Friday, December 26, 2014

Race report: Boxing Day 10 Miler 2014

So, yes, another race. Impromptu at that. A final one for a crazy running year.

My recovery since the California International Marathon less than three weeks ago has been solid -- I took it easy for a week but still logged 44km, then 80km last week. I've been easing back on any hard interval work with the team, perferring to do closer to around marathon pace than 5K or one-hour race pace. A week ago, I did a 8km workout session and after 6K at 4:25 to 4:20 pace, I did a few faster splits (4:06, 3:30) that meant my recovery was going well. The past week, I've taken spin classes (more on that in a another post) that kept my V02 and intensity level high. I hit a rare year-end where I'm at a good fitness level as another training season begins.

A few friends were doing the Boxing Day 10 Miler in Hamilton -- I haven't done it before and though I had raced six 10 milers over the years, the last quality one I'd done was way back in 2008, a 1:09:29 effort or a 4:19 km average. Since I had just raced a marathon at around 4:20km pace, I knew the PB was soft, so today was a day to take down that soft PB.

The team! Photo by Wing

Coach's race plan was a more moderate one, calling for 4:15s for 3K, then 4:10s for the next 9K, then close as fast as I could. If I could do that, I could probably close with a 1:07 or 1:06.

Weather, well, it was perfect -- sunny, light to moderate winds and around 6C at the noon start. It really did feel a little warmer. I wore a T-shirt, singlet, arm warmers and tights.

I raced with teammate Andrew -- we agreed to stick to coach's plan.


Okay, maybe not a slow start but we were feeling good and there were a lot of downhill stretches. I was reminding Andrew that we were aiming for a controlled start, something like marathon pace. Still you can see a bunch of 4:04s to 4:12s so I guess we weren't that consistent. Nevertheless, we were running strong and after the 2K mark, we started to make our way up the field.

1 4:06.3
2 4:04.4
3 4:10.4
4 4:04.3
5 4:12.2

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Race Report: California International Marathon 2014

The footing was precarious as I gave pursuit around that second lap of our interval workout. It was four days before I was to tackle the rolling hills in Folsom, two days till I boarded a plane for Sacramento, California. But tonight, as the asphalt that was 10 minutes ago wet was now frozen, I gave chase as we curved the down and ups of High Park. I was nursing a sore hamstring but found an extra half gear to power down and up the hill. Chasing a teammate, eventually coming alongside stride for stride, even as we were nearly slipping with every stride. Chasing so we would reach the finish faster.

"Sorry about the weather," the hotel employee said as I checked into the hotel on Friday, my leather jacket draped over my backpack. I was your typical happy Canadian who was escaping the beginnings of winter, where 16C with cloud cover might as well be a heat wave.

The California International Marathon has been on my radar for years and about 12 weeks ago, it became a backup marathon when I pulled my calf and started to look for a later marathon. It features rolling hills, a net downhill course and likens itself as the fastest course in the West. Not that I'd know, as I've never raced any marathons in the west or in December.

My teammate and training partner Julia had pegged the race as her goal marathon - I remember her telling me during a winter training run 11 months ago about this race in Sacramento. One of her friends, and fellow teammate, Naomi was also running it as her first marathon. So when I pulled the calf and started to look at options, CIM became the best choice. Running vacation with friends and enough time to ramp back up if I raced Scotiabank. So on Oct 1, I signed up under their guaranteed entry program.

I ended up racing Scotia in late October, my calf healing enough for me, and I decided to say, screw it, lets go for it. The race was a PB, 3:07:20. Looking back at the summer and year of training, I always felt that I had 3:05 fitness in me. Seven weeks ago as I started to ramp back up to CIM, I had no clue how I would treat that race. I was able to get my mileage back right up to peak form after a recovery week. Julia and I nailed our long runs, doing a 38k and about 35k four weeks out. My calf was getting better and about three weeks ago, I was finally able to pull off faster than 5k pace for the first time since late September. I was, crazy enough, still fit, aside from an upper left hamstring and groin soreness. More important, I was still training to run fast.

On Wednesday I did a quality workout where I was testing 4:05 and 3:55 pace. Some of the runners I was running with were gearing up for a 10k. I worried slightly that I was pushing it right before the final taper but I wanted to see what it felt to run fast. I concluded that I could push, but the next day I felt the pull of my hamstring, the soreness associated with running hard. I took it slow the last three days but still, it felt good to chase.

Waiting for the bus in Sacramento race morning.

Twenty minutes before meeting my coach a few days before the race, an email landed in my inbox from her with my prescribed pace. It called for a faster than Scotia, or a 4:25k for a 3:06:30 finish. We spoke over coffee and after assessing my fitness and condition, she threw in the first of many mild suggestions. "This is a good course to go for a fast time," she said. I told her I was so proud of the work i'd done this year but her point was well taken even if this was a no-pressure race.  Later, a friend at BlackToe who had run CIM before also said the same thing - that CIM was a fast, but beware too fast a start and trust the pacers. I left convinced that I had three choices. Run a controlled marathon at 3:10 to 3:15. Think about running with Julia who in the end needed to run her own race. Or chase a personal best on that course. Chasing was, by Friday morning, a small and gentle voice.

On race morning, the three of us stood in line for the bus that would take us out to the start line in Folsom, as CIM is a point to point course. We sat in the back of the bus and chatted up a Calgarian, and the Canadian contingent was talking about the weather (perfect, 8C climbing to 12C, no wind), the course (downhill but rolling, emphasis on rolling,with a flat final 5 miles), the occasion (it was Jules's birthday) and the portapotties (there were many). Later, someone asked us to push up the window as it was chilly, but for us, it was near perfect for racing.

Exiting the buses we only had around 40 minutes to do a washroom break, a group selfie and then we dropped off Naomi with her pace sign while Jules and I headed to the 3:10 sign. We stood there, hugged, pumped up for a morning of racing. I knew she was situating herself behind the 3:10. I looked at the 3:05 bunny, wondered what if.

Me, Julia and Naomi. 

The sun was rising and I could feel the perfect chill against my shoulder. I was wearing my favourite singlet, tattered and worn in by age and races. I clapped my gloved hands more to pump myself up than warmth. Then it was time to race.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Where belief can take you. And how far and fast it can get you there.

I can't explain yesterday's race other than I believed I could. 

I'm still trying to process what happened yesterday on the course of the California International Marathon. All I know is that I do have a race report to write that will come with time and reflection. 

So first, about barriers. How we put them up. How we stare at them with fear. How we think they'll always be unbreakable. And how we take the steps to reconcile what barriers are -- by tactically scaling them, avoiding them altogether, by taking them with a head and heart full of steam. 

When I relate barriers to my running life, I think about how far I can run, how fast I can run far and whatever limitations I have, whether it's an imperfect stride or a straying diet, gets in the way of the barrier, let alone any goals. I've written of the notion of fear, and how it can motivate you to greatness. 

Belief is a strong thing. Yesterday, I could feel it envelope me. By the time I had made it to the start line, I had heard from my coach who said she believed, from friends who thought I had it in me. Even as I was at the start, blissfully unaware of the three plus hours ahead of me, I was happy, confident, purposeful. I believed. 

On the course, I would draw upon it step after step. I asked myself so many questions. Can I run this fast this late? Can my hamstring hold? Can I catch up to that pace bunny that I could only see with my minds eye and a glance at my watch. Can I break that barrier?

Boston's ultimate qualifier is a 3:05. When the bar was moved higher and higher, years back, I got so intimidated that I would only wait for myself to age, which would move that bar just a little lower. My comeback this year, I thought about how I want to take that down that I would look past 3:15. I removed the barrier. I just wanted to go as fast as I could aspire to. I wanted to train up to my potential, not to a barrier one race put in front of me. 

