Monday, December 29, 2008

Jack Daniel's Point System

As if I wasn't tracking enough data already, I've decided to use Jack Daniel's Mileage Training Point system. The reationale behind the system is that not all running was created equal. For example, we can run hours and hours of easy pace running each week, but we can only tolerate a fraction of that time doing intervals. J.D. has designed a table that assigns a point value for every minute of training at a given intensity. The intensity used as a key can be either the %VO2max or %MaxHR. I prefer to use the pace (%VO2Max) but I'm sure using the HR would give the same results. According to J.D., typical weekly totals range from 50 for a beginner to over 200 for an elite runner.

The values I use are:

Recovery pace: 0.2
Easy pace: 0.25
Marathon pace: 0.45
Threshold pace: 0.6
Interval pace: 1.0
Repetition pace: 1.5

In the book, the table is much more detailed and I can't imagine maintaining a by-the-minute log in a spreadsheet, but I usually know what my workout is supposed to be and I can use that to get a value that is probably close enough to the "actual" value. 

Example: Typical hill workout 1.5 miles warmup (15 minutes easy) + 6 x (2 minutes hill + 2 minutes rest) + 1.5 miles cooldown (15 minutes easy)

This translates to: 15*0.25 + 6*(2*1.5+2*0.25) + 15*0.25 = 28.5 points in 54 minutes

If we compare this with a slow run of the same duration we get: 54*0.25 = 13.5 points, not even half the point value of a quality workout. Of course, we can only survive a couple of quality workouts a week without overetraining so we can't just limit ourselves to interval workouts.

By matching the HR or effort to other activities such as swimminf or cycling, one could keep track of the global quality of his (or her) weekly training.

The reason I decided to try this is that I want to be able to keep track of the "effectiveness" of my training. Looking at the point value of a workout, I see that if I have to drop a hill or interval workout, I lose more than double the training value of a Base run. I'm trying to build a decent spreadsheet on Google Docs but it's not really ready so I won't burden you with it, but as you can see, this is not rocket science.

Obviously, keeping track of all those numbers doesn't make me a better running Training does. But I'm willing to try anything that help me understand why I should suffer through the HELL of hill sprints and other quality workouts. I'm not a fast runner, yet I run faster than most because I'm willing to suffer. Hopefully this will help me make the most out of my training.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Race report - 5K PR!

I have no idea where this came from. This morning I got up after a horrible sleep and looked outside, only to see pissing rain and gail force wind. At least, temperatures were above freezing. I ate my breakfast, drank my coffee. About 40 minutes before the race, I got dressed and ran slowly about 1.5 miles to the race itself where I switched my shoes to my beloved Nike Free 3.0. The Resolution Run is a low tech, self-serve race. There is no official finish time, you are supposed to time yourself, which is not a problem since I'm running with technology that aircraft carriers didn't have access to only a few years ago.

5K races are intense but because they are so short, you see the light at the end of the tunnel from the start. My previous PR on that distance was 21:44, which I ran last St-Patrick's day. I won't bore you with the race, except to tell you that it was wet, really windy and that the sun came out at the end and reflected off the wet pavement so the last 500m you had to run basically blind. I ran hard, looked at my pace on my Garmin 305 maybe 5 times and sprinted the last 200m. My Garmin shows a heart rate at the finish line of 198 bpm, which is 2 bpm higher than what I had seen before. I actually had a cramp in my left calf about a minute after the finish.

20:31. Damn. Was the course short? Maybe, but the conditions more than made up for it if it was. Exactly one year ago, I ran 23:44 on the exact same course. I think it might be possible for me to break 20 minutes. That would be unbelievable. 

I wasn't really expecting much because of my two failed attempts to break my 10k PR last month. I think that was too close to my marathon and 2 week break.

This race time gives me a VDOT of 48 (see Daniel's Formula), up 3 from my previous VDOT of 45. I'll have to decide if I will use the new value for my 50 Miler training. I don't really want to, because it makes the training so much harder, but if I don't, I won't translate my gains to the longer distances so I will probably use the new adjusted paces. Harsh.

That's it for this unexpected development!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heart Rate Musings

I know I've visited this topic in the past, but this blog is about things I think about while running, and lately I've been thinking about heart rates.

There is an aura around heart rates. People tend to assume that a low heart rate means you are in good physical condition. It is true, but not if you use the number as an absolute number. Having a rest hr of 65 means nothing. For me, it might mean trouble and for you it might mean you are in the best shape of your life. Running a tempo run with a hr of 145 means nothing if you don't also take into consideration the person's maximum heart rate and possibly the rest heart rate. The difference between the two is the heart rate reserve. 

I see a lot of focus put on heart rate monitoring lately. A fact I find disturbing is that to calculate the all important maxHr (maximum heart rate) most books  simply refer to the infamous formula used to calculate the maxHr from the age. I will not show the formula because it is USELESS. Sure, as an average for the whole population, it might be very precise, but as a running tool for you as a runner, it is no good. There is a very good chance that your maxHR is way off the number calculated using that average.

Case in point: me. My maxHr, according to the formula, should be around 178. My real maxHr, as observed in a number of races is around 195. For me to train using the training zones calculated using a maxHr of 178 makes my training stupidly easy and ineffective.

When I started running, I used those zones and found that I almost had to walk on my long runs, because I was supposed to maintain an hr of under 133 (75% of max). I quite simply could not do it. ANY kind of running brings my hr above 140. All my other types of runs were uncomfortable. Any kind of effort would blow the hr under which I was supposed to train. I thought I was physically challenged.

I tried the advice I saw in a book, and tried to find my ACTUAL maxhr by running hill repetitions. My hr did go up to 184 so I knew something was amiss. I decided to use 185 and my training felt better.

Finally, I ran a few races with my hr monitor and later when I analyzed the numbers I saw sustained periods with a hr of above 190. The highest I've seen was at then end of a 5k, with a value of 196. I never look at my hr while I race, but I still wear my Garmin and record the data.

So if you just bought yourself a heart rate monitor and you have a minimum of training, do yourself a favor and sign-up for the next 5k race in your area. Run it as hard as you can. Try for a good kick at the end. That should take you close to your maximum. That should make your training more effective and enjoyable, especially if the number you used was way off.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter blahs - and it's not even Winter!

Not much happening. Xmas tree is up. Following the plan. This week I should run between 35 and 40 miles, including a 10 miles long run on Sunday. I'm not too sure how I'm going to get my hills in. I drove by my favorite hill, and the snow has pretty much made the sidewalk unuseable. The city doesn't maintain the sidewalk there. Maybe the rain will clear it up before tomorrow.

