05 December 2014

from good to gooder

december often poses the opportunity for a year in review, and casting a vision for the future.  so i figured that this is a good time to re-tool.

i'm deluded enough to believe that with each passing year i can become a better and faster runner - even though i'm well into my 'masters' era.  with that in mind (and having just finished reading through pete magill's build your running body) i am incorporating a few changes to my race preparation regiment.  these changes include:
  • strength work - for the last few years i've basically lived by the credo that in order to become a better runner i need to ... run.  more.  and after that, run.  at this point, i think that i could definitely benefit from some focused strengthening exercises, and in particular squat, lunge and plyometric work.  i have a dayjob that has me sitting at a desk in front of a computer for hours on end, so i'm pretty sure that i have weakened glutes - nevermind horrendous posture.  while i've been consistent over the past five years with bodyweight exercises for my core and upper body, i have neglected anything that might induce additional fatigue for my legs.  again, thanks in some part to pete magill i've concluded that by developing some of these key running muscles (e.g. glutes, hamstrings) i'll not only be contributing to injury prevention but enhancing the horsepower of my running engine and lengthening my stride.

  • establishing race weight early - while i consistently get the "put some meat on your bones!" comment, i know that between my obliviousness to my weight over the last few years and na├»ve belief that running would counteract my penchant for late-night ice cream and doritos i've probably carried more than my fair share of pounds into each race.  i've determined that i want to hit a race weight of around 135lbs (and at 5'9" that would situate my body mass index at 20, well within the normal range), and that the best time to establish that is during my base phase training.  when i hit the next phases of race preparation i will likely be eating a bit more to ensure proper fueling and recovery, so getting to where i want to be at this time will set a good start point and will likely be simpler to maintain (than trying to lose pounds in the late stages of training in order to achieve race weight).

  • intentional increase in stride rate - i'd tried counting my strides-per-minute (SPM) rate before and landed in the 170 ballpark.  after a few article reads (like this one and this one) i thought that it would benefit me to pick up my feet a little faster, and to try to stay lighter on impact.  just making that mental decision has resulted in currently working on about a 190 SPM rate.

  • minor changes to running form - i confess to being a tinkerer.  maybe it's because i'm a visual learner, but i tend to try to model my technique in sport from watching others ... i've done it with tennis, volleyball, basketball, golf, and now running.  while i'm sure that what results looks nothing like the athletes that i try to mimic (e.g. michael chang, karch kiraly, isaiah thomas, karrie webb) i do try to emulate the form positives which helped each individual excel in their respective fields.  for 2015 the adaptation for me in running will be to try to swing my arms a little more like mary keitany - towards the midline, and a little less agressively forward and backward (like the motion of the side rod on a train locomotive).  i believe that it is a more efficient motion in terms of energy expediture and reduces unnecessary torsion while maintaining momentum (for more on this i recommend reading this article and this one).

  • dietary tweaks - as part and parcel of reaching race weight, i've been reviewing the quality of the fuel that i've been stuffing into my system.  i've substituted more fresh fruits and veggies into my meal recipes, as well as swapping out your econo-spaghetti for whole grain or brown rice pastas.

  • training plan - two years ago i tried preparing for a marathon with the online version of the Hansons marathon training plan that i found ... and while it did get me to a new PB at that time, i wound up leaving it behind due to how tough i thought that it was to maintain a six-day-per-week schedule of cumulative fatigue mileage.  since then i've gone on to, well, maintain a six-day-per-week cumulative fatigue mileage sort of schedule.  so now that i actually am reading the actual Hansons Marathon Method book (review to come!), i'm back on track with their approach and am eager to see how well it conditions me this time around.

how do you find that your end-of-training year time is best spent?  are you a tinkerer?  if so, on what kinds of adaptations do you tend to focus?

27 November 2014

gear review - princeton tec remix headlamp

as cheap as i am, sometimes dollar-store quality just doesn't cut it.

this is especially true when it comes to headlamp territory.

for the past few years i've lived on the edge when it comes to low-light visibility - aside from the requisite reflective material on my running jackets, pants and shoes, i'd not worn any kind of lighting system to alert vehicles (and the occasional unaware pedestrian - there's a funny story behind that one ...) of my presence on the road.  living dangerously, i know - but i've gotten by.

however, this year i started trail running in preparation for my first trail ultra at the Limberlost Challenge and while lighting wasn't necessary for that particular event i did eventually need some kind of illumination for my one day of guide running for rhonda-marie avery as she navigated her end-to-end run of the Bruce Trail.  and as the summer faded into autumn, my trail runs with the Barrie Trail Running Club and the MEC trail running clinic necessitated that i strap something to my head to at least assist others with seeing the footpath if not keeping myself from ploughing headlong into trees.

