Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Boston?

So, why Boston?

It's a question you trying to answer while explaining to your friends who don't run at all. You talk with newer runners or those who have been running for years. No doubt, people have heard of this race because it transcends this sport. It is a sporting event bigger than just about any other road race.

In four days, I'm flying out to Boston to run the race of my dreams for the third time. It's been four years, thousands of miles and the culmination of a journey for me so I can start a 26.2 mile race in the small town of Hopkinton.

Why Boston? The standards are tough. When I started running, the prospect of a 3:10 or faster marathon seemed just out of reach. So I strived for many years to get my first Boston Qualifier. It's taken me so many more years, and the journey back, to figure out why Boston.

You hear among many runners the chatter about the BQ. What is your BQ? When you trying for a BQ? What BQ do you need and when do you need to do it?

I think we really try to BQ because it is hard and it is there. Does it separate good runners from great runners? Does BQing when you're young more of an achievement than when time gives you more literal time? Do we really understand what it's all about when we say I want to do Boston? I first set my sights on Boston because it was that holy grail. The qualification stood for personal excellence and it was an important milestone to reach. By reaching the time, you reached Boston. Or not really.

My Pace and Mind team

Boston means so much to many of us for different reasons. I spent years striving, fighting, running, for a chance to run my dream race. When I qualified, I looked back at all my achievements - personal and professional - and put that run among the greatest things I've ever done. Months later, toeing the line at the corral, I was in utter awe. I did not belong here. Everyone was so much better than I was. This was on national TV. How did I make it here?

Once you get your BQ, you get something that probably goes unsaid by those who have done it before. It's something that's hard to capture even in all the pictures I've collected. To those of us who run it year after year, I think I know why you come back. It is a special race, putting aside exclusivity or elitism. The course is technical and it takes a lot of training and heart and tactics to run it well. But it is not just the course. It's the weekend, the 'Marathon Monday' when this event becomes one that's owned by all those communities between Hopkinton and Boston.

So Boston for me is a vivid memory. It's getting to the Toronto airport and seeing all those Boston jackets. It's seeing the banners on the streets, it's visiting the finish line, or holding The Jacket for the first time, or looking up at the signs at the corner of Hereford and Boylston. It's about school bus rides, the village and high fives with kids on trampolines. It's about beer on the course, a kiss at Wellesley and hills that make you remember why it broke someone's heart. It's about the growing crowds, the Citgo sign and Fenway, and noontime baseball. It's about the everything about 26.2 but also what happens alongside that course, and of the days before and after that day.

In the past two years, I've been on my own journey. When two men tried to take my Boston memories away from me, I responded one way I knew I could, by vowing to get back. And to get back, there was only one thing to do -- do it harder, faster and with the purpose and love I've always had for the sport.

The last time I ran Boston in 2011, a mere hour or so after the marathon, I walked into North End for a decadent lobster roll and with the simple medal draped around my neck. I don't often keep them on after most races, but I have for Boston, even for one night. In the space of two hours, a half a dozen people stopped me to congratulate me and ask me about the race. They, Boston citizens, were genuinely happy for me, in a little awe of the event.

For a few hours, once a year, Boylston becomes the hallowed ground for thousands of runners. Boston on this day doesn't become the name of the city. It's the name of the race, run on Patriot's Day, also known by those who line the 26.2 mile route as "Marathon Monday." Citizens and runners alike love the event. No question.

Around the world, and in every other state, it's a Monday. In Boston, that day, Patriot's Day, is Marathon Monday, and it's my Christmas Day.

Because it's not just ours, us runners, it's a Boston thing. In a little way, we're allowed to take centre stage in a spectacle that has gone on for more than 115 years. No matter who shows up to be picked up by those school buses next April or the next 30 Aprils, it'll still be 'Boston'. We'll all come, from different states and countries, for the privilege to be part of that spectacle. BQing gets you a chance to be part of something greater than the 26.2.

*This post is a culmination of some of my thoughts about Boston I've written over the past few years.

Monday, April 06, 2015

How spinning helped my running

Confession. I'm loving the bike for the unlikely reason that it's made me a better runner.

Cross training is the activity that most runners know they should do to improve, but when faced with running vs. other activities, most of us choose running. But there's always something new to teach a runner, I've learned over the years.

So spinning.

No, not that spinning.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Race report: Around the Bay 2015

My eighth straight Around the Bay happens 22 days before my goal marathon, and while I thought I had fitness to race it, it's too risky to go all out, or so I told coach Rejean.

His battle plan was to run 5K at 4:30 kms, 5K-10K at 4:20, then 15K at 4:15 (marathon pace) and close the final 5K in 4:10.

Race, but only to a point. Run but only to pace. But what could you do if you followed the game plan? That would give me a 2:08 ATB and a solid close to a long distance taper run with 20K at MP or faster.

My team all gathered at Copps and we took the team photo. I was going to run with Andrew who had similar plans.

We set out to run our 4:30s but were swept away in the crowds even though it felt easy. We knew it was a bit warmer than yesterday's forecast had indicated, but I had pretty much made the perfect gear choice save for the gloves which at that point felt a little too warm. I carried it for much of the first 10K.

The course revamped has a series of rollers but we were running on well maintained roads and we were able to get on to pace. Seeding ourselves in the first corral we were able to find our space. We made room from the 2:15 pace bunny and started to hit our paces. By the time we hit a 4:23 fourth kilometre, I was ready to start testing 4:20s.

