Monday, 29 December 2014

#136 Reason to Think Aloud

2014 - My year in review

I could probably sum up the past year in a few short words, most fittingly: Not Running Sucks! But a more complete and detailed analysis is perhaps warranted. Here then, is my (mostly running-related) year in review.

The Good.

Because my life isn't 100% running, I am extremely excited to be engaged to my amazing fiance Melinda. This happened in mid-August and just a few days later, we embarked on what turned out to be an incredible trip to British Columbia and two weeks of sensational scenery, crazy-awesome amounts of craft beer and fun-filled times with friends and family. Not running is perfectly fine (sometimes) and there are plenty of other amazing things in my life that matter so much more than training and racing. This was the year I finally realized that!

That said, I do happen to enjoy running on occasion and the first half of 2014 was not too bad in that regard. I had some memorable races early in the season including small PBs at Robbie Burns 8K and the Chilly Half. My racing streak at Around the Bay 30K, my unofficial favourite event on the calender, stretched to five years and was another amazing experience even though I fell about a minute short of my goal. Then, just a short time later, the 2014 Boston Marathon would forever become a race to remember, especially given what happened the year before. Despite some reservations, I think most would agree that we were simply amazed and impressed by the overwhelming amount of support and celebration of and for the Boston community, the running community and the event itself. And although I once again fell short of my time goal (sub 2:34), I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to run this edition of the race and show my own support and appreciation of the event. 

My only other notable race experience of 2014 was another trip to Cape Breton in May to run the Cabot Trail Relay Race with the Black Lungs. Our team finished second overall (no surprises there) for the third straight year which is all the more impressive given the circumstances (we only had 9 runners). I ran two legs including the infamous Leg 4 (Cape Smokey) and was very pleased with my performance (second place) given an unstable and unpredictable hip flexor, which would pretty much be destroyed by the end of my second leg and signal my ultimate downfall.

The Bad.

I ran much less than I wanted to this year and I didn't come close to meeting most of my racing goals, which a year ago seemed very reasonable and attainable. I also end the year in a very precarious position. After a satisfying result at the Tannenbaum 10K (my first race in 5+ months) in early December, I was again afflicted with more hip and groin issues/pain which has put a stop to all running for the last few weeks of 2014. With no way of knowing whether I am indeed any better off than I was before, I begin 2015 with little confidence in my fitness or even my ability to run strong and healthy again in the short and long term. Having also taken steps to get healthy and work on my weaknesses, yet seeing little to no improvement, I now lack the motivation to want to train and race again. Needless to say, an uphill battles awaits.
The Ugly.

For the first time in almost three years, I finally took my turn on the injury-go-round when a suspected stress fracture to my pelvis forced me to miss two full months of running. This unfortunately took place during prime fall training time and after missing all of August and September and only slowing building back in October, I was in no shape to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and no where near where I had hoped to be in attempting to run a sub 2:30 marathon. And despite taking time off and coming back in a smart and sensible way, I am still in no place to run and train at my best and left wondering where to go from here.

The Awesome.

Running has provided me the tremendous opportunity to become a better person and to live the life I want for myself and to share it with others. It has afforded me many incredible and memorable experiences and made me so many treasured friends and connections along the way. It is certainly an important part of my life, but again, is only one part of it. I have much to look forward to in 2015 and many amazing people with whom to share it. As we tend to do this time of year, a new year brings the opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments and successes of the past, while considering and implementing the changes we want to make for ourselves, for others and for our world in the present and for the future. With the importance of persistence, perseverance and patience on my mind more so than ever, I leave you with some simple but powerful words of wisdom: If you can, when you can, how you can, just keep running (i.e. moving forward)! 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

#135 Killing the Blues

"Leaves were falling, just like embers. In colors red and gold, they set us on fire. Burning just like a moonbeam in our eyes."

I'm not exactly sure what it is about December... The limited daylight and cold, dreary days? The upcoming holidays with busy schedules and consumerism? The arbitrary but ever-present pressures of a new year with all its hopes, dreams and aspirations? Whatever it is, I always find that December, for me, brings on a kind of year-end depression and heightened anxiety about what's to come.

Many  even those very close to me  will be surprised to hear that I have struggled  and still do – with mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsiveness and disordered eating. And while I have dealt successfully with most of these and am often able to control any relapses, I do still occasionally succumb to life's many and mounting stresses and fall back into deep and dark spaces.

"Now I am guilty of something, I hope you never do. Because there is nothing, Sadder than losing yourself in love."

Running to me has always been as much about maintaining positive mental health as it has about chasing fast times and PBs. Running was, has and is one of few 'aspects' of my life where I feel I have complete and constant control. No matter what life throws at me, a run will seemingly makes things better (if only for the time I am away). Running is the rock that provides a foundation and allows me to safely and confidently be me. It provides me with a valued and important identity, belonging to a group and working and contributing to both individual and shared goals and outcomes. It provides me with purpose. 

"Now you asked me, just to leave you, To go out on my own. And get what I need to. You want me to find what I've already had."

Now, as I continue to struggle with an ongoing injury/issue and am prevented from training and performing at my best, I am in what seems a highly uncertain and unsafe place. I am lacking motivation that has always been there and failing to enjoy an activity I usually love. And while I continue to run for my own sanity, I know I may be preventing myself from healing and getting back to the place where I can train and improve again.