My week looks like this:

Mon: Rest
Tue: 6 miles @ base pace
Wed: 1.5 mile warm-up + 6x90sec hills at 1-mile pace + 1.5 mile cool-down
Thu: 6 miles @ base pace
Fri: 6 miles @ base pace + 6 x 90sec intervals @ 3k pace
Sat: 6 miles @ base pace
Sun: 10 miles @ base pace

Although my running is going well, I still haven't gone back to the bike and swim. I should take my bike to the gym this week and leave it there. That way, it would make it easier to just go there and jump on the computrainer.

I'm still a bit bummed about not beating my 10k PR. A year ago, if you'd told me I would ever run 45 minutes, I would have been delirious with joy. Now, I'm wondering how to get below 42 minutes. Can I ever do 40? Well, not this year. I'm working for distance and I doubt if I can speed up significantly while doing that. Next summer I will embark on a 10k sharpening program and we'll see where that takes me. In the mean time, my dreams of dramatic speed improvements will have to wait.

The weather is getting more difficult for quality workouts. Going all out on ice can be a bit scary. My lunch run today was quite nice except for the fact that my feet were completely drenched in iced slush by the end of it. Still, my home made spikes are performing nicely. I hate running with the shell, but it was raining.

From Running

Monday, December 1, 2008

The easy ones are all gone ...

Well I couldn't do it. Raced my final 10k race last weekend and although I thought it was in the bag, I finished in 45:25, 25 seconds over my goal. It would be tempting to blame technology. According to my Garmin 305, my pace was fine but errors do add up and by the end of the race, my 305 showed a total of 10.15 km. So either the course was a bit long or I didn't run a straight enough line but the end result is that I finished just over my 45 minutes goal, again.

The thing is, even if I'd had perfect info, I'm not sure I could have run any faster. It was cold and windy. At pretty much any given point on the course, if I tried to go faster I got a side stich burning on my right side. My average HR for the whole race was 182 (90% of my max HR) and the last 5k was at 187 (94% maxhr). Sure, sitting here, I'm thinking I could have gone faster. But if I rewind to yesterday, all I remember of the last 5k was wondering when this was going to be over. My splits were all within 10 seconds of each other. I ran a good race, but I didn't have it in me.

Gone are the days of big surprises, except for bad ones. I guess I'm at that point now where I REALLY have to work hard to break a PR. My speed hasn't really improved on shorter distances since I started my marathon training last Spring. My 10k and 5k PR both date from last March. I guess I should be happy I didn't loose speed when I increased my racing distance. The point is that to beat my PR, I would have to really work on speed. I've plateau'd. To be honest, I feel like I can't run any faster. I know I can, but I feel like it's impossible. Hard, painful work should change all that.

For now though, I'm going for distance. Boston in April, 50 Miler in May. Then, in the summer, project speed will begin...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Race Report - Whitby Waterfront 10km race

Last year, I ran this race as my first 10km race in decades so I decided to run it again. It's a fairly small field (about 150 runners for the 10k) and most of the really fast runners go for the 10 miler. Just in case, I had "studded" my Nike Free 5.0 but it turned out that the course was fairly clear of snow and ice and I decided to run in my favorite shoes: my beloved Nike Free 3.0. I didn't overdress for the temperature, which was about -3C with no wind. I wore my Mizuno Breath Thermo underlayer with another looser top, my Mizuno tights, a cap and gloves.

I did a decent warmup, gulped half my small bottle of Gatorade and lined up at the start with about 5 minutes to go. Just as the gun is about to go, behind me I hear a women talking to her friend: "Janine, did you double-knot your shoe laces?". I look down and FUCK, I sure didn't! I bend down but before I can remove my gloves the gun goes off. I start running. My goal in this race was to break 45 minutes to see if my short distance fitness is on par, after all that marathon-training craziness. The course is fairly flat so I was able to maintain a 4:30-ish pace. At the 5k mark, I feel something down there, I look down and sure enough, my right shoe lace is undone. I take off my gloves, stop, and double-knot both sides. I get up and giddyup. 6k, 7k, 8k and all of a sudden I'm getting close to the finish. As I approach the line, I look at the clock and it says 41-something. Wtf? I finish in 41:55, gun time. Something is wrong. I look at my Garmin 305 and the distance says 9.21km. The course was short by friggin' 800 meters. Everyone who's not wearing a GPS device is all excited about their time.

Anyway, I'm still happy with my race. My chip time was 41:38, my pace was pretty much in line for a 45 minutes 10k. I finished 3rd in my age group, FAR behind the 1st and 2nd place, who also finished 1st and 2nd overall with times in the low 35 minutes. Ringers! I finished 8th overall, in the top 10%, which is by far my best ranking ever. 

Now I'm wondering if I should race the Chilly Willy 10k or half-marathon next Sunday. Hmmm.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Winter-proofing my Running Shoes

Ice is back on the roads and sidewalks. I hate ice. But there IS ice (and snow) on the ground and I DO have a 10k race tomorrow. Desperate times call for desperate measures so I decided to use a technique I've read about on a few web sites.

WARNING: If your shoe has the words GEL or AIR in their name, be VERY careful where you place the screws.

I've inserted a number of hex head metal screws in the sole of my shoes. I tried them on the sidewalk in front of my house (well, my neighbour's since MY sidewalk is scraped clean!) and traction was vastly improved. Running on regular surface was a bit noisy but seemed to be fine.

So tomorrow morning, if the race officials tell us that there is ice on the course, I will wear my studded shoes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blood donations and performance

PLEASE NOTE: I am not a doctor and everything in this post is based on me, an experiment of one.

If I look in the index of any of my running books, and I have A LOT, for "blood donation", I find no entry in any of them. So when I got a call about two weeks after running the Toronto marathon, I said sure, no problem. I used to give blood regularly when I lived in Quebec City because the Red Cross (back then) came to the building I worked in about 3 times a year. I didn't really run back then. Since moving to Toronto I hadn't given blood, I felt a bit guilty and felt the need to atone.

So I went, gave my bag and came home. I didn't run until 3 days later because I was taking it easy after the marathon and all. When I did run, I felt incredibly sluggish. I was running fairly slow but I felt like I had no energy. This was the shortest run I had done in 6 months and I was TIRED. When I downloaded my Garmin 305 data and saw my heart rate, I was worried. It was WAY high. I had run at my recovery pace and my heart rate was basically the same as when I had run my first 10k race! WTF? Did I damage my heart or my leg muscles? That whole week I felt like I'd lost half my fitness. I could run slow just fine, but hills and striders were really hard. The second week was a bit better and now in the 3rd week I finally am starting to feel more energetic. I have a 10k race on Sunday, so we shall see.

I looked in all my books and found little of interest, except a little blurb in "Lore of Running" about inducing anemia with blood donations, but nothing specific. I found a few comments from other runners in running forums that complained of the same symptoms after donating blood. When I talked to my doctor she laughted and said it takes up to 3 months to eliminate all the effecst of a blood donation but that I should be back on track within 3 to 4 weeks of donating.

