Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marathon as a work philosophy

A close friend who recently came back to town after a long time away commented on my running progress in the years that have gone by, about the time on the road I spend day in, day out, about committing to a training program. I don't schedule running into my life, I schedule life around running, it seems. Not a bad thing, because we all schedule work around life, sleep around life, and besides those two things, everything else (except eating and personal hygiene) is optional.

That conversation had me making a list of all the things that running has taught me to conduct in my work life. Patience, I thought. Determination, sure. Tenacity, of course. Pacing. Yes.

I found myself using running as example at work the last week. I remember talking to a co-worker about all the issues we deal with and in the end, I said, in some sports, we say keep your eye on the field. I told him that as a runner, my best advice was to pace yourself, or risk burnout -- or at least not focusing on the prize. It's a marathon, not a sprint, is something I hear people casually throw around. I know its literal implications.

Overwhelmed is the usual feeling of anyone who does the line of work I'm in. We can keep to-do lists in spreadsheet or stickies on our desktop screens, but in the end, I just sometimes keep it all in my head, and tackle that pile with a "Get Shit Done" attitude.

Late last week, I had one of those days. I sat down, and tore through a mental to-do list. An election was coming, and while panic is the usual feeling, all i had was this feeling was I'd been there before. When i get into the GSD mode, i liken it to a strong paced long run.

I picture myself on the trail, maybe in the middle of a 20 miler, and this runner blows by me at a fast pace. I could give chase but i have no idea whether a) he's running fast, but for only 1k b) he's doing speed work or c) he just wants to pass me.

Usually, this passing gets my hunter spirit roused. I run just a little more sharply. I keep the pace, but am aware that i can raise it or at least keep to it for another hour (or two). You feel a little more alive.

That feeling, the one you get at mile 10 of a marathon, when your tapered body is feeling just fine, hungry, that's my GSD mode. I'm not sprinting, not panicking, not running out of breath. Eyes ahead, with more than enough energy but just enough for another strong 16 miles.

And so it occurred to me that in the time since I've started running marathons, that this is now the third election campaign in my long-distance running life. I'm again heading into another campaign that comes with it long hours and random items that I just must address, now, not yesterday. And so while every national journalist sprints past the start line, I'm trying my running approach to my work.

Prepare, keep it consistent, and when it gets down to it, GSD.

Not only that attitude gets me through long work stretches, it usually is those training runs that I force on myself during these periods, when others head to the bars or to home to sleep, and I tune out the issues and get shit done on the trails.

Race days are approaching. Hungry for that finish line to pass.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Race report: Around the Bay 30K

At the starting line yesterday, with the brilliant sun betraying the fact that we were all warned that it would 'feel like' -17C, I knew I was in for trouble if I didn't act. Guys don't like asking for help, whether it be for directions or in my particular case, a wrong choice in wardrobe. But I knew that if I didn't seek any, then I'd be in big trouble.

The rule for winter running is that you should be chilly at the start. Cold = good. For winter races, you should be basically shivering. Problem was, I was not only not cold in the start corrals, I was warm. Minus 17C my ass. The sun was bright, wind light and I was trying to find a way to tear off the sleeves off my 'light' windbreaker that was covered by my T-shirt (and a base layer underneath).

So I asked the guy behind me if he could help: 'Can you help,' I asked, trying without luck to unzip the jacket. He did after a few fumbles and asked me if I was going to throw it away. 'No,' I said, 'I have pockets.'

I've written before about this course. It is one that is entirely possible to race with great times and the course I think has with each part a strategy.

The goal was to go out at a comfortable pace. I wanted to try a little faster than 5 minute kilometres, which is how I've been doing some of my recent long run paces (and recent half marathon pace bunny assignment)


Tried to no go too fast, but maintain a fairly strong pace, comfortably hard I'd say. A lot of jockeying for position in the early kilometres but we settled in. The first 8K is a feeling out of the field, a lot of people start off too fast, but Around the Bay features a pretty fast field, so a lot of great runners to pace with. Makes holding such paces relatively easy.

We were running into the sun, and by know, my fourth ATB, I anticipated each corner, picturing the next turn ahead of me. Pretty hilarious to know a course that well.