If there is one, the point I am hoping to make is that running and training, to me, is not as simple as "run or don't run". It's not always easy to stop, especially when you don't have too. 

Just as good habits are sometimes hard to make, bad ones are hard to break... so what happens when what you're doing is a bit of both? We are told to "listen to the body" and "know your limits"... but what of what our heart and our head says? What do we do when the two are at odds?

"Somebody said they saw me, swinging the world by the tail. Bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues."

Friday, 5 December 2014

#134 Big Parade

Hey everybody. Long time huh!

2014 is now coming to a close but so too must my half-of-the-year hibernation. So here I am: I'm alive, I'm well (almost/kinda) and most importantly, I'm running and writing again!

Looking back on the past few months, it's been tough. After struggling with escalating pain for more than a month, I called it quits at the end of July and took two months completely off running. Then, after way too much time on a stationary bike, I was ready and rearing to return to the roads. I came back in early October, slowly and sensibly, and have been running ever since. Unfortunately I am still not 100 per cent and periodically plagued by an ongoing hip/groin issue — a literal pain in the ass — that has hampered my comeback and limited (almost entirely) any quality/speed training.

My motivation also took a massive blow and "the drive, the spark, the desire" to keep training simply ceased to exist. I even began to wonder — and still sometimes do — whether I'll ever get back to the fit, fast and fun-loving runner that I was...

Luckily and at no better a time, I have found new inspiration and all the motivation a marathoner needs to get back at it and give everything I've got.

And what I have is a goal! 

#TORW2015 Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend: The largest, loudest and one of the greatest running events in the entire country. Not only is the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon a fantastic and FAST course through the heart of our nation's beautiful capital, but it is also one of the best organized, supported and executed events around, meaning I'll have nothing to worry about other than training my legs to run fast for 42.2K. The Ottawa 10K is also the only IAAF gold-label event in the country, as well as the Canadian 10K Championship, which means it will attract a fast field of top athletes. Needless to say, #TORW2015 is set to be a stellar event.

Better still, I have been given the honour and privilege of being a part of 'Team Awesome', a group of highly motivated and social media savvy — at least we think we are — individuals who will share all things running, training and racing as we plan and prepare for the big day. Our aim is to inform and to inspire. To share our own 'wisdom' and experiences as well as connect with others who are also working and training for their own #TORW2015 goals and outcomes.

#TORW2015 takes place on May 23-24, 2015 which means we have plenty of time — and hopefully tolerable/runnable winter weather — to train and prepare. 

Right now, I'm committed to getting 100 per cent healthy again which means strengthening my core and hips and ridding myself of this annoying issue. Luckily I can continue to do what I love and build a base of mostly easy, manageable mileage until I'm ready and able to increase the volume and intensity. As always, I also have my incredible club/crew, Black Lungs Toronto, to push and pull me through the training and perhaps/occasionally have some fun while doing so.

Thanks as always for following along and taking an interest in my journey. I am so excited to share my knowledge, my experience and my passion for something so simple — Left foot, right foot, repeat — yet so incredibly challenging and rewarding.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

#133 On expectation, anticipation and regret

One year ago, I was the fittest and fastest I have ever been. Race day couldn't come soon enough and the flat and fast Chicago Marathon course made promises of a new and impressive personal best.

My training had gone precisely to plan. In the 12 weeks leading up to race day, I had run over 1,800K averaging over 150K a week including several big mileage weeks of 175+K. Four weeks out, I won the Milton Half-marathon in 1:13 flat which further suggested I was ready for a big result. Expectations were clearly established.

With two weeks to go, the taper presented some much needed time to rest and recover. It also presented time to reflect and assess, dream and aspire. How fast could I possibly go? Anticipation rose.

As race day approached, the excitement continued to grow. Race day finally came and greeted us with near ideal conditions. October 13th, 2013 was going to be a good day...

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I lined up, the gun went off, and it began. I ran and raced through the streets of Chicago greeted and cheered by thousands of supporters. Early I felt good, later I felt great but then, as always, I just wanted it to be over... 

And then it was! 38,800 participants completed the marathon that day. I was but one of them.

I crossed the line in 2:34:13. A personal best of some two and a half minutes. First came relief, satisfaction followed, celebrations, albeit brief, then reflection. Finally, regret and remorse.

One year later, returning from injury, barely running and with no thought of racing, I am so far removed from that day. Here, now, I can't help but wonder if I'll ever run that fast again.

Looking back to the days, weeks and months that led to that moment, I wish I would have enjoyed the process more and emphasized the outcome less.

The day before the race is the greatest day of all. There is excitement and expectation. Nervousness and fear. There are goals, dreams and aspirations. There is no regret, no remorse, no reflection. Only anticipation of what might be.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

#132 In defense of the marathon

Why 42.2K is still the king of all distances.

This post is not empirical. It's purely opinion. Personal and passionate opinion based on experience and preference alone.

Recently, a number of people have spoken out against running the marathon. Deeming the legendary race as excessive, over-hyped and potentially even dangerous, some argue that running a marathon is no longer worthy of the praise and admiration it once was.

And I'll admit, they have a point!