I am so happy I didn't do it a few weeks before my marathon. This would have been devastating. Training for a marathon takes the better part of 6 months and wrecking a race because of a lack of information would have been very frustrating, to say the least. I had always been told the effects of a donation would only last a couple of days. But then again, I should have known better since they won't let you give more for another 53 days! Duhhh!

So yes, I will give blood again. But I will do it knowing what the effects are and how long they will last (at least for me). 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

2009 Season schedule

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that 2009 would be the year of the bike. I looks like I lied. I meant it at the time but it just happened that I unexpectedly qualified for the Boston Marathon and have to start marathon training all over again. This time, I want to put in more miles than for my first marathon. Although the training was more than sufficient and the race went smoothly, after the race my body was thorougly thrashed. A week after the race, I went out for a short run and basically couldn't walk straight the next couple of days. I believe that with more volume, I will be able to recover faster. So if I race 5 or 6 times a week, I won't be able to bike as much as I had hoped.

So what's the plan?  Originally, I had thought I would go to the Florida 70.3 Ironman at Disneyworld but now that I have to go to Boston (and my family discovered a sudden interest in my running), this would blow my travel budget. So I will do my 70.3 races locally. I still wanted to do something new in the Spring. Last years I did the Sulphur Springs 25k trail race and they also have longer distances, so I decided to go for the 50 mile this year. Boston will be a training runabout 5 weeks before Sulphur Springs.

I'm going to build a plan from a combination of the "level 2" marathon plan from "Brain Training for Runners" (BTFR) and the Comrade Marathon plan from "Everyone's Guide to Distance Running" (EGDR). The Comrade Marathon is a well known 90km ultra-marathon down in South Africa. So I'm going to follow the BTFR plan to build the pre-requisite base mileage of about 70 km/week and switch to the EGDR plan. The mileage for some of the long runs is just ridiculous, so the author recommends doing half-marathons, marathons or short ultras (50k) at a slow pace as training runs.

I have already started the first (BTFR) plan. I will keep going until February 8, which is 16 weeks before Sulphur Springs and then switch over to EGDR until May 23rd 2009.

My Race schedule should look like this:

Nov 23 - Whitby Waterfront 10k
Dec 28 - Resolution Run 5k
Jan 1st - Hair of the dog 9k
Mar 7 - Seneca Creek 50k
Mar 29 - Around the Bay Road Race (30k)
April 20 - Boston Marathon 42.2k
May 23 - Sulphur Springs 50 miles (80k)

I might no do all of them. Some distance don't quite mesh with the plan. For example, in therory I should "warm up" with a 14k run before the Boston marathon to get my mileage up to 56 km that day. We'll see. All of those run are to be done at a slower "ultra" pace of about 5:40min/km (9:07/mile). I will also switch to a run/walk combination of 8 km run / 3 minutes walk. 

I am a bit concerned about speed. Ever since I've started marathon training, I feel like my speed has stagnated. We'll see what happens in Whitby. I haven't run a 10k race since April except in Olympic triathlons and that does NOT feel the same. I'll make my best efforts to work hard in my speed workouts.

Of course, I'll still try to put in a couple of bike and swim sessions every week. Once Sulphur Spring is done, I will switch to triathlon training. My planned races are:

July 5 - Peterborough half 
July 18 - Triathlon Saguenay Sprint (against my homies)
August 21- Timberman 70.3

I'll do a few extra Sprints and/or Olympics depending on my schedule.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Book review - Everyone's Guide to Distance Running

There aren't a lot of books about ultra running. I saw a reference to this book in the Ultra section of "Lore of Running". I got it used from Amazon and it arrived in excellent condition.

Norrie Williamson is an endurance athlete who now lives in South Africa. He is known mostly for his distance running but he also did triathlons (London to Paris Arch-2-Arc Enduroman) and other endurance events.

I really enjoyed this book. I went thru the 400+ pages in 2 days. The author never lets the book become dry and technical. Everything is always based on his experience, and he has a lot.

The first section is about the running lifestyle. He begins with a short autobiography describing how he started to run. He then moves on to trying to gigure out why people get into endurance events and ends with our long term prospects as endurance athletes as ages catches up with us. This section was the most interesting to me, maybe because I don't quite understand why I'm attracted to longer distances and I'm hoping for some revelation.

The second section is about training. Even though the technical aspect of training in the book didn't introduce any new and amazing training technique, I still read the whole thing. Basically, Williamson is a believer in speed work, reasonable volume and adequate rest. He also believes that one should reach his/her full potential at shorter distances (5k to 21k) before moving up to longer distances. He convinced me that to run a 50 mile race, I would have to run/walk it. He also convinced me that I could do the distance way faster than I thought I could.

Then there's a very comprehensive section about nutrition before, during and after a race. The last part is a hodge podge of things that didn't fit the previous sections. The section on heart rate monitors is a bit out dated in my humble opinion. 

I was expecting a little more training plans but there are only a few. This book is not aimed at the new runner. Most plans assume you are already running 50k/week or more. For example, the first long run on the "Comrade Marathon (90km race in South Africa) plan" is over 20km. There are a few 10k plan, but the first week totals over 30km so you are expected to have a decent base.

What I enjoyed the most about this book is that the author rejects limitations. He acknowledges physical and genetic limitations but makes us realize that for most of us they are an excuse and that we are nowhere near to reaching them. We somehow convince ourselves that we can't break a certain level. Williamson actually convinced me that some of the limits I had already set in my mind were not worthy and that I should just keep at it and see where it takes me. If I decide that I won't ever break 3:15 in a marathon or 42 minutes in a 10k or that I can't run 50 miles then surely I will never do it. I now think I can.

Definitely recommended.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Dear Jean Daniel Begin,

This is to notify you that your entry into the 113th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 20, 2009 has been accepted, provided that the information you submitted is accurate.

You can verify your acceptance into the field by searching the 113th Boston Marathon "Entrants" database on the B.A.A. web site, Additionally, an acceptance postcard will be mailed to you via US Postal Service mail.

In early April 2009, an official Number Pick-up Card and extensive information regarding the B.A.A. Boston Marathon and related race week activities will be mailed to you via US Postal Service first class mail. If you do not receive your Number Pick-up Card (required to claim number) and brochure by April 11, please contact our Registration Office at Registration related inquiries may also be directed to 508-435-6905.

Note that bib numbers will not be distributed on Race Day. Your travel arrangements should take into account picking up your number at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston on Friday, April 17 from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., or Saturday, April 18 or Sunday, April 19 from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

We look forward to seeing you in April! Best of luck in your training!


Boston Athletic Association

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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon

Well, mission accomplished. This morning I got up at 5 am, did what I do in the morning, applied my BBOR tatts and left around 6 for the race course. I rode my bike there since it's close to my house. The weather was nice, if maybe a bit humid, but cool enough to still be comfortable. I went into my corral about 10 minutes before the start and got close to the 1:45 pace bunny.

