Friday, November 27, 2015

First steps

The fire, I felt it in those final miles of the Philadelphia Marathon this past weekend. It was burning in my legs, that tinge to signal effort. It was present in my lungs and I could feel it in my veins.

This morning, five days into my off season, I woke up before my 5 a.m. alarm. I balanced a mug on my lap as I warmed to the thought of the outside. In another half hour, I was outside to confront November, running as darkness reluctantly relinquishes control. On a similar morning, four months ago, I'd be on my front stoop, stretching lightly, babying a niggle on my left hamstring, watching the mid-summer dawn take over the sky. Eight months ago, I was watching the late winter give way to spring.

Today felt like spring. Today was like first day, only that it wasn't.

Run, every day.

The first few steps of every run reignites everything. It may draw out your pains, may expose your lack of sleep or express how fit you truly are. For the past 730 days, I've taken those first steps and it's led me here to this moment.

I'm writing this as I "lap" the second year mark of my run streak. Last year, I wrote a post about the things I've learned about running 365 days, and although not much has changed, my perspective is evolving.

The life of a runner begins with enthusiasm, sparked by fitness gains and early PBs. They're bolstered by bucket list goals, by friends we meet on the trails and the goals we dangle in front of us. Over the years, that early love affair with running changes, not as obvious as a fork in the trail, but there is a point in the path where we decide what running is to us. Is it something we did before life and work and responsibility edges out running.

I've lost count of the number of kilometres or runs I've accumulated in the past 11 years as a long distance runner. Two years ago, in starting this run streak, I had rekindled my love of performance running. Simply, I wanted to get fit again, get as fast as I could, and get to Boston. Within those two years, I achieved that and more, but the unintended outcome -- in its 730th day -- was the unexpected surprise.

Heat map of the last two years of running
That fire I felt in Philly was another rekindling. I was reminded that running in the long term is not unlike every stride you take. Your next step follows the first. You bound through trails, on top of concrete on asphalt on a forward motion -- jumping, really -- that would not have been possible if you hadn't taken the step before that.

We bound, one foot in front of the other, on our daily runs. Over the course of the days and miles and trials, we get stronger. That strength is like a shockwave that travels from your heel right up to your heart. A runner's body changes over the course of the years. Our bones solidify, our muscles extend and tighten, our bodies can get lean, our stride efficiency increases.

There are moments during every run when everything feels fluid. Easy even. But that belies the pain -- forcing legs to move faster than they are capable, pushing the heart to pump out enough oxygen to fuel your needs.

In the middle or end of any hard workout there is a point when you say no more. You think you can't go forward. But you push. And at the end, lungs busting, heart leaping, knee leaning, you are crafting a harder version of yourself.

So I enter into a part of my running life not thinking that the road has run out, but rather that I've taken that brief pause, and now I'm ready to see where the next cycle will take me.

Run streaks are really not about peering from the top of the mountain to appreciate the view, as there is no summit. You're in perpetual motion. Every day resets itself. You get on your shoes and, like any other runner tackling that day, you're taking your first steps. Something fuels that. Ritual, repetition, for sure, and maybe even habit, but I think somewhere in there you need the fire.

They say you don't want to run another marathon until you've forgotten the last one you've run. The pain you experience during those challenging miles, the wall, the cramps, the feeling of exhaustion meted out, drawn out. Why do we do it again?

In those final miles of Philly, a race that didn't go according to plan, I told myself to fight through. I shut any impulse to shut down. For once in the past few months, I embraced the suck.

And when I passed that finish line, I felt a different type of fire. It continues to burn.

The past year has been amazing. What's next?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Interlude

There comes that point in a run where you get to the stop light. You linger, waiting for the seconds to count down before you have to start up again. Your heart rate comes down, you can almost reset your systems before continuing.

Sometimes, I run toward the stop light, hoping for a pause. 

This post is about interludes, about training and a little about what I've been up to these last six months.

I found myself at the end of my last marathon with the prospect of yet another summer of training, ramping up, getting the miles in, the quality work building a better me. Yet at the same time, I felt the tiredness that had started to set in with a busy work schedule, other priorities and found my time crunched.

How do we rebalance a life of a runner when priorities change? I've thought a lot about the quality of my training, the amount of time I put into it and even how much I spent time writing in this space.

This year marks the 10th year I've trained for the marathon. After running my 30th at Boston, I felt that I'd come full circle -- I was faster than I've ever been and it was an amazing accomplishment but not without the toll. I had niggles that persist to this day, was losing out on sleep and started to see training as work, not play. 

Signing up for a November marathon pushed out my training well into the summer, yet I was still doing long runs in June and July. And as the early fall race season hit and my friends started their off season, I felt I had prolonged things too much. So I enter November and my prep for Philly wishing I was in the off season. My fitness tells me I can do this marathon, even at a reasonable pace, but not where I was earlier this year. I welcome the off season and am hungry to get back at it next season.

The pause, or interlude, is something that I desperately need. One can not keep the pace season after season, I've learned, and if I'm going to look at having more years of strong running, I'll have to learn how to reassess, rebuild and capture that feeling of performance running. That, and refocus back on strength, diet and training consistency. 

One thing that is consistent is The Streak: I'm now 711 days into the running streak and it has transformed my running life. As I look forward to finishing the second year of the streak, a few things that have come apparent. I'm a morning runner, able to wake up at 5 am with little fuss. I'm an early sleeper as the body has naturally adjusted to the wakeup calls. My easy runs are truly easy and I listen to the body with every run. I feel connected to the process to the point that running every day is not something planned, but just done. 

So what's coming up next is another race in two weeks, another off season and the healing and ramping up that will happen with my 2016 marathon, which will be the Boston Marathon. I'm not sure if I'll do a marathon next fall but there are different races, reasons to train. I look forward to getting my body and mind into that process. I'll find more to write about running in that journey. I'm back, but in essence, never really went away. If you want to follow my runs and pictures I share, I'm on Strava and on Instagram.

