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. 




Monday, September 08, 2014

The beauty of training

"I have to practice running more," a co-worker said to me the other day as I came back from a noon speedwork session.

"Training," I answered her. "You don't practice running, you train."

That word training, it's meaningful to me, even more so than "racing." With "training," I can somehow make a daily excuse to run. Training is how I can feasibly explain to a non-runner why I run 100 kilometres a week. Training is how I've managed to make a run streak that's now almost at 300 days feel almost normal. It's necessary, I say about my running without saying why it's necessary. I'm training.

Races are the shiny, glittery objects of our sport -- we all from time to time, with good reason, succumb to it. We fawn over them, covet them, collect their swag and obsess over them.  Over my bed hangs a few select medals I've collected over the years. The other medals -- taken after I've toed the line at marathons, countless 30Ks, halfs and 10Ks, are still stuffed haphazardly in a cardboard box with the Sharpie-scrawled "medals" that the movers hauled into my spare bedroom. It hasn't moved since I placed it on a shelf a year ago. While I keep my medals, I'm not a fan of the bling. I've never quite understood why these massive medals need to be created. I see people asking about medals before they will commit to running a race and I really don't get it, as if it's the swag that's the make-or-break reason why you haul ass for 26.2 miles. Truth is, the more medals I'll earn, the bigger a cardboard box I'll need.

Training though, I can't get enough of it. I love to train. Above all, training, and the process that it forces me into, turns running from chore to routine to just a thing that I do -- no need.

Jeff Adams is a Canadian Paralympian who gave a corporate motivational speech to my company offsite this past summer. Through his speech, he talked about "searching for excellence" in sports and how that relates to the business world. What I connected with the most was when he talked about goal races -- performing on the world's stage, when all cameras and eyes were on him -- he also related to us that he enjoyed the most about the process was the training.

Everyday I train, he told us, six years after he retired from a 20-year career. When you train, you're alone, nothing to drive you but yourself. When you train, you focus on all the parts that need to improve so you can perform at the top of your abilities. But however that goal day unfolds -- race day, Olympics medal day, your first marathon -- it's every day before and every day after that defines you.

While the often-euphoric feeling associated with race day magic is hard to be beat, it's the every other day that nurtures the runner in me. I thought it was a rare thought at first, but the more runners I'm meeting, I'm hearing similar themes.

Training gets me up at 5:30 a.m. to fit in a run before work. Training gets me to put on my running gear right after the work day is complete. It gets me to flush out the schedule, urges me out the door on an early Sunday morning, and training makes -20C runs seem not only doable, but logical. Running offseason is wonderful, but it lacks the structure that the type-A self needs. I liken it to doing a strength workout without a good idea of what your sets or routine look like.

Committing to training is even more important than following a schedule. Training I associate with the words "commitment," "dedication" and "passion" even as I think of the words "escape," "pain," "hard work" and "disconnecting." Training pushes me beyond my comfort level. It has made me a better runner but at the same time turned me into a runner who loves running as much for the hard work as it is to simply run. In training partners, I'm finding people who feel the same. I no longer feel like the lone guy who just loves to run -- there are many more of us.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The sound of quiet

I was on the road between Eugene and Portland. The phone was flashing an E, seeking data, those bits and bytes that connect us. Content to save the battery, I put the phone on airplane mode. I did the same again a day later as I entered a trail in Portland, emerging from the forest more than five hours later. Just me, my thoughts and my legs. 

The past few days I've been surrounded by quiet. From the moment I landed in Eugene, I barely had a conversation with anyone, save two waitresses, a hotel concierge and a taxi driver. The driver relayed to me how laid back it was there. Is it quiet on a Sunday, I asked. Yes. Good. 

I flew across the country to find the quiet. True, I came for the trails, the coffee and food, to see yet another city on my list of cities to see, but I got on two planes so I could find that thing we all seek, in bits here, a bite of it when we can chew out for ourselves, some time.   

Setting foot on Pre's Trail

Don't worry, I told my coworker when she heard I was going to Portland the other day, I'm not doing the Into The Wild, where I would grow out my hair, seek north with no destination in mind other than self discovery. She laughed, but now, three days later, I was sitting on an Amtrak bus, writing while peering ahead at the young man in the seat in front of me. He had three studded earrings on his left ear, one bearing a white and black peace sign, the ear he pressed against the window after trying for 30 minutes to make it through the introduction of Short Stories By Leo Tolstoy. I watched him underline sentences with a borrowed pen and felt sympathy. Outside, far more interesting, I watched the mountain ranges go by, a hitchhiker waving his arms as if he's flagging down a cab instead of asking for a free ride. And I was on a bus, not having checked work email in two days, social media for more than a few hours, feeling the urge to write as I watched the dust bowl of a farmfield, stirred up by a tractor in this unseasonably dry and warm summer. In my 2.5 hour ride up to Portland, I suppressed the urge to turn on the phone. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race report: A Midsummers Night 30k

A few seconds before the start of my 30K race, the rain fell, and the runners behind me sort of groaned. Minutes earlier, after greeting some of my running friends, I peered up at the clouds that were carrying a light spritzer, and watched as the puffs glided east, fast. Good news: there would be a tailwind. Bad news: a headwind too. 

Last week, coach sent us our Wednesday workout, saying it'd be a lighter one since so many of us were racing the 30k A Midsummers Run. Wednesday, I ran a marathon, instead of long slow miles, I ran at a non-threatening but taxing 4:49k pace. It was the equivalent of a 3:23 effort but with stops built in, but still, a 4:49. 

Texting with my training partner Mike earlier Saturday, we discussed possibilities. Would I use it as a marathon pace run, maybe start slightly slower then ramp up to my marathon pace of 4:26s (for a 3:07ish marathon), then hold and attack the last 5k. Then Mike told me his instructions: start at 4:20s then go faster. 

What?!

Then it made perfect sense. I thought about all of the paces we having been nailing in the last two training seasons. We started in January with intervals at 4:20, quickly lowering them to 4:10s then 4:05s. By the last few months, we've been doing 1-3k intervals at 3:45s to 3:50s. Our tempos were being done at 4:15 and faster. My half in early March was run in 4:14s and I ran the 30k Around the Bay later that month in 4:25s. So according to coach, it was go time. 

A year ago, I would have run this at marathon pace, even slower. A year ago, I would be scared to test my limits. This year, I've been learning that to test your limits, you have to push them. 

4:20?  It took me a split second to tell Mike "lets do it!" 

1-5k
We lined up near the front and started with no fanfare, perfect. The field quickly spread and we were just ahead of a loud talking pacer, the 2:15. Mike and I regulated the pace but for some reason, he was on our tails, telling his runners he would be doing even splits. We hit the first kilometer in 4:21. Perfect. He hit it in 4:23 and I put up my hand, with three fingers closed, and shouted "seven seconds!"  It was the last time I would hear the pace group as we kept our gears going and he peeled back. 


I'm well known to be a metronome during races, but hitting dead on pace right away was a special feeling. We had a mini out and back as we headed to Cherry street, where we got to feel the tailwind (it was strong) and headwind (also). I love the route for this Midsummers, as it's run on routes I normally tackle on solo long runs. I know the route well and that's always an advantage when racing. Our next few kilometers were a little varying, slowing to 4:26, then as a result speeding up to 4:15s. The cadence felt okay. My breathing was good, telling me I had some cardio room, and it felt on the easy edge of  comfortably hard, that special feeling when you're long distance pace running 

Splits: 4:21, 4:21, 4:26, 4:16, 4:15