Sunday, May 31, 2009

Windy long run and the rabbit

If I were following the marathon recovery program, I'd be doing 9 miles today. Nope, I'm trying to boost my fitness to get ready for the 70 mile program. Today was freaking windy, with gusts between 50km/h and 60km/h. Decided to forgo the singlet for my Adidas Scotiabank waterfront shirt, which is pretty good for cool temps because it's slightly thicker than other running shirts.

Wanted to run to the Beaches because I enjoy the solitary nature of the trail between my condo and the beach. Not many long-distance runners use it compared with western Martin Goodman Trail. Good, I guess, was that the wind was at my back for the first half. I settled into a moderate pace, about 5:00 to 5:10 kilometres for the first five kilometres, letting the wind push me out.

I'm trying to eat my way into my surplus of fuel -- Clif Shot Bloks and GUs -- so I brought my fuel belt with water and chewed on the Bloks. A nice refreshing change to sometimes too sweet Gatorade I take.

By the 8th kilometre, right on cue, I was feeling really good, my mind and body settling in for long run. It's at this point that I turned my hat around so I could get a view of the big blue sky and also be a little more aerodynamic. Hit the 10K mark in 50:16, just a bit faster than 5 minute kilometres.

One thing that annoyed me was that three of four water fountains at the Beaches were defective. Note to city staff: Please fix.

The entire last half was run right into the headwind. Very annoying but I was a little surprised to see strong set of 4:42s. So like a few days ago, I just kept on battling the winds and it felt great.

Ahead of me, a runner was pulling off strong 4:45s to 5 and looked great, but I was gaining ground on her. It took me a good two kilometres to catch up to her and it gave me good impetus to keep my pace high. As I pulled alongside her with 4K to go, I decided to just go with a great feeling of acceleration and then turned the gear a little higher.

Last five kilometres: 4:35, 4:26, 4:28, 4:31, 4:27. Yikes, right into the wind.

Feeling good, I've done 35 miles for the week and 147 miles for the month.

Year to date mileage: 762 miles

Saturday, May 30, 2009

A break from the training life

This morning, coming back to my place from a night out with friends, I was about to down a glass of water to rehydrate after a night of beer, I saw something only the runner in me sees. The sky was lighting up, dawn was on the cusp. It was the second day in a row that I've been out late enjoying the pre-marathon days, and I was savouring it.

I was sitting at my desk at work the other day while talking to another runner who bought my Forerunner 305 from me and I ended up telling him that the longest break i've taken from running in the past 5 years was probably three days.

Okay, I'm actually wrong. I took four days in a row off twice this past March when I got sick twice. I took a week off running in 2006 when I was in France when I got food poisoning -- ended up fitting in a few runs in Nice. And took an extended break when my girlfriend moved to DC and I was helping her with that, along with working on covering a federal election.

So the point, I guess, is that when I look back at the last four years of my training log, I see a lot more days with running than those without.

Here's 2008, a year in which I ran three marathons (one in May, one in September, one in October).

I have another two weeks of base buildup mileage before I get into heavy training. It's going to be fun to do the 18 week program, but there are many things I won't be able to do. Like staying up drinking with friends for seven hours or having a few extra pints. Sure, I do understand balance, balance that will turn five pints into two, and seven hours into four. For the next while, though, I can put running on a slight backburner.

Of course, that makes for a 6 miler a night after going out all the more painful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Running into the wind

Howling wind today made my run a little more fun than usual. I started out at a strong pace, maybe my legs were feeling strong after a few recovery runs. The first four was with the wind at my back, about 7:47 miles to 7:55ish for the first half of the 5 miler

Then turned around, and right into a crazy headwind. Decided to throw caution to it, and started angrily running right into it. Last two kilometres were nice and strong, the last at tempo-ish pace.


On another note, i'm very happy to see Garmin has opened up its Garmin Connect, allowing more Forerunners to connect to it. It also has a very cool RSS feed that I've stuck into my sidebar.

5 miles in 38 minutes (run details)

Monday, May 25, 2009

My New York decision and the road back to marathon training

Okay, even though I saw the $275 Canadian charge on my credit card bill today from the New York City Marathon, I'm going to bite the bullet on that cost and do the NYC Marathon in 2010, deferring this year's entry. One day, I won't be surprised if I do three marathons in three weeks, but I don't want NYC -- possibly a do-it-once race -- run on tired legs. So i'll do Toronto, Marine Corps then go into my rest phase. Be interesting how I'll treat NYC in 2010. A victory lap or a full out attempt to race. Who knows.

Feel like I'm getting back into base mileage mode a lot faster, two weeks out from the marathon. I knew that when I turned my Saturday 'long' run of 8 miles, prescribed by my marathon post-race cycle, into 13 miles. Ran it in 1:41:15 or 7:43 per mile pace. I ran it with a heart rate monitor and kept my bpm around 150 mark for the first 15 or so kilometres.

Last week's mileage topped out at 31 miles, the week before was 24 miles.

Here's the plan this week:

Monday: 5 miles
Tuesday: 5 miles
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Rest or 3 miles
Friday: 8 miles
Saturday: 5 miles
Sunday: 13 miles

That will bring me up to 36 to 40 miles for the week.

Year to date mileage: 727 miles (1170K)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The routine to introduce myself back to morning running

I've been sticking to after-work running on weekdays all winter and so far this spring but now I'm trying to get used to the pain associated with my ringing alarm bell at 5 a.m. or earlier. Ugh, I hate hate hate the first part of early morning running because my early mornings are very early.

Last few years, I'd embark on 10 to 12 milers at 5 a.m., which means a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call to deal with waking up properly and hitting the washroom. (Sorry, must be a more delicate way of saying that)

The bonus of the morning workout is that after the first mile or so, you start to enjoy it and as a plus, if the sun happens to be rising at the same time, you're treated to a gorgeous view. I also love to have the run over with so I have my evenings free and finally, the most important, the mornings are cooler than evenings, key for summer training.

