Tuesday, 31 December 2013

#114 A Day in the Life

I've now officially exhausted all the Beatles song titles to use for my blog posts so will need to find something new and original for 2014. As for now, I conclude 2013 with this fitting post, looking back at a successful year of running... mostly in circles, squares or simply out-and-back again.

2013 Year End Review

Although we runners are often focused on the future and already looking forward to achieving the next goal or outcome, it's also important to reflect back on our past accomplishments and take pride in the hard work and commitment that went into making them happen. So just as I did a year ago, I'd like to look back at the year that was (2013) and highlight some of my running and racing accomplishments. 

Here are some training numbers to get things started. In 2013, I ran a grand total of 6428K. I ran 335 days of the year and took only 30 days off! I ran 12 races and set PBs in 9 of them! I also ran two incredibly fun relays with the Black Lungs where our team placed 1st and 2nd, at the Ragnar Relay Niagara Falls and Cabot Trail Relay Race, respectively. But over all those K's run and raced, some of them were certainly more memorable and significant than others. So here are my top 10 of 2013:

10. Febrrruary run streak; Fri 01 - Th 28 February28 consecutive days, 37 individual runs, and 640 total kilometers. Also a second place finish at the Peterborough Half. Take that Canadian Winter!

9. Milton Half; Sun 15 September. 1:12:58 (3:27/K). First overall & a 30+ second PB. Best of all, twelve Black Lungs finished in the top 12 overall and we continued to exert our dominance on the local running/racing scene.

Which way to Chicago guys? The BLT crew celebrate our domination of the Milton Half.
8. Training; Wed 28 August. During this weekly workout, we were given the seemingly impossible task of running 3-2-1 miles (4.8-3.2-1.6K) at 8K pace with 1K easy in between. On a hot and humid day along Toronto's Lakeshore/MGT, I managed to run the 5K interval (because who cares about 4.8?!) in 16:25! and then followed it up with 3K in 10:05 and 1M in 5:15 (http://www.dailymile.com/people/Dansway07/entries/24780043). We often overlook the hard work that goes into making race day successes happen. This workout, and the fact that I nearly nailed it despite dreading it for days, is one I'll remember for some time!

7. Boilermaker 15K; Utica, NY; Sun 13 July. 52:04 (3:28/K) & 1st Canadian. It was a hot and humid day on a far from flat course but I made the most of it and had a great time at this truly incredible and well-supported (world-class) event. The weekend of camping with the guys, plenty of boozing, and even the travel to and from, made this experience amazing from start to finish. Being a part of a team and the camaraderie we share is a not so secret and certainly significant aspect of my individual success as a runner.
The BLT crew enjoying some post-race refreshments following the Boilermaker 15K in Utica, NY in mid-July.
6. Pride and Remembrance Run (5K); Sat 20 June. 15:53 (3:11/K) & 3rd overall. My first and only (so far) sub 16 and a slight PB to boot. Black Lungs Toronto easily won the team challenge and everyone later enjoyed an ideal summer day spent drinking beers on Rob Campbell's rooftop patio.

5. Summer run streak; Wed 29 May to Tues 01 Oct. For 126 straight days, I ran each and every day (often more than once) and covered a total of 2,610K (20.7K/day) as part of training for the Chicago Marathon. During the streak, I set PBs at the Longest Day Ekiden Relay (10K), the Pride 5K, Boliermaker 15K, Rock the Road 10K, Sunset Shuffle 6K and Milton Half.

Standing on the line of the Rock the Road 10K in London, ON in mid-August.
4. Around the Bay 30K; Sun 24 March. 1:45:43 (3:31/K). To date, this stands as my best individual race result with a VDOT score of 65+. This event has become my all-time favorite running race that I look forward to racing each year. The historic event and challenging course is something special and we were lucky to have optimal weather in 2013. And if it "ruined my Boston" in the process... Oh well, there's always next year!

3. Chicago Marathon; Sun 13 October. 2:34:13 (3:39/K). Still shy of the elusive 2:32 I felt I had worked so hard for, but a 2+ minute PB and an all-round amazing experience in one of the world's coolest cities and best organized events. Moreover, I got to spend time with many of my Black Lungs Toronto teammates and my lovely girlfriend, many of whom set impressive personal bests of their own. Overall, a near perfect way to end the Fall racing season.

2. Cabot Trail Relay Race; Cape Breton, NS; 25/26 May. The Black Lungs improve on our inaugural year and again cemented a second place finish 'just' 32min behind the "invincible" Maine-iacs. In addition to being an extremely well-organized and implemented running event, the whole weekend is the highlight of my calender year and is spent in a most beautiful place (the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton Island) with an incredible cast of friends, teammates and fellow runners.
A not so original team photo shortly after the finish of Leg 17 and the 2013 Cabot Trail Relay.
1. Boston Marathon; Mon 15 April. 2:37:43 (3:44/K). Far from the result I was hoping for (2:32) but the most humbling and important running/racing/setting unrealistic goals and failing experience of my life. I went into my first Boston feeling super fit and ready to tackle the net downhill course having enjoyed a nearly flawless build-up in training. As it turned out (and despite the persistent warnings of my coach and other far more experienced Boston finishers), I was overly arrogant and not prepared for the challenging and relentless course. I was on goal pace all the way to the top of Heartbreak Hill but knew well before, that things were about to get bad. My quads had been thoroughly trashed over the first half of the race and around mile 22 and with still ~7K to go, for the first time ever in a race, I actually came to a complete stop and attempted to walk off the course. Thankfully, the encouragement of a single and supportive spectator and a few fellow competitors kept me moving toward the finish. I hated every minute of those last miles and wished more than anything that the cheering and supportive crowds were not there to see me suffer in my moment of self-loathing. With about 5 more minutes than I had hoped for, I crossed the line and immediately teared up, feeling sorry for myself and angry at the world (writing this I feel completely ashamed). However, only a few hours later, after I had reunited with my friends, teammates, and Melinda, and as we prepared to celebrate the day, we would learn of the tragic and senseless bombings that would rock the running (and non-running) world and bring us closer together more than we'd ever been. 

And on that note, I end my list of 2013's most memorable moments.

2014 is set to be a special year. I'm gearing up for a return to Boston which needless to say, will be an emotional event where I and 36,000 others aim to reclaim the celebration and excitement that was stolen from us last year. If all goes well with life and training, I also plan to take a hard, honest crack at breaking 2:30 in the Fall (likely at home at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon). And of course, I look forward to another year spent training with my Black Lungs brethren as together we continue to push each other to personal and team success. 

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who has been an important part of my continued, and occasionally challenging, journey to be the best runner I can be. I couldn't do it without your support and am forever grateful. 

Cheers and happy, healthy running to all in 2014.

Which way to 2014? That way... I think.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

#113 Why Don't We Do It in the Road

STREAKING that is!

More specifically, run streaking!

