Thursday, October 29, 2009

Race report: Marine Corps Marathon

Okay, so here's the victory lap race report. This two marathons in eight days is a new thing for me, was kinda concerned that my legs would not be ready for the big day. The first few days after marathon no. 1, my quads, hamstrings and calves were pretty tight. I took a DAY off running and did 3 miles on Tuesday, 5 miles on Wednesday and 5Kish on Friday. By the Wednesday run, I was feeling better and by Friday, I felt pretty good. At the expo, the race pacers suggested I try a comfortable long run pace for the week-after-the-race run. I took a 3:40, 3:45 and 3:50 pace band.

On Sunday, arrived at the site a little later than usual (took the 6:23 Metro from Archives for future reference), did a bathroom break and had plenty of time. I lined up with the 3:40 to 4:00 group and waited for the start. I told R the night before the times she'd see me (plus or minutes 4 minutes) based on the 3:50 pace.

Start to 10K: Oh these hills, I forgot I loved you so
It was really an odd feeling starting off a marathon at a very comfortable pace. So comfortable in fact that by the first kilometre, I decided to be one of those guys who went off the side of the road to take a pee break by the trees. I don't know what it is about racing, but you suddenly want to hit the washroom every 15 minutes.

That over with, I sped up and caught up with the group of runners I was with pre-pee break. For my third MCM, I found myself really anticipating every turn and rise in the first bit. Within the first mile or so, I saw R, who luckily was wearing a bright florescent green jacket. Traded a high five then tackled some of those usual hills. I took them with purpose and kept on reminding myself to keep it steady.

The goal was to hit 5:27 kilometres or 8:46 miles. I just couldn't get it right. Looking back at my long runs of 18 - 23 miles, I typically do them at 8:05 to 8:19 miles or about 5:00 to 5:15 kilometres. Pace runs, I do at 7:26 miles or 4:36s, so I didn't have the feel for it. The 5K split shows how off I was, I was supposed to hit it at 27:15 but was more than a minute ahead.

5K: 26:06

The downhills were even more fun, and I decided to really not care, just run by feel and see how the splits were turning out. We crossed the bridge into Georgetown and I saw R again (traded high fives!) and then off to tackle those hills where again I tried to consciously not attack. All through this time, I was having a blast, just smiling, enjoying the fact that I was just a few kilometres into my victory lap. I thought about the Toronto Marathon and about what a gorgeous day it was. As we climbed hill after hill, I realized that I actually had to go to the bathroom again! What the hell.

10 K: 51:46 (3:50 pace was 54:30.. uh, yeah, too fast)

10K to the half: Going with the flow

The next 10K or so included more climbs followed by a big descent. Nothing remarkable to this other than that I was looking for a portapotty or a bank of trees to take another pee break. I really loved running toward Georgetown where we saw the runners behind us. So many of them! Spotted a guy with a High 5 and proceeded to slap it for the 2nd time (and would do so again at least one more time). Surprised by the size of the crowd and how freaking quiet they were. They gave us tonnes of space and I almost wanted to get them going.

More downhills and into the Rock Creek path I run from time to time. As we reached the 'orange slice station' I saw two portapotties with only three people line up so I joined the line. I burned about 2 minutes waiting (my kilometre split in that area shows at 7:18 while I was running 5:10s or so) which wasn't a bad thing since I'd burn some time. Two pee breaks in marathon. That was a first.

15 K: 1:18:11 (3:50 pace was 1:21:45. Note to self, don't pace a 3:50 group until I practice that pace)

Running past the Lincoln Memorial on the way to Hains Point is one of the highlights. The crowds were growing thicker and louder. It was just so humbling being part of a marathon where so many people came out to cheer. Just like my first marathon in Chicago, I felt like a rock star.

Things got a lot quieter once we reached the park. It was getting so much quieter and lots of people were hunkering down and concentrating. Me, I felt so chatty but had no one to talk to. Didn't want to be that guy who was all full of energy while everyone else was suffering. We passed a gel station and I picked up two and shouted 'anyone need gels?' No one answered. I later passed a guy with a Canadian T-shirt (the second) and, like the other, I said 'nice shirt, I'm from Toronto, have a good race.'

I've read some people didn't like Hains Point and that it was windy and hard. All I have to say is that in past years, this part of the marathon was right before the bridge (to the 20 mile mark) so I think it's great we get it over with now.

20 K: 1:46:29 (3:50 was 1:49:01)
Half: 1:52:22

Half to 30K: Getting the crowd going, two pit stops
The rest of the park was pretty ho hum, was just maintaining a strong but consistent pace. We entered the Mall by passing through the Tidal Basin area and by the time we got close to Lincoln, the crowds were picking up. I really was starting to enjoy this last half of the marathon thing. The lack of pain I associate with this part of the race was not there. I was just flying (relatively) and paying attention to the crowd searching for R.

25 K: 2:12:46 (3:50 pace was 2:16:16)

I spotted her around kilometer 27 and I stopped. She thought it was so hilarious.

