Experimentation – How do you actually do it?

I recently wrote an article for Amrita on fueling for the long haul (you should go read it, I worked kinda hard on it. Also, maybe pick up some bars…plant based, all good stuff in them). When asked to write an article on fueling it’s tough not to write a novel. Since starting this sport in 2007 as a way to keep healthy and keep my weight under control, I feel like I deserve a BA in triathlon. I’ve learned so much and I’ve experimented so much. I’ve sought out experts advice and I’ve still failed, even while following it. The truth is YOU possess the tools to figure out YOU. It’s on you to know yourself because when your race goes south, blaming an article on gatoraid.com for your nutrition mistakes isn’t going to net you much.

I put the following quote in the article and this little nugget has really stuck with me!

“Learning isn’t acquiring knowledge so much as it is trimming information that has already been acquired.”

–Criss Jami

In todays day and age, the acquiring knowledge portion of experimentation is easy. Spend a night performing various Google searches and reading articles and you will have more than enough nutrition guidelines to get going. Keep scouring the net, and you are going to get information overload really soon.

So, then comes the question. You’ve got some information, you’ve got some nutrition products sitting on your counter…now what?!

Here’s how to do the “trimming information” portion of experimenting, the finding out what doesn’t work part:

1. Pick 2 training sessions every week for 6 weeks that focus on nutrition testing. These sessions are not the ones where you stop and eat a Snickers at the quickie mart (because you can’t carry Snickers on race day because they melt…I’ve tried). One of these should be your long ride, and hopefully you have a run off the bike here. You will know how your nutrition is going to work for sure with 60 minutes running off the bike, so make sure you have two of those in the 6 week testing period.

Your second session should have race pace intensity in it. Now, remember, sometimes the experimentation phase isn’t the ideal training you should be doing, but if you don’t nail down your nutrition, who cares how well you were trained. You gotta dot all your “i”s and cross all your “t”s.

So now you have 12 workouts, 6 long bikes with increasing runs off them, and 6 sessions with race intensity.

2.) Write it down. You’ve got some “acquired knowledge” right? You did some google searches and you got a general idea of what might work. You know that you can’t have 30 calories an hour and that you can’t have 700. You think maybe you should have 200, maybe 300, maybe 100. Pick what you think might work and write down your plan on paper. Decide what you are going to eat and drink each and every hour. Set out a plan of attack.

One caveat here: don’t make it complicated. I had one athlete that was using like 6 different products on her training efforts. It was a little of this and a little of that. She was mixing different brands of products and it was just a huge mess. Keep it simple. Have a product in your bottles, have an edible product or two in your pockets. Have one salt/electrolyte product if you feel you need that. That’s it. As a personal example: Osmo in my bottles, Amrita bar and honey stinger chomps in my pockets. That’s it. The experimentation is all about concentration of my bottles, and when I eat what. It could just as easily be First Endurance in my bottles, and picky bars and GU gels in my pocket. Or Perform in my bottles, and Power Bar blasts and gels in my pocket. I’m not saying this to endorse other products, but more to make a point that you just need to pick something.

3.) Go train. And guess what, follow your plan until disaster happens. In other words don’t go rogue. Don’t have the Snickers Bar at the quickie mart…don’t do it. But do write in your log afterwards that you were craving a Snickers Bar at the quickie mart, because that’s important information. Stick to what you are testing and if you said you are going to drink 27oz per hour, then drink 27 oz per hour. Do this plan for both nutrition testing sessions of the week because nutrition is likely to go south in one of two instances: when you go long OR when you go fast (or both…ouch!).

4.) Assess and analyze on paper along the way. Write everything down. If you had GI distress or you puked, you either put down too many calories, or your calories were too concentrated in your fluid. So change your plan to take less or dilute them more. If your watts or pace trailed off into oblivion along the way or your run off the bike lacked any energy and you were weak-sauce, then you probably need more calories, or more fluid, or more electrolytes, or more of all three. OR, you were going too hard and you need to slow down.

