Monday, 26 March 2012

#58: The Fool on the Hill

Prologue: 'The Fool...' wasn't me. I love the hills!

Around the Bay Race Report

The first thing I'll say is that despite finishing some 18 minutes behind him, I can say with confidence that my race likely felt much better than Reid Coolsaet’s seem too. I'd suggest you all read his terrific blog ('Float On') including his own recap of his winning race from yesterday. And here is one from Canadian Running: 'Coolsaet thrills...'

So because I have a tendency to write long-winded accounts which border on excessive (being succinct was never my style), I'm going to try something new and just 'briefly' discuss what I felt I did well and which led to my near 'perfect' (recall that it's subjective) performance at ATB.

1) I trained for it. Now now, before you roll your eyes and say "Well duh!" I'll try to explain what I mean. My training has been near perfect for the past 7 weeks. That includes two monster weeks where I ran 150+km in two successive weeks before 'tapering' for yesterday’s race (where I still managed to hit 116k for the week including the race). I've been completely pain and injury free and had terrific workouts and long runs . I did some specific hill training in the weeks prior to the race to build some strength in my legs and also ensured my endurance was sufficient and my fuelling strategy was set (I took 3 gels yesterday; one 15min before the start and another at 10 and 18k). I knew I was fully fit going into the race so was feeling confident in my ability.

2) I was mentally prepared. You can't underestimate the importance of this! Most people don't even know what it means. It means visualizing your race from start to finish and 'running' it over and over in your head; especially the tough parts and the final k's. This also means considering different scenarios including the ideal outcome and several variations of it in case things are out of your control (think the weather). It means building confidence in yourself by looking back at your training and considering what you're doing right as well as accounting for what you’re doing wrong. It means studying the course, reading race reviews and getting excited/hyped up for the event. It means believing in yourself!

3) I had a plan. Actually, we had a plan and unfortunately it didn't materialize for all of us. Darren, Doyle and I had our eyes set on a 1:52:30 (3:45/k) and had each 10k split carefully planned prior to the race. This included 37:00 (3:42/k) for the first 10k; 37:30 (3:45/k) for second (10-20k) and 38:00 (3:48/k) for the final 10 (20-30k) to account for the hills. We planned to work together to get those splits and take turns drafting and keeping the pace. Sadly, Doyle dropped off before 5k with a calf injury and I lost Darren around 15k when I decided to maintain ~3:43 pace for the second 10k. In the end my pacing was near perfect: 37:04 for 0-10k; 37:11 for 10-20k and an amazing 37:05 for the final 20-30k. This also equates to a near equal split of 55:38 for the first 15k and 55:40 for the second. Once again, this goes to show that running an equal split is probably the best pacing strategy. Note: In order for your race plan to be successful, you need to be realistic about your goals and paces. This means using a recent race result in which you felt good and did your best to predict other performances. This can be done using common online calculators like McMillan and Daniels (VDOT).

4) I tapered. Some might argue that a week running 116k is not a real taper but with mostly easy running all week and slightly decreased mileage it sure felt like one. I took the day off on Saturday and only ran 8k on Friday too so felt well rested. I also fueled (read carbo-loaded) in the two or three days leading up to the race including an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet on Friday evening; a massive pancake breakfast on Saturday morning and spaghetti in the evening. I was sipping on OJ and Gatorade at pretty much all times in between. I also got plenty of sleep from Thursday night right up until Sunday morning which can often be difficult to get.

