Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Runners' Playlist of Hurtin' Songs

"Patience is also a form of action" - Auguste Rodin

The biggest hits on the Runners' Hurtin' Songs Playlist often shuffle back onto replay if you aren't attentive to your body's signals. Achy Breaky Achilles is a chart topper, for sure. While My Plantar Gently Weeps is the most understated of titles if things go bad. And don't download any of the IT Band's headbanger stuff, because it ain't fun at all.

To run or not to run. Is that little pain in your heel a signal that you have developed a debilitating case of Plantar Fasciitis, or is it just the result of running a couple of miles more than you ought to have done yesterday? Is your heartbeat unacceptably high, or is that just Your Normal? These questions are part of a runner's life, and how you deal with them is the trick to how successful your running career will be.

I was constantly beset by Achilles related pains when I first started running. I was doing a lot of things wrong; wearing shoes down to the nub, ramping up mileage far too quickly, striding incorrectly... I was essentially the Runner's Anti Manual. But as I started to listen to the advice of veteran runners, my doctor, masseuse, physiotherapist, I started to correct some of my most glaring mistakes.

Listen to your body. If you have pain, there is a reason. You will learn to understand different aches and pains from experience, from research, from professionals such as doctors and physical therapists, and from fellow runners. And ultimately, you - yes, you - have to decide whether you are going to run or not.

Give yourself time to heal, avoid doing blatantly unwise things that will hamper your progress, but whatever you do, don't stop running and working out. Terry Fox ran a marathon a day for months with a primitive prosthetic and advancing lung cancer, so surely you can find a way to amp up those miles and give your body the work it needs and deserves. Find the balance that's right for you.

Oh, and don't forget to have fun!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

First Toronto Yonge Street 10K

This race wasn't even on my radar before I was talked into signing up for it in 2012. I tend to run very few 10 km races, for one thing. So when a friend whom I had been badgering to start running suggested the Toronto Yonge Street 10k, I reluctantly agreed to run it with him.

See, I had this erroneous idea that running a 10k would somehow screw up my marathon training. After all, I ran ten km training runs three times a week, and longer runs of 20 to 30 km on weekends. What would be the point, right?

So I spiced it up a bit. Stayed at my daughter's place the night before, ran 8 km to the starting line and 5 km back to her place post-race. Made the race part of a long run. I needn't have done that, though, because it was more than enough fun and challenge without that extra mileage.

First and foremost, seeing the excitement and nervousness of my friend at the starting line of his first 10k race was really cool. Talking him down (while also trying to drive him crazy with fear, of course; who said I'm a sympathetic kind of guy??) was loads of fun. And, like every race with a lot of entrants, the excitement and camaraderie of the starting area is always worth the experience.

The Toronto Yonge Street 10k is fast. With a net downhill gradient and a virtually straight beeline down the most famous, most well-known street in Canada, you almost can't NOT get a PR (read that twice). The crowds are impressive in both size and enthusiasm. The weather in mid-April is perfect for a fast race. What's not to love?

So, yes, I gave it all I had and turned in a PR performance. My wife and kid were on the sidelines at about the halfway mark, so it was a great photo op as well. I had one of the most memorable races ever, lots of hoots and hollers and just plain fun running going on all around me. It was a party; runners could just Go For It, unlike the marathons I was accustomed to running in which pacing and control are paramount.

My friend came across the finish line five minutes later, out of breath and ecstatic from his impressive triumph. We hung out for a while with other friends who met us at the finish (and partook of the amazing bagels and other post-run fuel that was better than most marathons offer). And guess what? This focus on speed helped to expand my training focus for my Fall marathon such that I turned in a PR in that baby as well!

I'm excited about running the Toronto Yonge Street 10k in April 2014 in part because it was such a cool experience two years ago. It'll be a challenge coming off a significant injury, which is even better. It also comes at a strategically beneficial time in my training for my Spring marathon this year. Let's get on with the training!



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Running Out of Patience: Waiting Out Injuries

"If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire—then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems. You will live longer." ~Sigmund Wollman

I've incurred many minor running injuries over the eight years that I've been training and running races. Most of those injuries are common and easily handled. You run less, you stop running for a short period, you get treatment... no biggie. In fact, minor aches and pains incurred by runners are a large part of what runners rap about. Shop talk amongst runners involves liberal amounts of advice and anecdotes that revolve around these issues.

I broke my big toe on August 28th, about six weeks before the Scotia Toronto Waterfront Marathon which I was registered to run. A big toe is a critical part of your running anatomy. And when it's broke, it hurts. My doctor said it would take six to eight weeks to heal. So I figured, during the early days after my injury, and whilst medicated with my own Prescription (light on the Coke, a bit more generous on the Rum), that my triumphant Return to Running would see me crossing the STWM Finish Line somewhat more slowly than originally planned, but nevertheless finishing. After all, I ran a 30 km race six weeks after having my appendix removed, so it couldn't be worse than that, right? Wrong.