Heading into the 10K mark, as we were turning into Burlington, I was feeling really good. I put on a pace band (5 min kilometres) but didn't even look at it once. Barely even looked at my watch. Just going by feel, going with the flow. The kilometres went by fast.

Felt good to be going. And without those damned sleeves.

1 04:36
2 04:42
3 04:45
4 04:48
5 04:47
6 04:42
7 04:43
8 04:42
9 04:39
10 04:38

10K: 47:28
(Last year, I hit the 10K mark in 45:04, on pace for a 2:15)

Most of the next 10 kilmetres were flat, with some slight rises. This portion of the ATB it's easy to go out too fast. The open spaces make you some how want to go faster. I just plugged away, using the stronger runners around me as targets so I wouldn't lag too much. The splits below reflect that, pretty good running. History shows that the paces below map a little slower to my (trained) marathon pace so my muscle memory and heart were responding okay.

Experience, of course, let me down when I found out that morning I only had one gel. As it turns out, I was waiting to use it for the 21K mark, I never used one at all. I relied mainly on Gatorade at every station and a few sips of my Gatorade supply I had with me. The cool weather was a major aid.

11 04:34
12 04:49
13 04:43
14 04:44
15 04:41
16 04:42
17 04:43
18 04:42
19 04:40
20 04:35

20K: 1:34:43 (47:15 10K split)
Last year, hit the 20K mark at 1:29:12

The next 10 is what makes the ATB a wicked course. Basically, from kilometres 21 to 26, you get five hills. All in all, they are not that bad, as each hill as a corresponding downhill for you to recover.

I just tackled each hill by going with the usual, 'same effort, different pace'. If you look at my splits below, the reality is even though you go up the hills a little slower, the downhills make up the time. The kilomtetre that included the last hill had a fast kilometre before it.

21 04:41
22 04:40
23 04:36
24 04:41
25 04:34
26 04:28

After the big hill, it was a slightly downhill course to Copps. I've done some great runs in this part of the course. There was this one year when I did basically 10K speed in the final kilometres. This one was good, as I raised the tempo in the last two kilometres. Real reassuring to run the fastest kilometre as your last.

27 04:45
28 04:36
29 04:22
30 04:15
31 00:38

Final chip time: 2:20:27.

A real solid result. My average 30K race time, averaged over six races, was 2:18:44, with a PB of 2:13:24, so I know I can do better. Truth is, my last great 30K race was in 2009. I think if I make ATB a goal race one year and train up to it, I can lower that time in a big way. Good to have goals, maybe for my fifth ATB next year.

Here are the 10K splits, and they got progressively faster:
10K: 47:28
20K: 47:15
30K: 45:44

Three weeks till Boston!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Can you tell me what the hell are the odds?

So, I ran Around the Bay 30K this year, no expectations, but the final chip time is puzzling to say the least:

2010: Gun for 2:15, pull a leg cramp and hobble in
Gun time: 2:20:43.2
Chip time: (2:20:27.3)

Today: Have no goal, just faster than 5 min Ks, run it consistent, strong and:
Gun time: 2:20:52.4
Chip time: (2:20:27.3)

Both years: 2:20:27:3

I don't know, that is kinda freaky. And while I was sprinting to the finish, something made me not put on that next gear.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Down here by the Bay

Pretty much one of my favourite races tomorrow. Kicks off the racing season for good. Around the Bay 30K in Hamilton is becoming an annual must-do event.

I've run it in perfect weather, and in crappy rain. Tomorrow will be sort of between perfect and crap. Sunny, but bitterly cold. Nothing a few layers can take care of, I hope.

The image here shows, in the distance, the bay we're running around. I'm staying near the start/finish line and Copps Coliseum.

Still think it's pretty cool to finish in a hockey rink.

Shirts are okay this year. They went with Black and White for the men.

This week's been a busy week with work, but got about 20 miles before tomorrow. I may put in a few miles before the race to give me 40 miles on the week. I really could do more mileage but hey, balancing work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Friday long run

Flew into DC this morning with barely 5 hours sleep, but the weather is unbelievable, a few days before spring. It's a high of 23C so I figured that since R. is off, I'd tackle my long run today.