So with that in mind I'll just briefly (okay, perhaps not so briefly) detail how the race went. It started early Sunday morning when I instinctively woke up about two minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 6am. I ate a standard pre-race breakfast of toast and PB with a bottle of Gatorade then did that other early morning stuff and was ready to go. I biked the 6k to High Park and caught the team bus to Hamilton where we arrived with plenty of time. The weather was absolutely perfect: Overcast, cool (8 degrees) and practically no wind. I changed into my gear (Adidas Boston 2 and orange socks on my feet; shorts and a Longboat tee) and we just sorta hung around Copps Coliseum until about 9:10 then went out and did a short (2k) warmup and made a final pit stop in the bushes. We didn't have the 'Front of the Pack' sticker we were supposed to but managed to talk our way into the start corral and get right to the front. I saw Reid warming up and wished him luck on his attempt to break the course record of 1:32:22 (he would end up winning the race but missing the record by about a minute). We eagerly waited several minutes until the start and jostled back and forth. I wish my teammates luck and was ready to go. The gun went off and so did we. Darren, Doyle and I were all close together and worked our way out of the pack running to the side. The first km flew by in 3:35 (I said repeatedly that we shouldn't go faster than 3:40…first km fail!). An old guy ahead of us stunk really back so we decided to pick it up to pass him. We continued to pass the masses one at a time and work our way forward. At one point Rob C came up from behind and told us we were running slow which we weren't but we nonetheless picked it up slightly. It was then when we lost Doyle who probably shouldn't have even started due to a bad cold and a lower calf injury. He would stay in the race until ~15k but smartly chose to bow out and take a bus back. I/we will need each other for the big event in May so it's important we get healthy and play things smart at this point. As my close friend and training partner, I was not happy to leave him behind but knew it had to happen. Another time, it will happen to me! Darren and I thus continued on, picking off individual runners one or two at a time and keeping a fairly consistent pace of 3:42. We hit the 10k at 37:04 which was right on track and then tried to settle into a groove and get comfortable. I was feeling good but could tell he was struggling to keep pace and I wasn't entirely surprised that he dropped back just before 15k. I was somewhat shocked to be running solo this early in the race considering that all my visualizations had involved the three of us running together well into the hills. Nevertheless I kept things consistent and was able to maintain a 3:43 pace for those middle km's as I crossed the bridge and entered into Burlington. I took a gel just after 10k and again at 18k and was pleasantly surprised at how good my legs felt as I entered the rolling hills at 19k. I knew this was where the race was set to begin and knew it was time to dig deep and concentrate. I cruised up the hills and tried to pick up the pace going down. I actually felt better doing the former and felt that was my strength. I passed about three guys between 20 and 25k during which point I hit the half-marathon mark of 21.1k in 1:18:20 (my third fastest time ever). It was during a particular long downhill stretch that I got passed for the first time on the day by a guy who told me he'd been following me for the past 15k. I quickly put him out of my mind and focused on my own race. I continued along the course as we left North Shore Blvd and got on Plains Road heading west. As we passed a cheering mass of kids at the 23k mark, I was starting to look forward to the final point of interest which is the massive downhill leading to the final ‘monster’ hill. I flew down the hill past the 25k mark and set my mind on attacking what was about to come. I crossed the little wooden bridge and tried not to look up to the top (which you can't see anyway). I knew it was only about 500m long so would take 2min at the most. Once again I amazed even myself as I flew up the hill with relative ease. In the process and about right in the midst of the hill at 26k, I managed to pass the guy who had just previously passed me and finish strong right to the top. I made the turn onto York Blvd and knew it was only about 3k left to go. I got my legs back right away and was already flying across the bridge. I couldn't be sure how quickly I was moving in those final 3 k's and refused to look at my watch (I would later see that my final 5k was done in 18:10; with splits of 3:37, 3:45, 3:42, 3:36 and 3:30). I recall seeing Timo, one of our club coaches, as well as the Grim Reaper around 28k but then focused entirely on the finish. I passed one more guy during the stretch and could only vaguely make out a large group of runners well ahead. Copps couldn't come soon enough but I still felt remarkably good given the circumstances. I passed the large crowds of spectators with about 400m to go which was enough to get me through the final stretch as I round the bend and made the steep decline down the ramp before making that final turn into the arena and looking up to see the finish. Reading 1:51:xx on the clock, I made a final sprint and a small gesture to the crowds. I looked up to see 1:51:20 as I crossed the line and was immediately relieved at the opportunity to stop. I was then able to revel in my accomplishment and had a big grin on my face when I got the gold medal (sub 2hrs) for the second straight year. I waited at the finish for the others to come in and surely, one by one, they did. First Darren, just off our initial goal time, then Roger, Rob, Davey, the Belg and Hiddleston. I knew then that Doyle must have bowed out and later found out that Gerardo had as well. We congratulated each other and made our way through the post-run corrals with the food, photos and Gatorade. I had blistering on my right foot so removed my shoes and walked around barefoot which felt great (maybe there is something to that) and returned to our team section in Copps to change and relax as we awaited the others to finish. We eventually got a great team photo of the 40 or so finishers from Longboat and made our way back to Toronto by bus. It was turning out to be a beautiful day and so the remainder of it was spent drinking cold beer and enjoying the company of my fellow LBers. Race days are the best days... and even more so when you set a PB!

Epilogue: I call it the 'Residual Race Effect' and it usually only takes place the day or two immediately after a race. I went for a scheduled 10 miler today and felt amazing. I ran way faster than I should have (4:16/k) but felt incredible throughout. I went over the previous days performance in my head and am almost convinced I self-initiated a 'runner's high' as I basked in warm sunshine and a sense of self-satisfaction. I know the pain, soreness and fatigue will come; but perhaps not until late tomorrow or the next day. Anyone else get this or am I just crazy?! Regardless, it sure feels good while it lasts...and I'm hoping it lasts awhile.

