29 December 2014

on the run ... avec moi

one of the blogs that i follow is 3 Cheap Runners authored by mike, michelle and rhoda - and last week i noticed this little 'get-to-know-me' segment that michelle had posted (as part of a pseudo-bloghop), and i thought that i would keep the fun going ... not unlike the good ol' chain letters of yesteryear. :)

four names that people call me:

1. patty
2. vooman
3. p-voo
4. spiff

four jobs i've had: 
1. volunteer resources administrator
2. pastor
3. funeral director's assistant
4. communications officer
four movies i have watched more than once: 
1. the shawshank redemption
2. casablanca
3. the matrix
4. all of the lord of the rings trilogy  

four books i'd recommend:  
1. the old man and the sea
2. the bible
3. born to run
4. open  

four places i've lived:
1. london, england
2. orangeville, ontario (canada)
3. mississauga, ontario (canada)
4. barrie, ontario (canada)  

four places i have been: 
1. cape hatteras, north carolina
2. teotihuacan, mexico
3. kota kinabalu, malaysia
4. palace of the romanian parliament

four places i'd rather be right now: 
1. surfing in new zealand
2. motorcycle trip across route 66
3. whipping around in a TARDIS
4. backpacking through the UK  

four things i don't eat: 
1. coconut
2. bacon
3. coffee
4. alcohol  

four of my favourite foods:
1. gingerbread men
2. pizza delight
3. doritos
4. hot peppers  

four TV shows that i watch (watched): 
1. gotham
2. ink master
3. penny dreadful
4. star trek: the next generation  

four things i'm looking forward to this coming year: 
1. tackling my first 50-mile race
2. teaching my daughter to drive
3. having something of a summer vacation for the first time in about seven years
4. finishing up my project motorcycle and getting it onto the road  

four things i say a lot: 
1. who left these lights on?!?
2. are you a runner?
3. hey, dr. brad!
4. off you go!

and now you know a little bit more about me, whether you wanted to or not.  if you'd like to pick up this ball and run with it i encourage you to do so - let someone else know what you're all about!


23 December 2014

in the still of the night

to all my friends, mentors, encouragers, collaborators and supporters - i wish for all of you and your loved ones the merriest of christmas seasons and the boldest and brightest year ahead in 2015.

keeping in step on the journey,


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!

09 November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the mass start, and the coldest part of the race

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

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

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

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

"10k my a**"

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

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

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


05 November 2014

race report - 2014 Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*cue ominous foreshadowing music*)

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

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

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

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

i was in absolutely disbelief.

kathleen broke out into laughter.

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

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

rolf and i ready to rock hamilton!

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

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

through to km 21:  1:34:41 

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

km 22 through km 34:  59:04

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

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

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

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

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

km 35 through km 42.195:  48:46

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

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

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

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


30 October 2014

gear review - Nathan quickdraw elite handheld hydration bottle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 October 2014

on the run ... with brett larner

welcome to another interview in the on the run series ...

when it comes to political news the media often has foreign correspondents on the ground providing in-depth insights into what's really happening in that zone or territory.  for the running world, one of the most important foreign correspondent voices is brett larner, the founder of Japan Running News.  as someone born in western culture but now integrated into the japanese world, brett provides a unique window into one of the planet's most fascinating and successful running nations.
. . . . .

1.  At first glance it seems like you're a citizen of the world - a Canuck by birth, college studies in the US, now focusing on music in Japan. Where does your heart consider home?

(a) Winnipeg - I'm Canadian by birth and will always be a Canuck!
(b) The USA - having studied and run for Wesleyan College, that's where my formative days were spent
(c) Japan - studying and performing the koto brought me here, and I've been here a whole lot longer than I thought I would be
(d) Wherever my wife is!
(e) Other

BL:   "E" - I don't really feel any particular connection to a specific place.  When I was five we moved from Winnipeg to Atlanta, and I think I've moved twelve times since then, usually internationally.  As a result I'm fairly rootless and tend to view things as transitory.   I do love Tokyo, though.   It's a good place for people who don't really fit in anywhere and I've lived here longer than anywhere else, so in those regards I guess it is home even if you can't really be at home in Japan as a non-Japanese. 

While it's true that studying music initially brought me here and that I worked professionally for quite a while, I stopped performing and recording professionally about five years ago.  I still play privately and for fun but it would not be accurate to say that I focus on music.  My focus now is on running-related things.

2.   Your web platform Japan Running News has been active in helping bring some of the outstanding Japanese talent to major races in other parts of the world (e.g. Yuki Kawauchi to 2013 and 2014 NYC Marathon, Yoshihisa Hosaka to 2013 Toronto Waterfront Marathon). What would be the key contribution(s) of JRN in making these appearances happen?

