27 December 2013

gear review - illumiNITE running jacket

you just never know what you'll find at the second-hand store.

rifling through the women's (yes, i'm a gender bender when it comes to clothing!) 'spring jacket' section in the local goodwill thrift store i found a nylon shell jacket from a manufacturer that i'd never heard of before.  the collar tag had the URL "www.illumiNITE.com" on it, and i figured that if they had a website they had to be at least somewhat legit.  the name immediately led me to believe that this jacket had some kind of reflectivity technology incorporated into it, and upon closer inspection it certainly looked like there was some kind of daisy-flower pattern woven into the fabric that might provide some added visibility when running in low-light conditions (reminiscent of the features of the skora phase x) ... which is exactly what i was looking for on that particular visit.

i didn't pick up the jacket then and there because i figured that if the company was obscure to me, it would probably be obscure enough to anyone else who might randomly be thumbing through the hangers in that section.  it also gave me a chance to do a bit of internet research, which provided me with enough feedback to want to return to specifically pick it up.  
after returning home and comparing it to my uber-basic nike running shell (with it's wide reflective strips), i was prepared for disappointment.  maybe this 'illumiNITE' stuff had been promoted on late-night infomercials alongside the hulk hogan thunder mixer.

undaunted, i took to the roads with it - and found that in practice the illumiNITE jacket told a different story.  watch my review below for the 'enlightening' details!

all in all, a worthy and helpful addition to my running gear repertoire - i would recommend illumiNITE technology and products to anyone who (a) runs in the dark and (b) braves the 'facing traffic' side of the road!


24 December 2013

dashing through the snow

wishing you and yours a very merry christmas and 'personal best' 2014!

13 December 2013

road review: nike shox turbo oz

i bet that emil zatopek never tried to run in high heels.

given my love for second-hand shopping, and the fact that i believe only one or two pairs of shoes currently part of my training rotation are winter-worthy (remember, i'll be facing 10-20cm of snow quite regularly and -15°C to -25°C over the next few months), i found a pair of nike shox turbo oz at the local goodwill store on 50% off footwear day.
(left side, top to bottom:  adidas trainers of some sort, skora phase, skechers gorun 2, inov-8 bare-x 180
right side, top to bottom:  asics gel galaxy 4, merrell road glove, new balance 1400v2)

while feeling like a bit of a traitor to the cause of minimalist runners everywhere, i decided to add these shoes to my repertoire.  as a bit of a spoiler, i've run once in the nike shox and decided to retire them to my local running free shoe re-use program drop-off box.  i recognize that this may feel like pronouncing a premature judgment on these shoes (after only about 10k) but allow me to still flesh out the pros and cons leading to this short and torrid relationship.
  • fit - having previously worked several years with nike, i've almost always had to go to a size 10.5 for a proper fit.  these shox turbo oz were a size 10, and to my surprise they fit fantastically, both in terms of length and toebox width.  it may have been that their previous owner(s) had stretched the synthetic leather out a bit, but it didn't appear as if there were significant stress marks on them.
  • upper construction - it appears that they have a fairly resilient synthetic leather upper that while not being weatherproof will provide a better-than-average barrier against the cold and snow/slush.  they also have enough protection to not get immediately beat-up by the copious amounts of road salt that the city lays down around here.
  • outsole design and traction - the semi-knobby look of the forefoot (reading:  landing) pad on the shox turbo oz leads me to believe that they would provide sufficient grip on the wintery roads.

  • weight - ok, here's where things start to go south.  these bad boys tip the kitchen scale at a whopping 13 oz.  by comparison my next heaviest pair of shoes (the asics gel galaxy 4) are a mere 11 oz.  add to that the collection of snow/slush/ice that can sneak into the shox plate area, and now i'm definitely giving zatopek a run for his money.
  • heel-to-toe drop - you probably don't have guess very hard at where i'm going with this comment.  dominic grossman at irunfar.com says in a passing comment that the nike shox turbo exceeds a drop differential of 15mm.  jinkies!  this totally made for an almost debilitating experience for me - with every forefoot strike it felt like my foot was prevented from actually dynamically compressing the way that it should on impact because of the ramp effect.  it could have been that as more forefoot was landing and sinking somewhat into the snow that the heel/shox plate was not depressing into the snow to an equal extent, exaggerating the degree of incline.  afterwards my calves were killing in a way that they hadn't since i first transitioned to forefoot striking ... honestly, it was like running in a combination of high-heeled platforms and jump-training shoes.

  • shox technology - even when i deliberately tried landing on my heel to alleviate some of the excess (and static) pressure on my forefoot, the shox absorption unit provided me with the sensation that it was encouraging/forcing my feet to pronate excessively.  it was a nasty feeling.
all told, i have to chalk this up as being perhaps the worst $6.00 that i've spent on running gear.  i have no problem mixing up the styles of my running shoes, but this turned out to be just a bit too extreme.  as much as i still feel some allegiances to my former employer, i have to give these shoes a measly two footprints out of five.


