Monday, 28 November 2011

#39: Do You Want To Know A Secret?

Monday 28 November. And so it begins again...

Today is the ‘official’ start to yet but another running/training cycle and this time we are doing things a little differently...

Coach Campbell is both excited and convinced that in order to find success in the premier road running event (the marathon: 42.2km!) we’ll need to go back to the basics and adopt an ‘old school’ method. The method he has chosen is one based on the work of Bill Squires (see below; that's him) and Bruce Lehane during the “last great period of American distance running” (between 1975 and 1983) and we are assured it produced (and will produce again) some rather impressive results.
Our program is not as intense as it was for the guys in Boston, but still holds true to the basic principles. The ‘program’ begins with a 4 week ‘alpha’ phase with weekly mileage starting at 101km and topping off at 118km (4 week total= 434k). There are only 2 days off during the phase which essentially means we run 7 days a week. These runs are mostly easy/aerobic fitness runs but also include: long runs; hill interval training; surges within long runs; short speed strides and mid-intensity tempos.

The next 4 week phase is called 'SWEP' which stands for "speed with endurance process." This is supposedly a very tough 4 week schedule with track work, hill runs, long runs, surge running and periodic racing. The total mileage is somewhat low (407km), but the intensity is surely there! Again, we are given only two days of complete rest over the entire phase.

Then begins the Marathon Build...
Note that there are numerous ‘levels’ at which one can enter these phases which alters the total mileage and intensity. Depending on ones training history, past performances and expected goals, the level will vary. We are attempting Level 13 (out of like 20!)

The built lasts 15 weeks (105 days) and there are only 7 days off with no running (ie 98 days of running!). The weekly mileage ranges from 109km (week 1) to 149km (week 12) and totals just over 1850km, making the average mileage ~123km per week. There are 21 sessions of ‘doubles’ (two runs in one day; often 8k in the am and 16k in the pm). We will only ever run ~32k during our longest runs. This may worry some (as it did myself) who feel that they need to handle longer runs of 34-38k, but apparently this is not necessary as all the fundamentals are present.

I am putting my complete confidence in the program, my coaches and my training partners and am assured it will all work out on May 6th (Toronto Goodlife Marathon).
What I cannot control so well will be the unpredictable weather and environmental conditions that only a Canadian winter can produce. There is also the small and somewhat significant desire to maintain my social and academic life (running is just a hobby after all). My evolving Master's thesis exploring the idea of exercise addiction will surely be tested more thoroughly during this time.
Needless to say, this program is not for everyone and certainly not the faint of heart. One must be totally dedicated and committed to the time and energy required for training. No one should be surprised if the outcome is poor unless you stick to the plan. Avoiding injury will be essential; eating right and getting enough sleep also. It certainly won’t be easy and it won’t always be enjoyable; but it will (or at least should) produce results. Only time will tell...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

#36: A Shot of Rhythm and Blues

November thesis thoughts...

Been working on my thesis and some small ideas turned into this.

I am once again conflicted with how I intend to “sell” the idea of my thesis. Commitment to Physical Activity: More health or harm?! Do I say that exercise/PA is all fine and dandy and should be pushed and promoted for its overwhelmingly obvious health benefits. What is health anyway and how does PA really relate? Stupid question right? Maybe not. If being healthy means being happy and living one’s life the best they can, then exercise might not be ideal for that. Many/most people hate the ‘idea’ of having to exercise a couple times per week to be “healthy” and can you really blame them? If I was told to do something I hate (say swimming or lifting weights) for 30min per day for 5 days a week (for the rest of all time (ie FOREVER!!!)), I would be pissed too. And how is doing something you legitimately dislike good for you anyway? Certainly we know PA contributes to good physical health (think “healthy weight (again, what does this mean?!), low cholesterol, low adiposity, blood pressure, heart rate is “normal”, insulin is good, high fitness, decreased illness, etc. etc.) but what about mental and social health?! Are these not as important?! Having fun hanging out with friends vs running on a treadmill for an hour…you’re telling me the latter is the “better” option?!

So what’s my point here? It’s all RELATIVE! Health, fitness, normal, better…these are not absolutes; they are subjective and highly variable. I run 100km a week but then eat massive amounts of candy. You don’t do either. So which is the ‘better’ way to go; which is more ‘normal’? I prefer my way but wouldn’t recommend it.