(a) Connections - it's all about who you know, baby
(b) Dollars
(c) Providing chaperones and translation services
(d) All of the above
(e) Other

BL:   "D" and "E" - All of those things play into getting Japanese athletes overseas, but I'd like to think that JRN's main contribution has been to help get people outside Japan interested in the running culture here, its high level of achievement that is otherwise mostly invisible, and in some of its most unique and compelling people.  That was my main motivation in starting JRN since it impressed me so strongly when I came here, and to the extent that I have any connections they have all come from faithfully sticking to that mission for the last seven and a half years.   I never imagined that it would lead to actually working directly with athletes, but I'd only been doing JRN for a little over a year when races started contacting me about getting Japanese athletes, and less than two years before I did it for the first time at the 2009 Copenhagen Marathon.  Their elite coordinator Gavin Doyle was kind enough to bring over two good Japanese amateurs, Toyokazu Yoshimura and Chihiro Tanaka, and they were both kind enough to win. That got things rolling.   Thank you, Gavin.

3.   It sounds as if there was a bit of a pot stirred up on LetsRun.com around comments that quoted you as saying that when compared to achievements in American marathoning history, Yuki Kawauchi's marathon performances in 2013 expose a potentially serious systemic problem with the US training program. What was the key issue in this debate for you?

(a) The difference in focus between Japan's long distance running and the U.S.'s all around approach
(b) The contention that Japan's marathon success might be attributed to physical stature (average Japanese male height of 5'7")
(c) There are too many other competiting opportunities for sporting success and development in the American system
(d) The real issue was lost in translation
(e) None of the above / Other

BL:  "D" or "E" - (d) or (e) I didn't know there was a pot stirred up, or a debate.  When it comes to long distance Kenya and Ethiopia are the best without a doubt, with a few other African countries close behind. Japan and the U.S. are the only other countries really able to compete with them and I'm curious about what each is doing to try to bridge the gap.  How do you keep the fire burning when you know you're not the best?  I find it really interesting to look at the two of them in comparison and see the differences in approach, where each of their strengths and weaknesses are.   Since Japan is quite insular there is not much awareness elsewhere of how good it really is and people tend to assume the U.S. is superior without any question.  Whenever I have put together the numbers that show where Japan outperforms the U.S., like the KGRR surpassing the NCAA in producing quality collegiate distance runners, most people have seemed to find it as interesting as I do but it has often touched a nerve with others. 

In the case you're asking about, I haven't really thought about it since then but as far as I recall I was saying that given how good the U.S. is at other distances, the fact that one person could equal the best year in its history at a distance at which it has a long record of accomplishment suggests problems in its development system, which for whatever reason produced a response saying "Japanese suck at middle distances because Asians are genetically inferior," of which the less said the better, instead of talking about the actual question. It could have been an interesting discussion.  Maybe next time.  I still think that looking at where each country's system has success and each trying to learn from the other would help both take a big step forward.

4.   Many people have tried to dissect the 'East African mystique', especially with the last five marathon WR holders originating from that locale. However, there's no question that formidable contenders in many marathons (both female and male) originate from Japan. In your view what's the biggest contributor to Japanese running success?

(a) The pack/ekiden mentality
(b) National pride in the land of the rising sun
(c) The oriental culture of discipline
(d) High mileage training
(e) Other

BL: "E" - I'm personally highly averse to exoticism and mystiquing.  The existence of a well-established support and development system that extends all the way from junior high school to the pro level, skillful marketing to a commercial base that can support distance running as a spectator sport with regular TV broadcasts, and a history and legacy of excellence.   That system got Japan to that level of excellence before anyone else, and while it plateaued for a long time and has always held back the best Japanese athletes from reaching the medal contender level of Rupp or Ritzenhein it still works in mass-producing quality.  Japan may not be producing Lamborghinis or Ferraris but it is unmatched in turning out reliable Hondas and Toyotas.

*** you can follow brett's reporting on Japan Running News' twitter accounts here and here.  the rendezvoo point also encourages you to support JRN by donating online here so that all of us can continue to learn and grow from the experiences of japanese runners, and those runners have opportunities to learn and grow from encounters beyond the borders of japan.


