20 November 2014

sponsorship year one - reflections

i'm not a corporate sell-out - it's a privilege, and a source of motivation.

this year i've been blessed to be able to help carry the banner for two great organizations - Skechers Performance Canada and Team Running Free.  the support that i've received from each has been tremendous, and has expanded the sense of tribe and family that i've come to know since embarking on my own running journey.  being affiliated with some recognizable names has also elevated my sense of accountability - not necessarily to them, but to myself and my commitment to health, exercise and excellence.

and here's the tale ...


just shy of two years ago i discovered the the Team Running Free sponsorship program but was too late to apply for that year's cohort of athletes - so i patiently waited about 10 months to submit my application for the 2014 season.  the allure at that time was to work with a local running specialty store that i believed had not only a real focus on people who were serious about their sport (without necessarily being elite-level) but also a focus on giving back to others (e.g. their shoe re-use program and mission haiti initiative).

after receiving notice of acceptance into the 2014 program, i was over the moon!  beyond all reasoning i was now a 'sponsored athlete', and that certainly made me feel like i'd achieved a dream goal.  now i would not only be able to don official Team Running Free gear and not be a 'poser', but i would actually represent (and cheer on) this sporting clan in competitions.  throughout the racing season i have proudly worn either my Team RF singlet or arm-warmers, and also had the opportunity to participate in clinics or special events with other Team RF athletes.  two of the highlight moments from this year have included meeting groundbreaking canadian olympian and marathoner sylvia ruegger as well as running with one of the world's best known superhumans dean karnazes.


what i love and deeply appreciate about the Team RF sponsorship program is that anyone is eligible to apply, and athletes of all capacities are accepted.  the defining criteria is passion for their selected activity as well as promotion of health and fitness within their broader community.  through this connection i've come to know a variety of fantastic people and been encouraged by their comments and accomplishments - and in so doing become a better runner and ambassador for sport.  i plan to reapply for 2015, and see what new escapades come about!


not long after submitting my application to Team RF, i was contacted by the marketing director at Skechers Performance Canada about the possibility of becoming a brand ambassador for them.  this came completely out of left field - while i have been a big fan of the Skechers Performance Division footwear for a little while now (not quite since their emergence) and have been singing their praises on social media outlets, i certainly did not imagine that anything would come about as a result of it.  however, my vocalizations on twitter caught their attention and lo and behold they expressed an interest in exploring a relationship with me, involving active representation for them on twitter, facebook, youtube and this blog.  not long after that, i had arrived at the next level of athletic sponsorship - actually signing a contract.

i cannot say enough about how happy i have been to be aligned with such a great company and especially to be on side with inspirational people like meb keflezighi and kara goucher, nevermind the slew of other Skechers-affiliated ambassadors and team athletes out there.  and my point people with SPD Canada have been wonderfully communicative, supportive and generous - i am excited for the opportunity to continue working with them into this next year and showing up to races as one of the few sporting the Skechers Performance logo!


i am honestly very anxious to chart the directions that Skechers Performance takes in the near future - they continue to bound forward (no pun intended) with advancements in their technical footwear, and grow in association with top-notch performers (e.g. PGA tour golfer matt kuchar) and high-level competitions (e.g. houston marathon).  the sky's the limit!

- - - - -

have you ever connected with/sought connections with a brand or sponsor?  if so, which one(s), and how has it gone?  if not, why?  i'd love to find out! 

13 November 2014

why you (and i) need a real off-season

this has been a banner running year in so many ways.