The race started exactly on time. Took me about 2 minutes to cross the line and as soon as we crossed, we were running at a good pace. That's a nice thing about the "faster" corrals, you get to go first and you're no stuck in a sea of people. Anyway, about 200 meters in, my Garmin hit something or someone and it flew off my wrist craddle. The pin had broken. I had run maybe 20m before I noticed and had to run against the flow to get it. Other runners were not impressed with the guy running the wrong way! Anyway, I got my Garmin and caught up with the pace group after about 1k. My Garmin was useless, with the tall buildings all around. As soon as we got out of the core, we ran under an elevated freeway for a while and that didn't help. 

After about 6km I felt pretty darn good so I decided to push past the pace group. Never saw them after that. There isn't much to say. I lost my shades taking off my hat to empty a cup of water on my head. I had planted them on top since it was cloudy and they flew off and I decided to forget about them. The course is really flat. I upped the pace for the last 2k and sprinted the last 300m as best I could. 

It's me in black, I had my number belt facing back.

Finished in 1:40:22 (Chip time), 4:45/km (7:39/mile) pace
400/2838 Participants
63/436 M40-44

It's really impressive how precise those time prediction charts can be. From my 10k and 5k times, my predicted half-marathon time was 1:40:20. One could say that it's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy and I agree up to a point. For a big chunk of the race, I had a very vague idea of my pace, due to the highway and buildings. I just went as hard as I dared. I really thought I was going to be under 1:40 but it was not to be. So the chart wins. 

I never look at my heart rate during the race but I do wear my strap to record it for post-race "analysis". Call me a geek. Since I dropped my Garmin and it got pretty far from me I don't know how reliable the numbers are at the beginning of the race, but they look pretty good for most of it. My max HR is ridiculously high (196 bpm) so 170 to 180 is pretty comfortable for me. I didn't get above 180 until the last 10 minutes. This tells me I could have gone harder. Things never got uncomfortable until the last 2 km. I wasn't too sure what to expect and I didn't want to blow up right at the end. Maybe next time!

Anyway, a most excellent race that confirms that I'm right on track for my marathon on October 19th!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Dressed Rehearsal

Tomorrow is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and in case I haven't mentioned it enough, I'm running the half-marathon as a tune up race for my full marathon, coming up in another 3 weeks. I'm pretty stoked. I have to admit I had a low period there for a few weeks, doubting my training and all that. But I feel good about tomorrow. I had a decent tempo run yesterday at race pace and I think I can sustain that speed. Excitement of the race and all that. I did not carbo-load since the half doesn't stress the glycogen reserves. I did eat easily digested food today to minimize my number-2 production.

The start is at 7:30am so I set my alarm for 5:00am. I want to have a long shower, a nice expresso and slowly get ready. I decided to ride my bike to the race since it's only a few km from my house. I thought of running there, but I don't think I'll feel like running BACK. I trimmed my nails, placed my Bodyglide in my shoe so I don't forget to apply.

I also need to apply my BBOR temporary tattoos. They might not make it to the end of the race, because the material is non-porous and sweat pockets tend to accumulate under the material during long runs.

I finally decided to run the race in my Nike Free 3.0 shoes. I might not run the marathon in them but I think this is the right choice for a shorter race. I feel just so grounded in them. My knee feels more stable and I tend to feel less strain when I run in the Frees.

This race might not be my "A" race, but I'm still excited. 21 kilometers is a long way to run. As much as I hope to run in the 1:40-1:45 range, I don't expect to run faster than that. If I feel great I might pick it up in the last few km, but that won't really change my time by all that much. I think I will run the first few km with the 1:45 pace group and then pick it up if I feel good. Sounds like a plan.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Look into Yourself

It's easy to forget that this Sunday's half is not really a race, but rather a "workout" or" tune-up race". There's no real tapering. This week is a recovery week, thank god, but no formal taper. I don't plan on doing any complex carbo-depleteing-loading diet. A half-marathon shouldn't deplete my glycogen so there's no need to overdo it.

That being said, I am getting excited. As race day approaches, my determination to go hard increases. Matt Fitzgerald, the author of the book containing my training program says that he uses the tune-up races as an opportunity to suffer as much as he can. I'll certainly give it a go. 

I think the most interesting aspect of endurance sports is why we choose to do it. For mid-distance races the distance itself is immaterial. People who run those races routinely run further than the actual race. We know we can run the distance. It's all about speed. You can allow yourself to run faster than you would, for this one glorious 5k, 10k or 21k. As you strech the limits of what the human body can comfortably do, you move into the realm of endurance sport, and distance itself becomes the enemy. Runners almost never run the full distance when they train for a marathon, an ultra, an Ironman. Why do I want to tackle that challenge. I'm quite not sure yet. I just know that I want to.

It's possibly my age (I'm 44). Some 40-something feel like they have to buy a Porshe, others need to prove they are not getting older by accomplishing feats that they were not able (or willing) to do when they were younger. According to statistics, the Men 40-44 age group is historically the largest AND fastest marathon running age group. WHat does that tell you?

But I don't really care why others run or tri. I'm just happy that they do. Sometimes I feel like I do it so that I can find out why I do it. How fucked up is that? Other times, it's the intensity. There are few moments that are as intense as a race where you plan to give a maximum effort. You can usually tell by looking at people's faces. Even when people joke around before the gun, there's a tension, an edge. The further up you start, in other word the faster people plan to race, the more tension there is. People have race plans. Their brain is busy trying to evaluate how hard to go. Is it hot, cold, windy? There is a clarity of purpose in a race that we seldom experience in everyday life, where things tend to be shades of grey. I believe that this "moment of clarity" is something I seek. The longer the race, the larger the window but the higher the price. The funny thing is that after a few days, you can only remember a faint shadow of those moments. You still have stunningly vivid memories of the race, but you also know that it's nothing like living it. You just know that you will have to race again. 

And maybe, just maybe, if you swim-bike-run even further you will experience something even more intense.

Monday, September 22, 2008

10 Things That Freak Me Out

Running my first marathon on October 19 is going to be awesome. I know it will. But running 42 km is not like anything else I've ever done. Until a few weeks ago I felt pretty good about it. Am I going to run it in 3:30 or 3:35, I used to think. Then I started the real long runs. Now I've seen blood staining my shoes. I've felt old injuries, I thought I had banished forever, coming back. I'm wondering if I trained enough. So now I wonder.

Here are the top 10 things that keep me up at night. Well not really cause I'm really tired these days and I sleep real good. But in the 5 minutes before I fall asleep this is what keeps me awake.

