17 January 2018

Race report(s) - 2017-18 Snowflake Series (5k/5k/10k/5k)

Redemption is mine!

Or at least a bit of it ...

You may or may not recall (I certainly do!) that last year I posted my first DNS ever - I did not make it to the start line of the final race of the Snowflake Series in Orillia, and in so doing missed out on the opportunity to vie for the top finisher spot in my age-group.  Mind you, after all was said and done I wasn't terribly heartbroken about it since my good pal James Hennessy managed to claim the brass ring for our bracket - and that left me with something/someone to gun for in 11 months' time.

Fast forward to this past December and the first of the 2017-18 Snowflake Series races.  Once again I'd decided (a bit to my new coach's chagrin) to sign up for the whole set of four (5k, 5k, 10k and 5k) and use it just as an opportunity to get in some good winter workouts.  I've noted before how strong the running community is in and around Orillia, and add to that there is often an appearance from members of the Georgian College cross-country team and you get a pretty lively and competitive field even in the dodgiest of winter weather.

And this season did not disappoint - perhaps least of all in the weather department.

At least this race took place on dry roads - I went into it with zero expectations since it came at the end of my first real week back to running after a three-week complete layoff.  The conditions were pleasant enough (just above freezing) and there were more than a few friendly and familiar faces in attendance.  One gentleman named Doug introduced himself to me, having recognized me from some church circles in which we moved around together - this turned out to be a serendipitous meeting of sorts as I basically drafted off of this 6'3'' footer for the first half of the race.  I was surprised at how steady a pace I kept throughout this race, picking off racers ahead of me from the 3km mark on.  I managed to complete the run in a slightly quicker time than I had guessed I would (20:39) and even clocked a negative split of all things.  This was solid enough to land me 10th overall, and 1st in the 40-49 age-group.

Me and the Snowflake Series AG champ!

Ah, all good things come to an end ... the temps had dipped well into sub-freezing category and this resulted in snow-packed and ice-covered roads comprising our course.  The ambient conditions were favourable enough though and all things being equal I was happy to have come across the timing mat in 21:13, especially since this was my first race since starting the strength workout plan provided to me by coach Mike.  Once again I found myself to have started reasonably strong and not to have lost any places throughout the heart of the race, although I tried my level best to catch up to the speedy Cait Foisy (not successful BTW).  Still I flubbed over the finish line in 7th overall, maintaining my top position in the AG rankings.

This is always going to be my favourite event of the series because it is run on Jan.1st, regardless of what day of the week it might be.  There's really no better way (for me) to kick off a new year, and given that I can hardly stay up past 9pm anymore there's no reason that I can't be perky for a 10:00am run on the first day after the turn of the calendar.

This was a true tundra run, closing in on -33°C with the windchill (and feeling every bit of that) and the roadways once again a combination of ice and compressed snow.  In a strange way this actually kept slippage to a minimum, but still I had in mind (and on feet) the idea to try something different and affix dollar-store traction devices around the forefoot pad of my shoes.  By now many of you will know that I will ridiculously try things for the first time on race day (against all conventional wisdom) and in this case I'm glad that I at least tried a warm-up run with them on as I quickly discovered that they slipped around and off around the top of my toes quite easily ... so I ditched them in the snow beside the starting chute and decided to give 'er without them.

The first 5 km was run fairly conservatively as I had no idea who was leading the 10k pack and who was going to wrap it up after 5k (as both were options on the day) - I ended up trying to dial in behind a man and woman who were running together:  she was shorter and slighter in build whereas he was at least 6'3" with a shuffling-type gait.  Through the heart of the race (km 3-7) I couldn't gain any ground on them and sat just about 75m on their tail, but with only 3km to go I tried to pick up my cadence a bit and found myself closing the gap on the gentleman while his female running-mate had busted out some turbos of her own and shot out ahead.

Charging the last hill with less than a kilometre to go I passed my draft-worthy friend and shouted a quick encouragement of "don't let up man!" and pressed on toward the finish.  I wouldn't catch his lady-friend (who turned out to be former Snowflake Series race director and 2012 Canadian Marathon Championship winner Lisa Avery, and was technically done after the first 5k) but held my ground despite being hunted down over the final minute.  When the (ice)dust settled, the board showed me at 3rd overall in the 10k, and still in the lead for the AG.