BQ.  

first ultramarathon (56k).

first trail race.

first time guide-running.

first official pacing duties.

first adventure race.

most distance logged in a calendar year (4385km YTD).

and now, it's time for a rest.

if you're at all the kind of runner that i am, then you know how much easier-said-than-done this is.  one of the strengths of my training cycle has been just how disciplined i've become at getting out the door six days a week.  rain or shine, wind or hail, polar vortex or humidex alert.  it has been as natural for me to complete a daily (or two-a-day) run as it has been to eat dinner.  if anything i've only taken a pass twice all year long on my scheduled runs - both of them occurring within the past five weeks on account of knee pain (and quite possibly an indicator of overtraining).

and yet for having achieved this series of accomplishments for 2014, you'd think i'd be more than ready for a break.  you'd be wrong.

however, knowing that even the very best, most dedicated athletes in the world take a block of time away from their sport as an important component to their training was incentive enough for me to at least consider it.

as best as i understand it, the following are the benefits to a true multi-week break/off-season from running:
  1. physical rest - this sounds blatantly redundant, but the fact is that a year's worth of running and racing takes a cumulative toll on the body in the same way that that cumulative miles actually develop your running form and lead to physiological adaptations.
  2. mental rest - my friend jim has repeatedly said that running is 90% mental and the other 10% is in your head.  if that is the case, then your brain needs as much of a respite as any other part of your body.  all of that focus, that rugged determination, that visualization needs to take a pause and recharge so that when you need it it's still there, not worn out and fuzzy.
  3. treat yourself - maybe this is the time to sneak in a few of those delectable goodies that you diligently said 'no' to during your training cycle or perhaps to the occasional less-than-ideal runner's meal.  although we make sacrifices to train that doesn't mean that the remainder of your life has to become this relentless penalty box session.  you might also take the time to sleep in some more and find out what it's like to not constantly feel fatigued.
  4. take inventory and set new goals - this is a great time to step back and look at all that you've accomplished, regardless of whether or not you hit the mark on each and every race target.  and given that absence makes the heart grow fonder, each and every day of non-running will bring you closer to that place where you are absolutely itching to hit the road or trails again.
  5. re-tool - if you're a triathlete, adventure racer or obstacle race competitor then you probably already spend time cross-training.  for running-specific people like me this is a time to check out other exercise disciplines, or hone in on some strength-building work.  if you're a reader, you can use this time to educate yourself on some of the technique and finesse points of becoming a more finely tuned machine - i recommend steve magness' the science of running and pete magill's (with thomas schwartz and melissa breyer) build your running body.

convinced?  i admit that this is just as much of a chore and a discipline to stay out of my running shoes as it is to lace them up on bone-chilling blustery pre-dawn winter mornings ... but i believe that this is also the smartest move and well worth the investment of two or three weeks for my upcoming race year.

what's your take on an 'off-season'?  how do you rejuvenate your running?  i'd love to learn from your insights and experiences ... please leave a comment and tell your story!

09 November 2014

race report - Raid The Hammer 2014 (Half-Raid)

my friend sean has been asking/nagging/goading me for a while to try an adventure race with him.  this time around he succeeded.

as a way to round out my running year i decided to join him and another friend of ours (norm) in tackling a running-specific adventure race put on as part of the Don't Get Lost Adventure Running Series called "Raid The Hammer" (the "Hammer" being the hamilton, ontario area).  since norm and i were adventure racing virgins (sean has seen many an adventure race, including mulitiple disciplines such as canoeing, snowshoeing and mountain biking - and varying durations, from 8 hour to 24 hour events), we registered for the 'half-raid', advertised as being an 11-13km trail running and trekking distance.

of all of the races which i'd signed up for this year, i found myself to be the most 'excited' for this one.  there were other races - 10ks, marathons, ultras - about which i was more eager to compete, but this one genuinely had me smiling about what would take place.  this was most likely the case because i wasn't sure at all what i was in for, so everything would be new - and because i had no expectations whatsoever.  it was shaping up to just be a nice outing with some good friends.

race day
sean, norm and i travelled down to the start line in ancaster with three other mutual friends who comprised a rival team (we competed in groups of three).  drew, joanne and brenda were each veteran adventure racers, so norm and i sat quietly in the back of the truck knowing that we were greenhorns in this mix - but maybe that would play out to our advantage. 

