Saturday, May 24, 2014

Race report: Sulphur Springs Trail Run 25K

About 200 metres into yet another race, a noise drowned out all others, and I knew I'd be in for a transformational experience. Up until the 7:30 a.m. starting time of today's 25K, it was really not that different from the 97 previous times I'd been at road races -- at 5Ks, half marathons and 27 marathons. All of them were done on roads -- at major cities with thousands of others, or in a city park with a few hundred.

But none of those were like the 98th. None of them were like today. And I'm left thinking why it took so long.

Today, I had abandoned my Asics road shoes for New Balance trails. Today, I had no idea what a good pace would look like, much like the first race 97 start lines ago. Today, under the canopy of trees on a much-delayed Spring, I could hear the difference -- the thud of our trail shoes on pine needles and later sucking mud, and then then sound of birds.

New shoes now broken in.

The sound of birds chirping overtook the footfalls of a few hundred runners. As I was letting gravity help plunge me deeper into the trails before I'd have to climb the coming hills, I knew I was already falling in love.

This won't read like any traditional race report. I really don't know how to write it for trails, maybe one day I will. I will refer you to Russell's excellent course preview of the Sulphur Springs race.

The race is made up of varied distances, a 10K, 25K, 50K, 50 miler, 100 miler and a 100 mile relay. So from the 10K (done the fastest in 34 blistering minutes) to the 100 miler, which will take some as much as 30 hours, there are hundreds of runners doing this course in Ancaster, Ontario, just outside of Hamilton. (Results for 10K, 25K, 50K, 50 Mile, 100 Mile Relay)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

With files from...

When many of us race, we may find ourselves drafting other runners. Single file, you may plunge into the course, finding comfort in the group and respite from the elements ahead.

On many a training day this past season, the winter throwing layering penetrating, bone chilling gusts, I took solace in facing the vortex with others. On one occasion, there was a stretch of road, not more than 2 kilometres long, where the wind was fierce, and it was no small task to stride into it.

So we took turns running into the wind. Single file, two of us took on the wind, while others took shelter. The pace never slowed. We were faster.

I've been advising a co-worker who just finished his first marathon. Through the course of the conversation, we both keyed in on what he found he loved about the training -- he finally got the alone time, the quiet us long distance runners find when we are in our own heads, only the road ahead of us and minutes -- no hours -- to wallow in, to zone out, to think, to analyze, to experience raw emotion and tune into your body, or to simply focus on the run.

I know the benefits of alone time -- it's what took me through 26 marathons, some 22,000 kilometres over 10 years. I even trained to my previous peak while doing it solo. For that, I will always look back at it -- and the accomplishments topped with a Boston qualifier -- with an equal amount of pride and wonder.

If solo running helps you discover more of your self, what does the other side look like? What can you find in a group?

I took on a coach for the first time this year. I've written about him -- Rejean Chiasson. I took on team running for the first time this year. I've written about the group -- BlackToe. I've written about running with team members, about hard Wednesday workouts, about progressively longer Sunday runs, about Friday speedwork. In my races leading up to my goal marathon, I paced with teammates and I found the power of the group.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Race report: Toronto Goodlife Marathon 2014

I had to rip those arm warmers off. A kilometre earlier, they were shielding my limbs that are apt to get cold in the gusting wind, but now I was running into the sunshine, a honest tailwind behind me, they were getting on my nerves, big time. You don't want any negative thoughts this late in a race.

A few clumsy motions later, they were off, but not without a casualty.

I had dropped the wristband. 

How could I leave it behind, after it carried me for so far?

So I stopped dead in my tracks, 36K behind me, less than an hour away from The Goal. I turned, risking sudden cramps. I wasn't going to lose it, it meant too much to me.


Most marathon experts advise even paced marathons -- run the first half pretty much the same time as the second. By doing so, you do not risk getting up to your lactate threshold levels until late (or never). The race will get harder as the miles pile on -- they always do, but if you try to bank too much, you are likely to blow up. I know this feeling, having had marathons where marathon pace was going great, and a kilometre later, you were going 30 seconds slower per kilometre. Then you took a few walk breaks. Then it was over.

My last two marathons, I ran two negative splits, where you actually run the second half faster. In Chicago, where I hit a 3:18, I ran the second half 9 seconds faster than the first. In New York, which I ran three weeks later, I ran the last 21.1K about 30 seconds off the first.

But this weekend called for anything but a negative split. The first half features a net huge downhill that even I'd advise runners bank a minute or more.

And then there was that wind.


The Toronto Marathon is where I PBed and qualified for Boston back in 2009. It's a net downhill course in the first half but it doesn't always necessarily make it fast. But it is a fast course and if you run it right, it can pay huge dividends. I put Toronto on my race calendar when I signed up with BlackToe Running in December. I told the coach that I wanted to get back to Boston. When he asked what time that was, I told him 3:10. In reality, I needed a 3:15, but Boston had a cutoff last year of around 1:28, which meant you needed a 3:13:30 to get in.

