hard, Just Not as Frequent as Before

If you plan on keeping fitness, maybe even improving fitness, during your "older" years, it is necessary to continue to keep some hard training in your weekly plan. What you cannot do, however, is train like you are 18 years old.

What the old guys who are still around know and understand is that with age comes restraint. When I go into an interval session I have a general idea of the number of reps I want to do, but it is always a range. Feel good do more. Don't come back for more until the bod can handle the additional load.

Do too much and the body revolts. This could mean being dead on your feet for days on end or injury. Either way, not worth it.

The Mid-Afternoon Nap

When I started training for the Ironman distance a typical Saturday would include my long run in the morning and a 2-3 hour "casual" bike ride in the afternoon. In between I would grab breakfast with my running crew, do a little food shopping and maybe clean my car. After the ride I would mow the lawn ... sometimes ... OK, only if I absolutely had to my the lawn. I am really not a fan of grass.

These days I will still run in the morning, ride in the afternoon, eat and shop in between. What is different is the 20-30 minute pre-ride nap. That downtime is more refreshing than you could imagine. If things are tight and it doesn't happen, I suffer.

Different Perspective on Racing

I aged up to the 40-44 age group in 2009. In June of 2010 I raced the Olympic distance at the Black Bear Triathlon, taking third in my division. The guy who won blew by me early in the run and I was out sprinted in the final quarter mile. After crossing the line a funny thing happened. The winner stuck around to shake hands and the three of us talked for a few minutes. There was no animosity. Heck, I don't even think we talked about the race. What I do remember is that we were all just happy to be out there, racing hard, and happy for the other guy for doing the same.

Outracing the Young is Awesome

OK, so I lied about not talking about the race in the last section. The three of us were not just happy about our performances, but we all noted what fun it was to out race just about every young guy out on the course. we were 7th, 16th and 17th overall on the day out of 347 athletes who finished. Placing above the young is still just as awesome today as it was back then.

Pain is a Part of Life

When you are young you always feel good. Sometimes you overdo it and are run down for a few days, for sure. But there comes a time where you always seem to have a bit of something happening somewhere just about all the time. At first it can freak you out, but eventually you get used to it. Eventually you just understand that having some pain is better than stopping.

Nutrition is More Important Than Ever

When you are young you can get away with a lot. Some time in your 30s you start to realize that you feel like crap when you eat crap. Sometime after you clean up your diet you notice the energy you lost is back, which is great. The other side of that is you can't get away with what you once did. Yes, you can chow down on Pop Tarts while out on your long ride (never giving that up). No, you can't go home and have Pop Tarts for breakfast.

If you are above a certain age you are probably shaking your head in agreement and have a few other things you would like to add to my list. If you are in your 20s you are surely in denial about any of this, mainly because you can't imagine being 40-something, let alone in your 50s. If you are in your 30s you might be in some denial right now about what I wrote. Don't be. It's all true.

What I will tell you is that no matter where you are with this athletic pursuit thing we are all going through enjoy the ride. If you are "older" you should embrace the journey and embrace ever finish line you cross. As Lo-Jack has been saying for years, when you feel good and are healthy, race. You never know what might be out on the horizon.

If you aren't quite there yet you are fortunate. Take advantage of your fresh legs and recovery abilities. Learn everything you can and have patience with your progress. Try and do too much, or work through injury and you'll be out of the game quickly. I've been racing for 20+ years now and can't could the number of good, fast people I have seen come and go.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Training Review: March, 2015

So far 2015 has been about three things - strengthening the body after knee surgery in 2014, resetting the mind to be able to stay fresh and engaged with my training/racing, and helping some of my training partners reach their 2015 goals.

One of the reasons I became a self-trained triathlete was because I would do whatever I was told to do for that week. Didn't matter what the legs felt like, had a nagging little injury, or if I even felt like doing it for that matter, if it had been written it must get completed. The problem was not Coach, the problem was me.

The largest change I made had nothing to do with volume or intensity, but instead with time frames. Everything I did previously was based on a 7 day week and what I needed to get done over that set period of time. Today I think about what I want to accomplish each month. By changing my way of thinking I can push a workout from Saturday to next Tuesday without thinking I just blew my week. Weekly workload can look vastly different from week-to-week, but who cares? The point (at least for me) is not to pump out miles for the sake of miles, but to build fitness and get as fast as I can come race day.

The month of March was about staying healthy, getting stronger and even a short race. These first few months of the year have been lower volume by design. Without any serious racing on the horizon there has been no reason to physically and mentally bury myself. Here, then, is how March shook out:

Swim: If there is one area that I have slacked off it is in the pool. Most weeks I have been getting in 3 swims. Most. I have intended to get an extra session in on the weekend just about every week which has not happened since early January. I have also thought about getting to the pool before work, but that hasn't happened either as I really do not like the early AM swim. Bottom line is, if I were to race today my swim would not be up to where it has been.