the pre-race pick-up all happens the day of the event as the course routes and maps have to be kept hush-hush to preserve the integrity of the challenge.  upon receipt of our kit, we joined all of the other teams in reviewing the checkpoints that we would have to visit and identifying the best possible routes to form our attack plan.

norm (top) and sean (right) charting the course


after a briefing by one of the race organizers we had about 15 minutes to get suited up for the day's outing.  this included ensuring that we each had the required gear (a permanent pen, whistle, emergency blanket, compass, first aid kit, toques) as well the fuel, hydration, and protection (sean recommended donning some shin pads in anticipation of the bramble that we would encounter ... and was i ever glad that i listened) that would carry us over hill and dale.

two of us sporting Skechers Performance! (and notice the body armour ...)

our team - "The Three Asiagos" (yep, what a cheesy name ...)

the mass start, and the coldest part of the race

it was a mass start, but from there it really was choose-your-own-adventure in terms of how to get from A to B.  while we were clumped up in traffic for the first 15 minutes or so, it didn't take long for the teams to thin out as various groups had climbing strengths, others were more daring in terms of the routes selected.  we were out to have fun, but sean, norm and i each have a competitive edge so we certainly didn't want to be batting clean-up for the entire race.

the checkpoints varied from being distinct hole-punch shapes that had to be recorded on your team sheet, to digital chip synchs, to fill-in-the-blank place names.  on the half-raid there were no 'scatter' options, so each team had to travel together to every checkpoint, so although there were moments when one of us might be out running ahead of the other two it really served to no significant advantage (except to perhaps urge on the entire team's pace).  we traversed all sorts of terrain - mostly groomed trail (wide or single track), but also plenty of trail-blazing up and down steep embankments, over mossy rocks, through mud marshes and streams.  the final leg of the race took us through the neighbourhoods of the community of dundas, so there was even pavement with which to contend for the so-called "11-13km".  across all of this i was pleased that i'd elected to don the Skechers GOBionic Trail as my footwear of choice, as they provided me more than ample traction and stability.

sean (who was our orienteering lead, and an outstanding one at that) had noted for us that you really couldn't gauge your progress by the position of any other teams - partly because you didn't know who might be lost, have missed checkpoints, or even part of the 'full raid' distance which came from the opposite direction that the half-raiders were moving forward into.  all in all we found most of the other racers a friendly and obliging bunch - although we did come across an incident on a stretch of trail that was busy with sunday afternoon hikers.  apparently one of the teams had been in such a rush that on a narrow track they brushed by two ladies walking their dogs, inadvertently knocking the one woman over which resulted in her having a deep gash to her knee.  it was a hit-and-run, but our team and one other (not having seen the incident itself) came upon the injured woman, at which point sean quickly jumped into action - pulling out his first aid kit, applying some antibiotic cream and applying a gauze-and-tape wrap to the wound.  the lady and her friend were very appreciative of the help, while one of the women from the other team who'd stopped was beside herself apologizing on behalf of all the half-raiders:  "we're not usually like that!", adding "did you get their bib number?" and "what did they look like?"  there was no real additional information that our victim could offer, but before we carried on to the next checkpoint (which was very close to that site) one of the course marshals actually happened upon the scene so he was able to at least bring some official representation on behalf of the event, and probably secure the appropriate information for liability purposes.

all told, we finished our race in just over three hours, covering a total of 17.24 km by my garmin GPS.  this was to norm's chagrin, as he was repeatedly reassured that this would be 'just about a 10k race'.

"10k my a**"

final checkpoint - 20th place (out of 51 total teams, 16th out of 42 adult open category teams)

post-race
this adventure race has been noted for the food and swag afterwards, and the organizers certainly didn't disappoint this year.  from the two food trucks providing complimentary lunch meals to a pair of free socks from Fox River, everybody got plenty spoilt.  even following the announcement and presentation of top finisher awards, the remaining teams were randomly invited to come and pick something from the prize table - so i got to walk away with a technical running hat as well. 

sean has already hit norm and i up about a winter adventure race - and while i am still in the midst of crafting my 2015 competition schedule, i admit that having now been indoctrinated into the ways of AR i would seriously consider it!  and definite high-fives go to Don't Get Lost for this fantastic Raid The Hammer event - if you are at all looking for something different from the grind of road races, or even trail racing for that matter, i unreservedly recommend giving this event a lookover!


