Saturday, December 8, 2012

End of Season Notes - A year end review

(This is so long only my Mom will read it - sorry it was a whole year :))
It is 5 weeks into my off season and I am totally enjoying it…I feel like I earned it this year so the reward is “accepted” but I am also really looking forward to a next year as well.

2012 Recap -

I started to write this as a simple race report…I did this and I got that etc., but after starting and stopping so many times, this is more of a year of my sporting life report.

It is also funny as I wanted to include pictures in this write-up.  When I looked back through the years photos, I quickly realized that I had forgotten a LOT of what we had done. 

Sure I have bunches of pictures of ice baths and gnarly toenails but I also had so many pictures of smiles that I had to include those as well.

So intermixed with the race report are family, friends and fun and if I were to say what is really the best part of the year, it is these moments.

Originally I had the goal of qualifying for Kona 2012 but due to family commitments and works commitments I needed to realign those goals and pass on Kona this year.  In the end I think this was the ONLY solution that would have worked as there is no way that I would have been able to balance the training needed with my time available and I definitely would have missed some very important time with the family.  So, in hindsight, it was a great decision for me.

Once Kona was off the list for this year, I also changed my race strategy for the year.  I started at the HIT in Ocala and then IM New Orleans 70.3 (the proverbial Duathlon) and then IM Texas. 

The HIT went well except for Jeff making me puke all over myself.  Drew took the win and it was fun representing the Wattie team.

At NOLA I bounced off my face going into T2.  I would like to say it was a rookie mistake but I am not a rookie and in the end it was just my fault and very stupid.  The result was a busted up face and a broken hand.  It made for a good photo and everyone on Bourbon street was told by my friends that I was a UFC fighter…John Bones Jones.  If you don’t follow UFC which I do, he is African American but most of NOLA didn’t know that so we got a good table and I think a few free drinks. J

My real concern with the bounce was it made it really stressful leading into IM Texas.  Drew and the team at JOI got me going in record time.

With the Kona goal off the list, I decided to just feel good all day at Texas and really enjoy it.  Amazingly, I did.  I enjoyed the entire day.  With the training I had put in, I was able to roll through to a very solid and well-paced 9:52 and that was good enough for 6th.  6th was one place off the podium and one spot away from Kona so I didn’t have to decline which also made that decision easier.

It was also time to settle into the “break” and do something other than SBR.

I am very sure that if I were younger again I would have pursued more bike racing as I absolutely love the tactics.  The summer break allowed me to compete in a few road races, TT’s and even a few crits.  It is completely opposite of the triathlon and the difference is probably what I enjoy the most.  With the Velobrew Crit series, Nocatee and NC stage races, I got my fill of the racing peloton.   

The summer was awesome as I really got to enjoy hanging with the family and actually vacation without having to be on a “schedule”.

After the usual, albeit slightly longer than usual and less tri specific summer break, I started the build to IM FL.  It started really with an “unplanned” opportunity training week as my Drew and Bone went out of town and work was very light so I ended up with a 20H+ (1200TSS) 1st week.  This seemed to set the stage nicely and I don’t think I really have EVER had as many weeks strung together without real recovery focus.  This really seemed to work and I definitely would be willing to try this again. 

Using only 4 day recovery weeks around busy work weeks seems to be the best for me and allowed me to string together multiple weeks in larger blocks.  In total I had 3-4 “down” weeks in the 16 leading up to Florida.  This consistency is really key in my opinion.

Coming into the fall build I kept up some cycle racing on the weekend and just moved the longer sessions to midweek.  This really seemed to help the high end engine and I would say I think this helped.  Besides, it is fun J

I don’t think there is anyway better to prepare for a fast 70.3 than to be in the middle of an Ironman Build.  The distance feels “short” and if you have any speed in your legs, it really feels good to race this distance as it is shorter than a typical weekend training session. 

Ironman Augusta 70.3 in September was very good day in terms of execution for me.  I was not tapered at all and I set out an aggressive plan and followed it.  The weather was absolutely perfect for a fast racing and the net result, 2nd place in AG and Vegas spot for 2013 so I was very happy with that.

