Friday, December 31, 2010

Setting Goals for 2011

In setting your goals, try to be objective. Be reasonable but challenge yourself as well. Keep the fun in everything you do if it's at all possible, and where it's not fun try to see quirks and foibles that make it a bit lighter. Even in the most solemn of endeavours there are moments of encouragement and accomplishment that make it all worthwhile.

I find that most of my goals are very easily met, but that the challenge is setting the timeline appropriately. This is true of destination trips I have in my sights, as well as renovation projects that need to be done, upgrades of things around the house, and, longer term, retirement strategies.

So when I see people who have just started running, for example, I know that there are many things that they have to discover on their own in the course of time, even if they read everything there is to know beforehand. People progress at different speeds. When I ran a 10km race three years ago in 53 minutes, I thought there was little chance I would ever run as fast as my buddy who nailed that race in 49 minutes. Well, I hit the 49 minute mark this year in the Terry Fox Run, so it went to prove that anything can happen if you persist.

So don't be discouraged by setbacks or injuries. Keep at it; you'll be amazed at what you can achieve. Happy trails in 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 10 of '10: My Top Ten Achievements of 2010

10. Completing the Sunburst Marathon without dying of heatstroke. Very cool bling, excellent finish area venue (Notre Dame Stadium), great little weekend jaunt.

9. Completing the Quebec City Marathon without getting heatstroke. You'd think I'd learn: August is not the coolest month to run a marathon. Oh well. Excellent trip, fun with the kids, amazing restaurants, great beer.

8. Completing the Las Vegas Marathon... no, no heatstroke possibilities this time. Perfect weather, excellent tunes, topnotch organization, and a city that needs to be seen to be believed.

7. Gradually increasing the consistency of my daily run pace and speed. I'm constantly challenging myself to work my speed up just a little all the time. This means brushing off the bad days where the energy or the push just isn't there. Kinda like life in general I guess.

6. Keeping my weight at a consistent 160 pounds. This is a record low weight for me in my adult life, and it's a very healthy weight. I very rarely get sick or injured (knocking furiously on wood as I type that), eat a varied but considered and consistent diet, include very little meat in my meals... it's working very well. And what amazes me most of all is just how significantly over-sized the portions that are served in restaurants or on average tables truly are.

5. Attention to working my core is paying dividends. Ok, so I won't be doing stomach modelling any time soon, but I truly feel the increased strength and stability in my core. I believe this has been very instrumental in the low number of injuries I've incurred in the past year as well, and the faster recovery time after races or long runs. Pay attention to your core, people, it's critical!

4. Making relatively regular entries in this blog. Essentially talking to myself is what it is, I know, but it helps to articulate goals, milestones, strengths, weaknesses, triumphs... anyone reading this who doesn't keep a blog, should. A very positive exercise.

3. Taking more pictures. My sage advice again: you can never take too many pictures. They cost nothing anymore, SD cards with space to store all of human knowledge cost about $10, and a 1.5 terabyte external hard drive ( a terabyte is bigger than two universes, approximately) costs less than $100. And when you page back through those thousands of pictures you'll relive those glorious moments that passed like a heartbeat, and your overwhelming thought will be: I should have taken more.

2. Completing the Goodlife Toronto Marathon with a friend who had a very bad year and didn't really want to run this marathon alone. We had a great 4 hour and 38 minute chat, and it was a really good day and a really good experience. Cameraderie: establish it, build on it. There's nothing like it.

1. Running the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, for two reasons. I finished it in 3:05 (30 kilometres) which is like lightning for me. More importantly, I found out afterward that a friend had also run it and was consistently two minutes ahead of me, start to finish. I found this out at his funeral a couple months later (he died in Nepal, a freak infection issue, still a young man not even 40).Which was a whole lot of metaphors for life in general... pick them out as you wish.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Happened in 2010

I ran four marathons in 2010, the second year in a row that I accomplished this feat. No PR in the 42.2 (that happened in fall of 2009 at the Niagara International Marathon, 4:12), but I added the 30km Around the Bay race to my list in March 2010. I also ran the Terry Fox 10km Run in September for the first time in a few years, and PR'd at that distance in that race (49 minutes). So yes, I feel like I had a very full, very productive year, gathering a few more bling that have excellent stories attached to each of them.