(I'm running out of Beatles songs to use as blog titles)

A recent Runner's World poll asked readers what their main motivation was for getting out and running in these wet, windy (and pretty much miserable) winter conditions. Far and away, the number one choice of respondents was "avoiding a big fat zero" in their training logs (i.e. running zero miles on any given day). This timely poll was conveniently taken at the same time that many of the magazine's readers are taking part in the #RWRunStreak (with the aim of running at least one mile every day from (American) Thanksgiving until Christmas) so perhaps the results are a bit biased. Nonetheless, there are clearly many people who are motivated to run each day, simply because that's exactly what they did the day before, and what they plan to do the next day. They simply love to streak!

I too have been no stranger to streaking this year. For no reason other than to gain a motivational edge (okay, also due to my extreme stubbornness), I have embarked on 3 specific (although often unintentional to start) running streaks in 2013. 

The first was in February (and fittingly called the FeBrrruary Run Streak) in which I ran each and every day that month (which conveniently only has 28 days...but often very COLD days). Moreover, almost all of those runs (sometimes more than one per day) occurred outside (one was on a treadmill and three on an indoor track), and ultimately totaled 640K for the month (which at the time, was my one-month mileage PB). As it happens, the streak wouldn't last much longer. It totaled 34 days, including the last 5 days of January, but only the first day of March, after which I had to take two days off due to injury.

The next one was purely accidental in the sense that when I went for a run on Wed 29 May, after taking two consecutive days off (and 2 days was a big deal) to recover from the Cabot Trail Relay, I could never have imagined that I would go on to run the next 125 days through the entire summer season, and which would feature more than its fair share of hot and humid days. In that time, 126 total days, I ended up covering an incredible 2,610K (an average of almost 21K per day) and which would go far in helping me to achieve a new PB at the Chicago Marathon.

Finally, and most recently, after being pretty banged up after Chicago, and barely able to go 3 straight days of running, I decided (this time consciously) to run every day in November (and when I had done that, December), a time when most runners hang up their shoes, cut back the kilometers, and get some much deserved rest and relaxation (as well as pack on a few pounds). Nope, not me. After tonight's 15K easy run (still to come, knock on wood), I'll have hit 50 straight days since the streak started (on Wed 30 October)! And with no reasons or excuses as to why it should stop (aside from it being cold, dark, snowy, slippery, the Holidays, etc), I may just keep running well into the New Year too!

I'll conclude by stating that streaking is not for everyone. Honestly, it's totally arbitrary and kinda absurd. The risks of injury and illness (not to mention relationship issues) are no greater than when pushing the limits of the body (and mind) in some stubborn attempt to avoid a zero in your training log. That said, streaking can be a powerful motivational tool to keep you active every day, and often, you'll find that if you run 1 mile (the minimum distance most consider to be a run and thus count towards the streak), you can keep it up and easily do 2, 3 (5K) or even 5 (8K) to 10 (16K)! But streaking doesn't have to take place over a set number of days, weeks, months or seasons. Again, it's arbitrary and should really only matter to you! The important thing is to be active in any way you can (and hopefully that you enjoy).

Happy streaking!

Monday, 25 November 2013

#112 You Know What to Do

I had some 'extra' time this weekend so decided to study the training program that I and my fellow Lungs will be using for the upcoming Spring/Black/Boston cycle.

Rob Campbell, our De Facto/unofficial coach, has been instrumental in putting this thing (a combination of art and science) together and has been the foundation of success for the Black Lungs.

I know it's very early and a lot can, and likely will, change between now and April 21st (the 118th Boston Marathon). But here is a snapshot of what I/we have in store. Simple on paper. Not so in practice.

BLT Spring Cycle 2014

- Mon 11 Nov to Mon 21 Apr
- 162 days; 23 weeks (+1 day)
- 2,940K total mileage (126K/week)
- 9 scheduled rest days (off)
- 28 double days (running twice per day)
- 11 long runs of 32+K
- 14 speed sessions
- 8 hill sessions
- 5 races: Boxing Day, Robbie Burns, Peterborough Half, Around The Bay, Boston

I've said previously that I won't be taking this cycle as "seriously" as I have others in the past. I still stand by that statement. Unlike in the past, I won't sweat missing a day (or 10) of training, especially if the winter is as bad (or worse) than last year*. 

My outlook and my approach to running/training is to continue to improve and run faster times (the main reason I run), but the 'law of diminishing returns' in lieu of more and more training, is starting to get to me, as are the many, and multiplying other responsibilities of life.

One day I will run a sub 2:30 marathon. It didn't happen this year. It might not happen next. But one day I'm certain it will. And until then, every day, every run, every kilometer is simply one small step in that direction.

*Early indications suggest we're in store for a long and cold winter. After writing this post on Saturday (23rd Nov), I embarked for an easy 12K run and cut it short after only 3K when I wiped out on slick city streets covered in ice. Fun times lie ahead...

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

#111 Yesterday

Well... the good news is I ran a 2min PB and finished in 2:34:13 (3:39/k). The bad news is I (once again) missed my goal of running 2:32. Oh well. There's always next time.

2:34 is still pretty damn good though. It placed me 104 overall in a field of 38,871 finishers! That means I was ahead of 38,768 people! I was also 94th for my gender and 40th in my age group. So, without saying much more, I'll conclude by saying that I'm entirely pleased with the outcome and absolutely thrilled with the experience (these World Major Marathons are simply incredible. I can't wait to do them all).

But as much as I'm happy with my time, I'm not exactly proud of my pacing 'strategy' (or lack thereof) in which I went out and ran a tad bit too fast in the first half (1:15:21; 3:34/k) and then faded considerably in the second half (1:18:52; 3:44/k) running a 3:30 positive split. But that there's the marathon and I guess it could have been much much worse! One of these days, I will learn my lesson and go out and run a smart race that includes a negative split. Until then, my plan is to keep getting a bit faster at the shorter stuff so that my future marathon splits are still respectively fast and enable me to continue running PBs.

So what's next? Well lots of rest and recovery! A marathon really takes the wind out of your sails. I went for an easy 8k this afternoon and although I was really glad to be out there running, my body was less excited and I felt like I was 80 years old (no offence to Ed Whitlock or anything). I'll continue to take it easy for several weeks, running only when and how far I desire. I'll also eat lots of junk food and get really fat (okay, maybe not really fat, but bigger than the scrawny 60kg I am now)!

And as far a future training goes... Given how much I've trained not only this (Chicago) cycle (3000+ kms in 23 weeks), but over the past 3 cycles (Boston, NYC Hamilton, Toronto Goodlife) dating back to Dec 2011; I'm deciding to take a "break" from hard training and try to have some fun running lower mileage and putting less pressure on myself. I'm already signed up for Boston 2014, but I'm currently telling myself that it will not be a goal race but rather a celebration and more of a 'fun run'. Instead, I really want to race ATB as my goal which will allow me to focus less on overall mileage (quantity) and more on speed (quality). It's quite likely I'll change my mind 10 times on this in the next 10 days, but that's what I'm saying right now. And who knows, maybe that quality will translate to a great time in Boston. It's way too soon to tell...