11 December 2013

pack mentality

off-season is a great time to make some changes ... or so i've heard. 

i'm trying to maintain a base until mid-january of about 50-60km per week, with a view to ramping up my next marathon training schedule to peak in and around 110-120km. in some conversation with my pal stan i've come to believe that i'm one of those runners who is better suited to more mileage in preparation for races.  i've managed to run injury-free for about 3-1/2 years now, topping out at about 3700km (projected) this calendar year.  hopefully the winter conditions in south-central ontario this season won't be too daunting as i press on through the holidays.

one of the things that i've started doing in the last few weeks is running with a group.  as a noted introvert, i've mostly enjoyed solo runs - and when i run with a partner it's usually been as a deliberate means of keeping my pace easy (often with mike) or up (often with trevor) - i've written about this already in a post earlier this spring.  but the barrie roadrunners are the local running club and their outings coincide with the running room's free training runs, so i thought that it would be a good opportunity to connect with others in the local running community and try to unlock the secret that the east african runners have known for a long time.    

it's only been a couple of runs with the group so far, but i've already got a few observations to share:
  1. it's providing me with the experience of running at a different time of the day.  normally i wake up around 5:30am to go out for my run (no matter the time of the year), but this group sets out at 6:30pm - so my biorhythms are completely different, my energy level is different, and i have to be a little more aware of how i'm fuelling throughout the day.  i can't say that i'll convert to nighttime running, but it's a welcome variation in the schedule.
  2. in-run conversations have offered some interesting personalities and running tips.  while i've already been identified as the 'chatty-cathy' new guy, it's been great how personable and generous the other runners have been with their stories and advice.  already i've met someone from my hometown who's migrated here to barrie, as well as a veteran ultramarathoner who has shared insights and training tips as i plan for my first trail ultra next summer.
  3. there's no way that i would be working this hard right now without them.  the last two runs have been tempo runs with the group, and while i probably fall smack dab in the middle of the bunch in terms of age, they're hoofing it at a really solid pace.  it's been a great way to maintain decent stride form during this off-season while reminding myself that i'm not losing too much of an edge from my racing speed.
are you a pack runner?  what recommendations do you have for me to help me get the most out of (and contribute the most back into) this running group?


06 December 2013

this sad day

you'll have heard by now that nelson mandela died yesterday.

some people are larger than life, and have that ability to transcend race, culture, creed, religion, time and space.  they are reference points for the greatest ideals and purposes of humanity.  among them i would include (from my frame of reference) jesus of nazareth, mahatma gandhi, martin luther king jr., mother teresa, and certainly mandela.

i'm thankful that my children are all able to remember this day, and recognize what impact madiba's life had on the course of modern history.

while condolences and accolades pour in from around the globe, and flags fly at half-staff to mourn his passing, the greater sadness is perhaps that many of these prominent figures are who they are because of the degrees of oppression, violence, corruption and marginalization that they've engaged.

thank goodness that there are these icons who have intervened on behalf of a broken world.

thank goodness that they have shown us that there is a different way.  a better way.

thank goodness that we now have the opportunity to follow suit.


03 December 2013

taking it too far

december is the perfect time to talk about excess.

aside from being the season for holiday (tr)eating, shopping sprees and the occasional beverage, this is the point in the year that many runners begin to map out their next series of races on the calendar.

having completed a couple of smaller races and three marathons this year, i've already announced (to my running partners at least) my intention to register for my first ultra.  in runner's parlance an "ultra" is any race which exceeds the marathon distance of 42.195km - and in my case, the contest that i'm eyeing is the limberlost challenge which offers 14k, 28k, 42k and 56k options.  the plan is to tackle the four-loop 56k distance, which will make it not only the longest footrace that i will have run to date, but also my first attempt at a trail race.

there's all sorts of talk that is alive and well within running circles as to why certain runners feel the desire/need to press on to longer and longer race distances.  just today i read an article that indicated that registration in ultras has increased as of late perhaps because marathoning doesn't offer the same kind of challenge that it once did. i'm not so sure about that - i still have some marathon distance goals (looming large is the BQ, but also to eventually try to cross the 3-hour barrier) as well as bucket-list races (e.g. Chicago, London, New York, Big Sur).  and it's not that i feel more accomplished if i become an ultramarathoner, either.  kyle kranz, an acquaintance and social media director for skora, posted this on facebook not too long ago:

one of things that i do want to do in 2014 is focus more on speed by running some 5ks and 10ks - maybe even a half marathon or two.  there can be a kind of running snobbery that comes into effect when people progress in distances, where they feel like running a shorter race is somehow 'beneath' them.  make no mistake, an all-out 5k can be even more grueling and taxing than a marathon.  gotta respect athletes at every level.

no, for me the lure of the ultra next year is about something else.  or somethings else.

first off, i feel like taking on the limberlost challenge will help transform my running for me.  i'm still in search of that elusive 'love of running' ... i would identify myself as someone who loves to race.  and so in order to race, i must train, and do so diligently.  with continued envy i read those facebook and twitter posts and books from people who simply find joy in getting out there and propelling themselves by their own two feet.  there's been no runner's high for me, and few moments of transcendence through many miles logged.  perhaps that's been because my focus has been securely on attaining that 3:15 boston qualifying time.  my hope is that by taking on a distance that requires you to think more about endurance than speed, and on a terrain that forces you to be more nimble and adaptive than robotically repetitious i might connect with a purer form of running than i have to date.

secondly, crossing into ultra territory has opened up a whole new sector of the running community.  this has been very cool - once i started following various ultra-running related twitter feeds and blogs, and adding the occasional #ultra or #ultrachat hashtag, i found a brand new tribe reaching out to me.  far from being exclusive, hyper-disciplined elite level runners, what i've experienced so far in the ultra community are people who are not only more connected to running than i am but who are also more connected to their bodies, to beauty, to the environment, and to a sense of harmony.  i'm envious - and excited about this.

