January 23, 2018

Race Report, SoCal ½ Marathon, Ron Saetermoe

Swimming arm positionThis time of the year is great for shaking off the cobwebs and getting out there and doing some running. The ½ marathon is my favorite distance to race because it allows me to go fast while improving my endurance. And while a lot of people enjoy doing marathons I find that it takes me too long to recover from them to make them beneficial to my Ironman training.

This year the SoCal ½ marathon was going to be different. In prior years I’d done quite a bit of speed-work prior to my race but I haven’t done any speed-work since September last year. This was going to be interesting.

I had a ½ marathon PR last year averaging 7:00 pace (1:31:57/8th place in the M50-54 division) and felt great. Something to shoot for but giving the fact that my training was different and that I’d gained eight pounds from my racing weight, I wasn’t expecting much.

No matter what happened it was going to be a great day. I was surrounded by my pals Al Gaspari and Stan Gertler. Our goal was to finish in around a 7:00 pace so we were united.
We hung together from the moment the gun went off, but it wasn’t easy. A 7:00 pace was faster than I’d run in the last four months. I didn’t even want to look at my heart rate monitor . . . but I did . . . 175!

Now a lot of people would be headed for the emergency room with a heart rate that high but since my max is 200 I was still okay . . . laboring badly but still okay.

I told the guys I didn’t know how long I’d be able to hold it but I’d give it my best. I’m not sure if they were feeling as bad as I was but I was trying not to show it. In fact at one point Al said I was looking good! I guess I’m quite an actor.

The first miles went by very slowly for me. The race begins in Irvine’s Woodbridge area which is quite beautiful and mostly flat. The only real hills are those going up and down the overpasses. And while it’s pretty flat there are a lot of turns. In one sense it’s nice because you get to see all the other runners, in another it’s not as fast as it could be.

The three of us hung together until about mile six. That’s when Al succumbed to a slightly slower pace. He waved at us as if to say “You guys go get ‘em.” So Stan and I labored on.
While I was getting quite tired the miles did seem to go by faster. The personnel at the aid stations were great, giving the athletes everything their bodies and spirits needed.

As an aside, in a race as short as this, I only drink water and don’t take any solid food or gels. I can’t seem to get anything other than liquids down anyway.

Stan and I were coming up on mile 10 and I had a really strong urge to pee, and the porta potties were coming up on the right. I was having a good race – right on pace – so I didn’t want to stop and decided I’d go as far as I could without stopping, knowing full well that I may need to find a tree along the way.

As we blew by the porta potty the urge suddenly left. Cool! We pressed on.

Last year Stan won the M55-59 age group with a 1:33:04 (7:06 pace). This year it was hard to tell where we were among the other racers but we were definitely beating Stan’s pace from last year. We were holding right at 7:00 pace.

Stan pulled slightly ahead of me around mile 10 but I still had him in my sights. It was around mile 11 that I caught back up to him again. Stan asked if I had found someone better looking to run with.

We ran to mile 12 together and I was doing everything I could to hang on, but Stan was still talking. I knew Stan had me today.

At mile 12 Stan turned it on and was gone. I had nothing to answer with and wished him well.
At the finish Stan had turned in a 1:31:39 (7:00 pace) and quite a bit faster than last year. Sadly, there were some faster guys there this year so his efforts only got him 4th. I finished in 1:31:59 in 5th place. I was never so happy to see the finish line of a race. I definitely gave it everything I had.

And Al? He had a pretty good race too and finished in 1:33:42 (7:09) pace. Not bad predictions all in all. We shot for 7:00 and finished in 7:00/7:01/7:09.

Thanks Stan and Al for a really great day! I couldn’t have turned in the effort I did without you!


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Triathlon Swim Series, Part 3: Arm Position

Swimming arm positionLast week I wrote about body position and how the good stroke begins with good body position.

This week we’ll cover about arm position.

Over the years there have been many thoughts on arm position. I personally know of four. Unfortunately, I learned about three of them too late – after my rotator cuff was messed up. Let’s see if we can prevent the same problem for you.

I’ll break down the proper stroke for you into its elements so you can visualize this the next time you swim:

Entry: The proper hand entry is smooth. The hand should enter the water just above your head as if you’re slipping your hand underneath the sheet of your bed. Don’t slap the water – there should be very little splash. As your hand enters the water your hand should stay close to the surface of the water – don’t let it drop down. Try to stay about 4” – 6” from the surface of the water. As the hand enters the water quickly push it forward under the water. Also be careful to watch where your hands go once they’ve entered the water. You DON’T want them crossing over the imaginary line that goes through the center of your body and head. Ideally, they’ll stay approximately shoulder width.

Reach: I talked about “reach” last week. Essentially, you want to stretch your arms out as much as possible as if you’re trying to touch the wall that’s just 6” too far out of reach. The proper reach will automatically rotate your body.

Catch: The main element of the catch is to keep the elbow high and bring the hand and forearm vertical as quickly as possible. If you do this your hand should stay very shallow in the water. Think of it as if you were swimming in 12” of water and you didn’t want your hand to hit the bottom of the pool. The proper catch will allow you to use the force of your hand AND your forearm against the water. Yes, it’s harder to pull through the water but the additional resistance will help propel you through the water faster.

Pull: The pull should be fast. You’ll feel the resistance which is why doing exercises like lat pull-downs will help you with your tricep strength. The proper pull will have your hand going nearly vertical through the water, not under your body, but to your side. The YMCA used to teach the “S” pull. Avoid the “S” as it adds nothing to your efficiency. Your hand should continue to pull until it is by your hip. In fact, if done properly, your hip will move out of the way (because of your proper body rotation) just as your hand passes by.