Everyone who had broken a big toe knew I was deluded, but didn't slap me in the face with that knowledge. They let me come to that realization myself. I also came to realize that the discipline I had developed in my running regime served me well in this recovery period. I quickly adopted a daily routine at the gym that saw me paying attention to all of those upper body muscles I had neglected as a runner. I could still use the Elliptical Trainer as well after a couple of weeks. In short, I adapted, and it wasn't so bad. The gym made my Runner's Cold Turkey far more manageable.

I practiced patience. We aren't a patient society, and I am not a patient person by nature, so this was an extremely useful exercise. I also came to fully appreciate the supportive nature of the running community of which I am a part; they helped me through it with their inclusiveness and attention. Special mention must be made of the Digital Champion group and the CRS folks from STWM who helped me get through the unhappy experience of not being able to run STWM.

I'm back running now; it took over two months before my first attempt to hobble, and it's been improving slowly. The toe - and entire foot - continues to be painful. And yes, I know the day will inevitably come when I can no longer run. That day comes for everyone eventually. But for me, that day is not today. I plan to have an excellent run on April 13, 2014, at the Toronto Yonge Street 10k, the run that will have me back at full speed, in defiance of the slings and arrows that befall runners.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Post Cleveland Marathon Post

The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame is a lot of fun and endelessly fascinating, but it's not the best thing about Cleveland. It's just one little part of the whole experience, and if you're going to run the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon as I did on May 19, 2013, you need to know these things about Cleveland.

It's all about the people of this town. The receptionist at the Comfort Inn a couple miles from the Start/Finish line is one of Cleveland's best-kept secrets. She told us about the early breakfast and automatic late checkout (and post-race drinks and snacks) that were all included. she clearly enjoyed her job and was damned good at it. You don't find a lot of that pride of ownership.  Oh, and the parking guy who directed me in, who knew what he was doing and caused me no angst whatsoever. The maids who asked if everything was ok and didn't have to do that. I'd hire 'em all if I could.

The guy I know only from online runner's social media groups, Bill, who recognized me at the Expo and shouted out to me. AND shouted out again to me at the Finish line. Great to finally meet you, Bill! The Team VW folks who were an important sponsor of the marathon helped to add a bit of fun at the expo and at the finish line tent for those of us that were on Team VW.

I wish I had counted how many folks were set up with speakers blasting out tunes along the route of the marathon. Definitely more than I've seen in any other marathon ever. AND there were bands, quite a few live bands, and all good, and they played with enthusiasm. Loved the church choir singing on the church steps, everybody in their Sunday Best waving and smiling along. Fantastic.

The volunteers at the aid stations: at ALL aid stations (every one of them) the volunteers clearly and loudly yelled directions so you didn't have to guess which was water and which was energy drink. Awesome folks, attention to detail.

The cops along the route and around the finish area, and their dogs, unobtrusive but watchful and quick to react to traffic issues (didn't see any other kind of issues). Barely a month post-Boston, this was one helluva tough gig for them, and they handled it with a professionalism that merits admiration and respect. And as far as traffic issues go, this was one of few marathons I've run in where I saw no angry motorists.

The race organizers mapped out a scenic, flat, interesting route. It was clear that they didn't just go oh what the hell, out-and-back 'em and to hell with it. No, they made it a very fine run.

The spectators. Oh, sure, a lot of them were friends and family of runners, but those spectators tend to cluster near the start and finish areas. The spectators who came out of their houses and cheered themselves hoarse, made signs, cut up oranges and bananas for total strangers... god, those people deserve to have me spend my money in their city!! You are justifiably proud of your citizens, Cleveland!

The guy in line with me at the gas station downtown who gave me simple, clear directions when I got turned around on my way out of town. Good man.

There were others, of course. Other runners, both locals and out-of-towners. The pacers did a great job (the pacer I was with near the finish roused the crowd to cheer louder). So yes, of course I would run it again. And if you haven't... I think you should.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

High Fives All Around the Bay

There was a whole lot of high-fiving going on along the route of the 2013 Around the Bay Road Race. Kids were all over that action, of course, nothing new there. And the guy with the Mickey Mouse hands and bare feet at the top of the second major hill (before THE Hill) was high fiving with the professionalism and skill that we've come to expect from him.

I really didn't expect to be doing a terribly celebratory race that day. Hell, I hadn't planned to run this one this year at all. But a friend had to unload his bib due to an unexpected (startling, scary) health issue that happened less than two weeks before the race, so I went for it.