thirdly and finally, i have an outstanding commitment to my friend hermann in johannesburg to visit him and run the comrades marathon.  billed as the world's oldest and largest ultramarathon, it is a point-to-point 89km road race that alternates starting and finishing at the cities of pietermaritzburg and durban.  one year it's a net uphill race, the next a net downhill.  when i first met hermann at a conference in detroit in 2010 i was just becoming a runner, but we shared stories of his completions of the comrades and what amazing experiences he had each time.  while we haven't spoken of it much, i feel a bit like red promising andy to come down to zihuatanejo.  it may take time, but what a great thing it will be.

what are your goals?  what do you hope to accomplish in 2014 ... running or otherwise?  and how would you (or i) know if, with respect to running, enough is enough?

26 November 2013

one man's trash

it's a weekly routine.

tuesday is garbage and recycling pick-up day in my neighbourhood.  out to the end of my driveway i lug my one-bag limit garbage, our green (compostables) bin, our gray (paper) bin and blue (other recyclables) bin.  this is the time of year that it gets tricky sometimes as the snowbanks can grow to seven or eight feet high ... but it's not december yet, so it's not yet an issue.

anyway, like clockwork around 9:30 i often see the same person - almost all year round - come by, rummaging through the blue bins in search of returnable wine and beer bottles.  in the drier months he'll swoop by on his loaded-up bicycle, but in this sloshy-snow he travels like the post carrier on foot.

i don't know just how profitable it is or isn't to collect the deposit from a suburb's worth of bottles.  what i do know is that it can be a tricky business.  bottle collectors can get territorial, and there have been times when i've seen two of them just about come to blows because one's been encroaching on another's turf.  and other times homeowners can become pretty ornery about someone rifling through their stuff, even though discarded - and i suppose that in the era of the threat of identity theft everybody's guard is up.

it's to my discredit that i've never stopped to chat with our local bottle collector.  i don't know his name, his story, where he lives, or how long he's been at this gig.  he may collect out of necessity, out of OCD, or out of interest - like people who comb the beaches with their metal detectors.  

what i do know is that i've no problem with him dropping by to sift through (i do try to leave the bottles on the top of the bin) for a contribution to his weekly take.  as a first-world society i feel like the least that we can do is to not be so tight-fisted as to interfere with someone else's initiative to turn trash into cash.  i think that we'd all be a little less materialistic and a little more altruistic if we paid attention to the hebrew scriptures which say 
"When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God." [Leviticus 23:22]
i'm all for recycling and saving the planet.  if this is one way that it can happen, let him go to town.
. . . . .

oh, and for all of you who might be disappointed that this isn't running-related content, let me just point you toward a few organizations that are making a real difference in the lives of others through the culture of running - because like my friend lewis often asks, "how can this be about saving lives?"


21 November 2013

form or function?

visual learner here.

i'll spend more time picking up tips about any activity or sport by watching video clips than i will by reading or even receiving directed instruction.  something about how my brain is wired craves just to focus (and refocus) on seeing something done well in order to learn how to do it myself.

this is why i have so many marathons on pvr.

reviewing the running strides of the world's best runners seems to imprint on me how to get better at running myself.  of course this is a tricky business, since there is no single 'correct' running form, and many different styles seem to excel, from paula radcliffe to masakazu fujiwara to ryan hall to priscah jeptoo ...

anyway, i just came across this article published earlier this fall comparing the form and stride mechanics of the top three men's finishers at the 2013 great north run - kenenisa bekele, haile gebrselassie and mo farah.  all great track athletes and now road runners.  

if you're interested in breaking down the working bits of the best running strides in the world, this is definitely worth a read!

17 November 2013

new balance MR1400v2 - road review

there's a part of me that feels like a traitor in reviewing the new balance MR1400v2.  that's because i've become an avowed minimalist runner.  having made the transition to forefoot running some 18 months ago, and subsequently working with low-stack, low-to-zero drop running shoes since then, tackling a 9mm drop (24mm heel, 15mm forefoot) racing flat is like going back to meat after spending a couple of years as a vegan.

(which i'm not)

however ... i won this pair of 1400v2s through a twitter giveaway sponsored by new balance canada.  i tweeted in support of team new balance athletes eric gillis and rob watson as they were preparing for the scotiabank toronto waterfront marathon, and they were both sporting the 1400v2 in the race.  so, despite the fact that i have plenty of running shoes in the current rotation, and also despite the fact that i tried to give these shoes away to two of my running partners (both of whom are in need of new shoes but sadly are a full size smaller footed than me), i have chosen not to look a gift horse in the mouth and give these racers a fighting chance.

if you haven't read any of the online reviews already, i'll let you know that i was probably sub-consciously (if not consciously) influenced by peter larson's review of these shoes, which led him to deem them as frontrunners for shoe of the year.  i also then read this weekend believe in the run's review of the 1400v2, in which they also gushed about the shoe if not to quite the same degree as peter.  so if these well-versed shoe reviewers give the 1400v2 the double-thumbs up, who am i to disagree?

