Red or Blue?

I signed up for another one of Dave’s spring marathon clinic this year. The goal race is Boston in April.

This last Thursday the clinic started their hill work. From the two marathon clinics in the past, I found the transition into hill work a good check point in the training cycle. A month of decent running prior should have given you a good idea of what your body is capable of. The two months remaining gives you just enough time to adjust either your training or your goals.

As I reflect back on the last month, one thought keeps swirling in my head… I’m no where near ready for April.

In the month of January, I have had almost as many visits to the physiotherapist’s office as runs. A dislocated shoulder, shin problems and a twisted ankle, combined with being slammed with work meant runs has been few and far in between.  A couple days ago, I had my first run back after taking 9 days off for the ankle.  After 12kms, I know this much was true:

– The shin that was hurting before I fubar-ed the ankle still hurt. And it probably wasn’t going to get much better no matter how much more I rest it.

– The ankle is good enough to run on, but it just isn’t going to be very much fun for the next little bit. And I have no idea how it will react to a long run.

As I stare at the calendar like an wide-eyed freshman during finals week wondering where all the time went, I realize I’m running out of time. It’s time to make a decision.

Do I try for the original goal time I had in my head, bring the mileage up with a bad shin and a bum ankle, and risk not being able to run Boston at all? Do I jump down the rabbit hole and see which side of the spectator fencing I end up on Boylston Street?

Or do I play it safe, do my pedestrian 60-70km weeks from now til April and hop on a plane to Boston with a outside shot of maybe PB’ing? Do I tell myself that it’s ok because just being in Boston means something?

Do I take the red pill or blue pill?

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For all you kids out there …

To make amens for a belated race report, 2 post in one day…

I don’t presume to know anything about anything, but I can say the following things I found particularly helpful after Victoria in hindsight. [Plus this seem like the easiest way to keep track of it so I will remember for next time]

So if you’ll indulge me in rambling a wee little bit …

  • Pace bands at 5km intervals
      For Vancouver, I just took the Running Room pacing bands because I am lazy. (Plus they killed a bunch of trees making them so it would seem cruel for me to kill more.) They were in 1km increments. During the race, all those numbers were distracting if not down right annoying. And since Victoria wasn’t a RR event, I had to make my own pace bands. Mostly because of the aforementioned laziness, I chose 5km increments. I actually found that way more helpful. Not only did I get what I need by a simple glance down to my wrist without the noise, but it also kept me from worry about checking split times too much. Plus it also gave me some room to write a bunch of other crap on there like …
  • Know where the aid stations are
      Unlike Vancouver’s “aid station @ every 2km philosphy”, Victoria’s aid stations were all over the place, ranging anywhere from 2 to 4.5 km apart. I wrote the km marks for all the aid station on my pacing band and those came in very handy during the race for taking gels or just sheer peace of mind when you start feeling a little dehydrated.
  • Drink more during the first half of the race
      This may be just me, but I think after two and half hours of hard running, my stomach began to shut down. After 35km or so, I find myself with the strange sensation of feeling thirsty and having water sloshing in my stomach at the same time. I think for future races, I’ll try to take more water and gels in the first half of the run when my body can actually absorb what I give it.
  • Know the course
      I pryed my wallet open and sprung for the $10 bus tour for the course before the race. It was especially helpful to know at kilometre 32 that the wind, a longish climb, and a (seemingly) 18-turn final kilometre still awaits you on the course, so maybe you should hold a little something back. Plus the NYTimes said so, and you don’t argue with the Times unless you can see Russia from your house. Plus Dave said so, and you don’t argue with Dave. Period.
  • Shoe’s are for running, not for writing
      During the spring marathon clinic, a speaker suggested we put something motivational or helpful on your shoes to help inspire you during the race. Great idea I thought, so I did. Has anyone try to read something off their shoes while running? It doesn’t work very well. Evelyn choose her arm, but she’s smarter than I am, my cheat sheet needed to be a bit bigger. So I wrote a bunch of stuff on the aforementioned pace bands. Worked out pretty well.
  • Go back to school
      And by that I mean read up a little about other people’s experiences. Race report and runner’s blogs are always useful (may I recommend you check out the blog-o-spheric stylings of the Broadway Blog Club), but I also found the following really helpful: 

    • The Three Stages of the Marathon
    • Some of the stuff is a bit old school, but running is running. And the description of Section 3 by Mark Conover was dead on, at least for me it was.