To conclude, I'd like to thank everyone who has and continues to support me in my desire to be a better (but entirely amateur) runner (and consequently a better person... I hope). To my training crew and club, "the Black Lungs" (who also killed it in Chicago!), thanks for pushing and pulling me to faster times. To my friends and family, thanks for tolerating me and my ridiculous running lifestyle. To my 'fans' and supporters, thanks for following my progress and reading my rants. To my dog Charlie, you're a dog and you'll love me no matter what I do or do not do! And finally, to my lovely lady friend Melinda, thanks for being there during both the good and the bad times... and hopefully forever! I wouldn't even want to do this without you. Thank you all so much.

Monday, 7 October 2013

#110 Do You Want to Know a Secret

“What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles, Miles of Trials. How could they be expected to understand that?” - John L. Parker Jr., 'Once a Runner'
We runners love numbers. How far, how fast, how much, how little. Numbers define us; they distinguish us.
The most important number to me will be the one that the clock reads this Sunday when I cross the finish line in Chicago.
Until then, these are the numbers that show what I have done to prepare.
The BLT Fall/'White'/Chicago cycle: 23 weeks; 161 days; 06 May - 13 Oct
Tune-up races and relays: 7 including PBs at 5 (15:55), 6 (19:30), 10 (33:25), 15 (52:05) and 21.1K (1:13:00)
Double days: 18
Long runs of 30+K: 10
Runs of 20+K: 47
Workouts (hills, intervals or tempo): 22
Days off: 4
Total mileage: 3000+K; ~135K/week; ~19K/day
*Note: These numbers are accurate as of today (07 Oct) and do not include the 6 remaining days of the cycle which will account for a further ~75K as well as 2 additional days off... and if all goes well, a new Personal Best at 42.2K

Monday, 23 September 2013

#109 September in the Rain

"His daily toil was arduous; satisfying on the whole, but not the bounding, joyous nature romp described in the magazines. Other runners, real runners, understood it quite well."
- John L. Parker, Jr. 'Once a Runner'

Following the successful completion of yesterday's tough 34k long run in the East-end with many of the BLT crew, there are now only 3 weeks left to the Chicago Marathon on 13 October.

Needless to say, the past weeks have been busy. According to Garmin Connect, following the run yesterday, I ran 737k in the last 30 days and my (now complete) but still continuing Summer Run Streak stands at 118 days (as of this morning)! My weekly mileage for the past 5 weeks has been 169, 127 (a 'down' week for the Milton Half), 210!!!, 174 and 166 (kilometres).

Most of those miles have either been easy or at aerobic pace and are nothing special or worth mentioning (the quote above perfectly captures my sentiment on the subject). The workouts and long runs have been reasonably hard but also entirely manageable and don't leave us too bagged or broken down for the next days effort. In fact, many of us have come to eagerly anticipate the long intervals and mid run pick-ups and often tend to go a bit harder than we should which is a huge psychological boost. In short, the Fall program has put us through our paces and yet we've survived, thrived, and can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As part of the build-up, a large BLT contingent travelled to Milton for a tune-up Half-marathon on the 15th. Our 12 runners finished the race in places 1 through 12 including 1st overall (myself), 1st master (Davey) and first female (new 'Lady Lung' Lyndsay). About half the crew also set impressive PBs. I personally ran a 30sec PB and finished in an official time of 1:12:58, which involved a slight negative split. I was thrilled.

With only 3 weeks left until the marathon, the mileage will start to come down and technically, it's taper time. There is still some work to be done including some mile repeats on the track, a final 33k long run, and a tempo run at marathon pace but is again, nothing we can't handle at this point. I've got to say that I've been extremely fortunate to avoid almost any kind of injury during this cycle and in fact have felt pretty damn good through-out the build. I've posted impressive times in my tune-up races and in workouts which has me feeling very confident and indeed excited about what I can do in Chicago in 3 weeks time. So just as I did before Boston, I will again state my goal of running a 2:32 (and yes, 2:32:59 would count). The flat course means I can go for an equal or slight negative split which means my plan will be to hit the half (21.1k) mark between 1:16:00 and 1:16:30, and hope to hold on for dear life when times get tough. I've improved my in-race nutrition strategy which I hope in conjunction with a successful carbo-load as well as ideal/optimal race day conditions will pay off on the 13th.

And if it doesn't... there's always this:

"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 the little tiny ritual we go through after everything else has been done. It's a hood ornament."
- John L. Parker Jr. 'Again to Carthage'

Saturday, 31 August 2013

#108 You Like Me Too Much

August has now come and gone which means it is now the (unofficial) end of summer. The same cannot be said for my Summer Run Streak which is still going strong at 95 days. I'm now almost afraid I won't be able to end this stupid streak and yet I promised myself that once I hit 100, I'd opt to take the next available break, which is likely to be the day before the Milton Half, coming up on Sunday 15 September. Obviously, I also plan to take a few days off during the taper for Chicago which is now only 6 weeks away!!!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves and instead look back on the month that has been.

Like those that proceeded it, the month of August has seemed to have flown by in a mostly hot and humid haze. Although there was some much appreciated cooler weather for some of the first half of the month, the second half has been brutal and I feel like the past 2 weeks have been at least 30 degrees (with the humidity that is) each and every day. That has made for some harder than I'd hoped for running and racing.

I'm pretty proud of this month, mostly for the following reasons. During the 31 days of August I ran a total of 40 times (i.e. doubles on 9 days) and set a new one-month mileage personal best by covering 701kms (my previous best was 645km earlier this year in March). I also ran 2 races and set 2 new PBs. First was the "Rock the Road 10k" in London, ON on Sunday the 18th where I ran almost entirely on my own from start to finish and set a slight (15sec) PB of 33:25 (3:20/k) which placed me 9th overall (and 6th in my age group Haha). Then, only 4 days later on Thursday the 22nd, I travelled to the Toronto Islands to take part in the 'Sunset Shuffle 6k' and having never run that race distance before, set a default PB of 19:29 (3:15/k), which also happened to be just good enough to secure me the top spot overall. Hooray for winning!

Mini race report(s): I'll admit that I wasn't a huge fan of the London race. The 9:30 start was way too hot but was apparently set so as to minimize the time between the finish and when the beer garden is allowed to open (misplaced priorities perhaps?). There was also (essentially) no water on the course (Okay, there were 3 aid stations but the water was being served in useless shot-sized cups). The course itself, despite being sold as an IAAF sanctioned distance that is "flat and fast" actually featured what seemed to be endless gradually rolling hills which followed a near suicidal downhill first km (like we runners don't already go out fast enough!). My final complaint was that registration for the whole thing cost $60+ which I feel is absurd for a 10k race (but seems to be the going standard for road races these days). There was however some good prize money for top finishers (Congrats to Toronto's Rachel Hannah for winning the women's race) as well as free beer and pizza. But that wasn't enough for this race to be added to my (quickly growing) 'Do Not Race' (DNR) list. But enough about what I didn't like...

What I did like and was massively impressed by is the work of Steve Metzger and the Longboat Roadrunners, for their efforts in putting on the Sunset Shuffle 6k. Although I've helped with the organization of this race in past years, this was the first time running it. And what more could you ask for? The course is flat, the race is cheap, and there is cold beer at the finish. What could be better?! Oh ya, Daphne's cookies! Thanks so much to everyone who makes this fabulous 'no frills' race happen. I now understand why it truly is "Toronto's best kept secret."