So yesterday, when I passed the 3:05 bunny with 5k to go, I thought nothing of how comfortable it would be to settle in for the ride. The barrier was no longer a number, but a measure of effort, a test of will and a expression of fitness and of belief. 

Belief is a tricky thing. Some blindly believe, just trusting that great things will happen. My version of belief is spiritual yet grounded in reality. Yesterday I thought of the miles I put in, the run streak, the fast times I've closed in workouts and races. 

Belief was manifested yesterday in the reflection of the work put in, in mantras I uttered on the course and of the experience I bought to my 29th marathon. Belief was spurred on by the emotional and logical sides of my makeup, expended with each stride that at one point was happy go lucky and on the next step purposeful.  At the end of it all I couldn't believe I had crossed the finish in 3:02:55 but I had been present in every second that preceded the finish and it was belief that fueled the run. Only this morning I have come to that conclusion and it's the most happy-amazing-gratifying-emotional feeling you can think of. I ran my fastest yesterday simply because I believed I could. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I ran every day for 365 days. Here's what I learned.

I ran today.

Running streaks have to start somewhere and it was a year ago tomorrow, U.S. Thanksgiving Day, I went on a run.

This morning, I ran for the 365th straight day.

This is a post that in theory I've been thinking about writing for hundreds of days. If I had my way, I would write the entire piece while on the run, as opposed to on the couch long after I've put away my running shoes. In front of my laptop, I can't ever match the emotions, sensations, thoughts that I'm having each day while I am out on a run.

I ran today.

Today, I felt speed, as I accelerated while weary of the lights threatening to turn red. Even typing the word "speed" doesn't begin the describe it. How does one feel speed? My head says go fast and my legs respond, firing off those commands to move arm, muscle, bone, leg, feet -- while my lungs suck in extra air that will be parcelled out to areas that need it most. In the span of a few seconds, speed is not just movement that is done rapidly, but speed is expressed as motion executed by a series of strides, only to be spurred on by a series of decisions -- one decision overrode them all. The decision to run. And today I decided to run.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Race Report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2014

Three words. That's all I needed. That's all, really, I could muster in my mind that late in the game.

I had 36 kilometres before I wanted to start using the three words, my motivational running mantra. But through the race, I had also been anticipating that moment when the healing left calf would rebel, when the waves -- bursts -- would strike deeper into the muscle. My legs were spinning, maintaining the pace I had taken to heart, but I could feel it building.

When the 36th kilometre struck, the cramps hit, threatening to tighten completely. I pointed my left foot forward so the balls of my feet would absorb more of the impact, shielding my calf. I had been running for two hours, 40 minutes, and the three words I had planned to use on repeat were hastily replaced. I'd need that mantra later. I wasn't going to waste it now.

"Push, push, push," I muttered between breaths. "Push, push, push," I said, wishing, willing the cramps away.

The leg throbbed. I thought about stopping.

I said for the third time as the spasms hit, "push, push, push."

A FEW DAYS AGO, I sat down with my coach to talk about our plans for the marathon. I was four weeks out from a calf pull, and four days until my next marathon. I had healed enough so I could start attempting faster paces. We had agreed on a 3:07 marathon plan, which was the goal time I set back in June. In my mind, my fitness had me with the potential to go faster, but we ended up agreeing on the plan. I promised to go out on pace. "You'll see, once I get on pace, I'll stick to it," I assured her.

My build this season went almost flawlessly until I pulled the calf. I was getting stronger, working on my stride and running technique. I was paying attention to the details -- strength work and healthy diet. I was listening to the body. Races were solid this summer, including a new 5K and 30K PB and I had run long enough runs to be confident in the distance -- even with the injury and the reduced mileage in the past few weeks.

Calf aside, I was fit, and ready to race.

By the time I woke up on race morning, a weather system with gusting winds had swept through the city, leaving us with a gorgeous cold race morning. There was a wind but it was a mere 15km/h and the temperature was calling for 3C at the start, rising to 6-8C by noon. Perfect weather conditions. I had opted for light armwarmers, double singlet, gloves, shorts and a headband. It ended up being the perfect gear as I was never too warm or cold.

I arrived at the start line pumped, confident, focused. But something was different this time around that I had at no other Scotiabank. I was surrounded by so many friends -- teammates who I've run hundreds of miles with; friends I've known for years on the running scene; social media runners from this city and far off places. Everywhere I looked at the start corral, I could trade a hug, a handshake and wish good luck. I was going to run this race solo, but I wasn't alone.

Yes, I got it autographed by Reid and Lanni. Good luck charm?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First-time marathon tips 48 hours before the race (VIDEO)

Ever wondered what are the routines other marathoners get into before the big race? What do you eat, how much sleep do you get? Awesome video put together with members of my running team (myself included) and my coaches and Reid Coolsaet among the guests.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fear Is The Greatest Motivator - So Be Fearless

I was ready to give up on my goal. A pulled calf a few weeks ago, just as I was about to go into my taper, reminded me how much humility I need to bring to my training. It gave me perspective on what running is to me -- that while I want to run fast, I want to run long, and for a long time.

In the past few weeks, I've been making plans for another marathon past Scotiabank, going back and forth on whether I'll truly race this goal marathon I've been building up to all summer.

Was I finding a way to opt out? What was I afraid of? Today I think I found the answer, and it surprised me.

I have some unfinished business. My coach thinks I'm fit and ready to go. The game face is back and it is good.

And I'm not alone.


How do you measure success? It's a question I often ask when I'm interviewing potential candidates in my day job, knowing there is no right answer. For me, the answer to that question helps me judge character more so than to let someone talk about how great they inevitably are.

Success in the corporate environment takes different forms. Meeting targets, heading a project, doing something that you'd tell at the dinner table or ultimately put in your resume. What one sees as success often tells a lot about them. The answers speak show one's self confidence, self awareness and how they strive for greatness in the wake of the always-present risk of failure.

I've thought a lot about failure and fear ever since one of my first work mentors taught me a phrase that shook me so much so that I printed out it, and stuck it to the side of my desk. It became one of my first guiding principles that reminded me that to be extraordinary, you had to find motivation. And I found one source of it.

"Fear is a great motivator," he told me.

Fear, and fear of failure, is a powerful thing. It can act as a deterrent to taking risks. Or it can motivate you to take the elements of fear -- self doubt, dread, apprehension, limitations -- and propel you into effort, effort that will help you find courage, calm, confidence and -- if you're lucky -- success.

From The Oatmeal's new running book -- BUY IT

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Season interrupted?

Note to self: If you ever want to race the red light, don't.

I keep track of all my runs in too many places - Garmin, which automatically outputs to Strava. I keep a DailyMile log and for my coach, everything is in the cloud. At the same time, I'm rarely writing here about my training but about races and pieces about running in general.

But then after I got injured this week, I realized what the best archive for me has been over the past nine years -- this place. I searched this blog for "calf" the other day as I was trying to wrap my head around how I would salvage my season. On Monday, which I usually use for recovery running, I ended up being overzealous, ending a 10K run with a few "too fast" kilometres -- call it end-of-workday energy. And as I raced to beat a changing light - ill advised for safety reasons - my calf told me, as I was running 3:45 pace, that it was indeed a bad idea.

Top of Primrose Hill in London where I ran during a work trip this week.