    • 101 Greatest Running Tips of All Times
    • Ok, so not all of them are that great, but it’s compiled by Men’s Health, adjust expectations accordingly. I did find some of the tips particularly useful during race day:

      • 55. …Then take off!
        “I’ve always found it effective in a race to make a move just before the crest of a hill. You get away just a little, and you’re gone before they get over the top.” —John Treacy, two-time World Cross-Country champion from Ireland Speed Training and Racing
      • 68. Warm up, don’t wear down
        “At most, jog easily for 15 minutes before a race. Then stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and lower back. With about 15 minutes to go, maybe do a few strides. But no more—you’ll warm up plenty in the early going.” —Mark Plaatjes, 1993 World Championships marathon winner
      • 72. Don’t dodge the draft
        “Slip in behind someone running a similar pace and, yes, draft. It’s not illegal. It’s not even poor form. On the contrary, it’s just plain smart.” —Priscilla Welch, former British Olympian and 1987 New York City Marathon champ
      • 73. Snap out of it
        “Occasionally pick up speed—for 2 minutes, tops—then settle back into your former pace. Sometimes this is all you need to snap out of a mental and physical funk. Pick a downhill stretch if you can, and really lengthen your stride.” —Mark Plaatjes
      • 86. Divide by three
        “Divide the marathon into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” —Mike Fanelli, runner and coach
      • 92. Be a copy cat
        “Visualizing perfect running form will help you stay relaxed. Visualize before the race. Then, once you’re in the race, pick out someone who’s looking good and running relaxed. This will help you do the same.” —Gayle Barron, 1978 Boston Marathon champion
      • 99. Find a reason why
        “We run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and spirit. We run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.” —John “The Penguin” Bingham

One more thing… keep your head up and eyes open, so you know where the race photographers are and can pose a little. Or at least make sure you don’t look like you are being tortured…I mean “enhanced interrogated”. If you are going to remember only one thing from this post, this is it. Trust me. You don’t, do you? Fine. See if you can spot the difference.

Do you trust me now?

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And the verdict is …

“I’m going to kill Victoria.”

Those words came out of my mouth as I was talking to Andrea as we discussed our upcoming races the marathon clinic’s pre-race get together. It surprised me.

I’ve never been a “confident” guy. In my house, confidence and hubris were considered the same thing. You are never as good as you think you are, so don’t think it. Even if you think it, never ever say it. It just isn’t done.

[And yes, I’m busily saving up for the mid-life crisis and the subsequently therapy bill that will inevitably come.]

It was also after hearing myself saying those words that I knew I was ready to run Victoria.

I ended up running Victoria in 3:08:16. Not exactly killing Victoria, but I think I bloodied it up a little.

I’m on a boat (It was a ferry, but that’s a type of a boat right?)

In a weird sort of way, I’ve always enjoyed work trips. You get away from the everyday distractions, and you get to concentrate on one thing. You can put all your energy into this one thing. Plus, the per diem was usually pretty good.

That’s how I felt about heading over to Victoria. Pre-race for Vancouver in May, I pretended to deal with mundane details of the everyday, mostly unsuccessfully. In contrast for Victoria, When I got on the ferry on Saturday morning, life got a whole lot simpler.