Here's a few things I've learned about morning running

-Lay out clothes: I always prep my shorts, top, socks so there's no fumbling

-Charge the Garmin, iPod: If you have a GPS, nothing more annoying than standing around at 4:45 a.m. hoping to charge it up a few percentage points. Also good idea to check the iPod too

-Eat earlier dinner the night before: I find my digestive system works better if I can get through issues when I wake up. The biggest annoyance is teaching your body that it's time to get moving early

-Get fuel ready the night before: I fill my bottles and stick them in the fridge so they're nice and frosty

-Figure out hte game plan: Remember what your mileage was... 8 miles with striders or a 7 mile tempo. You'll have to psyche yourself up.

-Warm up! You muscles are not warmed so start off the run slowly.. key especially if you're doing any thing close to speed work

-Stay close to home the first mile: I'm telling you, sometimes after the first kilometere, i'll feel like I'll have to go to the bathroom, so sometimes I start my run with a quick 500 metres out one way and turn around so by the 1K mark, I'm near home...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Will I make it there in 2009 or 2010? A New York decision

I applied this year for the second year in a row for the New York City Marathon. I thought it was fairly certain that I wouldn't get a spot in the lottery, thinking that the international entrants were severely limited. So confident was I in this assumption that I thought I'd also strike out next year. The marathon has a rule that if you get rejected three years in a row, you're in the fourth time. So 2011 it is...

Wrong. Fran told me to check this morning and -- I got in on my second try.

Now, the problem: I've signed up for the Toronto Marathon on October 18, which is a must-do because it will be my BQ attempt. I'm running the Marine Corps Marathon a week later as a fun run. And so with New York Marathon a week later, I don't think it'd be a good idea to do all three.

I thought about it, and decide that I want to do New York slower than usual, but I'd like to be fresh to enjoy it. So should I defer till 2010? Luckily, they allow you to do that if you get in, though you have to pay the signup fee twice.

May 19, 2009
New York Road Runners
ING New York City Marathon

Countdown to the start November 1, 2009:
165 Days
Dear Kenny Yum,
Entry Number:
Congratulations! You have been accepted to run the ING New York City Marathon 2009 on Sunday, November 1. On behalf of New York Road Runners, I welcome you to the 40th running of the world's greatest marathon. One of the things that makes this race so special is runners like you from around the world, and we're hard at work preparing to give you the experience of a lifetime.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Race report: Capitol Hill Classic 10K

Second year I've done this race and I've yet to run it at true race pace. Last year, I ran the Capitol Hill Classic 10K two weeks after running the Flying Pig Marathon. This year, 7 days after Mississauga. Yeah, i'm still recovering but I love an excuse to line up.

This race reminds me of the Nightcrawler 5 miler I run back in Toronto, a smallish local race that draws out all comers. I love it. As far as 10Ks go, I'm still very encouraged with the 40:04 I clocked in two weeks ago so today would be the completion of 3 races in 3 weeks. So I seeded myself near the back in an effort to avoid going out too fast. Didn't hear the start and 1:13 later, we crossed the starting line.

So I realized that while it was a good idea to pace slower, I got a little frustrated by the slow pace, so like a few runners we started off to the side to make some time.
1K: 4:32
2K: 4:20

Missed the first water stop and we started to make the round of RFK stadium, which has a decline followed by an incline. Like last year, I started to maintain a faster pace and I made a few moves early on to make some space. By the 2 mile mark (3K in) we had an incline and I just started to up the pace for the next kilometre. Later on, we hit a water stop which I was happy to see and I took a cup -- I'm getting better and better at drinking while at full speed. While others slow down, I maintain speed and step it up to 4:30s. (An aside: It's hilarious that this was my marathon pace last summer, I've got some work to do before 4:30s feel easy again.) After the 5K mark, I saw that I was around 22:30 so I decided to pick it up for the final half.
3K: 4:18
4K: 4:34
5K: 4:33

We had quite a few corners and around the 6K mark, we saw the leaders coming in. The race marshals were having them turn into us so it was a little confusing. One runner complained about it and for a second I thought we were off pace, but then we hit the 4 mile mark and I saw my Garmin was dead on. We were then plunging into the big downhill (you can see the 4:11 and 4:06 Ks)
6K: 4:17
7K: 4:11
8K: 4:06

Through this period, I had passed quite a few runners but we were taking the hill. I focused on the runners on the other side taking the downhill and just imagined I was doing the same. Neat trick, it worked. I took it pretty strong, pacing off this guy who took off on us. Pretty good kilometre up the hill.
9K: 4:22

Which lead to the last kilometre and extra 200 metres the Garmin added on. When the course flattened I stepped it up, passing a few other runners. The last 300 metres, I poured it on and heard my name and country (Canada!) being mentioned.
10K: 4:09
Garmin excess: 39 seconds

Felt winded but still strong till the end. Even with my recovery phase, I know I could have run the first 5K a minute faster, maybe even more. But throughout the race, I kept on reminding myself that exactly a week ago, I was running a marathon. That kept me humble.

After the race, I walked down the big hill and was even more humbled by the last remaining runners running up the hill. Then I saw an old man limping down the hill, followed by a couple, trailed by a police car and ambulance. It's amazing seeing the determination, put my own running goals and aspirations in check.

Chip time: 44:00
Gender: 140/1091
Group: 44/228
Overall: 188/2233

My summer of fun --18 weeks of major running ahead

Nice to have a holiday (Happy Victoria Day!) to spend a bit of time mapping out my running summer. I find it useful to use Google Calendar to do so because it sends me daily alerts, a gentle reminder of how I should plan out my week.

This program, starting on June 15, will see me tune myself up for another BQ attempt this fall. Beyond that, I just plan to get myself back into shape. It won't be easy, it's the 70 mile Pfitzinger-Douglas program, which I did last year. I may make some adjustments to recovery days to make sure I get good stretching and other key work so I don't spend the entire summer running and not working on other components that should boost my running.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Capitol Hill Classic 10K results

I had a hard time finding the results so I thought I'd post a link to them here.

