Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I no longer race for the shirt

Many of us race in part for the swag. Those medals, all so nice and shiny and fun to accumulate. And those race shirts, colourful all technical gear. We all fall for it -- myself included.

Recent years, as registration prices have gone up and the next running boom got well under way, every race doled out MORE FREE STUFF (read: stuff you actually pay for). Technical shirts with a running company's brand all over it. Then they started handing out medals for every freaking distance. Raced a 5K, 8K, 10K? No problem, you get a medal. At some races, they hand out more stuff after you cross the finish, like extra hats, touques, water bottles, small towels. (Personally, my favourite 'freebie' after the finish is food, beer and a space blanket.) I shake my head as I fill out my drawers with all this stuff.

To be transparent, I do love quite a few of my medals, have my marathon hardware up on a random wall. I love some of my shirts. In fact, I do have some favourites.

Stay or go?
But -- and this is a big but -- this is not why I race. I race more for the bib, having the opportunity to be at the start line, run a distance with open road or trails, and actually race. The 20 minutes to four hours on the course, that's why I sign up. Sometimes, it's a way for me to fit in training runs for my eventual marathon, or other times, it's a goal race or a pace bunny assignment.

Fast forward quite a few years and those first shiny medals, those first sporty T-shirts start to not only accumulate, but take over your drawers and closets. How many shirts do I have? Well, not counting the random actual running gear I buy, I have raced in almost 90 road races in the last nine years.

Um, yeah. I've got a gear problem. Today, I resolved to solve it as I embark on a massive spring cleaning exercise and threw away a tonne of my race gear.

Sporting Life 10K and another race fail - UPDATE

Update Oct 16, 2013: Sporting Life replaces race director.

(Originally published May 12) The Sporting Life 10K race in Toronto this past weekend had a few fails -- undermanned water stations -- but the worst was at the end, where mass congestion hit the finish line. I ran this race and have been updating this post since. So far, the race sponsor, the charity have given a response -- Canadian Running has interviewed the race director.

The response here has been tremendous, especially on my original post. You can read or posts comments at the bottom of the original post.

Photo from MySportsShooter

UPDATE, May 28:

It's two weeks, two days since Sporting Life 10K, and Get Out There published a statement from the race organizer. First things first, there is a "solution" to the finish line issue. So, good, they're conceding that there was an issue on their end as opposed to pointing at runners. Those solutions include staggering the start and opening up access to the park post finish (which was a massive contributor to the congestion.)

Here's the full statement from Get Out There (h/t to Andrea for pointing it out)

We recognize that there was an issue at our finish line this year that made it difficult for many of our participants to cross due to overcrowding. We are working on a solution so that next year, all our participants will easily and freely be able to cross our finish line without encountering a wall of runners. 
In anticipation of an increased field in 2014, more time will be allocated between the waves; these times will be increased to 15 to 20 minutes. We will work with the city to close Lakeshore Blvd. between Bathurst and Strachan Ave. to allow our participants easier access to Coronation Park without having to stop for traffic. We will continue to work with the city on our course and road closure plan so that we can better accommodate both our participants, supporters, and Toronto residents. 
The Sporting Life 10k and its sponsors are committed to providing our participants with a premium running experience that will elevate and inspire all.
I'll look on to see how they address other issues -- specifically the water stations and volunteer recruitment and course marshals. In the meantime, I have passed along names to Sporting Life who asked for runners to potentially join an advisory board, with transparency -- no response from them on that.

Other posts on the Sporting Life 10K 2013

Monday, May 27, 2013

Race report: Ottawa Marathon 2013

For multiple marathoners, there exists a silent code. Over time, we don't tell others our goal times. Oh sure, we may announce a BQ attempt once in awhile but humbled enough, we start to announce broader goals. "Oh, I want to finish" or "I want to run it strong." PBs and race times are announced after races -- they're earned, just like shirts we refuse to wear until after race day.