This also gave me a lot of confidence going into the final block for Florida.

Ironman Florida was also different for me this year as I wanted to go very fast but I also knew that I could not take a Kona spot even if I got one due to a work conflict for 2013. 

I had a long conversation in June with a surgeon / client / friend of mine who asked me if I had truly gone “all out” in a race.  Being that I race pretty conservatively, I said ‘I race tactically and I don’t usually have to go “all out”’.  His response, “Then how do you know what you are really capable of unless you tested it?”   I tried to find some bullsh!t answer to hide behind but in the end, I had to own up to the fact that I don’t race “hard”. 

Basically, I train hard so I can race easy or within myself. 

At the end of the conversation and with my tail between my legs I said he was right.  He was also former Harvard debate team and I went to ClemPson so I might have been outgunned.   I promised that at Ironman Florida in November, I would race differently.  I would go all in from the gun and see what happens. I would not hold back and I would try to end up at the line completely empty.

Surprisingly, it was MUCH harder than I expected.

The swim was choppy and I could not find good feet or a good rhythm and the water temperature was too warm for me for a full suit.  I was overheating badly on the second lap.

The bike was the typical FL tactical race and also a great example of using bullets when needed.  I went “redline” a number of times to stay with the 4-5 big guys who I was legally pacing off of.  Anyone who thinks that riding in a pace line is NOT better / faster just has to look at the power file.  We had draft marshals with us for a LOT of the ride, literally sitting there for 10-15 miles and we all stayed legal but we were rolling.  There in no doubt that I saved 10-15 watts off of a solo effort.   There were a lot of surges and one effort in particular was over 300 watts for a few minutes to “get back on” after a BIG gap had opened when someone up front attacked.  I remember thinking, “This is the race, go now or you are out of it.”  It was and I was happy I went.

The run was actually pretty straight forward but that does NOT mean easy.  I broke the course up into 4 laps.  And I set out to run ONLY by pace and disregard PE or HR.  I only put 1 number on my Garmin watch, lap pace.  No total time, no HR, just pace.  I am very proud that I ran 26.2 miles with no mile over 8:00/mile.  I tried very hard to stay at 7:47 but miles 18-26 were one of the hardest efforts I have EVER done.  I was trying to “cut deals” and slow down but the promise to go “all out” was there and I just kept pressing the effort until the pace was there.  From miles 22-24, finishing was NOT guaranteed as I was in a really “bad place”.  After mile 24, I felt like I should be able to finish and I started to feel little “better”.

I finished in 9:21 overall and it was a PR.  I was second in my AG and top 50 overall.

More importantly, I am also 100% sure that there was NO MORE in the tank.  I went “all out” or “all in” on this one day and I now know what I am capable of.  By the way, I don’t need to do this again J.

Looking back across the season I would say the biggest differences to this year were a few changes to the “basic week”. 

We incorporated the following on a pretty regular basis:

Multiple Irondays (4 total) including midweek Ironday with a “typical” big weekend

Motor pacing on the bike

4 day big block camps
2 longer runs per week (Thursday was 12-16 miles and Sunday 16-20 miles)
Midweek run with more structure (3 mile intervals x 3 built into longer runs)
Crowie / Macca style T-run’s with fast miles (6:30) on race pace send-off’s (7:45)

In terms of Recovery:

VERY frequent use of ice baths – almost every big session.  60 pounds of ice for 15 minutes.
Compression pants after bigger days.
Naps were a big part of the plan for bigger sessions.

Body and Equipment:

Focused on buying “free speed” with Latex tubes and faster tires – these REALLY work.
Ceramic bearing in the BB and rear hanger bearings as well – again…less power used.
I got down to 162-165 pounds for most of the training and cut to 160 pounds for race day.
I cut out all “junk food” for the final 6 weeks and really only used good fuel.

Overall –

I am incredibly happy with the results this year and I think Alan continues to improve the formula to create VERY predictable results and I just have to execute.  He really has this dialed in.