And road trips are only as good as the people you are on the trip with. For this trip, I hit the jackpot with by sharing a ride with Carolyn, Evelyn, and Jason. The ride gave me a chance to get to know each of them a little better over peanut butter and cracker. I’ve been missing out not running with the 3:40 folks apparently. Running the marathon made the weekend rewarding, but they made it fun. The trip also gave Carolyn an chance to vent her much repressed frustrations of having her name misprounouced for 10 months by an insensitive soul who never got his copy of “Hook on Phonetics” underneath the Christmas Tree. If I ever get my hands on that guy…

The pre-race meal with the fellow clinic marathon clinic members on Saturday night also helped me in the right mindset on marathon’s eve. If I was a hippie (ooh, halloween costume idea!), I would say being in presence of so much positive energy galvanized my resolve and confidence. But since I believe “Peace, Love, and Granola” works best as a slogan on T-shirts rather than a life mantra, I’ll just say that breaking bread with a bunch of cool people who likes running makes me happy and relax. Or to put it in laments terms:

 (Cool People + Running) x Pasta
⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯     =  Good pre-race mojo
                π (pi-e)

And on the Seventh Day…

As far as I know, this was the first year that Victoria Marathon employed the 9am start time. Damn fine decision if I do say so myself. On a selfish level, it let me sleep in a little and not feel rush in getting all that I need to get done prior to the race. From a purely logistics level, having the half start at 7:30 and the full start at 9am not only minimize the stresses on bag check and bathroom lines, but the lead runners from the half was coming in about 15 minutes before the start the marathon. Seeing those elite athletes racing toward the finish and sensing the energy from the crowd right before the gun was a pretty damn good motivator.

Speaking of the organization of the race, the organization for the race was absolutely fantastic. (Feeling especially bad writing about it after hearing some of the stories from Portland and Kelowna.) I got to the starting area at 8:15am expecting to be in line for the bag check and bathroom lines for much of the 45 minutes I had left. Both those things ended up taking 5 minutes, combined. **cough…crib off of Victoria next year BMO Vancouver..cough*. This gave me ample time to loosen up with a light jog and some pre-race striders.

For the actual race itself, I had two real time goals in mind. The first was obviously 3h10m to get this damn BQ monkey off my back. It is funny how an arbitrary number and concept can get into your head and just stick there. But there it was. The second, more ambitious goal was 3h5m. This meant a 4:23/km pace throughout the race. From the last couple of training runs, I thought I had a legitmate shot at it. I also had a 3:00 in my head, but honestly that was just there in case I was having one of those “tail wind the entire way” days.

They say that for the marathon breaks down to to three stages: the first 10 miles, the second 10 miles, and then the last 10 km. Looking back, the race at Victoria did break down into 3 stages, except it was at 25km, 32km, and 37km.

The start of race was actually a lot less chaotic than I had expected. Right off the bat, there were 2 quick left turns on narrow-ish streets before the long straight-away on Government street. But other than being held up slightly and having to go wide on the first turn, the first bit went off without a hitch.

After the first kilometre, I was able to get into a rhythm at 4:24/km pace, and pretty much keep it for the first 25 km without much effort. The course in Victoria doesn’t have any major climbs but does have lots of rolling hills. In fact, I don’t remember any significant stretches that was actually flat. It was also full of quick turns, especially during the sections in the residential areas. Combined this with the cool but windy conditions on the day meant that there were 2 main things on my mind while I still had my mind: tangents and drafting.

I was feeling pretty comfortable with the first half of the race, which meant I could focus on the course and my surroundings, which made running the tangents a lot easier. And because 3:10 is such a popular goal, there were plenty of people to draft off of, especially during the first half. So I would spend a majority of the first part of the race imagining that I was in the middle of a video game, pick out a target, tuck in behind him and just watch his feet and settle in for a couple of minutes. After a few minutes I’d feel rested, so I’d tuck back out and pick up the pace a little bit until the next suitable target was found and repeat the process all over again. I’m not sure some of my pacers appreciated me nipping at their heels, as I think I got a couple of dirty looks. If they only had numbers on their backs, I’d find them and buy them a beer later. Oh well…

The bit of hill right before the turn-around point also gave me a bit of confidence boost as I passed a wack load of people during the climb. Seeing some friendly faces from the marathon clinic such as Brian, Carolyn, Evelyn and Jason also brought a bit of spring in my step. By the time Cattle Point (~25km) came and went, I had pretty much ran past the crowd that had surrounded me during the first half of the race.

