Thursday, April 25, 2013

Goodlife Toronto Marathon strategy and race guide

Oh, the taper. Fewer runs, reduced mileage, achy joints and plenty of time to start obsessing over your next race - like the Goodlife Toronto Marathon or Mississauga Marathon if you're in these parts. I get a lot of interest here about proper strategy to race Goodlife Toronto, or the same on Mississauga. Today, in light of my lighter load, I'm outlining a relatively simple course strategy for the Goodlife Toronto Marathon, which runs this year on May 5. Here is my Mississauga Marathon race strategy from last year.

A bit of background on my experience with this race. I've run the marathon course the last four years and used it for a successful BQ attempt. The course, if you run the first half strategically, can give you a fast and well earned first half. I'm also a "co-pacer" this for the 3:50 marathon group with my friend Sam (I took it as a last-minute assignment). The way I outline it may have nothing to do with how we actually pace it on May 5.

Course description, the short version: The race (see course map) starts up in North York at Mel Lastman Square. You go slightly north, then plunge down Yonge Street, make a diversion west past the Upper Canada College and Casa Loma before crossing Yonge Street. That first 10 miles is net downhill, with only one big uphill really worth mentioning. You then plunge again down Rosedale Valley Road for about three kilometres, when you basically enter the second half of the race that's flat. The second half is an out and back on the waterfront, passing the finish line on your way out. The race ends at Ontario Place, which spares racers prior versions of this course where you had to march up University Ave. up to Queen's Park.

Race strategy in short: Use the downhill to your advantage in the first half, the hold on for the flats in the second half.

Half marathon strategy is much like the full, except you don't have the UCC/Casa Loma but you do have the benefit of having Rosedale Valley Road. Here's the course map.

Course elevation

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Race report: Toronto Yonge Street 10K 2013

Pounding the pavement, somewhere after the 6K mark, I looked at the two runners around me and an inner smile creeped under the brim of my racing hat. Three generations of runners, running side by side by side. In the course of 40 minutes plus of racing, while many of us were running for Boston, that is a moment I'll remember.

(Yonge Street 10K race results)

This race wasn't in my calendar. I had signed up for the Sporting Life 10K race, which is pretty much an identical race to this one. The Canada Running Series created this race last year after the other racing body took Sporting Life. With two weeks to my first marathon of the year, I wasn't sure if 10K now would be a good idea. (Though, in my past training, the Pfitzinger-Douglas plan does call for some racing two weeks out to keep your body sharp.)

But of course for Boston, I felt I wanted to take to the streets, whatever message or solidary it'd show. Took out the Boston colours and extra bib.

10K warmup
I met up with a friend and we ran a slow 10K (1 hour) up to the start line. This is a downhill course, net, so we were able to warm up by going up those hills. With 10K in, I felt I'd race, but be smart in not burning out.

The start line was filled with runners sporting Boston bibs, Boston gear and blue and yellow. We had 30 seconds of silence and then it was the business of racing.

Last year, I ran the Sporting Life the week after running a marathon. I also ran up to the start line. That race I finished in 43 and change, so that was the thought, that today I could match that if not go out faster.

The first five kilometres is where you get a tonne of those downhills. We went off and I was just trying to get comfortable. Luckily, the 10K warmup meant my body was right into it -- the effort didn't feel hard, but I didn't have the fastest first kilometre (4:29). Soon, I was feeling great, and when I spotted another runner turning it on, I decided to lift the pace.

The starting line

I was relaxed, shaking out my hands, rotating my shoulders, trying to get a good straight form. The splits below kind of speak for themselves. Was feeling so good that I was listening to my breathing and already starting to up the pace as runners hit the second and third uphill. I hit the 5K  mark in 21:31.

5K splits: (4:29.3, 4:14.5, 4:22.3, 4:03.5, 4:18.0 )
5K in 21:31

As we passed Bloor, I sort of felt that the racing could begin. The field had spread somewhat. I was noticing an older runner -- probably in his 50s -- was making some steam, so I tailed him. I was off to his right, a little behind, and we came across a young boy I'd been spotting in the distance. He was going out fast, but we were reeling him in. It struck me, as we were alongside him, that he couldn't have been much older than the 8-year-old, Martin Richard, who died earlier this week in the bombings.