well, let me give you my breakdown, focusing on the high/low lights ...
  • aesthetics - new balance canada let me choose which colourway i preferred, the blue/green combo or the 'sulphur spring' version.  without a yellow shoe in my arsenal, i chose sulphur spring and these are the coolest looking kicks in the cupboard by far.  besides the silver-foil "N" logo, there are also other little reflective accents that i appreciate as a pre-dawn runner.
  • laces - if you've read any of my other shoe reviews you know that i've a penchant for flat laces.  with that in mind, i will take these laces any day of the week.  they are essentially of the sport oval variety, but they're maybe half the diameter of any other oval lace that i've ever come across.  light and easy to tie, they don't seem to want to come loose and i like 'em a lot.
  • drop - ok mr. larson, here's where you got into my head.  you'd noted that they don't feel like a 9mm drop shoe - and while i do notice that they're certainly not a level platform, i tend to agree that it's not like i have to work to keep the heel from getting in my way.  mind over matter, or new balance witchery?
  • fit - as the 1400v2 is built on new balance's NB-J racing last, i was concerned that these shoes would not be wide enough for decent toe-splay.  sure enough, i found the toe box a bit tight (even after using shoefitr to try to get approximately the right size).  the solution that i was able to work out had to do with the removable insole.  at first i thought that i would try running without the insole at all, but found that the heel collar was riding a bit too high then - so instead i swapped out the stock insole for the insole from my skora phases (which for whatever reason give me hotspots when i wear them with my phases - so my phases are now worn with insoles from my skechers gorun 2s).  
    insole from skora phase (top) vs. stock new balance insole
  • weight - these shoes are light.  like, just how i like it light.  6.4oz listed for men's size 9.  race-ready light.
  • flexibility - these are not the kind of shoe that you can roll up into a ball.  that's partly because there seems to be a midfoot shank that affords some stability.  still, it's not like wearing wooden clogs out there - they seem to work with my feet rather than against them.
for my final verdict on whether or not i could marathon in the 1400v2, watch my review video below:

all things considered, i give the new balance MR1400v2 a solid four out of five feet - if they were good to go out of the box and maybe something closer to a 4mm drop, they would edge up in the ratings.  but they were free, and they will have a regular place in my rotation!


11 November 2013

no rest for the wicked

by way of confession i will humbly admit that i am addicted to training.

not running ... training.

my pal trevor posted this on facebook just this past weekend:

a little over a week out from my second marathon in two months and i'm itching to get back on the horse.  i've told my friends that i still am trying to become that person who 'enjoys' running - really what draws me out to the roads time and again is a (un?)healthy fixation on claiming a PB or BQ time.

however, i'm trying to pan out my perspective a bit and look at my running career rather than just any given running season.  as i do so i'm paying more and more attention to the importance of taking time off, gaining weight, and losing some fitness - all as acceptable pieces of building myself into a stronger, faster and more durable runner.  

it's motivating to me that even the most elite of elite runners will take a number of weeks completely off from running after wrapping up their race seasons.  i also read a great article from greg mcmillan last week subtitled "The lost art of recovering between training cycles", and it in he includes a bar graph showing his training weeks around a marathon:

and i asked myself, "could i lie low like that?"  do i have that degree of courage/wisdom/focus?

the jury is still deliberating that one ...

in the meantime, i've taken up reading matt fitzgerald's book RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel on a recommendation from stan.  i'm only about a third of the way through it, but it's quite an engaging read so far.  it purports not to be a 'here's-your-to-the-letter-training-plan' kind of text but rather an exploration of some key factors that leverage each runner's unique ability to maximize potential - including how much fun you're having, gauging your own optimal mileage, and variations in stride mechanics (have you seen world marathon majors champion priscah jeptoo run?).

my hope is that perhaps as i reflect on fitzgerald's musings that i may find myself less of a slave to the training routine and more of a lover of the beautiful activity of running.  to do so i'll need to heed lewis' advice of ditching the garmin for a while (isn't it surgically attached to my wrist?) and try greg mcmillan's idea of cultivating an inner gps.

for now, my (best-laid) plan is to let november be november and settle in for some rest time.  as hard as that will be.

(he says as he completes this post just after a run)

06 November 2013

2013 hamilton marathon road2hope - race report

this past sunday i managed to complete my third marathon of the calendar year, and the fifth road race of 2013.  that in and of itself constitutes a milestone, as it eclipses any amount of racing that i'd put in previously, and certainly the most amount of concerted training miles logged within a 12 month period.

while i did not cap off the season on a high note, it was nonetheless an excellent experience and has me poised to take on 2014 with as much vigour and determination as ever.

the expo
it was only a couple of weeks ago that i was last at confederation park to race the MEC burlington race series five (10k).  that day it was a rather demure place - but on the saturday that i visited the hamilton marathon expo it was buzzing with people as the 5k and 10k races were slated for that day.  
overcast, cool and rainy, it was not the most pleasant day to be traipsing around the field at the park.  to the credit of the Hamilton Marathon organizers, it was not a complicated task retrieving the race kit (one tent) and then perusing the expo vendors (tent next door).  it helps that i'd been here last year and knew the drill, but all the same it was very straightforward. 

i actually find the road2hope expo to be just the right size - not too much in the way of promotions from other races, just a couple of local running store retailers (peddling the expected 3-for-$5.00 gel deals), and some nutrition freebies/taste tests.  especially appreciated was the latter, as the honeymaxx sports drink being served on-course was not one that i'd tried - but with the tasting booth set-up i was able to at least figure out how easy it would be to down ... and the lemon-lime went down just fine.