Next up: An easy recovery week with descent mileage (130k) and a tough long run on Sunday. Then it's 2 weeks of high mileage and several key speed workouts before beginning the 3 week taper to Goodlife. I've also got a 10-miler race planned for Good Friday in Burlington but may back out since it doesn't make sense for what we want to achieve. Last tune-up race will be the Yonge St 10k on 22 April where we'll run a fast downhill course and hope to win the team category. Recent race results suggest that a 2:45 is not only comfortably within grasp, but that it may be too conservative. 2:42 is tentatively the new target.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

#57: With a Little Help from My Friends

It's the day before a race and for many runners, that means a day in front of the television (for some reason I'm watching golf) or curled up with a book (re-reading 'Again to Carthage'). It means a day staying off my feet and glad NOT to be running (a welcome break after 20 straight days and some 400k+m since the last one). It means sipping on liquid calories all day long and eating a generous proportion of carbs. For me, it means a haircut and a shave; no doubt to gain a competitive edge and shed some extra seconds. It means reading old volumes of Running Times or Runner's World and trying to hone in on good racing strategy. It means going to bed early but knowing I won't sleep. Running and racing is about routine, about ritual. And we all share it.

I know I've gotten a lot of smack for writing prior posts that criticize and question various 'types' of runners: ultrarunners, trail guys, the barefoot crowd; those running slow or failing to hit certain times for certain distances; gallowalkers, 10 and 1ers; charity runners; and probably several more. While I do stand my ground and maintain my positions, I do want to issue a friendly admission and concession and say that compared to the vast majority of non-runners out there; you guys and gals are the best. Together we make up a very unique and special social world that espouses certain values, beliefs, norms and morals. We speak a language that is entirely unknown to outsiders and engage in behaviours that seem both strange and unnatural to the average human being. We are a close-knit community with individual goals and dreams but a collective significance.

It was after spending some time at home with family and friends and having to explain for the fifth time that: "No, not all races are 'marathons;' and "Yes, I run that far without stopping," that I came to realize just how unique our world really is and how similar we all are regardless of how far we run; how fast; where; or why. Only we runners know how many meters are in a mile and many times that is around a track. How far the standard marathon is (or the half) and why it is that way. What the qualifying times are for Boston, New York and maybe Fukuoka. How terrible the taper feels even on the first day. Why the 'wall' happens around 30k and how it feels to 'bonk'. Why we go out too fast EVERY single time and why we plan not to next time. The role of a tempo, an interval, a stride, and a pick-up. The difference between easy, aerobic, threshold, and VO2max pace. Why a 5k is the toughest road race you can run but the marathon is the most humbling. What it feels like to set a PB and perhaps why it's necessary to DNF or DNS. Names like Coolsaet, Kipsang, Hall and Haile; Makau; Mosop, and Mutai; Daniels, Lydiard, and McMillan; Paula, Kara, Kastor and Switzer...and many more.

We share a common passion and find pleasure in our pursuits; we set similar goals and occupy the same spaces and places (and occasionally paces); we persevere through adversity and over time; we expend time and effort to acquire special skills and common knowledge; we forge personal and social identities and engage on a 'career' of running; we attain a plethora of rewards and benefits and ultimately take part in a wonderful world and community that will and should continue to grow and prosper.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

#54: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

My second blog in less than 24 hours can mean only one thing: I currently have a lot of time on my hands. I've submitted a preliminary draft of my thesis to my committee and am currently awaiting feedback. In case you're interested, the gist of my thesis argues that 'committed and competitive recreational runners' display cognitive, emotional and behavioural characteristics that CAN and DO mimic various models of addiction/dependence... HOWEVER, due to the lack of pathology or conflict both short and long-term, their behaviours are better considered and conceptualized as 'Serious Leisure' pursuits which through perseverance, expending effort to acquire knowledge and skills, attaining durable benefits, building a leisure career, participating in a unique social world and ethos, and creating a personal and social identity ultimately adds meaning, value and significance to their lives. More details to follow...

So originally I planned to write about my declining faith in humanity (not that I had much to begin with) after getting all worked up after a quick scan of the headlines making news over the past couple of days... In no particular order here are a few articles that make me sad to be alive:

Rich kids with no sense of responsibility brutally killing and mutilating exotic animals.

The utterly despicable and unforgiveable reports from the Tori Stafford murder case.

An American soldier goes on a shooting spree in Afghanistan.