  1. 1- I can't believe that after 1 year of running I still don't know what running shoes I should wear for my races.
  2. I hate the fact that I KNOW I will have to pee during my marathon.
  3. After training for 21 weeks for a 5min/km pace for my marathon, I still wonder if I should attempt it.
  4. I have a half-marathon in 6 days and I don't know what pace I should go for.
  5. I wish I could pee on the run. I just can't. I tried.
  6. My right knee hurts and I don't know what to do about it. I think it's going to be ok.
  7. I'm wondering if I run enough. I'm at peak mileage and barely running 60km/week.
  8. I'm still getting blisters after long runs. Shouldn't my feet be lethal weapons, with skin tougher than leather?
  9. I keep getting flashbacks of my previous races, of how tired I was. And I know this is going to be worse. Am I going to cry?
  10. How the F#ck AM I SUPPOSED TO RUN 42 KM? I'm both excited and freaked out about it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Last Sunday I ran my longuest run yet: 18 miles (29 km). I decided to run it in my LunarTrainers. I do prefer the Free 3.0 but I can't help but wonder if I should run a full marathon in such flimsy shoes. Anyway I decided to run in the Trainers, which have a more cushioned feel. I also decided to run with the Running Room group, which was going out for 23 km. The run was uneventful except for the fact that they Gallow-walk (they walk a minute after every mile or so). After about 20km someone pointed to my left show and I noticed a fairly big bloody area. I had noticed a small pain ealier but I figured I forgot to trim the nail of my small toe and decided to ignore it.

Nike LunarTrainer

When we got back to the store I kept going for a 6 km loop. With only a km or so to go I noticed that my right shoe was almost half soaked in blood. I ran 500m and decided to stop, just shy of 29km.

When I go home I took my shoes and socks off with some trepidation. There was quite a bit of blood.  I put my running shoes in the washer and washed them in cold water but the blood didn't come completely off. Makes me look tough I guess!

Well, the right foot, which was the worse, had nothing wrong with it. I could not find anything. One of my nail was a bit painfull so I figured that some pressure lifted it up a bit with every step and a bit of blood seeped continuously. The left foot had less blood but indeed, the nail of my left toe had dug into its neighbour and caused some bleeding. My biggest surprise was a HUGE blister on my big toe. The picture below was taken 5 days later. It was deep and painfull and I didn't dare run on it so I took 4 days off. I've had many blisters, on both feet, running in those shoes. They seem to grab at the bottom of my feet. 

5 Days after the run - good enough to run

Today, the pain was gone and I decided to do my scheduled 5 miles tempo run but I ran in my Karhu M2 running shoes. I've never had any blisters in them so I figured they would help. The only issue is that they are from my "pre-forefoot running" period. Ever since I changed my stride, I've used them only once or twice and the last time I did, I experienced quite a bit of pain in my right knee after about 5 km.

Karhu M2

Well after 3 miles, I had to stop running because of a shooting pain on the side of my right kneecap. Same as before. Damn. 

So with 10 days to my half-marathon and 29 days to the full, I don't know what shoes I'm going to wear. That's just great!

The Karhus are out of the question. I could barely run 10:30min/mile after the pain appeared and even then I'm not sure it would have stayed away long. I went straight home.

I really like the Free 3.0s but they feel like they're barely there. I'm sure I can run the half in them, but a marathon? I find the bottom of my feet becomes a bit sensitive after 20km in them.

Nike Free 3.0 - just like slippers

The LunarTrainers feel great when I put them on but they have a squishier sole then the Frees. That's probably why my toes squish together when the bottom of my foot and toes sink into the material.

I don't have much time to decide. Tic toc tic toc...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sweat, Blood and Blisters

I can't seem to settle into my Nike LunarTrainer shoes. No matter how comfortable they feel when I put them on, they seem to somehow place my toes in positions where I get blisters. I went for a 29k run this weekend and noticed after about 15k that the left shoe had quite a lot of blood seepage. I could feel the nail from my small toe cut into its neighbor. I just trimmed that nail! Later on blood started to show on the right foot. A little passed 28k, I looked at my show and it was just ridiculous so I decided to cut it a bit short.

Funny thing is that when I took my right shoe and sock off, I couldn't see anything wrong. The sock and shoe were soaked in blood but my foot and nails looked fine. I think that there must have been pressure on one of the toe nails and blood seeped around the adges. Weird.

My left foot is just a mess. Two huge blisters are going to make training a challenge this week.

Only 3 weeks before the half. I don't want to damage my feet so soon before my marathon. I'm not sure I can (should?) run the half in the Free 3.0s, so I think I will go back to the Karhu M2 running shoes. Although they don't seem to be as condusive to forefoot running, I never have so much as a blister on them even on long runs. That's a shame but I've been fighting blisters for a few weeks now and this is getting ridiculous. If I can run in the M2s without knee pain creeping up, I'm going to stick to them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Here we go again

It's coming. THEY're coming, I should say. I've started to obsess on the paces I should run my upcoming half and full marathon races. Of course, I've been training with very specific paces. I should be running my half at a 4:45 min/km (7:40/mile) with a finish time of around 1:40. I should be running the marathon a 5:00/km (8:03/mile) for a 3:30 finish. 

Can I do this?

I should. I've done every single workout in my program. I've hit the paces. I've done the mileage. I've been doing bike and swim on top of it. Why do I doubt myself? The problem is that I remember the voice. It starts about halfway through, but you really notice it in the last 3rd of the race. It wants to know why you're doing this. It whispers in your ear that, really, you should slow down. You're not going to the Olympics or anything. And you're SO FUCKING TIRED. Just slow down already.

I'm kind of excited about the half. That's a distance I should be able to handle. I've raced longer than this in the past and this time the course is flat as a pancake. I will run the first few km at 4:50 and then try to cruise the rest at 4:45. As long as my right knee doesn't act up, I should be ok.

As for the marathon, there's so much more to worry about. Nutrition is a bit of a mystery. I'm going to stick to Gatorade (which is available at both races). I'll have a couple of salt pills and maybe cliff blocks in my pockets just in case.

Doubt #1: Did I train enough?

Even though I followed the program, it was only a 4 days/week program. I didn't really have a choice if I was going to swim and bike as well. In the same book, there's a 6 days/week program with the same finish time. Why? Can I run 3:30 on such a low volume? I'm not gift to running. Plenty of people run much more than I do and have yet to break 4 hours. Who the fuck do I think I am? 

Doubt #2: Am I mentally strong enough?

The voice is strong with me. In both my Olympic triathlons, the run has been exceedingly difficult. Not just physically but also mentally. I spent (wasted) a lot of energy listening to the voice. Hour 3 is so long. I have to master that longing for the finish. I have to be able to go into a place where I'm just running. Maybe I'll join a pace group so I don't have to worry about pace and just run. I'll might try the 1:40 pace group in the half and if I like it, I'll join the 3:30 or 3:40 group in the full.

As I mentioned, my training is going well. I'm running between 50 and 60 km per week. I think this week will go up over 70km. I'm feeling good. My right knee sometime bothers me a bit, especially at lower speed.

