Thursday, March 29, 2012

Race report: Around the Bay 30K

I have a certain ritual I like to go through the day before the race. Saturday was not that kind of day.

In fact, Friday wasn't either. I had just spent two very long days helping cover a political event, and ended up the night before Around the Bay at the hotel, in my room, checking in on work, in an utter state of exhaustion. On the bright side, I had not run since Wednesday.

So that was me at the start corral for the 30K race. Tired, lacking in energy, unsure what I was in for, in alien territory. My strategy going into this weekend was to use it as a training run but I know that a race is a race. Problem was, I had no indicator on what I was capable of, having a lower than usual mileage this marathon training season. My paces had been relatively laid back, and my half marathon a week earlier in 1:41 was the only sign my body would be able to do more than an easy distance runs .

I've done pretty well in the 30K distance -- this time, I was thinking 2:30, which would get me going in on 5 minute kilometres. If this were last year or a few years ago,  I wouldn't miss a beat at aiming for that time. A 2:30 would put me in good state of mind for planning a 3:30 or faster marathon.

We hit the first part of the race at a what I thought was a slow start. In retrospect, it was good to hold back. More than 12 hours earlier, my co-workers were surprised I was going to race after a marathon of work, and in fact when we started the race all of them were probably in bed fast asleep. Man, I wanted to be nowhere near the roads.

So holding the 5 minute kilometre/8 minute mile pace felt harder than it should. I could feel each step in my bones.

Oh, did I mention it was perfect weather? Shorts and T-shirt for an Around the Bay, that's a new one.

Within a few miles, I had convinced by body that I going for the long haul, and slowly it turned the corner. The cardio came back, the stride lengthened, the pace was starting to lock into place. Trailing the 2:30 pacer after letting him get away, I felt almost great. The 10K mark came with the relay station, and I had no envy for the relay runners. A good sign.

I hit the 10K mark in less than 50 minutes. Perfect pace.

Mile 1: 8:03
Mile 2: 7:53
Mile 3: 7:55
Mile 4: 7:50
Mile 5: 7:44
Mile 6: 7:52
First 10K: 49:22

By this point, I felt that the pace bunny was running at a comfortable pace, but my natural comfortable pace was faster. So I stepped it up, and made my way through the flat course, north. That is, until my stomach told me I needed break, which I took at mile 10 (you can see the splits below). That killed about a minute of time that I had to make up.

Mile 7: 7:44
Mile 8: 7:54
Mile 9: 7:46
Mile 10: 8:43
Mile 11: 7:43
Mile 12: 7:44
Second 10K: 49:40

I hit Burlington feeling curious on how I'd handle the hills. Ran into Dave who was treating it as a progressively faster run. A few weeks ago, I did the course so I had some muscle memory of the incline. Luckily, the race setting put a competitive fire in me, and helped those long slow climbs go by fast. Racing, I've learned, lets you leverage those around you -- suck in the energy of others, stick behind runners who look like they've got energy, and tolerate a few minutes of pain until your body just gives in.
Mile 13: 7:40
Mile 14: 7:49
Mile 15: 7:40
Mile 16: 7:18

And yes, I survived Valley Inn Road and its steep climbs. Well before that point, I had stepped up the pace to a lot faster than 5 minute kilometres and after I crested the final hill, despite the pain, in spite of the exhaustion my mind was feeling, I tapped into my reserves. My legs were feeling fine, and they wanted to go fast. So I brought it home.

Mile 17: 7:42
Mile 18: 7:17
Last bit: 4:22 km pace
Third 10K: 46:40 

My best ATB's have been run with the last 10K as my fastest. This edition was my slowest, but given the year, and my condition, I'm still a little shocked I was able to pull it off. This one, I'll place into the books as one that experience (almost 80 road races, nine 30K races) give me what I needed to survive.
Negative split, I'll take that. And now I have a little more than hope to build upon my next goal marathon.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Around the Bay: Positive in the negative

So that was fun, started the race pretty exhausted from work, but found my pace, decided to leave the 2:30 pace group around 15K, then brought it home with a great second half. The hill, I barely noticed them. Totally ran this race by my own textbook, steady start, opened after the half, tackled the hills and hammered it home.