Squabbling politicians make a mockery of democracy.

And perhaps not surprisingly given the above: Apparently more and more Canadians are open to the idea of reinstating capital punishment.

...but then I was again given good reason to resume my topic of yesterday on the concept of sport.

So, what is sport?!

From Wikipedia: Sport is all forms of competitive physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim to use, maintain or improve physical fitness and provide entertainment to participants. Hundreds of sports exist, from those requiring only two participants, through to those with hundreds of simultaneous participants, either in teams or competing as individuals. Sport is generally recognised as activities which are based in physical athleticism or physical dexterity, with the largest major competitions such as the Olympic Games admitting only sports meeting this definition. However, a number of competitive, but non-physical, activities claim recognition as mind sports. The International Olympic Committee recognises both chess and bridge as bona fide sports.

Here is the definition of sport as used by government: “Sport is a regulated form of physical activity organized as a contest between two or more participants for the purpose of determining a winner by fair and ethical means. Such contests may be in the form of a game, match, race or other form of event.”

A sport has the following characteristics:

a) It involves, where repetition of standardized or required movements or forms are included in competition, a high degree of difficulty, risk or effort in such reproduction;
b) It involves two or more participants in its competitive mode, engaging for the purpose of competitively evaluating their personal performance;
c) It involves formal rules and procedures to ensure a safe and fair outcome for all participants;
d) It requires fair, ethical and effective tactics or strategies;
e) It requires specialized neuromuscular and cardiovascular skills (such as speed, strength, stamina, flexibility, balance, precision and coordination) that include significant involvement of large muscle groups, and that can be taught, learned and improved;
f) It requires the development of coaching personnel trained in both general subjects such as bio-mechanics, sport psychology, nutrition, group dynamics, physiology, etc., and in the specific skills of the sport;
g) It is, or has been, traditionally regarded as a sport in its competitive mode;
h) Its primary activity involves interaction between the participant and the environment (air, water, ground, floor or special apparatus). No activity in which the performance of a motorized vehicle is the primary determinant of the outcome of the competition is eligible in this program (e.g. racing automobiles, powerboats, aircraft or, snow machines).

So what does this all mean?! Simply, there is no short answer as to what counts as sport. There are lots of definitions just as there are lots of kinds and types of sports. Here, I am generally talking about competetive and high performance sport (think the Olympics and World Championships). Others, such as youth and amateur sport stress development of key skills and attributes and exist for very different reasons. Grassroots sport is a popular phrase which covers the amateur participation in sport at lower levels, normally without pretension towards higher achievement, and is in line with the "sport for all" mentality, where enjoyment is the primary reason for participation.

With regard to handicapped sports, I argue it's unjust to give handicaps because it penalizes someone for their speed/strength/stamina by rewarding those who don't (relatively speaking). It goes against the fundamental definition of sport as a contest to determine a winner by ethical means. Determining the winner must be based on an evaluation of their performance and that performance is dependent on specialized neuromuscular and cardiovascular skills. By giving handicaps, it alters the competitive nature of sport and doesn't reward athletes based on absolute skill or ability, but rather on relative ability. It essentially boils down to an equal opportunity for anyone and everyone to win. If everyone wins, it's not a sport. In sport, there is a winner and a loser (or lots of losers...).

And sure, one could easily argue about the arbitrary nature of sport: what rules exist and for what purpose. To me, sport is only as arbitrary as time, distance, and even language. Sure we just made it all up, but it serves a specific and important purpose. Importantly, sport is about competition and comparing one's abilities over another. It is about determining the best from the almost best and yes, that means a whole lot of losers! Increasing participation, fairness, enjoyment and the excitement of sport are important initiatives, but they are divorced and secondary from the primary goal: the determination of excellence.

Note this isn't an answer. It just creates more questions. Becoming a better writer, and indeed a better thinker, means being challenged on your ideas and defending them...sometimes abandoning them, when needed. As a participant of sport, I constantly question the validity and merits of my behaviours; the ethical and moral implications; the physical, emotional and social consequences. Ultimately the question becomes: why do we participate in sport and why does it matter?

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

#53: Good Day Sunshine

Until a few minutes ago, the only thing I could possibly think to write about was the weather. It's only the second full week of March and I am trying to get used to the idea that Winter may be over and Summer already arrived. Wonderful weather predicted for the coming weeks will mean a return to running in short shorts and t-shirts... and maybe an early tan! My training schedule shows a lot of running to come from now until 06 May, so bring on the mileage. Given that winter didn't really occur this year and running has been blissful since early January, we really haven't any reasons to complain about weather all year! So I’ll move right along.