05 November 2014

race report - 2015 Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope

just when you thought it was all going according to plan.

that was the refrain of the day for this year's edition of the hamilton marathon road2hope.

of all of the races which i had on the schedule this year, this was really the only one that i thought of as a 'run this for me' kind of race.  the other marathons that i'd been a part of in 2014 were either (a) training for another race or (b) to assist others.  as such, i viewed the hamilton marathon as a target race at which i hoped to post a solid PB given its layout and self-promotion as 'canada's fastest boston qualifier'.


pre-race
considering that i was coming off of pacing the county marathon just four weeks prior, i tried to do everything right.  i took off extra days when i needed to in order to recover (and trust me, after two separate nights of excruciating and mysterious medial knee pain i listened to my body) as well as tapering appropriately while maintaining adequate speed work.  i even monitored my plan for achieving race weight (target was 137 lbs.) carefully so that it was a slide down and not a rapid drop.  and once again i also performed a three-day carboload to ensure that i had enough in the tank to put in a solid effort run.

this year i was thinking of avoiding the extra trip down to the expo pre-race but as it turned out everyone else who i knew was going to be running the same day were going to wait until the morning of to get kitted out - except for my buddy steve who was going to stay overnight in hamilton.  as i prefer to lay everything out the night before a race, i decided that i would go down early saturday morning and get a run in on the burlington waterfront before snagging my race package, as well as a couple of others as i received a couple of requests when it became known that i would do the day before pickup.

the saturday morning shake-out run proved to be a very windy and chilly affair - which was somewhat helpful in gauging how i would need to dress for the forecasted -6°C starting conditions on sunday at 8:00 am.  honestly, i felt badly for the 5k and 10k runners who would be competing on saturday morning because if they were hoping for a fast run these were not the conditions ... and if they were hoping for a recreational, enjoyable run, these were not the conditions.

the expo itself was again held in one of the large event tents at the confederation park finish line area.  the pickup was no-nonsense and very straightforward, with several sponsors and vendors including running free, the runner's den (a title sponsor), clif bar, honey maxx, and the filmmaker from Transcend who had been making the rounds to various expos and running events since debuting at the chicago marathon earlier this month.

race day
with plans to travel down to hamilton with my friends kathleen and rolf, i woke up from a decent night's sleep at 3:30 am.  after a decent peanut butter & banana bagel washed down by a beet juice/electrolyte drink mix, i felt like i was ready to roll when kathleen picked me up at 5:00 am.  i'd checked and double-checked my backpack to make sure i had everything i'd need - which i did.

(*cue ominous foreshadowing music*)

kathleen asked if i could drive her vehicle as she was still in the process of a long recovery from a concussive injury - and explained how she debated coming at all to run today, but that with plans to take it very easy (for the half-marathon distance) she felt that all would be fine.  so we went and picked up rolf and began our trek southwards.

about 40 minutes later down the highway, in and amidst our banter about race preparation and aspirations for the day the penny dropped.

i slugged kathleen in the shoulder from my driver side position and said "i forgot your race kit".

i'd picked up hers and rolf's kits along with mine, but rolf had swung by the house on saturday afternoon to nab his.  in all my morning prep to make sure that i was good to go, i stepped out the door leaving kathleen's kit hanging on a coathook.

i was in absolutely disbelief.

kathleen broke out into laughter.

