Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Boston on 4.15.14

About a year ago, I put on my blues and yellows, and did something I don't often do: I went out for a Tuesday run with a bunch of strangers. We did a few laps around Queen's Park. I saw others who looked familiar on my waterfront paths, only we were standing still, marking a moment of silence in the brilliant later afternoon sun. I then saw a friend who had just flown back from Boston. We traded a big hug.

About three weeks later, a friend of mine came back from the States and -- on the usual intersection where we met for an after-work run -- he slipped a blue and yellow wristband into my hand. "A souvenir," he said. I'm not much for wristbands, but this one said "RUN NOW" and "BOSTON 4.15.13."

I haven't gone on a run without it ever since.

I've worked my entire career in the media. We love anniversaries. It's a news hook, easy to fill space and poignant enough usually to preplan in an environment that can always change. A year ago, before the bombs hit Boston, it was a usual Monday morning for my colleagues, but it was Patriot's Day for me. I was tracking a bunch of friends, tuning my computer-side TV to the sports channel to listen to the sounds of Hopkinton, that starting point for the 26.2 mile race.

Hours later, feeling sick, I went home and off to bed. I was woken up by a phone call from the office. Bombs had gone off, and my staff was covering the story. Shaking off the grogginess, I checked my email and found messages, from friends who had finished okay and were accounted for, and friends who thought I was at the race. Within an hour, I was interviewing Toronto runners, writing a news story, writing a blog post in shell shock about our Boston.

Our Boston.

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?

The second time I ran Boston, I stood at the back of Wave 1 and savoured the crowd. I shivered, not from that tail wind, but from the chills of knowing I was somewhere special. It was one of those lifetime moments. I didn't take it for granted, but tried to take slow motion snapshots in my mind's eye. If I never ran Boston again, I didn't want to remember nerves or looking at my watch. So I stood and soaked everything in.

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.

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. In the past week, I've been talking to friends who are going. I'm proud they are going to run the race hard, and they would have it no other way. Next Monday, I will be tuning in from Toronto, watching the race, tracking friends and reliving that route from Hopkinton to Boylston.

In the last year, 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. So day after day, through the past 12 months, I've put on my shoes, walked out the front door, and pointed my wrist at the sky. The watch has had plenty of company this year with my blue and yellow band a reminder.

Boston runners, we're proud you'll be there for us this year. May wind be at your back, the cannolis keep you full, the high fives just as hard as the thunderous cheers on that beautiful day that is My Most Favourite Day.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Race Report: Harry's Spring RunOff 2014

Most of you dreaded this winter. Not me. I had my own tormentor.

Because regarding winter, I had no excuses. When I committed to train for a strong May marathon, I knew I'd be putting myself in uncomfortable territory. While I am a year-long runner, I typically focus on fall marathons for peak performances. But that's not what I wanted out of this year. If I were to hit May, then I'd have to train hard during this winter. You all know well the story of this winter. Some 35 extreme weather days, windchills we've never seen in many years and snow -- lots of it that made our footing iffy.

Was it winter that struck fear into me? Not really. I feared Wednesdays.

I remember one Wednesday about 14 weeks ago, I had signed up for the BlackToe team and our first quality workout was 8x1000. We couldn't do the Ex because it was an icy mess, so we moved to the waterfront trail. It was dark, slippery and we started to hammer those tempo paces. Back then, we were trying for 4:20s.

The Spring RunOff was what kicked of my adult racing habit. Back in 2005, when it was sponsored by PowerBar, I ran my very first road race. I was hooked, on racing, on pushing myself and on this hard course. I've since run it most years (and a few times done what I call The Double) no matter what my fitness or what I'm training for. My PB was set in 2008 when I was training for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and using the Pfitzinger-Douglas training program. That mark, 33:57, has stood for so many years.

This year, we took winter on. We ran right into the -15C, hammering out intervals, tempo runs and MP Wednesdays. Our tempo sessions were universally dreaded. We'd get a cryptic line in our training program, something like "3km warm up. 4km, 3, 2,1, start @ T" and we shuddered. My pace group members would all show up nervously and we'd go out to 'work'. But teamwork prevailed, and we always ended up the day laughing, stronger, more confident. Then on Thursday, I'd go back out there, sometimes running 15K some 9 hours after doing a 17K tempo session.

