19 June 2021

A new half-marathon PB ...

 ... in Crocs.

That's right.  The slip-on, slip-off, top-aerated plasticky clogs that you can custom decorate with plug-through charms.

I confess that I've found it very challenging to keep any kind of a 'training mentality' with only virtual races as the available competition options, so when a few friends collaborated to host an impromptu socially-distanced half-marathon today I joined in on the fun.  However, knowing that I was far from optimal race-shape I thought that I would try something different ... and having recently just watched the video of Benjamin Pachev running a smokin' fast half-marathon in Crocs I told myself "why not?".  It would take the pressure off of trying to go all-out, and would provide a brand new experience.

But maybe I should have tried running any distance in Crocs first.

Even once.

But nooooooooo ....

So what was it like?

Well, it wasn't fast (at least for my liking).  I could tell that after the first 3km that my quads were getting totally smashed.  Perhaps that was due to the not-particularly-cushioned composition of the Crocs, or maybe my running form changed to accommodate the different feel of looser-fitting shoes on my feet.

I also found that since the route went along some crushed-limestone trail that there were various times that I could feel pebbles bouncing into and around the Crocs.  To be fair I think that perhaps half of the stones that I detected going in also found a way to bounce out the same way that they came - but I also found at various times that I was subtly trying to maneuver the debris towards the front of the shoes in hopes that they would sift out the top through the holes.  I'm going to guess that that tactic was mayyyyybe 40% effective as at least on one occasion I had to stop to remove a Croc and empty out the stones. 

Today's weapon of choice - only slid off of my foot once

After all was said and done I found that there were definitely sections of the run that I felt like I could have been running in any of the shoes in my regular rotation, so that's a plus.  I did find that they were 'noticeable' when climbing sections of the route, and that could have been a bit of a slippage factor given that my feet weren't locked down into them.  And upon returning home and removing my socks I did find that my pinky toes both had some significant rubbing/blistering that had taken place, in addition to 'hot spots' on the outside edges underneath my forefoot (both sides).

It takes a special kind of crazy ...

Was I glad that I did it?  For sure. 

Would I do it again?  Maybe ... but I will definitely get in some training runs with them beforehand. 

So the question is ... would you give it a try?


28 October 2020

Reclaiming purpose in running

It's been a cool 4+ months since I last showed up on Strava.

My reasons why were very personal, and it was important for me to take a break from anyone's running expectations.

Now, with a new (to me) watch on wrist I've decided to resurface.  But (despite majority opinion to the contrary) its not Strava that defines my running.

It's not racing that defines my running.

To be honest, I can't say with 100% certainty anymore that I know what defines my running.  

But it just could be something closer to this ...


12 June 2020

The mentally unwell side of running

I'm sure that this is a post that no one wants to have to read.

It's not attractive.

It's not glamourous.

It's not particularly flattering of this sport about which so many of us are passionate.

But it's brutally real.  At least for me.

I've always said that I have a love-hate relationship with running.  In short, I've never really liked running (ever since my days as a rotundly-shaped pre-teen with no cardio to speak of), but in the last 10 years or so I've been allured by the prospect of training and racing.  That's always served as the carrot that was dangling in front of me ... or so I thought.

Somewhere along the way I began to feel really proud of getting regular exercise in, especially first thing in the morning when much of the world around me seemed to be sleeping or hitting their snooze buttons.

I also began tracking my workout data with a GPS watch, as recommended to me by my first official running coach.

Not long after that I discovered Strava, and a whole community of runners that I could follow and with whom I could share my running exploits.

It was glorious!

And in some insidious way it was disastrous.

I started to become addicted ... not to running per se, but to the appearance of running.

Don't get me wrong - I was putting in the workouts.  It's just that now other people could see it.  They could track with me how far I was going, how fast, where it was all taking place and with whom.  I began to develop a bit of reputation as a rugged and relentless all-conditions runner.  Again, it made me feel pretty good about myself.

But somewhere along the way my striving to achieve hopes and dreams became a quest to continue to meet expectations.