almost as if a wave of relief had washed over her, she declared how glad that she was that she had a legitimate reason to not run today and risk feeling unwell for the next week or more.  it didn't do much to allay my own incredible feelings of guilt at this epic blunder, but rolf also agreed that these things happen for a reason.  with that we continued on our merry way, although (as you might have anticipated) this became the source of many comments in jest throughout the day.

after being graciously dropped off by kathleen near the start line, rolf and i met up with a few other runners from barrie - erin, wendy and kevin - and i also spotted my friends peter and steve.  we wished each other the best, and then steve and i lined up close to the front of the 'chute' to try to reduce as much weaving and surging as possible.

rolf and i ready to rock hamilton!

 wendy, rolf, erin, kevin and me representing the Barrie RoadRunners

my plan was to go out at a 3:10 pace (4:30/km), as i felt like i was honestly in good shape to post at least a 3:10 marathon.  but my real hope was to pick up speed after about 24km and finish with a negative split.  in the early kilometres i got swallowed up by the 3:15 pacer group and had thoughts of sticking with them for the first half, especially after hearing the pacer speak of how you can lose a good 20s per kilometre if running unshielded from the wind down the parkway.  however, feeling like i really need to stay ahead of the group, i edged ahead at one of the first aid stations and stayed out in front of them, feeling comfortable and clicking off 4:30-ish kilometres with ease.

through to km 21:  1:34:41 

then it came time to scoot down the red hill parkway, and the wind played into the picture.  it didn't feel too daunting, and i played it smart by picking up the cadence so that i wasn't pounding my quads, and i ran all of the tangents as tightly as possible.  still, i was out there for the entire parkway stretch (and more) alone, exposed to the brunt of the wind.  and all of that must have taken more of a toll than i realized.

km 22 through km 34:  59:04

the last leg of this race runs back and forth along the lake, and as i passed the 35km sign i had flashbacks to last year, when at this point the 3:15 group passed me by with ease.  this time around i was determined that this would not happen - and while my turnover seemed fine to me, i began to notice the occasional person here and there passing me, and my kilometre splits creeping up around 5:00/km.  

i didn't want to admit it, but my legs were beginning to rebel.  

my fueling had gone well.  for the first time in any marathon i didn't feel even the slightest twinge of a muscle spasm.  i was running tall, and pumping with my arms to keep up the rhythm for my legs.  i had on my Skechers GOMeb Speed 2s to remind me that older can still be better.  how could everything be rolling in my favour and yet my pace slowing so much?

on the same stretch of the hamilton beach trail that i'd run the day before i was willing myself through to the end - but it didn't prevent the 3:15 group (of about eight runners) from passing me with 4km to go.  i just couldn't muster the reserves to keep up with them.  in fact, the only last gasp that i had was a sprint finish down the last 150m straightaway as i dueled a fellow marathoner to cross the line first.

battling #260 to the very end [photo by mike cheliak of My Sports Shooter]

km 35 through km 42.195:  48:46

official chip time:  3:16:54  [garmin time:  3:17:16 for 42.69km]

post-race
it was just after i crossed that i noticed my friend and fellow running ninja lewis who had come down unannounced to cheer me on.  after a quick connect, i grabbed some snacks, pizza and soup from the racer's tent and then roamed with lewis to try to find some of our mutual friends.  we found steve who looked fresh after having crossed the line in 2:54:16 at his first marathon ever - a clean BQ time and well under his 3:00 goal.  i was in total awe, and extremely proud of his 9th place finish.

erin wound up clearing 3:32:00 for another consecutive year of qualifying for Boston.  rolf and kevin crossed the line at just over the 4:00 mark, both of them trying to outdo the other down the closing 150m.  an excellent result for both of them as well.

