Monday, October 27, 2008

More Rest

I decided not to run for another week, making it a two week "no running" rest period. I made this decision after going for a run (I know) on Friday. The run felt fine, but the next day my left hip felt horrible. It seems to be slowly getting better but I've decided not to train for another week.

My toenail is finally completely gone. I hade to resort to persuasion, using my long-nose plyers. Let's just say that next time, I will wait for it to fall off by itself.

I've been trying to plan my 2009 season. Everything seems so far away although a 24 week marathon training plan for Boston actually should start on November 2nd. I'm wavering between training for the Florida 70.3 Ironman on May 17th or a 50 miles trail race around the same time. I could use the Boston marathon as a training long run. The 50mi would be amazing, but I don't know what this would do to my triathlon training. 2009 is supposed to be the year of the bike. 

I have to think about this a bit more.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What now?

I haven't run since Sunday. Right after the race, as soon as I stopped moving I couldn't believe how my legs immediately seized up. I could barely walk. Monday was harsh, Tuesday morning even worse but then it got better fast. I almost ran yesterday (Wednesday) but my left toenail was giving me grief since my half-marathon 3 weeks ago. Sunday didn't help. I didn't sleep goo and the pain kept me up last night until I downed a couple of extra-strength Tylenol. This morning it was even worse and I've been hacking at it all morning, squeezing pus out and cutting off as much of it as I could. Feels much better now! I might go for a small jog tonight.

I'm a bit aimless at the moment. I have no race in my sights at this point, other than Boston, of course, and that's pretty far off so it's hard to get excited about it. I applied online yesterday and have yet to hear from them. I believe they check the qualifying time manually or something.

So, what now? I'm paying a lot of money for a gym where I've gone once in the last month. Time to get going. I'll probably set my sights on trying for a new 10k PR. Going sub-43 would be nice, sub-42 even better.

So back to running and also back to cycling and swimming. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

My First Marathon - Toronto Marathon Race Report

Every year, Toronto holds two marathons within a three weeks time span. The first one is the Scotia Waterfron Marathon, which offers large prizes to top finishers so it attracts a lot of top runners. The course is really flat, if a bit boring. The second one, held three weeks later, offers little prize money so few "pros" show up. To give you an idea, the top finishing time at Scotia hovers near 2:10 but the winning time at the Toronto Marathon yesterday was 2:30. The Toronto Marathon has a more interesting course going through the whole city.

I ran the Scotia Half Marathon a few weeks ago as a tune-up race. It really helped mentally by confirming that the training was working and that running my goal marathon pace of a shade under 5min/km (8min/mile) was achievable.

The Toronto Marathon is a point-to-point course, which I like a lot, so I took one of the shuttles to the start line, in the northern part of the city. The half marathon start was at 8am, the marathon at 9am. I got there at 7am, probably the first marathoner to get there. What can I say. It was freezing outside and I waited inside, savoring the moment and chatting with other runners. 

Finally, 9am came and I went outside. It was freezing, about 3C (40f). I had made myself some disposable arm warmers by cutting the sleeves off an old long sleeve t-shirt I had. I used elastics to hold them up my (bulging?) biceps. I also had an old t-shirt on top of my "real" running shirt. My number was on my number belt so that I could get rid of the t-shirt easily. I also decided to take some nutrition with me. I had a Gu strawberry gel and a pack of Cliff Bloks in a small compact nutrition belt I had bought at the Expo.

I located the 3:30 "pace bunny" and positioned myself about 20 meters back. I had talked to him earlier and he said he was running the whole thing, except that he would walk for about 10-15 seconds at the drink tables. I could live with that.

We started at 9am, right on time. The pace bunny went out really fast. The course is mostly downhill for the first 15km, but the last 3 km are uphill. He said he had run that course many times and we would need a little extra time at the end. This concept of a positive split went against everything I had learned, but then again, you have to adapt to the course. After 7km we had a whopping 3 minutes in the bank. I was worried. The bunny's pace was all over the place. Between km 10 and 15, we shed about 300 feet and by that time, my feet were feeling it. From 15k on, it was flat until the last 3km. By then I was running with a guy named Bill and we chatted away. Somewhere around 25km, the pace bunny stopped at the potty and Bill and me decided to move on. We settled on a real nice pace. We were out of the buildings so I "lapped" my Garmin 305 and kept an eye on the pace. By then I had gotten rid of my arm warmers and extra t-shirt. Weather was perfect, about 10C (50-ish F) with very light wind. The only problem was a guy from the pace group. He also enjoyed our pace and decided to follow Bill and me. He was a heavy breather. He did say a fucking word the whole time. He would just sit right behind us and suck air LOUDLY. It wasn't so bad at first but as you grow more and more tired it gets to you.

