Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Race Report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2014

Three words. That's all I needed. That's all, really, I could muster in my mind that late in the game.

I had 36 kilometres before I wanted to start using the three words, my motivational running mantra. But through the race, I had also been anticipating that moment when the healing left calf would rebel, when the waves -- bursts -- would strike deeper into the muscle. My legs were spinning, maintaining the pace I had taken to heart, but I could feel it building.

When the 36th kilometre struck, the cramps hit, threatening to tighten completely. I pointed my left foot forward so the balls of my feet would absorb more of the impact, shielding my calf. I had been running for two hours, 40 minutes, and the three words I had planned to use on repeat were hastily replaced. I'd need that mantra later. I wasn't going to waste it now.

"Push, push, push," I muttered between breaths. "Push, push, push," I said, wishing, willing the cramps away.

The leg throbbed. I thought about stopping.

I said for the third time as the spasms hit, "push, push, push."

A FEW DAYS AGO, I sat down with my coach to talk about our plans for the marathon. I was four weeks out from a calf pull, and four days until my next marathon. I had healed enough so I could start attempting faster paces. We had agreed on a 3:07 marathon plan, which was the goal time I set back in June. In my mind, my fitness had me with the potential to go faster, but we ended up agreeing on the plan. I promised to go out on pace. "You'll see, once I get on pace, I'll stick to it," I assured her.

My build this season went almost flawlessly until I pulled the calf. I was getting stronger, working on my stride and running technique. I was paying attention to the details -- strength work and healthy diet. I was listening to the body. Races were solid this summer, including a new 5K and 30K PB and I had run long enough runs to be confident in the distance -- even with the injury and the reduced mileage in the past few weeks.

Calf aside, I was fit, and ready to race.

By the time I woke up on race morning, a weather system with gusting winds had swept through the city, leaving us with a gorgeous cold race morning. There was a wind but it was a mere 15km/h and the temperature was calling for 3C at the start, rising to 6-8C by noon. Perfect weather conditions. I had opted for light armwarmers, double singlet, gloves, shorts and a headband. It ended up being the perfect gear as I was never too warm or cold.

I arrived at the start line pumped, confident, focused. But something was different this time around that I had at no other Scotiabank. I was surrounded by so many friends -- teammates who I've run hundreds of miles with; friends I've known for years on the running scene; social media runners from this city and far off places. Everywhere I looked at the start corral, I could trade a hug, a handshake and wish good luck. I was going to run this race solo, but I wasn't alone.

Yes, I got it autographed by Reid and Lanni. Good luck charm?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First-time marathon tips 48 hours before the race (VIDEO)

Ever wondered what are the routines other marathoners get into before the big race? What do you eat, how much sleep do you get? Awesome video put together with members of my running team (myself included) and my coaches and Reid Coolsaet among the guests.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fear Is The Greatest Motivator - So Be Fearless

I was ready to give up on my goal. A pulled calf a few weeks ago, just as I was about to go into my taper, reminded me how much humility I need to bring to my training. It gave me perspective on what running is to me -- that while I want to run fast, I want to run long, and for a long time.

In the past few weeks, I've been making plans for another marathon past Scotiabank, going back and forth on whether I'll truly race this goal marathon I've been building up to all summer.

Was I finding a way to opt out? What was I afraid of? Today I think I found the answer, and it surprised me.

I have some unfinished business. My coach thinks I'm fit and ready to go. The game face is back and it is good.

And I'm not alone.


How do you measure success? It's a question I often ask when I'm interviewing potential candidates in my day job, knowing there is no right answer. For me, the answer to that question helps me judge character more so than to let someone talk about how great they inevitably are.

Success in the corporate environment takes different forms. Meeting targets, heading a project, doing something that you'd tell at the dinner table or ultimately put in your resume. What one sees as success often tells a lot about them. The answers speak show one's self confidence, self awareness and how they strive for greatness in the wake of the always-present risk of failure.

I've thought a lot about failure and fear ever since one of my first work mentors taught me a phrase that shook me so much so that I printed out it, and stuck it to the side of my desk. It became one of my first guiding principles that reminded me that to be extraordinary, you had to find motivation. And I found one source of it.