The past decade has seen an unprecedented increase both in terms of the number of events offered — hundreds — as well as the number of finishers — millions — leading some to question whether simply completing a marathon is any longer an accomplishment worth bragging about. Indeed, it now seems that almost every runner you meet these days has no doubt dabbled in the marathon, with varying degrees of success.

The running of the marathon is said to have begun following the Legend of Pheidippides which arose from the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. More recently, it has been a regular part of the modern Olympics dating back to 1896 and since 1921 has adopted the standard distance of 42.195K (26 miles 385 yards).

As such it stands as a concrete and unchanging constant — a benchmark — by which to compare ourselves with all others, regardless of when or where we ran.

Given it's immense popularity, it's long since been established that completing a marathon can be done by almost anyone, anywhere, at any time. But what many fail to understand and accept, is that running a marathon well — to the best of our ability — it the true test of the distance, and what really makes it great.

Running and training for the marathon takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. It means running most days of the week — sometimes more than once — including long runs, hard workouts as well as countless easy runs to log essential time on our feet. It also requires significant sacrifice. Time that could be spent together with family and friends is now spent on the roads, tracks and trails, often in isolation, but always with a specific purpose. Needless to say, training for a marathon is not something to be taken casually.

There are no doubt people who sign up for a marathon with little idea as to what they're getting themselves into. Others are unable or unwilling to put in the time and energy needed to adequately prepare, which may lead to injury, frustration and a negative running experience. Many do just enough to do it once and never again. Some do them so often they lose track of how many they've run or the time it took to do so. Others move on to other distances, which may attract fewer competitors or require less time and energy.

People choose to run the marathon for many reasons. Whether for personal health and fitness, for charity and community or simply to say you did it, the act of participating and completing the distance is valuable in and of itself. 

However, here I'll contest that running the marathon and aiming to do it well — the best you possibly can —  is truly the best reason and motivation to run. To do it better than you have before and to push — and potentially exceed — your physical and mental limits. To strive to improve and be better than you were. To take on a task that is incredibly challenging and which requires great competence and skill. To risk almost certain failure and disappointment. To hope and dream to what may be.

The human body was not made to race 42.2K. Thirty maybe, even 35, but not 42.2. This is where many approach the dreaded wall, where the wheels fall off and seconds can begin to feel like an eternity. The last 10K is what really makes the marathon. Anything can happen in the final few kilometres. No one knows what is coming.

It's not about how you start the race. It's all about how you finish. And while finishing may be good enough for some, it is those who choose to push and test the limits of themselves over 42.2K — to enter the unknown and face the fear of failure — that truly know what makes the marathon the ultimate distance to race.


Personal note: To date I have completed (only) six marathons. My first in 2:49. My fastest in 2:34. My 'best' race was my second attempt, a 2:37 at the 2012 Goodlife Toronto Marathon. My goal is to one day run a sub 2:30 marathon. Far from elite, but better than average. I don't aim to the best. I aim to be MY best. 

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

#131 Down but not out (but actually kinda both)

This training up-date comes more as a down-and-out-date, which is also the first of such posts I've ever had to write.

I've never DNFed from a race I've started and I don't soon plan too. Unfortunately I also don't plan to start many races in the near future, which I'm sure will help maintain that trend.

To keep things brief and to the point: I'm injured. Like really injured. Like I only ran seven times and logged 75K in all of August injured! To put that in perspective, that's a fair bit less than the 31 days and 700+Ks I ran last August 2013.

I'm still not 100% sure what it is, but our best guess is currently a pelvic stress fracture (thus my reference to a major and incessant pain in my ass) due to the dull, achy and non-localized pain in my right hip that has persisted for over a month and reduced my usually effortless speed walk to a lame and sluggish limp.

Needless to say, my fall racing plans have changed. I will no longer be running the upcoming 5K Canadian Championships at the B&O Yorkville Run this Sunday Sept. 7th, nor the Canada Army Run Half on Sept. 21st. Moreover, I will not be running my goal race of 2014, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 19th. As such, I won't be winning a case of beer from race director Alan Brookes for beating his PB (a tall order even if I was in top shape). I'm also very disappointed that I can't participate in the Scotiabank Media Challenge or do a better job in the Charity Challenge where I was hoping to raise funds for Alzheimer's Toronto. All in all, this FALL cycle has been a bit of a F-A-I-L.

Not to anyone's surprise, I am extremely disappointed to be unable to run, to train and to race. I've already gone through mild to moderate (and a few more severe) phases of withdrawal and am desperately trying to fill the void that running seems to have filled for so long. That said, I am also very fortunate for being healthy and injury-free for so long, for belonging to an awesome crew, the Black Lungs, and for all that I've been able to accomplish in the past two years. I am also eager and excited to come back stronger and faster than ever and continue to achieve my running and training-related goals in 2015. Down but not out, always aiming to improve.

Until then, happy running and training to everyone and good luck in achieving your fall racing goals.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

#130 Stubborn Love

Six days. 

I haven't run in six days. 

It's a different kind of streak and not one I'm at all happy with. It's now the longest consecutive period of time that I haven't run in the past two and a half years*! Tendinitis in early January and the Boston Marathon in 2013. Road2Hope Hamilton in 2012. All meant taking five days off running. Five days. Never six!

And given the persistent pain and noticeable limp in my right leg right now, it's a streak that could continue for some time.

"But I still love her, I don't really care"

What's going on? 

Unfortunately, I'm not really sure. What started as a hip flexor strain, minor and manageable, has become an all-encompassing hip/groin (and the whole right leg really) issue. It's quite literally a pain in my ass! And sure, I probably should not have kept running these past few weeks. Rather, I should have sought treatment much sooner and taken some time off. We runners are just so damn stubborn. Stupid even! 

"I can't be told, ah, ah, it can't be done"

So what?

Running is part of who I am. It's what I love to do. A day just isn't a day without a few easy miles on the MGT or a hard workout with the Lungs. It's about so much more than speed or fitness, competition or performance. It's about health and happiness, meaning and well-being, identity and belonging. And so, it's no wonder that I'm now feeling incredibly nervous, anxious, and excitable (irritable is probably the better word) without running. We really don't appreciate how much we need it until it's gone. Some call it an addiction. Right now, I tend to agree.

"It's better to feel pain, than nothing at all"

What now?

Be assured, I am well aware that a running injury is relatively minor and not really a 'big deal'. Alas, the world ("my" world even) will not end!

STWM is now less than 11 weeks away. My goal is to PB. To run fast. To run hard. To represent the Lungs. To raise some money for Alzheimer's. To enjoy the experience. And also, twin beerTo do so, I'd like to be running some 100 miles a week in preparation, including 32K long runs and long interval speed sessions. Instead, I'm stuck spinning on a stationary bike for 40 minutes at a time (because that's all I can't handle). I'm also stretching and squatting. Massaging and manipulating. Rolling, advil-ing and icing. Seemingly, to no avail. Pre-hab is looking pretty good right now. Rehab, not so much.

I could call it quits. I could bail on my goals and the race altogether. I could take the easy way out and enjoy the time off. Tell myself I need (deserve?) a break. But why? How? There's still so much time. 73 days. Time to rest, reassess, recover and regain. I'm not giving up. I'm just taking a different road. The road less traveled (and less run) it would seem.

Right now, I'll take it day by day. Later, week by week. If I don't run at all for a few weeks, that shouldn't be a problem. If I can make it to September feeling good again, I'm convinced I'll still have a shot. My next races are set to be the B&O Yorkville 5K in early September and the Army Run (Half) in Ottawa later that month. If I can maintain my fitness (spinning til I'm spun out) and recover from the injury, I'm sure I can still run a respectable marathon.

Yes, I may need to modify my goals. I will definitely need to modify my plan. But I won't quit. Not now. Not yet. There's still time. There's always hope. And there's a whole lot I can still accomplish.

"And I don't blame you dear for running like you did all these years"

We runners are so constantly looking forward. Setting new goals. Training for the next race. Rarely do we look back and reflect on how far we've come. What we've done. Instead of stressing about what we haven't yet done or possibly can't do, we should take the time to appreciate what we've been able to accomplish and the small successes along the way. Every step and every run is an important part of the journey. It all counts. 

"Keep your head up, keep your love"

*Consistency is said to be key for distance running success. Dating back to Jan 1st, 2012, a span of 2.5 years (30 months), I have run just over 16,100K (10,000+M). In that time, I have taken (only) 75 days off running. That, I call consistency.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

#129 Proud to be Canadian

This past weekend was indeed a long one!

Start of the 2014 Pride and Remembrance Run 5K. Photo: John MacMillan
It started on Saturday with the Pride and Remembrance Run 5K, which for me was the 4th straight year running the race (that's kind of a pun).

I've always enjoyed this race and this year was no different. In fact, with expectations of running (really) fast not really there, I was much less anxious and enjoyed the experience much more. I ended up racing pretty well and finished in 3rd place in a time of 16:27. I followed my teammate Dave Clark for almost the entire race but just managed to draw even and move by him in the last hundred metres or so. More importantly however was that Black Lungs Toronto maintained top spot in the team category competition. Congrats to all the Black Lungs who ran and came out to pace and support our crew!

Black Lungs DC and DW being paced by DCL and MDF toward the Pride 5K finish. Photo: Kevin Gough
Big shout out to the Pride organizers who took into account my and others suggestions about ensuring the race was an accurate 5K (it was!) and also by having two waves so that the faster runners in the field would not collide with the slower runners and walkers when doing the second loop of Queen's Park. The race is now much better for it!

Sprinting for the finish. Photo: Alistair Munro
Following the race and after watching the dramatic game between Brasil and Chile, the real fun started over at Casa Bryne Campbell (the CBC) who hosted another fantastic rooftop patio party in Cabbagetown. Much drinking and dancing were had by all (namely me), which made for a less than epic, albeit memorable, 21K run the next morning.

A short time later, I nervously watched as the Dutchies took on Mexico in the Round of 16. In the end, and despite a less than convincing first 60 minutes, they got the result they (probably) deserved but I was still sad to see Mexico bow out in the very last minutes due to a questionable foul and subsequent penalty kick. Onwards to the quarterfinals against the tournament's dark-horse, Costa Rica...

On Monday morning, Melinda and I drove to Ingersoll to spend some time with my family. I really can't say enough about how much I enjoy being at "home" and out of the big city (we left about the same time our utterly embarrassing and downright disgraceful 'mayor' Rob Ford was making his return to city hall). Among other things, we cruised around in a convertible, ate pancakes at Oma's, enjoyed a delicious BBQ at Barry and Shielas' and watched Jurassic Park on a big screen and under the stars.

To kick off my Canada Day celebrations on Tuesday, I made the short trip to Embro, ON for the Highland Games 10K Road Race. There we were met with somewhat contrasting conditions: overcast skies with gale-forced winds, yet warm temps and crippling humidity. The race began at 9 a.m. and it started off hot (in more ways than one). I ran the first K way to fast (chasing some hot-headed high-schoolers in the 5K) but quickly settled into a not uncomfortable pace and also found myself with a clear lead. The skies grew darker by the minute and right around 3K the first drops started to fall. Within seconds, a light rain had evolved into a outright downpour and it wasn't long before I was soaked from head to toe. I glanced at my watch to see 17:25 at the 5K mark and figured I might be able to hold on for another five and finish around 35min. The rain continued, and perhaps even intensified, for another few K before it stopped altogether around 8K. It was only then that I realized the winds, that again begin to howl and were hitting me hard and head-on. Those last 2K were a battle but I managed to hold on and cruise into the finish taking first place comfortably and dipping just under 35 (official time of 34:58).

Showing off my hardware and firm stare at the Embro Highland Games. Photo: Melinda C
For my effort (a glorified tempo session), I took home a small trophy (very cool) and $75! Not a bad start to Canada Day. We (Melinda, Charlie as well as my folks and even some family) stuck around and took in some of the Highland Games festivities which included a tug-of-war contest, dog agility shows, sheep shearing, wool spinning and a bunch of fat guys throwing big rocks in a field. Oh, and the incessant sound of bag-pipes! Haha The Scottish... I truly enjoyed every minute.

Following this, it was much more eating and drinking to celebrate the holiday followed by a reluctant return to TO.

With those shorter races now over, the months of July and August will be primarily aimed at marathon training for STWM. This will mean a few more weeks of speed training before a big emphasis on endurance building. On July 13th, I'll do a "fun run" at The North Face Endurance Challenge Half, which is the same day that the Dutch should be crowned World Cup Champs!!! Lots to look forward to...

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

#128 Comes and Goes (In Waves)

The Longest Day Ekiden Relay start. Friday June 20th. Leslie St. Spit. Photo: A Thuss.
Before I begin, I'd just like to thank ALL the runners, volunteers and supporters who came out to make 'The Longest Day Ekiden Relay' a success. It's great to see the Toronto running community come together and celebrate our collective commitment, competitive spirit and camaraderie. Complete results can be found here.

#STWM Marathon Training Part I: A Need for Speed

Training for STWM is now officially underway (technically it began several weeks ago with continued recovery and "base building") but before logging the big miles and hammering long intervals to prepare us for racing 42.2, Coach Campbell has us (The Black Lungs) do a four week "speed phase" with fewer Ks and faster (funner?) shorter intervals and hill workouts.

As an overview, our weekly mileage remains steady around 100-120K with a single speed session on Thursdays, a weekly long run (21-27K) on Sundays, and lots of easy and aerobic (i.e. auto-pilot) runs with occasional striders added to the end.

As an added "treat", many of the Lungs are also either running the Pride 5K this Saturday (that may or may not be exactly 5K, but which is nonetheless a fantastic event with great post-race refreshments) or the Canada Day 5K in Burlington a few days later. These efforts are meant to both test our current fitness and speed, as well as develop it further. It's also a great excuse to race a shorter summer race and enjoy the team aspect of running as a group. Of course, the post race beers and BBQ help quite a bit too!

From a more personal perspective, I am not in the best head space right now when it comes to running. I'm in a bit of a rut as I continue to deal with a right leg (hip, groin, not exactly sure what) issue that is manageable most of the time, but occasionally a pain in the ass (quite literally in fact). Add to this a more recent issue acclimatizing to the heat and humidity (combined with low iron levels) and I find myself more fatigued than I should be and unable to hit the paces I want too or run comfortably for very long. Luckily, it is 'early' in the build and I am very much hoping to "run through" these issues and arrive on the other side, better and faster than before.

This time last year things were looking very different as my training was going almost perfectly to plan. I was injury free and about to break 16 min in a 5K for the first (and to date, only) time. This I did at the Pride 5K (2013) where I ran 15:53, good for third overall and was over the moon. 

Just today I wrote a short piece for the (Canadian Running) magazine about our self-perceptions (of who we are now and who we want to be in the future) and how we can 'use' these to our benefit. A big impetus for that was where I'm currently at. As runners we are always looking forward and hoping to continue to improve. It is therefore very challenging (mentally more than anything) when weeks, months and perhaps years later, you are not only NOT moving forward, but feeling as if you're going in reverse.

I've never been one to use excuses for failure or sub-par performances, but rather pride myself on always remaining positive and taking control of my circumstances. Now more than ever, I must consider the long term goals I have set for myself (i.e. running well at STWM) and make the changes that will set me up for achieving them. That is likely to mean acknowledging and accepting this current setback and doing what is necessary to get through it.

