02 March 2015

running blind (and other mental tricks)

it's been about a little over a year since i was really motivated to try to focus on running by feel.  part of the impetus to do so was to try to re-awaken the experience of the 'pure joy' of being runner - i was beginning to find that quite elusive as i was more intent on achieving a particular time goal for the marathon, and reaching the Boston qualification standard.  

and now?

still trying to find that joy.

but i'm getting a bit better at running by feel.

aside from taking on my sensei's challenge (yes, i have a running sensei - not a coach per se, but my friend jim with whom i run and chat once a week and who leads our Barrie Running Ninjas group) of working with heart rate monitoring and zone training, i've also just recently decided to switch off the pace display options from my Garmin 305.

it may not sound like a big deal to any of you, but this for me is the equivalent of running blind (not quite blind like the inspirational rhonda-marie avery, but data-blind).  it means that while the data fields on my GPS watch are telling me how much time has elapsed for the workout, as well as for any given lap, i'm not monitoring how quickly i'm covering the ground over the course of a kilometre or mile - which (no pun intended) is a big step for me.

instead i'm operating with several mantras in my head to try to help me dial into the appropriate pace for a given training run - and they're pretty basic, including "race pace", "faster than race pace", "do the Yuki" (who has famously said "Every time I run it's with the mindset that if I die at this race it's OK" - so this is an all-out effort) and "keep it easy".  i also find it helpful to gauge effort level by paying attention to my breathing pattern - which is far from regulated, but i can sense the difference between easy, steady state and lactate threshold intensities by listening to how hard i'm huffing.

another little cue that i just discovered yesterday and was able to test out today comes from one of my new favourite gurus, jae gruenke.  jae is an instructor in the feldenkrais method and applies this to trying to cultivate more efficient running styles.  while a lot of it jives with stuff that i've heard many times over before, jae has a way of delivering this information that i find very helpful.  so from her most recent blogpost i picked up the idea of running 'face-forward' (and no, it's not about correcting the directionally-challenged) - a mnemonic that will assist in better posture and promoting the right kind of forward lean angle.  here's her video tutorial on this point:

finally, my friend dean posted this little encouragement on Facebook today:

i'll admit to feeling a bit hypocritical by including this since i have a hard time resisting the occasional Little Caesar's 'hot-n-ready' pizza, or a toppings-laden cold cut combo sub from Subway.  but more and more i'm coming to recognize that the best meals for me are going to be comprised of real food, and not so much processed and convenience-packaged stuff.

what tips and tricks have helped you the most, or that you have picked up on recently?  please share them in the comments below - i'm always eager to find out what's on other people's radars!

19 February 2015

true colours

it's funny what it takes to feel like you 'belong'.

just last night i had a conversation with some compatriots from a running group which i frequent about the Boston Marathon.  a number of them have run this much coveted race, and have the appropriate bling to show for it ... various colourways of the official jacket (representing different years of the event) being one of the most notable items.  having attained my Boston qualification time twice in 2014 (once in the spring, which was not sufficiently fast enough to actually land me on the registration list for 2015, and once in the fall which should do the trick since it lies within the scope of the 2016 race for which i will have moved up an age category) i am looking forward to making the pilgrimage to the eastern seaboard to run this iconic marathon next april - and so i innocently asked the question 'how much will it actually cost me to get the jacket?'

the answer was not what i'd expected.

instead of a straightforward response of a definite dollar figure, i instead heard how i should be prepared to walk into the race expo with $700-1000 to spend.  i eventually did get to find out that the jacket itself is about $100 USD (and i know now that there are usually two versions of the jacket each year - one 'souvenir' jacket and another functional running jacket by adidas).

it may be because i'm such a cheapskate that i balked at the idea of parting with a grand for memorabilia from the expo - or it may be that i just don't consider being demonstrative about my accomplishments in that way being so important to me.  don't get me wrong - i'll probably still end up with an official Boston Marathon jacket should i get to go, and it'll be worn with pride, but it's not going to define or validate my achievements as a runner.  i think that it's the same train of thought that has prevented me from donning a "26.2" sticker on my car.  various blogpost conversations have taken place about the merits of visibly touting the distances that runners have successfully covered, and i hold nothing against anyone who wants to demonstrably announce that they are a half-marathoner, marathoner, ultramarathoner, ironman or what have you.  

it's just not me.

i like to feel as if belong to a tribe.  who doesn't?  and from the earliest gatherings there have been ways in which we have marked ourselves as clans - whether by 
body mods
black/white hats
belt buckles
bumper stickers.
i'll just keep foremost in my mind that my sense of identity, belonging, value and purpose is defined from the inside out, and not the other way around.