Me: 'hey! I feel great, this is so much fun' (grab gel)
R: Why aren't you running?!
Me: I have time to burn (eat gel)
R: Where do I go next?!
Me: (gulp down some water and throw the gel packet down) 'just cross the road.' I point at the crowded row of runners 'and then cross the bridge by the finish'
Other spectator: 'why aren't you running?!
Me: 'I just ran a marathon last week, this is for fun!'

Picture taken by R. I'm gulping down the gel

I kiss R good bye, and am off my merry way.

That pack of gel must have been magic, cause two kilometres later, as I'm running down toward the Capitol, I start waving my warms. You know, that conducting type of wave to incite the crowd to cheer. Let me tell ya, it works! I'd wave three or four times and they'd respond. SO. MUCH. FUN.

Then I saw some portapotties and decided to take my THIRD pee break.

We ran around the Capitol building and I saw a guy with a 666 bib who was running as the devil. He was having fun, and so was I, and there was this band at the foreground just launching into the Rocky theme song. What is this, a freaking movie?

30 K: 2:40:00 (3:50 pace was 2:43:31 - 3:30 gap)

30K to 40K: Thrash the bridge
To put it lightly, I felt fantastic as we were making our way out to the famous bridge that leads to the highway to hell, which leads to the final out and back and that leads to the crappy last few miles on more highway.

The last 12.2K of the Marine Corps Marathon is what marathoning is all about. It's about grinding your way through tough miles. If this marathon ended its last miles with crowds everywhere, maybe it'd feel easier, but these marines, nope, they place a freaking highway in the last 12K.

Last year, I was defeated before I hit the bridge. Well, I had stupidly made my second 3:10 attempt in four weeks when I should have been going for a negative split. Two years ago, I made it past the bridge but was done in by mile 23.

This year, I decided to turn it on. My slowest kilometres were my first 32K. My fastest came after the bridge. I didn't go slower than 4:57 kilometres, and many were a lot faster. It's on the bridge where you start to see people stop and stretch. You see people walk. But that day, I was just gaining and passing dozens of runners every few minutes. In fact, with every few strides, I was either gaining on, or shaking out, other runners.

Bridge conquered this year. If I run it again at BQ pace, hopefully I've learned some lessons. We finished it and I passed a water station looking to fill up my bottles again. It proved again smart to have my own water supply that I would rely on for taking gels and my safety net between water stops.

We hit Crystal City and I grabbed a cup of beer from runners! Took a big swig and threw the rest away. I was still passing people.

35 K: 3:05:02 (3:50 pace was 3:10:45 - 5:43 gap)

The next 5K I was just concentrating on racing. I had at this point abandoned the thought of running a 3:50 and was just looking to see if I could smash through the marathon distance by running a progressively faster race. My splits between 35 and 40 were 4:51, 4:54, 4:47, 4:34, 4:53, 4:56. Yes, I can run faster but get this. This was a week after BQing! Awesome.

40 K: 3:29:51 (3:50 pace was 3:38:02 - 8:09 gap)

I hit the 40K mark and looked at my watch and suddenly saw that I could hit 3:40. And as I hit a downhill, a band was playing "Sweet Caroline" and I was singing and laughing while increasing my stride.

We hit the last stretch and even in a healthy and happy state, I totally realized what a depressing march that part of the course is. I blasted through the final water station and just trying to keep up the pace. I did a 4:41 followed by a 4:43.

To the left, I saw the cemetery and it humbled me. To the front, I saw a growing crowd that got louder with every step. I was still passing people left and right and I must have looked like I was in a near sprint compared to the paces around me.

The crowd cheered and I saw R. from the distance. She was now wearing a red TFC (Toronto Football Club) and shades and as I passed her, I screamed "VICTORY LAP BABBBY" as we high fived.

Then I eyed that massive hill at the end of the course, and in my gaze, it became a much smaller hill. I and a group of runners tackled it and I had so much energy that I again raised my arms five or six times while scaling it, conducting the crowd to whoop it up. They did! (LOVE IT, I TELL YA). I was passing people left and right even going up the hill.

I wasn't going to stop. I increased the pace, saw Bart Yasso (of the Yasso 800s), called his name, raised my arms and crossed the finish line of my eighth marathon in 3:40:09. My slowest, but really one of my best times.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Boston Marathon and my victory-lap year

Got the confirmation that I've been accepted to run the 2010 Boston Marathon! It took them about a week to process my application. Plane and hotel will be booked shortly.

The year 2010 in my running life will also be dubbed 'The Victory Lap'. I will run two of the marathon majors, Boston and New York. In truth, I began that victory lap yesterday with running the Marine Corps Marathon a week after I got my Boston qualifier. I had such a blast and loved it. Will write up the race report later this week.

Here are the races I'm now eyeing with the focus again on the marathon:

Marathons: The tentative plan is two in the spring, two in the fall. Yes, four! Time goal is to pursue that 3:10 or faster in the fall.

