26 April 2017

Slip, slide, gazelle, glide - which stride is best?

Just as I was eager to track my friends who were running the 2017 Boston Marathon I was keen to see the outcome(s) of the 2017 London Marathon.  It's racing heaven for distance runners as these two Abbott World Marathon Majors are pretty much back-to-back within a couple of weeks' time, and there's almost always a star-studded field collected at the London Marathon start line.  This year did not disappoint with world record holders like Kenenisa Bekele, Olympic medalists like Feyisa Lelisa and World Champions like Ghirmay Ghebreslassie highlighting the men's elite lineup; and on the women's side the second fastest marathoner ever Mary Keitany led the field (from start to finish) which included perennial favourite Florence Kiplagat, 2015 marathon World Champion Mare Dibaba and multiple Olympic medalist/5000m WR holder Tirunesh Dibaba.

However, as a Canadian born in England I was also interested in how the British athletes were going to fare - and it was exciting to watch Alyson Dixon capture a berth to the World Championships with her PB finish of 2:29:09 (coming in 14th place).  I also noted this result for two other significant reasons:  Aly is 38 years old and her running stride would be described as employing the 'glider' technique.

Why are these two details worth pointing out? 

Well, normally (unless you're Haile Gebrselessie or Meb Keflezighi) you tend to slow down signficantly as you age - and the fastest runners are quite often those who exhibit the 'gazelle' running form (for a comparison of the two check out this post) ... but here again you might not want to argue that point with Kara Goucher.

Anyway, Aly Dixon is definitely a glider - the footage from the London Marathon showed her running with a noticeably high cadence (i.e. footfall/turnover per minute) and if you slow down the playback speed of this video you can see that her lead foot is extending out past her knee at the same time that her trailing leg is extended and leaving the ground (check it out at the 2:27:00 timestamp).

While some would contend that age is a determining factor when it comes to the 'glider' running style - such that even 'gazelles' become more 'glider'-like as they get older - it would appear to me that Aly has had the inclination to be a glider for at least a few years now as this clip from a race four years ago would indicate (best view is at the 23:00 timestamp).

I take this as an encouraging sign since I am most definitely getting older (!) and most of my race photos show off a pretty distinctive 'glider' form.

Down the finishing stretch of my fastest 13.1 last year

How about you?  Are you a 'gazelle' or a 'glider'?  Do you have greater top speed or long-distance endurance?  Would you think that your age actually does play a determining factor?

And in the end, does it make a difference?

18 April 2017

On the run ... with Tina Muir

The commercials for Dry Idea® anti-perspirant are famous for their tagline "Never let them see you sweat".

I wonder whether or not Tina Muir would buy into that.

Tina is an elite distance runner and social media personality who in English born but has resided in the U.S. for about 10 years now.  Having competed in distances between 1500m to the marathon she holds a PB of 2:36 over 26.2 miles and has represented Great Britain in the 2016 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.  She's worked in various capacities in and around the running community, but now focuses on her brand new podcast and the Running For Real web presence.

Known for her candour and down-to-earth approach to training and fitness, Tina recently shared with her family, friends and followers that she is taking a much-needed break (or break-up) from running.  This is just one more way in which Tina invites everyone into an authentic conversation about the place of running in our lives ... and how the individual defines the running and not the other way around.

. . . . .

1.  Your journey has taken you from an MBA to “Community Manager” with RunnersConnect and now to focusing on anchoring your own social media platform Running For Real. Where would you say your greatest passion lies?

(a) As an athlete chasing my own personal goals
(b) Finding ways to creatively dovetail running and business
(c) Empowering others to get the most out of their lives
(d) Ice cream!
(e) Other

TM:   Oooooh I love that these are multiple choice questions, not sure I have ever answered those before like this! Hmmm that is a tough one, I would say (C) … although (D) is very tempting ;)  Haha, in all seriousness, running brings me a lot of joy, when I accomplish my goals, it makes me see how all that time, energy, passion, and love was worthwhile, as I did something to make myself proud and stand out. But I have to say that helping other people to feel empowered is so much more meaningful. Knowing that I have helped another, even in a small way, to achieve something they never dreamed possible, is an incredible feeling, and even from a young age, I have always known that my greatest strength is making others feel good about themselves. Now I get to make it into a career … hopefully!