Getting back to my thesis: I have spoken with a number of individuals who all value and incorporate physical activity (exercise, training, sport!) into their lives and appear all the better for it. They do so for very different reasons and with different goals in mind. But for those on the outside looking in, some of what they/we do is completely crazy! We run hundreds and thousands of miles every year (not to mention the supplemental training); we wake up before the sun rises and after it sets and spend prolonged (sometimes very long) periods in the snow, sleet, rain, and wind; we spend significant amounts of money on this; we travel to exotic locations to do it; we base our identity on it; our diet depends on it; we hurt ourselves doing it and then we have the nerve to say we enjoy it?! Of course we have a problem! It’s excessive, obsessive, compulsive and perhaps even addictive...damn straight it’s not healthy! We spend all our time doing it; we feel like shit when we don't; we have no energy for other things; our relationships with friends and family suffer from it; we’re bruised and broken from it...and yet we continue to do it!

You could say I’m just a tad conflicted here. We’re talking about a behaviour which is completely part of who I am; I love it and wouldn’t give it up for the world. In some ways, I’m just doing what I’ve been told to do. And yet it can clearly cause problems and has a dark side to it as well. So what am I to do?! Yes, I truly believe that being physically active is important, valuable and “healthy” and that everyone should be doing more of it. Yes, I think it’s our collective responsibility to ensure our own health and the health of those around us and perhaps that means telling people to behave and act in certain ways that they may not enjoy (think smoking). Yes, I think that health is about much more than a lower body weight, a better lipid profile and an increased VO2max and that mental and social health are equally important. Yes, I think that being happy, having a strong social network and doing the things that are enjoyable and pleasurable to us are fundamental to good overall health and well-being. No, I don’t think that being told to exercise for x min per day for y times per week at z heart rate/intensity is effective or useful for most people. In fact I think it’s kinda shit. But that doesn’t mean we can/should leave people to their own devices and allow them to do whatever they choose (ie we should provide guidance, options, education…and maybe even regulation). Physical activity is awesome. I love it and so do most of my friends and family. But it’s awesome because I enjoy it and it provides me with a sense of accomplishment and confidence; self-efficacy and satisfaction. It’s not because it means I will live an extra year or two, that my LDL cholesterol will be 15 points lower or because I can eat an extra 300 calories every day.

I still don’t know what kind of ‘story’ I plan to tell when I write my final dissertation. I hope it’s an honest one that can reflect my personal views and opinions yet remain objective, scientifically valid and reflective of reality/the "truth". It’s definitely an important issue and I hope you can see why. All that glitters is not gold; exercise/PA is not the panacea for poor health; it is not the magic cure. Don’t even get me started about sport, especially elite/high performance sport. My ultimate goal here is the promotion of health. I’m still trying to figure out what ‘health’ means and how we measure it, but I’m sure that it (or some variation of it) is attainable, affordable and worthwhile. Please don’t ask why being healthy is necessary, valuable or important; it just is!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

#35: Golden Slumbers

Post-marathon Post

It's now been more than two weeks since running the Scotiabank Marathon and while I initially was eager to get back into the thick of things for fear of losing fitness, I have thoroughly enjoyed the down-time with the added rest and relaxation (well sorta). I irrationally wanted to run on the Monday and Tuesday post race, but knew my mind was winning the battle with my beaten down body. I was able to hold off the urge but went into Wednesday knowing that I would again test my legs and I was ripe with anticipation. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a terrible evening with cold rain and winds so the fact that we were only doing about 10k actually came as a relief. Despite feeling some knee pain for the first time just before heading out on the run, it went smoothly and comfortably, but clearly I was still in need of further recovery. Thursday and Friday came and went without running and I only forced myself to run for 30 or so minutes before refereeing an afternoon of intramural soccer games at U of T on Saturday. I couldn't be bothered to get up and out Sunday morning (partly due to fully enjoying a Saturday night for the first time in months!), but did end up enjoying a long slow run in the late afternoon totalling about 16k. That put my mileage, first week after Scotia, at 32k.

The second week was similarly conservative with runs on Tuesday (a beautiful 13k run through the hills around Angus Glen); Wednesday (yet but another wet and cold one on the Lakeshore in which I foolishly tried some tempo (4:00/k) for about 15min and again my knee pain flared up and forced me to slow down; 14k total); Friday (the beer mile; it doesn't really count!); Saturday (8k easy) and then Sunday, in which I was feeling my legs again and did 12k of tempo at around 3:50/k as part of a 18k 'long' run. That put my second week at about 55k.