Value in rest

Ran my third race in three weeks, the Capitol Hill Classic 10K, this morning. I'll write up a race report later but now with that over with, I'm going to return to base mileage building running. I have to say, running a race a week after a marathon is a little dangerous so I kept the pace down and didn't let myself get out of hand. Now the recovery begins. In other words, for the rest of May, I'm going to run -- long, short, medium -- but take it easy.

I think it's important to rest up between my programs and some slower mileage can't hurt. It's true that the marathon does do some damage to your muscles and I want to be in top form as I enter mid-June.

So I'm going to follow the recovery mesocycle outlined in the Pftizinger-Douglas program. For the next week, it calls for:

Monday: Rest (although I may to a 5 miler and take Tuesday off)
Tuesday: 5 miles recovery
Wednesday: 5 miles recovery
Thursday: Rest
Friday: 6 miles recovery
Saturday: rest
Sunday: 8 miles  GA

Looking over the program, it'll get me at 24 miles next week, then a progession like this over the next three weeks: 31 miles, 36 miles, 41 miles. No run is longer than 13 miles and I'll be ramping up to 6 days a week. I think I may ramp up the final week to 45 miles as I start up the 18 week program the week after than (the first week calls for 54 miles).

Gonna savour the next few weeks, it's going to get interesting again.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

10 things I've learned about 'advanced' marathon training

I was posting on Twitter the other day about how I'm going to be ramping up to 70 miles a week to which runnrgrl asked why I was running so much. I thought it's probably a good idea to talk about what has become my marathoning bible.

Simply put, there's a heck of a lot of science and research behind what it takes to run a good marathon. Sure, there's experience and tapering, but there's also the reasoning why if you take a well thought out approach to training, you can build up to the race day with many things in mind.

When I was training for my first marathon in 2006, I stuck to the famous Hal Higdon program. I religiously stuck to the program and did all the mileage. After race day, when I hit the wall big time, I knew I had to step it up if I wanted to go beyond finishing a marathon to targetting more aggressive times.

In 2006, a lot of other running bloggers were talking about this 'Pftiz' or Pfitzinger training program. It seemed so daunting, from relatively high mileage to all this talk about a specific set of training routines. So the day after my marathon, I walked into a bookstore in Chicago, and sought it out, and that's when I bought the first edition of Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas's Advanced Marathoning (See parts of it in Google). The title itself suggests it's more than just a marathoning book, which you'll find in droves in book stores. I think his preface says it all:

"What do we mean by advanced marathoning? Simply this: that many runners aren't content with saying, "I finished," They want to run the marathon as they do short races -- as fast as possible. That doesn't mean they're going to drop everything in their lives and do nothing but train, but it does mean they're committed to doing their best...

They go on..

"Competing in the marathon, as opposed to completing the distance without regard for time, requires thorough, intelligent preparation.... Advanced marathoning has to be based on more than common sense and running folklore. Advanced Marathoning, therefore, is based on sports science."

From using the program mostly for the last five marathons, I can boil it down to this in 10 things I've learned about advanced marathoning:

1. There is reason behind the excellence in marathon running: The funny thing about the book is it the actual training schedules fall at around page 137, which means you get 136 pages of science about why you should train differently about training for marathons. It teaches you about each type of training run and how it boosts a component of your racing. It talks about nutrition and hydration, about race preparation. My favourite section is the elements of training, from page 3 to 31, which are the most enlightening passage that explains how you can train yourself to be a better faster long distance runner. You'll finally understand what mitrochondria, glycogen, LT and V02, along with slow-twitch, fast-twitch mean to your marathon training.

2. Long distance matters, how you run them matters as well: I learned from this book that a 20 miler was importantly not only because it was long distance, but how you use it to train your body to use the energy stored and what pace you should intelligently use during these runs.

3. Tempos are important: I always thought that tempo runs and lactate thresholds has nothing in common, but I learned that they are the same, and that both types of runs are key in helping you maintain a strong pace. You build your LT, you build your ability to run faster for longer periods. Who knew that these training runs at half marathon pace (between 4 to 7 miles) were some of the more painful training tools, but some of the most effective.

4. Recovery is a key training method: I'm still learning this, but rest is when your body repairs itself to become stronger. Pfitzinger-Douglas plant plenty of recovery runs that MUST be run at the right slow pace.

5. Pace runs are key: Sure, it's fine to target a 4:30K marathon pace but until you're forced to do a 13 miler at pace do you realize that it's much tougher to do by yourself. These runs are key simulators for race day.

6. Races, in context of training, are vital: When I run races during my training, they have a real purpose. Some coincide with a scheduled LT run, so I run them at the appropriate pace (ie, a 10 miler slower than I'd usually race it), or a pace run (ie a 30K run in the middle of summer, all of it at marathon pace). Closer to race day, we're encouraged to go all-out, they give you previews of where your fitness was. During my heavy training I've set so many PRs at different distances, from 5K to 30K.

7. Striders, striders, striders: I used to see a 5 miler in my program and just run 5 miles. When I learned to throw in striders, it improved my running form and that technique became key in emptying your tank when you're tired at the end of a race. Pfitzinger-Douglas sprinkle them in all the time.

8. Trackwork should actually be work, not show-off sessions: The last 6 weeks or so of the program gives you lots of V02 work and you're encouraged to run them at a specific pace. Lots of people go out to the track to run as fast as you can but Advanced Marathoning (and other books I've read) tells you to find exactly the pace because that's what will build your oxygen intake... and ultimately let you run faster.

9. Mileage is key to endurance: For my first marathon, it was only the weekend runs that would be high mileage. When I did the 70 mile a week program last year, my peak week looked like this:

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 10 miles (6 a.m., 4 p.m.)
Wednesday: 15 miles
Thursday: 6 miles recovery
Friday: 12 miles w 7 miles at LT pace
Saturday: 5 miles recovery
Sunday: 22 miles

Wow, I can't believe I pulled those weeks off. Other than the 22 miler, I had three runs of 10 miles or more. These 'medium long runs' are meant to to "reinforce the physiological benefits of your long runs". Simply put, running these long mileage make you a stronger long distance runner, no question.