Decide which of these things went wrong and adjust your plan. Write down the new plan and you are ready for next week.

The overall point here is: pick something and work it until it works. If after 6 weeks if you still aren’t there, pick a different brand and start over or adjust…change the Picky bars to Amrita bars, or change the Amrita pars to Power Bars. Adjust, but use YOUR experiences, not others and give your initial products a decent chance at working.

5.) After 6 weeks of this process, I promise you that you will be 90% there, or you will be 100% sure what doesn’t work. And guess what, you won’t have to wait until race day to find that out! If you did not go rogue, if you really stuck to doing the plan and then assessing afterwards, 6 weeks later you will have made serious progress.

So, why aren’t people really doing this? I will tell you this. The good ones are. The good ones are doing a little reading, a little research, they are keeping their thumb on the pulse of the nutrition industry, but for ever hour they spend researching, they are doing 20 hours of personal research. Once you have a working plan that only needs minor fine tuning, it’s very easy to ignore the mass of articles and dribble out there that constantly is being spewed forth (like this one…CRAP…abort abort…stop reading…go riding).

I think in this sport, a lot of people just want to go out there and train. They just want to shut off the brain, and use the training for fun and stress relief, to feed their ego. A lot of people are out there hammering away the personal issues they are having in life. And for those types, often times, race day is where they have to face the true consequences of those decisions. It’s reactive training, not proactive training. I think it was Brett Sutton that tweeted, “we only train to be faster on race day” (but probably with more typos). Think about that one.

The people at the top…they are proactively training. They are experimenting often because they are in the sport to learn more about their limits, or more about how limitless their limits really are. That type of training means constant, calculated, and reflective experimentation. It’s getting out of your head, away from your issues, and onto the task at hand.

Get your S#!T Together!

I always send an email to my athletes about 12 weeks out from their Ironman. It’s the “Get your S#!T Together” email and it goes something like this:

You have 12 weeks until your Ironman. Now is the time to purchase 10 new tire tubes, 2-4 new tires, 10 CO2 cartridges, a new swimsuit, 2 pairs of new goggles, 1-2 new pairs of running shoes including the ones you are going to race in. Don’t forget to make some freezer meals, and stock up on all training nutrition. Yada Yada Yada…

It’s those final 12 weeks where you will get 3 flats in one day, you will run out of your favorite chews, eat you last salted carmel GU, run on worn out shoes. You name it. The last 12 weeks, when you need to be at your best for every session, is usually when you have 2-3 days that the poop hits the fan.

Preach it sister.

But….sometimes I am too busy worrying about the ponies and the 12 weeks to go mark passes without me doing the things I advise. Today the shit hit the fan. It’s always when I’m tired too. My Garmin was dead because I left my bike in the car overnight with the Garmin turned on. I got it charging and went to fill bottles only to see that I didn’t have any Osmo. I filled my bottles with ice water and put them on my bike. Once the Garmin hit 47% I grabbed it and headed out the door.

I pumped up my tire and our pump wasn’t working, so I went and got the one that lives in the car. Pumped the tires and the rear went flat. I changed it and grabbed my last two tubes that were also living in the car. Off I went. 1/2 mile later I flatted, and then 1.5 miles later I flatted again. 2 miles from home, 3 flats later, and I called Troy to come get me.


So I pulled back and regrouped. Spent the whole rest of the day preparing for flipping Armageddon! This means war.


#1 – 3 brand new tires, and 8 tubes, all with valve extenders (did that myself thank you very much). Pack those into a bin along with spare break pads, CO2, and some spare bento boxes and store it all in the car.


#2 – Go around house and collect all the bike tools that ran away and get them back into tool box and back into the car.


#3 – Emergency fueling tupperware. My favorite bars, waffles, chews, a tube of Nuun, and a container of Osmo. For emergency use only. Pack that bad boy into the car.


