Friday, 18 May 2012

#67: Day Tripper

Prologue: One week to go.

It's "... a 173 mile/278.3 km, 17 stage relay race through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world... beginning in Baddeck, Cape Breton, over steep mountains in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, through many small communities around the famous Cabot Trail, to the gently rolling Margaree Valley" and back again...

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the Cabot Trail Relay Race.

Forget road racing, trail ultras, or mega-city marathons; for the running experience of a lifetime, look no further than Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and the infamous Cabot Trail.

Relay events are a truly unique and special thing in a predominently individual sport such as running. And while you don't hold hands, pass batons and aren't tethered together or anything, a running team relay means you are directly responsible and accountable to your team and team mates which can provide additional motivation and inspiration for running at one's best. I love and really thrive on the supportive team atmosphere and environment of the relay. It's the perfect combination of individual effort contributing to collective success (like communism, but better!).

I have been extremely fortunate to take part in a number of team events over the past year such as the Pride 5k (won), Lindsay 10k (won), Yonge St. 10k team challenge (won), and the (now defunct) Simcoe Shores Relay (came second by seconds!). But none of this compares to the experience I had last year when I was especially privileged to run the Cabot Trail Relay for the first time. As far as relays go, Cabot is about the best there is around.

So imagine flying from Canada's ultimate urban landscape of downtown Toronto to the humble outskirts of Halifax, NS. Then drive 4+ hours north crossing the Canso Causeway onto Cape Breton Island and ending in the small village community of Baddeck (pop: ~2,100). After resting from a day of travel in a modest motel, wake early to see your first runner depart at precisely 7am Sat. Thus begins ~25hrs of exhilarating adventure, driving among the most beautiful countryside in all Canada, at all hours of the day, in a cramped car, with several other increasingly smelly, tired yet oddly elated runners, eating little more than Clif bars, bagels and bananas, napping for the occasional 30min, and then, at some point having to race ~10 miles yourself over sensationally scenic and ridiculously 'rolling' (a mass understatement) hills as your team mates and random others yell and scream support at you from passing vehicles and roadside stops. After traversing the 278k over 17 legs using several pairs of legs and lots of lung, having covered the majority of the majestic Cabot Trail (some of it sadly unseen due to darkness), you finish on Sunday morning back in Baddeck to cheering locals and fellow teams. After the briefest break for a quick nap, the celebrations continue with a lobster lunch followed by ample antics and alcohol at the nearby Yacht club. Somehow the endorphins and endurance keep you out most of the night before getting whatever sleep is available before departing early on the 4hr journey back to Halifax the following morning and finally on to Toronto and back to the reality which was ever so briefly evaded. An experience of a lifetime lasting little more than 72hrs!

The 2011 'Cardio Arrest' team shortly after the finish. 1st mixed team (+ course record) and 3rd overall.
Last year I ran with a mostly Longboat team called 'Cardio Arrest.' We brought 16 runners to cover the 17 leg course and set a mixed team course record (18:54:59; 4:06/k) and placed 3rd (out of 60 teams) overall. I ran leg 14, an ~20k leg that stretches along the west coast of the island before heading inland and follows the Margaree River. It began in pure darkness at 3:30am and finishes just as the sun is rising over the dew-covered valley. With limited light to guide me, I recall hearing the ocean waves crash against the shoreline and the gentle breeze whistling among the tall grass. Seeing a thousand stars twinkling above and hearing the combined chorus of many tiny musicians on this so called "cricket run." Running completely alone for the vast majority of the race, the imagination runs wild and for an hour or so, time is transcended, alternating between infinitely fast and painfully slow. It was an incredible (running) experience unlike any I've had.
A picture of me running Leg 14 in 2011.
This year, on the last weekend of May (25-27), we're flying back to Halifax, driving back to Baddeck, and returning back to run the captivating and challenging Cabot Trail Relay. This time, for the first time, we're running with a new team, a team to call our very own: 'The Black Lungs.' Again composed primarily of Longboat runners (9 of 11), and again, seeking speed, strength and endurance as we take on the hills and showcase our skills in the ultimate weekend of relay racing. We have high hopes and expectations to succeed even if it means we don't come close to the reining and 7-time champions the 'Maine-iacs.' We look forward to a fun-filled weekend of competition, camaraderie, challenge, and craziness to be concluded with much celebration and cheer. Bring on Cabot 2012...