And so there you have it; the month of August in a nutshell. 2 races which account for 16k and another 685k for training. Ha, no wonder sometimes I wonder why I/we do it?

On that note, the only other thing I wanted to share, and this will seem elitist and self-celebratory (you knew it was coming), is that training to be the best you can be is really friggen hard!

Earlier this week, I met some of the BLT guys to run what seemed an impossible workout (Spoiler: It was!). It was 3 intervals: 3 then 2 than 1 mile (4.8-3.2-1.6k) and was meant to be run at 8k pace (Note: that's 9.6k at 8k pace) with 1k easy running in between (ultimately I altered it to be 5k-3k-1.6k... because who the hell cares about a 4.8 or 3.2k time?!). It also happened to be fairly hot and really humid along the MGT at 630pm when we started so there was every reason to give up before we even began...

But in the end, we warmed up, did the strides, suffered through some intervals, and one way or another the workout got done (I mean I assume that it did. I did it pretty much alone but figure the other guys did it too).

And the result wasn't too bad either: I hit pace in the first interval running 5k in 16:25 (3:17/k). That in itself was pretty impressive to me (I've only twice ever run faster than that in a race) and so I seriously thought about quitting after the first one thinking there was no way I could possibly run another. But I did! And although it was a bit slower (3k in 10:05; 3:21/k), I still got it done. I even managed to more or less hit the target pace for the final mile (in 5:15; 3:16/k). It was exhilaratingly and totally exhausting at the same time.

So what's the point of this story (aside from maybe bragging a bit)? Well, I'm not entirely sure. Other than to say that the feelings of pride, accomplishment and self-satisfaction that I experienced when I finished that run were hugely motivational and seemed to justify all the time and effort I dedicate to this seemingly insignificant pursuit of self-improvement. And that feeling in and of itself, of having done something really difficult and demanding and yet entirely for yourself and your own personal satisfaction and enjoyment... well that's pretty much all that matters at the end of the day. And that's why I'm going to continue to do it no matter what I may be sacrificing and what others say is foolish. And maybe, just maybe, this is why I love running (ie training and competing) so damn much. Because I can make myself feel amazing simply by pushing myself to constantly be better even when it sucks and I so badly want to quit or give up!

Okay. I'm done (at least for now). I hope you all had a good August and a great summer. Personally I love the Fall so am more than happy to see the start of September. Hopefully it brings some more running friendly weather with it. I wish you all well with your respective endeavours; running, training or otherwise. Happy and healthy running!

PS: Someone told me the other day that I use a lot of brackets when I write (like this for example). Now I see that I do!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

#107 Ask Me Why

Having achieved a relative degree of success in distance running (remember, elitist NOT elite), I'd like to think of myself as a bit of an 'expert' as well as a role model to other runners out there who wish to be the best they can be. I run for myself and my own success, for those who support me and help me succeed, but also for the growth and success of the sport of running. And yes, I am very sure it is still a sport.

Through running, I hope to show that becoming better is possible as long as one is willing to do what it takes to succeed. This is not an easy or enviable task. In distance running, achieving success takes a whole lot of discipline, dedication, commitment, consistency and perseverance. It also requires personal and social sacrifices, self-restraint, occasional pain and discomfort, and the experience and wisdom to learn and re-learn what works for you.

I'd like to share but a few of the important lessons/'rules' I've learned from my own experience running, in hopes that it can help make you a better runner too. In no particular order, three random 'rules' of running...

#1. Nothing tastes as good as skinny FAST feels!

I am 171cm (5'7'') and currently weigh about 59kg (130lbs) making my body mass index (BMI) a very lean yet entirely "normal" 20.2. Normal is considered any value between 19 and 25. Body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by your height (in metres) squared; BMI=kg/(m*m)). It is certainly not a perfect measure of individual health or fitness but is a useful measure of population health as well as for getting my point across.

And my point is that if you want to be a better runner (which to me means running faster and further), you have to have a low BMI and body weight. Full stop. When it comes to distance running (success), weight DOES matter and as a rule, the lower (and leaner) the better!

Yes I am skinny. But that is also why I'm as fast as I am today. Know that I did not get this way by obsessively counting every calorie, following a strict diet or refusing to eat certain foods (although I have done all of that in my past before I found running and can attest that it's not a good habit to form). Rather, I simply run and train A LOT. And while I do pay attention to the types and quantities of food I ingest, my weight and my appetite pretty much seems to take care of itself. I eat what, when and how much my body desires and it usually works out pretty well.

Of course diet and proper nutrition are a huge part of running success (which is why I feel the need to include it as one of my rules) and absolutely needs to be carefully considered in order to be successful. But I feel that constantly obsessing about it and dictating what food is "right versus wrong" is mostly a waste of time. To each their own as long as it works for you. However, a little bit of self-restraint and the use of will-power is necessary from time to time and running long distances in not an excuse to eat everything and all in sight (despite what was written in 'Once a Runner': "If the furnace was hot enough, anything would burn..." Frankly, you nor I run nearly enough to get the furnace that hot).

Diet should be considered synonymous with fuelling for your runs and workouts. And as with filling your car, some fuel is obviously better than others. Eating higher quality food means feeling better before, while and after running. You don't have to do this all of the time, but the 90% rule (eat well at least 90% of the time) is one I generally feel works and will go far to maintain your sanity, as well as your desired shape and weight.

I also feel strongly that using running (or any form of exercise) as a means to control and modify body shape is inherently dangerous. Although it was certainly one of the original reasons why I started to run; it has long ceased to be a reason I continue and am committed to run now. Eat to run; don't run to eat.

#2: No man runner is an island.

I used to run almost entirely on my own. I would decide each day how far and how fast I wanted (if at all) to run and would (usually) do it. In the short term, I got better as I continued to run more. But eventually I hit a plateau and couldn't seem to get any better no matter how far or how fast I would run. So what did I do? I joined a group/club.

Running with a group is humbling. You quickly realize how little you actually know about what you are/were doing or where you were going. By running and training with others, you gain access to a wealth of experience from those who have likely also been in your shoes (not literally of course) and have made the same mistakes you have. You will quickly learn what more you need to do as well as what you should probably no longer do and will likely begin to see improvements very quickly.

If you are lucky, you will find mentors and peers who wish to share with you their own interpretations of what it takes to succeed and who will genuinely be interested in seeing you accomplish your goals. Just as world records are rarely (if ever) accomplished without a rabbit or other world-class athletes, training in a group is a great way to reach and then exceed your own limits, both physical and mental.

Having a group means having like-minded individuals constantly push (or pull) you to be better. To help set and establish realistic goals and then train together to achieve them. They become a source of external motivation and provide new incentive to keep improving. They help ground your expectations but also heighten your ambitions.

I've found that my own expectations as well as those from others have definitely increased over time. This means that I no longer just run for myself or my own sense of accomplishment, but rather I am motivated (dare I say pressured) to perform at a higher level based on the expectations of others. This is both a curse as well as a blessing. It's great to have external pressure driving me to be better and makes me want to perform consistently and to my best ability. On the other hand it can also be stressful and intimidating to always 'have to' perform and do well based on the expectations of others. Some people thrive off this type of pressure and are said to have a high 'ego orientation.' In a sport as social and diversified as running, we all have some degree of ego that needs to be satisfied. Running with a group will both support and satisfy that ego and give but another reason to succeed.