Goals For 2013

#1 Goal for 2013 is to Qualify for Kona 2014 at Ironman FL and be able to go this time J
#2 Top 5 Podium at all races except IM 70.3 WC.
#3 Top 20 in AG at IM 70.3 WC.
#4 Under 1:30 in 70.3 off the bike.
#5 Under 9:30 at IM FL.

Plan for 2013

Start back to training December 15th with the cycling / base plan.
Add marathon run program in over Christmas break.
Continue that program until Camp late January to 1st week February in San Diego.
Complete Donna 26.2 on February 17th to get a Boston time for 2014 (need only a 3:15)
Ironman New Orleans 70.3 April (for fun – no taper)
Gulf Coast ½ May (Go hard but no taper)
Ironman CDA June (for fun but would still like to Podium if possible)
Recovery week post IM CDA with family
Vegas prep in July / August
Vegas 70.3 September (just a solid day – go hard but not an “A” race)
Recovery week post Vegas 70.3 in Jackson Hole for work
IMFL Camp (4 days)
Augusta 70.3 September (Vegas 2014 – no taper)
IM FL November (A race – Goal of Kona 2014)

“Slight” Changes to the recipe –

I want to try to do a steady build across the entire year without the bigger summer break that I usually have. I am not too concerned with this as I don’t have any real goals until November so I can train through most of the races until then.

Also, family vacations are planned for the spring and they will be in CDA so we will have lots of time to “do nothing” together and just chill.

Other changes…I really need to stop blowing off the pool so much.  I went :59 in FL this year that was OK but I didn’t feel great.  I was really working and I felt behind for most of the swim.  Next year I need to swim more consistently.  I have 2 new pools to swim in so that should help.

Find a way to stay in the gym for more of the year.  I tend to blow this off as the season gets more into full swing.  I have 2 new gym memberships which are much easier to use so this could help.   

Find a way to build in “hill training” prior to IM CDA and Vegas.

Keep the added “new” basic week sessions for next year.


Race weight less than 160 pounds
Training weight = 165 pounds
Swim pace less than 1:10 / 100yds on 20 x 100 on 1:30
Increase LT power to 315 watts and IM wattage to 225NP.
Run sub 39 10K, sub 1:30 off the bike ½ marathon, sub 3:15 open Marathon (training race)
Increase total swim yards to 20K per week standard.
Increase total run miles to 60 miles per week for big weeks.
Increase total bike miles to 300 miles for big weeks.

That’s it…that is my year.  I am incredibly happy that I made the decisions I made and choose to make family and vacations a priority over Kona.  It was a great decision.

Next year looks like it will be a LOT of fun and I have great friends and training partners for all of it.

Enjoy the Holidays…eat…drink and be merry…and take time to appreciate the people around you. 

All the best - Shawn

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ironman Execution

Confessions of an Obsessive Compulsive Age Grouper :)

I don’t remember exactly where he said it or his exact words but I think Mark Allen’s message ( ) was something simple like… ‘Visualization is important and you can’t win Kona unless you can see yourself doing that.  But, in the end, if you have not done the work, it doesn’t matter how much you visualize your win, it is not going to happen.’

So with that…the first of 10 keys to ironman execution – DO WORK SON!!! (The best AC quote ever)

#1 Do work.  If you have not done the work then the rest really doesn’t matter.  I would guess that my personal number for work tolerance at 47 years old is much different than that of a 30-34 year old athlete, but my magic number is above 120 CTL to be in “the mix”.  If I want to be very confident then I need to be over 125 CTL and, for a PR attempt, I probably need to be north of 130 CTL.  Finding your own CTL magic number and establishing this as a baseline will allow you to set expectations.  Tracking this year to year will allow you to monitor performance with respect to this baseline.  The chart below is for my last 8 seasons and the corresponding results.  While wind, weather and nutrition can derail anyone, the concept is simple.  A pilot doesn’t take off if he doesn’t have enough “gas” already in the tank, (a high enough CTL done through training), to make it to his destination.  Takeoffs are optional, landings are mandatory ☺