10. An 18 week training program, well, is really 15 weeks: Cause you taper in the last three, thank god.

Last year, the 70 mile program brought me on the cusp of a 3:10 marathon. I didn't achieve that, but I did achieve faster 5K, 10 miler, 10K, 30K times. That block of training, I believe, made me a stronger runner. Lets put it this way, I ran 300 miles in one month last August. It's a lot of time on the ground, let me tell you...

I know there are plenty of faults... It's too much running, this 70 miler, not enough LT or pace work. I know the new book has some tweaks, like more quality work (LT, for example) and I'm going to give it a go.

This training cycle, I'm going to lean on the 70 mile program. I may be a bit more smart and use the Thursday recovery day to do other types of workouts, like maybe an extended stretching session or weights or just rest.

Bonus item I've learned. It's very possible to calculator your potential marathon time based on the V02 calculators. McMillan race calculator has been deadly accurate for me. So if you've already run a marathon, type in your fastest half marathon or 10K run and there you have the possibilities, possibilities left to be tapped by 18 weeks of training...

My minute of fame!

A nice surprise to see that Steve Runner of Phedippidations decided to mention my blog as the "featured blog of the week" at his podcast. A fantastic honour, I've listened to Steve's podcast for years and only recently I had a few mini conversations with him on Twitter (see Why runners should tweet).

Nine hundred or so posts ago, I don't think that one would describe this training diary as a "great blog with outstanding race reports" as Steve did, but hey, I'll take the praise! The podcast is here and although you WILL listen to the whole thing, he mentions this blog around the 52 minute mark.

See/hear the podcast here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rearming in the off season

I have another five weeks or so until my marathon training starts again. It doesn't mean that I'm stopping running, not by a long shot. In fact, I have to ramp up to 50 miles by mid-June, which means recovery (25 to 30 miles a week) until the end of the month but I should be doing 40 mile week by the first week of June.

That said, I do have a lighter load running wise. Bought a new pair of shoes today, and for the first time in four years, I'm moving to another line. I've been using the Asics GT 2100 series (using the 2300s this past year). It's a stability shoe that can be used by people with normal arches. (See reviews here)

I've promised myself that I'd try a different type of shoe between seasons and I've decided to move to a more 'neutral' shoe, the Asics Nimbus 10 (see reviews). It's about an ounce heavier than the GT2130s, but I'm very interested to see how my running adjusts to this new shoe. I'm not on the heaviest side, weighing between 140 and 150 lbs depending on training load, so I want to see how I'll adjust to this. Maybe my running has reached a peak when it comes to what I'm using and it's good to experiment. I'll start running with them next week and I'm sure by early June I'll know how they'll work out.

Also bought two sports headphones. This summer's going to have some major miles as I eye the 70 mile a week peak program by Pfitzinger Douglas. Going to need some tunes and podcasts to keep me company on those weekday 12 milers (sigh) and weekend long runs.

I bought a pair from the Apple store only two months ago and it's already broken. I'm stocking up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don't mess with runners

So I was running another recovery 5 miler today in DC, making a loop around the Mall. It was late afternoon and I was enjoying the sun and the great weather we're getting now in DC.

As I ran to the Lincoln Memorial and made my way back on the kilometre long tree-lined path that runs parallel to that lake, I found myself trailing three female runners, probably in their late 20s, running side-by-side. They were about 50 metres ahead and I was closing in. I was happening to be weaving in and out of a school group (I could gather that from the fact that they all had white T-shirts that said "Washington 2009" on the back.)

I passed the back of the group made up of girls who were taking over the entire path. Their chaperone asked them to move aside for runners, but as I reached those three runners, I saw three boyish hormone fuelled teenaged boys with "Washington 2009" shirts smile as they caught up to the girls to run alongside them.

So picture three women on the left side of the trail, three boys smirking the way boys do when they try to show off. They're blocking the entire running path. I come right up between the two groups, say 'excuse me, can I get through' and the boy parts ways so I can squeeze between the two groups.

I up the pace as I'm passing and one of the boys decides to start running alongside me. .

FLASHBACK: I remember this happened on a really hot day a few days ago when some hotshot teenager decides to 'run' with me.. I wasn't too impressed then

So this afternoon, I'm also not impressed that they were 'picking' on the women runners. Okay, I thought, maybe the boys want to play with this boy.

"Wanna go?" I say out loud as I step up the pace.

All three boys give chase.

And I kid you not, we start running to 10K pace and I've got two boys right on my heels. The shorter one (about my height) to my left quickly falls behind but this other one, on my right, has long legs and is taller than me. We step it up and as we do, I decide to say "I ran a marathon three days ago, what did you do?"

No answer, he's labouring. He wants to beat me bad. And there was no freaking way I was going to let him, even though I'm doing 'recovery running'. We get to the point that we're almost full-out sprinting, although I'm just getting into strider mode, fluid running with quick turnover. The kid is on my heels and we blast out for another 30 metres, and I can literally feel the wind against my body, when he says something like 'I give up' and drops off.

Yes, folks, I beat that kid. I continue running, look back at the two kids now 10 metres behind me, and give a little bow, with my hands splayed out to the sides. . Actually, sorta like this.

Kids. That'll teach them to mess with a runner :) (Actually, I think I felt like I was a teenager for that one minute of bravado, felt like a drag racer)..

5 miles in 43:30

Monday, May 11, 2009

What it looks like: celebrating a marathon

Well, for starters, a picture of a fist pump at the finish line. I think I may add this to my picture collection.

By the way, this was my 900th post to A whole lot of soles.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Race report: Mississauga Marathon

For me, the biggest indication of how this marathon would go was set back in March, when I ran the Around the Bay race. I was sick for two weeks in March and I ran that race while recovering, but nevertheless it didn't give me with the sought-after 4:30 or faster pace. For me, that would be the building block for a BQ attempt today. I entered April just trying to build my mileage back up (and I did) while trying to get my weight back down (which I also did, a bit).