10 October 2014

race report - 2014 County Marathon

this story starts in the world of social media.

as an aspiring social medialite, a couple of years ago i started putting more attention into developing a presence on facebook, twitter and the blogosphere.  it was through connecting with the running community on twitter that i came into conversation with erin mcdougall who is the organizer for pace bunnies for the County Marathon.  he asked whether or not i'd be interested in being a pacer for this year's edition of the race, and given that i was looking for more ways to become a contributor to (and less of a consumer of) the running community i agreed.

the pace was yet to be determined.

at the time of asking (early this spring) my posted PB in the marathon was still 3:18:14 - and so in terms of comfort i suggested that i might be best suited to be the 3:45 pacer.  erin then let me know that was normally 'his time', and wondered if i might perhaps be open to being a faster pacer at 3:30.  my response back was that i would see how the mississauga marathon went, and then get back to him.  after posting my new PB of 3:14:43, i agreed to take on the 3:30 pacing duties.

my good pal lewis asked to join me for a road trip to picton, ontario and i was happy to spend the time with him - so he arranged to be a race crew volunteer.  we headed out on saturday of race weekend to hit the only day of the expo (and of race kit pick-up), and what started as an uncomplicated 3-hour trip extended itself thanks to a demonstration/blockade on the skyway bridge leading into picton.  apparently an unannounced protest by the native canadian community of tyendinaga over missing aboriginal women shut down the main trafficway into this little town, resulting in a 50-minute detour for us.  given that we'd given ourselves enough buffer time, it was a non-issue that day, but meant that we would have to plan for a different route in the morning.

the expo took place in the "Crystal Palace" in downtown picton, a picturesque barn of a building that is an elaborate community hall.  there were perhaps three or four vendors (including one local running retailer), a table selling previous years' race-branded gear, and the designated kit pick-up tables.  it was a straight-forward in-and-out affair, although i did get to meet kailey the race organizer along with a few other key race team members.  each of them were incredibly friendly and obliging - consistent with all that i'd heard about the character of this event.

i'd booked a hotel (prior to lewis' request to join me for this trip) at a small motel in napanee - about 30 min. away from picton ... if the skyway bridge weren't closed to traffic.  we timed the trip to the motel at just shy of an hour, and adjusted our morning plans accordingly.  after checking in, we headed to the fish 'n' chips restaurant next door on the hotel concierge's recommendation.  a quaint little joint that was hopping with familes and seniors, and good, sizably-portioned homestyle cooking.  i even had a quarter of a club sandwich leftover which i refrigerated for my pre-race breakfast.

after that it was just time to lay out my gear for the next morning - and aside from trying to figure out how to best affix the two rabbit ears to my hat the biggest decision that i had to make was whether or not to be shod in the Skechers GOBionic 2 or the GOMeb Speed 2.  i'd brought both pairs with me as i was unsure what would work best ... the GOBionic 2 was the newest iteration of my #1 ranked running shoe, but the GOMeb Speed 2 had gotten me across the finish line at the mississauga marathon in BQ time.  i decided that i could give no less than my best effort to the group of aspiring 3:30 runners and chose to wear the GOMeb Speed 2 racing flats.  i'd prepare for this race like i was preparing to go and nail my best possible time so that there would be no sense of 'coasting it' for this race.

race day
as part of the parking crew, lewis had to be on-site by 6am - which worked out fine for me.  it meant an early 4am wake-up (anticipating the detour around the blockade area, which turned out to have been cleared up overnight ... but we didn't check twitter in time) but traffic was non-existent.

however, we did drive through plenty of nasty, windswept rain showers.  all the way into picton i was hoping that there would be clearer conditions by the seaway.  though we arrived in spit and mist, by the time that i boarded the shuttle bus (the race is a point-to-point, so we parked at the finish line) to the start area the precipitation had let up - but there was a distinct autumn chill in the air.

the start line was adjacent to an arena so the runners all huddled in there in the warmth, with plenty of indoor washrooms and even an indoor track for warmups!  i spent the time meeting the other pacers, as well as making myself visible to anyone who had designs on trying to lay down a 3:30 time ... which was not hard to do given the size of my ears.

the headband was necessary because only two staples were holding each ear to the hat

the starting chute was about 700m away from the arena, and when it came time to head for the lineup it was still awfully brisk - even though the sun had come up there were plenty of clouds to keep it just a few degrees cooler.  if i had to guess i would have put it at about 7°C, which i knew would be perfect once i got moving.

just prior to the starter's gun firing i met some of the group who would plan to become my posse ... and it began with a barrage of "what's your strategy going to be?" questions.  i let them all know that i was aiming for even pacing and splits, which seemed to set everyone at ease.  there looked to be about six or seven who'd be in the 3:30 wolfpack, which felt like a nice critical mass to me.

as we started the group countdown one runner came through the crowd in a harried fashion, slicing his way to the front of the chute.  his thin kenyan frame pretty much justified what would otherwise be a presumptuous and inconsiderate move - this was gilbert kiptoo, previous winner and on this day attempting to break the course record.