I felt a sensation, not unlike a pop, on my upper left calf. And stopped the run right away. Long story short, I pulled it, have a minor strain that wouldn't be so major unless I was three weeks away from the goal race. I'm now faced with three weeks to maintain fitness, heal my calf and think about whether in 21 days I'll be ready go tackle 42.2K with a substantial race plan in mind. I know I can complete the distance, fitnesswise, just not sure the legs will follow a faster plan. I'm running pain free but accelerating and holding fast paces is not happening at least for now.

So, I'm planning, scheming, thinking of races that are farther down the calendar. There are good candidates. Meanwhile, I'm going to focus on getting better, not rushing back to speed and arrive at Scotia with a plan -- either go for it, or treat it as a pacer run, with my eye forward.

This summer, however, has been a great training season, my second with a running team. Some stats:

Monthly mileage

June: 338K
July: 415K
August: 480K
September: 357K

I've done a few big races, including two 5Ks (a 19:18 PB and 19:49) in June before my fitness was ramping up; a 30K race with a new PB and a 10K race.

The interval, tempos and fartlek speeds are getting so fast. Intervals started at 3:55s and made their way down to 3:35s to 3:40s. Tempos started at 4:15 but went closer to 4:10s or faster. Marathon pace is feeling closer to 4:20 kilometres.

That's before the calf, though I've been fighting other niggles -- the IT band issue is there but not to serious so I've been great about getting my hip and IT band stretched. The glutes have been tight but rolling has helped.

Oh yeah, and also this:

Yes, I'm running Boston in 2015.

So while I enter the uncertain phase of this season, I have to also remember the progress I've made. A year ago today, I was on the comeback trail. A year ago, I was aiming at a 3:20 marathon in Chicago when I believed I was 3:15 fitness -- my knee issues put a big question mark in the final months and I have to remember that. A year later, I've already bagged a 3:08 marathon and I'm thinking of even faster.

So the path's been great -- happy to be where I am today and more importantly, in light of the calf pull, I'm reminded most that I'm happy to be running at all.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Race Report: Zoo Run 10K

"You're here early," the race volunteer said to us as we piled out of a car more than two and a half hours before a few thousand other runners toed the line at the Zoo Run 10K.

"Really," we said, laughing, mostly at ourselves. We weren't laughing a week earlier.

Racing a 10K four weeks out from the marathon wasn't out of the ordinary. What coach wanted us to do with the run was another matter. The original plan was for us to do the 10K at marathon pace, with the last two Ks hard. Which sounded like a promising idea, targetting 4:20s or so.

But we had also entered the race for the 10K "club championships", sponsored by Black Toe, and I was one of the five guys on the men's team. Coach issued the new instructions a week before. We would RACE the 10K, but we'd have to warm up for 15K before the 8:15 am race start. Then warm down -- up to 30K on the day.

Which is why, at 6 a.m., my Black Toe teammates and I were in the dark, trying to find a route around the zoo. By the time we surveyed the parking lot, we thought it'd be better to do laps of the 1K parking lot, which lead a 1:20 15K, run at 5:03ish pace.

It was a light run, almost went by fast as we lapped the lot while the cars carrying 3500 runners started to arrive.

Selfie with teammates Sam and Cynthia, around 6:15 am.

Having almost an hour after the warmup to the race, we changed clothes, fuelled up and tried to calmly prepare for the race at hand. The pre-race warmup was a lot of fun, us seeing all the elites including Lanni Marchant, Rachel Hannah and Eric Gillis. Great star sightings for us running nerds.

We had a few teams entered into the
The Race: A technical one. Hilly. A lot of turns and, as this year's women's winner Rachel said, "the race is like cross country running on the road." I last ran this race back in 2007 and had to read that race report to remember anything about the race.

The Goal: Go out at 3:55 to 4s, and try to nail the sub 40 on tired legs.

First 5K
I ran out with Mike and Andrew, and we successfully fought the vacuum. I won't bother describing the course (the map below) but suffice it to say, it had, in the first kilometre, six turns, a decline, followed by a hairpin turn, then a long incline up the hill we descended. The course is a lot of fun for watching the elites as it turns on itself at multiple times.

We were working hard, and I was trying to do some pace management into the hills. The sub 4s were not technically hard, as we are able to nail multiple ones in weekly training sessions, but I could feel the course taking a bit of the momentum away.

We were blasting the course, though, feeling good, keeping pace with the strong runners as the field of recreational runners was pretty well stacked. In the first 5K, we were able to maintain pretty much on plan, if not a few seconds faster on some splits. Hit the first 5K in around 19:24, which on its own is a pretty sweet time.

Splits: 3:51, 3:54, 4:01, 3:51, 3:48

Second 5K
The course in the zoo is a winding, hilly and not the greatest for a guy who trains mostly in flat land. I was able to keep the pace but was feeling a little more winded than I'd like. I hit the 6th kilometre in 3:52, then the seventh in 3:58, both showing promise that I could nail a pretty fast race.

Not sure what it was, with two miles to go, I wasn't feeling like I had the drive, but I tried to keep up the pace, hitting the eighth in 4:04, a little slower. Usually late in races, especially marathons, I try to picture myself covering the distance left and use that mental technique to keep me calm. That it wasn't that long to go. But I kept on wishing for the end and it wasn't coming any sooner.

In short, somewhere in the final kilometre, I felt close to redline and for no particular reason, I slowed to a short walk break. Yes, a walk break. Weird, but my head wasn't in it today. I picked it up after counting to 10, and was able to keep it up but then hit another patch when I thought I didn't want to redline. This is something I NEVER ever do in training, in intervals or tempos, so it was a little out of character. In a lot of ways, I think my head really wasn't in it by the end, even if my body could have done it.

So that last kilometre ended up being a slow one -- one where the wheels came off and all those solid sub-4 min kilometres came back. I'm almost glad I didn't go sub-40 on this race -- I simply hadn't earned it.

I ended up with a 40:07, which on this course I will take as my true PB. My fastest 10K, and I haven't really 'raced one' since 2011, was 40:04, but on the downhill Sporting Life 10K. This time hammed my 2007 Zoo Run (which I ran in 41:20), so I will also take as a victory.

The things I do know is that on a fresher pair of legs, maybe one that hadn't run 15K the same morning, would have had a stronger last kilometre. I know that there is a 10K course out for me to show the fitness. I know that I'm on track for my marathon. And I know that every hard raced run that doesn't meet your expectations are just another carrot for the next time you go tackle that distance.

Splits: 3:52, 3:58, 4:04, 4:04, 4:28

Best part was seeing all the clubs coming out for the 10K club championships (results). Our men's team came in first and the Beaches Runners came top overall. The SPR Angels, with two of our coaches racing, won the women's race. Fantastic to see all the crews out. Running is strong in Toronto

With Andrew, Avery, Kyle and Maya, one of the Black Toe owners.

The BlackToe and SPR Angels. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

The beauty of training

"I have to practice running more," a co-worker said to me the other day as I came back from a noon speedwork session.

"Training," I answered her. "You don't practice running, you train."

That word training, it's meaningful to me, even more so than "racing." With "training," I can somehow make a daily excuse to run. Training is how I can feasibly explain to a non-runner why I run 100 kilometres a week. Training is how I've managed to make a run streak that's now almost at 300 days feel almost normal. It's necessary, I say about my running without saying why it's necessary. I'm training.

Races are the shiny, glittery objects of our sport -- we all from time to time, with good reason, succumb to it. We fawn over them, covet them, collect their swag and obsess over them.  Over my bed hangs a few select medals I've collected over the years. The other medals -- taken after I've toed the line at marathons, countless 30Ks, halfs and 10Ks, are still stuffed haphazardly in a cardboard box with the Sharpie-scrawled "medals" that the movers hauled into my spare bedroom. It hasn't moved since I placed it on a shelf a year ago. While I keep my medals, I'm not a fan of the bling. I've never quite understood why these massive medals need to be created. I see people asking about medals before they will commit to running a race and I really don't get it, as if it's the swag that's the make-or-break reason why you haul ass for 26.2 miles. Truth is, the more medals I'll earn, the bigger a cardboard box I'll need.