I was just introduced to an idea which seems so foreign to me that I am desperately trying to make sense of it and make an informed opinion as to its value. The 'idea' is that of handicapped racing as utilized by the 'Victorian Athletic League.' The FAQ section of their website describes it as:

"Handicapped racing is designed to ensure that every athlete has a chance to win. This means that athletes are allocated a handicap according to their ability. The fastest runner is placed on a backmark and gives a start to slower runners. This ensures that racing is close and exciting, with spectacular finishes... Handicap racing is an Australian tradition where every competitor is given a chance to share in success."

So essentially this means that a guy like me, who hasn't a hope in Haiti of competing at an elite level, could toe the line with the fastest in the world (say Usain Bolt), be given a 'fair' head start based on the difference in our abilities, and sprint to the finish for the win. This is the same idea as the Longboat Relay happening this weekend before the New Member's Brunch where Bert pairs faster runners with slower runners in a two-person relay with each team member running 1500m which will ideally end with a close, photo finish-like scenario. In another: 2, 3 and 4 hour marathoners could also compete in the same race with slower runners starting earlier and the faster ones having to catch up/make up ground with everyone being very close at the finish. Ultimately, it attempts to give every athlete of every ability an equal opportunity at winning.

At first I was baffled, and mildly annoyed, by this. What a stupid idea, I thought. So now, not only are the fastest guys in the world going to have to beat each other; but they have to beat amateurs like me too! If we can already find a hundred athletes who can run super fast and compete with each other, why should someone with a fraction of the talent even think they have the right to compete on the same stage?! I completely dismissed the idea as utterly ridiculous only to be challenged with: "Well what's the difference? It's just replacing one arbitrary rule of sport with another?!" I guess that's true if you consider the arbitrary rule of sport to be: run a given distance in as little time as possible. All rules in sport are arbitrary! Honestly, my fundamental notion of what sport was and what it meant was challenged to such a degree that I was unable to make any sense of this.

I suppose this irks me so much due to my perception that the current culture of sport has increasingly come to accommodate the growing hoards of recreational participants over the competitive and elite athlete. It also espouses the 'everybody wins' mentality and devalues the very real existence of losing and competition. Moreover, if my ability is significantly less than another person; could I ever feel right at having a realistic chance of beating them at a race? Personally, I could not. Others might jump at such an opportunity, to beat the 'best' by being sub-par; and to me, that reflects a disturbed attitude towards sport in general. Also, who determines these handicaps and how are they ensured to be fair? The FAQ states: "Stewards and Handicappers keep an eye on all runners to ensure they run to the best of their ability and do not deliberately run slow to get a better handicap. The stewards can fine athletes that are found to be deliberately running slow or do not provide correct details about past performances." Sounds like more unnecessary policing and rule enforcement to me, not to mention that this seems like a near impossible thing to do objectively and creates entirely new avenues of cheating in sport. Finally, if everyone were realistically able to compete and succeed, who determines who and how many can participate. Suddenly you have an entire population capable of making the Olympic team!?

Anyway, it's a fascinating topic and definitely controversial. My position is opposition based on my own appreciation for high performance sport and competition in general. I'm sure others would disagree and commend the idea for its inclusiveness and fairness. In the end, I doubt we'll see handicapped events at the Olympics anytime soon.

Some context: I was presented this 'idea' as a potential new way of thinking about competitive sport, specifically the Olympic Games. I am opposed to the idea of 'handicapped sport' as a replacement/alternate to high performance sport only. I agree it has enormous potential to increase participation, inclusiveness/fairness and 'level the playing field.' Quite honestly, it truly would make competition a lot more exciting too!

Friday, 9 March 2012

#52: I'm Talking About You

Yesterday I posted a news article which included some of the numbers from 'Running USA's Annual Marathon Report.' I just wanted to add my own two cents on what the numbers mean and highlight some of the important stuff. Note: I am NOT a statistician and thus won't attempt to make any bold claims based on these numbers.

So what's going on here:
- Overall participation in the marathon has increased from 143,000 in 1980 to 518,000 in 2011 (a 3.6 fold increase). Since 2000, there has been a 47% increase in the number of U.S. marathon finishers (353,000 vs. 518,000). ie More people are running (completing) marathons than ever before.
- Median marathon finishing times have increased from 4:03:39 in 1980 to 4:42:15 in 2011 for women (+0:38:36), while men's have gone from 3:32:17 to 4:16:34 (+0:44:17). ie People are running slower.
- The median age has increased from 34 to 40 for guys and from 31 to 35 for gals. 36% of male and 24% of female finishers were over 45. ie People are running when they are older.