Return: Keep your elbow high on the return but your hand low. Your fingers should almost skim the surface of the water on the return. You’ll see swimmers reaching waaay out of the water with their hands sometimes. This isn’t efficient. Keep the hand low.

That’s it! Those are the key elements of the proper arm position. Concentrate on these elements each time you swim and you’ll go faster.

Ron Saetermoe


Discover the secrets to improving your swim technique, avoiding painful injuries, and shaving minutes off your best triathlon times to date! Are You Ready To Make A Change In Your Athletic Life?

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Interview with Top Triathlon Age-Grouper Stu Lowndes – Episode 17

In this podcast Ron talks to top triathlon age-grouper Stu Lowndes. Stu tells us how he morphed into a triathlete from a hulking bodybuilder. Stu shares his ideas for a successful maintenance program so you can easily ramp-up for a top season.

iTunes Podcast

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Best Laid Plans

USAT triathlon coachEveryone that knows me knows I’m a planner. While I appreciate spontaneity I am more comfortable with a plan – one that’s flexible.
Serious triathletes are usually great planners. We plan our races. We plan our meals. We plan our workouts. We plan everything. We really have to be good planners because our training takes so much time we need to figure out a way to fit it all in.

For example, my normal training week has me doing 11 workouts per week, and I may be increasing that to 12. With 11 – 12 workouts a week you really need a plan. Here’s how I break it down:

• Annual plan: this is a week-by-week view of my entire calendar year. It shows the date, the minutes of each workout per week and any races I have signed up for.

• Weekly plan: this shows me the structure of my week. Which days I’ll be swimming, cycling, running and strength training as well as the minutes each day.

• Daily plan: this shows me the exact structure of my workout for the day. For example, if I have a treadmill workout planned it breaks it down minute-by-minute in terms of speed and incline.

This is precisely how I help the athletes I coach structure their year as well. Once you’ve got it all laid out you can see how it flows. The other thing I like is that it there is never any question about my workout for the day – it’s all there in black and white.

Here’s the hitch: things don’t always go according to plan. An injury, vacation or another event may take you off your plan. In fact, you can count on something messing up your plan at some point. The question is how to respond to it.

The answer is that it all depends on whether it’s a short-term hiccup or a long-term one. If you simply miss one day don’t worry about it. Just go on to the next day’s workout as if nothing happened.

However, if you’ve missed multiple days, or even weeks, which can be the case with an injury, you’ll need to adjust your plan.

My good pal and strength training partner, Mark Arenal, has had a stubborn injury that doesn’t allow him to run. Okay, so what do you do with that? Simple, he maintains his normal training regimen except when it comes to running. On his scheduled running days he either substitutes an additional swim, cycling or strength session.

Is it ideal? No. But while he’s recovering from his injury he’s lucky enough to be doing other things that will help his core strength and endurance.

So when your plans don’t come together as you want, don’t give up, just make a new plan.


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Triathlon Swim Series, Part 2: Body Position

Last week I wrote about the importance of “feeling” the water and being conscious about what your body is doing while you’re swimming. If you approach your swims with this approach you can all but eliminate the swim drills you’re currently doing.

This week we’ll cover body position.

The position of your body is crucial to a good swim stroke because the power you achieve starts with your body, not your arms. Similar to a good golf swing, your body should rotate gently from side-to-side to generate inertia to your arms.

The mental image I talk about with my athletes is think about sitting in a canoe in the middle of a calm lake. Hold on to the sides of the canoe and gently rock it from side-to-side. This is precisely what your body should be doing – gently rocking from side-to-side, as you swim.

The question is, “how is the rocking created?” It’s actually not created by your hands pressing through the water it happens naturally as you “reach” with your hands to catch the water.

Many swim coaches talk about “making your boat longer.” What they’re saying is proper position in the water when swimming freestyle is about really stretching your arms and body as much as possible when you swim. Think of it this way: imagine a normal swim stroke. Then, imagine another swim stroke but this time your normal stroke would leave you six inches short of the wall. That extra “reach” will allow you to touch the wall without taking another stroke with your other arm.

That’s the proper “feeling” your stroke should have. But wait a minute; I thought we were talking about body position, not the stroke. Exactly! A proper reach will automatically rotate your body – you can’t help it!

Photo: Courtesy of Tri Swim Coach

That’s the beauty of proper swim form – it happens naturally – you don’t have to force anything. See if I’m right about this. The more you reach, or stretch, with your arm the more your body will rotate.

The trick is to do this on both sides. For those of us that unilaterally breathe (breathe to just one side) is to get a proper extension on both sides. The answer is simple and obvious: you need to really stretch out on both sides and your body will automatically rotate as you need it to.

Nothing about the proper swim stroke should be forced. It will all happen naturally if you let it.

All this week, during your swim workouts, concentrate on reaching for the wall on every stroke and be conscious of your body position, and you’ll swim faster!


Ron Saetermoe


Discover the secrets to improving your swim technique, avoiding painful injuries, and shaving minutes off your best triathlon times to date! Are You Ready To Make A Change In Your Athletic Life?

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Amazing Slater Fletcher – Episode 16

USAT triathlon coachIn this podcast Ron talks to Slater Fletcher about his meteoric rise in the sport of triathlon. A relative newbie, he tells us how he went from 215 pounds down to 150, qualified for the X-Terra World Championships, qualified for the Ironman World Championships and finished the grueling Ultraman in third place! Amazing accomplishments in just a couple of years.

iTunes Podcast

Check out Slater Fletcher’s blog site here for upcoming races, race reports, and his training.

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