11 February 2015

“when nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

a little while ago my attention was piqued by the premise of a book called Antifragile.  steve magness had alluded to this book in one of his blogposts that i'd read from late last year and immediately i was intrigued by the notion that organisms and entities can benefit by deliberately exposing themselves to uncertainty, risk, adversity and change.

in many ways this is a mantra by which i tend to live.

however, it's not something that i'd thought to put into practice with regard to my race training regimen.

don't get me wrong - there's variety in my schedule.  for one, i don't run on the treadmill, so stepping out the door each and every day (regardless of lighting, ambient air and/or windchill temperature, traction conditions, and accumulated amount of precipitation) provides me with multiple route options.  still i will admit that i have 6 or 7 'favourite' paths to cover depending on the targeted workout (e.g. tempo run, interval training, hills).  i suppose that everyone has some tried and true standbys that they go to when tackling a particular type of run, partly because we are by nature creatures of habit.

and yet, if we do consider the thesis that athletes who race in variable conditions (e.g. weather, course undulation, fatigue level, susceptibility to injury, nutritional demands/processing, adherence to race strategy) benefit more by training in non-linear/predictable environments then we'd do well to seek out curveballs in our workouts.

i know that that this may seem like an unsound training approach.  my former running coach would have cringed at the thought of mixing up workouts in this way - his view was that improvement was best measured in an apples-to-apples kind of situation, so all interval workouts should be conducted on a standard 400m multi-lane track.  without those kinds of standardized metrics his opinion would have been that i'd/we'd have no idea where my fitness and speed levels really resided.

and yet there's something to be said for each person knowing their own needs and design best.  i'm certainly not adverse to change (what nassim nicholas taleb would deem 'fragile'), and i'm not even someone who just built to withstand the rigours of change and adversity (taleb's definition of 'robust') - but i'd consider myself a person who seeks out new challenges, new experiences and new expressions - quite potentially an 'antifragile' personality.  as such, i'd be more inclined and perhaps adept at actively engaging diversification across workouts - even those covering the same distances and intensities.

believing that this type of tactic jives with me, what has that looked like?
  • tempo runs that are not on the flats, but that have taken me out into the countryside on routes that had previously been reserved for long and/or easy runs 
  • long and/or easy runs that do not follow a loop course but that rather meander down city streets, exploring neighbourhoods that i've never wandered through before
  • hill work that varies from 10s steep (12%) hill sprints to 6% grade 30s hill repeats
  • pre-dawn runs that are sometimes preceded by a snack, sometimes by nothing
  • some runs gauged by pace, some by heartrate, others simply by feel.
i realize that this is not earth-shattering to most of you, but for me it is reflective of my attempt to become more and more #antifragile.

how do you mix it up - if you choose to do so at all?

28 January 2015

road review - Skechers GORun 3

ever feel like you're bringing last year's christmas fruitcake as a present to the party this year?

with so many great reviews of the Skechers GORun 4 already being posted out there, it seems almost redundant (if not unnecessary) to provide a write-up about the GORun 3s ... 

except that i really, really like this shoe.

the fact is that the GR2 has been a great performer for me - super-versatile for all kinds of training runs, and even getting me across the finish line in a marathon (although one of my worst, but due in no way to my footwear).  when i first checked out the GR3s in a Skechers retail store some 18 months ago, i didn't give them much thought ... mostly because i was so taken by the GORun Ultra.  but when provided with an opportunity by Skechers Performance Division Canada to put them through their paces, they have quickly risen to the top of my go-to arsenal.

what works about this shoe?
  • light - what makes the GR3 a shoe that is really adaptable to speed and long-run workouts is that it doesn't weigh a ton.  the kitchen scale tells me that my size 10s come in at just around 7.3 oz (or thereabouts).