I am perfectly OK with this. In past years I have spend a lot of time getting my swim times to a respectable level. At just about any triathlon my swim times come in around the top 10%. I did not grow up a swimmer and do not want to put in the work needed to get to the next level. Coming into 2015 my plan has not been to emphasize the swim and I have held to that up to this point.
The Complex Triathlete - Jon Soden
Will most definitely will be spending some time
riding on this road.

Bike: Weather conditions have made riding outside just about impossible since the beginning of the year. Thus, riding equals the trainer. After taking a few easier months, in March I started to push the intensity level on those trainer sessions, limiting the sheer volume of work. I have never been a big fan of mindless hours of indoor riding. If I can make it 90 minutes 2 or 3 times in a winter it is a lot. I am not pro triathlete Andy Potts who does all of his bike training inside. Traffic aside, I enjoy being outdoors on two wheels.

The time I spent on the trainer in March was a productive combination of strength work, power work, and muscular endurance sessions. The last two weekends the weather broke enough for me to get outside for rides in the 20-25 mile range. Entering April I feel good about the progress I have made on the bike.

Run: If there is one area of my racing that can be improved on it is most definitely my run. In both local and regional triathlons I have been able to hang with the better athletes up to T2. From there ... hasn't exactly been what I think I am ultimately capable of. In the past, my run training has been more focused on long distance endurance than speed. Always figured this would get me where I wanted to go while limiting the stress on the body.

Warm Hearts 5k - Bethlehem PA
Warm Hearts 5k
I have decided to take a different approach in 2015, concentrating on shorter distances and speed work. The big news here is I have been making it out to the track on a regular basis. This is a big deal for me. I have never been a fan of the track. Being that I am a fan of trying to improve I will continue to go back and see where it gets me.

Racing: For the first time since December 2014 I signed up for and completed a race. The Warm Hearts 5k on March 14th gave me the opportunity to see where I was at after a laid back off-season. Not a bad effort, running a 19:47, placing 5th overall and 1st in Men 40-49. My race report can be found here.

Overall: A good month of training that gives me a good place to start some more serious training.

What's April All About?: The month of April will be about starting to build some volume into my training while continuing to stress strength and muscular endurance. In the pool I need to get more serious and stop blowing off workouts. The goal is to get 3 days of swimming in each week and bump up the yardage. On the bike I have to start riding hillier terrain and increasing my long rides. You can simulate hills somewhat on the trainer, for surer, but it still isn't the same as actually riding up a hill. Speed work will continue to be my focus on the run.

I have two races planned as well. On April 12th I'll be racing the Emmaus 4 Miler with The Mayor and The Queen. There will be no taper just a good hard run and another test of where I am. Then on April 26th I'll be once again racing The St. Luke's Lehigh Valley Half Marathon. After a winter of low run mileage and not a whole lot of long runs in me the main goal here is to run a 1:30, or a 6:52/mile pace. Hopefully I'm not being too aggressive with this goal.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

An Open Letter to Car Drivers from a Cyclist


Spring is here. Of the many things this means, baseball players will be heading North to begin their season, flowers will soon bloom, and many more cyclists and runners will be populating the Lehigh Valley's roads.  And so it begins, another year of battles between the motor vehicles and the bicyclists who use the roads. It happens every year.

Before I get into the meat of this post I want to make a few things perfectly clear. First, its is completely legal to ride a bike on the road, despite the thinking of some. Related to this point is the reality that it is not legal for me to ride on a sidewalk, which totally makes sense as sidewalks are designed for pedestrians. Do you really want me blowing past you at 20 mph on a 3 ft wide sidewalk?

Second, I do not need a license to ride my bike. Some people see this as reason to keep me from using the roads. In fact, according to PA State law, Title 75 (Vehicle Code) Pertaining to Pedalcycles),  "(i)n Pennsylvania, a bicycle is considered a vehicle and, as such, is governed by a general set of rules (common to all vehicles) and a specific set of rules designed for bicycles)." Source

Finally, I don't hate cars. I am not a bike commuter and I do not believe that we should all get rid of our motor vehicles. As a matter of fact, I have one that I drive almost every day of the year. That said, I really, REALLY, enjoy riding my bike as much as I can, usually logging more than 5,000 miles on two wheels every year.

With that out of the way, the point I would like to make is this: The ongoing feud between cyclists and automobiles needs to stop.