I had never been to Michiana before, but the Sunburst Marathon gave me the opportunity to explore that area. I also took along guides: my mom and aunt know the area, have friends there, and took us to places we wouldn't have otherwise thought of, Amish places that were pretty cool and didn't all smell like horse shit.

Quebec City was a very impressive marathon (I have earlier blog posts on all of these races, so check them out) in that it was very scenic and the crowds were extremely enthusiastic. Any opportunity to mix with French speaking fellow Canadians is positive, challenging stereotypes and reinforcing the fact that we're all just folks trying to get along. And if it means more crepes and poutine, then count me in.

I ran the Goodlife Toronto Marathon in September, my fourteenth marathon and the first marathon that I had done a second time (October 2005 was my first Toronto Marathon). That was a great experience because it was also only the second time that I ran the entire route in the company of another person, the first time being with my daughter and this time with a good friend who was having trouble psyching herself up to run it.

And then there was Las Vegas. Two weeks of adventure with a marathon in the middle. Hard to cap an eventful year in a better way than that.

I doubt that 2011 will be quite as memorable as 2010 was, but we've got some fun stuff lined up if all goes according to plan. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Perspiration and Inspiration

Of the 2600 kilometres I've run so far this year, only 150 kilometres was run in races. That is a pretty small percentage. And considering how much I cheat on long runs (20 km once a week has been my standard, and I've only increased that to 25 km within the past month), most marathon runners likely log far more training distance than I do.

To me, that means you've got to enjoy the training part of your running life. Of course I enjoy the races, I totally revel in them. I simply don't find myself obsessing about upcoming races in terms of how prepared I am, or how fast I'll run. I run four marathons a year now, so there's always another one around the corner. I'm just as concerned about how well I'm going to run tomorrow as I am about the next race. The atmosphere, the geography, the people, all of these things are exciting but the actual run is simply going to be what it's going to be, fast, slow, or somewhere in between. You give it your best, and you try to make your best incrementally better every day. The moments of inspiration, the PRs in run-speak, come with persistent training. Countless times you see runners having eureka moments when they nail a good run, and it would not happen if they didn't slog it out day in and day out.

And that's how most endeavours are to me. You give it what you can every day, so when the events come up you're prepared and rehearsed to the extent that very little can stress you out anymore. That's what preparation is all about to me. You can't be too prepared, you can't know everything there is to know or have exhausted all of your strategies to improve.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Get Moving and Don't Stop

There are tons of reasons to run. You can run to lose weight. You can run to complete a specific distance in a race. You can run because you want to increase your fitness and decrease the odds of health-related illness. Et cetera. All of these reasons are fantastic if they get you moving.

The problem arises for new runners when their goal is so narrowly defined or so difficult to achieve within a specific time frame that they become discouraged. That's when the runner has to confront choices. Soldier on with altered goals? Give up? Or start to see the big picture?

You can step back and take some time off from running without giving it up entirely. You can decide to get coaching or do some more research, devote more time to it, run more, run less. It doesn't have to be all-consuming or completely abandoned.

My running goals have changed constantly. My first goal was to complete a marathon with my daughter. The second goal was a marathon the following season, during which period I determined that I would try to do one spring marathon and one fall marathon per year. Those marathons would be destination marathons. That worked perfectly for a couple of years; we had some excellent vacations, tons of fun, and I became completely hooked on the sport and the distance.

Then I decided to fit an extra marathon into each season. So for the last couple of years I've done four marathons a year, and started fitting an extra 10 km or 30 km run into the mix. The destination part still fits in, but some of those marathons are local to try to keep the bank account healthy.

Throughout the evolution of my changed race goals, I've steadily become leaner and faster. This comes from steady changes in nutrition and fitness regimes beyond the simple act of running. It all fits together, it's all part of a lifestyle change that has me feeling better than I've ever felt in my life.

It all truly started with my determination eight years ago to quit smoking,. lose weight and work out regularly at the gym. Achieving those initial goals, making those changes permanent, was the first step in getting to this point.

Where does it go from here? Can't say for sure. But I certainly see myself continuing to run marathons until my body stops me, and I still see myself doing the training mileage required to do so. And even then I intend to continue with some form of fitness regime. I have a genetic tendency to become diabetic for one thing, and I intend to fight that possibility with all my heart.