2.   What do you think is the biggest hindrance to you enjoying and getting the most out of your running?

(a) The bathroom scale
(b) Any full-length mirror
(c) An unending pursuit of excellence because I’m never satisfied with what I’ve accomplished
(d) Other people’s social media feeds
(e) All of the above / Other

TM:   I would say they all play a part in sucking the joy from running. I would honestly say that I deal with most of those on a daily basis. I have now hidden my scale, so that part is at least out of the way, but it does cross my mind sometimes as I wonder where I would fall if I did weigh myself. The mirror is also a constant battle not to hone in on the parts you are a little self conscious of. However, I have been learning to look at myself a different way, and see my body as part of who I am, so I should love it for what it is, and I have learned to appreciate my curves as womanly and strong. Runners are never happy, thats all I have to say about C, and then finally, I think D can be the most toxic of all to our self esteem. We see others accomplishments or happy moments, and allow them to steal our personal accomplishments away from us. That is exactly what I am trying to minimize, by encouraging runners to show that courage of vulnerability, and be real.

3.   If you could teach your younger self just one lesson, what would it be?

(a) Listen to your body
(b) Surround yourself with the right people
(c) Life is all about balance
(d) One more interval won’t hurt
(e) Other

TM:  (A) through (C) are all good answers … (D) is probably a lesson I learned is wrong pretty quick :) But yes the other three are definitely lessons I have learned along the way. I have talked a lot about the effort scale and I truly believe that is the best way to train and race, so that means you learn to actually listen to your body, rather than relying on technology to tell you how to feel. I think being around supportive people who truly care about you and what makes you happy is so important. Thankfully the running world is FULL of plenty of those, so that makes it nice and easy :) Finally, balance, yes, that is something I have been working on over the past few years, it can be tough to find, and sometimes I wonder if I have it all wrong, but I think people often think that the harder they try in running, the better things will be. I actually found that when running became too big a part of my life and identity, that is when things really started going wrong. Running should be a part of your life, not the sole focus of it, there are far more important things in life, even at the very top!

4.  Having hit your big goal (representing Great Britain in a world championship race) what’s next on your radar?

(a) Become a two-sport athlete ... like, say, ultimate frisbee!
(b) Becoming a professional (life and sports) coach
(c) Stepping in the world of ultramarathons
(d) Who knows?! Politics maybe ...?
(e) None of the above / Other

TM:  I know, it’s still hard for me to believe that, and I am still working that part out. Ultimate frisbee huh? Maybe you have chosen a new career path for me there? ;) I would like to say (B) ... (C) might tempt me someday, but I am not there yet. I really want to help others accomplish their own running goals, and create this community where we can support and build one another up, rather than allowing social media to tear us down. So yes, I would love to become a leader and go to source for runners to learn more about living a balanced life as a runner.

*** For more on Tina be sure to check out "Running For Real" on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/runningforreal), as well as Tina's personal feeds on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/tinamuir88/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/tinamuir)!  Thanks Tina for being you, and for inviting us to do the same!


12 April 2017

It woulda been nice to know ... for the Boston Marathon

With not only Easter week being upon us but also the weekend leading up to Patriots' Day in Massachusetts (and therefore the Boston Marathon) I got to reflecting on my experience last spring running the most storied of racing events.  It was a phenomenal trip all-around, from being hosted/treated by some new friends (the amazing Yehs) to exploring some of Boston itself to chatting with current running legend Dean Karnazes while heading to the start line in Hopkinton.  While it was the time of my life I decided not to (immediately) return to Boston even though I'd re-qualified with my result there last April - mostly because I felt like it was important to leave a spot available for someone else to accomplish their bucket-list goal of traversing 26.2 miles and absorbing the amazing energy and pride that lines that course, culminating in the phenomenon that is Boylston Street.

So in the spirit of rooting on a number of friends and acquaintances (e.g. Mike, Rose, Patrick) who are taking in their first ever Boston Marathon experience I thought that I'd share just a few things that I would have like to have known prior to touching down at Logan International:
  1. The trip to pick up your race kit is lickety-split ... the tour of the expo, not so much.  With over 120 years to nail it down, the process of checking in to pick up your bib and associated race kit goodies is supremely painless.  I bet that last year that took all of about 7 minutes, with most of that time spent riding the escalator up and down from where the massive number of volunteers were coordinating the hand-out.  However, the expo is notable for its magnitude - in terms of size, number of sponsor booths, running shoe porn, etc.  It's a veritable shopping experience unto itself - and while I was pre-warned to set aside about $1000 for spending there (which could be very easily blown) I decided to spend $0 ... not that I wasn't tempted however.  All that being said, I tried as best as I could to see a good part of the expo but didn't want to linger too long - the introvert side got the best of me and I was out of there in a little less than an hour.  If you're going to buy the custom Boston Marathon merchandise be prepared for long line-ups at the dressing rooms and the cashier tables.