[photo from countylive.ca]

the initial kilometres were spent with nicole (aiming for a BQ time), robin (who knew about me from a mutual friend - whom i've only met online - anna), steve (who'd seemed to have run just about every major marathon in north america), michael (a first timer in the marathon), and a couple others whose names i didn't catch.  within the first four kilometres we picked up kaitlyn (a school teacher on maternity leave who was running the first leg of the 5-person marathon relay) and settled into a relaxed, even rhythm.

well within the first 10km i began to notice that my Garmin 305 was clicking off kilometre splits some 100m before the roadside markers - and then 125m before - then 150m before (you get the picture).  i've known for a while to 'not trust the GPS', but this was a bit disconcerting especially since i needed to help shepherd every across the finish line in 3:30, not just when my device decided that we'd travelled 42.195km.  so i decided instead to just watch my elapsed time and compare the pace bands i'd printed against the roadside markers, and that ended up working well.

kms 13-23 were the real battlefield this day - while everyone was talking about and anticipating the 30-odd metre climb from km 38-40, it was the stretch just after the little town of bloomfield that we began to run into the wind.  gusts hit about 35kph, and definitely began to break up our pack.  even for michael who stayed stride for stride with me it would eat up some first-half energy that would end up making him pay at around the 35km mark.

in terms of the aid stations, they were more frequent than i'd been accustomed to in other races (at every 2km) and several stocked not only water and electrolyte drink but also handed out gels.  there was only one station that seemed to have been unstaffed, but given that there were so many extras along the way this was not a big issue.  and the crowds were great - with the various hand-off points for the relay race as well as the half-marathoners beginning right at the halfway mark of the full marathon, there were plenty of cheering crowds.  they may have been thin at points, but they were no less supportive and vocal.  what a great rally of support from the local community!

at about 29km michael and i caught up to steve (who had put some distance after the 1st km) and also picked up another runner named wynand.  wynand had originally been a first-leg runner for a relay team, but also just that morning registered to finish the full marathon.  he switched bibs after the first relay point, and was using this as a training run having just come off of a disappointing DNF at this year's edition of the canadian death race apparently he had to bail after about 81km of the 125km course - but who am i kidding?  i'd probably have posted a DNS for something called a "death race"!  as i quickly perceived that wynand's accent was south african our conversations turned to the comrades marathon (which he'd completed numerous times) as it is on my bucket list of races.  

after 35km michael began to fade (in that section which wynand described as the "marathoner's graveyard") and it was just wynand and i until about 38km when wynand paused at the aid station to take his salt tablets.  i negotiated the vaunted hill without much difficulty as it was probably talked up more than it needed to be.  with a quick check of my watch i saw that i was still ahead of schedule by about 45 seconds, so went into easy cruising mode for the final 2km or so.  with about 1km left wynand caught up again, having worked hard to make up the lost ground - and with a quick tap on the shoulder i saw him break off ahead as he would go on to a 3:28:58 finish.

the finishing chute was loud, crowded and energetic.  as i approached i could hear the announcer say "here comes our 3:30 pacer - within 30 seconds of his time.  next time you want to run the County Marathon, make sure you connect with our pacers who are right on time!"  i crossed in 3:29:39 (clock time) which was a real win for me, and i felt great.  after receiving my medal i saw my buddy lewis helping to keep people moving out of the chute and toward the bag check area.

i hung around to see steve, michael and robin finish their races - and was immensely proud of each of them for their accomplishments.  i also was watching for nicole, but when she didn't show up after the 3:45 bunny came in and it started to rain (big drops), i bailed into the Crystal Palace where there were refreshments, free beer (!), and the posted results.

inside i caught up with a number of other runners that i'd connected with, including michael who introduced me to his wife and then asked her to take a picture of he and i together.  together with a conversation with robin post-race about how much she appreciated my pacing, these were the moments that provided me with a sense of accomplishment as a first-time pacer.  in some small way i'd hit the mark.

lewis and didn't dawdle too long as we both wanted to hit the road at a decent time, but we did pause to say thanks to kailey and erin for their help in bringing us to the County Marathon.  all in all it was a very memorable race for all the right reasons - and i have designs on checking in on it again next october.

if you're looking for a small-ish, super-well executed half or full marathon next fall you will definitely want to check this one out!

as for me - next stop, the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope on nov. 2!