There was water and Gatorade every 5km or so. The Gatorade was crap. I would estimate that they only put half the powder in the mix. I was so happy I carried the nutrition. A few stations seemed ok and I would not take a blok on top of the Gatorade, but after most of them, if I believed the Gatorade was weak, I took in a blok. At about 27km, I took the gel and drank two cups of water with it. I never hit "the wall".

At 38km, the pace bunny caught up to us and then passed us. By then he seemed to have lost most of the group and had maybe 5 people still following, down from probably 12 at the beginning. The heavy breather decided to go with him! Thank god! I decided to keep my pace and let the bunny go. Bill follows him. At that point, my feet are on fire and my legs hurt. I concentrate on my form. I can't deal with his erratic pace.

At 39km, there's a left turn and you head north and the final uphill commences. At 40km I see the heavy breather and Bill in front of me. The bunny is all by himself about 50m ahead of them. I joine Bill and the friggin heavy breather decides to follow. By then I'm fantasizing about telling him to work on his breathing, after the finish of course. Doesn't he read "Runners World"? Heavy breathing is like number 2 on the "things not to do in a marathon"! With 1200m to go, I pick it up and we finally break him. We pass the pace bunny, who decided to "adopt" two guys that are struggling and he's edging them on. Bill follows and we finish at the same time. I look at the clock and see 3:28 and change. I'm going to be 45 before April 2009 and that means BOSTON! Before I get to the finish, I adjust my number and I finish with my arms in the air! I want a good picture!

Gun time: 3:28:43
Chip time: 3:27:49 (Boston baby!)

After the finish, I hear my name and see that my wife and youngest daughter are there! I go to them, hug them through the fence and kiss them. I choke up a bit, out of nowhere.

When I get home, even though I know I should jump in an ice bath, I can't do it. I get in a nice hot shower! I just stand there and think. When I was a kid, I was always the slow one. When then bunch of us ran in the street, I'd always be a few paces back, never able to catch up. Any sport we did, I was always the least athletic. This summer I did 3 Sprint and two Olympic triathlons. Today I ran 42 km and qualified for Boston. All of a sudden, I'm crying like a baby. What can I say? I got emotional.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Once again, here we are. The final hours before the big race. This is no ordinary race though. I have been training for 6 months for this. Yet, I'm not quite sure what to expect, especially in the lask 10k.

The weather is supposed to be very nice. Sunny with a temperature of 5C (41F) at 9am to 11C (51F) at noon, with light wind. I made myself some disposable arm warmer off an old long sleeve shirt, so I'll start the race with them and discard them if I become too hot.

I am pretty sure that I'm getting a cold. I feel that dryness "behind" the nose and my sinuses feel funny but I should still be ok by tomorrow morning. What are the chances? I haven't been sick in a LONG time.

The top of my left thigh hurts a bit when I walk. I have no idea where that came from. It didn't bother me yesterday when I ran, so I'm not expecting any grief from that. 

I feel prepared. I wish I had done a bit more mileage, but then I might have got hurt. 

Race goals. Of course, I do have some. 

My "A" goal is to finish in my target time, the one I've been training for, of 3:30. That would be amazing. Plus, that would qualify me for Boston, which I would probably run if I do qualify. 

My "B" goal is to finish under 3:52, which would be my base pace at which I ran my 20 miler. I felt I could have taken it home after that run, even though I was tired.

My "C" goal, of course, is every first timer's goal: to finish. Whatever I do will be amazing. Running 42k is in itself an amazing accomplishment, so there would be no shame in that.

I feel a bit empty, but calm. My focus is entirely on the race. I think about what I'm goin g to bring tomorrow, what I should eat, what I should wear... My family is letting me be weird and I'm allowed more "alone time" than normal. I think that they will be happy when this is over. 