Spring: I want to enjoy Boston, which may mean I'll go for a more comfortable non BQ time pace, like a 3:25 - 3:30. We'll see. The second marathon may also be for fun and set me up for summer training (anyone need pacer?). But I may aim for a sub 3:15 if my winter goes great. Since I'm paying a bucketload for Boston, the second one will probably be local (hello Mississauga?).

-Boston Marathon, April 19 (confirmed)
-Mississauga Marathon, May 16
-Ottawa Marathon, May 30

Fall: The first marathon I run will be a 3:10, or failing that another BQ (even though my 3:12:36 BQ this year gets me into 2010 and 2011). NYC I will definitely do for fun.
Toronto Goodlife, late October
Niagara Falls Marathon, late October
Marine Corps Marathon, Oct. 31
NYC Marathon, Early Nov. (All but confirmed. I have guaranteed entry, but can defer)

Other races I'll probably do. Note not all races are equal, many I do as part of my marathon training (tempo, LT or MP runs) and don't all-out race.
-Achilles 5K, March 14, try for another sub 20.
-Suntrust National Half Marathon on March 20 in DC, do as a scenic long run
-Around the Bay 30K, March 28, likely go for a sub 2:15, tuneup for Boston (awesome hill training!)
-Harry Spring Runoff 5K or 8K, on April 3, a marathon pace run tuneup for Boston (hill training!)
-Cherry Blossom 10 miler on April 11, lottery entry this year, would run if I was in DC
-Sporting Life 10K on May 3, tuneup for 2nd spring marathon
-Capitol Hill 10K in mid May, fun run if I'm in DC.

-Night Crawler 5 miler, mid June, nice opening to marathon training
-Acura 10 Miler in July, a chance to do LT work and pace work in race setting
-A Mid Summer Night's Run 30K in August 21, perfect long distance marathon pace run
-Toronto Scotiabank Half Marathon, in late September a pace run or all-out race

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's official. I'm a marathon maniac!

Three pee breaks, a one minute stop to talk to the girlfriend, a negative split and my second marathon in eight days in 3:40:13.

Now it's the off season! 

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why I love stores run by runners and the Georgetown Running Company

We've all had the pre-race scramble - forgetting to pack our favourite shorts, top or whatever we need on race day to make us feel comfortable.

Before leaving for DC for the Marine Corps Marathon, I do remember distinctly packing my Garmin 405 charging clip in my bag a few days ago. After emptying my bags a few times, I think I lost it at the airport or on the plane.

I checked the power left on my Garmin a few hours ago -- it read 61%, which left very little room for error. Maybe it'd make it to the 20 mile mark then it'd conk out. What if I didn't have the charger and i'll have a dead Garmin for the next few weeks.

I called a few running stores, including the Georgetown Running Company. We were going to go to the area for lunch so I checked. The guy said to come by and they'd figure something out if they could.

On our way over, we stopped by City Sports, where I had to wrangle a staffer in a near empty store to peer down at the Garmin case. He really didn't even care what I was looking for. "Do you see it there?" he asked after I tried to describe the charging clip. No go.

I stated scheming about ways I'd get it to last longer (turn it on right before race start and pray seemed the only thing to do).

Later, after lunch, I wandered into the smaller Georgetown Running Company, which today was filled to the brim with marathoners from overseas looking to buy a lot of shoes. I explained to one guy, I think the owner or manager, my plight. He had about 10 customers to help out and probably was in no mood to do special requests.

"How bad you need it?" he asked.

"I'm running MCM tomorrow" I said.

A sympathetic look. "Give me five minutes."

Fifteen minutes later, when the crowd died down, he fished out a charger from one of his 405 boxes and said he'd sell it to me if he knew how much it cost. I said it cost $20, but I gave him $30 (he asked for $25) "for the trouble."

And now my Garmin is inching its way back to a 100% charge and this runner is very pleased.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflecting on the BQ, and the next chapter

I can't lie, I've been on cloud nine over the past week. I don't think about it too much during the day, but every time I've gone out on a run since last Sunday when I qualified for Boston, there have been moments when I'm just beaming, smiling, and wanting to pump my fists. Other times, i've been in near tears, choked up. My stride goes fluid and I want to start knocking off a marathon-pace run, even for a few minutes.

I've been chasing a BQ for years now. Last year, in chasing that goal, I failed and every friend of mine, particularly those who have qualified, have told me it'll be all the more sweeter when I do. I've been logging my mileage for about five years and in that time, i've run more than 8,000 miles (13,000K). I'm probably up to 50 road races since 2005, about to run my eight marathon in a few days, and there's no sign that I'm losing any interest in this running thing.

After work a few days ago, I was running along the waterfront and bumped into Lee during a recovery five miler. Lee was that friend who was on the course last Sunday cheering me on. We've bumped into each other on the trails more than a few times, shared a few runs, a few beers, and so we debriefed each other.

Lee's also raced Boston a few times -- he also took a long path to qualifying for it before he got a major running breakthrough, he's chasing pretty fast time, doing a 3:03 in Chicago a few weeks ago.