  2. Just your average Saturday afternoon at the expo ... makes mall-shopping at Christmas look like a piece of cake

  3. It is waaaaayyyy too easy to spend a lot of time on your feet exploring the city of Boston.  This is especially true of course if you've never been there before - it's an uber-historic city with tremendous character, people, and iconic institutions (from Harvard University to Boston Common to Fenway Park).  Again, it may be an entire destination trip for some, and that's cool - just be aware that if you are planning to lay down a solid race come Monday morning you could be jeopardizing your chances by covering too much ground sightseeing.

  4. On race morning make sure you have something comfy and dry to park yourself on while waiting for the race to start.  Regardless of what corral and wave you are assigned to it's more than likely that you will have something in the ballpark of 2-3 hours of waiting in Hopkinton before lining up in the starting chutes.  I brought some extra garbage bags just to lay out underneath me so that I didn't get wet sitting on morning dew-soaked grass at the Athletes' Village (basically a series of large open sports fields).  Many people brought blankets and even old cushions because they spent some of that pre-race time snoozing.  The Athletes' Village is well-stocked with coffee and fruit if you need a little morning pick-me-up, but other than that it's just going to be an extended period of visiting, or people-watching, or (if you're not careful) wandering around on your feet.

  5. Even with hundreds of porta-potties the lineups are enormous - you may want to head down early (if you can) to Grove and Main Streets where there are tons more toilets that aren't tied up.  Seriously, if you wait until the last minute to get some final relief you may find yourself well back of your assigned corral or wave - and while that's technically ok, it might impede your race efforts as the BAA does a great job of sardine-packing runners who all qualified with a similar pace/time result.  Since the first 3-5k of the race is fairly bunched up you might really want to be clipping along beside people who are accustomed to what your estimated finish time will be ... so if you're worried about washroom woes know that there's a plaza parking lot halfway along the trek to the starting chutes where a whackload of portable toilets are set up and various runners choose to hang out.  Now there's no announcement PA system set up there (I don't think) and no extra amenities, but if instant bathroom access is your top priority this could be a great option for you.

  6. Whatever the weather, keep it together.  The Boston Marathon has been run in all sorts of weather conditions - cold, hot, wet, dry, windy, still, you name it.  All I can say is be smart and be prepared.  Last year it was definitely on the warm side, and two of my pals (both much faster and smarter than I) were whammied by the heat and suffered dehydration issues in different ways.  

  7. Sure the talk is all about Heartbreak Hill ... but what about all the other hills?!?   The route to Boston is one long roller coaster ride, don't kid yourself.  The so-called Heartbreak Hill is actually easy to miss - not because it's not well signed (even if unofficially so) but because it's only about a 91 ft. elevation gain.  Truth be told, after you've been toiling up and down for 20 miles already, it's the 3.3% grade that makes it stand out (as the steepest of the climbs along the course) - but it's still not a monster.  Just be aware that even though it's touted as a net downhill that your quads and hammies will let you know that you've been riding the waves all day long.

  8. The walk to South Station from the finish line is a good long way - but there are still people cheering you on!  If (like me) you opt for using the MBTA to travel to and from downtown Boston just know that it's a good 30 minute walk (or more if you hobble) to South Station, the main hub for commuter trains and subways in Boston.  That being said, lots of other marathon finishers will be making that trek, and all along the way you will find random strangers/Bostonians congratulating you on your outstanding accomplishments.  Plenty of warm fuzzies to be had along the way, topped off by the fact that (at least last year) the MBTA offers free fares to all Boston Marathon finishers!  Just have your bib and/or medal handy to show the ticketing officers and you're good to go!

That's about all of the wisdom that I have to offer - from my one year's worth of insight I hope that maybe some of this will help you in maximizing your enjoyment of the race weekend.  Just remember that it's not what your results on Patriots' Day that count - it's that you made it to the start line by being determined, focused, disciplined and blessed.  Soak it all in and enjoy the moment because you deserve it!