Whisper goals, as some may call them, can make the failures a little more easy to bear. Fine enough to say "I want to run a 21 minute 5K race" but I guarantee you're not feeling the anguish in the final 400 metres in the same way you feel slip of a time goal during a three to four hour race. Seconds missed feels like minutes, minutes feels like kilometres. This is the other part of of being a lonely long distance runner.

(Ottawa Marathon 2013 race results / Ottawa Marathon 2013 race photos)

I've watched the Garmin signify lost goals. Damned hell to look your watch at kilometre 39 of an otherwise perfect race as your goals go down the drain with a cramp or as you bonk.  Of all my now two dozen marathons run, I can list only a few that went flawlessly in that I didn't hit a wall, ran strong, smart and had a finish to be proud of. The Ottawa Marathon wasn't all of that, but it came damn close.

Ottawa was the second marathon of the spring, but from the moment I joined Sam in pacing the 3:50s at the Goodlife Marathon, I knew that I'd leave a hell of a lot on the table for a strong second race. The winter of respectable mileage, the strongest months I've had in more than a year, left my endurance at a good level -- without any of the quality work. My Around the Bay time of 2:24ish in theory gave me a 3:30, but I knew I wanted to add some buffer. I had not raced a sub-3:30 since Boston, 2011, so I'd rather get a low one than bonk and end up with another marathon around 3:40. (In retrospect, doing two to three marathons in a single season, often in one month, isn't advisable for fast racing. More in another post.)

Race expo
When asked about Ottawa goals, I kind of broke the rule. I confided with my friend Lee I'd go for 3:35 -- then I revised that. "Somewhere between 3:30 and 3:35, we'll see."

Arrived in Ottawa Friday and settled in. Took some sightseeing in but mostly set camp in my suite hotel (with a kitchen), foraging for all the groceries I'd need for my Friday and Saturday meals. Much cheaper and I'd rather cook my own pre-marathon carbs anyways.

Did a little gallery hanging out on Saturday and did a bus tour offered by the marathon which is great because although I ran Ottawa last year, most of it was a blur. It was nice to get a gauge for the course and make mental notes about the elevation, turns, sights. Immensely helpful -- and I took pictures on the way. I met Shazia and her husband on the bus tour she was taking before her first marathon!

Before the race, I was thinking about what would be my mantra. I remembered this one I spotted once. It may very well be my new one. Here's the last tweet I put out before race.

"There will be a day I can no longer run. Today is not that day." I can't tell you how many times I used that yesterday.

The race

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Runners on what they would change about Toronto races

It's fantastic to see the sport of running is alive and well in Toronto. The passion? It's there too. In fact, I was going to start off this second post about what runners would change about road races with a call to arms, but one of the runners who wrote back to me wrote this. I think I'll let it speak for itself before we get to the answers.

Take it away, Mark.

...What I don't think the wider community understands when they get irritated with us is that for many runners, the race has huge importance to them and their families. When they honk at some woman struggling through a full marathon they may be honking at someone who has taken up or intensified her running because she wants to feel whole and alive after losing a breast-or a husband. When there aren't people cheering on runners they're not cheering on the runner who has taken up running to feel alive and in control after surviving abuse as a child. These are the stories of many of those who run in our races. Just as we wouldn't grouse about the Labour Day Parade, or the Santa Claus Parade, etc., we shouldn't grouse about (at least a limited number of) these events. We should in fact be honouring and celebrating those who through running have taken control over their bodies and their lives and who are in many cases raising tons of money for local charities to give back in tangible ways to our community.  
Hand them a section of an orange and call the names on their bibs. Applaud. Wave signs. Volunteer to hand out water or pick up the cups. Runners may not be the soldiers who go off to battle for us but they're deserving of our respect and a place in the community on its streets, at least for a few hours on the odd Sunday morning.
That about sums up a lot. Well said.