It's not like the people around me voiced it in that way.  I'm not sure that any ever said (or even would have said) that they 'expected' me to keep running, or keeping hitting certain race times, or to maintain a certainly monthly mileage.  I think that the people around me are too thoughtful and polite to do that.

It was all happening in my own head.  I felt, and still feel the weight of other people expecting me to keep running and keep performing at certain levels (even my non-runner acquaintances who think of me as 'a runner').  When I look around and observe others running and completing their workouts and races somehow I feel challenged by what they're doing.  Not in a good way, mind you ... in a 'why can't I go as hard/fast/far/consistently as them' kind of way.

Instead of running as a means of getting healthier and stronger, it has become a means of staving off guilt and shame.

It's bad enough that I already have body-image problems, but to stack on top of that self-flagellation as it relates to my running habits/accomplishments meant that things were definitely going off of the rails.

Where this has all led me is to do a few things at this point in time:
  1. I've made all of my Strava workout entries 'private' so that it's basically for my own tracking purposes only.  I recognize that that may be unfair to some or all of my connections on Strava who may be looking to my workouts (as some have said) as motivation to get their own workouts in.  Honestly I feel like I've gotta 'secure my own oxygen mask first' before I can be of any kind of help to anyone else.
  2. I've given up stepping on the scale daily.  It's become all too depressing, even though I realize that any right-thinking human being would probably shout me down for being insane for thinking that I'm overweight.  But that's the point, isn't it ...?   There's a certain insanity at work here.  It's not unlike a conversation that I had not so long ago with a good friend of mine as he revealed that he was struggling with orthorexia (as strange as it sounds, that's defined as an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy) ... sometimes you just can't see the forest for the trees.
  3. I'm stopping running.  This is long overdue - even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown I've kept up training and running at least six times a week for the past several months.  Even as I type this I'm thinking that the amount of running that I've done pales in comparison to others who I've been tracking on Strava and well-meaning Facebook groups.  But my body is starting to provide some negative feedback, and while I'm sorely tempted to ignore it all I would probably do that at my own peril.  So it's time to switch the machine off.
This post isn't particularly cathartic or opinionated (I hope) - it just is.  

Maybe you will see me as weaker than you thought I was.  That's cool with me.

Maybe someone can relate to where I'm at, and in that way it could be helpful.  If so, fabulous!

At the end of the day I'm not asking anyone to sympathize, over-analyze or even understand.  To some degree I'm even embarrassed to be occupying real estate in cyberspace at a time like this with this disclosure when I could and should probably instead be putting more energy into sharing anti-racist information and strategies.  #blacklivesmatter

However if you've read this far then I appreciate that you have had enough interest or care to hear me out, and I wish you the best with your own journeys and struggles.

Maybe some time I will see you around, possibly running.

19 March 2020

What a year 2020 is shaping up to be!

The first few months into the new decade have been pretty funky.

I rounded into 2020 thinking that I wanted to take another stab at a 'fast' marathon ... and for me that means trying once again to go under three hours.  I wasn't (and still am not) sure about when that might happen, as none of the usual suspects in terms of spring races really caught my attention.  Mississauga has been a hit-and-miss kind of event for me, and while I've not really raced the Toronto GoodLife Marathon for myself (having participated in it twice - once as an unofficial pacer and once as part of a relay team) the prospect of having to run out and back along Lakeshore Drive wasn't tickling my fancy.  As such I have not yet registered for a goal marathon yet.

Turns out to have been somewhat serendipitous.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown just about everyone's racing season into turmoil, for both elite and recreational athletes alike.  Races have been cancelled or rescheduled, forcing some events to congregate on a crowded timetable (September and October this year are going to be k-razy for marathon majors), and people's training schedules have either been totally trashed or put on hold for now.

Even community run clubs have suspended their group workouts in order to encourage social distancing (and wisely so).

What's a runner to do in these tumultuous times?

Today I read this article from Peter Liddle that I thought would be worth sharing if like me you want to try to figure out the best (and healthiest) way to get through this upcoming running season: 
This is also another good read, providing some specific insights into just how the most disciplined and talented of runners are managing to keep it together (and in perspective):
#staysafe #socialdistancing #keephealthy #flattenthecurve

20 November 2019

Gimme a break, gimme a break ...