I decided to all but stop my cycling and swimming. Last week I was just so down, I sent an email to Matt Fitzerald, the guy who wrote the book that contains my training plan. He actually replied and mentioned that between marathon and triathlon training, I might be entering overtraining territory. I didn't think so but I decided to slow down on the swim+bike for a couple of weeks. I do feel more focused and energized before my workouts. 

It just takes so much mental focus to go out for a 6 or 7 miles tempo run at half-marathon pace. Between that and work, it's just exhausting. 

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mental Setback

I'm experiencing a mental meltdown. For the first time in a year, I don't feel like running. I don't have any injury to speak of. I just feel like I'm stuck. With 6 weeks to go before the Toronto marathon, every workout is harder than the previous one. Tempo runs that last forever. Intervals from hell. Long runs that trash my legs for days. Every workout seems to prove that I'm not ready. I find myself wondering if I can do this at my target pace (7:57/mi). One side of me thinks I should race at a slower pace on race day and enjoy the race. The other side thinks that after all this friggin training, I should go for it and that anyway, you can't really "enjoy" a 42k run.

I think that one reason for this moment of weakness is the end of the Triathlon season. No tri until next year. I'll keep racing road races though but no more splash-mash-and-dash. I guess one identifies with the sport and feels less complete when facing a 9 months void until the next race.

My two next races are long fuckers. On September 28, I have the Scotia Waterfront Half Marathon and three weeks later, on October 19, the Toronto Marathon. I know this is going to hurt. I could just go slow, but then, why train so hard?

I'm definitely nervous about the Marathon. I'm worried about nutrition and glycogen depletion. I've never experienced it. I've been tired though, like at the end of Olympic tris and if it's worse than that then I'm definitely not looking forward to it.

So I'm down. I shall overcome, if I survive today's 10k tempo run at half-marathon pace. Is that supposed to be fun? Jeeeez!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Post summer blues ... or pre-race jitters?

I know the Toronto Marathon is still six weeks away but I'm getting a bit tensed. I've done all the workouts at the prescribed pace. I've cross-trained (swim-bike-run!). Yet I cannot imagine running 42k at a 5 min/km pace. Yesterday I ran my longest run since May, about 25km, at a 5:30 pace and I was pretty much done at the end of it. Can I imagine having to run another 17k? Nope.

I'm going to have to trust that my training plan is good. It hasn't failed me yet so there's no reason to doubt it. But still...

After a year of training, it's the first time I've felt this lost. The triathlon season is effectively over. The marathon looms like this impossible feat only a few weeks away. I'm still excited about doing it, I just don't know how I can meet the expectations I had when I started this journey. At this point, ALL the workouts seem hard. There are no runs under 60 minutes, even the quality workouts. It is hard to enjoy the training.

Another reason that might cause these feelings is that my running speed has stalled. I was expecting that when I started triathlon training and marathon training, but this is still hard to accept. My speed increased steadily until the Spring, but I'm pretty sure I'm still stuck at about 45 minutes for a 10k. Again, I knew this would happen but it's emotionally hard to accept. I think that after this, I will take a short rest and then work toward a 10k PR in the Fall. Fall training is great because the temperature is really nice over lunch time, which is my preferred training time.

In 3 weeks is the Scotia Marathon, where I will be racing the half-marathon. This has me spooked as well. I have no doubt I can run 21km, but I should be running it at a sub 5min/km pace and that, I'm not sure I can do. I think that I'm unsure of my ability to suffer over a long period of time. When I look at my last Olympic triathlon results, I feel like I should have run faster but I REMEMBER how tired I was. I could not summon the energy to move my legs any faster. Those long events, those over 2 hours, seem to stay with me for a while. Memories are vivid, specially the run.

In the past, I read a lot of blog posts, articles and books about how the Marathon is a journey. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't really felt like that but now I believe that I do understand a bit more. For me, at least, this is about conquering my fears. I fear that my training is insufficient. I fear that I won't run as fast as I hope. I fear that I will get hurt before my race or at the beginning of it.

But worst of all, I fear that I'm mentally weak. After a couple of hours, my inner dialog becomes a struggle, a battle of will between one side that wants to follow the plan and another that wants to make the pain go away.

Well that's it for now. I will keep on swimmin', bikin' and runnin'!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Off to Nova Scotia

It's that time of the year again. Last week before school start, we head out to CKC (Canoe Kayak Canada) Nationals wherever they are. This year, it's in Halifax. Both my daughters are competing this year. For the first time, I will not be competing in CANMAS, the national masters finals held on the Sunday immediately after CKC. I have retired my paddle and, as you should be well aware, I'm now swimming-biking-and-running.

I have to admit that although I enjoyed my 5 years of paddling, I don't miss it at all. I sometimes wonder why. I remember the good times but I believe that my lack of improvement after such a long period of time practicing the sport was starting to frustrate me quite a bit.

I will be keeping up my running over there. As the Toronto Marathon approaches, I can't afford to drop too many workouts. I might even swim a bit at the aquatic center in front of the hotel. No cycling though.

Quick change of subject.

Yesterday, I had the best workout I've had in weeks. Don't get me wrong, I love running. But it's hard to actually enjoy truly hard workouts. Long runs are nice, but they ARE long. Yesterday's 13k run was just the right distance and I had a real good pace for most of it. It felt GOOD.

That's it for now. I'll try to keep in touch from NS.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cobourg Olympic Distance Triathlon 2008

I can't believe that people actually do HIM and IM distance triathlons. It also pisses me off because it prevents me from using the tri-specific term "epic" when describing my race. I'll settle for "ball-crushing" or BC for short.

This being my first year at this crazy sport, I had never done the Cobourg tri so I wasn't sure what to expect. The pre-race email described the bike course as "under-appreciated", "steeper-pitched rollers" and something about bragging to my friends. I'm not much of a cyclist (yet) so I was worried. The run was reported as being nice and flat. The swim was in lake Ontario, a large body of water where water temperature can vary from 55 to 75 degrees. I had done a lake swim in Toronto 3 days prior and the water was friggin' freezing, at about 60.

Cobourg is about 100km from my house and I needed to go get my Zip rental car at the nearby lot, so I got up at 4:30, ate a Cliff bar, drank a quick expresso, got dressed and jumped on my bike to ride to the Zip lot. A hooker and her pimp were still working their trade from the lot. I stuck my bike in the back of the Subaru Forrester, drove back home, packed the car and went. Uneventfull drive and I got there with lots of time to spare. I racked my bike in the 40-44 rack and went to get my swag bag and body markings. This tri series, the HSBC Tri Series, gives you a nice technical t-shirt. I saw the potty line was starting to form, so I got in line and took care of business.

There were 200 people signed up for the triathlon and somewhat less than that (100?) for the duathlon.