Again, it was a win just to show up for this race!  With the gap between the New Year's Day race and this one being only six days I confess to having felt a bit sluggish but eager to try to wrest the crown away from James (who'd been pretty much nipping at my heels all series long).  The conditions on the day were a little more favourable than on Jan. 1, though most of Ontario was still being battered by an extended polar-vortex period and the windchill provided a full-on blast of -25°C to the face.  It may have been a combination of mushy snow and ice underfoot, or tired legs, or just plain not-my-day but it was tough slugging for the entire 5k for this final outing ... and were it not for a last blast of adrenaline as I heard footsteps hunting me down over the last 150m (yes, it was James trying to strike a last minute KO blow!) I probably would have posted my least satisfying result for the series.  In the end I still clocked a slow-ish time but it was good enough for 6th overall and a lock on top spot in the series for us 40-49ers.

It was another great year of hosting by Jeff, Kyle, Harry and the other organizers with Rotoract Orillia, despite the conditions apparently resulting in a decline in registrations this season.  Although I couldn't attend the 'closing ceremonies' (which involved plenty of snacks, pizza and overall awards) I sure do hope that they managed to collect a goodly amount of food donations for The Sharing Place Food Bank over the course of the four events.

This will definitely be on my hit list again for 2018-19 (I can't not defend the crown ...)!  Thanks also to Endurance Tap for fueling these wobbly wheels of mine through the racing miles!

I hope that you all have a fantastic kick-off to your 2018 season!

#fuelsimply #keepitnatural #TeamTap #RunNinjas #werunthistown

08 December 2017

Living as a hashtag sell-out ...?

I know that it sounds weird, but I've now dropped a sponsor.


Like, who in their right mind (as a wannabe athlete) would give up the opportunity to be aligned with a corporate entity and receive the benefits associated with that kind of partnership?

Apparently this guy.

After four years of being supported by and representing Skechers Performance Division I've walked away from my 'contract'.  And just like anyone with commitment issues, I swear that it's not them, it's me.

Hear me out - Skechers has been a fabulous sponsor and it's been a wonderful ride.  It hasn't just been about the product perks and being affiliated with one of the greatest running brands in the world (I truly believe that), but I'm thoroughly grateful and privileged to have been able to call many top-notch human beings my colleagues during this time.  People like Cris Alcantara, Nick Resch, Larry Sirois, Kyle McCabe, Josh Bolton, Tanis Bolton, Rob Brouillette, Adam Hortian, Daryl Flacks, Kirstin Schwass and Erin King are just a few of the quality folks that I got to know during my time with the ambassador team.

So why move on?

For me it's not about what I wasn't getting from them, but all about what others might.

In the same vein as my reasoning for not reapplying to claim a spot in the Boston Marathon I would love for someone else to be able to experience sponsorship at this level - and knowing that there are a limited number of spaces available on the Skechers Performance Ambassador team for Canada I felt like I have hogged some of the limelight long enough.  Add to that that I definitely know of at least one person who has innocently inquired of me how to apply for an ambassadorship with Skechers ... and I knew that I'd reached the tipping point.

I will definitely be continuing to wear my Skechers Performance shoes with pride (nevermind that I still have a closet full of road and trail footwear from them!) and will likely continue to be peppering my social media posts with #getyourmilesin, #haveafastday and #GOlikeneverbefore (I mean come on, aren't those great hashtags?!?), so they'll not be far from my heart.

At around the same time that the dissolution of this partnership took place I also received a notification from the team at Endurance Tap that they accepted my application to become one of their affiliated ambassadors.  So new hashtags here I come!  #fuelsimply #livesimply #TeamTap #tapitevery45

I've been consistently using Endurance Tap as my energy gel/fuel of choice for a little over a year now since discovering that its consistency was the easiest to take over the course of long-distance races (marathons and beyond).  I also confess to loving the fact that there are just three ingredients - maple syrup, sea salt and ginger - and I don't have to struggle to pronounce any of them.

In now way do I believe that I'm deserving of this opportunity, but I do hope that in some small way I can contribute to Team Tap's efforts to enhance the brand in our local running circles.  Plus I'm always game to try something new, believing that somehow I will become a better person for it ...