after collecting everything that i needed (for me and for trevor), it was a quick turnaround for the 100 minute drive back home.

race day
lewis, trevor and i made the trip down to burlington together early (5:00 am) on sunday morning - the saving grace for us was that it was the 'fall back' part of the daylight savings time observance, so we were all pretty wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for that time of the day.

we arrived at one of the parking lots near the start line (lewis' intention was to volunteer, so we didn't have to park at the finish line and shuttlebus up) and quickly made our way in the building at arcelor-mittal park.  we hoped to spot our friends norm and kathleen (both first time marathoners) and their families, as well as connect with stan.  a bit of stretching ensued, as well as porta-potty lineups, but alas no norm, kathleen or stan.

trevor and i headed out for a few kms of warmup, during which time we did come across stan.  he looked ready to rock, as he was aiming for a sub-2:50 time.  we noted that the conditions were decent, albeit a bit on the breezy side.  when the sun peeked out it was quite refreshing - and when shrouded behind cover, the temps snuck closer toward bone-chilling.

as the cattle call to lineup in the starting chute was issued, we managed to spot kathleen doing her final line-up for relief, and so was able to wish her the best.  trevor and i then introduced ourselves to the 3:15 pacer (since that was my goal - remember that) who was a jovial and encouraging cat named harvey.

i should have known that edging our way closer to the front (ahead of harvey and the 3:15ers) was a precursor of things to come.

fast forward ...

the first 21km were really quite uneventful, in all of the right ways.  the route which winds through the hamilton mountain countryside was enjoyable and tranquil.  trevor was again a courteous and efficient pacer, pointing me toward the flattest part of the road, allowing me to take the tightest tangents, and giving me the regular thumbs-up to indicating that we were on track.  i had a few conversations with other runners here and there, but really limited the chit-chat as my coach this summer told me that talking uses up energy, so to keep it in reserve instead.  from time to time it was convenient/helpful to tuck in behind a taller runner and draft as the wind was a noticeable factor in various open stretches of road.

as we started to crest our way toward the parkway and longest downhill stretch of the race, i started to breakaway from trevor and fell in with two other runners as we took turns drafting and leading.  

related digression:  there's a verse from the christian scriptures that goes like this ...

"I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate." ~ romans 7:15 (new living translation)

at this point of the game i was on pace for a 3:10 marathon.  while padding my ego, that was not the game plan.  and i was hoping beyond hope that this would not come back to bite me in the butt.

25k ... 26k ... 27k ... 28k ... 29k .... 30k.  so far so good.  no breathing problems à la erie marathon.  still on track with a 4:32/km pace, having fought the wind on the parkway.

♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ i believe i can fly ... ♩ ♬ ♪ ♫

well, i don't think that i need to tell you what happened next.

the trusty ol' GPS watch started to feed back to me that my kilometre splits were creeping up toward 5:00 per.  then i started to watch as some familiar faces stride past me.  i feared the worst as at around 33km i heard what sounded like one of the pace bunnies pumping our motivational words to his pack of runners - and they were drawing closer and closer.

sure enough, it was our man harvey.

honestly, i was surprised to see about 12 runners still hanging with 3:15 harvey.  last year at this point, there were only about four runners with the 3:15 pacer, of which i was one.  knowing that i'd made it to the 35km mark with the 3:15 group last year, i grit my teeth and tried my hardest to stick with this pack before they lost me.

but to no avail.

the feet were failing me now.  the stride turnover could not keep up, and painfully i watched the 3:15 pull toward the horizon without me.  it was quite deflating knowing that i was not going to be able to hit my target once again, but all the same i pushed and pushed - one km at a time - and somehow did manage to regain some form for the finishing straightaway.

crossed the line in 3:25:10 and immediately had my left hamstring seize up like crazy.  couldn't walk, but thankfully my pal lewis was there to greet me/hold me up/escort me to the medical tent.  i only needed a bit of water and a quick sit in the 'waiting room' chair, but it was my first interaction with the nurses at any race.  i'm one step closer to being like one of my idols, yuki kawauchi, who pretty much passes out at the conclusion of every marathon.

lewis and i waited for trevor to finish - i'd assumed he'd be more or less right behind me (given his 3:38 finish in mississauga) but apparently quad spasms overtook him and it was past the 4hr mark before he crossed the finish.  i managed to also see kathleen cross (absolutely elated), but had to dash before norm completed the race.  i was truly bummed about that, as this was a bucket list item for him - to complete a marathon by the time that he turned 50.

the trip home was pretty serene for lewis, as he drove with two dopey (and sleepy) passengers.  i felt a bit nauseous along the way - not as bad as stan mind you - but it was probably a combination of fatigue and too many post-race pizza fingers.

so another BQ opportunity missed.  i will still some time to process it all, but i think that the big lessons for me were:
  1. don't be so dumb next time - there's a reason that absolutely everyone warns of going out too fast.  i'm confident that my conditioning would have seen me much closer to 3:15 had i run the first half more conservatively.
  2. i can run a marathon non-stop.  i'd never done that before - all of my other races i'd walked through most of the aid stations.
  3. a spasm can be worked out while still moving.  at 35k my right hamstring went completely, but i determined not to stop running - and while there were several metres of modified stride, eventually i regained full elasticity and use.
  4. the fueling formula is still a bit of a mystery.  my first marathon involved five full gels - this one only needed three.
  5. i like training on higher mileage plans, like 100-120km per week.  
what's next?  well, i'm thinking of taking on a trail ultra next summer, as well as possibly pacing a friend of mine through a 100km run for charity in the late winter.  as far as BQ opportunities go, look for me at mississauga in may once again.