Training though, I can't get enough of it. I love to train. Above all, training, and the process that it forces me into, turns running from chore to routine to just a thing that I do -- no need.

Jeff Adams is a Canadian Paralympian who gave a corporate motivational speech to my company offsite this past summer. Through his speech, he talked about "searching for excellence" in sports and how that relates to the business world. What I connected with the most was when he talked about goal races -- performing on the world's stage, when all cameras and eyes were on him -- he also related to us that he enjoyed the most about the process was the training.

Everyday I train, he told us, six years after he retired from a 20-year career. When you train, you're alone, nothing to drive you but yourself. When you train, you focus on all the parts that need to improve so you can perform at the top of your abilities. But however that goal day unfolds -- race day, Olympics medal day, your first marathon -- it's every day before and every day after that defines you.

While the often-euphoric feeling associated with race day magic is hard to be beat, it's the every other day that nurtures the runner in me. I thought it was a rare thought at first, but the more runners I'm meeting, I'm hearing similar themes.

Training gets me up at 5:30 a.m. to fit in a run before work. Training gets me to put on my running gear right after the work day is complete. It gets me to flush out the schedule, urges me out the door on an early Sunday morning, and training makes -20C runs seem not only doable, but logical. Running offseason is wonderful, but it lacks the structure that the type-A self needs. I liken it to doing a strength workout without a good idea of what your sets or routine look like.

Committing to training is even more important than following a schedule. Training I associate with the words "commitment," "dedication" and "passion" even as I think of the words "escape," "pain," "hard work" and "disconnecting." Training pushes me beyond my comfort level. It has made me a better runner but at the same time turned me into a runner who loves running as much for the hard work as it is to simply run. In training partners, I'm finding people who feel the same. I no longer feel like the lone guy who just loves to run -- there are many more of us.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The sound of quiet

I was on the road between Eugene and Portland. The phone was flashing an E, seeking data, those bits and bytes that connect us. Content to save the battery, I put the phone on airplane mode. I did the same again a day later as I entered a trail in Portland, emerging from the forest more than five hours later. Just me, my thoughts and my legs. 

The past few days I've been surrounded by quiet. From the moment I landed in Eugene, I barely had a conversation with anyone, save two waitresses, a hotel concierge and a taxi driver. The driver relayed to me how laid back it was there. Is it quiet on a Sunday, I asked. Yes. Good. 

I flew across the country to find the quiet. True, I came for the trails, the coffee and food, to see yet another city on my list of cities to see, but I got on two planes so I could find that thing we all seek, in bits here, a bite of it when we can chew out for ourselves, some time.   

Setting foot on Pre's Trail

Don't worry, I told my coworker when she heard I was going to Portland the other day, I'm not doing the Into The Wild, where I would grow out my hair, seek north with no destination in mind other than self discovery. She laughed, but now, three days later, I was sitting on an Amtrak bus, writing while peering ahead at the young man in the seat in front of me. He had three studded earrings on his left ear, one bearing a white and black peace sign, the ear he pressed against the window after trying for 30 minutes to make it through the introduction of Short Stories By Leo Tolstoy. I watched him underline sentences with a borrowed pen and felt sympathy. Outside, far more interesting, I watched the mountain ranges go by, a hitchhiker waving his arms as if he's flagging down a cab instead of asking for a free ride. And I was on a bus, not having checked work email in two days, social media for more than a few hours, feeling the urge to write as I watched the dust bowl of a farmfield, stirred up by a tractor in this unseasonably dry and warm summer. In my 2.5 hour ride up to Portland, I suppressed the urge to turn on the phone. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Race report: A Midsummers Night 30k

A few seconds before the start of my 30K race, the rain fell, and the runners behind me sort of groaned. Minutes earlier, after greeting some of my running friends, I peered up at the clouds that were carrying a light spritzer, and watched as the puffs glided east, fast. Good news: there would be a tailwind. Bad news: a headwind too. 

Last week, coach sent us our Wednesday workout, saying it'd be a lighter one since so many of us were racing the 30k A Midsummers Run. Wednesday, I ran a marathon, instead of long slow miles, I ran at a non-threatening but taxing 4:49k pace. It was the equivalent of a 3:23 effort but with stops built in, but still, a 4:49. 

Texting with my training partner Mike earlier Saturday, we discussed possibilities. Would I use it as a marathon pace run, maybe start slightly slower then ramp up to my marathon pace of 4:26s (for a 3:07ish marathon), then hold and attack the last 5k. Then Mike told me his instructions: start at 4:20s then go faster. 


Then it made perfect sense. I thought about all of the paces we having been nailing in the last two training seasons. We started in January with intervals at 4:20, quickly lowering them to 4:10s then 4:05s. By the last few months, we've been doing 1-3k intervals at 3:45s to 3:50s. Our tempos were being done at 4:15 and faster. My half in early March was run in 4:14s and I ran the 30k Around the Bay later that month in 4:25s. So according to coach, it was go time. 

A year ago, I would have run this at marathon pace, even slower. A year ago, I would be scared to test my limits. This year, I've been learning that to test your limits, you have to push them. 

4:20?  It took me a split second to tell Mike "lets do it!" 

We lined up near the front and started with no fanfare, perfect. The field quickly spread and we were just ahead of a loud talking pacer, the 2:15. Mike and I regulated the pace but for some reason, he was on our tails, telling his runners he would be doing even splits. We hit the first kilometer in 4:21. Perfect. He hit it in 4:23 and I put up my hand, with three fingers closed, and shouted "seven seconds!"  It was the last time I would hear the pace group as we kept our gears going and he peeled back. 

I'm well known to be a metronome during races, but hitting dead on pace right away was a special feeling. We had a mini out and back as we headed to Cherry street, where we got to feel the tailwind (it was strong) and headwind (also). I love the route for this Midsummers, as it's run on routes I normally tackle on solo long runs. I know the route well and that's always an advantage when racing. Our next few kilometers were a little varying, slowing to 4:26, then as a result speeding up to 4:15s. The cadence felt okay. My breathing was good, telling me I had some cardio room, and it felt on the easy edge of  comfortably hard, that special feeling when you're long distance pace running 

Splits: 4:21, 4:21, 4:26, 4:16, 4:15

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Birthday Marathon

Last night, I ran my 28th marathon. Yesterday morning, I didn't know I was going to run a marathon.

It was one of those quick decisions, made while I was walking to work this morning. It's my birthday. A big one. So during my break, I mapped a route. I wanted to run past all the places I've lived, all the places I've worked and my old university, high school, ending at my elementary school track.

I took two gels. I used my new trail running backpack. I ran a downtown loop, met up with the team for a picture, then hugged the water on my way back to the family home. I ran, trying to contain the pace. But I was going faster than planned. When I hit the half in 1:42, I knew I would probably go sub 3:30.

It was a stop and start run -- at red lights, to take some water, to get my bearings. Running a marathon after a work day is a little odd, especially when you're trying to get as much out of the fading sun.

The run was special. I loved running by my old haunts -- smiled, reflected and zeroed into myself.

The run was finished with a loop where I did my first cross country training runs, and the final 200 metres around the track at old St. Ursula elementary school, where I needed the iPhone flashlight to avoid tripping, like I did when I broke my ankle in Grade 5.

Amazing run. A landmark one. One to remember. It was the perfect birthday present to myself.

