Saturday, November 19, 2011

Perpetual motion

Twenty five years ago, I stood at the side of the road, waiting. Now that I can appreciate the undulating hills of the major thoroughfare that cuts through my parents' neighbourhood, I can only now marvel at what it would have been like to roll through the hills of eastern Toronto.

All those years and miles later, while the memory of those like Terry Fox harden in the Canadian consciousness as our prove that winters and toughness define us, I reflected about the daunting challenge that national heroes faced. What happened when they faded from the crowds and faced a lonely road.

I've only travelled to Thunder Bay once. It was on the way back to Toronto on an cross-country trip I was taking in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. What pierces through my mind, among memories of listening to CBC radio and propelling as far away from the realities of war and news, was that the country was so vast, the landscape from the Rockies to the flat expanses of Alberta and Saskatchewan to the curvature of the roads leading from the northern Ontario back to civilization.

Thunder Bay, and all the roads carved out of the Canadian Shield, brought an awe of how many kilometres it was between major points on our map. Over air, a cross Canadian tour flashes beneath as you cruise by and glance down at the tiny farm plots or mountain ranges. Looking outside a front seat of a car, as you stare and endless scape, it all comes home about how far you have to go.

On foot, on a wheelchair, it must feel like infinity.

My Garmin that I activated in the fall of 2008 has racked up more than 5,000 of miles, more than enough for me to go from coast to coast. I marvel as I pull up the Total Activity that I chip away at distance day by day.

A few Saturdays ago, while I was adding 6.2 miles to the lifetime pedometer, I came across a caravan holding up traffic on a major shopping street. As I came across the scene, I was surprised to see none other than Rick Hansen on his 25th anniversary tour.



Seeing Rick transported me 25 years into the past, 13 miles away, and up the road from my parent's house. Back then, distance was logged in the five minute bicycle rides along the confines of my neighbourhood, or running was done in the school yard from the portable classroom's door to the track about 100 metres away.

Transfixed, I was back then, when Rick rolled by on Kingston Road, and we cheered. Now, I'm even more awestruck as I finally understand the miles he bore, the hills he rolled up, the endless man in motion who on this clear day 25 years later was taking his time, stopping to say hello.

I paused my Garmin, stood, and clapped as he rolled by, and looked on admiringly for a minute or two. If I had a chance to say hello, I'd tell him how I and others ran in his shadow, and how I grew up to be an endurance runner. And that as a runner I still could not understand what it would take to do what he did day in and day out. And that by no small part did he and Terry inspire me and all others as we go long distance.



As he rolled along, I ducked down a side street back home. As I finished the run and up the hill, there was a spring in my step. Perspective more than perspiration fuelled me.

I had just spotted a hero.

Roll on, Rick. Roll on.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Things to do while marathoning...

It's pretty hard to impress me these days about what one can do while running a marathon. (Let alone that 26.2 miles/42.2 kilometres is still very impressive.)

There's, of course, the woman who ran a marathon while very pregnant, those who juggle, carry flags, broadcast video or Tweet live.

Me, Tweeting live
Something that my buddy Lee sent me today, I would argue, kicks the ass of all of the above.

This past weekend, the New York Times' Christoph Niemann live illustrated the marathon. Not only did he draw/paint/document it, he then tweeted the pictures as he went along and came up with amazing art with the backdrop of a marathon. Truly creative.

With apologies to the artist -- show, not tell, right --  here are just two of dozens of pictures.

Love this one on the Ferry pre-marathon.

Christoph Niemann
Or this one at mile 23.8.

Christoph Niemann
Anyways, you have to see the whole series. Awesomeness.


Monday, November 07, 2011

Race report: Marine Corps Marathon 2011


I'm exhausted just thinking about prepping for the MCM. Still one of my favourites, but the three in a month was a bit much. The weather, almost perfect if not three or four degrees cooler than I'd like. Still, compared with a hot day, not going to complain at all.

I left R's place at 6 to catch the 6:20 train at a subway near by. Cutting it that close to the 8 a.m. start pretty much meant I was rushing my way through the walk to the bag check, portapotty and start line. Knowing the race layout, I knew to rush it and found myself with plenty of time to line up around the 3:40 - 3:50s. As usual, the Marine and Navy show was pretty awesome, especially when they did a low level flyover of some two  helicopter/plane hybrid.

My wrist band had a 3:45 but I knew I would just be running by feel. I had switched to tights the night before given the cold morning so that was one unknown (i've never run a marathon in tights).

We set off and I just tried to keep a very comfortable pace, taking care not to go out too fast. The heel that's been bothering me was in okay shape, but enough feedback to tell me it wasn't fully healed.