01 November 2013

time to hit the road(2hope)

just wanted to post a quick shout-out to everyone running this weekend's Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope - no matter what your distance or your goal, know that i'm rooting for you and stand with you in pride as to your accomplishments (and sacrifices) that have gotten you to the start line.

specifically i'm cheering for a few friends:

  • kathleen, who will be running her first marathon and hoping for a sub-4:00 finish
  • norm, also running his first marathon (and second race ever) - hoping to finish before they collect the course pylons and put away the beer
  • stan, who is gunning for an uber-impressive sub-2:50 time
  • trevor, who will be running his second marathon and pacing me toward a BQ time
  • lewis, who will be volunteering for the first time at a race event.
here's wishing you all a great weekend ahead!


30 October 2013

cut to the core

i'd like to think that (at least since serving as a camp 'sports director' in my young adult years) i've always been fitness-aware, if not actually fit myself.  from early morning workouts at the university of toronto field house gym to working out at home with weights to rec league volleyball and beyond, i've tried to give myself a decent shot at being in good shape.

now into my 40s and getting semi-serious about running, i can honestly say that i'm in the best shape of my life - probably conditioning-wise and in terms of overall physique.  and as i was chatting with my friend/training partner/pacer trevor a couple of weeks ago, i came to realize that it wasn't just about the miles put onto my legs.  he'd commented that just recently he's been working on increasing stability by focusing on core work and other upper-body exercises.  my other friend/training partner mike has just started the Focus T25 workout with his wife and talked to me last weekend about how challenging it has been so far.

i guess that i just thought that things like pushups, crunches, planks, and other exercises were just fundamental building blocks for any level of fitness.  so they've been part of my lifestyle for a while now.

bodyweight exercises are what i find work best for me.  i remember hearing a story about how herschel walker (have you seen the guy?  and he's into his 50s!) doesn't use any weights aside from bodyweight for his workouts.  there are variations to this story, but the bottom line is that he predominantly focuses on pushups, situps and other calisthenics.  

right then and there i thought "if i can look and perform anything like this guy when i'm 50, i'm going to stick with pushups".

and so i have.

i like to keep it fresh, so i've got a variety of pushups and core exercises that i use as my standard go-tos - and i mix it up depending on the day of the week:
  • pushups - standard, (three-point contact) fingertip, (three-point contact) diamond, (three-point contact) elbows-in, (three-point contact) elbows-out, tricep dips
  • cross-body crunches
  • planks:  knee-reach, spider-man, side leg-lift

here are two of my fav videos for bodyweight workout ideas ... this first one i really dig because (as my kids will attest) i'm the kind of guy you find trying to do exercises on the local playground equipment:

i've yet to really focus on running-specific strength workouts, which could be the next step in the evolution of my running performance.  for now, the pieces that i do have to complement the training distances seem to be helping me get to and stay in a good place.

now what do you think about this:  malcolm gladwell believes that mo farah will be a better marathoner if he loses his biceps.  while core and upper-body exercises are a good complement to running, will they compromise my potential to be the best road racer that i can be?  

maybe i'm setting myself up to be more suited for trail running or being an ultramarathoner.

anyway, i'd love to hear what your training staples are, and why i should consider adding them into the mix!

23 October 2013

keep it natural, keep it real

i continue to chuckle at and about myself when i think of the lifestyle changes that have come about as a result of running.  some friends and i were collectively scratching our heads about where the 'old pat' went to when we were discussing this subject after church this past sunday.  the fast food days are almost non-existent, late night brainless tv is no longer on the radar, and a weekly/monthly/yearly training and racing regime now dominate the calendar.

a couple of days ago i watched two engaging and insightful videos from ultrarunner and fruitarian michael arnstein and among the things that i took away from them was the importance of regular, long, quality sleeps.  i've certainly taken to trying to make my sleep pattern and duration more predictable during training cycles (and found it immensely easier to get up each morning to run - even as the days get shorter), but after listening to michael's recommendation of a sleep mask i decided to give that a shot as well.
shamelessly stolen borrowed from one of my daughters

i will have to see if it ends up that i sleep more soundly with a mask on, or if i will just be providing hours of entertainment to the rest of my family as i lay unconscious.

as i think of some of the other 'natural' adaptations that have contributed to a me v2.0, i can't miss mentioning the role of chiropractic in my life.  for about five years now i've been seeing my friend and chiropractor dr. brad norman.  it was in response to a thoughtful gift card shared by another friend of mine (brian) that i began exploring the chiropractic journey through New Life Chiropractic - not having any back problems, headaches, or nagging pains to speak of.  at the same time i discovered that i was the ideal candidate - as i've always believed, it's better to practice the fire escape before you smell smoke.

you can also watch the progression of spinal degeneration in this video provided by my friends at New Life Chiro:

dr. brad is a practitioner of the gonstead technique, which targets specific adjustments in an effort to restore the flow of communication and energy between the brain and the rest of the body (vis-à-vis the spinal cord).  his mission and approach is all about facilitating what the body is designed to do best - restore itself - rather than mask/medicate/poison the presenting problems. 

one of the reasons that i'm a believer in chiropractic is partly because brad is my friend - but moreso because he and his team share a compelling vision of how God has intended the body to be a beautiful collaboration of science and art.  there are so many medicinal recommendations that want to introduce artificial ingredients to interfere with that.  i've done my best to stay away from all of that - so much so that aside for gravol to deal with my occasional onset of vertigo, i've not taken any other medications in the last several years.

so nutrition, sleep, exercise, chiropractic - some of the key pieces to my current state of health and fitness.  what are yours?