And the negative split.

Things are finally starting to turn around for my marathon training. My slowest ATB, but way better than I thought I'd do three weeks ago.

A picture taken by R's dad around kilometre 21/22.

Final time: 2:25:43

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two races

Last two days, we covered this race Tomorrow, I run a race Hopefully the first one didn't exhaust me too much, an interesting taper it's been

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Around the Bay 30K strategy

Some of the favourite keyword searches leading to my blog this month include such questions as "Is Around the Bay hard?", "Around the Bay strategy", "How to run Around the Bay Hills" and what colour is this year's shirt (I wish I knew, let me know when you find out)

I've run this 30K 'oldest road race in North America' five times, and it's, for me, an annual ritual. The race starts in Hamilton and runs around the Hamilton harbour, through Burlington, then back to Hamilton. Thus, around the bay. I love the race for the T-shirts (read my post about it here), for the tour of downtown and industrial Hamilton, then across to the city of Burlington, where you see the high-priced homes by the water and the infamous painful parts of the course.

2015 UPDATE: The Around the Bay 2015 course (see map) will not have the infamous hill. Here is the diversion around the hill (around a 2K route) which turns hills to essentially flat. Note the first 10K is similar to the 2014 version, which included rollers so now there are hills.

2014 UPDATE: The Around the Bay 2014 course is altered in the first 10K. Here's a post on that  and here's the map. I

2014 Around the Bay course

Original post continues

Here's a snapshot of the course from one my past races there. Click to see the course

When I think about how to run it strategically -- and many people do to try to score one of the medals for faster times -- I think about breaking up the race into three (okay, four) portions. This is in part based on the makeup of the course but also because this is a distance race that necessitates proper pacing so you don't run out of steam.

I like to think the course in pretty much four stages. I'll outline them here

Hamilton to the bridge: I think of the first 10K is pretty much a no-panic, get your pace in and get used to the crowds type of run. If you placed yourself accordingly in the corral, you should find yourself running at your pace within a few kilometres. Note that there are relay runners who will blow their energy. I like this because it's basically a straight route with a few small turns. The roads are pretty well maintained with the occasional pothole. I love this area also for the locals who always come out to cheer - like a church that always has its priest waving at the runners. If you have a goal pace in mind, you may want to ramp up to the pace, but stick at it. Remember this is a 30K and there is no sense to try to bank time. I've always taking the first 10K in a conservative way.

Bridge to Burlington: I like to look at the 10K mark, when you pass the first relay point, is a great time to hammer it. The crowds of the start will probably start to thin, if it's a sunny day, then you'll get the perfect temperature and  you'll have some energy to use up after a smart start. One danger is the wind speed as many places on this course are exposed. There are also slight inclines and that are worth putting stress on other muscle groups. I've often stepped up the pace in this stretch, especially if there is a good group of other runners to pace with.

The hills: Oh yes, this is where the fun begins. Before I talk about them, here's an elevation profile.

Around the Bay is essentially flat, with little rises, until you hit North Shore in Burlington. For everyone who runs Around the Bay, it's these hills and how you negotiate them that defines this historic run. For those who train for Boston, for example, these hills are good training for the hills of Newton. What you do get is a special test, from around kilometre 20 to 26. Over this space, you'll tackle hills, both uphills and downhills.

The hills have different profiles. Below is one of the early risers (after Glenwood, a street where R's parents live) that stretches for nearly 500 metres. It's one of those long slow climbs.  My strategy for this hill is to run it with the same effort that you'd run flat. Don't stop, even when others do. You can regroup on the flats and downhills.