I talked about how strong I felt during the BQ marathon. Just like countless other great races, I felt fine from start to end, but this is the marathon distance, the last 6 miles is supposed to be cruel.

"I would have bet $10,000 you'd get your BQ," Lee told me and I still don't agree, i respect that distance too much to be cocky.

So reflecting on the race is more than reliving three hours, 12 minutes and 36 seconds of my perfect race. It was about that 8000 miles, those winter nights when I get the trail to myself and sweltering middday runs in July. It was about staring at the Advanced Marathon 18-week program and wondering how the hell I'd get a 70 mile week in. It was about foregoing sleeping in on Sundays for the past three years basically. It was about urging my body to do tempo and pace work when I dreaded it so well.

It was also remembering the great, the first time I went sub 20 minutes in the 5K, or when i lowered by half marathon mark by 4 minutes (1:31!) a few years ago, or those simple first day of spring runs when you shed your winter layers to feel the air. Or just the feeling of rushing home from work so i could change into my runners to get out the door in a few minutes.

BQ was that goal that was on top of my running life, but not the point of it. It wasn't the definition, but it also was a tough goal that made me work harder. Getting to this point made me a better runner.

I told Lee that somehow I feel like I'm entering a new chapter in my running life. He admitted that when he qualified for Boston years ago, he became a more serious runner. I don't think i'm going to get any more serious, but I'll look at it differently. I want a victory lap of a year in 2010. I want to chase faster times. I want to be a pace bunny one day. And I want to turn my BQ into a confirmed registration so I can finish booking a hotel and flight for a trip to Beantown next April.

As I was walking around the Marine Corps Marathon expo this afternoon, I passed by the Clif pacing team area. Two tall, slim and buff looking dudes (obviously fitter than little old me, right?) walked by the table, saw that there was a piece of paper propped up near the buckets of pacer bands.

It was the list of qualifying times needed to get into Boston. I'm sure you know it well.

"Dude, i gotta do a 3:10 to get into Boston?" one said to the other. They looked a little stunned and the mystique of that marathon grew just a little. Me, I turned, looked at these guys, gave them the once over, reflected, then smiled.

Marathon expo = spending in excess

I do love the mega marathon expos. Not only because I can get free beer (as I did today), but because you'll find so many specialty products that you may not find at your local running store. I went this morning to pick up my Marine Corps Marathon race kit.

I've purchased a lot of gear in the past 5 years, but I've also come to a point that I have enough clothes that I don't spend a hell of a lot during the year. That is, until today.

First, race gear! I picked up a hat, my third MCM hat. I love Brooks hats, they are the most aerodynamic and they fit me great. Fine for hot days too. I also purchased a raceday jacket. Yeah, i'm a sucker for these things.

Next, I saw these compression socks that I've added to my collection. I'm wearing them now. Like them more than my other ones cause they're thinner, making it more likely I'd wear them. The brand is Recovery Sock which I'm told is from Italy.

The next picture includes everything else:

-A box of high end Roctane GU gels (I got them to give me 12 orange and 12 of the blueberry flavour) for -- wait for it -- $50. These gels are way more expensive than the normal kind and would cost me a fortune if I continue to buy them in Canada a few at a time. They threw in two new flavoured ones and a pair of GU running gloves

-A pair of arm warmers (haven't been able to find them in Canada) from Asics.

-A race number and gel belt, just in case.

-An iFitness belt that can hold a cellphone and up to 7 gels and also stay snug. I may bring my phone with me on Sunday.

-A big fridge magnet "26.2 - Been there, run that"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Never passed

I was looking at some of my race splits when I came across some race details generated by the Toronto Marathon site. That was a nice little stat that says all that needs to be said about the last 12K of the marathon. I was never passed.

I didn't run a negative split. The first half included hills and led to a speedy first half. After the 11 mile mark, it was basically flat or uphill. The second half, after I caught up to the pacer, I slowed down to 4:38s for most of the rest of the race.

First half: 1:35:17
Second half: 1:37:05

The last 12K 56:41

The 30K split: 2:16:12 (gun time, I think).

Monday, October 19, 2009

The post race moment

(Or what I said after getting my BQ!)

Here I am moments after getting my medal and seeing my friend Jelly, her cousin and husband. Jelly, who played the great cheerleader yesterday, sent me this video

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Race report: Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon

Yesterday, I pulled on my running gear and ran a scant 2 kilometres. The air was crisp, the sky clear, the wind slight. Later, I traded email with my friend Lee who said he had a good feeling about today. Weather was perfect, he said. I agreed.

My track record for marathoning is mixed. If it were baseball, I would be doing well, batting two for six, the two representing marathons in which I felt strong throughout and never hit the wall. But marathoning is not baseball, and I had too many hard races.

The good ones, both of them were spring marathons on cool days. Like yesterday morning. An omen for today?

The Toronto Marathon is a special event for me, it's where in 2005 I went sub 1:35 for the half marathon. It was there, three weeks after I did another half in 1:36, where my Boston dreams were born. Back then, I remembered doubling the time and adding a few minutes and saw that maybe, just maybe, I would have it in me one day to run the whole distance at that pace.