There we were, a 50 year old, myself in my 30s, a boy of 8 or 9. I looked and saw the running bibs and for a few moments, enjoyed it. This is our community, all ages and abilities. We were racing.

6K 4:12.2
7K 4:09.3

The final 5K is a hold on to your hats. There's a slight decline, then it flattens out for the last three kilometres. We turned onto Richmond and I started to think that it was two miles to the finish. Two miles, I thought, and I thought of the last stretch of Boston. Any small thought of slowing was shaken by the thought of what happened this past week, and the fact that I had a lot left in me. Put it into the race, I thought.

8K 4:09.0

My buddy Lee, who had run Boston in a blistering time, was out cheering -- I called out to him as I passed, and that gave me the boost I needed. The final two kilometres, with the sun to our back, I recruited whatever I had left. I pictured in my mind's eye Boylston, if not the street then the joy that it captures. And I poured it into the course.

9K in.

9K 4:15.8
10K 4:06.3

And there you have it, a negative split, and the final kilometre among my fastest. I finished in 42:24, a time well off from my PB, but one I'm so proud to have earned. This is a downhill course, so every time I run it I'd put an citation that it was aided, but this one has a special mark. It was run for Boston.

Chip time: 42:24.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Our house

The loneliest place to be in a race is at the start line. We've all been there, silent and still, standing in a corral with hundreds of strangers -- strangers who miles later would be comrades, who by the time you finished your 26.2 miles would be a brother or sister. I remember the first time I ran a road race, an early April day like today, many years ago. Somewhere in the power of the crowds, the surging mentality, I had finally found a place where I felt I belonged. That first race, I weaved, bobbed, drafted behind a faster runner and, finally, raced.

Racing brought out the best of the runner in me. In it I found the childlike strides that we all strive to regain, somewhat close to graceful (by our own mind's eye). Racing let me share that pain and somehow, the movement of fellow runners somehow made the effort almost easy.

So in the dozens and dozens and dozens of races since, I've always cherished the start corral. My routine is set. A sip of water, a tug of the cap, feeling the gels on my pack, loosening the throwaway sweater. Composing a game face. And even as we get to the final minutes before a race, you could almost hear the silence. Thousands of people could be that silent? Could I really be so alone?

Run for Peace at Queen's Park

Yes we are social creatures and though the growth of the sport has sprouted running clubs and Sunday run groups, there is a reason why they talk about the loneliness of a long distance runner. We may share the misery, but those roads we run, the miles we log, the calories we watch and the times we hit the start button on our Garmins are individual acts. So is actually putting a foot in front of the other.

While on most days of the year, I train alone, suffer by myself, push myself to do an early run, it's the power of the crowd, the need to have a shared experience, that keeps me slogging through the winters or hold a running streak. Those are all internal struggles looking to be expressed on a race day months later with the crowd.


Start of Boston 2010
But we are not really alone.

Marathoners have a shared experience because not many other people go through the training and work that goes into long distance running. When I say to myself that runners are my kind of people, I'm not just talking about a type of person who can geek it out about Garmins, tempos, race schedules or trackwork. I'm talking about people who work hard, love physical fitness, are supportive of each other, find it more easy to give than to get back. In some ways, I just can't explain it other than to say I've never really met a runner I wouldn't want to go on a 5K run with, or share stories over a few pints.

Even us crazy runners are not alone.

A few years ago, in a bar a few hours after a friend and I had done Boston, we sat with our significant others. While we tried to regale ourselves with stories about the bus ride to Hopkinton, the wait at the village and the ensuing 3 to 4 hours of racing, we got nothing but eyerolls. Our better halves had endured a marathon -- a marathon of waiting by Hereford and Boylston, jockeying for position so they can be curbside, so when myself or a runner passed by for a mere few seconds, they could wave at us and scream 'Go Kenny!' or 'You're Almost Done! Woo hoo!'