One of the big hills on North Shore. This one continues for about 500 metres. Google Street View

With the hills, of course you'll get downhills like this (which you'll encounter about 150 metres after you climb the hill above. Coast down these hills, let gravity do its job, and recover your breath. Of course, right after this downhill, you have to climb up again. I kinda hate this hill.
Yay downhill. Google Street View

So the hills are spread out. I find some of the smaller climbs to be tough, when you are trying to maintain that same pace you started the race with some 25 kilometres earlier. And that's what gets you about these hills. They come late. Go out too fast, and you could be done. Forget to take a few gels, and you could be out of gas. If you didn't train for endurance or for hills, then they can eat you up.

But Around the Bay is probably most famous for two massive hills at the end, appropriately at the end of a big cemetery.

You'd rejoice on this big downhill at Spring Garden... Google Street View

Here's the huge drop at Spring Garden Road. The elevation chart above shows it as the beginning of the big V. You can really motor down this run, and you better, because you've got to climb up it.

But then you have to climb this... Google Street View
The view above is if you looked back after climbing Valley Inn Road. If you've never run it, all I can prepare you for it is to think of it as three steep climbs. The first takes you under a bridge, followed by the second that gets you up the length of the hill, followed by the final hill that takes you around the bend.

Downhill home: After conquering the bridge, you still got some more to go until the end. I've exited the final uphill with pace and cruised home with my fastest splits. Nothing really more to say that if you parcelled out energy through the first 26ish kilometres, the last bit -- which features the Grim Reaper -- can be a nice little victory run after the hard hills. In past runs, i've had to deal with cramping or just hitting a mini wall. Other times, perfect ending.

Whatever the end, nothing beats running towards Copps Coliseum, where you will run into the arena to the finish. Watch the little ramp downhill when you're making your big entrance.

If you skipped the text, here is the best way to run ATB:
KM 1 - 10: Run it smart, but you can run it at your goal pace
KM 11 - 20: If you feel good, continue on that fast pace, or even put some time in your bank with faster splits
KM 21 - 27: Take the hills with confidence, but take advantage of those downhills, as they'll give you your time back
To the end: This is downhill mostly, so if you got energy, burn it up!

You run it? What are your tips?

Other posts on Around the Bay:

Also, a clickable version of the course. Click through to see the course and play the course (and see the elevations).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Race report: DC Rock 'n' Roll USA Half Marathon (and Metro mess)

I guess when you run enough races, you eventually get to see everything. Today when the starting gun went off at 8 a.m. I was nowhere near the start. I found myself in another type of holding pen: Inside a Metro station a kilometer from the start. Here's what it looked like as we were climbing up the escalator. Pretty insane.

Via goldpeachdesu

I guess I should've known. This was the first year that the rock 'n roll series have come to DC to take over the SunTrust Marathon and half marathon. A victim to corporate naming rights, the half marathon I ran was actually called the CareFirst, BlueCross, Blueshield Roll 'n' Roll USA 1/2 Marathon. Wow, that's a mouthful.

Actually, I should've known from looking at expo yesterday was that a hell of a lot of people have signed up for this race.

Still this morning, I decided to leave more than enough time to get to race, the same time I put aside to get to the Pentagon for the MCM the past five years - or so I thought. We waited for 20 minutes at one station on the Red line, by which time our subway was packed tight with runners. They couldn't close the doors, so they kicked us all out and we basically ate 40 minutes on trains and subway stations.

That's a first, starting the race on a subway platform. I just resigned myself to a different kind of race. "It's a training run," I thought as I waited and line and chatted up other runners as we waited for the portapotty. We complained about the wait, but we were pretty chill about it -- at least none of us were using it as a goal race but i'm sure others were.

From the back of the corrals (there were 27), I finally did some maneuvering to make it pass the start line 26 minutes after 8. I'm not sure how fast the runners were at my start, but I did spot the 2:45 pace group. Wow, I had a lot of work to do.

Going into the race, my strategy was to pace for 5 minute kilometres or 8 minute miles for a 1:45. It was an even pace and a good one to see how it'd feel -- I haven't really done much pace work at all this year. I've been a pace bunny for two half marathons for 1:45 so in theory this was a piece of cake. Right.