19 October 2013

race report - MEC burlington race five (10k)

i've been using a slightly modified version of the pfitzinger/douglas intra-marathon plan to prep for the hamilton marathon since it will have only been seven weeks since the erie marathon.  integrated into that plan is a 10k race for this week's tempo run, which i ran today in burlington as part of the MEC race series.  the additional incentive to trek all that way was that the event took place in confederation park, the finishing location of the hamilton marathon - so it would give me a chance to feel out and visualize what the home stretch will be like in a couple of weeks.

first off, let me say that the MEC race series is a great community initiative, as it's a non-threatening, value-priced running event that offers everyone from the novice to the experienced athlete an opportunity to compete and enjoy an organized race.  kudos to MEC for encouraging activity at the local level!

i didn't make the jaunt down to burlington to pick up my race kit in advance, so together with my friends trevor and lewis i headed out at 5:30am this morning for a 9:10am start.  it's about 1h40m to drive from barrie to burlington, so we gave ourselves plenty of time to get trevor registered as well as to pick up kits, grab a coffee, and put in a few warm-up kilometres.

the theme of the trip out to burlington was clarity - we were both discussing the importance of clarity of vision in leadership as well as the clarity of my windshield.  it seems that the defogging system on my 1990 mazda 323 doesn't want to work effectively, and so the three of us were peering through smudged/smeared glass as we tried to discern the positioning of our car relative to the painted highway markers as well as to other vehicles.  where was the sham-wow when i could have used one ...?

arriving as early as we did, the race organizers had barely set up their tables to receive registrants.  nonetheless, trevor managed to complete the requisite form to get into the race, and even managed to pick up his bib before lewis and i (who were standing in line one canopy-tent over).  the kit consisted of the bib, ipico timing chip (i'd only seen these used at the us olympic marathon trials, but apparently they were used in the london marathon and were designed especially to overcome challenges in open water swims) and MEC-branded drawstring bag (which i neglected to pick up).

as it was a brisk, overcast morning we decided to risk another quick trip in the mazda over to the local tim horton's to satisfy a coffee fix.  it was a short visit, but enough to help us stay warm and kill some time before the pre-race warm-up.

the race
the 10k course itself (there was a half-marathon run that preceded us by 10min., and a 5k run starting at the same time as the 10k) proved only modestly confusing, as there was a bit of winding within the parking lot before opening up on the park roadway and linking up with the lakeshore paved trail.
there was no bike pacer, and only pylons most of the way to help marshal us and ensure that we stayed to the prescribed route - only the aid station (at the 4k mark) was staffed and they were helpful in checking whether we were 5k or 10k runners.

trevor had convinced me to stick with him from the outset, and i should have known from our conversation in the car ("i always seem to start races fast") that we'd be busting it from the get-go.  the first two kilometres were 3:39 and 3:58 - just about interval paces for me, but comfortable for trevor.  looking ahead of us at that point there were about six runners leading the pack, so we both figured that if we kept to this we'd be pulling in seventh and eighth place.  of course we'd forgotten that there were 5k runners in with us, and it wasn't apparent until the 5k turnaround point that we were actually two of the three frontrunners in the 10k.

it was a reasonably taxing run for me throughout - at moments i felt my breathing accelerate and chest tighten (oh no ... shades of the erie marathon bronchoconstriction breakdown!) so i consciously relaxed my posture and stride a bit over a few steps to settle down.  otherwise, the conditions were near perfect - about 7°C, no wind, intermittent lake spray/drizzle.  all well suited to help me stay close to the pace i'd need to finish up with my goal time of sub-42 min.

as we rounded the bend into the finishing straightaway, trevor encouraged me to give it everything i had left.  i'd visualized this moment over the past couple of days, and intuitively knew that i still had a decent kick left in the bank - so i stretched out my fingers to get into a sprinting arm swing and focused on quick and light leg turnover.  i'm not sure how the pictures will turn out, but in my mind i was doing my very best mo farah:

who knows if it he was giving it his all, but trevor says that he managed to stay on my heels but couldn't catch me for the finish.  so while we crossed the line in 2nd and 3rd place (separated by 0.5s), he would have been a clear second had he run his pace for the entire race.  truly an unselfish runner and generous friend.

i noted after we crossed the timing mat that my garmin indicated we'd run 10.19k, so my 'gps time' differs by about 32 seconds.  the overall splits were:

trevor and i pretty much continued moving beyond the finish line to get in a 2k cool-down jog, and returned just in time to meet our friend lewis who was rounding the home stretch turn.  he'd told us that his goal was to clear 60 min., and when i saw that the clock read 57:51 i started waving my arms wildly to urge him to finish strong.  and he did, in 58:23.

while changing into drier and warmer clothes at the car, trevor and i missed the medal presentations.  it was really quite a minor affair - especially since the organizer responsible for the medals had forgotten them at the local MEC retail store.  so apparently we will receive our spoils 'in the mail'.

all in all, a great road trip with two good friends, an enjoyable race and a confidence-boosting result.  a great way to spend a saturday morning!