Age marches on irrevocably. and motivation ultimately comes down to this: if you see a tiger loping toward you, you don't start crying or whining. You don't demand that somebody do something. You don't swagger and go to meet it. You take practical, immediate action. You only get one chance at this thing called life, so don't just sit there and let your body and your mind bloat and wither away. Get with it, stay active, for the long term. And push the envelope, because you'll never be sorry that you gave it everything you've got.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reach for the Sky (This is not a Holdup)

I stretched a lot when I first started running five and a half years ago. Whether that stretching did or did not contribute to various aches, pains, and injuries is something I'll never know. But at one point, out of desperation, I simply quit stretching altogether. That worked for a while, and then I started getting injuries that were clearly a result of muscle tightness.

The information I gleaned from research was contradictory at times. However, I can summarize what I did wrong and what I'm now doing right. Stretching is a good and necessary part of a runner's regimen. It also has to be done carefully and it has to work for you personally. There is no cookie cutter solution to the issue of stretching, because everyone is different.

Don't forget, none of us is a 100% runner. All of us have physical routines that involve other things. For example, I sit all day at a desk, getting up and walking around occasionally. I also sit in a car for between 2.5 and 4 hours a day on average. So my muscles have a tendency to tighten up. Some people do a lot of standing, walking, bending, etc. during the course of their work day. Swimmers, cyclists, rock climbers, all of these people have significantly different physical fitness requirements than I do to excel at their various activities.

So stretching is part trial-and-error and part research. Most importantly, apart from what your body tells you, is the opinion of trainers or coaches who you work with and who really and truly know what you personally should and should not do. Trial and error without experienced input is quite likely to lead to setbacks.

I stretch when my muscles feel tight. I also stretch as part of my gym workout twice a week. If I stretch before I run, it's very conservative, just enough to loosen the tightness since I almost always run immediately upon waking up at 4 am. As I get older I find my muscles getting tighter as well. But I seem to have found that sweet spot where I'm doing the right amount of stretching to fit the speed and distance that I run, so it's just a matter of tweaking it these days.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Evolution of Your Running Career

If you're just starting out as a runner, brace yourself for lots of soul searching and obstacles of various types and sizes. Like anything worthwhile, it ain't gonna be easy. So what do you have to look forward to? Here's a sample.

1. You will encounter quizzical feedback from friends, family, and colleagues. Some of these people will think you're straight out nuts. Others will be genuinely alarmed that you will keel over and die. You will learn to deal with all of them. Be patient with the people who mean well; they can often be educated. Deal with the others according to your personal preference. I like to employ sarcasm and belittlement where it's deserved. Most of the time, though, I just set an example. You will be amazed - truly - at how you affect the wellbeing of those around you.

2. You will build a support network of other like minded athletes (you are an athlete, go ahead and use the title). They will come from everywhere. Sol get involved, run races, do activities at your local running store, join a gym. These people come from all walks of life, are all shapes and sizes, and are incredibly supportive.

3. You will hurt a lot. Soreness becomes a common feeling. You learn to read your body's signals; some pain requires immediate action, and some pain doesn't. Your body is relatively important considering that it's all you've got, so this running process ultimately makes that body - and the mind housed in it - stronger, more resilient, longer lasting, better. It's a process of learning that will last the rest of your life, so get involved in it.

4. You will take stock occasionally and be surprised to see how much further you can run, how much faster you run. People who are newer to running will ask you questions of all kinds and you will have answers. You will know what kind of shoes are best for you, what running clothes you prefer, so many things.

5. So now you're afraid that there will come a time when you won't be challenged anymore, like you'll know everything and have achieved everything, right? Not even close. You will continue to find out new things. You will be shocked at your progress and development. You will encounter entirely new vistas and challenges that totally inspire you.

6. Nutrition becomes a fascinating new world of possibility. You can get away with a lot, but you are inclined to eat things that help you with your running, that aid you in increased energy and recovery. Runners are obsessed with food issues.