After the Sporting Life 10K fiasco, I had a number of runners answer a call from the race sponsor for feedback. I asked them to give me thoughts about what they thought about Toronto's races. Five of them have kindly responded, and agreed to let me post their answers here with their identities. Their answers are amazing. Here they are: Mark, Andrea, Stan, Aaron and Mike. Race directors take note.

Below are answers from the last three questions.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Runners tell Toronto why races matter and what needs fixing

Why do races matter? It's clear that we're passionate about them in Toronto, and that runners deserve better than we've seen delivered of late: The finish-line fiasco at the Sporting Life 10K a week ago and water issues a week prior brought that to light.

I've been outspoken about bad races because as a runner, I felt the need to express what many of us were thinking but not many are saying in a more public manner. We often see organizers or running press gloss over fine details -- they focus on the elite, record setting numbers and sometimes forget that it's the many thousands of us who run and pay for the promise of a good road race. We are, at times, the after thought.

For me, races are one of those carrots that take me through my annual training rites, giving purpose to the miles aside from the pleasure I get from running (and believe me, I get plenty).  It's a 30K race that has me slog through January snowstorms, a May marathon that has me giving away sleep on Sundays. Races provide opportunities for me -- like other solo runners -- to gather with my broader community from time to time, see old friends and meet new ones. There are exceptional races, both big and small, and they are the community 'gathering place' of our running world.

What do other runners think? Am I alone? No, as it turns out.

Why we race

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ottawa Marathon race strategy guide and course outline

In a week, I'm headed to our nation's capital to run the Ottawa Marathon, the second time I'm doing that race. So it's about time that we put together an Ottawa Marathon race strategy guide and elevation profile so we can go over the course and potential tactics to take on the 42.2K race.

One thing I do realize, I never wrote up a race report last year which I regret since I typically use them to help me write these race guides. (Here's my Garmin data from last year's race)

Enter fellow marathoner and Ottawa run blogger Pat over at The Courage of Lungs. He's run the race four times so I'd consider him a true course expert. I asked Pat to contribute to this race guide and he obliged (thanks Pat!) with awesome section-by-section recap -- also helped me identify the different neighbourhoods.

Course description: The Ottawa Marathon course (see PDF) is a winding tour of Ottawa, constructed from some out and back portions. It takes you through various neighbourhoods where you can see the canal, vantage points of our Parliament buildings. You run into neighbouring Gatineau in Quebec, then on to Sussex Dr. where you will past the Prime Minister's official residence and the Governor General's. On to tony New Edinburgh, then back on Sussex. You complete the marathon along the canal, a quasi out-and-back

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Behind Sporting Life 10K's white ribbons and why we're so mad

I wish I didn't have more to say about the Sporting Life 10K. In fact, in the seven years I've run it (my first was in 2005), I've had little to say other than race reports. This year, I've recapped water issues, finish-line fiascos in my post from earlier this week. Then the race director goes and blames runners.

The response to the blog posts this week show the passion among the runners here in Toronto -- many I know, many I haven't yet met. The comments here and the conversations I'm having with runners on the streets have zeroed in on one thing. Toronto should and must have better races. I wrote with the same scrutiny about the Scotiabank bag-check issue in 2011 and it proved one thing -- we can become a great running city, but our showcase events must show why we're up to the task. We're on the tip of something -- the sport is growing, becoming more inclusive and while we aspire to make this city on par with the DCs, New Yorks and Chicagos of the world, our ambition isn't matched by what we're showing the world with our biggest events.

In the conversations I've had, similar talking points have come up. Our races must be better, not just for pride, but also for safety issues. Water stations are key to our safety, especially in long distance races. Finish-line safety is just as important. I'll let the videos in my last post speak for themselves.

One more thing. I've been contacted by Sporting Life (the sponsor, not the race director) and they'd like to form an advisory board made of up some runners. If you're interested (I'm not, I strive to be an independent voice for the community), leave a message in the comments, DM me on Twitter or email me at yumkerun@gmail.com and I'll send some of your names to them. They want it to be transparent and I hope they will be.