To me that sounds like a lot more people have been getting a whole lot slower over the past 30 years. But can we really make that claim?

First of all, those finishing times were the median, not the average! Going back to grade school math we see that average/mean is the sum of the values divided by the number of values, while median is simply the middle value (the value separating the higher half of a sample from the lower half). Both measure central tendency but say nothing about the distribution or variance.
Given this series of numbers: 1,2,4,8,16,32,64. The median is 8 while the average is >18!
Applied to running; here are some random marathon times (in hours): 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5, 6. The average here is 4 while the median is 3.5. Thus the median may undervalue the overall trend which is that times are actually even slower than it seems. What this likely means is that there are far more really slow times (say 6+ hours) than there are really fast times (say sub 3)

Now, it's certainly true that the absolute number of sub 3 hours marathons (or sub 2:30 or even sub 2:10!) have increased from 1980 to 2011... but so too have the number of 5+, 6+ and 7+ hour marathons! Which do you suppose is growing faster or makes up the greater percentage of overall results?! I'll bet the farm that it's the latter. Given the overall increase in marathoners, of course it makes sense that some of them will be running faster. Our increasing knowledge of modern sports science including improvements to technology (GPS, apparel, gear), sports nutrition (gels, hydration) and even training practices suggest that the fastest marathon times will likely continue to get faster for some time. Perhaps it won't be long before we see that infamous sub 2 hour marathon. What I'm trying to point out however, is that the percentage of finishers running "fast" is getting smaller and smaller. In 1980, sub 3hr marathons might have made up 10% or more of all finishes; while now that number is likely less than 5%. Hell, it might be less than 1%. I don't have the data to prove this but I'm certain of the trend. The point: A few people are definitely getting faster (running sub 3)... but MOST people are getting slower (running 5+). Those are simply the facts! Interestingly, Boston has the fastest median finishing time of just under 3:45. That shows that their tough admission standards are clearly attracting a high calibre of runner.

Opinions: A likely reason for this is that completing a marathon is now more often the goal than to train and run as fast as one can. Competition is not as important as it was back in the 1980's and running has become more a general physical activity and less a sport . Now, as some people importantly point out, getting people physically active and hopefully healthier is surely a good thing so I'm not saying anything on the value or merits of these trends; simply that they are happening. In terms of making predictions, I would assume that these trends will likely continue for some time, given the increasing appeal and marketing of marathon running for reasons relating to general health, fitness, socialization, and even charity. Running a marathon is a trendy thing to do and people running for these reasons don't put much emphasis on their finishing time. And why would they? The award for running 4.5hrs is the exact same as running 2.5: a medal and a t-shirt!

This is where I could easily turn this post into a massive rant... but I won't! I honestly do believe that increased participation in physical activity is a good thing and if you want to run a marathon, you should! But running a marathon in 3 hours (3.5 for chicks) is NOT the same as doing it in 5hrs and I'm continually frustrated that people ascribe them to be the same or similar accomplishment. One is something ANYONE can do if they invest even a bare minimum of time and effort. The other is incredibly difficult to do and requires a tremendous ammount of commitment, dedication, knowledge, skills and determination. Interestingly, the report shows that: "In 2011, Running USA surveyed more than 11,800 core runners nationwide and reported that those who had completed a marathon in the last two years ran approximately 4.4 days per week for an average of 29.4 miles." That's only 50km per week... to run a 42.2km event! Clearly, the training of the average marathoner has changed drastically from 30 years ago.

The final word: More and more people will continue to run marathons in the coming years. A small minority of people will continue to commit to getting faster and improving but the vast majority of people wishing to simply complete the marathon will do so slower and slower. The big question: In which group will you be?!

Food for thought. The largest marathon in Canada last year was the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. It had 3857 finishers (2479M; 1378F) with an average time of 4:13:05. Of them, 108 men (4.4%) went under 3 hours and 67 women (4.9%) went under 3.5hrs. In contrast, 1385 men (55.9%) went over 4hrs and 727 women (52.7%) went over 4.5hrs. 355 men (14.3%) finished in 5hrs or more while 139 women (10.1%) finshed in 5.5+hrs.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

#51: Flying

What a day for our club (Longboat) and for our runners. The Chilly Half Marathon did not disappoint in producing fast times today. PBs for myself, Doyle, Darren, Bellamy, Rob C (at age 52), Gerardo, Simon V (by 4min), Kevin G (Gough; by 9min!), other Kevin G (Gallagher; and after 8 years!) and Melinda too! What a day indeed! Congrats everyone (including Roger, Hiddleston, Davey (we all have those days), Kathleen (keep at it and it will come), Chris and Kim McPeake, Christine, Gillian, Melissa, Tony...and any other LBers I am forgetting) on your amazing times and efforts today. Also to George for being their for much needed psychological support along the route. All the feathers were flying! A special thanks to my tenacious training partners and great friends, Doyle and Darren for not beating me today and always pushing me to achieve better; and to Rob C and Rog for their continued commitment to coaching and runner development.