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

#66: Words of Love

The post-marathon blues set in...

Now that the marathon is over, I've been forced to face a lot of things that I put off for far too long leading up to Sunday. I am now faced with the immediate prospects of having to move out of my home of three years, start a new (essentially full time) job, finally finish and defend my MSc thesis as well as several other responsibilities/obligations I have taken on for myself (bitten off more than I can chew?). To make matter worse, I am currently physically and mentally drained and have limited motivation to move forward but know that I must. 

And yet all I seem to want to do is relive over and over the seconds, minutes and hours of past glory...

You really can't imagine how completely happy I was on Sunday not only for myself and the incredible result I got but for all my friends and team mates who I got to share it with. It isn't just about personal satisfaction but group satisfaction. Anyone who sets a difficult goal and then works so hard for so long to accomplish it will know precisely what I mean and we runners are unique in our ability to do this. 

It was an amazing day that unfortunately had to end and waking up on Monday, I couldn't help but be a bit saddened by the fact that the long adventure had come to a close, that the journey had concluded and it was now time to move on. The post-marathon blues had already set in.

So many mornings I had woken up knowing I had to run a certain distance or do a specific workout that would all eventually lead to the one day where all the hard work and dedication would be put to one final test. Now that the day is over and the test successfully passed, it's hard to wake up with little to do but sit still, to rest and recover and think about the next journey, the next goal and the long road ahead...

I can however look back and take note of everything I did which led to my success in hope that I can emulate it again in the future as well as to share it with others, with you, who share my passion for personal improvement and satisfaction through the sport of distance running.

So here are just some of the things that undoubtedly let to my success this season and which I hope you can adopt and learn from:

1. A training plan. Rob Campbell put together one hell of a program for us to follow and I was extremely fortunate to be able to follow it almost perfectly. I won't give away our secrets but it involved a huge amount of mileage (more than 10 miles every day for 18 weeks; 2100k total), strategic doubles, pick-ups during long (but not too long) runs, speed and strength specific workouts, tune-up races and even the occasional day off. Needless to say, following the program took a tonne of hard-work, commitment, dedication, organization, sacrifice, persistence, and physical and mental energy/effort.

2. A training group. I would guess that I ran more than a third (66%) of my mileage with a group, predominantly Doyle and Darren, my training partners and best friends. But also with the guys at Longboat (Rob C, Roger, Davey, Bellamy, the Belg, Metz, Gerardo, Hiddleston, Simion, Simon and several others). This was essential for nailing tough workouts and for the long runs but also immensely helpful for knocking off the easy and recovery runs especially on double days. I'm not sure I would ever train as hard as I do without these guys pushing me constantly and as a source of inspiration and motivation. The group/club environment is vital for being a better runner and it certainly made the difference this time. Thank you Longboat.

This photo is so cool that I had to add it. From left: Rob Campbell (2:47 at age 52!), Jutta Merilainen (2:47, women's winner) and Anthony Davey (2:45 at 49). Simply amazing.
3. Tune-up races. As mentioned, I ran 5 races (RB, Chilly Half, ATB, Good Friday and Yonge St) during the training period and was allowed to run them "all out" in order to test my fitness and see my progress/improvements as well as test eventual race strategy and fuelling. I managed to PB each and every race which indicated that it was going to be a good season and the results were used to calculate what I might expect come marathon day. Racing is also just great fun especially with the group/club and is always something I look forward too. It's a skill that like everything else, needs to be practised and fine-tuned.