"Fear is a great motivator," he told me.

Fear, and fear of failure, is a powerful thing. It can act as a deterrent to taking risks. Or it can motivate you to take the elements of fear -- self doubt, dread, apprehension, limitations -- and propel you into effort, effort that will help you find courage, calm, confidence and -- if you're lucky -- success.

From The Oatmeal's new running book -- BUY IT

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Season interrupted?

Note to self: If you ever want to race the red light, don't.

I keep track of all my runs in too many places - Garmin, which automatically outputs to Strava. I keep a DailyMile log and for my coach, everything is in the cloud. At the same time, I'm rarely writing here about my training but about races and pieces about running in general.

But then after I got injured this week, I realized what the best archive for me has been over the past nine years -- this place. I searched this blog for "calf" the other day as I was trying to wrap my head around how I would salvage my season. On Monday, which I usually use for recovery running, I ended up being overzealous, ending a 10K run with a few "too fast" kilometres -- call it end-of-workday energy. And as I raced to beat a changing light - ill advised for safety reasons - my calf told me, as I was running 3:45 pace, that it was indeed a bad idea.

Top of Primrose Hill in London where I ran during a work trip this week.

I felt a sensation, not unlike a pop, on my upper left calf. And stopped the run right away. Long story short, I pulled it, have a minor strain that wouldn't be so major unless I was three weeks away from the goal race. I'm now faced with three weeks to maintain fitness, heal my calf and think about whether in 21 days I'll be ready go tackle 42.2K with a substantial race plan in mind. I know I can complete the distance, fitnesswise, just not sure the legs will follow a faster plan. I'm running pain free but accelerating and holding fast paces is not happening at least for now.

So, I'm planning, scheming, thinking of races that are farther down the calendar. There are good candidates. Meanwhile, I'm going to focus on getting better, not rushing back to speed and arrive at Scotia with a plan -- either go for it, or treat it as a pacer run, with my eye forward.

This summer, however, has been a great training season, my second with a running team. Some stats:

Monthly mileage

June: 338K
July: 415K
August: 480K
September: 357K

I've done a few big races, including two 5Ks (a 19:18 PB and 19:49) in June before my fitness was ramping up; a 30K race with a new PB and a 10K race.

The interval, tempos and fartlek speeds are getting so fast. Intervals started at 3:55s and made their way down to 3:35s to 3:40s. Tempos started at 4:15 but went closer to 4:10s or faster. Marathon pace is feeling closer to 4:20 kilometres.

That's before the calf, though I've been fighting other niggles -- the IT band issue is there but not to serious so I've been great about getting my hip and IT band stretched. The glutes have been tight but rolling has helped.

Oh yeah, and also this:

Yes, I'm running Boston in 2015.

So while I enter the uncertain phase of this season, I have to also remember the progress I've made. A year ago today, I was on the comeback trail. A year ago, I was aiming at a 3:20 marathon in Chicago when I believed I was 3:15 fitness -- my knee issues put a big question mark in the final months and I have to remember that. A year later, I've already bagged a 3:08 marathon and I'm thinking of even faster.

So the path's been great -- happy to be where I am today and more importantly, in light of the calf pull, I'm reminded most that I'm happy to be running at all.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Race Report: Zoo Run 10K

"You're here early," the race volunteer said to us as we piled out of a car more than two and a half hours before a few thousand other runners toed the line at the Zoo Run 10K.

"Really," we said, laughing, mostly at ourselves. We weren't laughing a week earlier.

Racing a 10K four weeks out from the marathon wasn't out of the ordinary. What coach wanted us to do with the run was another matter. The original plan was for us to do the 10K at marathon pace, with the last two Ks hard. Which sounded like a promising idea, targetting 4:20s or so.

But we had also entered the race for the 10K "club championships", sponsored by Black Toe, and I was one of the five guys on the men's team. Coach issued the new instructions a week before. We would RACE the 10K, but we'd have to warm up for 15K before the 8:15 am race start. Then warm down -- up to 30K on the day.