Water fountains still running, still running long. #runto

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

Monday, May 18, 2015

Race report: Sporting Life 10K (And Two 5Ks)

There are markers we aspire to meet, lifelong goals runners use as benchmarks. For me, aside from the Boston Qualifying times, it's been the sub-20 5K, the sub-40 10K and the sub 1:30 half marathon.

The 10K and 5Ks are not my favourite distance. The 5K amounts to about 20 minutes of sheer pain, the only comfort around the first 200 metres, cresting at the 3.5K mark when you try to hold on to dear life. The 10K is no different, but with prolonged hurt. Hurt is assumed with both, while at the half marathon or longer distances, you can just try to reach a comfortably hard mark. Make no mistake, marathons hurt after 30K, it's just a different type.

I've come close to the sub-40 mark for the 10K a few times, first in 2009 while ramping up for a spring marathon, when I hit a 40:04 on the downhill Sporting Life. I would largely avoid 10K races until last fall, when I hit a 40:07 mark at the Zoo Run, a much harder course. In truth, my training had me with a fitness for a low to mid 39 minute 10K but when the marathon is your distance, you don't put much into such goal races.

In late January, I toed the line at the MEC 5K as my training for Boston was ramping up. It was a brutally cold windy day and I hit a 19:42 with splits of 3:45, 3:58, 3:53, 3:56, 4:04, not the greatest way to pace a 5K. I knew it wasn't the indicator for my fitness and decided to race the 5K again before Boston to see how I would fare.

In mid March, I ran the Achilles 5K, hitting a personal best of 19:07 on another windy day, with splits of 3:49, 3:55, 3:35, 3:49, 3:42.

The Achilles was a good sign in seeing whether I could sustain a 3:50 pace, which from training I knew I could.

The 10 K

Fast forward to Sporting Life 10, which took place three weeks after Boston. I had a week earlier done some faster kilometres in training but nothing close to the sub 4:00 kilometres. The legs were still recovering but I felt I still had cardio power in me.

I met up with a few of my friends and teammates, and found myself in the red corral, the sub 45 minute crew. A few of my friends were also aiming to go out at a sub-40 pace, or at least try for a sub-20 5K and see how it went.

Sporting Life is a fast course, due to the plunging downhills of the first half. There are some risers, but when the weather is perfectly cool as can be in May, it an produce stellar times.

So I went for it.

First 5K
But there was the weather -- we could feel it at the start, it was comfortable, not cold, or yet warm, but concerning. I like to be shivering for races so as I increase the effort, the cooler weather will let me build up heat.

As I thought, the first bit felt easy, too easy. So I tried to let my breathing and effort guide my cadence. My legs had not gone this fast for almost a month, so it was a little bit of a shock. My friends Cynthia and Joel were ahead of me even though they were aiming for a 19:45 5K, so I just let them go and see how my effort would take me. I hit the first kilometre in 3:49, a little faster than the 3:55.

So warm out. Photo: Michael Lin

Take advantage of the downhill, coach Rejean asked me to to, so I wasn't to concerned when the second kilometre came in at 3:52. We hit an uphill portion at Mt. Pleasant cemetery and still my pace was feeling comfortable. We had shade still from the rising sun and though it wasn't comfortably cool, I wasn't overheating, yet.

I wanted to get to the 5K mark in good shape to stay consistent for the end -- I knew the real battle would happen around 7 to 8K in, so I stayed relaxed as much as my body would let me.

I hit the 5K mark in 19:07.

Splits: 3:49, 3:52, 3:51, 3:43, 3:49

Second 5K
So by the beginning of the sixth kilometre, I knew it would be a challenging run. It was getting hot. My breath wasn't as even as I wanted. I was waiting desperately for the water stations so I could get some liquids.

My 6K, as it turns out, was my last sub-4:00 kilometre, hitting it at 3:47. I was feeling pretty crap, and tried to get my body to now run closer to 4:00s, but it would really cooperate. I hit a water station and took a cup to drink, a cup for my arms and a final one for my head. It was that hot.

The next kilometre came in at 4:05, and the next one, I took a 10-second walk break. I knew my body wouldn't sustain the searing first half so I'd have to be content with cooling off, then revving back into some sort of low 4:00s. I knew I had a bit of a bank for a sub-40 but I could lose all of it in one kilometre.

In the final 2K, I stopped again, only to be spurred on by a runner who passed me and said I could do it -- so I brought back the cadence.

The last three kilomteres ranged from 4:11 to 4:16, not the greatest end to the race -- I had no clue whether I'd get the sub-40 but the clock as I was approaching the finish said it was close. Final time of 39:51, nine seconds under.

Splits: 3:47 4:05 4:14 4:16 4:11. Second 5K in 20:42.

In retrospect, it was a solid 10K -- my fitness wasn't back from Boston, my legs not recovered and the weather not ideal, and I think I produced the result that would be expected from where I've advanced.

So I've got the sub-40 10K and while it feels like I could or should take another run at it, I think not likely too soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Race report: Boston Marathon 2015

No Stopping.

There's a famous sign that those who have run Boston have seen on the course. It says "No Stopping -- Monday," with a figure of a runner breaking the tape. Nothing stops us from wanting to get here. Nothing stops us from getting our own personal Boston.

There's a truth when it comes to Boston -- the hardest part is making it to the start. So when my friend Kerri and I played our own game of Amazing Race on Friday morning, we knew that we'd be off on an interesting adventure. A fog that made a brief appearance at the Toronto island airport saw my flight get cancelled, my departure pushed for two days. So with a few airline points (all of them) and some quick laptop work, we found ourselves taking three cabs, visiting three airports before we thankfully arrived in Beantown nine hours after our scheduled arrival.