I've run 14 marathons and I learn tons of new things all the time. I learn from reading what other runners write. I learn from experience. I learn from advice of fellow runners. And that's an extremely important thing to remember; do not ever hesitate to ask another runner's opinion or advice. Runners are very generous with giving advice and generous with giving praise. You couldn't possibly be in better company. So have a great run!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Running Out of Time

The verb "to run" is possibly the most common metaphorical verb in the English language. People run for political office. They run businesses. They leave their cars running. Their noses run. They run away from their problems, and they run into each other. They run over things, too, and in none of these examples are they putting one foot ahead of the other foot at a rapid pace.

When I do the laundry and the colours run, tears (not mine) run as well in sorrow (anger?) over the damage I've done. Ships run aground; fish run in schools. I often run into trouble. And when I try to think of excuses to get out of it, the well runs dry. Plays run for years... you get the idea, and I'm running out of examples.

Running is one of the oldest, most elemental of human activities. So the fact that we use the word to describe so many other elements of our lives should come as no surprise. So why fight it? Get the hint, everybody; go ahead and run.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nifty Tools and Other Life Lessons

I replaced a faucet in the laundry room today. I'm not the handiest handyman in the world (ok, who started that resounding 'amen'?) but I can do this stuff when it's necessary. Anyway, it was a pretty tight fit to get at the rusty parts and crank them off, and that aspect of it took some careful work to avoid stripping threads and that sort of thing. Putting the new parts on was much easier, but tightening everything up in such a tight space is a bit challenging. Rather, it would have been challenging if I didn't suddenly remember this nifty wrench thing that is designed specifically for such scenarios and works like magic. And as I reached for it I remembered my dad showing me this wrench.

My dad was a real handyman. He was always fixing things or making things out of wood. When he showed me that magic wrench, there was a real sense of ceremony as there often was when he showed me tools that he found to be really useful. That ceremonial moment would stick in my memory, and on countless occasions such as today, that memory would save me hours of frustration and useless effort. Like a good parent, he passed on little details about life that would make his son's life that much better.

Besides showing me how tools worked, dad would occasionally make little statements that have had a profound effect on my life. Things like saying "Always maintain good credit. Not much is more important than that." Or this: "Don't touch the brakes if you're on pure ice. Steer out of it as much as possible." Another: "Your good name is something you want to maintain above all else."  And my favourite: "You can't rush a good cup of coffee."

So that's what I try to do; I try to pass on lessons to my kids that might make their lives a little easier and a little better. No, I can't pass on much about tools, but I know I've instilled a respect for physical fitness in them, and lots of little ways to be responsible with their money. In the long run, the little bits and pieces of knowledge and wisdom that you pass on becomes the way that you will touch base with them again after you're gone. That is why I had a great time changing that faucet today and touching base with dad again, mulling over some great memories.

So don't pass up those opportunities. Every last one of you is a coach to someone, whether you have kids or not. You know how much impact the words and actions of others have on you, and if you think about it you know that some of those people don't realize how powerfully they have affected you. Not just little tricks and witty proverbs, and not even technical advice necessarily. Just the steady, unflinching attitude you exhibit in the face of potentially terrifying or chaotic situations can immensely soothe others around you.Your sense of humour can ease tensions and make a world of difference.

You matter a lot. So take exemplary care of yourself and show those around you that they matter, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Running goals are very plastic, malleable things. Bold, confident goals are wonderful. When I hear them expressed I silently send any extra energy I can to the goal maker. I hope with all my heart that they will handle setbacks with contempt and pent up rage. I also hope that no one will tell them that they will have setbacks. How you handle the confusion of defeat tempers the steel that your long term resolve becomes.

A timid goal needs to be followed by a goal that flirts with disaster. Your body mind and spirit won't evolve if you don't. Other people's goals don't matter, unless you want them to. I started out running one spring and one fall marathon, a mere two races per year. Then my friend Helmut demonstrated that that was fine if I didn't want to develop a full blown addiction. So now I run four marathons a year, and that's tempered only by my self deception whereby I have convinced myself that I need sleep and money. I'm sure I can conquer that limitation with time, though. I simply need to ramp up my money making activity when I'm not running. Yes, and sleep more at work.

Runners know what I'm talking about. Those who have conquered this sickness and have stopped running have truly reached an epiphany; they have achieved the limits of pain or love, or both. Others, like myself, are still feeling the evolution of greater physical and mental control, greater speed and muscularity.