Here's to new relationships and the prospect of an exciting 2018 running season!

P.S.  Feel free to use the promo code "VOOFUEL" for an instant 20% discount on any purchase made at the Endurance Tap Shop!  https://endurancetap.com/collections/all

27 November 2017

Now the winter of my discontent ... is over

It has finally arrived.

No, not Cyber Monday. 

The conclusion of my three-week off-season from running.

This will have been the longest stretch of 'no exercise' since I started running seriously in mid-2010.  I've tried to schedule in some breaks over the past few years (and usually at this point on the calendar) but I've always cut it short, usually because I've felt like I didn't want to lose the physiological gains that had come through training all year round.

Really I've just guilted myself into prematurely launching myself back into the training cycle.

Well this time around I've been good.  Sort of.

Here are a few quick observations after having taken this time away from running:
  1. It wasn't a full three week break - inasmuch as I was able to take an extended time of rest, I did sneak in an easy 4k run with my wife the week after the Hamilton Marathon ... so if you count that then I only got in 2-1/2 weeks of inactivity.
  2. I enjoyed (sort of) sleeping in - my normal wake-up time on training days is around 5:15am and through these past few weeks I stretched that out to 6:15am.  My body really doesn't like flip-flopping in bed after more than 8 hours of sleep, and our second daughter likes to do this 'deep breathing' exercise at around 6:30am in our bed with my wife (meaning that I had to clear out of the way).
  3. Oh yes, there were donuts - this is my promised reward/indulgence after big races and I always look forward to snacking out on a good Boston Creme.  Even though I visualize myself downing extravagant numbers of deep-fried goodness I wound up only eating the equivalent of three (averaged one each week), and had just a few extra snacks here and there.  Honestly my body didn't go into any kind of let-loose craving mode, so even though I eyed plenty of chocolate and candied treats I don't think that I ended up eating much more than I might normally would have during any given training week.
  4. My weight did climb - and how do I know that?  Because I couldn't stop looking at the scale.  A definite weakness on my part; I weighed in every morning and evening, and watched the numbers climb to a maximum of about 8lbs over my 'training/racing weight'.  I would look in utter dismay at my reflection in the mirror as I saw myself (or at least my impression of myself) ballooning up in size ... this could very well be a borderline disorder for me, and I'm sure that it hearkens back to when I was a rotund, unathletic little fellow in my grade school days.
  5. The knee pain subsided to a degree - I continue to wonder what kind of damage I might have done to the surrounding ligaments on the lateral side of my right knee.  Even with rest I found that my knee would provide ample feedback when it was fully extended and my quads were flexed.  It could be that my IT band simply remains tight and that I need to ask Santa for a foam roller this Christmas, or I did more of a number on it than I might have at first surmised.  So I'll be hitting the roads again tomorrow still not at 100%, but I think that if I don't get out there again my mental state will be more of a liability than my body.
  6. I missed seeing my friends - yes, this introverted runner did miss getting out twice a week with the ever-lovin' RunNinjas, as well as cruising around on Friday mornings with my buddy Steve. 
  7. My attention never really turned away from running - every day I took opportunities to watch running videos, to study the technique and form of some of my favourite distance runners (e.g. Ryan Hall, Yuki Kawauchi, Mo Farah), and read my daily digest of running blogs.
So there it is, in all of its stark reality and ugliness. 

Have you ever struggled to take time off from your favourite activity?  Do you have any tips to share to help me make the most of it the next around?  I'd love to receive your advice, wisdom and feedback - thanks for tracking with me!

13 November 2017

Gimpy racing and the seven-year itch

"Do as I say, not as I do ..."

Words offered by no great leader ever.

The past month or so I've managed to log about 410km on my feet, including two races.  Some might say that that's none too shabby - except that I know that I logged all of those miles on injured legs.

The stubborn part of me refused to accept what my body was trying to communicate - that after pacing The County Marathon this year I needed to scale back and take at least a few days off.  I'm well familiar with the studies and statistics that indicate how your body continues to undergo the process of necrosis (cellular damage/death) after an endurance event like a marathon, and how pushing through that post-race period without sufficient recovery exponentially increases the risk of injury, often as a result of unconscious (and imbalanced) compensation for muscular fatigue. 

