Thursday, 24 April 2014

#125 "When you try your best but you don't succeed"

"Stuck in reverse"

We stood in the crowded corral, mere metres from the start line. There was now less than a minute to go. The sun was already blazing overhead. Dave McGillivray had just said some words. We clapped, we cheered. We filled with nervous excitement. 

In the briefest moment of calm, I was able to reflect back. To the early Monday mornings, week after week, waking up at 5:00am and making my way down to the dingy condo gym to run the same ten miles on the treadmill. Living like a clock. 

I was ready. I had prepared. I knew what was coming...

"And high up above or down below"

At the half-way point, I still felt fantastic. I had simply let my body dictate the pace and I went through the half (21.1K) effortlessly in 1:17. I was being smart this time around. I was enjoying the lively, loud and supportive crowds. I had even given my fair share of high-fives and fist pumps. I was doing okay. I was floating.

But less than two miles later, and just as the 'real race' was set to begin starting with that massive downhill at mile 15.5, I asked myself: "Are you ready for this?" and the overwhelming response from my brain and my body was a sad but certain: "Absolutely NOT!"

“No one promised you there would be universal justice.” - John L. Parker, Jr.

Nearing the top of heartbreak Hill. Acknowledging my loyal fans (i.e. Hidds)

From that point on, I would lose a few more seconds over the course of each mile. I felt 'strong' through the Newton hills as I began to pass other runners, but knew my pace was not what it needed (nor wanted) it to be. 2:34 was slipping away one step and one second at a time and there was absolutely nothing I could do to claw it back.

"But if you never try you'll never know"

I won't pretend that I'm not disappointed. I am. I didn't accomplish my goal. In my mind, I didn't even come close. 

2:37:55. Not a PB. Not a BB (Boston Best). Hell, I didn't even beat my bib! 

It's easy for me to beat myself up over this. I will likely do so for some time. When you put in all the time and effort required for marathon training and you set what you feel is a reasonable and realistic goal, it's hard to accept when things don't go your way.

The marathon is tough. No one would argue with that. It's also entirely unpredictable. So much can go wrong over the course of 42.2K. 

One thing is for sure though, this edition of the Boston Marathon was probably the best ever! It was bigger and better than ever before. An estimated one million plus people came out in waves to show their support for the historic event and scream and cheer on 32,000+ random strangers during their unique and often emotional journey from Hopkinton to Copley Square. In 2014, more than ever before, the people of Boston were strong.

My race aside, the 2014 Boston Marathon weekend was incredible. Wonderful weather. Best friends. Beer. The support and strength of an entire community. It was the culmination and celebration of runners and running. 

"But to us, it's [training] almost the whole thing."

It might not mean much and it's certainly easy to say now, but running, to me, is about far more than just racing. The process of getting to the line, the journey if you will, is about so much more than results, time, or place.

I love to run. Perhaps more than I should. I love it for the pure joy of it. For the company. The community. For the challenge and the competition. For the opportunity to test myself. To push myself. To discover myself.

"Just what you're worth"

Monday, 14 April 2014

#124 On With the Show... This Is It!

Well folks, here we are just one week away from the 118th Boston Marathon!

Words cannot express how truly excited I am for this. I am rearing and ready to roll and everything is looking good (even the weather... knock on wood)! Needless to say that this year's Boston is going to be special.

Since my last post following ATB, I've tapered my training and reduced the volume in a seemingly systematic way. This meant increasing the K's to 145 in the week after ATB and which also contained a final speed session (4 x 1 mile @10KP) and the last 33K long run. Then, with two weeks to go, I reduced my mileage to 125K (a bit more than planned) and which concluded with a final tune-up/sharpening race at the Toronto Yonge Street 10K. There I ran only as fast as I wanted to (but a bit faster than I should have), 34:30 (3:27/K... not my marathon race pace BTW), and which I paced perfectly (to an even split). This final week will see me run no more than 70K including two all-important days off on Saturday and Sunday. Needless to say that all the hard work is behind me now...