I spent most of Saturday lounging around, eating pasta, drinking soup, watching running documentaries, generally doing nothing. Oh yeah, and I hydrated very well. Was in bed early and slept relatively soundly. Up at 4:45 for brekkie then started to get ready. R. was in town to run the half marathon, her first. Her sister was running too so R and I took the cab to the sister's place. Her husband dropped us off at the start with a mere 15 minutes to go before the half marathon, which starts an hour before the marathon. We dropped our bags and said goodbye.

I saw the halfers off then wandered into the civic building to keep warm, as it was probably 3C (just a few degrees above freezing). There, I saw the 3:15 pacer! I walked up to him and said "I'm glad to see you." He told me he was going to go out a bit fast because he was going to give a few minutes for the last 3K, which was on an uphill. He said he'd pass the half at 1:35 ("and change"). A little fast, I thought.

Hit the washroom a few times and found myself at the start with 10 minutes to go about to shed my track pants and two sweaters. Fran found me and we chatted, so it was nice to see him. He took my picture here. (Note my trackpants were still on!) He's running a full next week and thinking of another one the week after. I may be crazy enough to join him on the second one.

Here`s a picture that Fran took and sent to me (yes, I am still wearing the track pants, very unfashionable).

I also met Mike who was standing right behind me. We chatted on Twitter throughout the summer so it was nice to put a face to him. He was running his first thon.

I thought this was a downhill course: 1-5K

We took off and I settled into it. As we passed the first 300 metres, I really thought about making a dash for the portapotties. But I decided if I did that too early, I would have to weave my way back to position so I promised myself I'd do a pit stop sometime in the first 8K. The splits we were aiming for a 3:15 finish was 4:37 kilometres (7:29 miles).

As you can see from the splits below, we were going out pretty darned fast. The second kilometre was near tempo pace even though we were climbing. I was a little mifffed at my splits when I saw them cause I knew our pacer was going out too fast. The 4:18 3rd kilometre is understandable given the downhill section but I didn't want to be out of breath.

Kilometre five included a major hill and it's really daunting. As we hit it, I just let the pacer and his group charge up the hill while I took it easier. At the end of the hill, I was out of breath and then I saw my chance. A free portapotty! I ducked inside, checked my breath and relieved myself. It was a perfect breather that also let the pace group get far out of sight, so I didn't have to worry about chasing them.

5K mark in 22:49

1. 00:04:34
2. 00:04:25
3. 00:04:18
4. 00:04:15
5. 00:05:15

More downhills, but a better pace: 6-10K
By a very happy coincidence, by the time I left the portapotty, I was right behind a group of 5 runners who were moving at the perfect pace. I was so lucky to encounter them, because they really helped me settle down. We hit quite a few splits within my time goal, so with the up and downhill portions, I felt I was in a better place. I took my first gel at the 7K mark.

I remember thinking that I was just about perfectly dressed. The weather was around 5C around that time (mid 40F I believe) but it was also sunny and the wind not strong. Perfect for me to run hard with gloves, a long sleeve (singlet underneath) and shorts.

At the 9K mark, my good friend Jelly was there waiting. She called me yesterday and wished me well. She's the one who convinced me to sign up for my first marathon in 2006 so I was very happy to see her. We then turned to the right for running in residential area, which was a great break.

6. 00:04:20 8.60mph 9.2mph
7. 00:04:35 8.11mph 8.5mph
8. 00:04:24 8.45mph 15.3mph
9. 00:04:34 8.14mph 10.6mph
10.00:04:36 8.10mph 8.7mph

10K in 45:21

Tony neighbourhood, a castle and downhill!: 11K-15K
I really enjoyed the next section. It had a few turns into a fancy part of town where we encountered church goers and million dollar homes. You can see my splits were pretty freaking fast in these areas because we had some downhill portions. Also, a few of the runners i'd be pacing off were going a little fast (the group of 5 kinda broke down by then).

I was really happy I'd done a preview of the first half of this course last week. I knew what was coming up and how to prepare for it. I really think sometimes it's an advantage to know the turns, the topography so there are no surprises.

As for water stations, I thought they were okay, some of the areas didn't man the Gatorade sections and some of the water cups were unpinchable, which made it hard to get in a good glup without splashing yourself in the face. I was happy to have my own water supply, three bottles in a fuel belt. I put them to good use for taking in my gels. I took my second at kilometre 15.

11. 00:04:29 8.31mph 8.9mph
12. 00:04:31 8.25mph 9.0mph
13. 00:04:18 8.64mph 9.8mph
14. 00:04:28 8.33mph 8.8mph
15. 00:04:24 8.47mph 9.0mph

15K in 1:07:34

Yay, consistency! 16K to 20K
The next four kilometres were run in a beautiful Rosedale Valley road, a mostly downhill section lined with older trees. Lots of curves, some sunshine in bits, but a very interesting and varied terrain. I really used my 3 or so kilometres in this section to regain my stride, get my breath back in check and start clicking off real consistent splits.