The journey to get back to Boston really started two years ago, when I decided I wanted to get back to the race I had done twice earlier. The vow became a commitment to train and along with it the work that it's taken to get to register last fall with a Boston qualifier. I had believed it near impossible to get back any time soon when I last ran Boston in 2011. Could I get faster with age?

That question has been answered over the last two years. I got coaching, joined a series of running teams and became the runner I thought I could be. By the time I got back to Boston last Friday, I had laid down a PB in every distance, hitting a 3:02 marathon last December, but importantly, I had come to loved running even more than the early days.

This winter season has seen its share of challenges with the weather and niggles I've been nursing in my left foot and hamstring, but I was able to progress. Coach Rejean had me running 4:15k marathon pace, right at that sub 3 hour marathon mark. So far in 2015, I hit a 1:26 half marathon and followed it up with a 5K and 30K personal best. Things were looking great. I was in shape.

But Boston is Boston and there was something about the weather. A beautiful Saturday and Sunday turned into a rainy forecast with an east wind, a direct headwind unlike that tailwind we got in 2011.

This year, I was there with seven other teammates, plus about a dozen other friends, including some who had come to do the 5K and also cheer. Toronto's run community was there in droves.


I met up with my friend Lee, who was running his 8th Boston, for our trip up to Hopkinton. We stepped off the bus around 7:15 am and found ourselves with a no lineup portajohn. And yes, it rained. So we stood at the tent and passed the next hour and a half until it was time to get to the start corrals just after 9 am.
A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

As I walked towards the start corrals in the fenced off roads, watching the Hopkinton residents wish us well, I felt a sense of calm. It was quiet as thousands of us made our way to the start. I had a vivid memory of four years ago when I walked the same road. I'm back, I thought. I'm back.

My bib, 4927, put me in the fifth corral and for the first Boston, I was intending to race. The 2011 edition saw me put down a 3:29 with a reasonable, fun-run effort, but this time I was bringing fitness to the start line. I was also bringing in some niggles.

The race plan had me attempting a sub 3 hour marathon. I had that on back of my mind, but if there's something I've learned, it's to listen to the body and effort. What I've been telling everyone was "I want to run a strong marathon." On my right wrist, I put on a 3:05 pace band. In my conversation with Lee on the bus, I told him, "I want to run strong and run a sub 3:10," which would be a near slam-dunk BQ. In my head, I wanted to end the marathon strong after conquering the hills of Newton.

1-5K: Hopkinton
A few minutes after the gun went off, we were flying down the hill and I was managing a controlled descent. While doing that first kilometre, I was doing a check of my foot and my upper hamstring (both were sore), but it was a pinch of my hamstring right above the knee that spoke up. I kept it easy, though, hitting the first kilometre in 4:22 or right around the 3:05 pace. Along the side, runners were taking a bathroom break and I joined in the second kilometre, which gave me a second kilometre of 4:40.

I knew that runners I had been seeded with were around the 3:02 and 3:03 range, so the crowd was going at a quick clip, but I could never really get a tune in for pace. As it turns out, we were taking the first 5K quite conservatively. Besides, the leg was still feeling blah and I didn't feel as bouncy as I thought. "Warm up for 5 miles," I thought, knowing that I have the legs for long distances and at times, it never feels right until 8K in.

Boston, I thought a few times, I'm really running Boston. The decision to dress for the end of the race and not the beginning was one I was starting to regret. I had worn tights, a long sleeve and a singlet over that. Underneath it, I had a pair of light armwarmers. I wore gloves and a headband instead of a hat or visor, a decision I came to regret later.

This is me later in the race, on Beacon Street. The picture captures the rain. Oh I hate rain.

We exited Hopkinton and into Ashland with me finally hitting a split around coach's plan -- a 4:12. It didn't feel hard so I went with the flow to see how the day would turn. It was still early.

1: 4:22
2: 4:40
3: 4:19
4: 4:23
5: 4:12
5K: 22:07 - (22:07 / 4:25K pace)

6K-10K: Ashland to Framingham
I had hit the 5K mark well slower than the pace I needed to, but I remembered a lot about how I ran CIM in December. I put zero pressure on myself and ran it by feel and it netted me with a great run. At the same time, I was listening to how the running felt and it was a heavy feeling. I was babying my stride knowing that the niggles had not worked their way out of the body.

By the time I reached the comfort 8K mark, I had put down a 4:13, but also a few 4:18s and 4:20s. It felt like the good pace to take. The splits didn't concern me much.

Besides, the wind picked up and the rain, well, that started too.

6: 4:13
7: 4:20
8: 4:18
9: 4:20
10: 4:13
10K: 43:42 (21:35/ 4:19K pace)

11K-15K: Framingham to Natick
We exited Framingham and into Natick and by then, we were also battling the elements. I had torn off the arm warmers and rolled up the sleeves. The road was still fairly packed with runners and if I needed at this point to draft or pace with other runners, I could, so I continued to run by feel. A lot of my road races that I do with teammates, I run silently with them but the past three marathons, I've run them basically solo. I grew to realize the advantages of running with a partner -- you don't have to talk but you share a plan. Today, I felt like the plan was to run 'strong', whatever that pace felt like, and run within the limits of where my legs wanted to take me.

Besides, all of my training partners were doing different things today. Erin was using today as a training run so she started off slower. Randy was chasing a faster time and was in another corral. And Andrew was cheering somewhere in the final 4K.

The rain, I won't lie, is not my favourite weather. It may be more that I wear glasses when running and there's not much you can do to combat raindrops accumulating on your lenses. Runners with glasses can identify but not being able to really see the course can start to have an impact on your perception and feel for the road. When you are trying to strain to see where your footfalls land, your running form changes. I usually wear hats when it rains as it shields you somewhat but for some reason today, I felt that a headwind would drive rain into my face anyways.