Clearly something must be working and I'm going to say that the Rob C program (the 'RCP!'; adapted from Squires) may deserve a great deal of the credit. If you're on it, stay there. If you're not, come aboard. We're running hard, we're running often and we're running healthy. The workouts are tough on hard days, the easy days are just easy enough and the mileage is manageable. Let's hope we can ride this wave all the way to the end of May!

So a (not so brief) race report.

The Chilly Half in downtown Burlington, ON. 21.1k. My time: 1:16:39 (1:16:44). Chip time is what counts right?! 3:38/k. 11th overall. 10th male. 3rd in age group, 25-29, but the other two guys finished 2nd and 3rd overall so I was lucky to claim the 1st prize title. I'll take it.

The weather. The weather seemed to be the topic of discussion leading up to the day. Wild winds were predicted and we were starting to regret not going to Peterborough the week before which saw near perfect conditions and fast times too (well done Steve, Gregoire, Laura, Todd and others). Luckily the winds really didn't materialize and stayed fairly calm at a brisk 10-20kph. I won't say they didn't have an impact, but they weren't nearly as bad as we had feared. It was indeed Chilly in the early morning and leading up to the race: probably around -5 to -10C. Overcast skies and some snow flurries also greeted us in Burlington but by the time the race started the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day for the most part. No need to complain about the weather, it was fine.

The course. Mostly flat as advertised although it had some gradual rollers which kept things interesting and also worked to my benefit. I actually like hills, not really in a race but these were just fine. In fact, I was almost able to convince myself that those long straight stretches along Lakeshore Dr were always going downhill. It couldn't really be true but I made myself believe it was. The out and back wasn't too bad either. Two of them really at 3k and then at 13k which again, keeps things interesting and honest. Again, no complaints here.

The race. It started at 10:05 which is unusual but turned out to be a good time. I did my warm up alone (2.5k with a few strides at race pace) since I couldn't find the guys and found a nice bush for a last minute pit-stop (#1!). My father brought me to the race so I was able to change out of my warm up gear just before going to the start. That worked really well. At about 10, I went to the start and thought I got pretty close to the front of the pack. But when the gun eventually went off, I found myself way back of the lead pack and having to weave my way through a huge mass of people. Why do slow(er) people go straight to the front? This frustrates me to no end. Please be honest about your abilities and line up appropriately. You have no reason to be at the front and it only slows everyone down; like traffic! Plus, that's why there's chip time.

So anyway, here I am snaking my way through all these slower runners (no offense or anything, but when you’re 11th overall out of 3300 people, most everyone is a “slower” runner) and trying to catch up with my people and get towards the front. I didn't see Doyle anywhere which makes me believe he made sure he was behind me on the line so that if we ended up with the same time (like Robbie Burns, and St. Catherine’s...and Ingersoll!) he could claim victory based on chip time. I'm onto you Michael. So I'm looking everywhere for him and I go by Rob and Rog and Bellamy and Davey and David and see Darren up ahead but still no Doyle. I bet he was watching me though! I got in behind Darren and we just started picking people off. All the ones that go out way too fast. We made the first turn and continued to do this for a while before Darren slowly sped ahead and build a slowly increasing gap on me. I wasn't ready to chase at this point. I was thus running largely on my own. At around 7k, I passed some guy who wouldn't let me go. For at least 3k he just kept huffing and puffing behind me and was clearly in over his head. I actually wanted to tell him to stop being so stupid and run a pace he could sustain but I felt he has to learn that for himself. It was around this point when I had some pain and discomfort in my stomach and side and was quite worried that my pre-race fuelling strategy may have let me down (Oma's pancakes surely couldn't miss) but I was able to concentrate on my breathing and get comfortable and so it abided in a km or so. At one point when I was about to lose the puffer guy, I realized someone else was on my shoulder and guess who it was. Of course, it was Michael. Even though Darren had created a massive gap between us, we both agreed we would work to minimize that lead slowly and claw him back in the end (sorry Darren but it had to be done). Doyle said something about us running too hard which I honestly didn't think was true so I kept my current pace and carried on. I don't look at my watch too often while racing but I do recall seeing one split of 3:42 which discouraged me slightly and so I picked up the pace. I really had no idea how fast I was going but I knew it felt fast. Today was going to be a good day... if I could hold on.