Marathon done in 3:23, average pace of 4:49Ks.

1 5:09.8
2 5:12.7
3 5:05.5
4 4:54.6
5 5:07.1
6 5:08.2
7 4:41.4
8 4:37.3
9 4:51.5
10 4:41.8
11 4:29.6
12 4:29.3
13 4:41.7
14 4:32.4
15 5:11.0
16 5:16.9
17 4:50.1
18 4:38.6
19 4:44.4
20 4:24.4
21 4:49.3
22 4:41.6
23 4:37.3
24 4:46.3
25 4:54.3
26 4:42.6
27 4:39.6
28 4:46.7
29 5:06.9
30 5:04.0
31 4:52.8
32 4:41.0
33 5:03.5
34 4:36.9
35 4:34.6
36 5:05.6
37 4:31.8
38 4:33.1
39 4:53.2
40 4:14.8
41 4:49.8
42 5:21.7
43 :59.4

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rounding up

There was a time when every run started and ended with a zero. If my 12K run was in progress, I would not be content with a 11.95K, so for the last few minutes, I'd pay less attention to the road, waiting for my wrist to signal when I should stop. If I had to shuffle back and forth, or take a turn around the corner to make up the extra few hundred metres, I'd do it. I didn't want to round up.

This post is about getting older and how you tackle that, take stock of it. It's about peering back and facing forward. It's about evolving your view of all that and, surprise, it has something to do about running. What sparks it is that I'm turning 40 this week. It's not easy to make the public declaration from someone who hides his birthday on Facebook, who would rather spend a birthday not at work and alone with my thoughts, who cringes at attention. But everyone knows. They're expecting me to make a big deal so I am -- here.

Milestones can be weights -- weights we pile on ourselves, of things we want to achieve, things left undone or things you regret. They are, in the end, just things. 

I've been never one for birthdays. As an August kid, birthdays melded into that final summer month just as pre-school anxiety starts to spike. I remember August more for working at the burger stand that my family operated at the CNE for 15 years, where as a child I stood by the monster toaster, shifting from foot to foot on a grease-smeared floor tile for hours, mastering the few deft moves it took to open a bag, dumping the bread into a pile, splitting a bun open and watching them get charred. I was nicknamed "bun boy," only realizing now how silly that sounds. In subsequent Augusts, when I moved into more 'acceptable' working age, I graduated to grill master or fry cook, then manned the till while building my customer service skills at age 11, entrusted with the family's daily earnings. I was rewarded with rolls of quarters I'd empty into the midway's video game booths. I swear I spent many a birthday working 12-hour shifts in my orange and brown Chef Burger T-shirt.

Birthdays in my household were treated much like Christmas -- my immigrant parents tried to interpret these Hallmark holidays or 'Canadian traditions' and went through the motions without really grasping why these milestones were meaningful as if they were learning about assembling food and decorations from an Ikea instruction manual -- they got the gist but never built it right, and there were always leftover parts: A plastic tree with ornaments, sure, lets try this; wrapping birthday gifts, they do that? What does a kid want for a birthday? I usually ended up with a few "new" pair of socks every year, one at Christmas, the other at my birthday, tossed in my general direction as if to say, "congrats, another year since you've been alive. Happy Birthday." In later teen years, I started to buy myself a gift, but by then I had already realized that it really didn't matter much.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Learning to run

Running those loops were endless, it seemed, back in the Grade-school days before I knew what running gear was or even that running was a thing to do outside of school-time Participaction. Our gym/Grade 5 teacher sent us off on that 2.2K loop around my school and I now wonder what kind of running shoes my parents bought me, more likely acquired when my mom visited the local Bi-Way -- she was, after all, famous for scourging sales, the dregs from the the discount bin where she could mysteriously find matching outfits for my brother and I just in time for school pictures.

The loops that we ran on random mornings was part of "training" for our meagre cross-country team. I was third and also the slowest of my group of boys. The loops didn't prepare me for race day that saw me try to crest a stupid hill -- there are hills and grass in cross country?  I had advanced through the first set of local races and found myself toeing the line of a city-wide cross-country race where for all but me it was really a run until my fitness was compromised. To this day, I remember distinctly the hill, trying to run to the top it and realizing the best thing next to starting a run at a full sprint was taking a walk break.

How did I come to run? Who made me do this? How do I do this running thing anyways?


They say that running is what we are meant to do. They also say that running with shoes is against nature, just ask anyone seeking a refund from Vibram what natural running really is. In truth, we like to say that if you want to see someone run without abandon, watch a kid run, and while that is good enough to see what type of joy you can have on a grassy field, do we really know how to run?

I've been asking myself that more recently as I pound out year after year on asphalt, trails and concrete. I've been wondering why -- talent and effort aside -- are others more efficient, why do elite runners look so perfect when we do not.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Race report: Pride and Remembrance 5K 2014

I may actually tolerate the 5K now.

Actually, I still hate them, this type of speed is just not my thing -- or at least I don't think it is, yet. I've never had a chance to run the annual Pride and Remembrance 5K (results here), which is amazing because I've done just about every major race in town. Part of it is that I just am not a fan of 5Ks, especially in the summer.

But since running the Moon in June earlier this month, where nothing was really working that well, ending the race slowing instead of speeding up, I felt that maybe I needed to try again.

A bunch of my teammates were running and by the time it was race morning, I realized that I knew a good portion of the front runners -- nice to see everyone from the different running clubs representing. A few days ago, I volunteered at the Hipster Run hosted by Black Toe, so I combined a yellow headband and calf sleeves that Brooks gave us with my yellow singlet. Felt perfect for Pride.

Mike and I chatted and we figured we'd go for somewhere around 3:50 to 3:55 average pace. I felt that maybe a 3:46-3:47 was possible to take a shot at sub 19, but after fading earlier this month, I just wanted to run smart, comfortable and see if I could kick it up at the end.

We seeded ourselves in the sub 20 minute corral, and as the confetti filled start jumped started us, I felt myself holding back, knowing that sometimes we all accelerate to way faster than goal pace.

At the start (I'm in yellow). Photo: Michael Lin

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mid stride

Mid stride, you just don't care about all of those things.

On a normal day, many "things" start to grate. Some things pile on, weight to my shoulders, tasks to complete, more challenges to tackle. Work, life obligations, they come at me and I have little choice but to sidestep, or to take it head on.

The first few strides are floating, always. They happen usually after I see the lights turn green, or after I close the gate of my townhouse. The first few strides are heaven. It's as if with the swing of the arms and my soles slapping pavement, or concrete, or grass, that I am unshackled.

Today felt like many of those days. Too much in my thoughts, too many things left undone, the to-do is so long that I have to scroll down for pages to catch all of the things.

After work, I'll often pick a city route. There, unlike the uninterrupted waterfront trails where I can run for miles and minutes and to the horizon, I'm constantly interrupted. I'm stopped at a stoplight, my hands on my hip, breathing hard, waiting to hit the start button again. I'm swerving pedestrians, people who have similar to-do lists and weights on their shoulders. I'm running into the road, giving way to oncoming cyclists and in-a-hurry cars that are trying to beat the city traffic. I'm running along side, and toward, other runners, sharing a wave, a nod.

Running in the city, on side walks, on roads, watching a busy life stream by but somehow transcending it, makes me feel like I'm floating above all of it -- as if I'm watching the 'city life' stream around me as I do the unlikely thing: run while they are commuting, run while they are entering a restaurant, run while they are toting their briefcase to the next destination, run while they are slogging. Run.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Putting away the scale

I used to love weighing myself after a summer long run. If I had a light breakfast and didn't hydrate, I'd instantly lose a few extra pounds. It was a nice bonus to being a long distance runner.