OKAY. So, this post is about ribbons. It's just another thing and that makes me sad.

A few of us noticed that the medals that came with the race came with this oddly white ribbon. Most races that have medals have an array of colours and branding.

I received a few pictures taken on May 4 that explain the white ribbons for the May 12 10K race..
May 5... er, May 12. Doh..

Take a look at the date. Yes, May 5, 2013 for Sporting Life 10K. Except it was one week early for a race run on May 12. So you can imagine what the race crew had to do -- yes, replace all the ribbons with white ones. These ones ended up in the picture below.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jay Glassman on inexperienced runners and race etiquette

Some of you by now have read the jaw-dropping interview that Jay Glassman gave Canadian Running after the finish-line fiasco at the Sporting Life 10K.

Jay Glassman (YouTube)
His response -- particularly after Sporting Life the sponsor and Camp Oochigeas made comments on my previous post, promising that they'd look to improve the race -- seemed like a slap in the face. He essentially blames runners for the fiasco.

Read the full Canadian Running piece for context, but here's what he said in a nutshell.

I figure pictures do it all justice, so let me present to you, race advice on etiquette from Jay Glassman

LESSON 1: After the race, 'run it out'
“We had people in the chute trying to keep people moving, but we also had a lot inexperienced runners stopping. They don’t know they’re supposed to run it out.”

LESSON 2: Don't stop after races, even if you bump into a crowd  (That's Jay there, bottom left)
“Some of the runners became quite rude to both myself and my marshals in the chute when we asked them to continue moving through. It wasn’t that they were being stopped or held somewhere because of us, it was because they were stopping themselves.”

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

'She wasn’t able to finish that marathon'

I singled out the blue bibs, catching the names of runners and yelling them out as to-be marathoners passed me in the final hundred metres of a 42.2K journey. "Go Michael, you got that Marathon!" I'd shout while clapping, hoping that the message would get through his earphones, or the grimace. I saw the names go by -- Bob, Emily, Matthew -- people I'd never met but I cheered all the more loudly as 5K runners hotdogged their way past our long-distance compatriots. A moment of cheer sometimes got a wave, a split second of reprieve from a silent struggle.

"I'm saving all my cheering for the marathoners," I told my friend Lee who had also to come cheer runners. I've been there, just an hour earlier, leading a pace group in. Fellow marathoners know what it's like to be there.

Hours later, the moment I heard a runner had fallen, my heart sank. And as the minutes flew by, and I learned more about Emma van Nostrand, I felt deflated. Part of me felt defensive -- and unsurprisingly, yes, I got a few comments from friends a day later who claimed runners are crazy, our sport is nonsensical and that marathons are dangerous. I brushed that aside with a laugh. I'd heard those arguments before.

I was shaken by her death. As the picture of Emma emerged -- through her Vines, Tweets, past race results and reports of her death I've read in media -- I knew that we had lost a fellow runner attempting her first marathon.

Final kilometres of the Toronto Marathon
The marathon is a special race -- we all follow the same paths, every step of the way. On Sunday, I passed the same point where she collapsed. It was a day of joy -- because our sport is more than just competition, it's also about a celebration of personal achievement or milestones that we set and complete.

Emma was one of us. She was a bundle of nerves in the hours leading to race start, she went through her taper and many months before that, in late November, when most of us spring marathoners were in our off season, she kicked off her training for Toronto with her cousin back in Cape Breton.

Andrew McKay, a fellow runner who made the 911 call after he saw Emma went down, wondered aloud why her results were wiped from the race results. I wondered why she was removed from the photo site. But I've seen the pictures of her and her mom and cousin, and what stuck me is pure joy. A double thumbs up she gave the photographer as she and her cousin Faye were running down Rosedale Valley Road, a smile on her face as she ran out on the Martin Goodman Trail, my home course. It was a similar smile I shared with my pace group on the same trail.