Today was one of those long runs that you knew you wanted to hurt. Even within a kilometre, I was pushing faster than 'long slow distance'.

Sometimes, you just don't listen to the body, you force it to wake up, to work a little harder, to remember what distance running feels like when you push yourself.

I did a whole bunch of out-and-backs along DC's running paths: To the zoo and back, on the towpath for a few miles, then out to Hains Point. Wish I could download the map, but it's a scenic, mostly flat route that lets your run pretty much uninterrupted for miles on end.

It was hot. I had two fuel belt bottles that I had filled up with Gatorade, then retopped at a water fountain. All the fuel I had was that, along with one gel that I took after 13 miles.

So the last 7 miles were a wee bit challenging, but I pushed it, finishing the run steps away from R's apartment (how do I measure my runs so well, I wonder -- 20 miles of running only to end up a block away from where you started).

Now the eye-popping part. I averaged just over 5 minute kilometres. Wow, that was unintended, but I'll take it. Didn't expect to do near pace work.

Exhausted and famished, I stumbled into a Subway for lunch, and an office worker asked me how long I did. I told him and he told me his wife just did 20 today too. We talked about her doing Boston, me doing Boston and it was a little funny having running talk while I was ordering as many toppings on my footlong tuna sub.

Doesn't matter, you can pretty much eat whatever you want after burning 2300 calories.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Donate to a good cause

Not much stops me from running the Spring Run-Off. It's one of those race days that I totally get into, doing the double for two years in a row.

I run for my sanity and health, and it was at Harry's where I caught the running bug.

On the hills of this park, where I ran my first road race, I've learned the value of community, that hard work are earned in the form of hill repeats and that good causes are always worth running for.

Harry's is a special run because it draws the running community out on what we all hope is the first perfect spring-like day. Nothing like the buzz of the crowd accompanying the bagpipes you hear near the start.

My company is a media sponsor, so I'm fundraising for a very good cause: the fight against prostate cancer.

If anything, sponsor me because it'll make me run up the hill just a little faster, cause it'll be painful to watch from the sidelines, almost worth the price of admission.

You can visit my sponsor page here. And thanks

Monday, March 14, 2011

The only guy who loves spring forward

For the record, while everyone else around me bitches about losing an hour of sleep, or the dark mornings we get again, all I have to say is:

Sun after 7 p.m.!

If anything, this day marks the end of winter. I can't tell you how depressing it is to arrive at home after work for months and run in the darkness. I ran in the full sun this afternoon, and so did the dozen runners who were out there.

Even wore shades.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

10 miles of rain, snow, ice, slush and puddles

You know when you're a kid, jumping in puddles always seemed like a good idea. The thing about it, is you can make a big splash, and your rubber boots would keep your feet nice and dry.

Today, I stepped in enough puddles, so much so that I thought there was actual water accumulating inside my shoes. How many puddles, you ask?

No, not half a dozen or even 30 puddles. Ten miles -- 16 freaking kilometres -- of slush.

The forecast didn't look too promising. Snow, then rain, then snow. On my way home from work, it was slush mixed with ice and water.

So I put on my 'water resistant' Asics running shoes with spikes. Yeah right about the water resistant. Within a hundred metres, my feet were soaked. And it never stopped. I would try to run on what seemed like dry ground, but it was nothing but water with a thin layer of wet snow on top. Actually, I was running on slush.

And it would be acceptable that there would be a pile of slush here and there that I could avoid by veering to the left or right (or jump over), but every surface was slush.

Which mean every footstep caused a splash of freezing cold slush that my other foot, on its way down, would catch the spray.

Ten miles of that.

Funny, then, that early on in the run, about 2 miles in, I actually thought about turning back after 3 miles to do 6. No, I was stubborn. I wanted to do 10. But then I didn't realize that the wind was at my back, and I'd have to run against this weather on the way back.


Anyways, all I could think about during this run was the following
-Wow, this really @#$#@ sucks. Oh, there's another runner. Wave at them
-Um, maybe I should have put bandaids on those nips, my clothes were that soaked
-Man, I'm glad Sunday's race was a sunny day in May compared with this.
-If I run fast enough, my feet will warm, therefore warming the frozen water that's inside my shoe
-Marathoners are stupid sometimes

But I did get my 10 miler in. That's pretty good.