So into the rain, it would be. With every bout of rain, I found it hard, literally, to focus.

But oh well, it's Boston, and a little headwind and rain ain't stopping me.

11: 4:14
12: 4:23
13: 4:20
14: 4:16
15: 4:18
15K: 1:05:19 (21:37/ 4:19K pace)

16K-20K: To Wellesley
I really couldn't really see my watch/paceband in the rain, but the splits I do recall made me think I was making good headway into my 3:05 "strong" marathon. The Natick to Wellesley stretch was a good time for me to try to open up, but my legs settled for anywhere from 4:18s to 4:25s. Still, I didn't see any red flags when it came to my running. Today, I felt, I could make it to the hills intact.

Wellesley is an impressive portion of the race. It signals a few key points in the race. First, it's where you'll find the Scream Tunnel, which I'll describe as a wall of sound you can hear hundreds of metres out. Then you enter into the town where the crowds are just spectacular. You also hit the half way mark, obviously a crucial part of the race. And it's into Wellesley and exiting Wellesley where you get a chance to taste the hills that are to come.

And it went as billed. I ran through the tunnel in awe of the noise. I ran up the subsequent hills, testing my fitness. I ran toward the halfway mark, knowing I was now closer to Boston than to Hopkinton.

I hit the half way mark in 1:32:10, and I remember seeing the number, thinking "okay, today it'll be okay -- lets get past Newton first."

16: 4:20
17: 4:25
18: 4:23
19: 4:18
20: 4:25
20K: 1:27:19 (22:00 / 4:24K pace)

21: 4:23
Half: 1:32:10

21K-25K: Wellesley to Newton
On to Wellesley the terrain turns into rolling, with smaller inclines. I just ran by effort and while the wind and rain continued, I was starting to think that it was a good idea to dress for the cold. My gloves were soaked by this point from a few miscues at water stops and my tights were water logged, but I knew everyone else was having the same problem.

The fueling plan was going well -- I had my usual gel every 8K. I was taking water and Gatorade at the stops and felt the course was well managed. The crowds weren't out in full force but the citizens were definitely supportive.

We plunged down the final hill before entering the Newton area. I knew I was banking effort at this time, but was able to nail down a 4:11K.

22: 4:25
23: 4:29
24: 4:27
25: 4:26
25K: 1:49:32 (22:13 / 4:26K pace)

26K to 30K Newton Hills, Part 1

One of the first surprises at Newton was a contingent of Parkdale Road Runners, who were there to cheer there own. My friend Angela was on the course, and I saw her just as she was yelling my name. I blew a kiss their way as we started to make our way to the first of four hills. Over the next five kilometres we'd hit two of the hills.

I had forgotten much about the Newton hills until now but the first one was in front of us. It was a long steady climb, as much as a kilometre. I just focused on the stride and made sure not to push myself to locomotive mode.

The second hill starts about a mile after you crest the first one, and is preceded by a downhill, enough so you can recover well. I think the hills are built with enough recovery to attack them a little harder, unlike the Around the Bay hills, which are more of true roller variety.

After the second hill, I hit the 30K mark in 2:12:10, well within my comfort pace. I kept on thinking about when Heartbreak would arrive.

26: 4:11
27: 4:33
28: 4:30
29: 4:36
30: 4:27
30K: 2:12:10 (22:38 / 4:31K pace)

31K-35K: Newton to Boston College
The third hill was merely a small bump in the road, but by the time we hit Heartbreak, around the 33-34K mark, I was thanking my coach for all the hills he'd put in the interval workouts, where we'd be cresting hills at tempo or interval pace.

During these efforts, even with the wind and rain, I was making my way up while other runners slowed. I wasn't going too fast but I felt I was revving up the engine, ready for the final stage of the race.

I crested Heartbreak while the rain fogged my glasses and looked at the rest of the course and I could see the course turn into the Boston College area. The crowd was much thinner than I'd remember, but I focused on what coached wanted. He wanted us to have energy for the end

The last three seasons of training had seen me hitting the marathon course three times and never really hitting the wall. It's an amazing feeling knowing you can make it well past the 32K, even 35K mark without running out of gas. I turned around a 4:13 35K and knew I had energy to run home with pace. If I could only see the road through the droplets on my glasses.

31: 4:17
32: 4:38
33: 4:27
34: 4:37
35: 4:13
35K: 2:34:42 (22:32 / 4:30K pace)

36K-40K: Boston College, Brookline, Boston.
What felt like a blister started to form under my left foot, and as I ran toward Beacon Street, I knew this was time to take advantage of the downhill course. If that was the worst of my worries, I'd take it. I resumed a faster pace, starting to hit the 4:22/4:23s. I knew at this point that I was going to finish this race the way I wanted it to. The rain, which had been falling for quite a while, was not going away, so it was a little harder to enjoy the experience. I remember in 2011 how I ran this portion harder and how great that felt and longed for that.

At Boston College.

My teammate Andrew told me he'd be somewhere 3-4K before the end, so around the 38K mark, I started to look left and right. The scanning, combined with my blurry field of vision, made for interesting running. I concluded that he had decided to regroup with a larger group of friends -- they had said they'd be at Kenmore Square, around a mile out from the finish and around the Citgo sign.

Nevertheless, the pace was still fine and my legs had cooperated so far. No way I was stopping.

36: 4:23
37: 4:22
38: 4:28
39: 4:21
40: 4:34
40K: 2:57:06 (22:24 / 4:28K pace)

41K-42.2K: To the Finish.

With about 2K to go, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was my friend Kyle, who was a Blacktoe teammate last year. He now trains with the Black Lungs and told me he ended up in the medical tent a ways back and was running slower to the finish. With a few traded words, we agreed that'd we'd run together, reminding ourselves that we were here at The Boston Marathon.