For me, a spring marathon is a must-do, it's what can get me through a winter and get me into decent shape for the spring/summer training so I can peak for fall. I followed that prescription last year with much success. Mississauga I knew could be quick with rolling hills and had a good chance at cool temperatures.

That was evident this morning when I decided not to wear a singlet and opted for (for the first time) a T-shirt, gloves and shorts. I arrived at the race start early from the hotel, bumped into my co-worker Z and his wife. Z was going for a 3:10 for his first marathon, even though at 44 all he needed as a 3:30 for his BQ (He got it with a stellar 3:08). I wish him luck and met with T. at the starting line, and told him I'd be pacing with him today.

I've known T. since we both worked at the university newspaper 10 years ago. While I was editor in chief, he was one of my photo editors. During and after university, we were both really, um, out of shape and probably the last two people you'd think would be runners. I was really happy to see him turn into a runner the past year and a bit and was eager to run with him through his first marathon.

I decided to try a few different things in this marathon. First, I ran with my fuel belt with 3 bottles of Gatorade. I also switched to GU energy gels. Also packed some Clif Shot Bloks.

We saw the 3:30 pacer, lined up next to him, and the gun went off. That was the last time we'd get up close to the 3:30 until 31 kilometres later.

1 to 5: Finding our stride
Our first kilometre was an exercise in restraint. We're both runners who do long runs at 5 minute kilometres so on marathon morning, we had a temptation to run a lot faster. But we purposefully slowed down and as we reached the first K, was happy to see we hadn't gone out too fast.
1: 4:48

The next few kilometres was nice and easy, right into the wind, and we were just chugging along, trying to find our bearings among the half and full marathoners. I was surprised to see a water stop at the 2K mark, forgetting that they promised one every 2K, which is awesome by the way, let me tell you.
2: 4:54
3: 4:59
4: 4:42
5: 4:47
The next four kilometres were fairly ho hum. We were keeping up the conversation and tackling the down and uphills. A lot of jockeying for position around the water stops. At one point, a few older guys ran by us and some guy goes 'Going for a 3:20 or so, yeah, i'm using this to get my BQ over with' I looked at T. and said 'wish I can say that one day' By the end of the fifth kilometre we turned and said good bye to the flats. We had yet to run a 5 minute kilometre and were banking a lot of time. That's fine, it felt good.

6K to 10K: A campus visit, a pee break and a game of catchup.
6: 4:51
7: 4:45
(reset the lap) 0:25
The next section featured rolling hills and we entered into the University of Toronto campus, which meant veering into a downhill (the 4:45 7K probably had something to do with that. All I remember at that point was eyeing the trees in the park near the school jealously. Yes, I had to take a washroom break. Only at my first marathon did I have to take a pee break and I did it at Grant Park, I think.

I then thought maybe I could get by for awhile but when I saw a bank of portapottys in the distance, I told T. I needed to take a break. I sprinted ahead to the portapotty only to have another person stop right before me. She took one of the free ones and I had to wait an eternity (15-20 seconds?) before I could get in, do my business and exit. That would make for my slowest kilometre:
8: 5:10

And lead into the fastest. I ran out and decided I should get back to T. So I turned up the tempo and hauled ass big time. Caught up to him about a kilometre later. We then went hurtling toward a big hill, which we took with little problem (around 4:45 or so. The marker was off)
9: 4:20
10: 4:45

11K to 15K: Breaking from the halfers and rolling roads
The next 10 kilometres were great, the first five or so we were consistently below 5 min kilometres. We were running in residential neighbourhood and I was glad the streets were well maintained (In Hazel's city, of course). There was a slight downhill as we went under an overpass but overall we maintained pretty much 10 seconds faster per kilometre so that we almost built up 50 seconds during this stretch, which is great, because we were about to split off from the half marathoners.
11: 4:59
12: 4:49
13: 4:50
14: 4:49
15: 4:50

16K to 20K: Go west, into the wind
When we turned off from the halfers, I told T., 'Now the real race begins'. It really did at this point becuase there was so much jockeying happening before the 15K mark. After that, our field stayed pretty much the same. In fact, from here until the end we slowly started to reel in runners. I had taken my first gel at 9K so I took my second around the 17K mark. Was happy to have my Gatorade so I could take it with the gel (but was rewarded 400 metres later with a water stop.). You can see that from kilometre 11 to 20, we were right in the 4:50 to 4:59 zone. This is one of my favourite parts of the marathon, when you just start clicking off kilometres and your pace and cadence just stays the same. During this strech, we were running right into the headwind, so we were happy to be maintaining pace.
16: 4:57
17: 4:57
18: 4:55
19: 4:59
20: 4:55

21K to 25K: Turnaround and a mis-paced runner
21: 4:44
We felt really really good going past the half marathon mark. The sun came out and we weren't running into the wind any more, and it felt great. I remember at this point that we were thanking everyone who cheered. I kinda enjoyed that about this  marathon. I had alot of energy so I could talk to T., thank people who were cheering me on, as opposed to full on race mode when, well, none of that would happen. We started seeing the leaders coming back toward us and I looked out for my friend -- no sign.
22: 4:52
23: 4:49
24: 4:52

Took my third gel around this point, when we reached the turnaround to start heading back to the finish line. Then we saw the 3:30 pacer, clearly minutes ahead of us -- we were minutes ahead of 3:30 pace. I was really pissed for those who wanted to do 3:30 and had this speed demon as their pacer. Another runner who heard me complaining said that it was demoralizing that the 3:30 was so far ahead. As the 3:30 passed us on his way back, I shouted "hey 3:30, you're going too fast!"
25: 4:57

26K to 31K: On the way home
We winded our way back along parkland along the water's edge. It was pretty windy here but it was kinda nice to run in, a lot of narrower trails. The wind became a headwind again and we were toughing it out for a few kilometres (you notice that 28 and 29 were both over 5 minutes by just a smidge). By the time we finished the 29K, we had the wind at our backs and I urged T. to step it up a bit. I also gave him advice to change up his stride to work different muscles.
26: 4:55
27: 4:49
28: 5:01
29: 5:02
30: 4:53