1 4:18
2 4:25
3 4:19
4 4:23
5 4:19

Glorious day, we tend to get them at the ATB, and it was good to run among strong ruers. My paces started to dip below the 4:20 mark, logging a 4:16/4:17 and also a 4:07. None of it felt particularly hard but I knew that this run would give me a tonne of benefit for Boston. I've done a number of 30+ km runs this training cycles, six of them at 35K, but none of them were subscribed for this pace. Aside from speedwork and hills, our long runs were getting us endurance in often cases bad conditions.

We turned the corner and up the ramp to hit the 10K relay mark, and the wind picked up. Good decision to have the gloves, I concluded as I also resolved to now think of the game as on.

6 4:17
7 4:21
8 4:16
9 4:07
10 4:10


This portion of the run is usually when I get into pace, it was also the time when Rejean wanted me to start hitting 4:15s. He was pretty adamant that I be true to pace this run so we started to ramp things up. We were naturally starting to pass runners as we sped up.

Passed a few runners we knew and I made sure to take my second gel, having taken the first before the race. Looking back, these kilometers were strong -- I only hit 4:15 once, but the other four kilometres were pretty consistently on.

11 4:12
12 4:16
13 4:17
14 4:15
15 4:18

Halfway mark and the move into Burlington. The rollers were coming and I mostly ran by feel, not really looking much at the average pace. I knew running up hills the best tactic was to run by effort -- if I looked at the watch I'd probably get a little freaked. A 4:15 effort into hills would take a few seconds off here and there, but for every uphill, you'd get a flat or a downhill.

Andrew and I around 21K in. Photo: Tom Sapiano

The splits I'm fine with, even happy with.

16 4:19
17 4:10
18 4:21
19 4:14
20 4:18

The 21K mark is a top Lasalle Park, which is the biggest hill, but there were two more mini hills left, I knew. my average pace may have had my passing the half marathon mark in about 1:30, not a bad warmup.

The next kilometre or so, we climbed the hill and tried to make it up to pace. Around 22 or 23K, Andrew told me that he was going to stick to his current pace so I decided to keep the pace strong. By the 23rd-25K stretch, I was now getting closer to the 4:10s that coach wanted from me for the last 5K.

21 4:20
22 4:19
23 4:11
24 4:17
25 4:10

So the dreaded and infamous hill, Spring Valley Road, is no longer there, but while we got flat road, we got a lot of wind. I had no one to draft off of, so I just tried to up the pace. I was recovering from the final hill and I had looked at this final 5K like the last part of Boston after you crest Heartbreak Hill. Could I hammer it home, even into the wind?

After we passed the 26K mark I had hit is in 4:18, I felt that the race was now down to a very manageable portion. I started to push a bit, hitting 4:11 for 27K and you could see the final stretch, one I've raced the past seven years. I did 28K in 4:13 and found another gear, hitting the last two kilometres in 3:58 and 4:06.

I entered the arena and even in the last 500 metres I knew I'd have a new PB. Crossed the finish in 2:07:33, more than a minute off my Midsummer's Night race from 2014 and 4:30 faster than last year's ATB.

26 4:18
27 4:11
28 4:13
29 3:58
30 4:06

In a lot of ways, breakthroughs are moments to celebrate. Today was a breakthrough at the 30K, but it was also the logical output of a season's worth of training. My half marathon at Chilly, at 1:26:25, was the barometre that would set the rest of the season -- today felt like it was one I'd had to go out and earn. The prize is cashing in on my fitness and taking that, and a healthy body, right to Hopkinton in three weeks.

Around the Bay is that annual test though, and I'm so happy with how this one unfolded. A 2:07 and a silver medal is well below what I would have told you I could have done a few years ago when going sub 2:15 felt like hard work. Come a long way indeed.

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

Thursday, March 26, 2015

So about that Around the Bay hill in 2015

So no hill, now what?

The 2015 Around the Bay this weekend won't feature the final monster of a hill, instead creating a 2K diversion. Those of us who have run Around the Bay in that past know that the hill, which follows a huge downward plunge down Spring Garden Road, is a monster with around 3K to go.  Call it Canada's Heart Break Hill.

So not having run the rerouted 2K, I went to Mapmyrun to compare the two routes.

Here's the original route, which according to the elevation charts features 61 feet of climbing (of course, after a plunge.

And here's the rerouted map,  weirdly enough with 62 feet of climbing, but a different overall profile of course.

Odd eh? So, I'm going to say the reroute is net easier and the climbs are gradual, which most runners will be able to take in stride.

The maps can be wrong, right?

Anyone have other perspectives?


Says Laura in the comments: "It's esentially flat. You are just continuing along Plains past the RBG instead of bearing left behind it. You then hook onto York so it is essentially a longer "Straightaway" into the finish."

And Emma: "The new section of the route is flat. The elevation maps make it look like a climb because you go across a bridge, and the map trace is following the ground level rather than the bridge. Basically once you get to the RBG it's essentially a slight downhill/flat all the way to the finish. There's a small bit as you come around onto york that feels to me like a false flat, but it's short and if it is a climb, it is VERY minor"

Other posts on Around the Bay:

Saturday, March 07, 2015

What running is -- for real

Running isn't always about beautifully prepared meals, perfect workouts and the afterglow of a fit life.

Running is usually more like a rushed meal eaten over a kitchen countertop, nine hours before your next run.

Running isn't always about a runner's high. Running isn't fitfluential or inspirational. Running isn't always rise and shine lets get at it -- all the time.

Running is hitting a 5K tempo in 19:49 then missing the pace for the next two intervals because something wasn't clicking.

Running is getting in the 18K regardless of that bad end, before factoring in windchill

Running is about the daily grind, the miles of trials, the work, work, work and the payoff that is expected in many months.

Running will be a day that had highs and lows and running will be my day in Boston when all these days add up to something -- just another day of running

Running is what I'll be doing tomorrow, the 464th day in a row that I'm running.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on