#4 – 2 gallons of water in the car at all times. Refill those and secure them in the car so they don’t roll around.

#5 – Restock on the training nutrition. 5+ of everything, and ditch everything I’m not using.


#6 – Assemble complete under the seat flat change kits for BOTH bikes (I had been swapping from one to the other because I didn’t own 2 CO2 nozzles). Not anymore, both bikes are now armed and dangerous.

#6 – Just for me: Order new pedals and cleats (long overdue), $100 worth of Endurance Shield sunscreen (also long overdue), new run shoes and new bar tape.


#7 – Bonus TIP: Waterproof envelope from REI ($10) duct taped to your water bottle. It sits on deck and you can read your swim workout and it doesn’t get wet. Big carabiner to hook it onto your swim bag.


I’m locked and loaded for the next 8 weeks. I feel ready for battle!

And honestly, I gotta give a huge shout out to my mom today. She turned my panicked “But I’m not getting my ride done” cries into a rather fine “make lemonade out of lemons” speech. She got me to organize all the disorganization in my brain and to get a plan of action for the afternoon. Thanks mom for always being there for me. Love you.



I’ve been going to bed before 9:30 PM most nights this week. What a gift to give myself. It’s hard. Last night I could feel myself getting a second wind, and I wanted to just ramp up, but I put the Zeo on (who went out of business by the way), hit start tracking, and closed my eyes. So tough for me.

Going to bed early means I’m up and at ’em early. This is such a gift for me. I’m usually groggy in the morning but recently I’ve been peppy. This morning I went swimming, at 6:30 in the morning. I’m usually the girl getting in the pool at 7:30pm or 8:00pm to get my swim done. I love swimming at night. But I’m turning a new leaf. After all, we race in the morning, not in the evening.


So my swim coach Nick met me at this pool this morning. I had a chat with him about my really sub par swim at Boulder and he was ready to get in with me right away. We warmed up and he watched me swim and took some video. He worked with me on my stroke and made some changes that sounded great and made total sense. He pointed out where I was dropping my elbow and where I was slipping water with a tilted hand. We fixed those issues and I expected to get faster, but I got slower, and it was harder. But I kept at it.


Nick got out to take his wife to work and I was left with the rest of my workout on my own. Due to the nature of us chatting/form work I had only covered about 1000 meters in 30 minutes, so I knew I would be in the pool for yet another hour. My main set (after about 1000 of warm up and 1000 of various pulling work):

200 on 3:15 steady in at 3:05

2×50 on 1:00 drill

200 on 3:30 build to really fast

2×50 on 1:00 drill

200 on 3:45 fast sub 2:58

2×50 on 1:00 drill

200 on 4:00 all out

It’s merely 4×200 getting faster as I go. I’m feeling sluggish, new form is funky and I’m sure I’m tense in areas I shouldn’t be. I’m not having a very strong day in the pool and I’m a little bummed out by it. The truth is, I’m judging it, instead of putting my head down and fighting through it, judgement free.

First 200 is right on 3:05. Okay, one down. Second 200 I build to as fast as I can get going and come in at 3:07. That’s okay, it’s ok, again more judging and more worry. So I get going on the third one and I think on a day like today its going to take an all out effort to get under 2:58. So I swim as hard as I can. Hit the 100 at 1:29, try hard to negative split, go to breathing every stroke….2:59.

Whew. Okay. okay. I didn’t get it, but I wasn’t horribly off. That was really all out though. So I’m standing there during the rest interval and I’m literally convincing myself not to do the last one. Here’s what goes through my brain:

—nobody will know

—why is this important anyways

—I already swam the last one all out

—it will just be slower anyways

So, I leave for the 2×50 drill and when I get to the wall after the second 50 it’s decision time. I stood up straight and I said to myself

—What are you afraid of here? Going slower?

—It’s the trying that matters

—Drop the fears Sonja.