Between the 30K and 31K mark, we were hitting a few hills and guess who we caught up to? Yes, the 3:30 pacer was taking a break. Maybe he looked at his watch and realized he'd gone too fast. Without a word, T. and I ran by him, and never looked back. Bah, pacers.
31: 5:06

32K to 35K: T.'s no man's land
When we hit the 32K mark, T. mentioned this was the farthest he'd ever gone. We kept up the pace but it was feeling hard for him and even I hit one or two bad patches. We were weaving our way through park area and there wasn't a water station that we thought would be there. I remember at this point we passed an elite runner who was running a lot slower than she usually does. We ran by her and emerged back on Lakeshore. As we were climbing another one of the hills, T. started to lag behind me, and I realized I'd have to slow down. After doing a quick check, I decided to let him finish while I would pursue my own pace. (Read T.'s race report and find out about the rest of his race at his blog)
32: 4:55
33: 4:51
34: 4:54
35: 5:04

36K to 42.2K: Ramping up the pace now it's my race

Now that I decided to run my own race, the first decision I made was to up the pace until it felt comfortably hard. I felt good, no cramping, no wall, just a slight tweak to my left leg that wouldn't manifest itself. I immediately went into racing mode, starting to pick up runners ahead of me and just maintain quick turnover up and over hills. I  noticed quite a few runners had started to walk or take breaks and I must have caught some of them by surprise by my sudden increase of pace. The next two were my fastest kilometres since kilometre 9 when I had to catch up to T. after my washroom break.
36: 4:40
37: 4:38

We entered a park and there were a few strong runners ahead, I targetted them. One girl had a MCM 2007 hat and I wanted to say 'hey, i ran MCM too' but I just concentrated on keeping my strong pace, even on the hills.
38: 4:37

I felt really godo and with four kilometres to go, it seemed so close. I actually pictured a normal running route of mine in Toronto, at Tommy Thompson Park, which is exactly four kilometres from my condo. With that in mind, I stepped up the pace
39: 4:35

And kept it for the next kilometre. I was just passing runner after runner, just trying to keep a high turnover. I came up on an older runner, who, as I passed, said, "go for it, young man|.... i said thanks and turned it on.
40: 4:35

I was very happy to hit the last two kilometres. Funny thing is this last year was my marathon pace and it was feeling, well, comfortably hard. I'm pretty sure today I wouldn't be able to hold this pace.
41: 4:33

And in the final kilometre, I was weaving in and out through the half marathoners, and the finish line, oh, it's so close yet you have to run a curve, so it's actually where was the finish.. started to push a little harder till the finish...
42: 4:29
42.2: 00:30

Picture taken by Fran (thanks!)

So that's it, my sixth marathon is in the books. I went into this as a run with lowered expectations but I knew I wanted to run a marathon strongly throughout. I've learned a lot through this one, learning to hold back and when to push. I've learned more about hydration and fuelling that will come in handy and I've recaptured the good feeling of what it's actually like to run 42.2 kilometres in a row without stopping. I'm telling you, there's no other feeling like I had today pumping my fists after crossing the finishing line, hearing my name being called, at the end of a well run race. I'm gonna savour this for a few weeks. Training season begins in 5 weeks, running begins in a few days.

Chip time: 3:24:11
Overall: 156/1413
Gender: 138/804
Group: 17/73

Mississauga Marathon: The details

Race report later on, but here's the map and the splits (also on Garmin Connect)

1: 4:48
2: 4:54
3: 4:59
4: 4:42
5: 4:47
7: 4:45
(reset the lap) 0:25
8: 5:10
9: 4:20
10: 4:45
11: 4:59
12: 4:49
13: 4:50
14: 4:49
15: 4:50
16: 4:57
17: 4:57
18: 4:55
19: 4:59
20: 4:55
21: 4:44
22: 4:52
23: 4:49
24: 4:52
25: 4:57
26: 4:55
27: 4:49
28: 5:01
29: 5:02
30: 4:53
31: 5:06
32: 4:55
33: 4:51
34: 4:54
35: 5:04
36: 4:40
37: 4:38
38: 4:37
39: 4:35
40: 4:35
41: 4:33
42: 4:29
42.2: 00:30

Final time: 3:24:11

6th marathon completed

Here's my nice shiny medal, earned this morning after the Mississauga Marathon. I'll write up a full race report, but the gist is: It was a well paced run, felt easy throughout until I decided to turn it up at the 35K mark after Tom told me he was fading. (I'm looking for his results now). We targetted a 3:30 but were consistently running faster so by the time I turned on the jets for the final 8K, I brought down the time to 3:24:11. That, by the way, is my third fastest marathon, funny, cause it's faster than the 2007 Marine Corps Marathon when I targetted a 3:20 and crash  and burned. Today, targetted a very conservative 3:30 and had an absolute blast.

Time to soak my legs in ice and celebrate Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The (lack of a) race strategy

24 hours from now, it'll be over, i'll have finished my 6th marathon. I've never been so unsure about what my game plan is this time around. Every other time, I'd have the pace band selected but this time, I'm only 75% sure of my goal.

Here's the thing. 24 hours out, the weather is looking pretty incredible. There will be wind, but it'll be cool and it should be dry. That's optimal racing weather. But that's the thing, I have to choose between 3:15 (my BQ pace) and 3:30 (my 75% i'm doing it pace) between now and the start.

What's steering me towards the 3:30 is the realization that while I've been running great in the past month, this training cycle has not been optimum. I'm still about 5 pounds heavier than the best race weight and, well, the mileage hasn't been there and I've lost a lot of quality training. Hm, even typing out this paragraph is confirming that 3:30 is the right pace. As a bonus, my friend Tom is running 3:30 so I'm actually very glad to have a possible running group -- i've run too many (the last two) marathons alone and it'd be nice to do it with a group.