  • bright - i deliberately wanted to test out Skechers Performance's Nite Owl technology, which is a photo-luminescent colour-saturated material that absorbs light and then emanates it as a glow for visibility.  in the daytime, these shoes are an unmissable bright alien green - and at night (after sufficient light exposure, of which natural daylight does the best charging job) it looks like each stride is being taken by neon glowsticks.

    the picture doesn't do any justice to the aura on these shoes!
  • airy - the change in the upper material (especially over the forefoot) to the triangular sub-layer and open-mesh covering certainly factors into its overall lightness as well as it being a well-ventilated shoe.  i don't plan on trudging through a lot of mud and puddles with them, but i suppose that while its construction would mean that it provides less protection against moisture penetration it also would lend itself to decent drainage and evaporation.
  • width - as with most Skechers Performance Division footwear to date, loads of forefoot room for adequate toe splay, plus a nice stretchy quality to that upper Power-Prene material.
  • low-drop - by now pretty standard, the GR3 sports a 4mm offset from heel to toe, with the option to jack that up a bit to 8mm with the extra insoles included for a customizable ride.
  • M-Strike - the distinctive feature first introduced in the original GORun, the mid-foot 'bump' provides subtle feedback about footstrike tendencies and encourages a more natural, under-the-center-of-mass landing.  there is a definite roll/convexity to the outsole, in part accentuated by a scoop profile towards the heel portion.  it may prove noticeable while walking but in the running stride it does exactly what it's supposed to - letting the runner know that the most efficient landing pattern is accomplished by not overstriding.
  • tread - i like the pod-pattern on the outsole, with several key contact points being reinforced with rubber for durability and traction.  otherwise it's the proprietary Resalyte that for me provides decent durability without adding mass to the shoe.
  • pricepoint - c'mon, $75 USD?  how can you go wrong - really.
get the up-close and personal look at the GR3 in my video review below:

as you might have already gathered, i do love this shoe.  no question that it garners 5 out of 5 footprints from me.

can you blame me now for being so excited to check out the GORun 4?!?

*** disclaimer:  i was provided with the GORun 3 by Skechers Performance Division (Canada) but was not obligated to provide a positive review.  all opinions - however poorly expressed - are my own.

19 January 2015

race report - 2015 Snowshoe Raid

this is a tale of false starts.

after i’d completed the Raid The Hammer adventure race with my friends sean and norm, sean asked me if i would consider joining him for a snowshoe adventure race in january 2015.  looking to engage some new experiences (as i’d never been on snowshoes before) I agreed, believing that i would have ample opportunity to get some practice in in advance of the event. 

the Snowshoe Raid is an annual competition organized by Don’tGet Lost Adventure Racing and this year it was hosted in the town of the blue mountains (actually the pretty river valley provincial park near collingwood, ontario).  of course this meant that the terrain would be hilly and powdery … but to just what degree i was still to discover.

sean and i had decided to meet up at the race briefing area, so the day started with me attempting to make the hour-or-so drive from my house to the main village at Blue Mountain.  the ‘attempt’ part had everything to do with finding out at 7am that my car battery was dead.  knowing that my wife would need our other vehicle for errands during the day, i wired up the two batteries and was able to jump start my car.  I was back in action until I decided to quickly pull the keys so that I could lock up the house again … after which the battery was – you guessed it – dead again.  a second rearranging of vehicles in order to re-do the jump start process was in order and this time my brain was able to kick into gear enough to not remove the key from the ignition but instead just remove the housekey from the key ring to lock up the house.  false start #1 in the books.

parking at the blue mountain resort was at one of multiple lots full of skiers and snowboarders – and about a kilometer away from the registration/kit pick-up room.  this provided a bit of a warm-up run, with warm-up being the operative word:  it was still about -20°C with the windchill.