Then 2 things happened. The first was that the wind really started to kick up and the next 5km along Beach Avenue was along the water and exposed. The thinning pack meant the whole drafting strategy was pretty much out the window. The second and more concerning thing was that my left quad started to act up.

The left leg and hip has always been the first to go during the long runs, and it usually shows after 21 km or so. It would start out as a twinge deep in quadricep muscle. As the miles increase, so the twinge turns into a combination of tightness and dull pain that radiates throughout the muscle. I had hope the tapering and rest would have delayed the onset of this until maybe the 30-32 km, but it was not too be. The actual marathon was about to start.

Up until then, my 4:22/km pace was done pretty effortlessly without thought. Breathing was relaxed, turnover was consistent, and the strides were smooth. But now, the twinge in the left leg and the distance were beginning to show its effect. I was still able to keep the current pace, but now I had to try. Instead of just enjoying the run, or calculating the most efficient line through a turn, or chuckling at the songs and dances of the children volunteers along the course, I had to keep focus on form, turn-over, and pace, or the speed would begin to drop. The wind howling in my ear was also a constant reminder things were not going to get any easier.

I was ecstatic to see the right turn off of Beach Avenue as the course snakes its way back into the residential neighbourhoods of Oak Bay. Not only did it mean that there were only 12km to go, but the surrounding houses and trees would provide just a bit of respite from the wind.

If only it was that simple. Shortly after the turn I realized I had merely traded the wind for a long gradual climb. The hill wasn’t steep, but by that time the left hip was also starting to voice it’s displeasure at running a marathon. (Although to be fair to the hip, my altered stride from my left quad probably had a fair bit to do with this.) My breathing was also beginning to labour, and it was a real effort to keep at the pace that I’ve been sustaining. By my calculations, I was still slightly ahead of 3h05m pace. I know pretty soon I am going to have to decide whether I wanted to let the pace drop a little to make sure I hit 3h10m, or to try to maintain the 3h05 pace for as long as I can.

After mile 20 and an unexpected but welcomed sighting of my massage therapist Jamie from Rebound To Health, I had decided to drop the pace back to 4:30/km for the next 2 or 3 km or so. This would bring me back to Dallas Road and the water, and possibly the wind. I would lose about half a minute by doing this, but I was hoping this “break” would give me a bit of energy once I hit the expose coast line terrain at km 35. Hell, maybe I can even speed up a little.

Yeah, that plan didn’t quite work out. By the time I hit the water again, my right quad has joined in on the mutany. The wind was still hollowing and I still had the a steady 2km climb at 37km. The original 3h05m goal was pretty much out the window now, but I quick glance at my watch told me that 3h10m was there with a bit of room to spare if I did 5:00/km. 5:00/km is usually jogging speed for me. But when I’m jogging, I can usually feel my hands and feet. By this point, my hands and feet started to go numb.

The hands going numb bit I’ve experienced before, during a couple of the long runs and during Vancouver in May. But the feet going numb bit was brand new to me. I am not sure if it was because I was wearing a pair of racing flats instead of more supportive trainers, or if it was an indication I was slapping the ground too hard with my feet. I was however pretty sure that this wasn’t a good thing.

Just after I started the climb at km 37, the sun came out. I was already feeling a bit dehydrated already. I didn’t need to see the sun now. Plus the damn thing was right in my face so I was squinting to not go blind. At least it gave me something else to swear at instead of the hill and the wind. The last time I was on Vancouver Island was for my West Coast Trail trip in August. On the way back, my friend put on a Russell Peters CD. As I approached the climb at km 37, the punchline from one of his joke came into my head: “Somebody’s going to get hurt real bad”. I laughed, just not out loud. He’s funny, just not laugh out funny after two and a half hours of running.