Of course, it helps to find a group that not only help you succeed in running, but that you also get along with well and who become a close part of your social circle. I have indeed been fortunate to find just that group and am forever indebted to the 'Black Lungs' for helping me become the runner I am today and for motivating me to be an even better runner tomorrow.

In addition to those who directly help you succeed (your teammates, training partners, coaches and competitors), a huge amount of credit and appreciation is owed to those who support indirectly. Friends, family, partners and pets who tolerate the tremendous amount of time and energy that goes into training.

#3 Moderation Consistency is the key to life running success

This rule is perhaps the most important, but also the most difficult to explain.

Quite simply, you need to be consistent with your training in order to be successful. Consistency doesn't mean running every day but it does mean approaching each day with a runners mindset (think like an elite, even if you aren't one) and seeing how your actions impact and influence your running and training goals. What you eat, how long you sleep, and how you deal with stress, illness and injury, are all important parts of the long-term consistency that is vital for running success.

Approach distance running as a long-term commitment (it takes approximately seven years to fully peak and reach your potential) and while you can't ignore or undermine the importance of daily and weekly training; it is really the monthly and yearly consistency that matters most. Setting realistic yet challenging short and long-term goals and creating a plan to stick to them is of utmost importance. Set-backs will happen and you need to accept that not every run or workout will go to plan. Missing a day, or even a week of training is not the end of the world. Only by having a long-term focus and an attitude of perseverance will you be able to deal with the short-term grind that is necessary to experience long-term success.

Finally, a good and well thought out training program is essential for achieving success. If you want to accomplish something, you need a plan of action. A training program is just that and will incorporate all of the fundamental aspects of a good plan (easy, aerobic, long, tempo, intervals, hills, etc.) in a logical and progressive pattern that maximizes success (while minimizing risk) over weeks, months and even years of training. Easy and recovery days are as, if not more, important than the hard/intensity days so be sure to take it easy when you can and enjoy it! You can't run hard/fast all the time (or even most of the time) so be realistic about your goals and expectations and when necessary, seek the advice of an experienced other (see rule #2 above).

And so, there you have it. Three random 'rules' of running success. I hope you found them insightful and potentially useful for your own training. All the best and happy running.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

#106 Hey Jude

I recently came upon this piece of writing I had done several months ago which at the time was written for a submission in the Longboat newsletter (but never published). I read it today and felt it was worth posting here as it does some justice as to the reasons why I run (which I am particularly fascinated with after waking up at 6am to 30 degree humidity and then running 11k of tempo pace). I've copied it below unedited but also added a final section. I hope you enjoy it.

What motivates me…

Like many people, I started running as a means to lose some extra weight and get in better "shape." The first time I recall running (for the strict purpose of running), I attempted to do a country loop around my home in Ingersoll (about 5k in total) and made it about half way before I was bent over on hands and knees desperately breathing air into my throbbing lungs. I walked the rest of the way home. Never a quitter, I tried again the very next day and made it ever so slighter farther. I caught my breath, resolved to walk for a bit, and then started jogging again. I ritualistically repeated this exercise for days, perhaps weeks, until I could make it around that loop without stopping. I remember the first time I did, and although I have no idea how long it took, it was among the proudest things I had achieved to that date. And when I had done that, I simply decided to keep running and do the loop twice!

Later that year I joined the Cross Country team in High School and was convinced I had finally found my calling in sport. For two years I upped my mileage, made some great friends and even won a regional title or two. I wasn't amazing by any standard, but I loved what I was doing and worked my ass off to get better. At some point my dedication to running became highly problematic as I struggled with some very serious and significant physical and psychological issues surrounding body image, self-esteem and eating behaviour. I ran because I had too not because I wanted too and at some point was forced to stop running entirely less I continue to hurt myself.

After high school and whilst struggling with the issues above, my running career took a rather erratic route in which I didn't run once during the first two years of university. Then in third year after gaining the freshman fifteen and an additional sophomore several, I came back to running as a means of finding myself again. I began to run regularly but certainly not seriously. After running a few races, I could see my progress unfold and I liked the idea that I was getting better. I kept at it but my commitment to running wavered and was wildly inconsistent (the ultimate key to distance running success). In 2009 I moved to Toronto to pursue my Master’s degree (in Exercise Science at U of T) and once again I began to take running more seriously. I wanted to continue to improve and only when I no longer did so on my own, did I make the best (running) decision of my life…I joined a local running club (the Longboat Roadrunners).

For almost two years, I trained with the club and found like-minded individuals who shared my passion and pushed me to achieve my goals. I got better, A LOT better, and seemed to set a PB in every race I ran. I had a solid group to train with and these guys became my closest friends and a kind of family. At the same time, I was conducting my Master’s thesis exploring psychological aspects of physical activity adherence and used my connection with the running club to explore the physical culture of distance running. In August 2012, I defended my thesis entitled: ‘In it for the Long Run: An Ethnography of Psychological and Social Benefits of Distance Running.’ In the Fall of 2012, I began teacher’s college at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), also at U of T, where I intend to receive my Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree and one day teach secondary science and biology.

2012 also continued to impress in terms of my running success. I've set impressive PB's in almost every distance I attempted this year. I ran 16 and change in a 5k, 34:20 in the 10k, 57:15 for 10 miles and an impressive 1:13 for the (Scotia) Half (which I am particularly proud of) as well as a 1:51 for 30k at ATB. I broke 2:50 in my first ever marathon (STWM in Oct 2011) and then took an unprecedented 13min off that time to run a 2:37 in the Spring (Goodlife 2012) and then bettered that number slightly (2:36) this Fall (at Hamilton).

Quite simply, numbers motivate me. They just don't lie! You are only ever the runner your numbers say you are. In a sport that consists of covering distance as fast as possible, little more matters than the clock. Running well isn't easy. It's actually incredibly difficult. It takes time, patience, commitment, organization, sacrifice, suffering, and the support of friends and family. And yet running is unique in that the outcome is no more and no less than what you put into it. The time and energy dedicated to training can be as much or as little as one can afford but the result will reflect that to a brutally honest degree. There is a pure sort of satisfaction knowing that you only get what you deserve. You cannot lie or cheat your way around it. Prefontaine probably said it best when he said: “You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

People run for a variety of reasons: health, fitness, weight-loss, charity or a cause, career, escape, freedom, fun, pleasure, personal satisfaction, socialization... the list goes on and on. No reason is better than another. Mine is simple: I run to run faster!