the pick-up for adventure races is more than just a grab-and-run affair.  aside from being given your bib, SPORTident chip, orienteering map and a free pair of Fox River socks, the time allotted before the bus ride to the start line is crucial for plotting out a race strategy.  in the Snowshoe Raid the race is structured as a three hour ‘hit all the checkpoints (CPs) that you can’ competition, with varying point values assigned to different checkpoints based on distance from start/finish, elevation and accessibility.  thanks to sean’s experience as an adventure racer we settled on a route that would follow a loop where the front half would include some of the most difficult but highest point value CPs – the idea being that taking these on while still reasonably energized and fatigue-free would net us the best possible result.

teams working out their pre-race strategies

the race
a 15-minute bus shuttle took us to the start line – basically at a snowmobile trail on/off-loading site.  initially sean and I had discussed the possibility of foregoing snowshoes and trying to tackle the course shod only in running footwear, but gave ourselves the opportunity to survey conditions at the trail entry point before making a final decision.  it did take more than a minute after disembarking from the bus to know that snowshoes would be mandatory – and in fact the race director reported in the nine years of the race’s existence this day provided the deepest fresh snow/powder ever.

the airhorn blew at about 9 minutes after the intended start time, but regardless we had 180 minutes to score as many points as possible on the mapped grid – with a 10 point deduction for every minute our time was late to the finish line.  it was interesting that one of the higher point-valued CPs was only about 300m from the start area, so naturally the mass made a beeline for that easy grab.  we did as well as it was part of our planned route … but there was such a log jam at the actual electronic CP receiver that sean and i actually got separated.  i wound up trying to figure out whether or not the best ploy was to stay put and wait for sean to retrace his steps back to me, or take a chance and try to find him (of course he was our designated navigator and map-carrier) by following the majority of other racers headed off in a particular direction.  after about five wasted minutes of indecision i trotted off down the path ‘more travelled’ and did find sean about 200m away.  a quick regroup and we were off again.  false start #2.

our path took us up and down the blue mountain region, traversing parts of the Bruce Trail (at one CP reaching the sign for the highest point on all of the Bruce Trail), bushwhacking through unspoilt snowy forests and fields, and dodging snowmobile riders along OFSC (Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs) marked trails.  

i’d agreed to partnering up with sean figuring that as an endurance runner (and not knowledgeable in the ways of orienteering or snowshoeing) i’d at least be able to help set a good pace along the way.  what i discovered was that sean has a significantly long walking/snowshoeing stride.  even when i would be snow-jogging up hills i would barely be keeping up with sean’s walking pace – and when I would see sean reduce his cadence to a walk and choose to follow suit, he would outstride me by about 2:3, or even 1:3.  i would put my head down to power hike right on his heels,  only to look up a few strides later and find that sean was a good 15-20 feet ahead of me.  my only saving grace (and the reason that i didn’t become a liability on our team) was that when we hit the flats or downhills i easily switched gears into my auto-pilot long-distance mode and find that i would overtake sean simply through continuous running.  as he would say, the long and straight stretches would just ‘drive him crazy in the head’ and he would have to take intermittent breaks.  sean’s wife Kathleen chooses to describe him as a ‘burst runner’, covering shorter distances in faster times but struggling to maintain a long and even effort.

we’d determined to review our progress after reaching what would be the most taxing CP destination as that would offer us a sense of our economy of time and effort – and sure enough we felt like we were well on track to tackle the remainder of our planned route.  criss-crossing paths with other teams headed to and originating from every direction (and helping at least one team whose sense of direction was turned around enough that they were headed somewhere toward Saskatchewan) we nailed CP after CP with almost pinpoint accuracy.

all the way up until our last intended point grab. 

with a sense of the impending 2:09pm deadline looming, we felt like we had just enough margin to ascend a small hill and find our final CP at the edge of a pond.  maybe it was the self-imposed pressure.  it could have been that we were due for a flub in our navigation.  perhaps we were just paying for our greediness.  whatever it was, we ended up following a length of the Bruce Trail that actually took us farther away from the finish line (and nowhere near CP 64) and we had to abandon the hunt in order to scramble back to the road that would finally culminate at the finishing tent.  we booked it along the road (along with many other teams) to the end, and again this was where i had a bit of an edge being able to scramble down the home-stretch non-stop in my snowshoes, whereas sean had opted to detach the snowshoes and carry them but had to take intermittent walk breaks.