But pride is a powerful and dangerous companion.

And so as soon as my pacing duties were over in Picton I took my normal Monday off and resumed training on Tuesday with about four weeks to go in preparation for helping my buddy Rick tackle the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope.  Against all of my better instincts (and acquired knowledge) I told myself that I couldn't take my foot off of the gas pedal as I had to be in top form to be able to bump out another sub-3:30 marathon time.  Now ** please note ** that this is in no way Rick's responsibility to shoulder - this is all about me playing my cards foolishly.  I was the one who offered to pace Rick in his BQ attempt and I submitted the registration myself.  The last thing that I would want Rick to believe is that this was somehow all his doing when in fact none of it was - I was and will continue to be glad to be able to offer some small amount of help in the pursuit of his goal.

The first symptom that cropped up was a soreness just below my right kneecap - it was probably some IT band inflammation but it definitely hampered my ability to push hard on my speed workouts, and was only alleviated by running slower and shorter.

For better or for worse I managed to keep on plugging to the point that my knee wasn't locking up in pain while I slept, and I took that as a sign of progress.  But that only lasted until my hamstring started rebelling ...

I began to feel a real pain in my a** ... my armchair doctor diagnosis (ably assisted thanks to Google) was that it was either high hamstring tendinopathy or piriformis syndrome.  Whatever it was, it amounted to a stabbing pain deep in the center of my right buttock, and one that no amount of stretching or massage/hammering could alleviate.  My best guess is that it was connected to me running through my knee issues, and I just swapped one locus of aggravation for another.  What I did find out was that it was short-lived, perhaps in part due to the fact that just as it was raising its ugly head I had to relocate my at-home office and decided to opt for a sit/stand workstation.  The switch to standing 4-5 hours a day instead of lounging back in my office chair seemed to act in a therapeutic fashion, and my rearside pain only lasted about 36 hours.

Then it was back to my knee ... only different.

After only a few days of pain-negligible activity I began to feel a soreness radiating around the lateral side of my right kneecap.  It was probably the IT band acting up again but I'd have to say it felt different, although it affected my running gait all the same.   From time to time I'd do a pseudo-wrap of my knee with KT Tape (as my friend Christina observed about my application of the tape, "well, it looks like it's keeping your kneecap in place") which may or may not have helped me to power through the MEC Barrie Race Five (10k).  That particular race was originally to be a goal race for me where the aim was to finally clock the elusive sub-40 min. 10k ... however, I'd forgotten that it was the traditional pre-Hallowe'en event, and far be it from me not to dress up in costume when given the opportunity.  So on a rain late October Saturday I donned my best Angus Young outfit and put out a solid tempo run, weighed down by a soaking wet blue velour jacket.

This year's theme - favourite musicians/rock stars!

Feeling like I hadn't yet crossed the line of irreparable damage (yep, that's the flag on the field that I was waiting for ...) I stepped up to the start line for the Hamilton Marathon with Ricky in the hopes of getting him across in-between the 3:25 and the 3:30 mark.  His prep in advance of the race had gone well (with consistent Facebook posts declaring #ninjastrong and #bringonhamilton) and so it was up to me to try to keep him on track for the entire 42km.  Although the day of the race didn't pretend to offer ideal conditions (consistent rain and anticipated wind gusts up to 35 kph) it turned out to be a reasonably decent day to go long, and we were accompanied for good stretches of the course by other 3:25 hopefuls.
On the upside I managed to keep it together for most of the race, and we were able to get through 27km still on pace (according to my 3:25 pace band), but that's where things got a bit funky.  I wish that I could say that it had gotten funky for me, but it was Rick that was feeling some spasming in his calf that caused him to slow down.  However, in characteristic Rick fashion (because of his incredible mental focus and determination) he was able to claw his way back up to pace and so we spent the next 6km or so surging back and forth, still within reach of the sub-3:30.

However, as we hit my least favourite part of the course - the dreaded 'out and back' segment - Rick was hit with some kind of significant inner thigh/groin pull pain that reduced him to walking for 100m segments.  It was hard to see him struggle to this degree, knowing that his goal time was now slipping beyond our grasp - but I did my best to keep providing him with a moving target while not stretching the imaginary elastic band to the breaking point.  Still, Rick being the warrior he is managed to gut it out across the finish line in 3:43:34.