Epilogue: July 16th, 2013

Yesterday I returned from a weekend away in and around Utica, NY for the running of the Boilermaker 15k road race. This was hands down one of the best running events I have ever been part of and was by far much better than my first Boston earlier this year (which didn't exactly go to plan on a number of fronts). The weekend was centred around the running of the race, which turned out to be a challenging course on a hot day. Luckily the overwhelming support of the local crowds (in addition to all that training I do) led me to put forth a personally pleasing performance of 52:04 good for 45th place overall and top Canadian. But the reason that those three days were as amazing as they were was because of the people I shared them with. Black Lungs Toronto, and more specifically the members of that group, the Black Lungs, are something very special. It means a great deal to me to be part of something that is so much more than a group of guys running in circles trying to get faster. The commitment we show to each other and the camaraderie we share has become among the top reasons I now run and provides me with the motivation to get up and run every day and continue to strive to be the best I can be. Of course I do it for myself (for the results, the sense of personal accomplishment and pride, self-actualization, etc, etc.), but I also do it for them.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

#105 Get Back...

...to blogging

So it's been a long while since I've written/updated the blog (as promised after Boston). Mostly because no matter how hard I tried (okay, I didn't try all that hard), someone would inevitably get offended, insulted or annoyed by what I had to say/write and I was just getting tired of being judged and viewed as 'that' kind of person when in reality, I am actually a pretty all-round descent human being. Really, I am.

Anyway, since blogging about Cabot (which was awesome!), a lot of stuff has happened.

Firstly of all, I finished and graduated from Teacher's College at OISE/U of T and have (finally) finished with my formal post-secondary education ...and it only took 7+ years and tens of thousands of dollars. Yay knowledge! Now I get to look forward to a dismally poor teaching job market and new legislation that says I have to wait at least 2 years to be employed as a teacher. Boo reality!

But not to worry, because I scored a super sweet job for the summer at Mountain Equipment Co-op (aka MEC... aaka the organization formally with a mountain in their logo Haha). I was hired specifically as a 'natural running guy' given my ability to run 'naturally' and my knowledge and experience with the sport/activity (left foot, right foot...) and minimal/barefoot running (which I acknowledge for its potential value but am actually am not a huge proponent of). But in reality, the majority of this job actually means selling random pairs of rather 'unnatural' (I guess leather is kinda natural... or it was) and definitely 'un-minimal' footwear, mostly to people climbing modest mountains or doing expensive hikes in far off and exotic places (see, I really don't try that hard). I plan to do this for the next 4 months or so while I look for a 'real job' and start this crazy thing called 'adult life.' Which apparently, from what I hear, are neither all that fun or exciting.

Secondably (uh ya, I realize that's not a word)... oh wait, that was everything. Okay, maybe not a lot of stuff happened, but that stuff did and it's been keeping me fairly busy.

June was also a pretty awesome month for running (although which month isn't?!). I ran each and every of the 30 days this month and covered a total of 525 km, which is pretty good but not even close to my one month mileage PB of 645km set earlier this year in March (also a surprisingly good month for running). As part of all that running, Black Lungs Toronto competed in the inaugural running of the Ragnar Relay Niagara Falls where we won the event overall in a time of 20hr and 20min. The scenic route from Cobourg to Niagara Falls covered ~315km, if you count all the times we (ie Hesch and Hidds) got lost, and was a continuous relay where someone was running for the team at every second of the race. We were also the first team to finish (at ~11:20am Sat) as well as the last team to start (at 3:00pm Fri) which means our 'kill count' (Ragnar terms not ours) was... All of them (~120 teams). Each of our 12 guys ran 3 legs, averaging about 26k total within that time, and tempers only flared at the very end when sleep deprivation and poor hydration and nutrition got the best of us (okay, me. Sorry again Davey). All in all, it was an awesome time. Congrats guys, we did well. Man, I love relays!

I also set new 5k (15:53; 3:11/k) and 10k (33:40; 3:21/k) PBs during the Pride run and the Ekiden Relay respectively. 'The Longest Day Ekiden Relay Race' took place on the evening of 21 June and was a mostly successful start to the summer which saw 11 teams compete in the 6-person relay where the goal is to run the fastest cumulative marathon (42.2k) time. Unfortunately, more than a few of the 10k runners found themselves lost after taking a wrong turn on the out-and-back course on the Leslie St Spit/Tommy Thompson Park. Our own BLT team was even disqualified when one runner (lets called him anonymous) only ran ~9 instead of 10k. As organizer and unofficial race director, I take full responsibility for this (the runners getting lost; not Clearsky running 9k) and apologize to those who got lost. I luckily did not get lost (which is good considering I planned the course) during my own 10k leg and ran almost entirely alone (ie time trialed) before setting an unexpected 40sec PB as well as helped our 'Lungboat' team (Melinda, myself, Rob C and Anne B, Erin B and Kyle F) win the top mixed team award with an overall time of 2:37:45. The top men's and women's teams (both from Marathon Dynamics) ran 2:33:08 and 2:56:37. Congrats and thanks to all who came out. Complete results here.

Then, only a week later on Saturday the 29th, the Pride and Remembrance Run (a 5k race) took place along Wellesley and around Queen's Park. This race is always a guaranteed good time despite its late (10am) and often uncomfortably hot and humid (25+ degrees) start. But this year wasn't too bad which translated into some really fast times. BLT submitted a team and all our times were scored (using the average) and were awesome enough for the overall team win. Not to mention all the amazing individual performances where 8 of our 10 guys ran PBs. Congrats guys, simply incredible! We couldn't do it without each other. The race was followed by an excellent post-race food and awards celebration (I won a pair of shoes) and the BLT crew then enjoyed the rest of a beautiful afternoon with a roof-top patio party at the always welcoming CBC. Thanks Rob and Anne! This however made for a less than stellar long run the next morning, which luckily was all (well deserved) easy running.

With 2 new PBs in the bank and more on the mind, it's been really fun getting fast again. Even though the weather has been brutal at times, I'm looking forward to the summer training and the build towards Chicago in the Fall (Sun 13 October).

Well that's pretty much it for now. July is set to be another busy month with a family wedding on the first weekend; a road trip to Utica, NY for the Boliermaker 15k on the second; the Toronto Beermile (and Lindsay 10k?) on the third; and potentially a weekend up to Tom Hesch's cottage for some running and relaxing with the guys on the final weekend. Look forward to a post-July update as I/we continue on 'the Road to Chicago' (I'm actually flying so perhaps I could call it the 'Clouds to Chicago'?).

Happy and healthy running to you all.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

#104 There's a Place

2013 Cabot Trail Relay Race: Our secondary success

Wow! What an incredible few days. It's truly impossible to capture in words what this event means to me. It is without a doubt the most widely anticipated and exciting event of my calender year, running or otherwise, and this year did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded all expectations and surpassed the highest hype.

To give away the ending early: We came second. Again. Which was entirely expected. What wasn't expected (or even imagined) at all was that our team would win 5 individual legs of the race as well as come within 30 min of the first place Maine-iacs. That result in itself was utterly amazing! Getting to spend the weekend with these super cool and wicked fast guys was just icing on the cake.

It was thus no surprise that the collective mood of a majority of our guys in this week following Cabot was that of a mild depression. The post-Cabot blues set in pretty quickly and it was hard to get over how fulfilling the whole weekend had been. It was also the reason why I didn't rush to write this blog and thus am one week removed from the experience so you'll have to forgive me for my lack of detail, some of which have been purposefully left out. But here it goes, my recap and review of Cabot 2013...

