Saturday, August 31, 2013

Path to fitness

I hear there are a few treadmills on the top floor of my condo. I'm sure they're fun to run on, with a view of Lake Ontario, but that's not my thing. During my daily runs, I often stroll by ground-floor gyms of condos that shore up Toronto's waterfront, watching those dreadmill runners with almost pity -- even in the deep dreadful month of February.

Most mornings, outside my waterfront condo's fifth-floor window, I'll watch the lake and if I'm lucky, at the right time of year, I'll see the sun rise -- hues of pink tint the sky, the calming lake and trees signifying what kind of day is coming.

My awesome, soon to be former, view.

Usually, within a few seconds, I'll scan the leaves or a nearby flag at the base of a nearby fire station to gauge wind speed. Then, with little fail, I'll see a runner or two making their way along the sidewalk. No matter the season or precipitation, they'll urge me out the door, to join them on the trails I know only too well.

It all makes me want to run.

Home, I am now certain after living here for 10 years, shaped my connection with the outdoors, and though "my" outside is no different than any other front step in this big city, the uninterrupted paths that  I see every morning have turned the view into possibilities of finding the beauty of the trails. Not snow, nor rain nor sleet pushed me inside into that comfy treadmill.

Trails like these  -- and my neighbourhood is going through a massive development to make our waterfront kind of awesome, the type that narrows car corridors in favour of wider tree-lined bike and running lanes -- inspire movement. I moved here from the downtown core, where traffic lights and narrow sidewalks impeded movement. The first time I was urged out into my waterfront neighbourhood to run, shunning my exercise bike, it was the promise of exploration from my front door.

There are those who say car-dependent suburbs, where sidewalks are shunned in favour of more front lawns, are keeping us sedentary. Then you look at cities -- New York, for instance -- where people walk far more. Where I live and work, myself and thousands of others walk to do groceries, walk to work, and run when we want to move. It's faster than our slow-assed streetcars.

To the north of me, in land that was empty a decade ago, the CityPlace development will boast a few dozen condos and a population of 11,000, a community that starts with 450 square feet boxes and a restless population. A few kilometres to the west, Liberty Village has another 3,500 residents and seen to double in a year.

All the while, as the years go by, my trails that used to be so empty are now almost crowded, saved for those four fall/winter months of the year where only the obsessed are willing to tackle negative temperatures.

Toronto's condo boom

Maybe it's this now-liveable city that is turning Toronto's running boom a necessity, as other cramped residents seek freedom from their shrinking square footage.

Recently a yoga studio and a CrossFit location popped up within a block of my condo. I look down and see the CrossFit guys doing laps of the parking lot next door, and the mat-toting yogis head toward their stretch. Kayakers dot the water's edge and as I type this on my balcony, I'm watching a runner power up over a temporary bridge as the city tears up Queens Quay. Cyclists attempt to weave around this madness.

In about a month, if all goes well, I'll be moving out of my condo into a more spacious townhouse. As I was on the house hunt, I told my realtor I was a runner, while thinking: "Where can I move to and still find running trails." I've been lucky to land a great spot in Liberty Village, not more than 800 metres away from my beloved waterfront trail.

But I think i'll miss being across the street from the path that shaped the runner that I am today.

20 metres from my front door. Love it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race report: A Midsummer Night's Run 30K 2013

When construction moved my favourite summer race to the Toronto Islands, I knew it'd be a challenge for the organizers. The ferries, the looping course and the island weekend crowd would make the gong show factor very likely. I totally get how it would have been hard to get 2700 runners onto the island to get going for three races.

Midsummer Night's Run race results 2013 here

So when a whole bunch of us procrastinators made it to the ferry terminal 1.5 hours before the 30K start, I think some of us started to worry. I made it across fine with minutes to spare but quite a few runners didn't -- a buddy of mine started 15 minutes after the starting gun, passing the majority of the field on the way to a stellar finish.

Leave it to us to all line up at the ferry dock at 4:20 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. race start. 

Anyways, I could talk about the negatives, but I'll say this -- Midsummer's is still my favourite long distance race in summer, where you combine a mid-marathon training cycle pace run, a challenging course and a chance to reconnect with old friends over beer.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Taking a knee

My stubborn streak knows no bounds, I guess, and I should know better, at least my knee will thank me for it in the long run.

I felt the tweak on my left leg somewhere during my long run more than a week ago, a 20 miler that was done with great effort. Instead of following a hard effort with rest, I ran 13 miles the day after, then 8 miles the day after. By the time I took a rest day, some day last week, my knee was complaining full on.

Well, that last post was a little premature on the "this is a great year" theme. As I'm figuring out how to set up my recovery this week, part of my mind is thinking setback while the other thinks about the long view.