So both of us ran, scanning the crowds for our friends. His wife was among them as was C. along with Pace and Mind and Blacktoe friends.

Kyle spotted them first, and with a few split seconds, I knew we just had to swing by. I'll let the pictures tell the story.

A photo posted by Kerri (@kerriandreas) on 

Slow mo is the best

Posted by Kenny Yum on Sunday, April 26, 2015

One of the best 20-30 second breaks I've ever taken. We doled out hugs, a kiss, finger points and encouragement to friends, while posing for a picture before being sent away. I shouted at my teammate Andrew that next year he'd be on the course withe me. These guys had seen me through many seasons, witnessed my comeback, ran many miles with me, made me a better runner. If I was to stop, it was for them.

We continued running and took an easier pace. We hollered at the crowd, relishing the moment. I thought, as we went under the bridge as we approached Hereford, that it was at the same point where the race was halted in 2013. That 2013 April day made me want to come back to Boston as soon as possible and now I was running pass that mark, and about to make the series of turns.

It meant something.

We turned right on to Hereford and I heard my friend Julie shout my name. I waved, then turned left on to Boylston and gave the biggest smile. I was here.

Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston, the sweetest left turn in road racing.

I was on Boylston.

I was at the Boston Marathon.

And there was the finish. There was no stopping me now. All the years I wanted to get back here. All the training runs that got me my Boston qualifer, all the fitness that got me three Boston qualifying runs last year. It was all for this moment, and I wasn't going to let that slip.

We yelled. We waved. We screamed. We said how cool it was. It was.

If Kyle and I could have run it slower, I'm sure we would have. His hamstring was pulling, and with 100 metres to go, my left calf gave a little. He looked back, thinking I was giving him room to finish ahead of me, but I limp/ran to the finish a few steps behind.

I smiled, thinking how ridiculous it was to run 26.14 miles to have to have my calf complain at the end. But that was no real matter. The finish was steps away and at some point, I would have to stop my dream run that I didn't want to end. 

41: 4:50
42: 4:36
42.2: -- 4:37 pace
42.2K: 3:07:32 (10:26 for 2.2K or 4:44K pace)

Final pace: 4:26

I finished my 30th marathon and third Boston in 3:07:32. Days later, friends asked me that I missed a 'PB' by a few seconds (not knowing my PB was in the 3:02:54 range) but even for the chance to choose between the third or second fastest marathon, I absolutely have no regrets.

This race completes the comeback. It tells me that in 24 months, you can work and realize a dream.  I must have run 8,000 kilometres to get back to Boston, endured two Polar Vortex winters, but I choose to remember how the journey took me to new places. I learned to run, I became a better runner, I made a lot of amazing friends who cheered me on race day. I learned patience, resilience and strength. Boston will come again and -- if all being equal -- the truth is that I'm not stopping here.

I'm coming back in 2016.

I'm coming back because on Monday I qualified for Boston at Boston.

In Massachusetts, on Patriot's Day, there is no stopping.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Why Boston?

So, why Boston?

It's a question you trying to answer while explaining to your friends who don't run at all. You talk with newer runners or those who have been running for years. No doubt, people have heard of this race because it transcends this sport. It is a sporting event bigger than just about any other road race.

In four days, I'm flying out to Boston to run the race of my dreams for the third time. It's been four years, thousands of miles and the culmination of a journey for me so I can start a 26.2 mile race in the small town of Hopkinton.

Why Boston? The standards are tough. When I started running, the prospect of a 3:10 or faster marathon seemed just out of reach. So I strived for many years to get my first Boston Qualifier. It's taken me so many more years, and the journey back, to figure out why Boston.

You hear among many runners the chatter about the BQ. What is your BQ? When you trying for a BQ? What BQ do you need and when do you need to do it?

I think we really try to BQ because it is hard and it is there. Does it separate good runners from great runners? Does BQing when you're young more of an achievement than when time gives you more literal time? Do we really understand what it's all about when we say I want to do Boston? I first set my sights on Boston because it was that holy grail. The qualification stood for personal excellence and it was an important milestone to reach. By reaching the time, you reached Boston. Or not really.

My Pace and Mind team

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?

Once you get your BQ, you get something that probably goes unsaid by those who have done it before. It's something that's hard to capture even in all the pictures I've collected. To those of us who run it year after year, I think I know why you come back. It is a special race, putting aside exclusivity or elitism. The course is technical and it takes a lot of training and heart and tactics to run it well. But it is not just the course. It's the weekend, the 'Marathon Monday' when this event becomes one that's owned by all those communities between Hopkinton and Boston.

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.

In the past two years, 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.

The last time I ran Boston in 2011, a mere hour or so after the marathon, I walked into North End for a decadent lobster roll and with the simple medal draped around my neck. I don't often keep them on after most races, but I have for Boston, even for one night. In the space of two hours, a half a dozen people stopped me to congratulate me and ask me about the race. They, Boston citizens, were genuinely happy for me, in a little awe of the event.

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

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.

Because it's not just ours, us runners, it's a Boston thing. In a little way, we're allowed to take centre stage in a spectacle that has gone on for more than 115 years. No matter who shows up to be picked up by those school buses next April or the next 30 Aprils, it'll still be 'Boston'. We'll all come, from different states and countries, for the privilege to be part of that spectacle. BQing gets you a chance to be part of something greater than the 26.2.

*This post is a culmination of some of my thoughts about Boston I've written over the past few years.

Monday, April 06, 2015

How spinning helped my running

Confession. I'm loving the bike for the unlikely reason that it's made me a better runner.

Cross training is the activity that most runners know they should do to improve, but when faced with running vs. other activities, most of us choose running. But there's always something new to teach a runner, I've learned over the years.

So spinning.

No, not that spinning.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Race report: Around the Bay 2015

My eighth straight Around the Bay happens 22 days before my goal marathon, and while I thought I had fitness to race it, it's too risky to go all out, or so I told coach Rejean.