The second turnaround came later than I expected since I was confused as to why the leaders still hadn't passed going the other way, even at 12k. The turn eventually came a little after 13k and my first thought was concern with the wind which clearly was blowing around and now coming more or less directly in my face. The turnaround also gave me a brief glance as to how far back Doyle was (not much) and also the larger field of runners. At one point during any race, I always think about the fact that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of runners right behind chasing me and it honestly scares the hell out of me and motivates me NEVER to give up. When I saw all the guys behind me and many familiar faces among them, I was again motivated to keep this up and get to the line before them.

The only guy I passed in those last 8k was Darren and I came up to him around 14k and knew I had him beat. At one point he must have sensed it and looked back (bad idea Darren) to see me and made a small surge forward while I just kept cruising at my now consistent pace of what must have been around 3:38/k. I came up alongside him shortly after and told him to get behind me to draft and that we'd work together. That's the last I saw of him because I just kept going and didn't see him again (I won't be able to say that too often). I can also say that I wasn't passed by a single runner during the entire race today (not even briefly) which seems to be an effective strategy. Start conservative and get stronger. It's not easy to do but seems to work. Fading (from the front) is both physically and mentally exhausting and not recommended.

With only a few k's left to go, I was beginning to dig deep and hold on for dear life. The only time I checked my watch for the time was when I passed the 16k mark where I wanted to see my 10-mile split. After having a bad experience at my first (and only) attempt at the distance last August (Acura) where I didn't break 60min, I knew this time I must have done it in a big way. Sure enough, at 16.1km my time was ~58:40 and I knew I was in good position with only 5k left to go. The only things I remember after this were: a) How come all these hills are downhill? That can't possibly be true. b) There are A LOT of people behind me; hopefully they all feel as terrible as I do right now and c) Holy shit. Doyle is probably right behind you. Speed up! I also started doing what I expect everyone does at this point in a race. Counting down the mile (km) markers and doing really bad math trying to tell yourself you only have x min left!

The only real 'problem' I had on the day was that in the late stages of the race (the last 5k), my eyes/vision went all wonky and in a bad state. They must have been semi-frozen and I couldn't see all that well so I simply concentrated on the yellow dividing line and kept driving forward. I also sung/hummed "I Will Survive" in my head as it had been playing earlier at a water station and was thus the last song in my short-term memory. It was appropriate. I thought I was slowing down but the splits on my watch viewed afterwards proved otherwise. In the end, I ran a negative split (another successful race strategy). 38:24 for the first half. 38:15 for the second. The last km is always a welcome one and was definitely the most painful one today. I was ecstatic to see the cheering fans at the final turn but sadly was in no state to acknowledge or thank them. I heard my Dad cheer my name as I made the turn and then realized it was still a fair ways up to the finish (really only like 300m) and the wind was howling. I gave what little I had left (it wasn't much) and couldn't believe when I saw the clock: 1:16! It hit 1:16:30 and I 'sprinted' my way across the line a couple seconds later. I did a Tiger Woods fist pump knowing I had just finished the best race of my life and then proceeded to breathe deeply and sat down for a few seconds.

Of course I forgot to stop my watch (I haven't done this on time ever!) which I didn't realize until about two minutes later (1:18:xx but still good for 2:42/k). I was glad to see Doyle finish not too far behind me with Darren slightly after him. 11, 12, 13. Never too far apart! I watched the others finish, most all of them with PBs and we eventually made our way through the finishing queue, collected yet but another medal, and went off for a cool down jog. It was here, after about 2k's at a snail’s pace that my body fully and completely rebelled against everything I had just put it through and I struggled for breath and had terrible cramps and side stiches. Probably an electrolyte issue since I hadn't drank or ate anything since 7am (not hydrating or fuelling during a race is definitely NOT an effective strategy but one I continue to endorse for all races up to the Half distance). I slowly hobbled my way back to the finisher’s area and immediately downed three orange juice boxes and caught up with some other LBers. A short while later we went for free beer and chili and then arrived late for the awards ceremony where most of our guys and gals claimed a prize. It had been a good day, for some (myself included) a great day, and would be a good sign for what was still to come.

There are now 3 weeks before Around the Bay (30k) in Hamilton and 9 weeks to the Goodlife Marathon on 05 May. For now, it's time to take it easy, recover, rest and probably run some more. Starting with the 16k tomorrow morning...