So, given that I started way back, I spent the entire race doing the following
  • Running on the sidelines, which includes grass, raised sidewalks and almost brushing up against parked cars
  • Weaving through walls of runners looking for a window so I wouldn't lose pace
  • Going from left of the course to the right (and the opposite) to get into a groove
It's not ideal finding a consistent pace when you're spending the race pacing increasingly faster runners. From the first 5 miles, I was going significantly faster, then as I caught up to runners at the front, it became harder to figure out how fast I was going.

Rock 'n' Roll Marathon at Dupont Circle

The course has a good stretch from mile four to eight of gradual uphills, with some bigger ones around mile 6-7. Still, I gradually increased the pace. Once we hit the high point, I remembered how I attacked this course a few years ago after the 9 mile mark. Although I was still weaving through crowds, I felt great and started to hammer it. A few other runners were doing the same.

I hit the home stretch going at tempo pace, which pretty much emptied the tank but it felt great to ramp it up. I hit the end in 1:41:36 -- considering the circumstances, I'm really happy with the time.
 According to my finish page, I was the 909th half marathoner of 16291.

Next week, Around the Bay 30K!


Here's the mile splits:
Mile 1: 8:11 (5:05km)
Mile 2: 8:16 (5:08km)
Mile 3: 7:38 (4:45km)
Mile 4: 7:49 (4:52km)
Mile 5: 7:55 (4:55km)
Mile 6: 7:55 (4:56km)
Mile 7: 8:03 (5:00km)
Mile 8: 7:50 (4:52km)
Mile 9:  7:18 (4:33km)
Mile 10: 7:18 (4:33km)
Mile 11: 7:18 (4:32km)
Mile 12: 7:29 (4:39km)
Mile 13: 7:02 (4:22km)
Mile 13.x: 1:28 (4:21km pace)

And bling:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Word on the street

It's funny to be on the other side. In my day job as a journalist, I've seen the power of a media brand, and fielded questions and assumptions on how mainstream media (MSM) works. How we often miss the mark. How we supposedly fail to connect. My running life, aside from all the reasons I love to write about, allows me to experience the other side.

Our sport is portrayed in the oddest light in mainstream media. On one end, you get the bizarre (pregnant marathoners, web cam runners), while on the other, you'll get the clinical coverage of the top end of the sport focused on the key stars. Other coverage tries to chart the movement of this running boom, deciding to give lifestyle-tinged coverage of how to get fit and cross another line on your bucket list.

Even within our own press, such magazines as Runner's World and Canadian Running Magazine, struggles with how to connect to this community. We'll see great features of our running royalty, of the top 10 ways to (lose weight/eat healthy/run long), and a few feel-good profiles of fellow runners who do great things. Occasionally, Runner's World hits it out of the park with top notch narratives that's worth the year's subscription.

Fielding accusations from the general readership on how MSM operates, I often wonder if it's true. Does mainstream miss the mark? Can they tap into issues, topics and feelings that emerge.

The masses
Maybe there is that wall -- not the one at mile 20 -- that sits there between the mainstream view and the general running public. I've often thought about what is it that makes media decision makers so disconnected to what the public thinking and saying and experiencing.

I watched the Kony 2012 video take grip this past week. At my newsroom, we flooded to 'figure out' what the buzz was all about, and we jumped on it. Other  national newsrooms started doing the same. A day after that, it appeared on the national news station. And by the weekend, a national newspaper dedicated its front page to explaining what makes a video (or a movement) go viral. A front page newspaper article about viral video? That circular motion reminded me of those first days that media figured out that real people were using Twitter and found the only way to respond is to cover the platform to death. Huh?

I've written about how Twitter is great for running, but it occurred to me how out of touch one can get. A few weeks ago, I read a piece by Canadian Running about How Social Media is Changing Our Stride. The reporter, who had interviewed me a year ago, wrote about the closeness of community that social had brought to our sport.

My post on the Scotiabank marathon bag check disaster got mention (self plug alert):

At the grassroots level, there are recreational runners, ranting to others with similar passions - an angry blog post about poor race organization can get dozens of comments, generating compelling discussions and responses from race directors. The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon’s baggage claim disaster received significant coverage on Kenny Yum’s blog “A whole lot of soles.” Race director Alan Brookes even took notice, sending out an apology and incorporating suggestions from the blog into his proposed solution for the next year.