#2 Do specific work.  My coach is Alan Couzens and while most “work is good”, specific work as you get closer to race day is critical.  Multiple longer race simulations give me a lot of confidence and a great chance to practice my nutrition and pacing.  Two of his go to sessions are a 3 hour descending trainer ride done at 1 hour slightly below race pace, 1 hour at race pace and the final hour over race pace.  This is followed by various t-run distances and paces.  The second race simulation session is called Iron Day and it is more about mental fatigue and nutrition but when this session gets dialed in it is also a HUGE confidence booster.  It is a 6 mile pre-run at an easy pace then directly to a 5 hour or 100 mile ride whichever comes first.  This ride is done at a race pace effort while practicing nutrition and hydration.  After the session you go directly into t-run of 10 miles which is done as 6 miles at race pace then the final 4 at faster than race pace (race pace minus :20 per mile).  The final four miles should take you to a mental low place that is very similar to miles 16-24 of an Ironman marathon.  We will do 2-3 of these sessions during a specific build and the timing of these is usually just prior to recovery day as these are very hard efforts.  Once you get comfortable with the distance and the pacing on an Iron day and the 2nd t-run feels “easy” then you know you are race ready.

#3 Plan.  Create a plan for race day execution that includes goal times, transition times, power goals, and pacing for all 3 disciplines.  Breaking your race plan into key sections (1st lap of the swim, miles 20-60 of the bike, key hills for the run segments etc.) further helps define expectations.  Having this plan set in advance takes a lot of the emotion out of the day.  Putting this plan down on paper also commits you to it.  The back half of an Ironman Marathon is a full on Monte Hall “Let’s Make A Deal” discussion with myself.  Having the plan “out” in public makes Monte a little less persuasive ☺

#4 Have a plan to deviate to.  Race conditions do not often line up perfectly with expectations and, as a former military pilot, there is a saying, “Have a plan and then have a plan to deviate to.”  In Aviation we plan for “alternate airfields” if our destination is not reachable due to weather or fuel.  This is what you do and where you go when things go wrong or conditions just change.  Using the pro field to judge execution and adapt your race plan is an excellent way to see how you will be effected.  They will almost always start ahead of the age group field and I look to see how the pro field is riding coming back from a turn around to see what kind of energy they were using.  This is a good gauge for winds, how bad the heat is, and how I will feel in 20-30 minutes.  It is also a very good way to judge early run pacing.  At a brutally hot (90+) Ironman Louisville a few years ago, I began the run and observed multiple pro men walking with the “face of death” towards the end of their 1st lap of the run.  I immediately backed off my pace to allow for the heat as I knew if they were struggling this bad then it must be really hot, and I would be in the same spot or worse in another 8-10 miles – it worked.

#5 Control whatever is controllable. Ride and run the race pace that you have practiced in training and planned to do.  Using a power meter on the bike or a GPS pace watch on the run provides a non-emotional metric for execution.   Tapered racing can give you false highs and even false lows and having something non-emotional to reference is often very helpful.  If you are racing for places, podiums or Kona spots, build in some “band width” between your planned race pace and your maximum sustainable race pace in case the tactics of the day require you to adapt.  Say you “could” ride an IM bike at 77% of FT and have a good run, but instead you plan on riding only 74% and only going harder if the lead pack dictates that tactic. Keeping a few % in reserve for course conditions and tactics allows you to adapt to the dynamics of the race.  If you are already at 100%, there is no band width available to respond to conditions.

#6 Train for power but race for speed.  I have to constantly remind myself that a good power file is a training goal but THE race goal is to go faster and do less work.  There is NO DOUBT that at the front of the field lead packs or non-drafting pace lines are a huge advantage.  Just look at Kona and you can see how hard the guys who are behind in the swim work to catch the lead group. It is that important to ride with the pack.  I always look for the biggest guys in the field to ride with.  In Ironman they have your name on your bib and I always look for the Erik, Lars, Jens or Torsten or any European “buy a vowel” name as those guys typically bike really hard and are much bigger and give off a bigger “wake”.  There is no doubt that you can ride and run much faster at 7M (4 bike lengths) off the back of an 80KG guy than putting your nose in the wind for 112 miles at 10-15 more watts.  I also find it MUCH easier mentally to ride at someone else's pace versus having to press my own race pace for 5 hours.