It's been some kind of a year!

2019 has been my self-appointed 'year of ultra', with a focus on taking on almost exclusively (trail) ultra races and culminating in my first attempt at a 100-miler.  After a fairly strenuous endeavour such as that it only makes sense to take a significant break to allow the body to recover.

At least that's what anyone in their right mind would do.  But me?  Oh no.

I went ahead and served as one of the official pacers for The County Marathon (for the sixth year in a row), and then two weeks after that accepted an invitation from my good friend Holly to serve as her unofficial pacer at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  So within the span of about six weeks I'd put in about 245 kilometres of racing (on top of the regular workouts that led up to both of the marathons).  I wouldn't recommend that to anyone ... but I'm probably one of my own worst students.

After working with Holly to help her attain a new personal best (and another Boston Qualifying time) I knew that I wanted to take some time off.  Somewhat arbitrarily I decided that it would be three weeks of complete inactivity, at least from a running/exercise perspective.  And boy did my body need it.

Although I went just about stir crazy after a measly three days of not running, my knee, both feet and shoulders (oddly enough) were providing ample feedback to let me know that I should have taken time off sooner.  And I don't mean a few weeks sooner, but probably something more like a few years sooner - because this three-week hiatus would turn out to be the longest time without lacing up the running shoes in about nine years.

108 months.  Or 469 weeks.  Or 14265 days.

Oh I'd taken a week off here and there.  Just nothing that really resembled a true off-season ... you know, the kind that even professional distance runners know that they are wise to take.  If I'm going to be honest I think that the rationale behind this relentless drive to run was probably threefold in origin:
  1. An addiction to running
  2. Negative body self-image
  3. FOMO (fear of missing out) ... or maybe better yet FONBPAHCE (fear of not being perceived as hard-core enough).
As you can tell none of the three reasons above is a healthy motive to keep pressing forward.  You might also have guessed that stopping my running routine actually wound up exacerbating all of these issues - to the extent that I basically had to go radio-silent on running-related social media channels to avoid feeling worse about myself while witnessing everyone else's outings and achievements.  I also tucked the scale away underneath the bathroom counter so that it was basically inaccessible, as well as 'resigning' myself to eating guilt-free to try to undo some of the negative thoughts I had about weight loss equaling athletic prowess**.

My friend David got it right ... I totally felt like 'fat Thor'

The honest truth is that it was really difficult to take that break - more difficult than if I had continued to run regularly, although that would have almost certainly have put me on the shelf with an injury of some variety.  I had difficulty sleeping (because I wasn't nearly as tired each night), I couldn't sleep in (as my body had been long-accustomed to waking routinely just before 5 a.m.) and I felt like someone had jumbled my schedule each day because it didn't start off with a run.  Still, rest is a necessary act of discipline and I had to work at taking some rest. 

Moment by moment, day by day I stayed the course.  I made it to three weeks of inactivity.

So now what?

I decided that next year I want to take another stab at the marathon, but I'm going to finally give a go at (low) heart-rate based training.  I'd come across Floris Gierman on YouTube several years back and was astounded that he could run a sub-3 marathon while simultaneously vlogging it - and he attributed a great deal of his success to following the philosophy/methodology of Phil Maffetone and focusing in on aerobic system development.  Floris now leads up the Extramilest network (including coaching and a podcast) and has become an influencer in the online running community.  As a tinkerer I saw low heart-rate training as a way to ease back into an exercise schedule, and quite possibly a path towards finally getting my own sub-3 marathon PB.

I haven't yet picked a spring goal race, but I do have a trip to Burlington for the Chilly-Half Marathon booked again for 2020 - so that may be my first real test to see if I'm actually getting anywhere or just stuck on the dreadmill of self-sabotage.

However it goes, I'm happy to be back at it again!

- - - - - -  

** If you have also struggled with the whole 'weigh less, run faster' mentality then I might recommend at least giving a quick watch of this video from former NCAA D1 cross-country runner Emma Abrahamson ...