Tonight, I'm also thinking of Danny Kassap, an elite runner who passed away a day after the Sporting Life 10K in 2011. I later found out where Danny was buried, among the running paths of Mount Pleasant Cemetery, a place where I'd give a silent nod on the few times I passed it, seeing medals draped over his memorial.

Emma died on my home trail and I'll be thinking of her when I pass where she fell. When she went down, runners immediately came to her aid. She wasn't alone. The last time I ran the path, we led runners on their way to a goal. Next time, I'll carry her in my thoughts, carry in her memory through the final three kilometres of a race she couldn't complete.

She came from a family of runners. Her dad, who just ran Boston, told the Toronto Star about her tenacity and gave this quote that left me so heartbroken. Maybe only a runner gets it.

“If she picked a goal, then she was going to make it happen some way or another,” he said.  “That probably would be her biggest disappointment, that she wasn’t able to finish that marathon.”

Emma, we got this. Rest in peace.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Race report: Goodlife Toronto Marathon 2013 (3:50 pacers)

A few days after Boston, everyone still raw from the attack on our race, my friend Sam direct messaged me on Twitter, asking if I'd consider doing her a favour. The afternoon of Boston, I called her while reporting on the race. She had run it and I was thankful all of those who make up our Toronto running scene were safe. The question us runners asked after Boston was what can we do. Run, I thought. And we did.

(Goodlife Toronto Marathon 2013 race results here / half here

The favour? She had a rough recovery from Boston and hoped I'd help co-pace her group, the 3:50s at Toronto Goodlife Marathon. I was scheduled to run it in my calendar and had no real goals as I'm running Ottawa Marathon in late May. A day later, after mulling the 3:50 pace (a little slower than my long slow distance) I knew the answer had to be yes. Yes, of course, I'll pace runners -- runners who want to get to Boston, finish their first marathon and do the full 42.2. I tried a few pace runs in the weeks leading to the race, and was happy to nail it on last week's 20K run.

Cut off the sleeves for the heat.
I spent Thursday (Montreal) and Friday on the road, Friday sitting through an awards ceremony in Ottawa where my fellow journalists were having quite a few drinks while I filled up on water. My 3K run around Parliament Hill on Friday afternoon felt sluggish. It was warm and humid in the capital. Flew back on Saturday and was battling the high pollen count (in Montreal, Ottawa AND Toronto) by taking my allergy medication. Sam on the other hand was nursing an actual cold only slightly improving by the day -- ain't that crazy for her to even go out there. Rock star.

Carbo loaded on Saturday, had a nice afternoon nap and looked at the forecast: Not too great. A high of around 20/21C, with a low of 11C. That's about 5C too warm, so I cut off the sleeves of my pace bunny shirt (awesome decision as it turns out).


Goodlife guys had a good amount of pacers -- 3:45, 3:50 (us) 3:55, 4:00. We quickly had a considerable group around us and I passed along my extra bands. A lot of questions about whether we'd be doing run/walk and most seemed relieved we were doing continuous. The target was 5:27 kms and to go out slightly fast in the first. 

The first few kilometres of a marathon are always hectic. I've seen pace bunnies go out way too fast, sucked in by the vacuum that is the start. We went out trying to find our pace, and after a little slow first kilometre (believe me, this is good) we were able to hit it on the second kilometre, only to speed up in the next few. That was fine since we had some downhills and we told our group we'd be going out faster on the down hills. Hoggs Hollow, the one big uphill, was between 4 and past the 5K mark, looks like we did them slightly faster than planned. 

1-5K splits (5:31.3, 5:25.8, 5:18.8, 5:15.3, 5:21)

6K to 10K
Down Yonge St we went, Sam and I were really trying to figure ou the pace. With the downhill parts it wasn't an easy task to keep on pace -- you wanted to let the hills do some of the work for  you or you end up spending more work hurting your legs. Sam and I worked well, quickly establishing turns holding the pacer sign. The light wind made it fairly easy to hold and we'd pass it off every 30 to 40 minutes.