And speaking of work, here are the training numbers that summarize this entire spring/Boston cycle (Mon 11 Nov - Mon 21 Apr) and also include my planned runs for this coming week and 42.2K in Boston next Monday:

- 23 weeks; 162 days 
- 3,012K; 131K/wk
- 9 days off
- 40 doubles
- 10 long runs (30K+)
- 23 workouts (intervals or hills)
- 5 tune-up races: Robbie Burns 8K (26:56); Chilly Half (1:12:55); Achilles 5(.2)K (16:45); Around the Bay 30K (1:46:55); Yonge Street 10K (34:30)
- 1 Boston Marathon... 42.2K in X:XX:XX

Now, before I get to my goal for Boston (you can scroll down if you wish), I'd like to share with you a few thoughts on what I consider to be the most important considerations which determine one's success over 42.2K. The marathon distance is indeed a difficult one to get right, and so many things must go perfectly to plan in order to be successful. That's the allure and the awesomeness of it... but also makes it incredibly frustrating, and potentially ripe for failure!

First and foremost, fitness matters most! You absolutely must be in tip-top shape if you want to do well in the marathon. Exactly what that means is much less clear, and how to get to this point is often considered more art than science, but certainly a high level of (marathon-specific) fitness is a must. Basically this means running a lot of mileage, (gradually) building endurance by running long (fairly often), and still maintaining some speed.

For me, now, I feel I am fit! With a half-marathon PB and a solid effort at ATB, I feel as fit as I did a year ago heading into Boston and perhaps as fit as I was going into Chicago. Despite the long winter we faced here in Ontario, I ran the mileage (albeit less), did the workouts (often modified for the conditions) and managed to stay healthy and injury-free. Being consistent is essential to marathon success and this may well be my greatest asset. 

Another important factor (and one almost entirely beyond our control) is the race course and conditions on the day. Boston is a net downhill point-to-point course that features plenty of rolling hills. It can be fast if run right, but the relentless hills can also do a number on your legs (particularly the quads) and can beat you up especially if you go out too fast. The Boston course must be respected (not to mention the distance itself). The conditions on the day, particularly the temperature and the wind, also play a key role in deciding the outcome of any marathon. The hotter it gets, the slower the results. Likewise with a headwind or even a crosswind. Ultimately, it all comes down to the day and one can only give as much as they can on that particular day. The goal then is to give as much as you've got!

The iconic Boston Marathon course: 42.195K from Hopkinton to Copley Square.
Another part of the uncertainty of the marathon is that you never quite know how your body will hold up over those 42.2K. Most people can get to 30, maybe 35K, without fuel becoming a major issue (this is when they "hit the wall"). However in those final 10K, the body begins to run out of its preferred fuel source (glycogen/stored carbohydrates) and begins to depend almost exclusively on stored fats. Fueling during the race then becomes essential. Likewise and depending largely on the heat/humidity, staying hydrated and drinking fluids is also a key to success. 

I will fully admit I am really bad when it comes to both fueling and hydration. I NEVER, and I mean never, drink at water/aid stations and rarely ever feel the need/desire to take a gel or chews. I also never practice in training and so usually just come up with some "strategy" a week or so before the race and hope it all works out. And surprise, surprise, that's exactly what I did this time around! And so because it seemed to work on the final long run, I plan to take candy/chews and have one EVERY ~2K and keep eating the whole race (to avoid "hitting the wall"). As for water, I plan to dump some on my head at several aid stations to keep my temperature down and drink whatever goes in my mouth. Surely it will all work out this time around ;)

A final 'factor' vital for marathon success is managing expectations, having a race plan and being confident. The marathon is the only distance where you need to know (or have a very good idea) exactly how fast you plan to run before you even begin. It's all about proper pacing and executing a race plan. You then need to have "faith" and believe in that plan and execute it perfectly (because every K counts). 

I have been guilty of occasionally being over-confident (arrogant even) and believing beyond good reason that I am capable of more than I actually am. This is what led to a sub-par performance in Boston last year when I was confident I could run a 2:32 and then went for it (and not surprisingly, failed)! This year I've got a much more reasonable goal (i.e. one based on my performances leading up to the event) and a greater overall respect for the course and how to properly run it. With one week to go, I'm ready. I'm confident. I'm rearing to roll. I'm ALL-IN for Boston!