15 October 2013

inov-8 bare-x 180 - road review

once again i'm beginning to feel a little shoe-indulgent.  after spending several years working for nike canada, i amassed quite the locker of footwear.  then taking up with tennis canada, i also once again added to that collection ... so much so that the agreement with my wife was that for every pair in one pair had to exit.

that's worked well ... until i took up running and blogging.  and now my shoe collection is starting to bulge once again.

anyway, as i contemplate which pair of shoes is next in line for retirement, let me share my thoughts on the inov-8 bare-x 180s.

these shoes would never have hit my radar if not for my friend/advisor/inspiration stan.  he was wearing them the first time that we met on the roads of the mississauga marathon, and between his review of these shoes and recurring recommendations of them i definitely knew that i wanted to give them a shot.  as of right now, i'm definitely thankful that i finally followed through.

what's great about these shoes?
  • zero-drop - if you didn't already know by now, my preference is to try to run as naturally and minimally as possible while still retaining some protection on the bottom (and top) of my feet.  the bare-x 180s have no differential in height from heel to toe.
  • lightweight - listed at about 6.4 oz for the standard men's size 9, mine are not much more than that at 9.5 (US).  feels even lighter than that because of how comfy a fit they provide.
  • toebox - plenty of width for footsplay when mid-to-forefoot striking, and lengthwise these fit perfectly - even better than my reigning-and-defending champ of running shoes, the merrell road glove (first iteration).
  • groovy colours - chili/mint ... can you dig it, suckaaaaaaaa?!
  • hand - technically this is the term for how a fabric feels between your fingers and thumb, but i think it's applicable here.  these shoes just feel incredibly nice when you don them.  stan chose to use the term "luxurious", and i don't disagree.
  • low stack-height - this is looking like a rundown of all of my favourite qualities that you can find in a shoe.  these shoes measure in at 6mm sole height + 3mm insole for a grand total of 9mm.  running on crushed limestone trails, there was no problem with discomfort from the terrain while still maintaining suitable ground feel.  the odd large pebble here and there i did notice, but not enough to cause any bruising or lasting effects.
  • outsole - with a grand total of 42km (not all in one marathon or anything) put on these, durability is not something that i can yet comment on.  however, i'm happy to say something about traction - initially i was worried that since the outsole does not look particularly rugged that it might prove a bit slippy under certain conditions.  this past sunday i went out for a 29km run in the pouring rain and these shoes were tacky like you wouldn't believe.  never once did i have any concerns about grip, and there was pooling water all over the road pavement.  plus i just have to mention how awesome the wet sole print is:
    i may have to wear these under my hallowe'en costume ...
'nuff said about the good stuff.  as for the drawbacks/downsides to this shoe?   listen in and find out:

all told, i'm glad that stan's comparison of the bare-x 180s to the merrell road gloves has stood up.  as i've said, the RGs have been my favourite running shoes to date, and there are certain qualities to the road gloves that i still love beyond other shoes.  i will have to see after i wear the bare-x 180s for the hamilton marathon whether they are ultimately as comfortable for that distance as the RGs.  all indications are that these shoes are worthy of five (skeletal) footprints out of five.


08 October 2013

what doesn't kill you

since i started this running thing (back in the spring of 2009) i've really not let anything slow me down. from the treadmill to the road, there have been numerous goals that have kept me getting out of bed and lacing up the shoes:
  • run non-stop through the entire album version of paradise by the dashboard light
  • finish a half-marathon
  • run a sub-1:30 half-marathon
  • finish a full marathon
  • run a sub-4:00 marathon
  • run a sub-3:30 marathon
  • qualify for boston (sub-3:15 marathon)
so far i've managed to hit all the marks except for the last one, and i hope to put a strikethrough line across it before the dawn of 2014.

in order to realize those aspirations, there's been some dogged determination injected as everyone gets obstacles thrown into their way.  those challenges can range from the mundane to the serious to the wild and wacky - i've seen most varieties in my own journey.  here are just some of the things that i've dealt with in trying to make sure that i was able to stick to my schedule/training plan:
  • snowstorms that have downed hydro lines and forced major road closures
  • colds
  • flu
  • pneumonia (note:  powering through this probably wasn't the smartest idea)
  • being chased (for several kilometres) by stray dogs in rural romania
    • the strays in romania come in all shapes and sizes
  • getting lost while running through the streets of detroit
  • recurring bouts of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo
  • mysterious knee pain
  • grade 1 quad strains
  • exercise-induced asthma
  • the normal rigmarole of kids' schedules, work projects
  • the abnormal rigmarole of working nine straight 15+ hour workdays helping to oversee the 1000+ volunteers of The Rogers Cup.

certainly in the grand scheme of things my list doesn't even compare to those who have to overcome diseases like cancer, or the demands of caring for dependents who have special needs, or dealing with special physical demands (like the coach i worked with this year, rick ball).

i suppose that the bottom line is that there are always excuses readily available as to why i (and why you) could choose not to run.  and i recognize that there are times that discretion is the better part of valour.  but i'm always inspired by the stories of people who choose the path less travelled, who stare down the forces that oppose them and manage to find a better version of themselves emerging from the struggle.

what wages against you to keep you from running or exercising?