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'!