The MCM's first 5K aren't easy, as it has a lot of rises. I've gone out at 3:10 pace and those hills really don't help you when you're trying to manage energy expenditure. Just tried to keep warm and paid close attention to my breathing. I'll have to say that my cardio and legs were not too happy to be running with effort again. What do they say, for every mile you race you should take a rest day. Well, I had raced two marathons before this point.

1 8:27.2
2 8:37.4
3 8:28.4

5K: 25:39

Usual MCM, big crowds, decent paced groups, inspiring wheelchairs and lots of guys (and some gals) ducking into the sidelines to take a pee break.

We get a little break from the uphill with the gradual descent until we cross the bridge into Georgetown and I absolutely recall how crappy (not in the sick way) I felt at the 5 mile mark. It was cold, and I wasn't feeling the 'easy' early part of a marathon. I just told myself to keep it up and get ready for the next hill after Georgetown. It's a very long one.

4 8:13.5
5 8:16.4
6 8:14.1

10K: 52:24 (with a projected 3:41)

At the top of the hill, somewhere after the 7 mile mark, I'm glad to have the two major rises over with. The sun was bright and I was feeling nice and warm. Coasting down the hill back toward Georgetown, my heel was reminding me not to go out too fast.

7 8:21.5
8 8:05.4
9 8:06.0

I love the part back into Georgetown. You see the other runners behind you like the 5 hour group, and you appreciate how much pain you are in while feeling a little for the group that will spend more than an hour longer than you will. The crowds really help too.

15K 1:17:49


Finishing the turn to hook up with Rock Creek, past the Kennedy Center and the orange slice station, I was settling into that rhythm of running. In retrospect, I probably should have slowed down a wee bit to a more comfortable pace.

10 8:17.4
11 8:08.9
12 8:04.6

Into West Potomac Park, I spotted another runner who I passed with a Chicago Marathon hat. I thought about my little streak and had this distinct feeling of blahness. What do they say about racing a marathon? That the first 13 miles should feel almost easy. Did it? Nope. Was starting to feel that tiredness that I should have been feeling around mile 18, even as I was continuing to fuel with gels and take my water.

20K 1:43:15 (with a projected 3:37)

That split should have told me I was going out too fast. Oh well, keep going, I thought. My goal in my head was to make it back around the mall and well into the highway before I would even think about how tired I was.

13 8:08.8
Half: 1:48:50

So I pounded out the miles. Tried not to think about how long I had to go. Tried to keep up the pace, which for some reason, I was able to do. The Mall was fun. A few years ago, I had hit an early wall at mile 18 while still in the Mall. It was a month after a 3:10 marathon attempt where I again tried to go out at 3:10 pace. My body wasn't having any of it.


14 8:21.3
15 8:14.6

25K 2:09:07
16 8:11.5
17 8:16.0
18 8:16.3

30K 2:35:00 (with a projected 3:38)

Smashed through that point and into the highway and bridge. It was getting a little warmer by now. There have been years when i've gone out slower that I've actually sped up in these miles. If you see my splits after mile 20, you'll see this wasn't one of those years.

19 8:19.8
20 8:34.7
21 8:29.0

35K 3:02:20

Hitting the 3 hour mark, I was mentally done, so I resigned myself, or even treated myself, to walk breaks. Walk breaks, of course, are my pace killers. You give yourself one, it's addictive.


22 9:10.5
23 9:34.0
24 10:13.8

And by the time I hit the Crystal City out-and-back, I was in full out exhausted mode. It was cold, I was tired, and my left calf was starting to cramp. I had no way to actually speed up so I just took whatever pace I could manage.

40K 3:33:59 (with a projected 3:45)

And this the sub-11 minute miles. The marathon reminds you that it demands respect, both in how you train for it and you race it and how you recover from one (or two). Thanks 26.2.

The final stretch my goal was to come in under 4 hours. I knew I had that, but at some point I wondered if I'd come under 3:50. My slowest marathon was NYC last year, the last of another month long streak of three marathons. I remember that one as a little more joyful. This one, I knew R was there and soon after that, the freaking hill.

25 10:28.0

So as I was jogging along and taking many stretch breaks so my calf wouldn't fully seize, I finally saw R and went over to her for a kiss. Then I ran on for bits, followed by walk breaks to calm the calf. It was a little ridiculous as other runners were streaming around me, so I started to run again the final turns, and up the stupid little hill where I could literally feel like I was moving in slow motion. I find it hard to jog slower than a certain speed, but this hill and my legs simulated the feeling of running with leaden legs, like those dream sequences when you're running away but can't move.

But with a real life marathon, the beauty is the finish line. I wasn't any happier to see this one.

26 10:43.9
The rest: 4:46.8

Final time: 3:49:02