Which is why, at 6 a.m., my Black Toe teammates and I were in the dark, trying to find a route around the zoo. By the time we surveyed the parking lot, we thought it'd be better to do laps of the 1K parking lot, which lead a 1:20 15K, run at 5:03ish pace.

It was a light run, almost went by fast as we lapped the lot while the cars carrying 3500 runners started to arrive.

Selfie with teammates Sam and Cynthia, around 6:15 am.

Having almost an hour after the warmup to the race, we changed clothes, fuelled up and tried to calmly prepare for the race at hand. The pre-race warmup was a lot of fun, us seeing all the elites including Lanni Marchant, Rachel Hannah and Eric Gillis. Great star sightings for us running nerds.

We had a few teams entered into the
The Race: A technical one. Hilly. A lot of turns and, as this year's women's winner Rachel said, "the race is like cross country running on the road." I last ran this race back in 2007 and had to read that race report to remember anything about the race.

The Goal: Go out at 3:55 to 4s, and try to nail the sub 40 on tired legs.

First 5K
I ran out with Mike and Andrew, and we successfully fought the vacuum. I won't bother describing the course (the map below) but suffice it to say, it had, in the first kilometre, six turns, a decline, followed by a hairpin turn, then a long incline up the hill we descended. The course is a lot of fun for watching the elites as it turns on itself at multiple times.

We were working hard, and I was trying to do some pace management into the hills. The sub 4s were not technically hard, as we are able to nail multiple ones in weekly training sessions, but I could feel the course taking a bit of the momentum away.

We were blasting the course, though, feeling good, keeping pace with the strong runners as the field of recreational runners was pretty well stacked. In the first 5K, we were able to maintain pretty much on plan, if not a few seconds faster on some splits. Hit the first 5K in around 19:24, which on its own is a pretty sweet time.

Splits: 3:51, 3:54, 4:01, 3:51, 3:48

Second 5K
The course in the zoo is a winding, hilly and not the greatest for a guy who trains mostly in flat land. I was able to keep the pace but was feeling a little more winded than I'd like. I hit the 6th kilometre in 3:52, then the seventh in 3:58, both showing promise that I could nail a pretty fast race.

Not sure what it was, with two miles to go, I wasn't feeling like I had the drive, but I tried to keep up the pace, hitting the eighth in 4:04, a little slower. Usually late in races, especially marathons, I try to picture myself covering the distance left and use that mental technique to keep me calm. That it wasn't that long to go. But I kept on wishing for the end and it wasn't coming any sooner.

In short, somewhere in the final kilometre, I felt close to redline and for no particular reason, I slowed to a short walk break. Yes, a walk break. Weird, but my head wasn't in it today. I picked it up after counting to 10, and was able to keep it up but then hit another patch when I thought I didn't want to redline. This is something I NEVER ever do in training, in intervals or tempos, so it was a little out of character. In a lot of ways, I think my head really wasn't in it by the end, even if my body could have done it.

So that last kilometre ended up being a slow one -- one where the wheels came off and all those solid sub-4 min kilometres came back. I'm almost glad I didn't go sub-40 on this race -- I simply hadn't earned it.

I ended up with a 40:07, which on this course I will take as my true PB. My fastest 10K, and I haven't really 'raced one' since 2011, was 40:04, but on the downhill Sporting Life 10K. This time hammed my 2007 Zoo Run (which I ran in 41:20), so I will also take as a victory.

The things I do know is that on a fresher pair of legs, maybe one that hadn't run 15K the same morning, would have had a stronger last kilometre. I know that there is a 10K course out for me to show the fitness. I know that I'm on track for my marathon. And I know that every hard raced run that doesn't meet your expectations are just another carrot for the next time you go tackle that distance.

Splits: 3:52, 3:58, 4:04, 4:04, 4:28

Best part was seeing all the clubs coming out for the 10K club championships (results). Our men's team came in first and the Beaches Runners came top overall. The SPR Angels, with two of our coaches racing, won the women's race. Fantastic to see all the crews out. Running is strong in Toronto

With Andrew, Avery, Kyle and Maya, one of the Black Toe owners.

The BlackToe and SPR Angels.