So for those of you non-cyclists out there, here's what you need to know:

All competent cyclists HATE the few asshole riders, just like you do

You know who I'm talking about. The guys who ride three abreast or run through every single stop sign for no good reason. Or the bike commuter who rides down the middle of the car lane at 15 mph just to prove some point that only makes sense to him. You need to understand that the vast majority of the cyclists out there are not "that guy." In fact, while I know "that guy" is out there, I do not know anyone who is "that guy." And if I did I would tell him what an ass he really is.

But even a competent cyclist makes an error now and again

Have I ever rolled through a stop sign or had a momentary lapse while pedaling down the road? Absolutely. But, let's turn that around for a moment. Can you honestly say that you have never rolled through a stop sign or broke the speed limit? Better yet, when is the last time you took your eyes off the road to scold a child or change the radio station? And please don't get me started on phone usage while driving.

There is a difference between you in your car and me on my bike. If I screw up while riding a bicycle it could result in great harm or possibly death. If you screw up - be it cutting me off to make a left hand turn or texting while driving - it could STILL result in great harm or possibly death. The problem I have with this situation is I am the one in harm's way in both cases.

I want to stay as far to the right as I can, but sometimes it is not possible

When you ride a bike you have a much different understanding of the roads than you do when you are driving a car. In many areas there just isn't enough (or any) shoulder space. Riding right up against the curb or grass leaves no room for error or a wind gust so we have to maintain some space on our right. Not to mention the gravel you take for granted, which could cause me to easily hit the ground.

You just have to trust me when I say that I want to be as far away from your vehicle while not jeopardizing my own safety.

I want you to be able to see me 

Have you ever noticed the bight, some might call them obnoxious bike kits cyclists wear? Much easier to see than a black or grey jacket that blends into the background. And that is the point. When I am out on my bike I make sure that what I have on makes me as visible as possible to those coming at me from both directions. If I am out before the sun is up or may be out at dusk I likely have some sort of reflective gear AND lights on the front and back of my bike. If you have found those lights annoying in the past, maybe you should reconsider. If it allows you to see me and me to be seen, it isn't annoying, it is safe.

lights at night; yield to motorists when appropriate; choose correct lanes when entering an intersection; not ride more than 2 riders abreast; stay as far to the right as reasonable for the road conditions.

Roads aren't in great shape

Getting back to that gravel, right now there is an extraordinary amount of it as a result of the harsh winter we just had and the quick road patching many municipalities have recently completed. In a car you think nothing of it because when you ride over it it has zero impact on how you drive. Again, on a bike that patch of gravel you don't even see could put me on the ground in front of your tires.

A bigger problem is the actual physical condition of many of our roads. After a hard winter there are many more pothole and what could best be described as road craters on even the best roads. Unfortunately, many municipalities do not spend the money it takes to keep roads in good condition. For those of you who live in Northampton County, PA you can check out two great examples - the mess known as Brodhead Road (between Township Line Road and Rt. 191) and Hanoverville Road (between Jacksonville Road and Rt. 512).

Want to help me and my fellow cyclists stay to the right while riding in your town? Call your local politicos and tell then to fix the damn roads.

The 4-ft rule

On April 1, 2012 it became illegal in the State of Pennsylvania to pass a cyclists without maintaining a 4 foot buffer between car and bicycle. The motor vehicle is allowed to legally cross the yellow line while passing, but if it is not safe to pass is required to slow down. As a cyclists and a car owner this makes total and complete sense to me.

In all seriousness, for the 10 seconds in travel time you might save by waiting to pass me, is it really worth the risk?


Any time I am out on the roads - on my bike or in my car - I am looking for the experience to be a safe one. For those of you who do not ride I hope this gives you a better understanding of what it is like to be out there exposed on two wheels. If I do something that looks stupid, or even assholish, there may be a good, legitimate reason for my actions. There is also the chance that I simply made a mistake, and for that I apologize. Like you, I'm human. Unfortunately for me, a mistake made by either of us puts me, not you, in harms way.

In the end what is more important than getting to your destination as fast as possible or my workout is the safety of everyone on the road. Safety comes from understanding and commitment to following the rules of the road, while always staying aware of the surroundings.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.


PA Vehicle Laws

PA Bicycle Riders Manual

PA Passes law requiring 4 ft zone while passing a bicycle 

Vehicle Safety Tips from

1. When approaching or passing a bicyclist, slow down to a safe and prudent speed.

2. After you have passed a bicycle, do not slow down or stop quickly. Vehicle brakes are more powerful than a bicycle's, and you could be responsible for causing a crash.

3. Do not sound your horn close to bicyclists, unless you must do so to avoid a crash."

Riding Safety Tips for Cyclists

1. Use lights at night

2. Yield to motorists when appropriate

3. Choose correct lanes when entering an intersection

4. Do not ride more than 2 riders abreast

5. Stay as far to the right as reasonable for the road conditions.