11 of our guys, all members of BLT, met early on Friday morning at the city airport and flew Porter to Halifax where we met our 2 remaining teammates, Doyle who had left a day early to visit the folks, and Graydon, a new guy and so called 'top dog' who is doing his post-doc at DAL. We eventually picked up our rental vans, which turned out to be the same massive SUVs we had last year, and drove the ~4 hours north to Baddeck in Cape Breton. The drive was mostly uneventful. Sure, tensions started to rise when we skipped a couple stops that were supposed to be to buy groceries but all was well when we finally found some food. The other exception was us getting pulled over by the fuzz who issued Dave Clark a $180 ticket for apparently talking on his cell phone while driving. There was only one problem with this... he wasn't talking on his cellphone at all. That meant we got into a minor altercation with the guy who proceeded to issue the ticket without any evidence of guilt and which meant we (okay Dave and particularly Doyle) became increasingly livid and fired a few choice words at the officer. A short time later and upon our arrival in Baddeck shortly after 6pm, we picked up our team materials and checked into our accommodations, a lovely little place on top of the hill called "Sue's Inn." As captain, I was scheduled to attend the special meeting, and now being late, I ran down the hill as quickly as I could and arrived just as things were getting underway. The organizers went over all the finer details of the event, which is a logistical opera to put together. Well done to the fantastic people who have made this event happen for the past 26 years! Once that finished, I then joined the rest of the team for a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant where we were all overcharged for beer and made to wait for the only electronic debit machine in all Cape Breton. We walked back to base, had a few more beers, tried to hide our unsettled nerves and sooner than later, headed to bed trying not to think about our 5am wake up call.

We woke several hours later and were treated with a special 'all we could eat' breakfast from the owner of our little inn (Sue). With overcast skies and light rain falling, we drove the short distance to the official start of the Cabot Trail and the beginning of the race at St. Anne's Gaelic College.
The boys at breakfast. Thumbs up and ready to go!
Darren was our first runner who ran a solid 'time trial' as he put it and nailed the time he had in mind (1:03) for the 17.0k leg. He placed 3rd overall behind a super talented Cape Breton Roadrunner in Daniel McNeil as well as a Maine-iac, giving us a very good start to the race. It was barely 8am and Darren was already done his duty for the Black Lungs at Cabot.
The start of the race and leg 1 at St. Anne's College.
Next up on leg 2 was our 'ringer' Graydon Snider who silenced the skeptics (ie me) and impressed with a second place finish and a wicked fast time of sub 60 min on the nearly 18km (actually 17.92) rolling hilly route. He then proceeded to wander off for a cool-down jog and after looking everywhere for him for 20 min or so, we opted to leave to support on the next leg hoping he had found his way into another team vehicle. We didn't need him again until leg 15, so we had plenty of time to figure it out.

Graydon flies right out of focus!
Leg 3 (13.5k) was the first of two legs to be run by Michael Doyle. He effortlessly followed in my own footsteps from 2012 and ended up winning the leg outright and well ahead of 2nd place, which helped us to claw back some time on the other teams.

MDF finishes first overall on leg 3.
Veteran Rob Campbell took on the hugely challenging leg 4 (20k with a significant 2k uphill) and was surely affected by the intense heat that settled in half way through the leg. He was leading a trio of runners in 4th place when we first saw him at the top of Cape Smokey (he tried but failed to muster up a smile), but was bested by a much younger and strategically-instructed Kyle Fraser of Cardio Arrest. He gutted it out and came in for 5th place in a very respectable 1:21. Although he looked very near death upon his finish and needed some immediate attention, he quickly came around and was again good to go.
Rob leading the charge up Cape Smokey.
Chris Chapman, who would be leaving us shortly for the nation's capital and wanted a proper sending off, ran the ocean-side and truly scenic leg 5 which apparently started a full 5min early (which is unheard of). He spent the majority of the race battling it out with a Maine-iac who has a significantly faster marathon PB than he, but was eventually able to best him and finish on the podium in third place. This leg was a scorcher as the sun decided to show up and so we probably used about half the water we had purchased for the relay trying to keep Chappers cool and wet. This was perhaps the inspiration for what we hope will be the best themed water stop in the 2014 edition of the event (Look forward to that). Congrats also to Sheri Piers who ended up winning the leg outright as well as setting yet but another impressive women's record. She too would go on to feel the exhausting effects of the heat a short time later and luckily would be 'saved' by our very own A Davey and C Chaps.
Chapman making the final turn for the finish on five.
Tom Hesch took on the deceptively challenging leg 6 and also dug deep to assure himself and our team of an impressive 3rd place finish on the leg. He ran mostly alone and struggled with stomach issues during the 17.5k which also snakes along the wild and often windy shoreline of the Atlantic. He and those who came before him would be duly rewarded with a hot shower at the Cabot High School which is literally located in the very middle of no-where!

Leg 7 belonged and was owned by another 'doubler' Dave Clark who immediately made his mark on the relay by winning the 13.5k leg in an impressive time and was also well ahead of his next competitor. Even 'big' Clark was humbled by the vast stretches of untamed wilderness but made his leg look easy and was now tasked with getting the rest and recovery he would surely need before tackling leg 16 several hours later.

I was due up on leg 8 and was eagerly awaiting my opportunity to finally run for the team. I waited alone for the start of the leg while the others drove ahead (apparently in the wrong direction). The leg started at approximately 630pm and began on a relatively steep hill that I would soon learn kept climbing for the first full km before leveling off. I was revved up and ready to go and when the gun went off, so did I. I settled into the lead position less than 100m into the race and from that point on I ran entirely alone and out front. The first 3k of the leg rose gradually so it took some time to settle into a good pace (my first km was 4:00/k) but I knew that I was constantly building my lead and that I would not be challenged so soon began to relax and  settled in. Around 5k, the leg drops gradually but continuously and I kept telling myself how 'downhill' I thought the leg appeared to be. I truly felt like I was flying and figured I was running in the 3:20's for sure. However there was a slight but stiff headwind more or less the entire time and so when I crossed the line at 12k in a time of 42:41 (about 8 minutes ahead of 2nd place). I'll admit I was a tad bit disappointed that my overall pace (3:34/k) hadn't been quicker. I quickly brushed it off, went for a short cool-down jog, literally cooled down by icing my legs in a nearby river, and then began refueling and refocusing for my much harder and much more important task of running the anchor leg 17.
I forgot to rehearse a good victory celebration so opted for the crazy arms.
Anthony Davey was our chosen (volunteer?) sacrifice who ran leg 9, the so called 'the career ender' given how badly it beats a runner up and down due to its crazy ascent followed by an even more daunting steep descent. Davey was definitely victimized by this leg but was nonetheless able to do the team proud with a fine performance including taking down some competitors in the legs final few k's. He and many others were then rewarded with some 'real' food from a fine little restaurant in Pleasant Bay.

With darkness now having fallen and a wicked wind picking up steam from the south, Doyle set off on his second leg in less than 12 hours and was tasked with the unforgiving role of running almost entirely uphill for 14+k. The wild winds surely slowed down the field and this year seemed to pale in comparison to the calm and star-filled sky of a year ago when I ran this leg (by far the most significant and special run/race I have ever done in my life). I was only just barely able to see him finish, in a solid third, as the long day of excitement and non-stop action was finally getting the best of me.