Monday, March 07, 2011

And no, I'm not the Easter bunny

Most spectators yesterday on the course, recognized me as the 1:45 pacer. Usually the chant was "go 1:45s!" which is the right way to cheer us on.

One woman said to no one in particular, "there's the Easter bunny", to which I had no reply. Anyways, I was checking out results from yesterday's half when I saw pictures are already processed. Wow, fast.

I didn't put the bunny ears until I got to the race site, so it's kinda nice to see what I look like.

The picture below is from the final 200 metres. I was just passing a runner with (I think) a Chicago Marathon jacket. There's a group of runners behind me, maybe I should have been with them instead.

And this sequence shot is funny, the guy I'm passing is looking at this crazy bunny beside him. Priceless that look.

And while we're looking at pictures of a blue bunny on a cold day, here's red bunny last October at Niagara Falls.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Race report: Chilly Half Marathon (1:45 pacer)

I woke up at 5 a.m. to have my breakfast, and was dismayed to see the snow that had fallen. Checked the forecast, ate breakfast, and tried not to think about it before going back to bed.

Yep, two hours later the snow had not gone away. Damn. I had planned to do extra mileage today by running down to the race site from R.'s parents' place, a mere three miles away, but I was in no mood for that after ducking outside to do 200 metres. My pace didn't look good in the snow.

Luckily, R's dad drove me to the start, and I was shocked by the bad roads. There was a lot of slush and ice. I walked the course, saw the first turn was basically a pile of slush and got ready.

One of the great thing about races is I get to see some of my blogosphere/tweeps out there. I bumped into at least four, and two of them started with my pace group.

I wasn't sure if we would be running in snow and I knew how hard it would be to keep up the pace if it was crap, so I added this disclaimer to my pace sign. It drew a few laughs at the start and on the course.

The start was a little bit of a mess. I was running with Marlene and we were dodging crowds, veering in and out of traffic and generally trying not to start off too so. The first corner by now was a puddle. We ran out west, then south on a mini out and back, and the runners were basically trying to run on those ruts that cars leave when they drive through snow. Because we were trying to gain ground and veer around slower runners, my feet were quickly soaked.

1 00:05:06
2 00:04:49

But by two kilometres, a second fast one made up for a slightly slower first, and we were on track. I have a lot of interesting memories of the first bit.

-having to leap over a pylon that came out of nowhere (okay, it was in front of me, but a runner veered away at the last second).
-continually have to shout out 'pace group coming through' to try to buy us some room. Yes, I was a swaying maniac for the first bit
-not one of the water stations seemed to be working well. At one, there was barely enough water in my cup. At another, the volunteer (love them) was holding the cup on the palms of her hands. Two cups knocked off.

3 00:04:57
4 00:05:04
5 00:04:53

I was pretty pleased with the pace. The ground was messy but we were still making time. It actually wasn't that bad and plenty of faster runners weren't having that much trouble ahead. Marlene had left around this time and I was aware of runners behind me, but this wasn't really a chatty group. I don't blame them, neither was I.

6 00:05:02
7 00:05:00
8 00:05:01
9 00:04:59
10 00:05:00

Pretty freaking good splits huh? I'm pretty proud of that. I was within 5 seconds of the target pace. I announced when we hit 10.6 kilometres that were were half way, and by then, the weather was pretty good, some wind, clearer (relatively) roads and we had a good pace.

11 00:04:55
12 00:04:56

We did a turnaround here, and I became a little more chatty, updating the group behind me on what our pace was or just encouraging in general. I had dressed pretty perfectly for this race. I had my craft base layer, a light windbreaker and my pacer shirt on top. I wisely doubled up on the gloves.

And as usual, holding the sign got just a little uncomfortable, but not enough that I felt like I wanted to ditch it. (A runner asked me how I could do it, and he's right, it's freaking annoying.)

13 00:04:55
14 00:04:57
15 00:04:58
16 00:04:53

We hit the 10 mile mark just about 8 seconds within pace, so I looked to keep on running strong. Did the old, 'a half marathon is a 10 mile run with a 5K race' and it seemed to cheer everyone. I started to count down the miles.