And I took off from the wall. I made the first 50 hard, and the last 150 really hard. Really all out hard. My water awareness was bad. I know when I’m “on” because I feel like a shark and the whole thing felt like a blowfish (by the way, never has a photo better expressed the way I felt in the pool today).


But I swam it. And I gave it my all. And I dropped the fear. I swam 2:59. Same as the one before. The numbers weren’t anything to write home about, but the effort was. Dropping the fear of failure was.

But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

—Rocky Balboa

To paraphrase. It’s not about how fast I can swim. It’s not about the times I can hit. It’s about how hard I can swim when I feel like a blowfish. It’s about believing that if I’m a blowfish I’m gonna be the fastest damn blowfish out there.


Unexpected Pep Talk

Troy and I went to pick Annie up from camp together today, and on the way home I had Troy drop me at the store to pick up sweet potatoes. I, of course, ended up with 2 full bags of groceries and walked home with them. Widdle Waddle. I’m a horribly slow walker. It drives Troy crazy. I use all my fast during my day’s training.

So, I walk into my cul-de-sac driveway thing (is that how you spell cul-de-sac?). I live in a tiny group of 8 duplexes…or 4 duplexes I guess, not sure how you “count” them. We are, for the most part, a pretty tight bunch of neighbors. We share a communal driveway, it’s not a city road, so we group together to pay for repairs. There are 6 kids (and one on the way, but not from my belly) and all the adults look out for all of the kids.

Okay, so I walk into the cul-de-sac and my neighbor Michael is fixing some sprinklers that he’s got in his yard. Usually I would just let him be. I’m a social girl, but for some reason I’m one of the more shy ones on the block. Troy is actually the chatty one and likes to provide the hood with lots of home brew beer. Many bottles have been consumed on the front porch between him and the neighbors. I usually just want to crawl back into my bed, and for me, home is my nest.

Over to Michael I go and ask him what he’s doing and he tells me. We chat about it for a second and then I head out and on the way out he says “Do you have any races coming up?” Now the whole block and some of the surrounding blocks know I’m a triathlete and that we go to Kona every year, yada yada yada. So I tell Michael I’ve got Vegas 70.3 World Championships in September and Kona Ironman World Championships in October. He kinda nods and then he says “Do you think you’re going to win a World Championship?”

It kinda stops me in my tracks. I turn around. Now, if you know me, you know that I’m an honest to a fault kind of girl. Lying to this man is not something I’m actually capable of doing. And I say “I don’t know Michael, it’s hard to keep getting your hopes up year after year and never really get any closer to it, I’ll do my best. It’s my 4th year headed back to Kona and it’s a really hard race. It’s hard to come back heart broken year after year. I’ll race my best, that’s all I can ask.”

He said to me “You need to focus more on it, you know what, come here…”

So I walk back over, still with two full bags of groceries in my hands and I stand in front of him.

For ten minutes he gave me the most amazing pep talk I’ve had. He talked to me about certainty, and expectations. He told me a story about really wishing that Troy would bring him some of his home brew Stout last week, and how he went to the liquor store and the Killians Red Stout was on sale. He bought some, got home and it tasted exactly like Troys Stout. So much that he had to bring Troy a bottle. He said that you have to voice your wants and understand that your energy is powerful enough to bring things to fruition.

He talked to me about jinxing things, and that it doesn’t exist. He said he watches me train day in and day out and just knows the only thing between me and my goal is my head. He said when you go to flip your bedroom light switch, you don’t wonder if you are good enough for your lamp to turn on. There are things in life that you don’t associate the word “deserve” with. It’s a choice.

It was all very “power of attraction” kind of stuff, but delivered through my horse riding, wrangler wearing, sprinkler fixing, beer drinking neighbor. It kinda rocked my world and I walked away feeling like it wasn’t a coincidence that I needed sweet potatoes this afternoon. I think I needed to run into Michael.