4. Diet. I'm not particular crazy about my diet but I do eat pretty healthy and make sure I am eating well and staying properly fuelled (and hydrated) for running. I had an iron deficiency that likely effected my running last year and I stayed on top of this time by getting my levels tested and taking supplements when needed. I reintroduced lean red meat sources and found foods that increased the supply and absorption of iron and it made a massive difference. I drink a lot of beer which I feel is an important part of the socialization process and so I wouldn't dare cut back on that. Note: I try to avoid all hard alcohol and especially shots! I also cut out candy which I used to eat leisurely and think this may have had a small (positive) impact. Lots of carbs for sure, especially breads, naan, chilli and crunchy PB is a staple for me!

5. Weight. I don't obsess about it (I used too!) and not owning a scale means I only sporadically check it, but keeping one's weight in check is surely important for running success. Being evenly mildly overweight and racing do not go well together and anyone training seriously for a marathon should be running enough mileage that weight should not be an issue (and if it is, you're eating too much!). My ideal race weight is about 61kg (134lbs) and my body seems to be happy to stay around 63kg (139lbs) all other times. I feel sluggish greater than 64 (141lbs).

6. Sleep. Yup, it matters too. Being well rested for a key workout or long run is pretty important and can make a huge difference. This makes for some pretty lame Saturday nights! With all that mileage, there are often days when I am asleep before 10pm. I do what my body tells me. I definitely made sure I got tonnes of sleep in the last week before the marathon and was well rested on race day.

7. The Taper. Getting ready to peak for the marathon after many weeks and months of hard training just makes sense. And that means tapering. We did 3 weeks and although the mileage was fairly high (134, 112, 92 (including the marathon)), it was mostly just easy running with a few strategic workouts and a tune-up race. I also carbo loaded like crazy and ate tonnes of carbs on Thurs, Fri and especially the Saturday (700+g) before race day.

8. Race day strategy. It's vital to have a race day plan going into the marathon which is less than a race and more a test of good pacing. I/we decided in advance to hit 3:45/k's for as long as possible (at least until the half and hopefully all the way to 30k) but also would take advantage of the course and attack the downhills (which were numerous at Goodlife). We did more than a few k's in the high 3:30's/k range and even one in 3:29! We ended up going through the half in ~1:18 which was a full minute faster than we planned. I had kept things relaxed and comfortable to that point, and so I was able to attack or at least maintain my momentum heading into the second half and especially the last 10k of the race. I managed to hold on to do a 1:19 in the second half which is pretty darn close to an even split, which is generally a good pacing strategy although many prefer to go out slightly faster to accommodate a gradual slowing down in the last bit of the race. In terms of fuelling, I took one gel (~25g of carbs each) 15min before and then 4 during the race (~ every 8k) and drank only water at aid stations.
Breaking away from my crew shortly after the halfway mark. Everyone is flying!
9. Drugs. Haha Just kidding. I'm sure they would help but I didn't take any. I'm trying to get to 10! 

10. And finally: Random things like having ambitious (yet realistic) goals to constantly work towards. Goals should be both long and short term and be celebrated at every step of the way whilst always keeping an eye on the final prize. Having support is crucial. It might come from family who know next to nothing about running and think you're crazy for doing it; from friends who make fun of you all the time (left foot, right foot, repeat!); from the Longboat running club and it's amazing members; from the running community at large; and especially from close running friends (family!) who help guide your goals and then reach them). It's also pretty important to have a Garmin (GPS watch) as a means of objectively measuring and documenting ones training and a log (or dailymile) to keep track of it all. Good shoes are critical (for me that was two pairs of Adidas Boston 2 and later Adidas Adios 2 for racing and speed workouts) as is good running apparel (Adidas and New Balance are my personal favourites). Avoidance of injury and major illness. And finally, a little bit of faith (in oneself)!

As for now, the rest and recovery will continue all week although I'm already going crazy not running and will test out the legs a few times in the next days; all easy. 