Today, that scale is tucked away in a closet and I can't really remember the last time I used it. And although me, like you, obsess over this, I really couldn't care less to weigh myself.

What a long way I've come.

I have a hate-hate relationship with weight loss success stories. The last decade, with reality TV shows turning the healthier you into a neatly packaged network schedule, along with the racks of magazines that tout ways to lose the extra pounds, I've realized we're always looking for an easy, short term solution to too big a problem.

When the spotlight goes away, or when everyone stops noticing, many sneak back into habits. We read stats about those who inevitably gain back weight.

What we don't have enough is how to maintain a healthy lifestyle over the long run. That, unfortunately, doesn't make for good TV -- the struggles, grabbing a pint of icecream on a stressful evening or the big bag of chips that keeps on mysteriously shrinking over the course of an evening.

I'm not alone in that struggle, but at some point over this past year, I've just put the scale away.

These aren't easy things to say, but 10 years ago, I was overweight, clearly so. As  it usually does, a milestone birthday and looking at a snapshot of myself helped me realize I had to do something about it. I took up exercising, I started to watch what I ate. I dropped the weight, I started running and soon enough, I was a marathoner. Success story, right?

The road from couch to exercise to marathoner with a stunning weight loss only begins that journey. For those of us who lean on eating for comfort, usually because of stress, anxiety or depression, or all of the above, you never quite shake the feeling.

As a runner, I've always known that exercise has been a key ingredient in shaping the better me. Embracing running, and even becoming a runner, you know you're guaranteed to start 'working off those calories.'

Through periods of stress, I've realized that no matter how many miles I'd run, I'd always find ways to consume those calories right away. My first marathon, like many I gained weight instead of losing it. For many years, as I was doing three to five marathons a year, I just reconciled the fact that I could never figure things out.

Then something changed -- my whole approach morphed, evolved, jolted into a new way -- I FINALLY practiced mindful eating and meal planning. And I put away the scale.

What does this mean?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Race report: Moon in June 5K

I don't avoid many things in running -- running in rain, -20C or tempo runs. One thing I've successfully avoided for four years was a 5K race.

I have done one since 2010 and haven't full out raced one for five years. Since I'm in the final weeks of off season, I looked at doing this race to see where my fitness was and also see where all the gains this year have taken me.

My goal was to target 3:50s to 3:55s, sort of in the pace we were doing for faster intervals during the training season. The race is in Burlington and I had last run it in 2008, and this year it was a bigger event, more runners for sure. I went down with Lee and Julie and milled around, saw Emma, but mostly I was wondering what the day would bring.

Funnily enough, I was not as nervous about this as my hard workouts. I knew that if I were to run a hard 5K on the edge, the whole thing would feel like a good effort.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Race report: Sulphur Springs Trail Run 25K

About 200 metres into yet another race, a noise drowned out all others, and I knew I'd be in for a transformational experience. Up until the 7:30 a.m. starting time of today's 25K, it was really not that different from the 97 previous times I'd been at road races -- at 5Ks, half marathons and 27 marathons. All of them were done on roads -- at major cities with thousands of others, or in a city park with a few hundred.

But none of those were like the 98th. None of them were like today. And I'm left thinking why it took so long.

Today, I had abandoned my Asics road shoes for New Balance trails. Today, I had no idea what a good pace would look like, much like the first race 97 start lines ago. Today, under the canopy of trees on a much-delayed Spring, I could hear the difference -- the thud of our trail shoes on pine needles and later sucking mud, and then then sound of birds.

New shoes now broken in.

The sound of birds chirping overtook the footfalls of a few hundred runners. As I was letting gravity help plunge me deeper into the trails before I'd have to climb the coming hills, I knew I was already falling in love.

This won't read like any traditional race report. I really don't know how to write it for trails, maybe one day I will. I will refer you to Russell's excellent course preview of the Sulphur Springs race.

The race is made up of varied distances, a 10K, 25K, 50K, 50 miler, 100 miler and a 100 mile relay. So from the 10K (done the fastest in 34 blistering minutes) to the 100 miler, which will take some as much as 30 hours, there are hundreds of runners doing this course in Ancaster, Ontario, just outside of Hamilton. (Results for 10K, 25K, 50K, 50 Mile, 100 Mile Relay)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

With files from...

When many of us race, we may find ourselves drafting other runners. Single file, you may plunge into the course, finding comfort in the group and respite from the elements ahead.

On many a training day this past season, the winter throwing layering penetrating, bone chilling gusts, I took solace in facing the vortex with others. On one occasion, there was a stretch of road, not more than 2 kilometres long, where the wind was fierce, and it was no small task to stride into it.

So we took turns running into the wind. Single file, two of us took on the wind, while others took shelter. The pace never slowed. We were faster.

I've been advising a co-worker who just finished his first marathon. Through the course of the conversation, we both keyed in on what he found he loved about the training -- he finally got the alone time, the quiet us long distance runners find when we are in our own heads, only the road ahead of us and minutes -- no hours -- to wallow in, to zone out, to think, to analyze, to experience raw emotion and tune into your body, or to simply focus on the run.

I know the benefits of alone time -- it's what took me through 26 marathons, some 22,000 kilometres over 10 years. I even trained to my previous peak while doing it solo. For that, I will always look back at it -- and the accomplishments topped with a Boston qualifier -- with an equal amount of pride and wonder.

If solo running helps you discover more of your self, what does the other side look like? What can you find in a group?

I took on a coach for the first time this year. I've written about him -- Rejean Chiasson. I took on team running for the first time this year. I've written about the group -- BlackToe. I've written about running with team members, about hard Wednesday workouts, about progressively longer Sunday runs, about Friday speedwork. In my races leading up to my goal marathon, I paced with teammates and I found the power of the group.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Race report: Toronto Goodlife Marathon 2014

I had to rip those arm warmers off. A kilometre earlier, they were shielding my limbs that are apt to get cold in the gusting wind, but now I was running into the sunshine, a honest tailwind behind me, they were getting on my nerves, big time. You don't want any negative thoughts this late in a race.

A few clumsy motions later, they were off, but not without a casualty.

I had dropped the wristband. 

How could I leave it behind, after it carried me for so far?

So I stopped dead in my tracks, 36K behind me, less than an hour away from The Goal. I turned, risking sudden cramps. I wasn't going to lose it, it meant too much to me.


Most marathon experts advise even paced marathons -- run the first half pretty much the same time as the second. By doing so, you do not risk getting up to your lactate threshold levels until late (or never). The race will get harder as the miles pile on -- they always do, but if you try to bank too much, you are likely to blow up. I know this feeling, having had marathons where marathon pace was going great, and a kilometre later, you were going 30 seconds slower per kilometre. Then you took a few walk breaks. Then it was over.

My last two marathons, I ran two negative splits, where you actually run the second half faster. In Chicago, where I hit a 3:18, I ran the second half 9 seconds faster than the first. In New York, which I ran three weeks later, I ran the last 21.1K about 30 seconds off the first.

But this weekend called for anything but a negative split. The first half features a net huge downhill that even I'd advise runners bank a minute or more.

And then there was that wind.


The Toronto Marathon is where I PBed and qualified for Boston back in 2009. It's a net downhill course in the first half but it doesn't always necessarily make it fast. But it is a fast course and if you run it right, it can pay huge dividends. I put Toronto on my race calendar when I signed up with BlackToe Running in December. I told the coach that I wanted to get back to Boston. When he asked what time that was, I told him 3:10. In reality, I needed a 3:15, but Boston had a cutoff last year of around 1:28, which meant you needed a 3:13:30 to get in.