This is it. I will tie a few loose ends and I'll be ready to roll. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Last Workout ... Check!

I have done everything that I could.

I have folllowed a training program that I believe in. I have done almost every single workout prescribed in it.

I'm physically in the best shape of my life. I can fucking run forever. I have minor aches and pains, but that is to be expected. In the last few weeks, I've been dreading every workout, not because they were hard, but because I was afraid this would be THE ONE. The one where you snap, break or tear something that cannot be fixed in time for the race. I almost didn't race the Scotia Half-Marathon because of that.

I believe that one reason I didn't get hurt is that I followed a low volume running plan, intermixed with swim and bike. The total training volume was fairly high but the running volume was reasonable, for someone of my advanced age (I'm 44). I've only been running for a bit over a year and I don't think I could have adapted to much more than what I did. 

The only question left open is: was that enough to carry me through a marathon? That question, my friends, will be answered on Sunday!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

OMG - I am going friggin' nuts!

Books keep mentioning the importance of controlling "arousal" before a race . Fucking right I'm aroused! With only a few days until marathon, I feel like everything has an exclamation point after it. 

I am VERY excited by the fact that the marathon training program is FUCKING OVER this Friday. Don't get me wrong, it was an excellent plan that brought me here on 4 running workouts per week, since I still had to swim and bike. But let me tell you, the last 2 months were a grind.

I'm looking forward to setting my sights on some even more ridiculous endeavors in the near future. Some of my early, but not definitive, ideas are:

- Breaking 43 minutes in a real 10k (42 minutes maybe?)
- Breaking 21 minutes in a 5k
- Doing at least one half ironman distance triathlon
- Running a 50k or 50 miles race
- Running Boston if I qualify

The idea of running Boston makes me want to puke, since this would mean starting a new marathon training cycle in a month. This is crazy talk!

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to getting back into swimming and biking. Build some base, you know? Work on swimming technique. Become an adequate cyclist.

Now there is the question of this Juggernaut on Sunday. Yes, I'm talking about the Toronto Marathon. I think about it all the time. All. The. Fucking. Time. Things I think about:

- Can I finish? I was so fucking tired after the 20 miler! That wasn't event race pace!
- Where should I park my bike that morning?
- What if my toenail finally comes off during the race? Could it cut my toe off?
- Should I wear a hat?
- Which shuttle should I take?
- What if the pace bunny screws up? Will he tell us in time?
- Do I have a cold, right now? Can I take Otrivin before the race?
- How many milliliters of Gatorade do they put in a paper cup? Do they mix it right or are they cheap?
- Should I bring a couple of gels or Cliff Blocks? Where can I put them?
- What if I don't finish?

Need I say more? I'm excited. Done.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Edge of Reason

My wife keeps asking me why I feel the need for endurance sports in general and this marathon in particular. I usually just smile. I know she will roll her eyes if I just say platitudes about going beyond my limits. The thing is, this is exactly how I feel. I live in a world where everything is defined and standardized. Everything has been decided for us. You drink in a cup. You pee in a toilet. When you see some kids protesting against '(put a popular cause here like globalization, AIDS or Afghanistan)', you smile because you understand how society actually taught them what are the cool things to rebel against.

To me, endurance racing represents the ultimate rebellion. It is not only physical, by doing something that some people say is "un-natural", but ultimately mental. Running a marathon or other long distance event says: "I do what I want". Racing it hard says "Fuck you", because ultimately there's no reason to race hard. You just chose to and nobody can do anything about it. They ask you why and the only thing you can do is smile ("Fuck you. I do what I want. I know it makes you uncomfortable, but tough.").

Endurance racing allows you to experience the edge of reason. You get to the point where your brain betrays you and actively tries to convince you to stop using completely logical arguments. The only thing that keeps you going is the belief that you should. That's what brings tears to my eyes when I see the later stage of an endurance race. You see all those faces, looking ahead but not seeing, lost into an inner battle, fighting with part of themselves to keep going against all logic. 