With less than 3 weeks to the Cabot Trail Relay (that other amazing adventure on which we'll embark and which I'll preview in due time), it's important we rest up and be ready to go again shortly. Our fitness is still through the roof right now and so it's important we ride the wave and maintain our momentum without over doing it and causing any undue damage. More good times ahead...more fast times ahead.

Monday, 7 May 2012

#65: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

It's a Good Life (if you don't weaken)!


Not sure what else I should say?! I did better than I could ever have imagined. Going in, I had 3 goals: sub 2:42 would be acceptable, sub 2:40 would be wonderful and sub 2:38 would be incredible. I had the faintest glimmer of hope that I might be able to do 2:37:59 if everything went to plan and here I am with a 2:36 (with but a second to spare). I truly am thrilled beyond belief. It was an incredible day and I can't put into words what it means to me to have done it after all the time and hard work during so many months of training. I even got emotional and teared up for a few seconds as I waited physically drained yet emotionally elated at the finish for my fellow club runners to come in, almost all of them with their own amazing PBs. I owe a few special thanks and much credit for helping me become the runner I am today and strive to be tomorrow. To Doyle and Darren: I'm so grateful to have you pushing me all the time, to share so much training together and for making sure I'm always at my best. This wouldn't have been possible without you two. To Rob Campbell, who put all the pieces together and deserves a tonne of credit as well. Finally, to all the guys in the club I run with and who make the training so enjoyable week in and week out: Roger, Davey, Hiddleston, Gerardo, Metzger, Michiel, Bellamy, Simion, Simon, Dave, Chris... you guys are the best! Thanks so much.

In terms of the race itself, the first half went more, actually LESS, to plan as Rob Watson (yup, we had 2:13 Canadian marathoner Rob Watson to pace us (well Darren)! He even wrote a blog about it) did an amazing job of getting us (Doyle, Darren and myself) to the half (21.1k) a full minute faster (~1:18) than we had planned. It had seemed almost effortless and consistently comfortable and so it was at that point that I began to drift ever so slightly ahead of the group and carried my momentum as I surged forward anxiously alone. Those lonely middle k's (21-26) seemed to go by in a flash as I aimlessly floated through the centre of down town Toronto and made my way West. As I approached the lake, I grew frustrated and annoyed with the lack of marshalling as I made my way into Coronation Park and onto Remembrance Dr and finally to the Martin Goodman trail. I continued West along the lake on what was a gorgeous sunny morning all the way to 30k where I surprised myself with a 1:51 PB. I then began to really concentrate and dig deep as I knew the real race was only now set to begin and then after making the turnaround at 35k, I managed to hold on to finish fairly strong with 9 out of my last 10 km's in the 3:40's. I felt increasingly like death in that last 5k which is perfectly normal but I knew my training generally and fuelling strategy specifically had treated me well as I cruised to the finish. There would be no bonking on this day. One gel before and four during the race were just enough to stave off complete glycogen depletion (not to mention the massive 700+g of carbs I ate the day before). Never underestimate the power of the carbo-load! When I got to the 40k mark, I glanced at my watch a final time and saw I was well under 2:30 and began to believe that everything would be okay. Some strategic fans along the final stretch (Anne Byrne, Lauren, Christine, Bert, two cute girls) provided invaluable encouragement and enabled me to carry on without looking too worse for wear and I made the final turn and saw the finish just metres ahead. I surged to the line looking up at the clock as it turned to 2:37 and couldn't help but be overcome with immense pride and satisfaction at a job well done. Ended up splitting 1:18 at the half which meant a 1:19 second half and even a final 10.2k in 39min (full split details here).