And that leads me to what you may all be here to know: What time am I going to (try to) run in Boston next week?!

Drum roll please...


2:34 is the "official" time I am aiming for. My current PB is 2:34:13 and so I am hoping to be very close, but preferably better, than that. Doing so would also mean beating my Boston Qualifier (or what I like to call a BBQ). And if not that, I will definitely hope to get a BB (Boston Best) by bettering my time from 2013 and running faster than 2:37:43. My race plan is to run an even split (i.e run 1:17 flat for both the first and second half of the race) and hope that it feels entirely comfortable early on and that I can hold on to that pace (3:38/K) in the late stages of the race.

More than anything, I want to feel good at/near the end. I am prepared to back off and run slower (~1:18) if it means that I feel more "in control" and I'm definitely not going to force it! I am still utterly embarrassed that I could not enjoy the final five or so miles last year when my race turned especially bad. Running through Brookline and into Boston is supposed to be a magical and celebratory feeling and last year, for me, it was not. This year I am determined to finish faster and stronger in that final section, even if it means running slower at the start.

I'd once again like to thank all the many people who have and continue to follow, support and encourage me on my journey to 'Be Better' and see just how far (and how fast) I can possibly go. Sincere thanks to my family, friends, Melinda (and Charlie) and of course, every member of the Black Lungs. Together we make running faster, further, more fun!

And with that, I end this post. Thank you so much for your interest and support. I encourage you to keep Boston in your thoughts next week for this very emotional and special edition of the marathon. We are all Boston Strong and we will always keep running...

For your reference, here are the bib numbers of all the Black Lungs (and several important others) to watch in Boston next Monday. You can follow/track the race live by going to the B.A.A. website.

Dan Way: 254
Jeff Conron: 541
Shawn Clear Sky Davies: 574
Ross Bain: 648
Anthony Davey: 872
Chris Chapman: 1057
Rob Isabelle: 1095
Robert Campbell: 1115
Lyndsay Tessier: 2409
Conrad Ledrew: 2433
Simion Candrea: 3045
Richard Marshall: 3459

Melinda Campbell: 8048
Dana Ferguson: 11318
Lanni Marchant: F20

#RunFastRunFar @BlackLungsTO

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

#123 "Looking a little chubby"

This past Sunday I ran Around the Bay for the fourth consecutive year.

This unique and historical 30K event in Hamilton, O.N. has become my unofficial favourite race and I was looking forward to another successful result to boost my confidence with only three weeks to go until Boston.

Despite warnings and cautionary tales from several trusted and experienced peers about the risks of racing ATB "all-out" and potentially putting the body in a deficit to which it wouldn't sufficiently recover in time for the marathon, I was again determined to put my best foot forward and give it my all (as I aim to do at every race).

My training and past results suggested to me that a goal of running around 1:45 flat (or at least as fast as last year, 1:45:45) would be doable. This would mean running three consecutive 10K's in 35 minutes (or six straight 5K's in 17:30) with an average pace of 3:30/K. I was ready for it (or at least I wanted to think that I was).

Ever the stubborn self that I am, I decided to go for it when everything seemed ideal at the start (it was a sensational sunny morning). My initial plan was to run as much as I could with Krista Duchene, 2:28 marathoner-extraordinaire and all-round amazing and inspirational women. I knew she was attempting to run for the course record, 1:44:40, set the previous year by another incredible Canadian marathoner Lanni Marchant. Sure enough when the gun went off, we went out fast! Funny story. Premier Kathleen Wynne was on hand to do the official countdown which went something like this: "Five - four- two - I mean three - two - one, Go!" Although I didn't feel like I was forcing it, when we hit the 5K mark in approximately 17:10, I knew it was too much for me and so I backed off and settled into a more comfortable pace.