So what do you think? Do you ever get scared of putting BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals) out there? Are you afraid of heart break when you make goals? I know I get that way. Can you all believe that I’ve been working for 4 years on trying to be a World Champion? Did you ever think it was for any other reason? I get asked often (and when I say often I mean often and with all sorts of various intentions) whether I will turn professional. The answer has always been no, and the reason, in my heart has always been because I want to be an age group world champion.

2013 Boulder

This was my 3rd time racing Boulder 70.3 and I think probably my last for awhile.  The Boulder reservoir is just exhausting!

The was the first year of the new rolling swim start. You lined up based on your projected final swim time. I lined up in the 30-32 min group. Lots of friends in the group and I really wanted to swim with Anthony. It made for a very easy gentle start of the race, people were chill. But I also found it lacked that adrenaline rush that I love about racing as well. It just took the edge off everything.


I felt like I was swimming great the first 2/3 of the race, but the last straightaway was quite bad. I got nailed twice in the throat and I took in a ton of water and then gagged and threw up. Not once but twice. I don’t think I lost any time due to it, it just was uncomfortable. Also got my goggles whapped so hard that they sucked into my eyeball. Had to stop and get that sorted out.


Out of the water I was really laboring. I didn’t know at the time I swam 32:42. Pretty bad swim for me, doesn’t really show the 20,000 yards of swimming a week I’ve been putting down in the last month, but that’s how I swam and it was the best I had on the day.

I got really lost in transition. Really not like me, my head was just in a big fog. I couldn’t find my rack, went down two different racks searching for my bike, didn’t recognize my stuff when I got to it, and had to stop and look at my race bracelet to remind myself of my number. Was a bit flummoxed mounting my bike as well.


Onto the bike my heart rate was high and my legs were screaming at me. But sometimes you just gotta tell them to shut up, ignore the HR, put your head down and ride. That’s what I did. I just rode. My head was spacey and I couldn’t make sense of the numbers like I usually do, so I just kept it raw and hard. It was painful. I was more in control than years past, but my legs never eased up, they were angry and I didn’t care. Nutrition went down great, except my Osmo tasted like soap. It was so strange.


I had this odd thing happen when we were going through an aid station and there was a sign that directed bikes one way and cars another. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out which way to go. I kept looking at the sign and just couldn’t figure it out. It was odd, but apparently my brain did not show up to race. It was obvious, but I couldn’t figure it out.



Because of the rolling start you have no idea where you are in your age group or who you are racing. I’ll be honest. I absolutely hated it. When I sign up for a race I want to RACE, like with others in my age group. This was just some pseudo in-between bull shit and I will steer clear from races with this start format from here on out. Ironman has lost my business on that point. Thanks Ironman, for taking the race out of the race.

Off the bike, got lost in transition (translation) a second time. Foggy brain was still in command. Luckily I did not put on someone else’s shoes this year. Oh lordy. I got out running and shoved my Garmin in my bra. About a month ago I lost the wrist strap for my Garmin. It’s one of those that can go between the bike and the run and has a separate wrist strap for the run. Well I lost it so I have to stick the thing in my bra. Not ideal.


So I got off running and thought to myself: just run mile 1 on perceived exertion, go at what feels like 70.3 pace. When my Garmin buzzed at the one mile I fished it out of my bra to look at the split – 7:45. Ek gawd Sonja, you’ve got to speed up. And that’s about how the run went. Me telling myself to run faster, and trying to do so only to see split after split of lackluster times (for me). I tried to pick it up harder on the second loop, didn’t really happen. I wasn’t in an extreme amount of pain, more just felt like I was in a giant bubble, inside a slow motion movie, and I was trying to dig deep but couldn’t figure out how to do so.

The finish line was great, it always is. It also means you can sit down. I came in at 4:38:11, a whole 8 seconds faster than last year, 2 min slower swim, 2 min faster run. But whereas I was 2nd amateur and 2nd AG last year, this year I was 7th amateur and 4th age group. Congratulations to those I shared the podium with, some terrific races were had out there. Looks like everyone is in a good place going into Vegas World Champs in a mere 5 weeks.