Although the course was fast and scenic, the weather was near perfect and my result was amazing, I still have to say that the organization of this race was less than ideal. The marshalling and course layout was terrible after leaving Fort York Blvd (~26k) and entering into Coronation Park and I was never quite sure if I was in a race or just out for a speedy stroll with several other dozen cyclists, joggers, walkers, and dogs (the price you pay when you run at/near the front I suppose). A guy ahead of me unknowingly took a shortcut and Doyle was led a couple hundred metres off course while I was all alone for several stretches where I could have easily gone astray. This is totally unacceptable for a big city race. It's very unlikely that I will run this race again in the future and Toronto should really (re)consider whether it truly needs two marathons and perhaps stick to one.

But enough complaining...The rest of the day was awesome as well and will go down as one of the best. It was great to catch up with all fellow LBers in the finishers area and see the camaraderie of the team at work. Everyone ran inspiring races and got rewarded with many impressive results. After relishing in the post race excitement, many of us made our way back to Darren's a short but slow distance away where we spent a fun-filled afternoon reliving the days excitement and celebrating our individual and collective accomplishments. We were treated with the guest appearence of Mr Watson, a world class distance runner and all-round wicked human being. Plenty of beer, munchables and great company was had until our strained physiology and psychology could take no more and we retired for the evening. It was a day I will never forget and one I will forever strive to emulate.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

#64: Tomorrow Never Knows

"What I mean is that someone sees a race, and they think that's what you do. They sort of know you had to train, but they weren't watching then, so they don't understand how incredibly much of it there is. But to us, it's almost the whole thing. Racing is just this little tiny ritual we go through after everything else has been done. It's a hood ornament." - Again to Carthage; John L. Parker Jr.

As I sit here trying to figure how to get 600+g of carbs into me in the next 12 hours, I began to think about how important both today and especially tomorrow will be in relation to the 18 weeks of training now complete. How so few individual days seem to play such a vital role in the success of but one event lasting only a tiny fraction of the time that went to prepare for it. Training is what we do, it's the essential process lasting weeks, months and perhaps years. The race/the result is what we see, it's how we're judged and evaluated. Validated. It's the consequence, the outcome, the performance that is valued. As so the process, the preparation, the training is all but forgotten. One day out of hundreds determines the quality of our efforts. This almost seems unfair, unjust. Some will look forward to the end of the race, imagining the number on the clock, a job well done, a medal, a prize, a placing. I look forward to every second of the race: the experience, the act, the effort and energy. The emotion, the concentration, the pain and exhilaration.

18 weeks. 126 days. 13 days off. 113 days on. 10 x 20+ milers. 80 x 10+ milers. 2134km total. 17km/day. 5 tune-up races. 5 PBs. 4 pairs of shoes. Early mornings. Early nights. Hills. Intervals. Pick-ups. Tempo. Strides. Blisters. Bandages. Bleeding. And way too many beers.

And it all comes down to tomorrow. One run. One race. 42.2km. 26.2 miles. The Toronto Goodlife Marathon. 160min? Or less!

In many ways, tomorrow represents the culmination of a dream. A dream that began the minute I crossed the line at Scotiabank (16 October 2011) and saw that time on the clock: 2:49:55. Pretty damn good for my first result at the distance and one I will always remember. But it was barely over and I was already thinking about the next one. Thinking about how much better I could be; how much faster I could go; what that would take; and how good it would feel once again.

So I set my sights higher and started again...

I rested, I recovered and I got ready to do it all again. And I did. And now the days, weeks and months long past all fade together and become but details and digits. But in those individuals runs, races and workouts; the recoveries, the easy days and the days off; the pre and post-run chatter, the socializing and the strategizing; the pre-race planning, race revisions and post-race dissections... that is where the true meaning of it all emerges. That is where the passion ignites, the flame is fuelled and the love of it all burns brightest. This is where it ceases to be about me as an individual but becomes about us as a collective. It becomes about you, my closest friends, my mentors and my family. None of this would matter if it weren't for those with whom I share this incredible journey. To my most amazing friends: None of this means anything without. And no matter what happens tomorrow, I'll be glad for the time we spent in getting there and the process by which we prepared. Thanks a million.