Buffer, I told him. I wanted a buffer and 3:10 would get me that.

I've written about the crazy training in this extreme winter. I had, up to marathon day, also been on a 157-day running streak, had hit 200 miles or more per month for four months, and had set new personal bests in the 8K, half marathon and 30K. In my mind, being three for three in races was a massive deal, but there was really only one race that mattered -- the marathon distance.

Through the winter, my group got faster, that by the time were were talking marathon pace, the coach was starting to assign us 4:25 kilometres, or 3:07, or three minutes faster than that 3:10.

Dare to dream, right?

Friday, May 02, 2014

42 tips for the first-time marathoners

This weekend, I'm running my 27th marathon, my 97th road race. WHAT THE HECK?!

No. 27 and my sixth Goodlife full.

Today, I talked a runner through his first marathon, and realized there's a lot of pro tips I wish I knew... So, no fancy narrative, no GIFs, just this random list of thoughts. Here we go

  1. Friday night sleep is best for a Sunday marathon. You won't sleep that well the night before
  2. If you have a fuelling plan, mark it on your pace band. So you won't forget
  3. Yes, you can get a pace band that shows you your splits, that way you can track to see if you're hitting milestones (ie 5K) faster or slower than your goal
  4. Us old timers use running pace calculators like the one here
  5. Guys, cover your nipples. Trust me, 3-5 hours of chafing can HURT. Bandaids will suffice
  6. If you're wondering how many gels to take during a marathon, then go for anywhere from 3 - 6. But make sure you're fuelling early
  7. Yes there are portapotties on the course. And yes, if you're a guy, you can improvise on the course. Just make sure you stop
  8. If you're wearing a new pair of shoes on marathon day, then abort that plan. 
  9. Pin your bib to your race shirt the night before. I can't tell you how many times I see people, shivering, trying at the race start
  10. By the way, shivering at the start isn't a bad idea. You're dressing to run, not to stand outside
  11. Garbage bags with holes poked out for your head and arms are appropriate wind/rain gear
  12. Perfectly acceptable to wear warmup clothes to toss away
  13. Not acceptable to toss them at another runner - bundle it into a ball before throwing 
  14. Point at volunteers who are handing out water. That way, they know you're about to take the cup. Squeeze the cup to create a spout, then tip your head as you take sips
  15. Thank the volunteers
  16. Take those gels, if you can, right before you hit a water station, so you can wash them down
  17. It's fine to draft after runners to pace, but if you do so, also take the lead at times
  18. NOT fine to run on one's heels, give them space - and don't be all random about moving side to side
  19. If you're about to take a walk break, don't come to an abrupt stop - at the very least, pull to the side and put up your hand
  20. Smile and/or wave at any camera pointed in your direction
  21. Marathon plan 1: First half should feel easy, next 10K should feel like you're working and the rest tests your training
  22. Follow a pace bunny at your peril. Know your splits and know when to back the pace down. Remember, they are always faster runners who may not know your pace
  23. Double knot your laces.
  24. Hydrate well two days and the day before the race. Make sure you are getting electrolytes. 
  25. If you fall victim to cramps, salt intake isn't a bad thing. Think soups, pretzels. Just straight water may not be a good idea
  26. Also, fibre the day before isn't the greatest idea. Think of your GI issues
  27. Eat your breakfast 3-4 hours before the race. It can be as much as a bagel with peanut butter and a banana for an hour before. Some do oatmeal or cereal. Do what works but get the calories in.
  28. You will probably need to pee on race morning. A lot. This is normal. Nerves
  29. Charge your Garmin/GPS watch the day before. In fact, keep the darned thing plugged in overnight
  30. Have a goal time. Seriously. 
  31. If you don't have one, maybe use a race predictor, put in another race time.
  32. Yes you can listen to music during your race. I'm not a fan, but I get it. Just KEEP THE VOLUME DOWN when you're running
  33. Get to the race an hour before the start time.
  34. If you don't have to pee, and you're at a race early, go line up at a portapotty. Trust me, by the time you get to the front, you'll have to go
  35. BodyGlide. In any place you think you'll need it.
  36. Do not wear the race shirt during the race. If you have to ask, then... just don't ask. Don't wear it.
  37. Do not answer your phone while running the marathon. Even if you really wanted to say to the person on the other line that "I'm running a marathon." Everyone around you will want to punch you
  38. Race étiquette: look before you spit, or throw away the cup, or decide to weave. Just don't be annoying 
  39. Marathon plan 2: Run with your head, then your heart, and within your own ability
  40. If you are delirious, still NEVER forget to take that gel, Gatorade in the late miles.
  41. Bonking happens, walking happens, accept that you are running a long time
  42. And if this is your first, you will now remember that you have to always point out to everyone that it's not JUST 42K, it's... 42 POINT 2 Kilometres... Now you can call yourself a marathoner 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Our Boston on 4.15.14

About a year ago, I put on my blues and yellows, and did something I don't often do: I went out for a Tuesday run with a bunch of strangers. We did a few laps around Queen's Park. I saw others who looked familiar on my waterfront paths, only we were standing still, marking a moment of silence in the brilliant later afternoon sun. I then saw a friend who had just flown back from Boston. We traded a big hug.

About three weeks later, a friend of mine came back from the States and -- on the usual intersection where we met for an after-work run -- he slipped a blue and yellow wristband into my hand. "A souvenir," he said. I'm not much for wristbands, but this one said "RUN NOW" and "BOSTON 4.15.13."

I haven't gone on a run without it ever since.

I've worked my entire career in the media. We love anniversaries. It's a news hook, easy to fill space and poignant enough usually to preplan in an environment that can always change. A year ago, before the bombs hit Boston, it was a usual Monday morning for my colleagues, but it was Patriot's Day for me. I was tracking a bunch of friends, tuning my computer-side TV to the sports channel to listen to the sounds of Hopkinton, that starting point for the 26.2 mile race.

Hours later, feeling sick, I went home and off to bed. I was woken up by a phone call from the office. Bombs had gone off, and my staff was covering the story. Shaking off the grogginess, I checked my email and found messages, from friends who had finished okay and were accounted for, and friends who thought I was at the race. Within an hour, I was interviewing Toronto runners, writing a news story, writing a blog post in shell shock about our Boston.

Our Boston.

Boston means so much to many of us for different reasons. I spent years striving, fighting, running, for a chance to run my dream race. When I qualified, I looked back at all my achievements - personal and professional - and put that run among the greatest things I've ever done. Months later, toeing the line at the corral, I was in utter awe. I did not belong here. Everyone was so much better than I was. This was on national TV. How did I make it here?

The second time I ran Boston, I stood at the back of Wave 1 and savoured the crowd. I shivered, not from that tail wind, but from the chills of knowing I was somewhere special. It was one of those lifetime moments. I didn't take it for granted, but tried to take slow motion snapshots in my mind's eye. If I never ran Boston again, I didn't want to remember nerves or looking at my watch. So I stood and soaked everything in.

So Boston for me is a vivid memory. It's getting to the Toronto airport and seeing all those Boston jackets. It's seeing the banners on the streets, it's visiting the finish line, or holding The Jacket for the first time, or looking up at the signs at the corner of Hereford and Boylston. It's about school bus rides, the village and high fives with kids on trampolines. It's about beer on the course, a kiss at Wellesley and hills that make you remember why it broke someone's heart. It's about the growing crowds, the Citgo sign and Fenway, and noontime baseball. It's about the everything about 26.2 but also what happens alongside that course, and of the days before and after that day.