as i reflected on the race, a few observations emerged:
  1. how did i ever get to thinking that a 3:17 marathon was disappointing? even though i missed my 'A' and 'B' goal, i posted my best time yet on this course by over a minute.
  2. since i am now in the window to qualify for the 2016 Boston Marathon, i've moved up an age category and cleared the BQ time by eight minutes.
  3. i don't think that i've yet felt like i had a strong race on the road2hope course - it may not agree with me.
  4. i may have been overambitious in trying to run two solid marathons four weeks apart - either that or i've taxed myself just a bit too hard this training year.  i do still feel like i was in 3:10 marathon shape - but maybe i played my cards in the wrong order.
  5. i can hit race weight - my scale read 141.8 lbs on sunday morning.
  6. for 2015 i'm going to look at running a bunch of different races from ones that i've now grown accustomed to ... i'm already passing on the mississauga marathon next spring in favour of the waterloo marathon.  i've added the sulphur springs 50k trail race in may, and will plan on going to collingwood to tackle The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in july.  i'm also seriously considering entering the lottery for the chicago marathon, or perhaps registering for the detroit international marathon (both taking place in october).  i will also see if i can pick some more races where i can dovetail with the presence of Skechers Performance Division and Team Running Free.
  7. my off-season focus will shift to developing a better engine for running - i'm motivated to read pete magill's build your running body and try to develop the components that i will use to push for more successful races next year.
as eager as i am to plan my calendar for next year, i am pretty much on the cusp of off-season.  i just have an adventure race with my friends sean (kathleen's husband) and norm this coming weekend - my first foray into any kind of orienteering-based race.  after that, it's a welcome break into ice cream and doritos again.

#GOlikeneverbefore!

30 October 2014

gear review - Nathan quickdraw elite handheld hydration bottle

my preference is to be the least encumbered runner that i can possibly be.  that's why i don't run with music, and (to my friend trevor's great surprise when we first started training together) why i don't usually carry any water on my workouts.

however, having set my sights on tackling my first ultra this year i decided that perhaps it would be wise to invest in some kind of hydration system ... whether it be a packstyle bladder and tube or a belt and multiple bottles or a handheld container.  after some consultation with seasoned ultra and trail running competitors, i decided to give the Nathan quickdraw elite a go.


on the one hand:
the nathan quickdraw plus (QDE) is a well thought-through product.  from the multiple front pockets - including a zippered one large enough for most smartphones should you choose to carry one along - to the adjustable velcro sizing strap and the standard-ish sized 22oz sport water bottle, this piece of gear is designed with the runner's comfort and accessibility in mind.

some of the best features of the QDE are:
  • easy-to-open and close rubber nozzle - use your teeth to yank it open and slam it against one of your glutes to shut it again!  durable and leakproof.
  • quick-fill - no fiddling with bladders or trying to pour juice jugs into itty bitty bottle openings.  the wide mouth on the QDE makes aid station stops a snap.
  • open-hand fit - the webbing on the handhold has a thumbhole to secure the bottle to your hand and allows you to have a loose grasp on the QDE, meaning that you carry less tension in your upper body while running.
  • washability - the bottle can endure the dishwasher and the harness can go through the laundry cycle.
  • protective equipment!! - i'd read elsewhere that one of the upsides to using handheld hydration is that in the event of a trip and fall the bottles can help cushion the landing and save some abrasion.  and yes, i did unwittingly put my QDE to the test - and yes, it helped the tumble look a little more graceful!

on the other hand:
really, what's not to love?

ok, i guess that there are a couple of (minor) points that i could make here:
  • arm swing - whether using a single handheld or a pair in tandem, carrying bottles will affect your otherwise unencumbered arm swing.  it just takes a bit of getting used to - but i certainly didn't find it distracting or detrimental.
  • temperature - the few times that i've ventured out in cooler weather with the QDE i found that my hands were colder than normal if i'd filled the bottle with cold water.  i know that it stands to reason, but after a while the temperature of the water rose a couple of degrees (probably more from body heat than air temperature) and it wound up being comfortable enough.  there were just a few early kilometres of stinging palms.
you can check out my video review of the QDE here: 


the bottom line?  this is a great piece of equipment for any runner, but in particular those who enjoy trail/ultra running.  thumbs up (through the webbing)!