3:15, on the other hand, is tempting. I was in shape for 3:10 last fall and I think that it's possible on a perfect day to go for this mark. What's holding me back is the crash and burn tactic, which would make the difference between enjoying a marathon and dragging myself through the final miles.

It's funny, I was looking at my registration form for Mississauga that I filled out in early May. I put in 3:15 as my target time. I saw that yesterday afternoon and I smiled. Not this time, Kenny, maybe next time.

I've booked a room at the hotel near the start so I'm staying overnight in Mississauga. Trying the pack very light since the hotel tells me they won't do late checkout (damn you, Novotel). Cooking a pasta dinner to put in tupperware and will head to the expo. I'm picking up a 3:30 pace band, but I'm looking up 3:15 split times in case I have race-day enthuisasm.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Biggest Loser and the mystique of the marathon

I read last night on Twitter that some of the runners I follow were mentioning that The Biggest Loser contestants were running a marathon. What?! I went on time shifting and taped last night and just finished watching it tonight.

It's funny, the week before a marathon, I'm usually in reflective mode, as the taper takes full effect. I'm carbo loading, stretching out the muscles and going the last pace runs. I usually take in some inspirational reading of one of my running books or go into my DVD library of running films and documentaries. Yes, this is what this marathoner does.

I'm good for new fodder, so I watched the episode and was impressed as the producers pull on your emotional heart strings. I mean, yes, it's so inspiring to watch a woman who lost a tonne of weight run her first marathon in under 5 hours, and another in less than six. Then to watch a son greet his father at the finish some 13 hours after the start, and there are tears and smiles. I think that the marathon is given its due respect -- yes, it is an awesome distance. But why?

First a digression on running a marathon on 26 days training:

Twenty six days is not enough in my opinion to do one. Even Steve Runner, who got a last minute entry into Boston this year, acknowledge that with 5 weeks of training that he had barely enough to get by, even though he is a very experienced runner who had done 19 marathons.

They never said on the show how much they were running, but I did see one of the calendar showed a 12 miler a few weeks from the marathon. I wonder what the longest distance they had done in that month. Even in the most novice of programs, runners can't ramp up from 12 miles to 26 in a few weeks. That's breaking one of the golden rules of running, not to increase your mileage by more than 10% a week.

That said, these contestants are definately clearly in better shape than most sedentary citizens, 17 plus weeks of exercise and weight loss means they are actually had a pretty good base to work from.

My worry about this is not that it'll cause people to recklessly go into marathoning -- I think they depicted that distance as a monumental challenge, and one should know that to decide to run one is not a one month commitment. And I guess as a runner first and also as a marathoner, I say this. For me, marathoning is not just one of those 'to do' things on a life checklist.

Digression over

So what is the mystique of the marathon?

I saw a headline the other day in the newspaper describing a 12 inning 'marathon' game. I see on TV how there's a Seinfeld marathon. I read about a marathon bargaining session by the union. The question I ask (and I say this as a journalist) is does any of these people truely understand what is the marathon? Does it mean a long distance or a long time? Does it mean that once you get beyond the normal expected time, that now we're in marathon time? Is it associated with boredom, or pain, or endurance?

I ask this because what you feel at the last strech of the marathon, beyond this dreaded wall when the 'sugar' your body was meant to hold has long run out, you feel the range of emotions, from the highs of happniess to the depths. Does one feel at the 12th inning of a ball game that the only thing that's going to get them through a leg cramp, or what will get them staggering to the finish line is will and determination. When one hits the lowest point, and wants nothing else but to just stop or walk, what keeps us moving? Do you get that by watching 10 back-to-back episodes of prime time TV?

For me, my first marathon was about challenging myself to this historic and daunting distance while setting a goal. But I found that the 18-week journey to get to the starting line -- 10 milers on weekdays or 20 milers on a Saturday morning -- was where I found myself as a runner. I've written about the runner's high or the reflective moments, but to this day it's those long distance runs that capture something more, the life of a long distance runner unfolds. You go beyond running for cardio or speed. You run to feel what it is to be alive.

Yes, I enter certain marathons with time goals, with things like a BQ or PB in mind, but there's got to be more to that. There's something more that will drag me out to Mississauga on Sunday morning to line up with a few thousand other marathoners and half marathoners. The horn sounds, and we are off to go on our chase to the goal 26.2 miles later.

I think it's what we gather on the way to the finish that makes the distance great.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fuel prices aren't cheap, are they?

Dropped $28 today on fuel for the marathon. Actually won't use them all, but isn't that kinda steep: eight GU Energy gels and three sport beans packs.

Decided a month ago that I'd go with GUs this marathon. I tried them on a lark and I immediately fell in love with them. Compared with Clif Shots and PowerBar gels, I find them less dense and easier to digest. They also, I've found, taste a little better, partly because you don't feel like you're choking on thick pudding. Believe me, choking down gels while running marathon pace is no fun at all.

In all, they're pretty similar to the other gels (see comparison data). I'll have to figure out the sodium intake, maybe i'll pack some Clif Shot Bloks. I plan to take one every 10K or so, plus one at the beginning, so that'll be about four i'll consume. Still thinking about bringing my fuel belt. We'll see.
Also, fingers crossed, weather's looking better -- high of 13C mainly sunny.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Prepping for Mississauga Marathon

Ugh, checked the forecast for the next six days. They're calling for lots of rain, although my runner's obsessive weather checking usually shows that things change all the time. 

There's a lot I can't control, like the rain, but I starting to prep for the coming marathon. I gotta start gathering my gels and figure out what gear  i'll need.

I have been thinking of running with my own Gatorade supply, or just enough so I have stores for the final half, when I'm more likely to start to feel dehydrated. 

Now comes the big question: What pace? My 10K yesterday gave me a much needed confidence boost in my lactic threshold, so much so that I may reevaluate my goals. I was eyeing 3:30, but now I just can't help to see how things go if I chose a faster pace.

Whatever, I'll have a few more days to mull things over. Here's a tenative plan for the rest of the week, slightly adjusted from the Pfitzinger Douglas schedule.