His battle plan was to run 5K at 4:30 kms, 5K-10K at 4:20, then 15K at 4:15 (marathon pace) and close the final 5K in 4:10.

Race, but only to a point. Run but only to pace. But what could you do if you followed the game plan? That would give me a 2:08 ATB and a solid close to a long distance taper run with 20K at MP or faster.

My team all gathered at Copps and we took the team photo. I was going to run with Andrew who had similar plans.

We set out to run our 4:30s but were swept away in the crowds even though it felt easy. We knew it was a bit warmer than yesterday's forecast had indicated, but I had pretty much made the perfect gear choice save for the gloves which at that point felt a little too warm. I carried it for much of the first 10K.

The course revamped has a series of rollers but we were running on well maintained roads and we were able to get on to pace. Seeding ourselves in the first corral we were able to find our space. We made room from the 2:15 pace bunny and started to hit our paces. By the time we hit a 4:23 fourth kilometre, I was ready to start testing 4:20s.

1 4:18
2 4:25
3 4:19
4 4:23
5 4:19

Glorious day, we tend to get them at the ATB, and it was good to run among strong ruers. My paces started to dip below the 4:20 mark, logging a 4:16/4:17 and also a 4:07. None of it felt particularly hard but I knew that this run would give me a tonne of benefit for Boston. I've done a number of 30+ km runs this training cycles, six of them at 35K, but none of them were subscribed for this pace. Aside from speedwork and hills, our long runs were getting us endurance in often cases bad conditions.

We turned the corner and up the ramp to hit the 10K relay mark, and the wind picked up. Good decision to have the gloves, I concluded as I also resolved to now think of the game as on.

6 4:17
7 4:21
8 4:16
9 4:07
10 4:10


This portion of the run is usually when I get into pace, it was also the time when Rejean wanted me to start hitting 4:15s. He was pretty adamant that I be true to pace this run so we started to ramp things up. We were naturally starting to pass runners as we sped up.

Passed a few runners we knew and I made sure to take my second gel, having taken the first before the race. Looking back, these kilometers were strong -- I only hit 4:15 once, but the other four kilometres were pretty consistently on.

11 4:12
12 4:16
13 4:17
14 4:15
15 4:18

Halfway mark and the move into Burlington. The rollers were coming and I mostly ran by feel, not really looking much at the average pace. I knew running up hills the best tactic was to run by effort -- if I looked at the watch I'd probably get a little freaked. A 4:15 effort into hills would take a few seconds off here and there, but for every uphill, you'd get a flat or a downhill.

Andrew and I around 21K in. Photo: Tom Sapiano

The splits I'm fine with, even happy with.

16 4:19
17 4:10
18 4:21
19 4:14
20 4:18

The 21K mark is a top Lasalle Park, which is the biggest hill, but there were two more mini hills left, I knew. my average pace may have had my passing the half marathon mark in about 1:30, not a bad warmup.

The next kilometre or so, we climbed the hill and tried to make it up to pace. Around 22 or 23K, Andrew told me that he was going to stick to his current pace so I decided to keep the pace strong. By the 23rd-25K stretch, I was now getting closer to the 4:10s that coach wanted from me for the last 5K.

21 4:20
22 4:19
23 4:11
24 4:17
25 4:10

So the dreaded and infamous hill, Spring Valley Road, is no longer there, but while we got flat road, we got a lot of wind. I had no one to draft off of, so I just tried to up the pace. I was recovering from the final hill and I had looked at this final 5K like the last part of Boston after you crest Heartbreak Hill. Could I hammer it home, even into the wind?

After we passed the 26K mark I had hit is in 4:18, I felt that the race was now down to a very manageable portion. I started to push a bit, hitting 4:11 for 27K and you could see the final stretch, one I've raced the past seven years. I did 28K in 4:13 and found another gear, hitting the last two kilometres in 3:58 and 4:06.

I entered the arena and even in the last 500 metres I knew I'd have a new PB. Crossed the finish in 2:07:33, more than a minute off my Midsummer's Night race from 2014 and 4:30 faster than last year's ATB.

26 4:18
27 4:11
28 4:13
29 3:58
30 4:06

In a lot of ways, breakthroughs are moments to celebrate. Today was a breakthrough at the 30K, but it was also the logical output of a season's worth of training. My half marathon at Chilly, at 1:26:25, was the barometre that would set the rest of the season -- today felt like it was one I'd had to go out and earn. The prize is cashing in on my fitness and taking that, and a healthy body, right to Hopkinton in three weeks.

Around the Bay is that annual test though, and I'm so happy with how this one unfolded. A 2:07 and a silver medal is well below what I would have told you I could have done a few years ago when going sub 2:15 felt like hard work. Come a long way indeed.

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

Thursday, March 26, 2015

So about that Around the Bay hill in 2015 (and 2016)

So no hill, now what?

The 2015 (and 2016) Around the Bay won't feature the final monster of a hill, instead creating a 2K diversion. Those of us who have run Around the Bay in that past know that the hill, which follows a huge downward plunge down Spring Garden Road, is a monster with around 3K to go.  Call it Canada's Heart Break Hill.

Update: It's the same route in 2016. Here is the 2015 route I ran.

2015: So not having run the rerouted 2K, I went to Mapmyrun to compare the two routes.

Here's the original route, which according to the elevation charts features 61 feet of climbing (of course, after a plunge.

And here's the rerouted map,  weirdly enough with 62 feet of climbing, but a different overall profile of course.

Odd eh? So, I'm going to say the reroute is net easier and the climbs are gradual, which most runners will be able to take in stride.

The maps can be wrong, right?

Anyone have other perspectives?


Says Laura in the comments: "It's esentially flat. You are just continuing along Plains past the RBG instead of bearing left behind it. You then hook onto York so it is essentially a longer "Straightaway" into the finish."