The newly amended (and much more challenging) 30K course for 2014.
The next 5K seemed a struggle what with endless rolling highway, blowing dust and wind and some not so pleasant industrial odours (these the result of a course change that ended up much more challenging than previous versions). I ran mostly alone and went through 10K in 35:20, already off my target pace and about to head northeast into a direct headwind. Over the next 5K I tried to maintain my composure and focus on getting to the halfway point, 15K, which I did in 53:20. I then set my goal at getting into Burlington and onto North Shore Blvd. where I knew the rolling hills would begin. I was actually looking forward to this section as I tend to run really well on hills whereas others often falter.

At about 18K the course changed direction and headed southwest which for the first time all day meant NOT having to run into the wind. This was an instant relief. But at the same time that the winds died down, the rolling hills began. Soon after, I passed the 20K mark in 1:11:15 (about a full minute slower than 2013).

Although I felt fatigued running up and down the many hills, I also seemed to notice that I was starting to see a few other runners coming back to me. One of them was Krista, who had been running alone since around the 12K mark. It took several more (consistent) K's, but as we made the long descent starting around 25K and then crossed the small bridge that signals the start of the longest and most brutal ("Heartbreak") hill, I knew I was going to catch her. As we ascended the climb, I tried to utter a few words of encouragement as I passed (something to the effect that once we were at the top, it was all downhill to the finish). I then fought my way to the top somehow running a 3:27 for my 26th K and then took the next K to catch my breath and regain some momentum.

Coming up to 27K having crested the final hill and heading to the finish. Photo credit: John McMillan
From the top of that final hill it really is all downhill to the finish and so I was able to build some speed and finish strong. I also thoroughly enjoyed the taunting I received from the infamous Grim Reaper who at 27K told me I was "looking a little chubby this year." Haha I ran hard right to the finish at FirstOntario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum) and cruised into the arena for a finish of 1:46:54.

Race splits (approximate):

5K: 17:10
10K: 35:20; 5-10K: 18:10
15K: 53:20; 10-15K: 18:00
20K: 1:11:15; 10-20K: 35:55; 15-20K: 17:55
25K: 1:29:05; 20-25K: 17:50
30K: 1:46:55; 15-30K: 53:35; 20-30K: 35:40; 25-30K: 17:50

Just after 27K, having received some hurtful words from the infamous Grim Reaper. Photo credit: Timo Uuksulainen
Having missed my goal of 1:45 (by quite a bit), I was initially rather disappointed but would later discover that almost all runners time's were substantially slowed by the new course and breezy conditions. I was however very pleased with my overall placing of 15th and 4th in my age category (M25-29) as well as with my strong effort in the final K's. While not every race can or will be a PB, the goal to improve in some small way is ever present and I feel I continue to be successful in this regard.

Congrats go out to all the ATB finishers but especially to my Black Lungs teammates, many of whom used this race as an all-important tune-up training run for Boston and who paced, rather than raced, the 30K. As always, I simply couldn't do what I do without all of them to push and pull me through the tough training and who act as a source of constant motivation and inspiration. Big shout out to Hidds, who set another impressive PB of 1:49 and was 3rd master overall. Not bad for a 48 year old! Also to Tessier, 9th female finisher and to the whole team running today: JC, RB, AD, CC, JA, RM, PS, RC, BB, CL and RI. Well done everyone! Finally to Krista Duchene for a gutsy attempt at the record and a super impressive and decisive victory!

Flash forward two days later and I gotta admit, I am not doing so well. Despite being able to complete a 10-mile aerobic run yesterday on a sunny and spring-like (finally) afternoon, I was not feeling great and my body was in a considerable amount of achy pain (to which I haven't felt since after Chicago). I then skipped this morning's run due to considerable shin pain. I'm desperately hoping it's only temporary but clearly the new course and hard effort (damn undulating ATB hills) on Sunday has taken a considerable toll on my body.

This week was supposed to see a jump in mileage back to around 140K, but I'll have to take it day by day to assess how I feel and what is in my best interest. I'm thrilled with the training I've done to date and believe the hard work has already been done. At this point, all that really matters is staying healthy and injury-free. Let's hope that the next weeks can deliver on that and I arrive in Boston ready and rearing to roll.