I returned to our SUV, which was currently housing myself, Chandler and Dave Clark. Clark drove ahead all the way to the end of the downhill leg 11, which was being run by Kevin Gough. Even before the leg was set to start, somewhere about 14k back at the top of Mt. MacKenzie, I somehow managed to fall asleep, as did DC. I woke up in a haze in what seemed like only a few minutes later. I looked at my watch and thought it was the time that Gough would be finishing, so I scrambled out of the vehicle to see. To my surprise, we were completely alone. There was not a car in sight. In that moment I briefly questioned where I was and what I was doing. It didn't make sense. Where was everyone? A few seconds later it occurred to me that more than 2 hours had passed since we had stopped for a 'nap' and so we had missed not only the finish of leg 11, but the start and a majority of leg 12. I woke DC and the two of us drove along the empty road with a now emergent full moon bright in the sky. After awhile of driving we came upon the back of the pack of leg 12. We carried on into Cheticamp and stopped at the Tim Horton's where we were greeted by some of the others. Chandler would finish his leg in a solid second place (this was now two legs in a row where I missed seeing the finish)and could finally get some rest. It was now after 2am on Sunday morning and we had been up for over 20hrs.
Night legs (You can't see much)!
Not wanting to get stuck in the 'hold zone,' we drove ahead of leg 13 and stopped just beyond the 5k water station to wait for the arrival of David Hiddleston. We quickly realized that the winds were now howling worse than they had been all day and that the unfortunate runners of this ~10-mile leg would be battling a 50+kph headwind almost the entire way! Poor Hiddleston we all thought, and poor Hiddleston we soon saw. He had lost contact with Roger and was all on his own. I don't think I've ever felt worse for a fellow runner in my whole life. All I could think was how glad I was that it wasn't me. Ultimately the time and the distance didn't matter on this one. It was all about heart, and Hidds had just given all he had left. Well done David. You did us proud.
Hidds: Moments after completing leg 13.
The hurricane-like conditions continued into leg 14, a long and rolling 19.8k, where little Warren Ringler managed to out-duel a couple close competitors and hang on for 3rd place in what was finally a good time for this leg (all of myself, Rob, Doyle and Darren have run this leg before, and although it doesn't present any particularly brutal challenges, it is often run much slower than what would be expected). Had it not been for the conditions, Ringler would surely have put all our prior times to proper shame. Great job Warren. You're an asset to our team. Day break was now upon us and the race was winding down.

Graydon was set to run his double and although his pace slowed slightly from his first leg, he was rewarded with a big win on leg 15 where he finished more than 4 min ahead of the second place Maine-iac. At this point (the results and standings having completely alluded us overnight), we figured we trailed them by only about 30 min which had never been imagined at any point of the planning of the event (I had actually said coming within an hour of them would have been a success for us). We just needed to hold on for these final two legs.
The penultimate leg (16) was fittingly reserved for Dave Clark (who never ceases to remind us of penultimate benchmarks during our training runs and workouts). His winning ways and beginners 'luck' had seemingly run out however as he went up against a competitive field of foes but nonetheless finished in a solid 4th place.

I was able to see him finish just before being whisked away to the start of leg 17 which was again altered due to construction of a bridge along the usual route of the race. I arrived at the start with only about 10 min to go and we did an oral 'count-off' to ensure that all the teams were present. In what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, and with none of our teammates within miles, 70 runners debarked on the final 19.3k leg of the race with our final destination the finish line in downtown Baddeck. The start of the leg was on a gravel road heading uphill and a couple of my fellow competitors took off ahead of me covering me from head to toe (and eyes) in mud and dirt. Early into the leg, I settled in behind the lead Maine-iac while a younger unknown runner from an unknown team ran essentially by my side. This continued for the better part of 3k when I felt the pace slowing slightly and deemed it time to take it up a notch. I made a move on a medium sized hill and dropped both the Maine-iac as well as 'the kid' who clearly lacked experience. I could tell that while the Maine-iac was content to maintain his current pace, the kid tried to follow me and was right on my heels for several minutes before he began to drift further and further behind. Soon I was all alone in the front and all I could do was keep telling myself that the finish was too far away and that I shouldn't get excited about anything. It was extremely lonely out there and my pace changed rapidly given the constant ups and downs. The winds had almost completely settled down and the temperature was near ideal. I continued on not paying any attention to my pace, and having the unexpected assistance of each km being marked on the pavement, meant that I knew exactly how far I had gone, and how far I had to go. At 10k (approximately halfway), I began to play mental math games to pass the time, by listing all the legs I would have finished by now when I reached a certain distance (leg 8 at 12k; legs 3 and 7 at 13.5k; leg 11 at 14k, etc. etc.). A very long and challenging hill from about 14 to 16k provided a nice mental break before I began to visualize the finish and being done. With about 2k to go, I asked some random spectators if there was anyone behind me. They replied "not for miles" at which point I must have got a shot of adrenaline knowing that I was about to head into Baddeck first, win the glory leg, and finish the relay before any other team. With 1.5k to go, the final and continuous downhill into Baddeck begins. It was about this time that a stupid and impossibly happy smile was cemented to by face. The crowds began to appear and at first all I could do was thank everyone for being there in my moment of triumph. Then I got the first glimpse of my teammates and although I was not flying at close to 3min/k coming toward the finish, I almost wished that time would stand still and that I could relish that moment for all eternity. Unable to think given my unbridled elation, I performed every type of victory celebration I could imagine: high fives and hand slaps for everyone, I did the airplane (thanks Simion), crossed the line with a backwards moonwalk and topped it off with the Tiger Woods fist-pump.

In sum, I was as close to a real-life heaven as I will probably ever get! After taking about a microsecond to catch my breath, which was just enough time for the local photographer it seems, I ran excitedly back to my teammates and we celebrated together a whole weekend of awesomeness. Chapman had fulfilled my wish and handed me a beer which I downed straight away and we also managed to take a bunch of hilarious photos of the whole team (who just naturally happen to also look hilarious). Congrats gentlemen and a sincere 'Thanks' for being a part of the adventure. In the end, my time of 1:10 on the final leg was added to the team total of 17hrs, 30min and 32sec. 2nd overall (and also 2/2 (ie last) for all-male teams). 28min behind 1st. 1:20 ahead of 3rd. 3:48/k for 276k! Can't wait to see what we do next year...

And that Ladies and Gentlemen, is the story of the 2013 Cabot Trail Relay as experienced by me and my Black Lungs.
The Black Lungs 2013. From left: Doyle, Chandler, Chaps, (a little bit of) Darren, Graydon, Gough, Davey (face entirely obstructed), Dan, Coach Campbell, Tom Hesch, Hidds, Ringler and Dave Clark.

Sure, lots of fun stuff happened afterwards too...We ate lobster and carrot cake, drank beer, danced (terribly), sang (even more terribly perhaps), went for a quick dip in the ocean (yup, it was cold!), drank a lot more beer and ate pizza. Then Chapman woke up the next morning with a wicked hangover which he had to tough out the entire way back to Halifax... Good times.