We all struggle from time to time. Runners know and experience this perhaps more so than many others. It's how we respond to our struggles and overcome them that make us the better people and better runners we strive to be.

Monday, 16 June 2014

#127 Here we go again...

Once again, it's time to start...

Blogging that is! 

You might have thought I was referring to running and training, but as many can attest, I simply never stop doing that!

So where to begin?

How about with some recent race results?

Last (last) Sunday (June the 8th), I ran the Bread and Honey 5K. It's a wonderful event and part of the Bread and Honey Festival in Streetsville, which is actually part of Mississauga. It's a mostly flat and fast (certified!) course in which I finished 7th overall in 16:30 (3:18/K) and even managed to have some fun chasing down and sprinting to the finish with my BLT training partner Darren Lee, who beat me by a hair (0.3 of a second) in the final few metres!

The result itself is far from my best, but almost exactly what I expected given the lack of speed training I've done recently (since Boston) due to a nagging and mostly annoying groin injury. It is however an honest and perfectly acceptable result that gives me a good gauge of my current fitness.

Even more recently (like yesterday), I was in Winnipeg for the Manitoba Marathon. All day Friday and Saturday I was working the expo for Canadian Running and giving away copies of our Canadian Race Guide. On Sunday, I then took part in the event by running the Half and just as I did the week before, I was spot on in predicting my finish time. On a cool and wet morning, on a perfectly flat course with excellent marshaling and descent crowd support, I managed to run a 1:15 flat which was also good for 4th place overall. Again, this is nowhere near a personal best, but still a good 'starting point' what with the real training for a fall marathon set to begin.

And now with only 18 weeks to go, it's definitely a good time to 'start!' 

If you didn't know already, I'll be running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon #STWM on Sunday October 19th. As the marquee event of the Canadian Running Series, STWM is an exceptional running event in every aspect and I'm super excited to be part of it. This will be my seventh attempt at the marathon (42.2K) and was also my marathon debut back in 2011. As usual, I won't shy away from stating my goal of running a personal best (PB). At one time, I boldly claimed I would attempt to run sub 2:30... and believe me, I would absolutely LOVE to do that! But until I see evidence to support that goal, running a PB (i.e. faster than 2:34:13) will be my primary aim and the basis of my training. As extra incentive, I'll also win a case of beer from race director Alan Brookes if I manage to beat his personal best of 2:34:40. Game on!

Start of the 2012 #STWM. I'm in there somewhere!
As you'll see over the next weeks and months, my training will be done with the continuous support of my amazing run crew, Black Lungs Toronto. With a carefully crafted program and plenty of speedy teammates to chase around, I'm probably more excited for the daily and weekly grind of the training (the 'trial of miles') than the actual event itself. Always a fan of cliches, "it's not about the destination, but about the journey getting there..." And a journey it will be.  

I'm also super excited to announce that for the first time ever, I will be running for a charity. Although the details are still being confirmed, I am looking forward to being a part of the Alzheimer's Toronto team which aims to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer's Disease, a cause that is very near and dear to my heart (stay tuned for future blog posts on the topic). The Alzheimer's Society of Toronto (@AlzToronto) is an amazing local organization that supports those affected by the heart-breaking and debilitating illness and I would greatly appreciate your support for me, my team and my chosen charity. A fundraising page will be launched shortly, at which time, I'll direct you there in the event that you'd like to support us.

I'll leave it at that for now and encourage you to check back here for regular updates or follow me on Twitter @dansway07. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy running!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

#126 Cabot Trail Relay - Rule 18b: Have fun!

2014 Cabot Trail Relay Race Recap

Few events come close to what the annual Cabot Trail Relay has to offer. The 17-leg, 276K relay around the famous trail on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, has without a doubt become my favourite running event of the entire calender year. 2014 was my fourth consecutive year at Cabot and this year's edition did not disappoint!

In case you're pressed for time, I'll spoil the surprise... The Black Lungs placed second overall for the third straight year and honestly, we're absolutely thrilled with that result. Our team was in dire straits this time around with only nine runners available to run the relay (we had 12 in 2012 and 14 in 2013) which is probably about the fewest a team would want and still compete. This meant that eight of our guys would need to run twice (i.e. double) while the last 'lucky' guy got leg 9 (the unofficial hardest leg of the relay).

After a busy day of travel, we rolled into Baddeck on Friday afternoon, checked into the best place in town, and had our traditional "last supper" which included a few pints and a (re)new(ed) emphasis on having fun, (unofficially) dubbed rule #18b.

Saturday, we were up bright and early at 5 a.m., had time for a quick bite of breakfast, located the Romanian (who had crashed in the home of the Inn owners in a child's bedroom), and arrived in plenty of time at the race start for 7. Dan Kelly, a last-minute (and essential) addition to the team had us off to a perfect start on what was looking like a near-ideal day. 1:01 for 17K on Leg 1 and good for third.

The good times (and relentless hills) kept rolling with Peter on leg 2 (he ran well, but his wife 'humiliated' him by being 'only' 10 minutes behind) and a well-earned (and always entertaining) win for Simion on leg 3 (our third straight win on the leg).