I don’t really remember much after that. I remember I closed my eyes for most of the last 5km of the race. I could blame the sun, but somehow in my head that just seem easier than keeping them open. I remember taking off and throwing away my gloves in an attempt to try to shake the numbness out of my fingers. I remember thinking the climb wasn’t as bad as I thought. I remember the decent after the climb, with my numb feet and seizing quads was way way way worse than I thought. But I mainly remember that by the time I hit the 40km mark, my watch read 2:57:37 exactly. I pretty much had to do the last 2km at 6min/km pace.

After what seems to be 18 @#$%$% turns during the last 800m, and confusing the timing strip 100m before the finish line for the actual finish line, oh, and out sprint a dude to the finish, I crossed the line with 3:08:42 on the clock. Looking back at the Garmin, I ran the last 3km at 4:35/km pace.

I took exactly 2 steps after crossing the finish. That was probably a mistake. Apparently if you can’t feel your feet, you have more in common with a bicycle than a biped. Standing up straight while not moving can be a problem. My impression of a bobble head didn’t quite impress Dave or the volunteer from the medical tent so the each grabbed an arm. I told them I was alright, just can’t feel my feet. That seemed to satisfy them and they let me go. For my second act, I chose to imitate a drunken sailer, and they took my arms again. They didn’t trust a word I said after that.

After 15 minutes in the medical tent, 2 gatorade, 3 juices and a couple of blood pressure checks later, they finally let me go. Once I got the feeling back in my legs, I felt surpising good in comparison to how I felt after Vancouver. In May, everything hurt pretty much as soon as I stopped. This time around, nothing really hurt, but everything was just tired.

I was ecstatic to hear about some of the fantastic finishes of clinic members in Victoria. PB’s all around for Carolyn, Evelyn and Jason, as well as Andrea in Kelowna and Michael in Portland. Everybody must have hang around the finish line for a good two hours just talking about the race. Just looking back on it and … sorry, I have got something in my eye.

It’s been 2 weeks since the race, and I honestly don’t quite know how I feel about it. I know I’m happy with qualifying for Boston. I know looking back that I came into the day much more prepared than I was in Vancouver. I know I’m happy that I didn’t slow down as much as I did in Vancouver when the race really began at 35km.

Yet I can’t help but feel I left the 3h05m on the table. It was there for so long during the race, and then it slipped away. I can blame the wind, and I will blame the wind, but at the end of the day there is only you and the clock. Everything else is just background noise.

I was tempted to sign up the the California Internation Marathon in early December. I was on their website two times a day until the registration filled up a couple of days ago. But I just couldn’t bring myself to register. I could say that trying to PB at the CIM on a downhill course is cheating, and I do. I could say that I need to use this time to do other stuff that I’ve put to the back burners, like finding a new place, and I do.

But I’m just tired. A little bit physically, but mostly mentally. I need a break from running with a watch strapped to my wrist. I need to run while enjoying the company of good friends. I need to run as fast or as slow as I feel that day.

“We run to undo the damage we’ve done to body and spirit. We run to find some part of ourselves yet undiscovered.” —John “The Penguin” Bingham

I need to run for fun.

At least for the next few weeks or so.

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Banana Bread – Redux

Alan’s 3 rules of baking:

1. Toaster oven does not good baking make.  Unless your definition of good baking is extra crunchy on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside.

2. When you violate rule #1, do not post photographic evidence on the inter-web.  Much flack will be had, and all baking street cred will be lost.

3. When you violate both rule #1 and #2, redeem oneself.

This post has been brought to you by pre-marathon tapering.  One has a lot more time on hand when one cuts down on the weekly mileage.  The goal two weeks ago was 125-130km, but an impromptu rest day on Friday left the total at only 110km.  Last week was the beginning of the taper, which resulted in a 80km week.  This week so far has consisted of a nice 16km race pace run, and a couple of slow jogs.  The only bit of running planned between now and Sunday is a couple of quick km’s on Saturday.