Monday: 5 mile recovery 

Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: 7 miles w 2 at MP
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Rest or 3 mile recovery with strides
Saturday: 2 miles
Sunday: Race

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Race report: Sporting Life 10K

Last night, just before I went to bed, I tallied the number of road races I've done in my 'modern era' of running, that is, when I picked up the sport in 2005 in a serious way. Funnily enough, I had captured all but four of them on this blog and found that I had done 39 races. Today would be my fortieth, something that would come very clear to me (call it a sign) at the end of the race.

I mention that this is my fourth Sporting Life in five years. I missed it last year because I was running a marathon on Sporting Life day. This year, the course is different and I argue even more conducive to fast times, avoiding what used to be a run under our raised highway.

My history with the 10K distance has been mixed. For years, I was in the 42 minute range with the Sporting Life race and that's with a downhill course. My last two serious 10K races (Zoo Run and the HBC Run for Canada) were done in 41:21 and 41:31 range and I felt that I had held myself back in both races. My recent 5K PB (19:25) pointed to a 40:30 or so potential for the 10K distance. With the Sporting Life race, I hadn't run it since 2007, yet I made huge gains in running since then in the last two summers.

That is to say, I entered today with a confidence that I could set a course PB (previous was 42:01). In the last two years, with massive marathon training, my spring endurance base has been strong, meaning I can hold strong paces for longer periods.

Today's race was the biggest they've held, with more than 10,000 finishers. Sporting Life is a huge downhill course so it's called the fastest 10K with a net drop of 385 feet, according to my Garmin. I got into one of the front corrals and lined up relatively close to the start. By the way, the weather was PERFECT. Cool, sunny, little wind.

The first five
We took off and I was able to find my pace. It's pretty difficult to gauge whether you're going too fast when the start is downhill and everyone's blasting out of the start. After about a kilometre of jockeying, we got into a grove and there was enough running space to find your pace. My strategy was to try for a fast first 5K and try not to go much faster than 3:55Ks, given the downhills. At the half, I would do a check and see how I felt then translate this into a second half strategy.

1K 3:56
2K: 3:53
3K: 4:08

After the second kilometre, was the bottom of the first big uphill, I find that on all Sporting Life races, it's this first hill that breaks pretenders and tests everyone else. I found myself powering up it but most of the runners around me were keeping a strong pace, so I started to hook on to runners.

The splits get really wonky since my GPS had a brain cramp, but as we hit the 5K mark, I was sub 20 minutes at around 19:50. This was a huge moment for me, and I decided at that point that I could give it more. In my head, after doing the checks of my breathing, pace, leg turnover and heat level, that I could sustain this. The next 5K was where the real race took place. It was flatter, featured turns and would be hot.

The rest of the way down Yonge Street from Bloor to Richmond was a steeling of nerves. I was glad to have worn a singlet cause it was getting warm. I started to play a game of naming subway stops. When I was at Bloor, I pictured Wellesley, then College, then Dundas. Of course, other things entered my mind, like the back of the person in front of me, or how the person who just stopped must be feeling really good and it'd be nice to stop too, but it was largely turning myself into a metronome and pound out a consistent pace.

At every kilometre mark, I did the simple math and was surprised to see myself still within range of a 40 minute 10K. I was really surprised because a few 4:10s can put you way off track. During hard races like this (as opposed to 10 milers to half marathons) I sometimes just lose focus of the race and just absorb the pain, but today, I really focused on who was ahead of me. If they were starting to fade, I dropped them and targetted someone else. If someone was running strong, I hooked on to them.

We turned on Richmond Street around the 7K mark and I just said to myself, two more miles, two more miles. I could see the landmarks to the far west and I really tried to keep the pace up. I said to myself that I would regret it if I slowed down at this point, that this pain would be temporary. As we hit the 8K mark, I pictured the last time I did a 1600 around the track, and convinced myself that that's all I had left, just one last hard run before the finish.

Then a funny thing happened. I ran past my old work place, The Globe and Mail, and I had this surge of energy. My co-workers would understand, but I felt like hauling ass, maybe because I was wearing a National Post hat. The last kilometre had two turns, and I knew it'd be close. I really didn't care much, but when I reached the last 15 metres, I put both hands up over my head cause I'd made it through. I knew I crashed through my PB and that I may even have gone under 40. As it turns out, that celebration may have caused me a second or two. I'm sure I could have made up those four seconds with a final sprint, but whatever, I'm not that concerned. I'm not sure I could take credit for going sub 40 on this downhill course, I'd rather do it on a more relatively flat course. That's where the test is.

Did I leave it all on the course? I suspect that if I didn't have to run a marathon a week from today, I'd probably have gone into the second half with more abandon (or even the first half). But it's safe to say that when I saw the prized 40, I went for it with everything I thought I could give.

So just maybe, for my 40th road race, it was appropriate for my chip time to ring in at 40:04, leaving me much to reflect about.

I haven't run 10 marathons, or run Boston, or place too well within my age category consistently, but I have run 40 road races. I remember how nervous I'd get before a road race in the early days. My first Sporting Life was my second road race. Now, races are rituals for me. I eat a certain amount of food, go through the morning routine, reflect at the start, silently stretch and calibrate my watch, toss my warmup top with 10 minutes to go, then jump up and down in the last two minutes. It's odd, whether I'm running a marathon or a local 5K, they've all been to a degree the same to me, to be part of a community of runners. Fellow runners who are about to celebrate the fruits of our training. It's addictive, I love it and I'll be back again.

Overall: 280/10758 (97.3 percentile)
Gender: 257/4858 (94.7 percentile)
Age group: 58/793 (92.6 percentile)
Chip time: 40:04
Splits and map on Garmin Connect (I kinda forgot to hit the stop button so there's an extra minute and a half)

A personal best

Okay, okay, it's a downhill race, I know that very well. But today I set a personal best for the 10K distance and for this course, which I've done four times. I'll write up a race report later. Time? 40:04. But for the five seconds I now wish I pushed for, I'm on cloud nine.