the one piece of lighting equipment that i did have (and used on a couple of occasions) was a cheap headlamp that my kids had for finding their way to and from their cabins at summer camp.  as previously noted it came from an econo-mart kind of store and probably put out the equivalent of 3 lumens (a lumen being the measurement of total illumination of a region/space).  it provided enough light to scare the boogeyman and other critters away but not enough to allow someone to propel themselves at any kind of speed down a footpath - at least not safely.

after some comparative study i narrowed my choices down to the black diamond spot and the princeton tec remix. i ended up selecting the latter based on weight, size of the lighting unit and reports that when packed in with gear the black diamond spot's on/off button is easily triggered resulting in the lamp being on and batteries being drained.

i can tell you that i'm quite happy with this piece of gear acquisition.

the remix weighs in at a paltry 83 grams (powered by three AAA batteries), which makes a real difference when you're bounding your way along dark roads or through the woods.  i definitely want to keep additional weight to a minimum as well as not having anything on my forehead forcing my entire noggin to wobble or encourage poorer posture than i already exhibit.

with a max projection of 125 lumens, it really can light the way for you - here's a side-by-side comparison of our el-cheapo headlamp at maximum setting (left) compared to the remix's max setting:

which would you pick to avoid things that go bump in the night?

some other key features of the remix include the fact that it is water resistant (good for snow, rain and "quick dunkings" - but not deep-sea wreck diving!), and that it has multiple settings and intensities.  one of my favourite settings is the 'high-beam' version of the green LEDs, which for me simulates night-vision goggles (or some eerie episode of The X-Files).

spooky, kids!

at about $43 CDN the princeton tec remix doesn't break the bank either.  it provides a claimed beam distance of 73m for the max-bright white LEDs in the high-intensity setting and 51m in the low-intensity setting - plenty of distance to scout out the terrain in front of you unless you are running at mo farah velocities.

while i have no complaints about the remix, some people have dogged the battery compartment door as being shoddy workmanship, finding that it snaps off (i.e. breaks) easily.  i've opened and closed it several times now without any issue - we'll see what happens if i have to change batteries after a polar vortex run.  the only 'wish-list' feature that i would have is for the remix to have a flashing/blinking mode.

here's the quick talking-head version of my review:

if you need some lighting to strap onto your noodle, i definitely believe that the princeton tec remix is worth your consideration.

25 November 2014

book review - Build Your Running Body

i'd like to think that i'm not (just) getting older, but that i'm getting better.

maybe that's what drew me to pete magill.

i'd read that pete is not only a running coach but also an active practitioner - holding several american age group distance records as well as being the oldest american to break 15 minutes over 5k.  and i would be happy just breaking 19 minutes for the same.

as i was also looking into some strength conditioning work to integrate into my off-season/base-training months i was definitely intrigued by the release of his book Build Your Running Body, co-authored with thomas "tinman" schwartz (running coach and exercise physiologist) and melissa breyer (a health and green-science expert).  to pick it up is a workout in and of itself - it's a tome at 448 pages, but once you flip through it you quickly recognize that it's not 8-pt densely packed font, and that part of the real value of the book are the photo pictorials of key exercises related to each particular chapter's focus.  especially for visual learners like me, these pages do make key lessons stick.

what this book does is to arrange itself according to some helpful micro-categories like:
  • Build Your Running Connective Tissue
  • Balance Your Running PH
  • Build Your Running Hormones
  • Build Your Training Schedule
  • Build Your Running Fats
 ... that are scientific enough to educate the novice through competitive runner about the science behind physiological development and adaptation, but to not be so cryptically explained as to leave you wondering whether or not you missed the pre-requisite course to this book.  magill's writing style is whimsical at times without being fluffy, providing enough change of pace to ensure that your brain doesn't hurt (if you don't want it to).  my only real critique of how he pens his words is that it's definitely fixed in a particular period in time:  references like this will likely be lost on readers who flip through this text in another 15 years or more:

 from p. 43 ... poor Biebs ...

Build Your Running Body is a fairly comprehensive (some might - and have - viewed it as 'encyclopedic') work on incorporating running as a key component of a healthy approach to life.  from stretching exercises to suggested recipes and workout pace charts, this book does try to pull everything into perspective.  it may falter in satisfying those who have a very particular focus or interest, but it is by necessity more of a generalist library volume than a highly specialized work (e.g. addressing weight loss, multiple extended training schedules for all race distances and types).  all that being said, i found real value in it, especially when it came to specific strength workouts and tweaking my running diet.

i'd unreservedly recommend checking this book out - i found it to be a more engaging read than steve magness' the science of running but that may be because i'm less of an intellect than can appreciate all of magness' research and theorizations.  i definitely think that it will be a go-to reference text for me for many training seasons to come.

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.


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!