As always, I started out faster than I should have done. The corrals that were in place for the first time in the 119 year history of the race were fortuitous, bunching everyone with - roughly - their appropriate speed group. I almost forgot to take my Gu gel at mile two, but I remembered in time and narrowly averted the certainty of smashing headlong into The Wall. Gu number two was still in the belt for kilometre 18.

Keeping a pace within a tenth of 5 minutes/km was starting to wear me down. I valiantly fought to keep up with various runners whose confidence and excellent pacing pissed me off enough to fire me up.


 Gu number two powered me over the rollers that lead to the Mother of All Hills. It's always fun, by the way, to mess with the minds of other runners who haven't experienced this race before. Telling them that some people use ropes to get up the final hill, for example. Or that the worst part is tripping over the bodies on the way up.

Miraculously, I was doing just fine on the windless, sunny, 3 degree Celsius route. Sure glad I wasn't one of the unfortunates who were stopped by a train (heard about that after the race).

Anyway, just before the hills started, and after the High Five Station (a girl holding up a sign and a white mitten that she would have to burn after the ten thousand high fives it took), there was a whole lot of crowd support that needs to be acknowledged. In fact, all along the route there were freelance water and citrus stations, one beer station (too far from the end for me, but the effort was awesome). Citizens of Hamilton, you did your city proud, we salute you. You are fantastic. People in groups or alone yelling their lungs out with encouragement to total strangers, something that brings a lump to my throat every time I see it (what are their stories, why are they so incredible, what drives them???)

Ok, so plunging down into the valley before the Hill that Dwarfs All Hills, you hear it before you see anything. The concert-level boom of Queen's "We Will Rock You", always the same every year, always gets your heart pumping and your energy surging. And then you see the huge speakers, the tent, the pickup truck, and The Little Guy in his wheelchair, and you High Five him and hit the footbridge, single file, before you start Up the Hill.

The hill is a bit of a letdown at first. It's not terribly steep for the first couple hundred metres, but then you turn a corner and it gets a bit steeper. You go under a bridge, turn again, keep climbing, and it gets steeper. The final thirty or forty metres are almost straight up, and your heart and pounding and you can barely see because I'll be damned if I'm gonna stop running and walk. And then with about 20 metres to go I hear a huge voice yell "Myron!!!" Sure enough, there he is at the top of the hill, Mike, the guy I ran for. No High Five here, this was a firm grasp handshake and a "Go hard, make sure you get a good time for me!". A most excellent slingshot effect.

All downhill from there. Legs wouldn't stop, partly pure adrenaline, partly that kilometre 18 gel, partly a refusal to let that punk kid get past me, partly a desire to have that Finish Line picture include a much more athletic type and pysch people into thinking I could compete with THAT.

High Fives? How about this: I beat my previous PR for this race, set last year, by FIVE minutes and ten seconds.

So of COURSE I'll have to run this thing again next year. It will be the 120th year of the race, which really and truly blows my mind, and it will be my... let me see... fifth(!) time Around the Bay.

Gimme Five!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Breaking Barriers and Defying Father Time

I really didn't expect to PR going into the Road2Hope Marathon on November 4, 2012. Sure, I felt pretty strong. Yes, I knew it would be a fast course. However, I had just run my second-fastest marathon ever less than a month before, in Vermont, so I was more than prepared to simply finish R2H in a reasonable time, collect a medal, and go celebrate.


So what was the secret? What caused me to pull this rabbit out of a hat? How the hell did I knock a full five minutes off my previous best time that had happened three years before? Simple: here is the recipe.

First, lots and lots of training miles in which I concentrated on speed and pace. You can't train slow and expect to run a marathon fast. You also can't ignore your pace, because if you start to lag the miles pile up behind you and the pace you would have to ramp up to in the last few miles simply won't happen. It's like saving money for retirement; you can't make it all up in the last few years, you have to be on a specific plan. I knew that if I was to finish anywhere close to 4 hours, I had to maintain a pace that didn't get slower than 5:40 per kilometre. I also knew, and this might just be me, that I had to keep a pace of closer to 5:20 for as long as humanly possible to make up for short walks at water stations and for the fact that the last few miles almost inevitably slow to something closer to 6:00.

Second: gels. I packed three, took the first one at kilometre three. Second gel around kilometre 15, third was for kilometre 30 or so. But there were gels somewhere before that, which I had gambled on happening, so I got one extra in. Those gels are critical. If you run out of energy, which is highly probable, you are going nowhere fast. Also, I always take the energy drink at water stations, and only add water in the last few miles if it's a brutally hot day. The average marathon has more than enough water stations for my needs, so I've never carried a belt full of little bottles or anything. In fact, I often have to take a piss break around kilometre 25, so that shows there's lots of liquids going in. My favourite marathons have shots of beer near the end.