So the beer mile. An event we've been trying to get done for the better part of 6 months. It happened at Riverdale Park at 5:30 since we were losing daylight. It almost didn't happen when I purchased a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon only to discover a few minutes later that it was only 4.9% (the beer mile must be done using a minimum of 5% alcohol beer). We headed back to the beer store and grabbed some Bud instead and then rushed to the track hoping not to be too late. Most of the guys and gals I knew from Longboat, but there were also a handful of others who knew Johanna (the unofficial organizer). We warmed up with a few easy laps and I tried to pysch myself up for the task at hand. I used to think that the mile alone was tough. At quarter to 6, we (about 15 participants) gathered at the starting line and received our final instructions. Then, on the count of three, it began… The first step is to down a can of beer (at least 355ml). The first one went down fairly easy. The second one with some slight difficulty. It was the third one that caused problems. The alcohol was settling in fast (having not eaten since noon) and I am not a good drinker to begin with (I'm all about endurance NOT speed). I think I tried to make myself vomit at one point but couldn't do it. Finally I forced it down and headed out on my penultimate lap. I don't really remember much about the actual running of the mile since it's not very fast and your mind is firmly on the drinking aspect of the event. When I made it back to the transition (drinking) zone, I knew that this last beer would not go down easy, so I simply tried to take small sips in order not to vomit and thus not have to run an extra lap. I'll admit that I definitely spit up some pretty frothy stuff during my third beer so probably should have been penalized with an extra lap or DQ'ed outright had there been more race officials or had I maintained my integrity (the alcohol wiped that clear). I certainly didn't set any records on the day so I guess it really doesn't matter in the end (others might disagree). The final beer eventually was consumed and I was thinking I'd try to run the last lap hard. It didn't happen; I was drunk! My finishing time was 11min something, so pretty much no significance. This is the one running event where just finishing actually means something (and yes, I am now indicating that merely finishing a marathon means absolutely nothing...anyone can do it!). Of particular significance and worthy of mention was the spectacular performance of one Melinda Campbell who finished fourth overall and beat me by well over a minute. She's quite a catch. Wesley (who is as Irish as they come) finished first in a time of 7:10 and Doyle not too far behind in 7:50. Fair play to all participants; this event is among the hardest I've ever experienced. The fun didn't end there on the track; that was merely the beginning. We eventually made our way back to Casa Byrne Campbell (the CBC; which seems to be throwing weekly and wonderful parties) for some post-drinking drinking, and finally to a bar (whose name now eludes me) for even more drinking. Yup, post-marathon recovery is definitely rough!

I was only slightly hung-over the next morning when I had to referee a 10am intramural game but luckily it was defaulted so I took a short nap instead. The rest of the weekend went by in a blur that saw some crazy Halloween costumes (not from me), fine dining and re-invigorated running. On Monday, Halloween, we carved a pumpkin and I ate plenty of candy!

Now it's Tuesday and this weekend is set to showcase a number of Hamilton races as well as the Angus Glen Half which some close Longboater's are also doing and gunning for PB's. I have volunteered (ie committed) to pace the half in 1:30 (4:15/k) which will be a struggle to stay on pace what with the generous downhill located from 5 until 10k (holding back will be the biggest challenge). I am also extremely tempted to 'race' the 10k on Saturday as I am again feeling fit and fresh but would likely not be able to muster anything spectacular and may well end up compromising my ability to do the Half the next day. I'm hoping that some friends, with much more sense and experience than myself, can talk me out of it. Canadian running sensation, Reid Coolsaet, is planning to also run the 10k and had indicated that he will do it in a cool and controlled 40min (a literal walk in (Confederation) Park for him) so it would be awesome to say that I could beat him in a race.

Needless to say, the past two weeks post-marathon have been interesting. With no need (or desire) to run nearly as much mileage, there was plenty of extra time and energy for other things, which had sadly been ignored for far too long. There is already talk and excitement of the upcoming training cycle which won't begin until mid-January but will require a solid base building/maintenance phase, and this is enough to temper my temptation to run fast again this year. Next year will be a good one in terms of running (key races include the Robbie Burns 8k, the Chili Half, ATB and a Spring marathon TBD) so it is now more important than ever, to enjoy these "down" weeks and take care of the body (and the mind) so it's ready when it all starts up again (A continuation of commitment or return to relapse?!).