If there was a rough patch to hit, I hit one for kilometres 19 and 20. I emerged to go west into the city and I was finding the flat terrain a little hard to get used to. A few runners I was with were erratic in their pace and I had lost all the guys I'd been pacing with. Added to that, as we reached the city, the police were letting cars go through the intersections and I saw at least one time when runners were forced to slow. Not good. Also, a few relay runners were blazing by, which was a little weird, and also we were zipping by half marathon walkers. It made pacing a real challenge.

16. 00:04:28 8.32mph 9.1mph
17. 00:04:33 8.19mph 9.6mph
18. 00:04:31 8.25mph 8.5mph
19. 00:04:30 8.26mph 9.6mph
20. 00:04:31 8.25mph 8.6mph

The half, past home and chasing bunnies: 21K - 26K
We were running west into the downtown district when we passed the half a little faster than I thought we would. I hit the half mark at 1:35 and change, two minutes faster than 3:15 pace. I saw my friend Lee, Chris, who was handing out water, and Jelly again. I was feeling a little tired but energized for the next bit.

We turned south and into the waterfront trail that is MY HOUSE! As we made our way to Queens Quay, I spotted in 400 metres into the distance a pack of runners. The 3:15 pacer and a good 20 runners behind or ahead of him! I smelled blood and gave chase.

As you guys know, I run the waterfront trail all the time. I live by the water and this marathon`s 21K to 38K is basically run on my home course. I set my sights on the group and upped my pace. When I hit the 23K mark, I took my next gel. As we entered the trail, I was right on their tail. By the 25K mark, I was two runners behind.

21. 00:04:34 8.15mph 9.2mph
22. 00:04:03 9.17mph 12.8mph (this was off as we went under a bridge)
23. 00:04:31 8.24mph 9.0mph
24. 00:04:26 8.41mph 8.6mph
Garmin lap RESET. 00:00:41 8.38mph 9.4mph
25. 00:04:30 8.26mph 8.6mph

Westward and workman miles: 26K to 30K
I made my way right beside and behind the pacer and we just clicked the kilometres away. He promised us that he would start doing consistent 4:38s, which made me happy because I wasn`t about to start burning myself up with fast mileage. It was a gorgeous day by then, the sun full on out there and a slight breeze, not too much to hold us back.

We were on an out and back and the pacer was describing the terrain, but my body just knows this trail, almost every rise and turn. When a pace group is doing well, it starts to swallow up other groups of runners, and inevitably, the group grows, swells until it drops those who can`t keep up. We hit the 30K mark with less than half the bigger group I was with. We turned around, went under an inflatable Wall, I punched it once and we were headed back into the city.

26. 00:04:31 8.25mph 8.6mph
27. 00:04:38 8.02mph 8.3mph
28. 00:04:38 8.04mph 8.5mph
29. 00:04:30 8.28mph 8.6mph
30. 00:04:36 8.09mph 8.7mph

30K in about 2:16

Now, the real race: 31K to 35K
I had firmly established myself right beside or behind our pacer by this point. He was an unpredictable runner, but some of his tactics probably did me well. He always walked through water stations to take in the liquids, whereas I like to jog or run right through them. I ended up doing slow jogs at the end of every water station then waited for him to catch up with me. He`d then speed up because of that lost time, forcing me to go from a jog to an MP pace to faster to make up for time. I saw this was good cause it gave me time to work out kinks that started to appear as mini cramps.

I was a little worried that the faster than planned first half could bite me in the end. I had taken my fourth gel by the 30K mark and was hoping that it would help me fend off the wall, but the changing pace was not helping me find the consistent splits that I`m used to clicking off.

As we reached the end of this 5K stretch, I was confident. I distinctly remember hitting the 34K mark and saying to myself, "okay, now you only have 5 miles to go, that`s nothing." You will see at kilometre 35 my pacer decided to throw down a 4:23 kilometre in order to make up for a hill. I`m almost sure that broke most runners who were following him.
31. 00:04:34 8.15mph 8.9mph
32. 00:04:32 8.20mph 8.7mph
33. 00:04:33 8.17mph 8.9mph
34. 00:04:48 7.74mph 8.4mph
35. 00:04:23 8.48mph 8.8mph

Facing your demons, and smashing their heads in: 36K to 39K
We had built up such a big cushion but with six kilometres to go (I thought, "four miles!") I knew there was big room for error. I could have cruised in with slower splits but I think slowing down opens the door to defeat and perhaps walking. I remembered last year and how I had done 4:30s and faster on my way to a 3:10 marathon and how after 37 amazing kilometres of hitting my splits, the heat and humidity did me in.

Today, I very well knew that the weather had handed me a perfect day, and as a result, the job was now mine to capitalize on it. I figured that the only way to really survive is to get my splits in and since I had the pacer in front of me, to hang on to him. I shed a water bottle after I couldn`t fit it back into my belt, took my last gel at 36K and fought on. Around this time, I heard my name being called out and later found out it was runnerlisa. I later saw Marlene as she was making her way out west to meet with some of her friends.