Thank you to those who support me through the ups and down, KE, QR, PxRx, Amrita. This wasn’t quite an up, but it wasn’t a down either. I gave all I had and I’m proud of that. Onwards!









Time Away

The thrill of Brazil has finally settled and I’ve been back to serious training for a good month now. I took a much longer break than usual this go around. My seasons are typically long and I usually plow pretty steadily through them. Most years I don’t really feel that my fitness had developed until late June, early July and my race results have followed suit.

This year, I had a May Ironman and couldn’t afford my usual slow growth of fitness. I needed to get in shape in the early part of the year if I wanted to get back to Hawaii. I worked with Coach Muddy and he had a clear plan. I spent several training blocks in San Jose where the weather was good, working on that early fitness, and it paid big dividends in Brazil.


After Brazil I took a break and I have to say I’ve never felt in better shape in May, and I’ve never felt in worse shape in June. By the end of June I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to be fit again. But again, there is a plan to the madness and July started that plan.

It was a huge month. I don’t keep track of my mileage any more. I don’t track weekly hours, or log into Training Peaks except to write schedules. When my Garmin says “Delete History, Active Memory Full” I just scan back a few screens and delete all data. I’ve got nothing written down or logged since October. And I’m going to go ahead and say “IT FEELS GOOD!” I just dance in the glow of all the time I’ve saved. I handed the reigns over to someone I trust and he just watches me closely. It’s so nice.


However, as July progressed I did a loose add up of the weekly mileage and I remember it started out with a 290 mile bike week, then for 3 weeks where mileage was in the 400 range. Loosely I pedaled by bike about 1,500 miles in July, give or take. The running and swimming…no idea. I just did what was required, ran when asked to, swam as many days as I could muster. But the lions share of the work was on the bike.


I didn’t do anything too too wild on any one day. I did do 2×120 mile days back to back at the end of week two during the Double Triple Bypass. But all in all, 2 weeks at home getting a quick introduction back to training, and then two weeks of tough work in San Jose and Lake Tahoe.


It was really interesting to see a month of work and rather than looking at the numbers to really look at where my body was at and the journey it went through. I had some really tough days in there. Some days where I didn’t feel fit AT ALL, and where just completing the mileage asked was hard for me.


I had a day where my wheel was rubbing on my frame and I struggled my way back to my parents about to die trying to pedal home. That resulted in a full on panic attack complete with wheezing and flipping out. Then I had other tough days where there was a glimmer. I saw the glimmer of Sonja past and I got excited. One day we were at the track and the start of the session I felt heavy as a brick, but then half way trough the old Sonja showed up and dominated those intervals. Yet the day after that it was back to slow, hard, painful, dig for every pedal stroke type of work.


Then, last week some time, about the time when I expected to be petering out (getting the waterworks – emotional release is always where I crack) I had two days where I could do no wrong. I was a beast and saw gigantic watts and got dropped by NO ONE. I was master of my domain. Of course, 2 days later…I was off the back by a ways, unable to get watts or heart rate up, and unable to stop the tears. And with that coach gave a big smile and pulled the plug. Time for rest.


Now  I’m back home and dealing with the adjustments of being away for two weeks and coming home pretty darn tired. My family has been missing me and here I come home and just want to crawl under the covers for a few days. So, it’s been an adjustment for everybody.


This weekend is Boulder 70.3, a race that is a complete side note for me. I wish I could say that my eyes have been fixed on Vegas and Kona, but really I’ve just been focusing on doing work, lots of work, and holding myself together. That’s where my focus has been. Everything else is just a whatever. But as the week has progressed, and I find myself a few rest days short of what I wish I had, stepping on the line at Boulder is going to take some guts. It’s a tough race.


I learned this month that every training day is an opportunity for growth. Sometimes it just takes some distance to connect the dots. When I can balance having fun with the work, that’s when I have the greatest opportunity for success.