The paces got faster. What was 4:20s would become 4:15s (It was our fault, coach would say, as we'd do the intervals too fast). By the time March became April, he had us going at 4:05s for tempo (one hour race pace.). On the way to my new half and 30K PBs, our paces continued to drop. We'd start tempo sessions doing 3:55s and realize we were going too fast. We hated Wednesdays, but Wednesdays made us better.

I asked the coach for a race plan, telling him my legs were still a little banged up from Around the Bay. I told him my PB was 4:15 pace and that it was soft. He advised me to be careful on the hills and hammer it home from 5-7.5K.

The day was windy, gusting up to 55-60K, and it was a chilly 1C before windchill. I arrived at the site an hour before race start and checked in my bag. I waited for a few minutes, then started a warmup jog, trying to hit around 5K at a recovery pace. That helped me warm up and I realized how beneficial it is to run before a short race. You're not going to hit a wall with 8K and I'd rather have my legs (and heart) ready to go).

I met up with teammate Mike and we lined up in the front corral. We made loose plans to run together, maybe go for 4:10s.

Mike and I. Photo: Alison Post

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Race report: Around the Bay 2014

What the hell, I said at the end of a work day, startling my colleague, as I opened the email from the coach. In it contained the Around the Bay game plan that Mike and I would negotiate over the next few days.

In short:

More specifically, he wanted us to go out at 4:25s, and think about going 4:20s, targetting a 2:10 30K. His aggressive plan was considered when I bumped into a neighbour of mine who's also on the Black Toe team. We traded war stories. Yes, coach was asking him to attack the course.

What the hell.

At least I could breathe, I told my coach as we finished our last quality session a day later, hammering 1500 metre intervals. We were given more aggressive paces, a 4:00 for 10K, 4:05 for tempo and 4:25 for marathon pace. I was hit by the cold delivered by the neverending winter more than two weeks ago, and while the cold didn't last long, the congestion lingered. Luckily, by last week, it was fading away. I ran through the cold, even did 35K long runs and speedwork. When I emerged, I felt like I was strong.

(Around the Bay 2014 results)

In truth, I'm at the strongest point I've ever been in. I'm lean, nailing faster paces and coming off the 1:29:17 half, I was poised for a strong 30K. But was I set for a PB performance?

The finish inside the Centre

By Saturday, I was consigned to worry about the weather, not the pace. The weather that looked so perfect (7C, light wind, sunny) had turned a little less conducive to fast times, (2C, 50-60 km gusts). I resorted to focusing on my gear and silently picked out my 3:10 marathon pace band, one that had a 30K of 2:15.

The team, other friends and the Daily Mile group converged on FirstOntario Centre. It was, like I had predicted, a huge family reunion, seeing a lot of friends as we waited for the race to start.

Gear: singlet, base layer, singlet
Meanwhile, the weather was turning in our favour. The sun was out, the winds not as strong as we'd thought. Earlier that morning, I had tested the air and went with a light singlet, a base layer with sleeves that could be rolled up, and the team singlet. I went with tights, a touque (figuring wind would not be great for a hat) and a windproof mitt. Out on the starting corral, it seemed I'd made a good call. The garbage bag I took out wasn't needed. I rolled up the sleeves, stood at the front of the Corral B with Mike with our Black Toe singlets.

The goal that Mike and I concocted was to go somewhere between the coach's plan (2:10) and our real goal of going under 2:15 gun time. We both had done six Around the Bays but had never gotten the silver medal. We knew we were going to pass the start line about 20 seconds in so our ultimate slowest time was 2:14. We agreed that we'd take the first 18K smartly, then see what happened. 4:25s seemed like a good call.

First 10K
There is not much to say about the first 10K other than it was nothing like the course I've run the past six times. If I were to give a course description last year, I'd tell you it was 18k flat, then the rest hilly. This first part featured turns, tight streets as we ran toward the park, then a series of rolling hills as we were running up highway overpasses. The hills were real and I believe we had three.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Around the Bay 30K new course route and strategy for 2014 (updated)

It's a month out until the old granddaddy of Ontario road races, the Around the Bay 30K. As usual, I'm coming out with an updated Around the Bay 30K 2014 strategy guide based on the new course. I'm going to look at bit at the first 10K that was changed this year.