So my marathon is coming and I will be tested like I've never been tested before. I will hopefully reach the edge of reason and run outside of logic.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

That Epic Feelin'

I've always been disturbed by the concept of brainwashing. The idea that someone can subvert somebody else's thought processes has always given me the heebee-jeebees because we all know people who have been taken advantage of. A good friend of mine got taken advantage of when he was a troubled teenager and ended up in a cult-type religion for 15 years. Every year, I would bet him 5 bucks that this year would NOT be the "End Of Days". He's extremely smart and eventually reasoned his way out of it. Few people do.

To me, going from fat to fit was a bit scary because it required a self-inflicted brainwashing. You buy books, or read blogs, that tell you what to do and how often you should do it. There are chapters on positive reinforcement where you are encouraged to use mantra-type statements (think "you fell strong"). I went around my discomfort by using mostly-technical training plans and I feel it was the right thing for me. Basically though, you have to change the way your brain thinks and make it seek something different. You need a different carrot. You have to go from a belief system where a nice vacation is a week on the beach drinking margaritas and stuffing your face at an all-inclusive, to one (in the case of a triathlete) where you go basically anywhere so you can swim a few km, bike a few dozen and run a half or full marathon. The rest of the family is rarely thrilled, so you might have to alternate.

Some people manage to train and not compete. Training as maintenance. I don't know if I envy or pity them. This is not my case though. I seek the thrill of the competition. I don't expect to "win" but I need those moments where I can do what I trained for at the highest level I'm capable of. 

As I escalated the type of events I'm participating in (Olympic triathlon, marathon) I'm started to experience the "epic" state of consciousness. To me, the epic state starts when some subvertive part of my mind starts talking to me and tells me to stop RIGHT NOW (some hard-core people might say that nothing short of an Ironman or a 100 miler is "Epic" but they can go to hell).  Funny that I should seek a state that is defined by that fact that I want it to stop. Yet that's how it is.

Once you've experienced that epic feeling, you have changed. The epic state can be shortly experienced by looking at people in wetsuits, on bikes (with aerobars works better for me) or in running gears. Watching certain sport videos where the athletes are obviously experiencing an epic moment themselves can actually make you cry. Their pain is your pain and their victory is shared as well. You know.

As big races get closer, I tend to seek mental reinforcement, the very brainwashing device that I was scared of. It just cannot be helped. You just can't run an epic race like a marathon without some mental manipulation. There's no logic to it. Each increasing level of "epic-ity" requires increasing levels of self-reinforcement that become harder and harder to sustain by yourself. You seek your peers on the internet. You quit your regular gym and join an endurance-sport-specific gym where you can meet other crazy people like you. Anything to elicit the epic state.

The next two weeks are going to be mentally challenging. After tomorrow's 20 miler, I'm starting a 2 week taper leading up to the race. Nothing more can be done. I need my body to recover and refuel, but I also need my mind to accept and embrace the upcoming epic experience of running 42.2km.

Some might argue that I'm not that different from my friend. I've been ensnared. Maybe. But NOBODY is telling me what to do and what not to do. Other than "Thou Shall Not Draft" of course.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pondering Boston

I was looking at the Boston qualifying times yesterday and noticed that the time applied to the date of the Boston Marathon, not the date you run the qualifying race. I wasn't considering trying to qualify for Boston this year. I'm 44 years old and I thought this meant a qualifying time of 3:20, which is way out of my league right now. But I will be 45 on April 20th, 2009. This means that if I run a 3:30 marathon or better, I qualify. 

Now, in theory I should be good for 3:30. I had a fantastic half last Sunday and finished right on my A target of 1:40, which gives me a predicted marathon time of 3:28. But. This is my first marathon and I know very well that the half I ran is the EASY half. My longuest run will be this Sunday at 20 miles. This will be the first race I do where I never actually ran the distance in training. There's a black hole of 6 miles where anything can happen.

I think I WILL go for it though. Over the last few weeks, I've been f@#king around thinking that maybe I should run a bit slower since this is my first marathon. A bit of fear of failure, I think. Thankfully, last Sunday's race showed me that I can do it, IF I decide to try. The thing with racing long distances is that shit doesn't just happen. There are no (good) surprises. You have to plan your pacing and stick with it or there WILL be a surprise and it won't be a good one.

So, on October 19, 2009, if the weather is right, my body is unhurt and my mind is clear, I will run the Toronto marathon as fast as my body can sustain and try to qualify for Boston.