Mini cramps had set in from time to time, and I tried altering my stride a few times. By luck, I was reading a few running books yesterday and they addresssed mini cramps in races. First advice: Get fuel and water in you fast. I also happened to read an article recently that said gulps, not sips, are more effective. So to that advice, I gulped in my water and Gatorade in copious amounts. It helped.

By the time I passed my condo at kilometre 38, the pacer was only carrying me and one other runner, an expat who was really chatty. He took off and suddenly, I had my very own pacer! Hilarious, since I told the guy hours earlier "I`m glad to see you." Now, I was glad to have someone bring me home.
36. 00:04:44 7.87mph 8.4mph
37. 00:04:30 8.26mph 9.4mph
38. 00:04:35 8.13mph 9.1mph
39. 00:04:40 7.97mph 12.6mph

The final climb: 40K - 41K
We turned north and started a 3.5K run up University Ave, which is on an incline. It was this hill the pacer was telling me about this morning that he usually gives that buffer. I was pretty focused and I knew that I had more than a few minutes in the bank. All I had to do, I thought, was to make it up this freaking hill.

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday, I ran up this hill and had to take breaks at the stop lights. It was bothering me back then, but today, with a taper, a mind with a big goal, I kept up a decent pace despite the incline.

(Picture above, with 3K left, taken by Lee)

We were in the full sun, and it was warming up, but still cool. People were on the sides cheering and I knew I was strong. My friend Lee was on his bike, taking a picture, then I`d see him 500 metres later. And here I was, making my march up to the finish. Boston was mine, I thought. My body wanted to take a break, but I told my body to shut the hell up and endure just a few more minutes. For years, this has been a pursuit, now it was minutes away and mine.

(Picture taken by Lee with about 2K to go)

My pacer asked what I needed and I said 3:15 and he said "you are fine man, you`re there". He was right, I had a massive 3 minute bank by this time. So my personal pacer proceeded to sweep up a slowing runner, trying to drag him with him, and at that point, I took off and into the final 2 kilometres for myself.

40. 00:04:35 8.13mph 15.1mph
41. 00:04:43 7.89mph 10.0mph

Victory lap: 41K to the finish

I so wanted the incline to finish, but it would not finish me off. I knew that I had friends waiting for me, and I was thrilled to see them. I saw Jelly, then I saw R`s sister. Seeing R`s sister made me just explode. I was there. I accelerated and I saw R. and two of our friends. They were jumping up and down. I pumped my fist and just powered on. That kilometre, it says on my Garmin, was a 4:18. Among my fastest.

I LOVE this picture that R`s cousin took. Of course, she`s also a professional photographer. You actually see R and two of our friends jumping up and cheering me on as I run on the right side.

The final curve and turn into the finish was amazing. I pumped my fist. I raised my hands and just soaked in the final 200 metres. I thought I would cry after qualifying for Boston, but I slowed to a stop, walked a confident walk, and put on a broad smile. As R and friends beckoned me to them, I walked over and gave R a massive hug, but not before saying "I`m going to Boston."

No tears. Just a plain and simple statement. I have just qualified for the Boston Marathon.

Picture from Jelly`s cousin, who also ran the half.

42. 00:04:18 8.67mph 11.9mph
12:17:15 0.24mi 00:01:44 8.17mph 8.7mph

(I just forgot to note that I just lowered my PB by about 7 minutes!)
Chip time: 3:12:36
Overall: 107/1930
Gender: 99/1287
Group: 23/201

Details on runsaturday


So. I got my Boston qualifier!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Home course

The weather is looking good, I'm feeling rested and carboloaded, and the last half is on my home course. The 23K (and 37K marks) are right out my front door.

Now all I have to do is run 42.2K.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Arrive to the start line ready

I walked home in the sun and thought the weather was just about perfect. Yes, it's on the chilly side, but i'll take a high of 10C and sunny, starting at 2C, over a humid day with temps in the high teens or 20C.

I was kinda nervous about the week. The weather has been a worry. The cold or flu that has been making its way around my workplace has had me dousing my hands in sanitizer solution every few hours. Now that I'm safely isolated, having picked up my race pack, I just have a few tasks left.

-figure out my race day gear: I'm going with shorts, a short sleeve with a long sleeve on top, gloves and my MCM race hat. I've got my throwaway track pants and sweater to keep warm in. The shoes, I'm leaning toward wearing my new 1140s. I have broken them in over the last two weeks, having done a 17 miler and 13 miler on them, and they feel good.

-fuel up over the next few days: Just made the trip to pick up my pasta dinner and pastries (bagels, pretzels) at the market. That'll form my dinner tonight and i'll cook up my pasta tomorrow. I'm also starting to really hydrate aggressively with Nuun, soup and Gatorade. For dinner tomorrow, it'll be an early pasta meal followed by a late night snack of a bagel. For race-day brekkie, it'll be a bagel with jam, a banana and maybe a pancake. Before the race, i'll down a gel 30 minutes prerace.