So anyway, I started out fast in this race. Small crowd of runners, not a very big pack, which helps immensely. Temperature was cool. Lots of downhill, which presents its own challenges to the leg muscles but generally helps with speed.

I chatted with Frank, a fellow Cambridgean, for a few miles before he slowed a bit. Around kilometre 30 I started to walk for a few feet but this little Asian girl who had been following me yelled at me to get back at it, so who am I to disobey orders? Similar thing around kilometre 38 when I was totally out of fuel and started walking: a different girl ordered me to get back into gear. I ran alongside her for a couple of kilometres until she pulled ahead for the last few hundred metres. By that time there were crowds urging you on since it's so close to the finish, and I heard my name being bellowed by a buddy (Mike, a dude who finished almost an hour ahead of me). I was completely ready to fall over by the time I hit the finish, but I had managed a time of 4:07. Tantalizingly close to breaking the 4 hour barrier, which would have been a cool way to finish the last marathon of my 40's (I turn the clock over to 50 in February 2013).

So the question is this: can I break the four hour barrier in my '50's? I seriously would not have thought it possible even a short time ago. Now, however, I know that I can do it, barring unforeseen health issues. It is likely going to happen. I have never felt more confident in my physical abilities, which is a bit strange since I also see and feel the ravages of time. The mantra I live by now is this: Slow down as slowly as possible.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Rocking the Green Mountain Marathon

My wife is a city girl. She has no appreciation whatsoever for the olfactory experience of the rural world. So as we cruised slowly down West Shore Road in South Hero, Vermont, and I told her to watch for the sign for our Bed and Breakfast, the word "Farm" in its title caused an immediate reaction. "No, no, they just CALL it a farm," I said quickly. We approached a small muddy field full of sows, which I started to point out to her would NEVER be anywhere near a Bed and Breakfast... yup, you know it. The pigs were the (unprepped) breakfast.

The B&B turned out to be infinitely relaxing, roomy, and perfectly located for our purposes. A mere couple miles from the start and finish line, right on the course which was a 13 mile out and back along the western shore of the island.

As you can see, the weather on Friday and Saturday was sunny and cool, with a light breeze and perfect running conditions. But the marathon was set for Sunday, leaving plenty of time for the weather to deteriorate. In the meantime, though, we had a great time exploring the narrow back roads, the pretty town of Burlington, the local colour.

We met a couple at the local pub on Friday night who had organized the race for years. They were great folks, and we ended up meeting them on Saturday night at the pasta dinner as well where they introduced us to more locals and made us feel right at home. The pasta dinner was held at the local school and was put on by the Grade 7 and 8 kids as a fundraiser. Impressive job by the kids, great turnout by the entire town.

This being backwoods country, there weren't too many distractions after the pasta dinner, no street lights or rowdy nightclubs or any such craziness. So after meeting our fellow B&B guests, also marathoners, and chatting for a bit, we retired early.

I woke in the middle of the night to a howling wind that sounded like it would rattle the sturdy old farmhouse to an untimely end. This was worrying.

But the day dawned dark, drizzly, and windy. The temperature was around 45F, and the high humidity made it bearable. In fact, the wind wasn't all that bad, maybe 20 mph at times.

We parked about a mile from the start, in a field, and walked up. Once the race started I was able to focus and contend with the elements rationally.

There was a long, steep decline after the first mile, which meant that there would be a long, steep incline at mile 25. The wind was at our backs for most of the first half. In other words, restraint and strict adherence to pace were the name of the game.

The field thinned out appreciably after mile 6 or so when the half marathoners turned around. I referred to my Garmin more than I have done before, forcing myself to stick to a pace that would bring me in around four hours. It worked like a charm, right up to around the last 2 or 3 miles when I struggled to keep running. Another excellent boost was the Hammer gels that I took faithfully.

There weren't many spectators, but the couple who banged their pots and pans at the end of their farm lane, the group that yelled and screamed around mile 6/19, the water station volunteers who were all right on the top of their motivational game... all of them were incredible.

Some of the views along the route were beyond postcard perfect. The colourful trees, the rolling hills, the expanse of dark lake. You have to see it to appreciate it. Absolutely breathtaking.

When I saw how close i was to a PR by mile 20 (my PR was and remains 4:12), I pushed as hard as my cramping legs would go. the pain was becoming intense; various spasms and collapses racked my legs with no rhyme nor reason. But I pushed on, maintaining a steady focus on trying to get a bit of momentum, determined to either PR or come close. And yes, I came in 3 minutes short of my PR, one minute faster than my second fastest time. That worked for me!

These Green Mountain folk know how to celebrate, too. The chili they had for the runners after the race was seriously some of the best chili I've ever had, and that's no mean feat.

So do I recommend this race? Absolutely. Sign up early because it sold out this year. Here's the website link: Green Mountain Marathon