Around the world, and in every other state, it's a Monday. In Boston, that day, Patriot's Day, is Marathon Monday, and it's my Christmas Day. In the past week, I've been talking to friends who are going. I'm proud they are going to run the race hard, and they would have it no other way. Next Monday, I will be tuning in from Toronto, watching the race, tracking friends and reliving that route from Hopkinton to Boylston.

In the last year, I've been on my own journey. When two men tried to take my Boston memories away from me, I responded one way I knew I could, by vowing to get back. And to get back, there was only one thing to do -- do it harder, faster and with the purpose and love I've always had for the sport. So day after day, through the past 12 months, I've put on my shoes, walked out the front door, and pointed my wrist at the sky. The watch has had plenty of company this year with my blue and yellow band a reminder.

Boston runners, we're proud you'll be there for us this year. May wind be at your back, the cannolis keep you full, the high fives just as hard as the thunderous cheers on that beautiful day that is My Most Favourite Day.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Race Report: Harry's Spring RunOff 2014

Most of you dreaded this winter. Not me. I had my own tormentor.

Because regarding winter, I had no excuses. When I committed to train for a strong May marathon, I knew I'd be putting myself in uncomfortable territory. While I am a year-long runner, I typically focus on fall marathons for peak performances. But that's not what I wanted out of this year. If I were to hit May, then I'd have to train hard during this winter. You all know well the story of this winter. Some 35 extreme weather days, windchills we've never seen in many years and snow -- lots of it that made our footing iffy.

Was it winter that struck fear into me? Not really. I feared Wednesdays.

I remember one Wednesday about 14 weeks ago, I had signed up for the BlackToe team and our first quality workout was 8x1000. We couldn't do the Ex because it was an icy mess, so we moved to the waterfront trail. It was dark, slippery and we started to hammer those tempo paces. Back then, we were trying for 4:20s.

The Spring RunOff was what kicked of my adult racing habit. Back in 2005, when it was sponsored by PowerBar, I ran my very first road race. I was hooked, on racing, on pushing myself and on this hard course. I've since run it most years (and a few times done what I call The Double) no matter what my fitness or what I'm training for. My PB was set in 2008 when I was training for the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and using the Pfitzinger-Douglas training program. That mark, 33:57, has stood for so many years.

This year, we took winter on. We ran right into the -15C, hammering out intervals, tempo runs and MP Wednesdays. Our tempo sessions were universally dreaded. We'd get a cryptic line in our training program, something like "3km warm up. 4km, 3, 2,1, start @ T" and we shuddered. My pace group members would all show up nervously and we'd go out to 'work'. But teamwork prevailed, and we always ended up the day laughing, stronger, more confident. Then on Thursday, I'd go back out there, sometimes running 15K some 9 hours after doing a 17K tempo session.

The paces got faster. What was 4:20s would become 4:15s (It was our fault, coach would say, as we'd do the intervals too fast). By the time March became April, he had us going at 4:05s for tempo (one hour race pace.). On the way to my new half and 30K PBs, our paces continued to drop. We'd start tempo sessions doing 3:55s and realize we were going too fast. We hated Wednesdays, but Wednesdays made us better.

I asked the coach for a race plan, telling him my legs were still a little banged up from Around the Bay. I told him my PB was 4:15 pace and that it was soft. He advised me to be careful on the hills and hammer it home from 5-7.5K.

The day was windy, gusting up to 55-60K, and it was a chilly 1C before windchill. I arrived at the site an hour before race start and checked in my bag. I waited for a few minutes, then started a warmup jog, trying to hit around 5K at a recovery pace. That helped me warm up and I realized how beneficial it is to run before a short race. You're not going to hit a wall with 8K and I'd rather have my legs (and heart) ready to go).

I met up with teammate Mike and we lined up in the front corral. We made loose plans to run together, maybe go for 4:10s.

Mike and I. Photo: Alison Post

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Race report: Around the Bay 2014

What the hell, I said at the end of a work day, startling my colleague, as I opened the email from the coach. In it contained the Around the Bay game plan that Mike and I would negotiate over the next few days.

In short:

More specifically, he wanted us to go out at 4:25s, and think about going 4:20s, targetting a 2:10 30K. His aggressive plan was considered when I bumped into a neighbour of mine who's also on the Black Toe team. We traded war stories. Yes, coach was asking him to attack the course.

What the hell.

At least I could breathe, I told my coach as we finished our last quality session a day later, hammering 1500 metre intervals. We were given more aggressive paces, a 4:00 for 10K, 4:05 for tempo and 4:25 for marathon pace. I was hit by the cold delivered by the neverending winter more than two weeks ago, and while the cold didn't last long, the congestion lingered. Luckily, by last week, it was fading away. I ran through the cold, even did 35K long runs and speedwork. When I emerged, I felt like I was strong.

(Around the Bay 2014 results)

In truth, I'm at the strongest point I've ever been in. I'm lean, nailing faster paces and coming off the 1:29:17 half, I was poised for a strong 30K. But was I set for a PB performance?

The finish inside the Centre

By Saturday, I was consigned to worry about the weather, not the pace. The weather that looked so perfect (7C, light wind, sunny) had turned a little less conducive to fast times, (2C, 50-60 km gusts). I resorted to focusing on my gear and silently picked out my 3:10 marathon pace band, one that had a 30K of 2:15.

The team, other friends and the Daily Mile group converged on FirstOntario Centre. It was, like I had predicted, a huge family reunion, seeing a lot of friends as we waited for the race to start.

Gear: singlet, base layer, singlet
Meanwhile, the weather was turning in our favour. The sun was out, the winds not as strong as we'd thought. Earlier that morning, I had tested the air and went with a light singlet, a base layer with sleeves that could be rolled up, and the team singlet. I went with tights, a touque (figuring wind would not be great for a hat) and a windproof mitt. Out on the starting corral, it seemed I'd made a good call. The garbage bag I took out wasn't needed. I rolled up the sleeves, stood at the front of the Corral B with Mike with our Black Toe singlets.

The goal that Mike and I concocted was to go somewhere between the coach's plan (2:10) and our real goal of going under 2:15 gun time. We both had done six Around the Bays but had never gotten the silver medal. We knew we were going to pass the start line about 20 seconds in so our ultimate slowest time was 2:14. We agreed that we'd take the first 18K smartly, then see what happened. 4:25s seemed like a good call.

First 10K
There is not much to say about the first 10K other than it was nothing like the course I've run the past six times. If I were to give a course description last year, I'd tell you it was 18k flat, then the rest hilly. This first part featured turns, tight streets as we ran toward the park, then a series of rolling hills as we were running up highway overpasses. The hills were real and I believe we had three.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Around the Bay 30K new course route and strategy for 2014 (updated)

It's a month out until the old granddaddy of Ontario road races, the Around the Bay 30K. As usual, I'm coming out with an updated Around the Bay 30K 2014 strategy guide based on the new course. I'm going to look at bit at the first 10K that was changed this year.

UPDATE: The Around the Bay 2015 course will not have the infamous hill, according to the race director in several reports.

The changes to the race route took place after a train delayed runners from crossing. I documented some pictures from those delays last year.

Update: Canadian Running has uploaded a virtual course video. Great job guys.

So here's a look at the new route, which has runners going up on Bay St toward the waterfront, then on to Burlington St. before it rejoins the old course around 11K in.

New Route

Here's the old route, which runners are familiar with

Last year's route

The Around the Bay folks did a little map that showcases two water stations in the first 10K

View Around the Bay Road Race in a larger map

A couple points I'll note, based on these Streetview maps:

The route is relatively flat at the start, even looks slightly downhill

View Around the Bay Road Race in a larger map

Waterfront running is nice

View Around the Bay Road Race in a larger map

Should be a few interesting turns around the park getting to Burlington St.