It was then my turn to take us up and over Cape Smokey on the relay's longest leg (20K) and one of it's most challenging. Having been bothered with a rare groin/hip injury in the two weeks leading up to the event, I was more nervous than usual and really had no idea how/what I was about to do. But when the time came and we lined up at the start, I did as I always aim to do and simply went for it!

All systems seemingly a go at the start of Leg 4. Photo: Mel C
I began by cruising at a comfortable and controlled pace knowing that I had about 9K of rollers before the leg's signature climb up Smokey. After a kilometre or two with someone (a guy in a dress) nipping at my heels, I found myself alone in second place and knew this run was all about time. The Ks seemed to click off like clockwork and it wasn't long before I was dancing to the tune of 'Happy' at the water stop at the bottom of Smokey. The climb begins abruptly around 9K and it's a full 2K to the top. The first several hundred meters are probably the most steep and immediately reduced my pace to what felt like a crawl. The climb seemed endless and the desire to quit (or walk at least) crossed my mind several times. Yes, we all want to stop sometimes! The fact that we don't means everything!

Somehow managing a smile on Smokey. Photo: Mel C

The top provides near instant relief and it's then another 9K of generous downhill to the finish. My legs responded right away and it wasn't long before the Ks were clicking off at what seemed a dangerously speedy pace (to which my groin was not impressed). There was one final 500m 'hump' to overcome just after 18K and then a fast, albeit more flat, K into the finish. Never one to focus on the watch, it was only upon seeing the finish line clock turn over from 1:11 to 1:12 that tipped me off to how well I had done. As I sprinted for the finish I was completely overcome with euphoric excitement and even managed a leaping fist-pump at the line. This leg (both the experience and the result) now top my list of all-time best running/racing experiences (just ahead of leg 10 in 2012)! For a complete overview of the leg, including an elevation profile, see my Garmin Connect details here.

Having some fun at the finish of leg 4. Photo: @therilesyouknow
With little time to stop or slow down (and barely enough time to catch my breath), the relay continued at a fevered pace with Ross on leg 5, Doyle on 6, then Campbell on 7. With the daylight winding down, Davey took on leg 8 and pulled off another victory for the team (following in the footsteps of yours truly in 2013). We were now almost halfway done and all our eight doublers had completed their first of two legs.

Next up was Leg 9. Quite simply, leg 9 scares me. We call it the "career ender" for good reason. As of now, I still have no desire to take it on. It begins in daylight but ends in darkness. Over the course of 17.8K, I can only imagine what happens in the minds of those running it. Almost immediately, the leg climbs for almost 5K to the top of North Mountain. It continues with a few rollers on top before the screaming downhill back to the base (The smell of brake fluid haunts me to this day). And after all that, it's still another 5+K to the finish.

The man we chose to run (i.e. sacrifice) on this leg is 52 year old John Meijer, who first ran this relay back in the early 90's, some two decades ago! His race times may have slowed (slightly) from those days, but his drive and willingness to battle has not. I didn't know what to expect from John at Cabot. I didn't give him nearly enough credit. John ran 1:16 flat and finished 5th. I now have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for John Meijer.

Following leg 9 the relay really changes. Everyone is exhausted. We are sore. It is colder now and completely dark. The desire to sleep largely wins out over any willingness to wait around and cheer on runners who can barely be seen. The night runners are most definitely under-appreciated at Cabot.

Leg 10 is all uphill. Dan Kelly likes to run uphill. With almost zero visibility (a thick fog had rolled in) and the real-risk of running into a moose, Dan ran up MacKenzie Mountain in 59:09 and finished second. Our late-addition had done it for us again. Dan Kelly is going to be an amazing distance runner!

Leg 11 is downhill. Some people call it 'easy'. I haven't done it myself but I am assured that running downhill in the middle of the night in total darkness is not easy! The two massive climbs in the leg's last few Ks also don't help. Peter ran leg 11 in 53 minutes finishing third. He collapsed at the finish. We couldn't have asked for more.

I don't remember much about leg 12. It's the one where most teams are more interested in getting to the Tim Hortons than paying much attention to the terrain. It's apparently quite beautiful (in the daylight) and flatter with only a few gentle rollers. I was set to do leg 13 so we dropped off Simion at the start, wished him luck and proceeded to drive the whole leg to the finish in Ch├ęticamp (we too made the mandatory Timmies stop for coffee and a snack). We saw Simion about 61 minutes later when he finished in 4th. He too had done exactly what he had come here to do.

I ran leg 13 which started on the outskirts of Ch├ęticamp at 2:10 a.m. It started off okay... It didn't end that way. I quickly moved into the lead and felt pretty good at the time. Sheri Piers was in hot pursuit for awhile but by 4 or 5K I knew she was well behind. I could tell because there were a surprising amount of supporters from other teams out there yelling my name. Hearing your name being called out from complete strangers in the middle of the night is incredibly uplifting. Thank you to all those strangers! My own team met me at 10K to provide a useful point of reference. It was now just over 6K to go. It was then that things began to fall apart. First my right Achilles became increasingly stiff. Then, out of nowhere, my quads began to ache, then pound, then scream. It was as if I had hit the top of Heartbreak Hill in Boston. Every step was agony and got worse with every passing moment. After surviving through a few very slow Ks, I managed one final fast one after seeing the all-important "1K to go" marker. I finished a full three minutes ahead of 2nd place but was broken for it (and still am). I was all too happy to be done my part in the relay. I had done the best I could. Leg 13 GPS data.