My stomach was giving me some issues, but I was able to hold that off for the rest of the race. Also, all the weaving and running in slush/ice/pavement, was making my left achilles ache a bit (I have to stretch it out tonight) but I felt I was totally fine.

In fact, I felt great, as I usually do well into a long run.

17 00:04:58
18 00:04:47

I shouted 'two stinking miles left!' at this point, which drew laughs, but I was ready to finish it off. I wanted to urge runners who felt good to go ahead, but no one was really taking the bait. At the 19K mark, I saw I was 5 seconds behind pace, so I told everyone I'd step it up a bit. We made that room up in the next two K. I remember looking at my pace band, needing to hit 1:34:34 at kilometre. We hit it in 1:34:40 and I got a wee worried. Pushed up the pace.

19 00:04:55

And a bit more.

20 00:04:48

Yeah, so the 20K was a tad fast. Opps. I wanted to urge people on but in retrospect, maybe I should have slowed it down back to 5 minute kilometres. The end was near and my arm was getting tired. So while I should have backed off, I kinda stepped it up a bit.

21 00:04:47
22 00:00:47

I didn't help that with 200 metres to go, some spectator looked at his watch and gave me a disapproving look. He wouldn't have known that I started a minute after the gun went off. So instead of going even faster and whooping it up, maybe I should have slowed it waay down.

Again, oh well. 26 seconds faster than 1:45 is pretty damn good in those conditions. Anyways, I brought the entire gang to within 10 seconds with a kilometre to go. I think the job was fulfilled.

Had an awesome time. Love pacing. But I think I gotta find a half marathon to race.

Final chip time: 1:44:34

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A sign of the time?

I'm hunkered down at my girlfriend's parents' place as they are graciously hosting this pace bunny before Sunday's half marathon 4K down the road from their Burlington house. While I'm all comfy, listening to the sounds of Trinidad Carnival drifting from the kitchen, I remind myself that outside, it's nasty.

Rainy. And windy too.

So here's the deal. In 14 hours, it will probably still be windy. That rain now pounding down may turn to snow, which may accumulate. And I still have to find a way to run even 5 minute kilometres for 21 tomorrow (after I run 5K to the start line). Okay, okay, yes, my half mary times are a lot faster than 1:45 and I run marathons at paces faster than 5 minute kilometres, but there is that X-Factor that all seasoned racers dread. Weather.

Or, as I told the Running Room pace bunny co-ordinator, who wished me luck when I picked up my sign, bunny ears and T-shirt, "It should be fun."

He picked up right away on that word. "Should eh?" he said, laughing.

Good thing that up to 4000 other runners will be lining up. Crowds always makes us run faster. Sure hope we have the footing to go along with our intended pace. Tomorrow, I'm going to channel the arctic hare.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Rest those legs

It's a little ridiculous that we even call it a mini-taper. If I wasn't a marathoner, I think I'd just call it two days off, but I'll go ahead and say it: Mini taper.

Whatever, I'm obsessing a little over Sunday's half marathon, my first race since the New York City Marathon in November. What the heck was I thinking when I signed up for a 1:45 pacing job in this weather.

That's probably why I'm taking a day or two off. The first day to give my head a shake, the next one to save up some strength to possibly try to keep even pace in (maybe) snow Sunday morning.

The race is a good way to bring in March though. Just having it on the horizon had me eating better, upping my mileage, doing lots of pace runs. Even today, on my recovery run, I found it hard to go slower than 8:06 miles. Think I'll be ready to run 13.1 at the pace, whether I'll be the chatty, happy with plenty of breath pacer is another matter.

Just realized that I'm 45 days until I do Boston. That's about 3.5 weeks until the real taper. Truth be told, I'm following a schedule that has me running the Toronto Marathon in May, so Boston will be the long run before the Toronto taper.

The racing season has begun. It was nice to take a break from organized events. But now it's a half mary, 30K, 8K, Marathon, 10K, Marathon. And that's just until May 15th. May to end of October will bring a lot more races, including three marathons in October alone.

Yes, I need a distraction. Hey, pretty picture I took on my 11 miler yesterday.