#7 Buy speed and efficiency.  Optimize all your equipment for the fastest possible race day setup.  This is critical as it saves you from having to do more work. Better wetsuits, speedsuits, aerohelmets and racing flats are all “givens”, meaning that everyone is doing that.  The key to executing ahead of everyone else is to find an advantage.  Experiment with what works for you but I look for advantages that most people would not pay attention to.  For the bike, using ceramic bearings in the bottom bracket and rear rerailuer pulleys is “standard” in the Tour de France but this is not common for most age group triathletes.  These bearings help reduce the amount of power needed to turn over the gear at a given speed.  More speed – less power – better run off the bike.  The company Ceramic Speed ( offers this for most bike frames and wheel sets and this an excellent option to consider.  Choose a wheel set that is best for the course and the conditions.  Zipp wheels ( offers great choices for almost all courses and they also offer a course selection guide for their wheel sets.  Deeper is NOT always better so look at the course and the winds or look at what the pros are using and don’t just grab the disk and roll.  Tire selection and tubes are much more important than I ever thought.  If you need a reference check out this article from Slow Twitch  Using latex tubes inside of clincher tires really improves the ride quality and it feels almost like a tubular – I can’t explain why but the difference is noticeable and positive.

#8 Plan for problems. You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of poor planning even at the very top of the sport.  Look at Norman Stadler “How much glue did you put on this tire?”, Chrissy Wellington “CO2 anyone anyone?”, and this year Sebastian Keinle, all sidelined by flat tires.  If you have a flat on a tubular then you have to get the tire off first to fix it.  This is what cost Norman and Sebastian the most time.  If you carry a small razor knife in your flat kit this will allow you to cut the tubular across the bead.  The tire is trashed already so it doesn’t matter if you cut it more.  This will allow you to grab inside the tube and pull it off the rim versus trying to roll it off the rim.  Preventing flats to begin with is best and Café Latex makes a product that can help prevent punctures.  If you use this and then you still puncture you can use Café Latex Espresso which is basically “fix a flat”.  This is a good first option but carrying a spare tube or tubular and CO2 is still necessary.   Besides flat tires, the body can give you problems throughout the day.  Using the T1, T2 and special needs bags to pre-position any products you might need is helpful.  I make up 4 “baggies” and put one baggie in each spot I can access it on the course.  In the baggie there is Salt Stick, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Gas X strips, Vivarin caffeine (I am a BIG coffee drinker and I get headaches unless I have coffee)  and small 9ml packet of chamois cream for chaffing This works REALLY well even on the run as it is easy to apply and not nearly as gross as the 13 oz. community jar of Vaseline – that is just simply disgusting ☺

#9 Get ahead of problems.  I think it was Crowie who said ‘I keep asking myself – what can I do to make my job easier right now?’  Closing the feedback loop between brain and body and action is probably one of the hardest parts of racing long distances.  9+ hours of “How am I feeling?” and “What do I need?” can be mentally exhausting but, I would say, it is completely necessary if you want to prevent bigger problems down the road.  Asking yourself if you are at the right pace, if you are on track for nutrition, for hydration, for salt, for cooling on a regular basis can trigger an alarm that can be dealt with early and help prevent a major issue later.  Keith Brantley is an Olympic Marathoner who lives in our town and spoke about his “top down” check list which he did at every KM on the run.  Is my head ok? Mentally am I good? Can I focus on the positive or just try to be neutral?  Relax the neck, relax the shoulders, swing the arms.  Is my HR ok? Do I need to speed up or slow down? Is my stomach ok? Do I need more food, more water, less food, less water, salt?  Hips should be rotated forward and legs turning over at a high cadance. This systematic approach of “polling” the body helps to detect a problem and treat it at the earliest / easiest point.  Running form reminders late in the race can trigger better speed with less effort rather than just muscling through.