Buffer, I told him. I wanted a buffer and 3:10 would get me that.

I've written about the crazy training in this extreme winter. I had, up to marathon day, also been on a 157-day running streak, had hit 200 miles or more per month for four months, and had set new personal bests in the 8K, half marathon and 30K. In my mind, being three for three in races was a massive deal, but there was really only one race that mattered -- the marathon distance.

Through the winter, my group got faster, that by the time were were talking marathon pace, the coach was starting to assign us 4:25 kilometres, or 3:07, or three minutes faster than that 3:10.

Dare to dream, right?

Friday, May 02, 2014

42 tips for the first-time marathoners

This weekend, I'm running my 27th marathon, my 97th road race. WHAT THE HECK?!

No. 27 and my sixth Goodlife full.

Today, I talked a runner through his first marathon, and realized there's a lot of pro tips I wish I knew... So, no fancy narrative, no GIFs, just this random list of thoughts. Here we go

  1. Friday night sleep is best for a Sunday marathon. You won't sleep that well the night before
  2. If you have a fuelling plan, mark it on your pace band. So you won't forget
  3. Yes, you can get a pace band that shows you your splits, that way you can track to see if you're hitting milestones (ie 5K) faster or slower than your goal
  4. Us old timers use running pace calculators like the one here
  5. Guys, cover your nipples. Trust me, 3-5 hours of chafing can HURT. Bandaids will suffice
  6. If you're wondering how many gels to take during a marathon, then go for anywhere from 3 - 6. But make sure you're fuelling early
  7. Yes there are portapotties on the course. And yes, if you're a guy, you can improvise on the course. Just make sure you stop
  8. If you're wearing a new pair of shoes on marathon day, then abort that plan. 
  9. Pin your bib to your race shirt the night before. I can't tell you how many times I see people, shivering, trying at the race start
  10. By the way, shivering at the start isn't a bad idea. You're dressing to run, not to stand outside
  11. Garbage bags with holes poked out for your head and arms are appropriate wind/rain gear
  12. Perfectly acceptable to wear warmup clothes to toss away
  13. Not acceptable to toss them at another runner - bundle it into a ball before throwing 
  14. Point at volunteers who are handing out water. That way, they know you're about to take the cup. Squeeze the cup to create a spout, then tip your head as you take sips
  15. Thank the volunteers
  16. Take those gels, if you can, right before you hit a water station, so you can wash them down
  17. It's fine to draft after runners to pace, but if you do so, also take the lead at times
  18. NOT fine to run on one's heels, give them space - and don't be all random about moving side to side
  19. If you're about to take a walk break, don't come to an abrupt stop - at the very least, pull to the side and put up your hand
  20. Smile and/or wave at any camera pointed in your direction
  21. Marathon plan 1: First half should feel easy, next 10K should feel like you're working and the rest tests your training
  22. Follow a pace bunny at your peril. Know your splits and know when to back the pace down. Remember, they are always faster runners who may not know your pace
  23. Double knot your laces.
  24. Hydrate well two days and the day before the race. Make sure you are getting electrolytes. 
  25. If you fall victim to cramps, salt intake isn't a bad thing. Think soups, pretzels. Just straight water may not be a good idea
  26. Also, fibre the day before isn't the greatest idea. Think of your GI issues
  27. Eat your breakfast 3-4 hours before the race. It can be as much as a bagel with peanut butter and a banana for an hour before. Some do oatmeal or cereal. Do what works but get the calories in.
  28. You will probably need to pee on race morning. A lot. This is normal. Nerves
  29. Charge your Garmin/GPS watch the day before. In fact, keep the darned thing plugged in overnight
  30. Have a goal time. Seriously. 
  31. If you don't have one, maybe use a race predictor, put in another race time.
  32. Yes you can listen to music during your race. I'm not a fan, but I get it. Just KEEP THE VOLUME DOWN when you're running
  33. Get to the race an hour before the start time.
  34. If you don't have to pee, and you're at a race early, go line up at a portapotty. Trust me, by the time you get to the front, you'll have to go
  35. BodyGlide. In any place you think you'll need it.
  36. Do not wear the race shirt during the race. If you have to ask, then... just don't ask. Don't wear it.
  37. Do not answer your phone while running the marathon. Even if you really wanted to say to the person on the other line that "I'm running a marathon." Everyone around you will want to punch you
  38. Race étiquette: look before you spit, or throw away the cup, or decide to weave. Just don't be annoying 
  39. Marathon plan 2: Run with your head, then your heart, and within your own ability
  40. If you are delirious, still NEVER forget to take that gel, Gatorade in the late miles.
  41. Bonking happens, walking happens, accept that you are running a long time
  42. And if this is your first, you will now remember that you have to always point out to everyone that it's not JUST 42K, it's... 42 POINT 2 Kilometres... Now you can call yourself a marathoner