Looking back at the bag check disaster, I remember thinking about that disconnect. I had just finished one of Canada's biggest marathons, and there was, to our community, a massive screwup. I looked for coverage but there was nothing, even from our own running press, no mention on their sites or social. All eyes were on the elites, the record breakers, the 'highlight' reel.

The resulting post provide what I saw as the only outlet of coverage that clearly connected with a lot of my fellow runners. I posted, curated from Tweets and other social channels, conversed on social to get more reaction.

To my fellow media colleagues, I'm sure it was an interesting exercise to witness. Even as I was putting the post together I had several thoughts about MSM conspiracies. Did the running press feel a lack of responsibility to shed light on a race's miscues that could also sub as an advertiser or did it just have its eyes too much on the front of the pack to figure out what the rest of the racers (essentially, its readership) were experiencing? Do the elite press only pay attention to the elite? I wonder about that even now when I look at Canadian Running, who on Twitter describes itself as "the voice of Canada's running community, designed to inspire and motivate runners of all abilities." What do runners care about?

As a recreational runner, and one that's on various social networks (including DailyMile), and one that has maintained a running blog for plus six years, it's interesting to see that daily conversation as they unfold inthe blogosphere, on social media and on the running trails. I get a daily dose when I look through my site's stats to see what people are searching for. They're looking for advice on how to run the next race, how to train for that half marathon, on how to run through sickness, or tackle the hills of the 30K Around the Bay. I've learned that listening to that search traffic, conversing on social, reading other blogs gives me a truer picture of what this running community is like. Sometimes if I'm lucky i'll also see it reflected in the running press as well.

Thursday, March 08, 2012


I used to make excuses. I used to have the line ready.

"I have to get my run in."

It's a full fledged addiction, I'd admit, to feel the urge to put in the training, spend hours on the road, rushing life along so I could get some me time and put in the miles. Today I was asked after an event whether I had time for drinks. Another day, I see an evening event. A friend wanted to schedule in dinner.

How do other people do it, I wonder. How does the average person deal with their disposable time?

I love the concept of a disposable income, as if you have money to 'throw away' at housing, food, savings. It in a way devalues the meaning of this well earned cash.

My disposable time, I've found, is a beast to manage. After work (long hours) and sleep (in short supply), I'm often left with precious time. I don't know how my friends with kids and other obligations even manage, because it's hard enough for me to juggle rest, hobbies, catching up with friends, time with R. and training.

Last Sunday, I pounded out my first 20 miler in months. A few days later, after recounting my training, a co-worker (who has kids) said these exact words to me: "Do you know what you can do with three hours?!"

In truth, this winter my training has been lacking in the mileage I usually throw at a training program. My Daily Mile Update tells me I ran for 5 hours, 48 minutes last week. Add time for changing, warmups, cooldowns and traffic lights and you've got about 8 hours dedicated to training. I wonder about finding the balance, but realize that the bar for physical fitness is most definitely pretty low among others, that I'm spending an inordinate time on cardio exercise.

Today, running with a friend, we reminded ourselves of some of the more advanced training programs we've been though, ones that put me through mid-week 12 mile runs, 100km weeks when total training time tallied by sundown Sunday would easily reach seven to 10 hours.

These days, I'm giving back time to other things, like work and sleep and rest. I've even cut down on blogging and tweeting on running, but I just can't let go of the actual act of running. The miles don't tally up to the impressive numbers while I was in the hunt for faster times, but I feel utterly compelled to slip on the running shoes five or six times a week.

Out there, time gets lost. Out there, my mind that was once rushing through life finds the time to focus in the here and now. Out there, I give myself back something I lost -- ultimately, time. And although that epiphany sneaks up on me run after run, as if I get an ah-ha moment that melts away a busy day, calms my mind, steels my body and reminds me why I wanted to get that run in in the first place.

By the way, I'm back! Racing season (and longer evenings) and spring is here!