The changes to the race route took place after a train delayed runners from crossing. I documented some pictures from those delays last year.

Update: Canadian Running has uploaded a virtual course video. Great job guys.

So here's a look at the new route, which has runners going up on Bay St toward the waterfront, then on to Burlington St. before it rejoins the old course around 11K in.

New Route

Here's the old route, which runners are familiar with

Last year's route

The Around the Bay folks did a little map that showcases two water stations in the first 10K

View Around the Bay Road Race in a larger map

A couple points I'll note, based on these Streetview maps:

The route is relatively flat at the start, even looks slightly downhill

View Around the Bay Road Race in a larger map

Waterfront running is nice

View Around the Bay Road Race in a larger map

Should be a few interesting turns around the park getting to Burlington St.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The streak

Am I running today? I get asked that question a lot these days as the horrible winter continues.

Runstreak day 104 was different than any other. The usual pre-run satellite locking, the quick walk in the cold winter air, the anticipation had all but vanished, replaced by a shivering self, a shell of a runner who was regretting the third or fourth layer at home that was probably necessary. Necessary because I was on hour 18 of a 24-hour cold.

On most days, the first feel strides of a run feel like freedom, the fleeting moments when my soles hit pavement on road and the shoes. No matter their age or state of repair, those shoes are bouncing.

This streak, I didn't set out to do this. I've been on running streaks before, where I would count, tally and track. By the time I pull the cord and take a rest day, I usually didn't feel like running.

Early morning solo speed work.
But No. 104 was a crossroads for me. Runners remember sick days very well, I think. We get sick and if it's a weekday, we first think, can I go to work, followed by, can I run? Usually I think, "if I can run, then of course I can work." Not 104. I definitely wasn't able to work. But run?

There are those who approach the run streaking with purpose, to the point that it doesn't seem very natural. Run streakers have run longer than a lot of you have been alive, the top ones with more than 44 years of continuous running. They have rules (1.61K continuous) and keep lists.

Streaking, no matter how shortlived, I have always done for different reasons.

I leaned on running in 2013, hard. For me, it was a necessary outlet to deal with stress, loneliness, fear, loss. In the process of losing myself, I found so much on the trails. I found hidden strength. I regained my running writing voice, and more tales to tell. I found that my passion for running had never subsided, but rather realized my maturing relationship with running.

Ten years ago, I embraced the sport for fitness and to produce a better outcome for my health. Seven years ago, I put  myself into heavy training so I could get to Boston. Five years ago, I ran for the act, but never with the same zeal for challenging myself to go faster, stronger.

A year ago, when I needed it most, running drew me out, tended to my mind, forcing me to think about how the heart, mind, body and muscles combine. My loss of my mother, the end of a long relationship, the Boston bombs, in different ways, they all shook me and somehow running was the constant and antidote to endless hours in front of a TV. It had calmed me, the act of running every day. It was the thing I had to do, evening or morning. It was always in my calendar, a constant, simply there. When I pulled the plug on my last run streak in March, 2013, at 72 days, I was satisfied, and when I look back, I see how it was The Big Building Block for my running comeback.

How did this streak start? The 103 days leading up to 104 were no fuss and the streak never really became a thing. I started it with the Runner's World US Thanksgiving to New Year's runstreak challenge, and just kept on going. In the meantime, I joined a running team and told my coach in December I run every day. I think he took that seriously because he has given me a schedule with no rest days.

So now I run every day because I'm told to. Easy.

Four 'easy' days a week, though.
I've made some tweaks since I'm quality training again. I've learned the true value of recovery. I run every day, I train hard, I book time for myself and I schedule around these runs. Does it work for everyone? I don't think so. Some like to say that the longer you run, the older you get, you can focus on quality and get more rest. I think there's another perspective, in that when you run recovery you can strengthen your legs instead of tiring them, repair damages rather than sedentary recovery. In this training cycle, I've been the strongest runner I've been. I've been focused. I've been training smart. I've been running well. The group running has helped this streak unlike the more lonely winter of 2013.