The pain, on the area to the outside of the knee, it's only perceptible when I'm running harder, somewhere faster than 5 minute kilometres. It's also sore as I climb stairs. Walking or jogging, I can avoid the pain. My thought that it was overtraining and a lack of stretching did me in. I hopefully took to the streets this morning thinking that a weekend of icing, stretching and anti-inflammation medication had brought it down.

No such luck. I started to curse myself, asking why I did a 11 mile run on Sunday. It's funny how when your legs get loosened up, you can run 4:45 kilometres on a sore leg -- it actually didn't feel sore yesterday.

So a mini hiatus it is. I'm not going to get any better by having a half hearted approach to recovery. I have a 30K race on Saturday, an easy run on Wednesday but otherwise I'm shutting it down for now.

Maybe I'll have more time to blog.

In lieu of running, blogging on the waterfront.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Fitting in quality (2013 version)

As a multiple marathoner, I've taken a long path through various training cycles. The first years, I tested the distance, followed by many seasons where I sought peak performance, only to be replaced by maintenance and consistent years of running for the sake of running, not fast race times.

Enter year No. 8, where I'm ramping back up to fast running. The last 11 weeks or so has me regaining -- in real terms -- the form, fitness, strength I had in 2008 and 2009. I know it looking at the scale and in how I'm feeling when I'm clicking by those 4:45s at what almost feels effortless, run-forever pace. If I asked my body to do a long run  at 5 minute kilometres in February or March, I knew I'd be asking a lot.

So how, other than road races, am I to figure out exactly where I am? Am I back in 3:20 marathon shape or, dare I say it, in a slightly better  and faster place?

There's this thought that in the midst of marathon training, when your body knows little rest, that your training times can give you signs. For instance:

  • A 8K race in the 34:00 range, a time I hadn't done since 2009.
  • A 10K tempo run in relatively flat course, done in 42:59, pretty much unheard for me in training unless I was racing the distance
  • A 20 mile run done yesterday in 2:32, average pace of 4:43 (right in that sweet spot marathon pace).

20 miler in 2:32:10

And this is with another 10 weeks until marathon day.

The last 20 miler was a bit of a headscratcher for me, so I went to the tape. I compared it to August runs from 2009 to 2013 (omitting 2012, which was a blah year anyways).

Click to expand

My 2013 20 miler was done at 7:36 mile pace, compared with a 7:58 pace in 2009, my last quality year. In 2008, I had a sub  8 minute pace, and also a 7:13 paced 30K race (in 2:13).

The years 2010 and 2011 (and 2012) where merely me doing the mileage, not focusing on quality training. The 2009 run included a jaunt through High Park, which included some hills, but nothing to really describe the seven minute difference.



Before I make any grand projections, I looked at the weather for 2009 (yes, I'm that geeky), found it to be on a coolish side. Also, realized that I was also in the midst of heavy training. I had another breakthrough run two weeks ago, when I did 20.5 miles in 2:39 or a 7:45 mile pace.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post the week after doing that 20 miler titled "Fitting in quality running." This is what I had to say:

I just came off a big running streak, one that saw me log three 20 mile days in five days, a Monday to Sunday cycle with 72 miles and an 18 day streak. More insane, there was a seven-day period that I logged 92 miles. I do have more time on my hands to get this pure endurance in since I don't start work for yet another two weeks, but now I want to really hone in on some specific aspects of my running.

Where I am today is probably 3:20 to 3:25 marathon shape. I say that because I believe with constant running I can maintain that type of speed over the long distance. My last long run of 20 miles, I was able to comfortably keep a sub 8 minute pace. I`ve been able to slog my way through hot runs. What will bring me to 3:15 shape will be more time for more endurance training but also the insertion of quality.

Quite an amazing post, looking back. With the big miles and the "insertion of quality," it was a banner year, topped off with my best marathon and a ticket to Boston. So today, do I see myself as 3:20 to 3:25 marathon -- or actually faster?

I look at yesterday's 20 mile run like this, through the eyes of a 24-time marathoner. I chose to push the entire 20 miler, turning an aggressive '13 mile pace run' into a full 20. My run streaking this year (I'm on day 31 of one right now, and did a 72 day stint in the winter) has made my legs a lot more resilient. The temperatures were near perfect, and I took the opportunity to use yesterday to insert major quality, instead of showboating for my own sake. Quality runs like these are what literally transform your body over the course of a training program. And I can't ignore that I've been doing everything else right. I'm eating so well, have dropped to an almost ideal race weight, and my core/strength work has me kicking ass.

So, am I back at 3:20 already? Or?

Blue sky dreams, right? It's happened before.

Blue sky goal?