And Emma: "The new section of the route is flat. The elevation maps make it look like a climb because you go across a bridge, and the map trace is following the ground level rather than the bridge. Basically once you get to the RBG it's essentially a slight downhill/flat all the way to the finish. There's a small bit as you come around onto york that feels to me like a false flat, but it's short and if it is a climb, it is VERY minor"

Other posts on Around the Bay:

Saturday, March 07, 2015

What running is -- for real

Running isn't always about beautifully prepared meals, perfect workouts and the afterglow of a fit life.

Running is usually more like a rushed meal eaten over a kitchen countertop, nine hours before your next run.

Running isn't always about a runner's high. Running isn't fitfluential or inspirational. Running isn't always rise and shine lets get at it -- all the time.

Running is hitting a 5K tempo in 19:49 then missing the pace for the next two intervals because something wasn't clicking.

Running is getting in the 18K regardless of that bad end, before factoring in windchill

Running is about the daily grind, the miles of trials, the work, work, work and the payoff that is expected in many months.

Running will be a day that had highs and lows and running will be my day in Boston when all these days add up to something -- just another day of running

Running is what I'll be doing tomorrow, the 464th day in a row that I'm running.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Race report: Chilly Half Marathon 2015

I'm ramping up this season and Boston is in seven weeks but March would be the month of testing my fitness with a few races. Today's half marathon was the first half race since last year's Chilly Half, which was a personal best with a 1:29:17. For me, it was a landmark race, letting me finally get below the 1:30 mark and was a great indicator for the year that was to come -- a lot of PBs including three marathon that got progressively faster.

(Chilly Half Marathon 2015 results here)

The mileage has been high so far this year -- I had just finished four weeks in a row of plus 100km weeks, plus four 35K runs in a row on weekends. The tempo and interval paces were getting faster but not all of them were strong. I had added spinning since December, which had helped boost my number of quality days to five a week -- more on that later.

As I march toward a marathon time as fast or faster than my 3:02 PB, coach had us going out with a conservative start but with a progressively faster pace. He wanted us to close it strong. It was 4:15 kms for 5K, 4:10 kms for the next 10K then faster at the end.

This year's Chilly was, compared with last year, perfect weather. Last year was -17C and this year, closer to -8C. I had three teammates to run with, Erin, Andrew and Noel.

I knew going in that though coach gave us 4:15s, we'd probably be a few seconds faster than pace. So we hit 4:12s or 4:13s, pretty much textbook. The weather had held, the roads were clear, and there was a light wind. This section includes an out-and-back and a tailwind at the end of it. We were able to see all the runners ahead of us at the turnaround -- which included a hugely fast field.
5K split: 21:01

We lowered the pace to 4:10s but by then we were going faster so kept on pace. Worked together with the team to keep things consistent then we started to reel in runners. My breath was solid, I felt like I had warmed up and it felt almost easy -- that was good, it should at this point. Andrew and Noel were with me and we all were feeling strong.
5K split: 20:36

The course had some rollers but that was fine -- we'd been training on hills pretty solidly the past month or so. I was feeling like it was work but we were gaining on runners. The pace was starting to fall, maybe because we were turning it up a notch. I didn't really pay attention to total time, just making sure the splits were strong.
5K split: 20:25

Reaching this point, I knew it would be time to see if I could throw down the hammer. Coach wanted a fast finish. Andrew said he would try to maintain his 4:05s and I felt after awhile that all the energy I had saved up, I channel, so I sped up the pace, kilometre after kilometer. With 4K to I increased the effort and was running alone. It never really felt too taxing, but it was work.

5K split: 19:58

Photo: Tom Sapiano
Booked it to the end, felt I was giving it. I knew I had a strong finish, but really no clue what the number would look like, until I saw the clock. It was a good number.

Finish: 1:26:25

That's an almost 3 minute PB and a great indication that I'm at a good place. I did do a mini taper but this run comes with continuous rampup since late December. I'm feeling good and strong and with two races left in March (a 5K and a 30K) I think the work is paying off.

A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

Monday, February 02, 2015

Run, Like A Girl

A few days ago, during a long run, a runner said these words to a group of us. One of us was a woman, who heard the following: "oh, you're running with the boys now," to which I quickly corrected. "No, we're running with the girl."

I didn't realize many of you hadn't seen the original #LikeAGirl ad but last night it was apparent many of you had and seeing it take off on Instagram, flooding my feed with inspiration, has been amazing.

This is what I'll say as a man: I have training partners, running friends and people who had been a huge influence in my life as a distance runner. I've run thousands of miles beside them.

They push me, like all the best runners I've run with, to be better, stronger and I have found my stride, and my passion in running by the fact that I know and have run side by side with them. It happens that many of them, not by fluke but by the reality of numbers, are girls. Women.

They're strong of body and spirit and I look to chase more than to be chased. In any case, if you ask me what type of runner I'd like to be, I'd say it's to be like my friends, training partners and coaches. And if you'd like me to expand on that as one of those "boys" then yes, I'd like to #RunLikeAGirl

A few days ago, during a long run, a runner said these words to a group of us. One of us was a woman, who heard the following: "oh, you're running with the boys now," to which I quickly corrected. "No, we're running with the girl." I didn't realize many of you hadn't seen the original #LikeAGirl ad but last night it was apparent many of you had and seeing it take off on Instagram, flooding my feed with inspiration, has been amazing This is what I'll say as a man: I have training partners, running friends and people who had been a huge influence in my life as a distance runner. I've run thousands of miles beside them. They push me, like all the best runners I've run with, to be better, stronger and I have found my stride, and my passion in running by the fact that I know and have run side by side with them. It happens that many of them, not by fluke but by the reality of numbers, are girls. Women. They're strong of body and spirit and I look to chase more than to be chased. In any case, if you ask me what type of runner I'd like to be, I'd say it's to be like my friends, training partners and coaches. And if you'd like me to expand on that as one of those "boys" then yes, I'd like to #RunLikeAGirl
A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Revisiting the long view

The knee told me to give up long before the lungs said I wasn't ready. As it turns out, I wasn't ready that run, that season, that year. Or for the next two years.