Swim 1500m: 35:57, 13/25 in AG, 109/200 overall

"The sea was angry my friends...". For people who only swam in pools, the swim was a challenge. This was the biggest surf I have ever swam in. I saw only 2 people without a wetsuit. I later saw one of them on one of the lifeguard's surf board, although he did get back in. I swam much slower than usual. I usually swim 2:10/100m and this time I went 2:23/100m. The surf did have some effect, but I just didn't swim hard. I also had to empty my goggles at least 4 times. I did enjoy the swim though. There was quite a long run on the beach to get to T1.

T1- 2:11
Bike 40km: 1:28:10, 17/25 in AG, 138/200 overall, 27.2 km/h

T1 went ok, but I just didn't feel like I was racing. I cleaned my feet real well to make sure I didn't have sand in my socks because of the annoying seeping blister I have on my right big toe. As I run to the mount line, I hear something rattling. It's my second bottle holder that's coming unscrewed. Tightent all screw, they say. Sh!t. Looks like it's going to hold so I decide to get going. I jump on my steed and go. My strategy here is to keep my HR below 160, or about 80% of my maxhr (which is a ridiculously high 196bpm).The first few km are flat-ish. People are passing me much more than I'm passing. What can I say? Cycling is not my thing. At about 5k, it begins. Hills. Nearly all of them going up. At about 8km, my bottle holder packs it in and falls to the ground. I stop, go back, try to put it back on but it's broken. Time lost: 2-3 minutes. I have another bottle, with water/gel, so I take a few big gulps on the bottle that's fallen and get out of there. Up, up, up, down, up, up. Finally get to the 20km turnaround. Nice downhills now but a surprising number of uphills as well. Are we in a geologically active area? Did those hills actually grow in the last few minutes? At about 25k, I see some poor smuck walking his bike, people zooming past him. I slow down and ask him if he needs something. I says he needs a pump. Shit, I have one. And I have gas cartridges so I have no excuse. I stop, give him my pump. I tell him my bib number and my rack so he can bring it back after. Time lost: about 1 minute. But I fell good about helping so who the f@#k cares? I jump back on "My Precious" and get going. At about 35k, I see a HUGE uphill. I did remember hitting 55km/h early in the ride. Ah! Time to pay the piper. Ball crusher. Up the Everest and then it's an easy ride to T2. All in all a good ride, I got both gels in and drank plenty of water.

T2- 1:43
Run 10km: 50:38, 11/25 in AG, 54/200 overall, 5:04/km pace

First of all, I'm pretty certain they screwed the pooch on the distance. My Garmin is reporting 10.5k. It reported 2.25k for each loops and it's pretty accurate so I'm sticking with it. But for the record, I could have done without the extra 500m.

T2 was ok, I took the time to take a felt gulps of my backup Gatorade bottle, switched shoes, put my hat on and went. I decided to run with my Nike Free 3.0 and they are not quick-lace friendly. I spent some time putting them on and double-knotting. First thing I notice is that I had put my wetsuit on the rack ABOVE my running shoes and that it dripped directly in my right show, which squishes like crazy. Is that going to be and issue? Also, on the bike, I tried to pee but just could not do it. Now I have to piss like a race horse, but we're running in a residential area with little kids making the waves to edge us on. The parents would not approve if I pissed on the wheel of their car. It's getting hot. I have to piss. I'm tired. It's a 5k loop that I have to do twice. I hate loops. I'm getting grumpy. I have to piss. FINALLY at around 4k, a wooded area! I don't even slow down, I run directly into the woods and take care of business. I'M A NEW MAN! I get to the drink table and grab two cups of water. I drink one and empty the other one on my head. They have HEED but I just can't drink the stuff. Tastes like something you should be taking in a hospital before some high-tech investigation of your insides involving a 12-foot long camera. I have to re-pass some people because of my impromptue trail run. I end up running with someone from my age group. We run more or less together for a couple of km in the second loop. He walks the drink areas and catches up on uphills. I'm a bit conservative on uphills. I don't like to get too out of breath. At the last drink table, I turn it on a notch while he's walking. It IS a race, after all. With 500m to go, I decide to be an asshole and go after the girl about 50m in front of me. Her marking says 21, so I figure she's fair game for an old fart like me. That will be a lesson for all the 21 year olds calling me "mister". As I get closer, she hears me and tries to pick it up but I have no mercy. I pass her 30m from the line.

Final time: 2:58:12, 13/25 in AG, 93/200 overall

This was a nice race. I enjoyed it more than my previous Olympic where I went harder and really suffered at the end. I definitely have to work on my bike. On my next race, I will try to ride at a higher hr, maybe 170bpm. More to be gained on the bike. After my fall marathon, I'm turning to the dark side and training hard on the bike until the Spring.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's ON, baby! Cobourg tri, here I come!

Ooops! I've done it again.

I signed up for the Cobourg Olympic Triathlon coming this Saturday. My running program called for a tune-up 10k race this weekend anyway, so I might as well go all the way.

First things first. Yesterday my progressive run was brutal. The problem with people ramping up for a big event is that for a while, almost EVERY quality workout is the hardest one they ever did. Well, that happened to me (again) yesterday. It was HOT, it was WINDY, I ran at noon, which was stupid, and I started too fast. When the time came, at 20km, for the last interval at half-marathon pace, I had nothing left in the tank. I ran only 750m instead of the 1k I had planned. When I took my right shoe off, I had a little surprise waiting for me:

I'm the proud owner of a huge blister, which I'm hoping will heal really fast. I didn't run today and I think I will skip tomorrow and bike and swim instead.

So yesterday evening I was wondering about the weekend. Should I sign-up or not. I was leaning toward no. Then I watched the women (I had recorded it) triathlon and got a bit pumped. Then it was time for the men's and I nearly had a heart attack watching Simon Whitfield giving everything he had and winning the silver medal. What a race!

It was done. This morning I booked a Zip rental car for Saturday morning at 5 am and signed-up for the Olympic distance tri in Cobourg, which is about 100 km from my house.

So here we go again. For those of you who have never raced, you have to know that the act of signing-up for an event changes something. All of a sudden, you get vivid flashes where you visualize sections of the upcoming race. I catch myself just sitting there, reliving sections of past races, my body actually reacting to the arousal. My heart races, my palms get sweaty, I can "feel" the fatigue that awaits me. Make no mistake, an Olympic distance tri is a serious event where you finish completely empty. HIM and IM distances are even longer, but the Olympic tri can kick your ass. I will probably finish in about 2:45, so that's a long time to go hard.

I'm excited and even though I which I had biked a bit more, I feel pretty good about this. More to come...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pace tattoo

I'm off to a long-ish run of 21 km, about half-marathon distance. It's a progressive run where starting halfway through, I will increase my pace steadily up to half-marathon pace in the last km. My race pace is supposed to be 4:45min/km although I haven't tested that yet.