And they're right. Any spouse or supporter of a runner knows what it means. Short Saturday nights, early Sunday mornings, 'taper' weeks where certain foods were forbidden and others gorged. This is not to mention the piles of running clothes that accumulate or vacation schedules squished between race seasons.

On race day, runners and their biggest fans, those loved ones, friends, supporters of our sport, turn stretches of road into something special. That race course -- First Ave in NYC, the Mall in DC, Wellesley -- is transformed into something so special they have nicknames like the "Scream Tunnel" or "Citgo Sign."

This is my long way of saying that on race day, that course, filled with my people, lined by our family, makes a race, be it Boston, Chicago, Toronto, MCM, my house. And I think that's what I feel about yesterday. Those attacks hit in a way I'm still trying to figure out how to process

Yesterday, our house was attacked. Our friends and our family. Our fellow racers - no, runners. And that's why I think it hurts.


Boston's shirts are loud. In the two times I've run it I've gobbled up a tonne of gear -- my weakness. But after the race, I tuck away the bright blues and greens and go for a muted black windbreaker with a smaller Boston logo. The logo is small, yellow, and just big enough that a fellow runner can see it within 10 paces. Just enough time to nod if it was called for.

Proud to wear blue and yellow
Last night, I read about the #blueforboston movement, a call for runners to proudly wear Boston blue and yellow. I thought about it, and didn't hesitate. I dug through the gear, and took out the brightest blue, the loudest yellow.

Today, I proudly wore my Boston colours. This Sunday, I signed up for a 10K where I will do the same. And just a few hours ago, at the Peace Run for Boston in Queen's Park, I and others gathered in our gear, in the perfect spring air. We stood there, silent for 60 seconds, where a crowd of 100 could be as loud as none, before we all set out on a run for Boston.

Crossposted at HuffPost Canada

See CP Video on the Queen's Park run

Monday, April 15, 2013

At the Boston Marathon, the sweetest finish soured

It's been called the sweetest left turn in the world, the corner of Hereford that leads to the final stretch of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street.

For a few hours, once a year, Boylston becomes the hallowed ground for thousands of runners. Boston on this day doesn't become the name of the city. It's the name of the race, run on Patriot's Day, also known by those who line the 26.2 mile route as "Marathon Monday." Citizens and runners alike love the event. No question.

For runners, Boston is the everyday Everest, a sort of Olympics for those who toil the roads on 16-week training programs in those winter months. And to be in Boston during marathon weekend (I've run two in recent years) is to know how much runners and everyday citizens celebrate an event that reaffirms live.

So when I heard about the bombs at Boston it was a shock to the system. I know more than several runners down there and I've run literally been in their shoes, struggling down that final straightaway. The finish of the Boston Marathon is the happiest place for a runner, where dreams are fulfilled.

Today, friends of mine emailed me, texted or called me, fearful that maybe I was there for the 2013 edition. I in turn was fearful for friends of mine who were down there -- more than 2,000 Canadians were signed up for the race. Most so far have checked in and for that I'm grateful.

A few years ago, in the lead up to the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., officials raised security for the October race, citing recent shootings.

Running can heal communities. Despite the backlash runners faced last year over the cancelled New York City Marathon, these big city events can lift spirits. The New York Marathon was run in the months after Sept, 11, 2001, as was the Marine Corps a month after 9/11.

I spoke to two running friends in Boston and emailed another. One, Samantha Sykes, a friend who I see on road races around Ontario, said that the bombs feel like an attack on the running community. A community that is helpful, friendly. Dave Emilio, another runner who I'll see on random Sundays in a Toronto park, told me he didn't know if he'd do another Boston. Big city marathons, like Boston, Chicago, New York, may never feel the same again -- not for awhile yet. And it's too early to come to conclusions about what this means for races, for the sport of running. That will come with time.

Last week, while accompanying a running buddy, we both described Boston as a runners' Christmas. And it's true, for the most part. Today, that finish line, one that I had gratefully had the pleasure of running twice in my career, was marred.

One thing all of us runners know. In times of stress, we lace them up, and we go out for a run. We'll be back on our feet and on the roads.

This has been crossposted at The Huffington Post Canada.