Legs feel good, if not a little stiff.  Hotel and ferry reservations confirmed.  Race day attire chosen.

The trial of miles is over.  I’m ready for my verdict.  Game on.

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Warm, fuzzy, feeling.

Saw this on twitter. Found it quite inspiring. Thought I would share.

Happy to Be the Tortoise in the Race to Fitness

<Note_To_Self>
Hmmm…what’s with the grammatically incorrect sentence fragments. Must be low blood sugar. Need carbonized banana bread.
</Note_To_Self>

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3 weeks out

I don’t think I am the same runner that I was three weeks ago.

If Victoria goes like I want it to, the turning point will have been that post 32km New West Run brunch, and the associated conversation with shoeless Mike.  “Run 7 days a week”, he said, “that’s the only way to get faster.”

Before that day, my marathon training had been apathetic at best.  The start of the training cycle started off fair enough, with an adjusted training strategy.  I ran 5 times a week with a distance total varying between 55 and 70 km.

But as the summer progressed, a series of circumstances and a lack of mental disciple meant most weeks was a 3 – 4 run affair with distance in the range of 45 to 60 km.  The low point was a pathetic 2 run week barely over 30 km.  And even when I thought I was giving it during the last marathon training cycle, my heaviest week was 85km.  Ever.

So sure, run every day, why not.  May as well try to crack the 100km weekly totally while I’m at it.  Nothing like trying to catch a guy who is leaps and bounds faster than you, while feeling guilty about your training so far to get you to do something stupid.  This was either going to end up really really good or with me limping my way to Victoria.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of the daily runs (mostly because it would be tedious for you to read, but also because while I was writing this, I just burnt my batch of banana bread), but I am happy to report the weekly stats for the last 3 weeks:

Week 1:  All 7 days, totalling 115 km

Week 2:  6 days, 102 km (intentional drop back week)

Week 3:  7 days, 122 km

But the most surprising thing is that I’m actually feeling better now than I did before I started the 100km weeks.  There is no longer “should I run or not today” debates in my head.  No more guilt at the end of the day about the run not ran.

Everyday is a run day.  Simple.  Just grab a water bottle and go.  How far and how long will be decided by how the legs feel that day.  This simplicity has been enlightening.

I doubt the shift in thinking has something to do with this, but the actual running has been easier as well.  I usually have trouble with the very beginning of my runs.  I’ve whined about it before.  The first 4 or 5 km are usually the toughest.  The legs are tight, the joints are stiff, and the mind isn’t locked in.  But ever since I’ve started this whole “running every day” thing, most of the beginning of run drama has evaporated from my head.  Running, moving one feet in front of the other, just feels right, from the beginning.

The goal this week is is 125-130.  69 down so far, 61 to go.

[and I wasn’t kidding about the banana bread.  Close your eyes Carolyn, it isn’t pretty.  And I think I need lessons.  Or maybe Amelia can give me some since she teaches baking for a living now.]

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WCT Teaser

I’ve been told I should blog about my West Coast Trail hike.  I’ve meant to, but because the hike took 7 days (yes, I know people do it in hours, thanks for the reminder Andrea 🙂 ), I haven’t quite gotten up the gumption to put it down on paper yet. On a more cheery note, I’ve finally fulfilled my life long dream of using the word ‘gumption’ in a proper sentence.

But since today I just got the pics from a friend’s camera of the trip, and the absolutely hilarious entries from a certain un-named blogger reminded me I haven’t wrote in here for a bit, I thought I put up something.  And something == pictures in this case.  Context in the form of grammatically incorrect words strung together in run-on sentences to follow later.  Hopefully.

(And for those incline, feel free to compare pictures taken with a proper camera with those taken from an iPhone 3G.  Apple products, pfff…)

Bridges, ladders, and cable cars …

The restaurant, jacuzzi, and laundry service …

The views from the trail …

And the sunsets at night that gets you up the next morning to do it all over again …

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