That's all mental fortitude folks ... #GoRickyGo!

I'm not sure that I've ever really come to the end of a racing season before where I felt like I wanted to take time off, but this year I knew that I needed to.  Call it overtraining, under-recovery or simply the effects of aging, my body wasn't going to have it any other way apart from a complete shutdown.  As such I've entered into a three-week hiatus from any running time on my feet - and this may well be the longest stretch that I will have gone without running since 2010 (perhaps the seven-year itch ...?).  But there's no getting around my need to rest, to heal, and eventually to re-tool for the upcoming year.  

I'm contemplating working with a coach once again as I think that I may need to break out of the self-coached stagnation/plateau that I seem to have hit.  My good buddy Stan reported that he found significant benefits in working with a coach (and if anybody knows the ins and outs of training and running science it's him) so I have a pretty good hunch that it might be to my benefit to have someone else tailor a program for me and to keep me accountable.

Thus was the late autumn of our discontent ... I'm currently enjoying sleeping in, putting on about 10 extra pounds and not feeling the pressure of keeping up with everyone on Strava.  We'll see what December holds, as all I've got on the radar is the Snowflake Series of road races in Orillia.  I sense a change - perhaps multiples changes - in the air.  

Stay tuned ...

07 October 2017

Race report - 2017 The County Marathon (Pacer Edition)

I know that being a pacer is all about helping others to achieve their goals.

But to be honest, having my own goal in mind helped me to give my very best to the runners at The County Marathon this year.

And the goal was simple enough:  finish within the two-second window of my three previous appearances as pacer in Picton. 
  • 2014 - official clock time of 3:29:40
  • 2015 - official clock time of 3:29:40
  • 2016 - official clock time of 3:29:42
So this year, under absolutely splendid conditions (5°C at the beginning, 15°C at the finish, clear blue sky and breezes that couldn't have topped 5kph) all of us marathoners were set up for success ...
  • 2017 - official clock time of 3:29:40
I went into this race training to be my very best, because I knew that if I did any less than that then I would not be able to hold the prescribed pace (4:59/km) and coach/encourage/goad/joke/galvanize the runners around me to hit their targets.  After my first experience (ever) pacing in 2014 at this race I quickly discovered that the role encompassed much more than crossing the finish line within 30 seconds of your assigned pace time, but that it was about creating a helpful and enjoyable 'pocket' within which to run.  If I showed up on race day just being confident of being able to pull off a 3:30 marathon myself, that would cheat the group of having someone who wouldn't rely on a gut-it-out-sprint-across-the-mat finish much less having a motivator alongside them.  As such my training since my failed redemption run at The Limberlost Challenge was all tailored to this race.

I consider myself blessed to have been invited back to serve as a pacer by the self-proclaimed 'bunny herder' for this event, my friend Erin McDougall.  This year he proved himself even more gracious by denying my request to save a parking space on his driveway so that I could sleep in my car (!) and instead opening up his home to let me sleep on his living room couch.  This was all due to my complete inability to properly schedule/space-apart events, as my wife asked me several months back "what are you doing on Sep. 30" - and since that particular date didn't set off any alarms in my head I replied with "nothing, I'm free".  Of course I didn't calculate that I would need to be in Prince Edward County that night since I'd be pacing a full marathon the next day, so we wound up joining a team with her high-school friend and husband in a charity event modeled after "The Amazing Race".

Team Treetop!  (not named because of my height or my wife's ...)

The event didn't involve a lot of extra exercise/activity (which I normally try to avoid the day before a marathon) but it was held in the region of the Blue Mountains, about an extra hour away from Brighton, ON where I'd need to be to spend the night.  This just added to the complexity of my weekend, as the plan for post-race was to hightail-it to Ottawa to take my daughter (a frosh student at Carleton University) out for dinner ... but I was most concerned for the lateness of the hour and the inconvenience that it would post to Erin's family to have me roll in when everyone else was trying to bed down for the night.  As it was, our "The Amazing Race" event wrapped up earlier than expected and I was able to make some decent time on the highway, arriving in 'The County' by just after 8pm ... where leftover supper was awaiting me and a nice relaxed chat with Erin, his wife and kids, their dog (Percy) as well as another pacer (Ned) and his companion.

