Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thoughts on the Upcoming TriRock Philly Triathlon

"The best pace is a suicide pace and today seems like a good day to die" - Steve Prefontaine

On Sunday June 28 I will be among 2000 or so people who are looking to complete the TriRock Philadelphia Olympic distance triathlon. Everyone is there for a reason. My reason for racing is simple - I want a big PR.

Since 1998 my big goal races have been long distance affairs. They have been either a marathon or a race with the word Ironman in the race's name (both the 70.3 or full distance). Most years there were multiple races of these distance on my schedule.

This race season is a very different one for me. In 2015 the longest events I will participate in are Olympic Distance Triathlons and half marathons. This change in focus has given me the chance to do some different things, making my experiment of N = 1 a totally new, interesting experience.

In year's past I have raced shorter distances, but never as the focus of what I was trying to accomplish as a racer. Most all of these would be considered "B" or "C" training races. I cannot remember doing anything close to a taper that lasted more than three days. All things considered, I haven't done all that bad on the short stuff.

Jon Soden - The Complex Triathlete
Philly Tri with the Mighty Belgian in 2013

In 2009 at the ripe old age of 40 I set my Olympic distance triathlon PR of 2:12:54 at the Philadelphia Triathlon. I remember swimming well, riding as expected before hanging on for the last few miles of the run. Two weeks prior I had raced Eagleman 70.3.

Last year at Steelman I came close to a new PR, missing the old mark by just 4 seconds. This was during my build for Ironman Florida, so no taper. And then there was that whole knee surgery thing I was still recovering from. Needless to say (but I will anyway), the fast time came as a surprise.

It also got me thinking: What if I actually trained for the OLY distance? How fast could I conceivably go?

So here I am, less than two weeks out from the Philly Tri looking to score a big PR. How big? Weeellll ... I think I can go 2:10:xx.

No. seriously, I think I can go 2:10:xx. And not only do I think I can do it, I'm going to go for it on June 28. There are no secondary goals or "if this happens" kind of scenarios. None of that for Jon. Come race day I'm racing for a 2:10 or better. Period.

I've never been the  keep one foot in the door, race safe kind of guy. In my mind, unless I'm racing "for fun" I am out there to see what I have on that given day. Race safe and you get mediocre results. Which is fine, I guess. To each his or her own. But racing safe means never fully investing yourself in what you are doing. Yes, you won't likely be disappointed. OK. But does racing safe really produce success?

In order to produce personal greatness one needs to take the risk of racing on the edge. When you race on the edge you risk blowing up and having what looks like pretty crappy results. Could this be considered "failure?" More to the point, if I go, say, 2:22:xx would I consider my race a failure? It depends.

If I go out, race smart but on the edge, pushing my personal limits and leaving it all out on the race course then yes, a 2:22 would be a success. After years of racing making a stupid mistake with my pacing or nutrition would be a failure. Not pushing the limit and putting up a good time would be failure as well. Blowing up while shooting for that stretch goal? I'm so good with that.

There will be no "I could have gone 2:10 if I really wanted" come June 28. I want to know what I'm capable of. And without a legit effort it is impossible to know my personal limits. Whatever happens, when I enter the finishers shoot I will know exactly what I had on that day. I'll give it my all, risking failure in the process.

I have more than enough experience to be confident that when I jump in the Schuylkill River I won't screw things up. What I do fear is that my two week taper period could cause me to not perform my best. This is a new experience for me and, quite frankly, what I'm doing to be prepared is a best guess kinda thing. I know what I have done for longer races, and I know what the standard protocols are for short course racing are, but I do not know how this all relates to me specifically. Hopefully it works out as I expect.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Training Review: May 2015

Finally some descent training weather. After months of horrible to unsuitable/not-so-fun training weather it was nice to finally get a full month with uninterrupted outdoor bike/run training. In fact, the weather has been so attractive it became hard to get in the pool.

OK, that's a bit of a stretch. If you have been round these parts before you know I've been struggling to get in the pool since the start of the year. Still, the combination of warm weather and sunny skies sure didn't help.

This season is about focusing on shorter events than I have in the past. This comes with a big challenge for me, mainly finding the proper balance between volume and intensity. Getting older makes this more of a challenge as I just don't recover like I did 10 or 15 years ago. Forty-five isn't necessarily old - not even half way to the end - but it is in athletic terms.

It is different now. I struggle to find that proper balance. I can drill myself into the ground, just like I could years ago. The difference is, today I would need three days to recover from a workout that would take 24 hours in the past. Guess the experiment of N=1 will just have to continue.

The game plan for May was to up the bike intensity while maintaining a relatively high volume, hit the track on the run, while getting consistent in the pool with two races to test fitness. Nothing fancy, just some good 'ole training.

Swim: Consistency prevailed in May. I got in the pool 3x each week with the exception of the last week of the month, which had more to do with a scheduling conflict than lack of desire. Once at the pool my workouts general were solid, staying around 2500-3000 yards per session. With no Ironman or even a 70.3 on the agenda in 2015 I find no reason to push through long main sets or worry about hitting a large total volume. I get to the pool, get in, put my head under water and go. Forty-five to 50 minutes later I'm out of there.

My favorite go to set has become 18-20 x 100 on a 1:40 sendoff time. I find that I can work hard yet concentrate on holding my form.

Bike: I have fallen into a nice rhythm on the bike where I get some solid interval work in during the week that is complimented by a long ride on Sunday that always includes plenty of vertical. Throw in a Monday night group ride and an easy, recovery ride or two and that's my week. My interval work over the month moved from shorter to longer intervals. With my "A" race getting closer I have been more race specific with the work sets. I feel strong, but wish I had more time to do some hill repeats.

My favorite set during this cycle is 3 x (10 min @ OLY power + 2-5 min recovery)

Jonathan Soden - The Complex Triathlete
Taking a break at Mueller's General Store on rt. 611

Run: Things have progressed here but I have not put in as many track sessions as I had hoped for. Earlier in the month I was dealing with a slight abductor strain that limited my running. This is a thing I have dealt with enough over the years to understand what I can and cannot do. I can run but cannot over do the speed work. Oh well, stuff happens.

I am happy to say the issue has resolved itself and I feel I am back on track (and back on the track as well).

Racing: May was a good month for racing. On the 16th I worked out the triathlon kinks at the Jerseyman Triathlon in Clinton, NJ, placing 18th overall and 3rd in AG45-49 with an overall time of 1:49:05. More important to me than my overall time is that coming off a lousy winter for training, I rode faster than I did in 2014 (where I did the AquaVelo) followed by a very solid run of 27:14. The other race I did was the Tortoise & Hare 5k in Wind Gap, PA on Memorial Day. Running a 19:39 placed me 13th overall and second in AG45-49.

Jonathan Soden - The Complex Triathlete
Jerseyman Finish

Overall: Things are starting to fall into place. My swim appears to be adequate - I'll never be a front pack swimmer - and the bike is feeling strong. Surely disappointed with the minor running setback, but what are you going to do? Still, my speed, which was so lacking in 2014, is starting to come back around.

What's happening in June? This month is 100% about getting ready for the Philadelphia Triathlon on June 28. The first part of the month will be dedicated to race prep with the back half all about getting ready to race.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Racing Ironman? Respect the Distance

A few years ago The Queen and I ran into an acquaintance while picking up our race packets for the St. Luke's Half Marathon. Let's call him Mike because, well, that's his name. Mike was "getting ready" to race Ironman St. George, and was just 6 weeks out from his race. He went on and on about how ready he was because, you know, he had "done" all three distances before. And by done them, he meant he has swam a 1.5 mile swim, rode his bike 80 miles one day, and has completed many a marathon. I reminded him that the Ironman swim was 2.4 miles and the 112 mile bike was a bit more than the 80 he said he had previously completed. To be fair, Mike had completed a good number of standalone marathons.

Now Mike is not the leanest person you would ever meet. And in case you know nothing about the Ironman St. George race course, all you need to know is the race is now an Ironman 70.3 because the long course was just too much of a challenge (becuase Ironman should be easy?). To say the course was hilly is an understatement. Put these two facts together and race day would be a challenge for Mike.

I wished Mike luck and went on my way ...

OK, that last sentence is bullshit.

Truth be told, I don't remember the exact wording, but I basically told Mike there was no way he would be hearing Mike Riley at the finish line calling him an Ironman. No, he would be finishing his race by handing his timing chip to a volunteer, not crossing the finish line after a 26.2 mile run. Not a matter of if he would fail, but a matter of how far he would make it before calling it a day.

Mike made it to mile 30-ish on the bike. I am sure he heard my voice in his head when he handed over the timing chip and sat down in the support van. That must have really sucked.

As hard as it may be to believe, I'm pretty sure Mike doesn't like me anymore.

Now I know what some of you are thinking right now - Jon's a real f'in a$$hole for saying such a thing. You need to support people in their efforts; Everyone can't be fast; He paid his money and can do what he wants; And on, and on, and on ...

I admit, I could have handled the situation differently. I COULD have wished him luck, told him he would be fine, make sure you properly fuel your body, etc. Yes, I could have said any and all of those things without upsetting my acquaintance. I would have come off as the supportive friend. It's what people do, right?

No. Not in my world anyway.

I said what I said for one very important reason (at least to me) - respect for the distance. See, I have no problem with someone racing a long distance endurance event and either completing the distance in a "slow" time or having something happen and not completing the course. Not only am I fine with it, but in my little side training business I have worked with people who's goal was to simply complete the Ironman distance in the 17 hour allotted time. And when they do it, it is pure awesomeness. Everyone has their own goals, their own desires. Whatever it is YOU want to do, I'm cool with it.

What I am NOT cool with at all is thinking you can just half-ass your training and muddle through the day. One hundred and forty point six miles is a long day. Heck, just running 26.2 miles or riding a century is a long day. And don't get me started on long swims. I did the 3 mile distance at Steelman OWS one year and wanted to quit somewhere between miles 2 and 3. Problem was I happened to be in the middle of the lake so walking off the course wasn't an option at the time. Never doing that again.

Preparing for an Ironman is no joke. My first full Ironman was at Lake Placid in July 2005. I started training for the race on January 2 of that year. I remember sitting down with Bill and getting that first week of training and thinking he was crazy. The amount of work he had me doing is what I expected to see during peak weeks, not the first week of January. Funny thing is, everything I did those first three months were more about getting fit enough to train for the training I would need to do for the main event. Come race day I was ready (Thanks again Bill!!!).

You just can't wake up one morning and decide you will go out and go 140.6 miles on Saturday. It takes time and dedication. It takes focus and determination. It takes patience and persistence.

Now let's say you signed up for an event that you had all good intention of completing. Because of the popularity of the Ironman you need to sign up for most events in North America a year in advance. Sometimes you can do it online, but for other events you are better off going to the event and volunteering the year prior to make sure you get a spot for the following year. I've done that twice myself.

The problem is, a lot can happen in a year's time. You can suffer a major injury for example. I have experience with this as I had to back out of Ironman Coure D'Alene last year due to injury. Didn't take much for me to realize that I just had to skip the race and move on.

The other thing that can happen is you simply lose your motivation to properly prepare. I totally get it. The IDEA of becoming and Ironman is much different than the day-to-day reality of doing the necessary work to complete the Ironman. 

There are times you are going to give up social activities to ride your bike. There will be times you just don't want to swim, let alone do a 3 x 1k main set. And I don't know anyone who craves a 2 hour run off the bike. The body will hurt and you will get tired. Real tired. All of this is part of the Ironman experience. This is what is necessary to do it right.

Do it the right was and there is a very high probability you will successfully complete the distance. At the end you will either be a one and done, checking the Ironman box, or you will fall in love with long course racing.

When I crossed the finish line in Lake Placid at the end of Ironman #1 my family and friends were there to meet me. The Queen, knowing me as she does, looked at me and said "this isn't done, is it?" I looked at my feet and squirmed like a child caught with his had in a cookie jar. Nine years later the flame is still lit.

I know I am not the fastest, but I have a respect for the distance. I enjoy the process, I crave the work. I love the feeling of being Ironfit.  If the drive to go long - the drive to put in the necessary work to race long - leaves me I'll call it a day. I have too much respect for the sport, for the distance, to have it any other way.

Getting back to Mike, my problem wasn't with his desire to race the race. My problem was with the lax attitude he had towards proper prep for the race. Back to what I said earlier, the idea of being able to call yourself an Ironman is much different than the reality of the work needed to cross the finish line. I find it rather arrogant to think that you can just half-ass it and expect to muddle your way through. I have much more respect for someone who says they can't do it and gracefully backs out than shows up thinking they can fake it enough to succeed.

My point is a simple one - if you decide you want to do an Ironman, respect the distance and put in the proper training to complete the Ironman. If you can't or won't do the work, don't do the race.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.