Leg 14 is another long one. Almost 19.9K in total and the second longest in the relay. Ross was looking to finish off his part in the relay with a good run and did so in a big way. He looked comfortable and strong the entire leg. With daylight approaching and darkness in retreat, he overcame several competitors to finish in third place.
The signature Robert Campbell stride on 16. Photo: Mel C
Legs 15 and 16 signal the now near end to the relay. Shorter and 'easier' in comparison, both legs amount to about 15.4K. Both also feature a finish that include a place to pick-up some much desired 'real' food, including a cafe on 15 and free pancakes on 16. Doyle ran leg 15 and made it interesting right up to the finish where he managed to out-kick a Maine-iac and finish in second place. Rob then ran the penultimate leg and was determined not to get 'chicked' (as he had on leg 7). He ended up thirty seconds ahead of the female that he followed for much of the leg and finished fourth. Our relay veterans had also come through for the team.

It was now time for the final leg. The "glory leg" as it's known. The sad part is that it's also the only leg of the
relay with no support. All teams are asked to make their way directly to Baddeck for the famous finish. This leaves the leg runners to fend for themselves as they make their way up and over Hunter's Mountain and then the gradual climb into Baddeck before the fast downhill finish. And so while we made our way back to the Inn to shower, change and "freshen up", Davey endured the loneliness of leg 17.

Just before 10 a.m. we made our way 'downtown' and assembled with the growing crowds that include both intrigued/confused locals and the 70 teams (and 1,100 runners) that invade the town and trail each year. The first runner came blazing in, followed by another, and then a few more. Before long, we saw him appear on the top of the hill and at the same time he seemed to pick up the pace as he came flying towards us. Taking it all in is hard to do given how quickly you can cover those final few hundred metres. But Davey did us all proud as he crossed the line and solidified our team of a third straight second place finish.

9 runners. 17 legs. 276K. 17:50:50 (3:52/K). Expectations shattered. As successful as we could have hoped. Happy. Oh, so happy.

A very short time later, my girlfriend Melinda who had assembled a wicked fast women's team, crossed the line to cap off their first place finish, taking the title from the Road Hags. Congratulations to the Hashing Hogtown Harriettes for their dominant performance (and for being so much fun). To the Maine-iacs for their always inspiring dominance. Also to the top mixed team, Cardio Arrest, for setting a new course record for their category. Since my first year here in 2011, the event continues to get more competitive and now features top-notch runners from across the country. I can't wait to (one-day) take on the Maine-iacs for the outright win!

The Black Lungs. 2nd overall. 276K in 17:50:50. Photo: Mel C
A recap of the event wouldn't be complete without mention of what happens AFTER the running of the race. The day continues with an amazing lobster dinner and awards ceremony which takes place around noon in the local arena. Then, a mandatory and much-needed nap session follows to (pretend to) prepare the body for the last leg, leg 18 at the Yacht Club. Here, the beer flows, the band plays, and some people even go swimming! Drunken dancing, a trip to Tom's pizza, an argument or two... It's all part of the adventure and what makes this entire weekend the highlight of my year.

A rare 'selfie' of Melinda and I at the Yacht Club. Leg 18 is the best! Photo: D Way
Thank you to my teammates who made this experience one to always remember. To the other teams who shared in the camaraderie of the event. To the organizers and volunteers who make this event one of the best in the country. To the locals who accept and embrace the "foreigners" to their (usually) quite corner of the globe.

2014 Cabot Trail Relay Results - The Black Lungs

Leg# - Distance (K) - Runner - Time - Pace (Min/K) - Place

1 - 17 - Dan Kelly - 1:01:43 - 3:38 - 3
2 - 17.9 - Peter Speight - 1:08:29 - 3:50 - 4
3 - 13.5 - Simion Candrea - 0:52:21 - 3:53 - 1
4 - 20 - Dan Way - 1:12:16 - 3:37 - 2
5 - 17.5 - Ross Bain - 1:11:09 - 4:04 - 6
6 - 17.5 Michael Doyle - 1:07:09 - 3:50 - 5
7 - 13.5 - Rob Campbell - 0:51:59 - 3:51 - 5
8 - 12 - Anthony Davey - 0:45:38 - 3:48 - 1
9 - 17.8 - John Meijer - 1:16:01 - 4:16 - 6
10 - 14.5 - Dan Kelly - 0:59:09 - 4:05 - 2
11 - 14 - Peter Speight - 0:53:10 - 3:48 - 2
12 - 15.8 - Simion Candrea - 1:01:15 - 3:53 - 4
13 - 16.4 - Dan Way - 0:59:39 - 3:38 - 1
14 - 19.8 - Ross Bain - 1:16:04 - 3:51 - 3
15 - 15.4 - Michael Doyle - 0:58:16 - 3:47 - 2
16 - 15.4 - Rob Campbell - 0:59:15 - 3:51 - 4
17 - 18.7 - Anthony Davey - 1:17:17 - 4:08 - 8

Total - 276.7K - 17:50:50 - 3:52 - 2

The Black Lungs. Still second. A result/award I am most proud of.