#10  Keep your focus.  A good friend and top AG Kona qualifier once screamed at me “Wake up…don’t go to sleep”.  I have to say that is the BEST advice for the back half of the marathon.  I use a lot of caffiene and sugar to help maintain mental focus during the last 2 hours.  Red Bull is always in my run special needs bag as it helps me “wake up” and it also tastes completely different than most of the sugary liguids and gels that are taken all day.  It also looks and feels pretty cool if you throw it up and the bubbles come out your nose – you’ll look like a running pink foaming volcano ☺  Coke is almost always on the course and it is there because it works.  I worked an aide station at Mile 18 of the run last year and EVERY pro who came through was yelling “Coke…Water”  I try to wait until mile 16 to start drinking it but once you make the switch to Coke, stick with it every mile.  As for the true mental game, there will undoubtedly be low points throughout the day.  They happen for everyone.  Trying to get through a race without having to deal with a single low point is futile and just sets you up for failure.  I really prefer to acknowledge that bad moments ARE going to happen and by acknowledging that they will occur it lessons the anxiety “when” they happen.  I also like to keep track of them.  If it is a really low point, I will look at my watch, note the time, and then try to go into a neutral state mentally.  Most people will say, “stay positive”, and if you can do that good for you.  For me, I am not that lucky so I try to stay neutral; if I just don’t “go negative” then I am really happy.  Also, by looking at your watch you can see how long that low point really is.  Most of these true low points last no more than 5 minutes in most cases.  I also find I typically have around 5 of them.  When I have one, I will say (out loud most times) “Ok, there is #1 – 4 more to go”.  If I end up with 6 or more, it is not such a great day but if I have only 4, that is pretty good ☺

That’s it…that’s a wrap.

I don’t consider myself an expert at anything except for baking Bread Pudding and mine is the 3rd best in the world.  In case you were wondering, the best in the world is Palm Valley Fish Camp in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, 2nd best is at Red Fish on Bourbon Street in New Orleans and I am third ☺.

So, with that disclaimer, I am 100% sure I missed some really key points as there are probably 90 more ideas which are equally if not more important, but I hope these 10 will give you a few thoughts and/or solutions that you might not have considered.

I am sharing this with hope that it helps a hard race become a little easier and you can hit your goals - whatever they may be.

And no, before you ask, I will not share my Bread Pudding Recipe – that is a secret ☺

(Thanks to VMS #1 for the proof reading and editorial corrections – my ClemPson education strikes again J)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Meaning of Life and other simple things :)

It has been a really long time since I have written anything of substance for this Blog and I have been really wanting to put fingers to keys for a few weeks now.

When I log out of my Training Peaks account the page automatically resets to the VMS Blog page.

For the last 8-9 months, I have been greeted by the smiling face of Don Packard finishing in Hawaii last year. It’s not that I don’t like that picture I do…but…9 months…sorry Don…you been replaced :) 

So, after a 9 month break…how do I want to reenter the digital noise?

I thought of writing a piece on training, racing, some eccentric metric which only 2 or 3 people would even understand but I am not going to do that. 

Instead I want to write about something simple…something very VERY simple…yup…the meaning of life. :)  

Seriously, I think this maybe a MUCH smaller and simpler concept than most people would think. 

What is the meaning of life??? 

To be happy…and maybe…more importantly…to make others happy…that’s it. 

Call it Joy, Love, Bliss, Hope, Faith, Charity, Caring, Compassion…call it whatever you want…almost all of these relate to the same to me…Happiness… 

I know many of you are probably thinking, “I wonder what is wrong with him”…no…I don’t have a terminal illness and there was no life changing event. 

I did summer school with a really great teacher who took this student to a new level. I just had a chance to spend some really quality time with people I love and I realized that I am very happy…and hopefully I made them happy too… 

That’s all…you now know the meaning of life…welcome back :) 

Next Blog will be on heat management as it relates to ideal hydration volume and I will still be happy writing that…I know…I am a geek…a happy Geek. :)