-fuel plan for the race: 5 gels will be on me, and i'll mark clearly on my pace band when to take them. This is a huge tip that reminds me every 35/40 minutes. Will also bring GU chomps to munch on. Will also bring my own supply of water so I can take my gels on my own sked.

-routine: Sleep, rest, a short run tomorrow and watching the Spirit of the Marathon as my prerace inspiration. Will also stretch, visualize those hills.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Running strategically

I've done hills in marathons, never liked them, always suprised me. I like them early and I'd rather have one steep one than dozens of hills.

On Sunday, I took the subway all the way up to the start line of next week's Toronto Marathon, my seventh.

It's a net downhill course, which in basic terms means a fast first half, but within those first 21K - as I found Sunday - there are some monster hills. The map above shows the elevation. You can see in yellow some of the big climbs, and the downhill parts in red (there are big ones!).

As I ran up the first one, known as Hogg's Hollow, I felt my effort skyrocket so that I had to walk at the top. There were a few other medium sized elevations in the first 12K.

On Marathon Day, I do not intend to walk these hills. My PB marathon actually coame on a course that's known to be hilly, the Flying Pig Marathon.

"Run slower at the same effort" is what we're taught to run hills. I'm going to try that, slowing to a 4:45 to 4:50 in the kilometres I'm hitting hills. I'll make it up in the downhills.

I'm really happy I did the course review -- the last 21K of the marathon is mostly run on my daily training ground, which should be an advantage I think.

The big worry I have is having smart pacing. One think I do not want to see happen is too many too-fast kilometres on the downhills. If I'm perfectly paced, I should run the first half in about 1:38. The net downhill effect, I hope, will get me to that point at around 1:36:30, which would give me a great buffer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

There's fuel, then there's fuel

Stocked up on some carbs and race-day fuel today, and was a little shocked that my purchase of a pair of socks and a bunch of GU gels and chomps put me back more than $50.

For about $10, I bought some fresh made pasta and sauce, which means let the pasta eating week begin!

Back to the fuels, I've finally found the fuel for me -- GU gels digest the best for me and do not cause as much problems as others. The main problem is that I find others a little too hard to gulp down. I've used GU through the summer, mostly one or two during a long run.

Today, I saw that the store had stocked up on the Roctane gels, which are especially made for long distance, marathons or more. There's a huge difference in the nutritional components. I'm going to try one during my 13 miler tomorrow.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tuning up

With 10 more days until marathon day, I headed to the track tonight to do my last Vo2 Max workout. I've done quite a few of these over the years using the Pfitzinger program, a 3x1600 or three, one mile repeats.

A 4K warmup to the track and I did the three repeats. I do these at 5K speed so I aimed at 6:26 miles (a 20 minute 5K)

Here are the splits

1. 6:19 176 bpm average (185 max)
2. 6:26 180 bpm average (186 max)
3. 6:26 180 bpm average (189 max)

These aren't my fastest 3x1600, I've done them in 6:14 in previous years. Yet, I'm happy with the time. I never really struggled through the laps and I feel like I could have gone faster. I had to do a lot of weaving tonight as runners were taking the inside lane, but I concentrated on constant pace without it feeling too hard.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Back to basic pair of running shoes?

In my years of running, I've settled into a pattern of finding the shoe that gives me comfort, and sticking to them. So while I've never really gone away from the Asics brand, I've usually purchased the GT 2100 series (now at GT 2140) in no large part because they're popular but they also do quite well for my feet.

In the past year, I've tried more neutral running shoes as the GT series tend to give you a lot of support. I found going back and forth between neutral and motion control very noticeable. Some times I'm not sure which shoes is best.

When I first started getting into serious running, one of the shoes I tried was the Asics 1100s, a step down in the price category from the GT series. I last used them in the winter of 2005/2006.

Also in those years, I've gotten into long distance running. Doing 55 to 70 mile weeks puts a lot of stress on you, but it's not much mileage compared with those mega mileage runners who pound out 100 a week.

(Don't worry, this is going somewhere.)

Like a lot of runners, I'm in the middle of the new book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It's quite the book that mixes in profiles of personalities, a fascinating portrait of the Mexican Tarahumara tribe of natural-born runners and a study in ultra running. I won't give anything away by saying that Christopher advances the notion that we're "born to run" and not only that, that the modern shoe is a bane to our natural stride and running form.

While listening to the audio book during my runs, I've listened to my form a lot and I do notice that I have lots to work on. I need to feel the road, and to lightly hit the ground while gaining speed and turnover.

Anyways, the other day, I bought a pair of 1140s, and today took them for a test ride. Funny, I had the feel of a new running shoe but with the little less cushioning and the 'lower riding' feel of these shoes, I felt a more natural runner. My friend Lee, who also uses 1100s, confirmed this to me on Twitter, saying he found the GT 2100s too "restrictive" and they messed with mechanics.

Gonna try these shoes on my long run tomorrow. They felt great today but a long run will test that.