we clocked in with 10 seconds left to spare.

while we noticed that various other racers had nabbed some snacks and hot chocolate from the official tent at the finish area, these refreshments quickly ran out.  sean managed to grab a couple of timbits and a cookie, but i missed out completely as even the giant hot choco container had run dry.  i was thankful for having snagged a cookie at the one aid station on the course, and proceeded to mow down on some of the energy snacks i'd ported along with me.

while on the course sean had mentioned to me what a significant calorie burn snowshoeing provided, especially given that we were trekking up and down inclines through sometimes three-foot powder sections.  by the time that we were starting to cool down i was feeling the hunger pangs, so we decided not to dilly-dally and headed straight for one of the buses.  in fact, it was the third bus situated in the middle of five school buses headed back to the resort parking lot (take note).

probably burned about twice the calories compared to if i'd run the course!

on board the bus sean quickly changed out of his wet tops (he is a self-described 'heavy sweater') in order to prevent a nasty post-exercise chill.  we were both looking very much forward to getting back to the villa and cashing in on the meal included as part of the race entry fee - among the options were cheeseburger and fries, poutine, grilled chicken sandwiches, pizza, and chili w/ buns.  mmm mmm good.

but the wheels on the bus didn't want to go round and round.

we watched as the buses parked in front of us departed, and the buses behind pull out around us.

it was like the game where you try to pick the fastest check-out line at the grocery store and inevitably choose the wrong one.

our bus had somehow been designated to be the one to wait for the very last teams.  clearly there was no particular rhyme nor reason as to why this bus was so chosen - except that maybe sean and i were on it - and the other athletes who were similarly looking forward to a quick ride back to a meal and awards were quick to voice their chagrin.  i felt for the bus driver, who was really not at fault in any way for our delay - even after the last racers climbed aboard (to loud shouts of hurrah) the driver had to wait for the official 'green light' to be issued via radio dispatch.  after a good 25 min. or so wait after all the other buses had left we finally began our return trip.  false start #3.

back at the ranch we didn't fare much better - the cafeteria serving the complimentary meals was swamped with not just adventure racers but also skiiers and snowboarders.  this made for long line-ups for the hot food station, and short ones for the cold food (e.g. deli sandwiches) and pre-heated food (e.g. pizza slices, chili) stations ... which would have been okay except that (a) all the chili was gone, (b) the sandwiches were down to two out of the original 8 or 9 varieties (yes, egg salad was one of the types still on the shelf), and (c) the food voucher was only good for one slice of pizza (which was a rip-off compared to what was being served quantity-wise from the hot food station).  sean and i decided that time was of the essence so we grabbed our flimsy ham sandwiches, chocolate milk and single piece of fresh fruit and were out of there.

the organizers had elected to wait for as many of the racers as possible to collect their meals before proceeding to any award presentations and door prizes, so this meant an even more drawn out post-race affair.  given that it was getting late already (just about 90 min. since the conclusion of the race) we cut our losses and headed for home - evidently at just around the same time as three-quarters of the skiiers coming off of the hills.

 we took enough time to find out that we finished 10th overall (out of 109), 5th for male teams

all told, the race itself was a lot of fun and a fabulous workout.  kudos have to be given to those who set out all of the checkpoints and markers out in the winter barrens - they were clearly and securely affixed to their designated locations, and it must have been a ton of work to get out there to do all of that.  as for the event in a larger context, registration was straight forward but between the distant parking situation, the bus delay and the cafeteria logistics, both sean and i felt that Don't Get Lost should look seriously at a different venue (or at least configuration) for their subsequent Snowshoe Raid events.

gear rundown
here's what got me through the day ...



have you ever competed in a snowshoe race, or an adventure race?  what has been your experience competing in them, or why wouldn't you enter into one?