Even though I run without an iPod and I have lots of time to think, my math abilities become very bad while running. I lose track of things so I've decided to try a home-grown pace tattoo. It will hopefully wash off eventually.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Tri-ing Life

Exactly one year ago today, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I ran 31 minutes for what I thought was 6k but was actually a bit less than 5 km. My goal was to increase my cardio fitness for the coming CANMAS canoe/kayak championship, in which I was going to participate a few weeks later. I had run in the past. When I was in my mid-20s, I had a bout of running where I actually ran quite a bit but ended up with a slight knee injury that was enough of an excuse for me to stop. Then came the kids and a state of permanent physical/mental fatigue that made running difficult for me to commit to. I must have started (and stopped) running 10 times over the following years.

Five years ago I joined the Masters program at the Balmy Beach Canoe Club. I suck at kayaking but I enjoyed it. People are friendly, it's ok exercise. The problem is that late comers to the sport like me can never acquire the super-human balance required to paddle the tippier boats. We are forever condemned to finish last, not necessarily because of a lack of fitness but rather because of a lack of balance. After 5 years of that bullshit, I needed a change.

For most people and I include myself in this, running is an acquired taste. Personally, I need to be at a certain level of running fitness to start enjoying running. To overcome that problem, I signed up for a 5k race and followed a program. If you read these lines and are trying to start running, do the same. You need a goal (a race) and a road map (a program). Ultimately we are weak and we need some kind of guilt-inducing device such as a program that tells us we have fallen off the wagon.

My biggest fear was Winter. Many years inthe past had I started running only to give up when snow came. I was living in Quebec then. Now I live in Toronto, which barely has a Winter. My plan was simple, Just Do It. I kept signing up for races: November 25, December 30, January 2nd, January 27,... all through the Winter. I followed a training plan I believed in. When the weather was unbearable, because of course Toronto had its worst Winter in living memory this year, I worked on the treadmill at the gym.

Motivation is always an issue. I've always been uncomfortable with the need for external motivation. I always make an internal association with religion, with which I'm uncomfortable. As training increases though, one feels the need for external support. It is extremely difficult to train hard in a vacuum. Luckily, we now have podcasts, web sites, books and other mediums that provide a sense of community which could previously only be found at the local running group.

In the Spring, I decided that I wanted to try triathlons. I switched my training to include swimming and cycling. I hadn't swim more than 50 meters in one go in nearly 20 years. I'm an ok swimmer, I just never did it. I signed up to the University of Toronto Sport Center, which has 50m/25m pools and started swimming. I wasn't satisfied with my technique, ordered the Total Immersion book/dvd and started from scratch. Still working on that. I also started going to go to spinning classes. I went from 6 runs a week, down to 4 runs.

Fast forward to today. I'm 44 years old and definitely in the best shape of my life. I train 6 days a week, some days more than once. My biggest problem is that my family, specially my wife, believe I'm crazy. I've competed in running races up to 25k and triathlons up to Olympic distance. I'm signed up for the Toronto Marathon this October. As the training time slowly creeps up as we get closer to October, my wife can become a bit impatient. I try to be carefull, but a 25k run takes some time and a decent bike ride requires driving out of the city, riding for 3 or 4 hours and driving back. Can't just squeeze that in before breakfast.

People have a lot of difficulty believing that endurance sports are not bad for you. All they can see is the physical suffering, the outside appearance of the athletes trying to achieve something more than what seems reasonable. When they see a race finish where people have to go over the finish line on all four, they feel sorry for the athlete while my eyes fill with tears because of the elation I feel, the admiration I have for someone who can give a true 100 percent. The longing to try and do the same.

I now consider myself an endurance athlete. A goal for next year will be to compete in at least one Half-Iron distance race, which I haven't picked yet. Barring a disaster at the Toronto Marathon, I will probably race another marathon next year, maybe even try to qualify for Boston. I'm turning 45 next year, so the qualifying time might be within my capabilities. We'll see. Another race I would like to try is the Sulphur Spring 50k or 50 miler Trail Race. 50k seems doable. If training goes amazing, maybe even 50 miles. The key is not to get hurt badly.

We will always have aches and pains. I get scared shitless everytime I get a pain somewhre. Is this the one? The injury that will sideline me and make me lose my hard earned fitness. I changed my running form to forefoot running to get rid of an annoying runner's knee problem. I now run with running shoes that most runners consider unacceptable. We will do anything to keep going. One of the big advantage of triathlon training is that you have three sports to chose from. Knee pain? Swim and bike. Shoulder problem? Skip swimming for a while. Takes a bad one to stop a triathlete from training completely.

I'm really satisfied with my first year off the Couch of Doom. I've accomplished ten times what I had any right to expect.

Swim, bike, run my friends.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

New Stable

I know I'm crazy but I can't help myself. My Nike Free 7.0 are nearing the end of their useful life as running shoes and Nike doesn't sell the Nike Free in Canada anymore. They have something called Free Everyday, but what I wanted was a 5.0 or 3.0. I really like running with minimal shoes. My only problem is with my long run where my calf hurt a bit toward the end, so I wanted to have a shoe with a bit more cushioning. For some reason, my Karhu M2 don't feel quite right.

So after much debate and research, I finally found a store that delivers Nike Free 3.0 shoes to Canada and I ordered a pair. When I picked up the package, I thought they forgot to put the shoes in the box. They are that light. The top part of the shoe is just some kind of mesh material, a glorified sock. The lower part reminds me a bit of my 7.0. Can't wait to try them tomorrow.

I also decided to buy a pair of Nike LunarTrainers which ARE available in Canada. They feel quite Free-ish except that they have more cushioning and I will use them for my long runs. I haven't decided if I will run my marathon in the trainers or the 3.0.

I will probably decide after the Scotia Half marathon, which I intend to run as a tune-up race. I'll try one of them and decide how they feel.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Olympic or Sprint?

I'm trying to decide what race to enter next. This race could be my last tri of the season. My only possible race in August is the Cobourg triathlon.They have both the Sprint or the Olympic. In theory, I would like to do the Olympic distance but something doesn't quite agree. My previous Oly was a very though race. I don't want to be a drama queen or anything but mentally I went to a place where I had never been before. After the first 5km loop on the run, I basically felt like I had nothing left. I hate loops.

So I'm gun shy. I want to do the Olympic, but I think I'm afraid. It's the bike. I haven't ridden enough and I'm paying the price. The swim, that's a long term goal. Work in progress. You can't rush the swim technique. The bike is different, I just didn't do enough. With my first marathon coming, I can't afford to miss any run, so it's always the bike that suffers. Cycling is so time consuming. You need open road, which is hard to find in the city.

I've never done a real Sprint. I've done a short course and a long course but never a true Sprint. Not that I care that much.

So I want to do the Olympic, but I feel like I'm slow on the bike and I'm a bit afraid of the swim in lake Ontario if it's windy. I think I will eventually do it and sign up for the Olympic but I'm giving myself a few more days.