It was the winter of 2010, and I had just finished a three-year push that left me exhilarated but exhausted. I had run thousands of kilometres, embraced harder workouts and after six marathons run in 2008 and 2009, I had put together a Boston qualifying race. I had achieved a huge goal. I was going to run my first Boston in 2010. When I put down a fast marathon in 2009, I even wrote a post about musing about getting faster.

Here's what I wrote:

BQ was that goal that was on top of my running life, but not the point of it. It wasn't the definition, but it also was a tough goal that made me work harder. Getting to this point made me a better runner. 
I told Lee that somehow I feel like I'm entering a new chapter in my running life. He admitted that when he qualified for Boston years ago, he became a more serious runner. I don't think i'm going to get any more serious, but I'll look at it differently. I want a victory lap of a year in 2010. I want to chase faster times. I want to be a pace bunny one day. And I want to turn my BQ into a confirmed registration so I can finish booking a hotel and flight for a trip to Beantown next April

"Chase faster times." I read that now and would love to tell 2009 Kenny that he had something else in store, but on what winter 2010 day a few months later, when I pulled the plug after 2K into a 6.4K tempo run. I started to think of running differently. In the coming three years, I would run for running's sake. Sure, I ran long, and I ran races, but everything was different. If I were to describe my approach to training, I call it my jazz years. All improvisation. Plenty of long winded sections but always ending with a flourish of a race.

Working on a post on running for as long as you possibly can, because it is who you are, and you really can't remember life before it arrived. Now that I'm a decade into distance running, I am only now forming thoughts about what it's like to be a lifelong runner. I've been tracking mileage since 2005, when I started really racing and running. Numbers mean a lot to runners - we track kilometres, times, pbs. When I look back at the last 10 years I see ambition, dedication and years when running became just running, and I was fine with it. The last two years have sparked a reemergence of performance running. I'm now running the best I have from a speed and efficiency perspective, but I'm also way more spiritually and emotionally grounded. It's an amazing feeling. Hope everyone gets to experience the long road ahead. #runto #running
A photo posted by Kenny (@yumkerun) on

In the 10 years I've been running distance, I've covered 30,000 kilometres, run 105 races, participated in 29 marathons. When you look closely at the numbers in the picture above, you see a rampup of mileage and races and PBs, but also look at  2010 to 2012.

What was I doing those three years? Was I taking a sabbatical, a break from running? The answer to that helps me think about what it means to be a long term runner.

WHEN I DEFINE MYSELF -- in a social media posting or any other site where I'd put my bio -- a runner is inevitably part of my identity. Most people start with their jobs, then go from there.

I once had a conversation with one of my coaches, a gifted athlete and a fast runner. What I told her helps me realize how I continue to reconcile what running is to me. "I'm an exceptional journalist," I told her, with no hint of self deprecation, "and I consider myself to be a good runner." Running, I explained to her, was something I could excel at -- I would never be the best, but it was one sport that if I pushed hard enough, trained smart enough, that I was blessed with the body and the stride and the fitness that helps me succeed -- if getting a Boston qualifier or a sub 20 minute 5K is a measure of success, I have already hit my bucket lists.

Ten years in, I have learned that, to me, I....

Run just to run

Run to get away

Run to find answers

Run for fitness

Run because I can

Run because it is great to feel fast.

Run because you get to run with your favourite people who are runners

Run to see how fast you can go

Run for the challenge of distance, or take a distance and run it faster than you've ever run it

Run so you can suck in the air, feel your heart beat rise

Run to breathe. Run to see. Run to feel. Run to put away the dress shoes and strap on a light pair of soles that will take you so far to places you've never seen.

I decided in early 2013 to run away all of my feelings and the terrible personal 2012. The bombs in Boston reverberated with me, shaking up a runner who was already going through a personal shock. In the training and the speed and the seeking for quality and improvement, I found that all of the things I leaned on running for could shape me into the runner I wanted to become. I wanted to improve my lot, my life, and making running one way to measure that made sense. In a lot of ways, I leaned on running. What I describe as my comeback was both as a runner and as a person.

Now when I look at performance, some six years after I first sought to qualify for Boston, I am much more grounded as I seek new paths. I'm thinking about all of the lessons I've learned from racing so many years. I'm smarter about how I train. I think about the other work I need to do that makes me better -- eating well, being stronger, running recovery. I always stop to admire the scenery.

And the 10-year on runner in me is so much in love with the motion. If I ever have to recall what it feels like to be a kid, I only have to step out my front door and start striding out my courtyard, or skip a curb while on a 25K run, or just take a look at breath taking views I see every day. If I want to feel alive, I look to my daily runs as motivation.

Nothing, in this runner, is taken for granted. It can be taken away at any time, and I'm going to savour every moment.

Maybe you have seen the Catching Kayla video, about a young competitive runner with MS, one of the most inspiring running videos I've ever seen. What resonated with me at the end was what she says about how she views running, knowing she could lose the ability to run sometime in her adult life.

"I just hope to run as long as I can and to make the most out of it as long as I can," she says. "When or if I'm not able to run at some point down the road, at least I can look back that when I could I gave it my all."

Well said, Kayla.

As for me, 10 years in, I've realized that speed and PBs and time is really never a bar I want to measure my running life when I look back at all of the distance and experiences. There is no good or bad version of myself as a runner. Running, like the left foot following the right, is a constant. I'm always in motion. I'm always running. And I always want to run long -- and for a long time.