My friend Max told me, with a timid insistence unique to her, that I need to increase the length of my long runs appreciably, even though I run marathons so close together. I now run far more miles than ever, weigh less, eat more, and feel overwhelmed with excess energy.

Keep moving forward. Be unstoppable, irrepressible, unflappable. You can't imagine where it will end.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Does the Length of the Run Matter?

Runners who try different distance races quickly discover that every distance has its own unique challenges. My proudest Personal Record is my 10 km at the September 2010 Terry Fox Run, not just because I take that specific race very personally, but also because cutting three minutes off that distance was incredibly hard. My previous best of 52 minutes involved running fast but with a bit of reserve. I held nothing back this time. And I was lighter and fitter than I've been in a very long time. One of my running heroes, local superstar George Aiken, was at the finish line and congratulated me, which made it even sweeter. George is a 5 km and 10 km specialist, and when I told him it was a PR for me he said most people don't appreciate how tough it is to shave seconds off a distance that you've given your all to previously. (George does trails now in his "old age". I don't know what his 5 km time was on Terry Fox day, but he's fast as hell still, and only in his early 50s).

You aren't merely covering a specific distance fast; you're training to a specific pace, trying to achieve consistent speed that will get you over the finish line without collapsing. Well, at least without collapsing every time. Seems obvious, but until you train to a distance you can't fully appreciate the difference. However, looking at the body types of the elites at different distances gives you a strong hint as to what you're working toward.

I have immense respect for marathoners and ultra runners, 100 metre types, etc. Committing to focused training at whatever your distance is takes a lot of effort. And you start to slowly master your distance. For example, after five years I'm finding that I have better control of a marathon than I ever did.

I still have a helluva long way to go to truly master the 42.2 distance but I'm constantly learning and getting better. I have a much better understanding of what it would take to make significant progress in speed. Life, however, requires balance such that I can't commit what it would take to do that quickly. And if I were looking to master the 10 km distance, to truly master it to the best of my ability, the amount and intensity of training would require a huge effort as well.

So I run for fun and I try to go faster.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Losing the Passion

I ran the Goodlife Toronto Marathon yesterday, and it was very good. The crowds were enthusiastic. The weather was made to order. The route was pleasant, diverse, scenic, flat in lots of places, downhill for a long while, with a steep half-kilometre climb uphill that made it interesting. The medal was huge, the participants were a nice mix of familiar faces and freshly-minted athletes, the dramas were recognizable and new. The water station people were having fun, and their faces lit up when we thanked them for their efforts.

My feet hurt like hell. One guy spit into the wind and I felt the spray while I was double-fisting gatorade at mile 20. Cars, buses, and streetcars were crossing in front of me and drivers were venting their anger and frustration in any number of ways. There was a pretty strong breeze in my face a lot of the way.

I loved every minute of it; I was as happy thanking the woman who yelled 'nice hair' (might not have been addressed to me, not sure... (!)) as I was cursing blue murder at the streetcar driver crossing in front of me in the final metres of the race. It was an adventure all the way, chock full of little stories and events and emotions and lessons... and that's not the only reason I run marathons.

For me, the marathon experience is about checking out new places to go for marathons, reading reviews, talking to people, studying maps. It's about the history and geography of cities and towns, the shopping strategies, the entertainment possibilities, the local beers, the hotel pools and the museums and art galleries. It's about the spontaneous conversations that break out with other enthusiasts on the course, in the food line at the end, on the street outside the hotel.

I know a couple of people who have lost the desire to run marathons. That's not a bad thing since I know they have other passions that are all-consuming. It's heartbreaking when people don't have something that they are passionate about, when they've lost interest in everything. That's hard to imagine.

Recently two of the most popular Canadian motorcycle magazines featured editorials that talked about losing the passion for riding, and they were written in the first person by the editors of the magazines. And there was no sense of redemption, no "eureka" moment. It was sad beyond measure; what the hell were readers to think?

My dad was a truck driver all his life, and he truly loved trucks. He talked about trucks and driving all the time. About traffic and routes and stores he went to and what bad truckers did and what good truckers did. That was passion.

So don't run marathons if you've lost interest in it. Dive into something else. Like rock climbing (which is incredibly interesting and complex, and endlessly challenging). But find whatever it is really fast, because life is way too short and you have to be a total glutton about it.