Race day
Given that the details of arriving at the start line mirror the previous three years' events, I'll just note that while staying warm in the Essroc Arena I connected with a few familiar faces from previous years/other events, including Richard (a tough-as-nails runner who had run with my group at least twice before, and not yet hit his 3:30 goal), Patrick Kelly (an amazing man and runner whom I'd been privileged to meet at the 2016 EndurRun), and my good pal Taylor (with whom I'd worked for several years at The Rogers Cup in Toronto).  This year there was no Kenyan or Ethiopian elite athlete to spy on/meet since this was the first year that The County Marathon did not offer any prize money - a bit of a shame since it was always cool to rub shoulders with the kind of people who were themselves rubbing shoulders with the best runners in the entire world.

Within the first couple of kilometres of the start line I also met up with a few runners who indicated that their plan was to stick with me, including:
  • Albert - who'd just raced in the Berlin Marathon the previous weekend and notched a new PB (3:08), and was also planning to pace a friend in the following weekend's Chicago Marathon - making for three marathons in three weekends in three different countries.  He also brought with him a sportdrink that had Maurten fuel mixed in (now made famous as part of Eliud Kipchoge's Breaking 2 attempt), as they had provided some samples at the Berlin Marathon.
  • Dean - a seasoned marathoner who had posted results all in and around the 3:30 mark.
  • Nathan - a former 140.6 Ironman finisher (at Lake Placid) who had stepped away from endurance sport nearly 10 years ago and was just now trying to get back into it.
Along the way we managed to pick up a few other runners (whom we could have just as easily 'picked off' since many of them fell into the perennial racer's trap of starting out waaaayyy too fast ...) and so our pack grew to about seven, including:
  • Nancy - who was aiming for a BQ but upon seeing my "3:30 FULL" sign immediately exclaimed "Oh man - I'm going at least five seconds per kilometre too fast!".  We encouraged her that she had it in her and that she could use the group as her own personal drafting aid.
  • Shayne - dressed in a super-awesome Spider-man long sleeve tech shirt, but also running in nylon warm-up pants!  
  • Spencer - who dialed into the group at just about the 33km mark and toughed it out (saving most of his breath and energy by not speaking) for his first ever marathon.
As it was we had a really enjoyable time staying together (with a few new faces coming into and out of the group along the way) up to the 35km mark.  This was the furthest that I'd seen a group progress with me in the four years of pacing this event, and so it was a new experience for me and a super-proud moment!  The infamous hill just before the 38km mark did take its toll, but Dean (the last one to hang with me) proved to be mentally tough enough to plod his way up the hill alongside me and picked up steam after we crested it - cruising on through to a 3:29:15 finish.

To be honest I didn't do anything to try to speed up or slow down as I finished the tour of gorgeous downtown Picton and spied the finish line - I felt like I just kept to the effort I'd carried throughout the race, knowing of course that just about everyone picks up thanks to the crowd energy in the closing 150m or so.  I didn't even catch the clock time as I crossed, I was just pleased/surprised that I'd actually carried my "3:30" sign the entire way.

I assumed my 'usual' position at the back of the finishers' chute to watch the other runners come across the line, and I suspect that I was afforded a bit more latitude than other participants (since I was a pace bunny) as the volunteers tried to keep that area clear by having racers keep moving through to the open field adjacent to the roadway.  I managed to connect with Dean (who sounded quite emotional as he gave me a big hug), Spencer, Nancy, Nathan, Shayne and Taylor - all of them pretty spent but still pumped about having enjoyed a glorious day in the sun.

Not that I do this for the vainglory, but I'm pleased that I was able to do what they recruited me to do - and some of the evidence of this came in the form of a couple of generous social media shares from the other runners:

It was yet another spectacular day in Prince Edward County, and each year I have as much (if not more) fun than the year before.  If you're a veteran runner/road-racer and haven't yet tried your hand at serving as a pacer I'd encourage you to explore this option - not just as a way to help bolster the running community but also as a challenge for your own training and race strategy.  For what my opinion's worth, I think that you will be glad that you did!

Key race gear used: