08 December 2017

Living as a hashtag sell-out ...?

I know that it sounds weird, but I've now dropped a sponsor.


Like, who in their right mind (as a wannabe athlete) would give up the opportunity to be aligned with a corporate entity and receive the benefits associated with that kind of partnership?

Apparently this guy.

After four years of being supported by and representing Skechers Performance Division I've walked away from my 'contract'.  And just like anyone with commitment issues, I swear that it's not them, it's me.

Hear me out - Skechers has been a fabulous sponsor and it's been a wonderful ride.  It hasn't just been about the product perks and being affiliated with one of the greatest running brands in the world (I truly believe that), but I'm thoroughly grateful and privileged to have been able to call many top-notch human beings my colleagues during this time.  People like Cris Alcantara, Nick Resch, Larry Sirois, Kyle McCabe, Josh Bolton, Tanis Bolton, Rob Brouillette, Adam Hortian, Daryl Flacks, Kirstin Schwass and Erin King are just a few of the quality folks that I got to know during my time with the ambassador team.

So why move on?

For me it's not about what I wasn't getting from them, but all about what others might.

In the same vein as my reasoning for not reapplying to claim a spot in the Boston Marathon I would love for someone else to be able to experience sponsorship at this level - and knowing that there are a limited number of spaces available on the Skechers Performance Ambassador team for Canada I felt like I have hogged some of the limelight long enough.  Add to that that I definitely know of at least one person who has innocently inquired of me how to apply for an ambassadorship with Skechers ... and I knew that I'd reached the tipping point.

I will definitely be continuing to wear my Skechers Performance shoes with pride (nevermind that I still have a closet full of road and trail footwear from them!) and will likely continue to be peppering my social media posts with #getyourmilesin, #haveafastday and #GOlikeneverbefore (I mean come on, aren't those great hashtags?!?), so they'll not be far from my heart.

At around the same time that the dissolution of this partnership took place I also received a notification from the team at Endurance Tap that they accepted my application to become one of their affiliated ambassadors.  So new hashtags here I come!  #fuelsimply #livesimply #TeamTap #tapitevery45

I've been consistently using Endurance Tap as my energy gel/fuel of choice for a little over a year now since discovering that its consistency was the easiest to take over the course of long-distance races (marathons and beyond).  I also confess to loving the fact that there are just three ingredients - maple syrup, sea salt and ginger - and I don't have to struggle to pronounce any of them.

In now way do I believe that I'm deserving of this opportunity, but I do hope that in some small way I can contribute to Team Tap's efforts to enhance the brand in our local running circles.  Plus I'm always game to try something new, believing that somehow I will become a better person for it ...

Here's to new relationships and the prospect of an exciting 2018 running season!

P.S.  Feel free to use the promo code "VOOFUEL" for an instant 20% discount on any purchase made at the Endurance Tap Shop!  https://endurancetap.com/collections/all

27 November 2017

Now the winter of my discontent ... is over

It has finally arrived.

No, not Cyber Monday. 

The conclusion of my three-week off-season from running.

This will have been the longest stretch of 'no exercise' since I started running seriously in mid-2010.  I've tried to schedule in some breaks over the past few years (and usually at this point on the calendar) but I've always cut it short, usually because I've felt like I didn't want to lose the physiological gains that had come through training all year round.

Really I've just guilted myself into prematurely launching myself back into the training cycle.

Well this time around I've been good.  Sort of.

Here are a few quick observations after having taken this time away from running:
  1. It wasn't a full three week break - inasmuch as I was able to take an extended time of rest, I did sneak in an easy 4k run with my wife the week after the Hamilton Marathon ... so if you count that then I only got in 2-1/2 weeks of inactivity.
  2. I enjoyed (sort of) sleeping in - my normal wake-up time on training days is around 5:15am and through these past few weeks I stretched that out to 6:15am.  My body really doesn't like flip-flopping in bed after more than 8 hours of sleep, and our second daughter likes to do this 'deep breathing' exercise at around 6:30am in our bed with my wife (meaning that I had to clear out of the way).
  3. Oh yes, there were donuts - this is my promised reward/indulgence after big races and I always look forward to snacking out on a good Boston Creme.  Even though I visualize myself downing extravagant numbers of deep-fried goodness I wound up only eating the equivalent of three (averaged one each week), and had just a few extra snacks here and there.  Honestly my body didn't go into any kind of let-loose craving mode, so even though I eyed plenty of chocolate and candied treats I don't think that I ended up eating much more than I might normally would have during any given training week.
  4. My weight did climb - and how do I know that?  Because I couldn't stop looking at the scale.  A definite weakness on my part; I weighed in every morning and evening, and watched the numbers climb to a maximum of about 8lbs over my 'training/racing weight'.  I would look in utter dismay at my reflection in the mirror as I saw myself (or at least my impression of myself) ballooning up in size ... this could very well be a borderline disorder for me, and I'm sure that it hearkens back to when I was a rotund, unathletic little fellow in my grade school days.
  5. The knee pain subsided to a degree - I continue to wonder what kind of damage I might have done to the surrounding ligaments on the lateral side of my right knee.  Even with rest I found that my knee would provide ample feedback when it was fully extended and my quads were flexed.  It could be that my IT band simply remains tight and that I need to ask Santa for a foam roller this Christmas, or I did more of a number on it than I might have at first surmised.  So I'll be hitting the roads again tomorrow still not at 100%, but I think that if I don't get out there again my mental state will be more of a liability than my body.
  6. I missed seeing my friends - yes, this introverted runner did miss getting out twice a week with the ever-lovin' RunNinjas, as well as cruising around on Friday mornings with my buddy Steve. 
  7. My attention never really turned away from running - every day I took opportunities to watch running videos, to study the technique and form of some of my favourite distance runners (e.g. Ryan Hall, Yuki Kawauchi, Mo Farah), and read my daily digest of running blogs.
So there it is, in all of its stark reality and ugliness. 

Have you ever struggled to take time off from your favourite activity?  Do you have any tips to share to help me make the most of it the next around?  I'd love to receive your advice, wisdom and feedback - thanks for tracking with me!

13 November 2017

Gimpy racing and the seven-year itch

"Do as I say, not as I do ..."

Words offered by no great leader ever.

The past month or so I've managed to log about 410km on my feet, including two races.  Some might say that that's none too shabby - except that I know that I logged all of those miles on injured legs.

The stubborn part of me refused to accept what my body was trying to communicate - that after pacing The County Marathon this year I needed to scale back and take at least a few days off.  I'm well familiar with the studies and statistics that indicate how your body continues to undergo the process of necrosis (cellular damage/death) after an endurance event like a marathon, and how pushing through that post-race period without sufficient recovery exponentially increases the risk of injury, often as a result of unconscious (and imbalanced) compensation for muscular fatigue. 

But pride is a powerful and dangerous companion.

And so as soon as my pacing duties were over in Picton I took my normal Monday off and resumed training on Tuesday with about four weeks to go in preparation for helping my buddy Rick tackle the Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope.  Against all of my better instincts (and acquired knowledge) I told myself that I couldn't take my foot off of the gas pedal as I had to be in top form to be able to bump out another sub-3:30 marathon time.  Now ** please note ** that this is in no way Rick's responsibility to shoulder - this is all about me playing my cards foolishly.  I was the one who offered to pace Rick in his BQ attempt and I submitted the registration myself.  The last thing that I would want Rick to believe is that this was somehow all his doing when in fact none of it was - I was and will continue to be glad to be able to offer some small amount of help in the pursuit of his goal.

The first symptom that cropped up was a soreness just below my right kneecap - it was probably some IT band inflammation but it definitely hampered my ability to push hard on my speed workouts, and was only alleviated by running slower and shorter.

For better or for worse I managed to keep on plugging to the point that my knee wasn't locking up in pain while I slept, and I took that as a sign of progress.  But that only lasted until my hamstring started rebelling ...

I began to feel a real pain in my a** ... my armchair doctor diagnosis (ably assisted thanks to Google) was that it was either high hamstring tendinopathy or piriformis syndrome.  Whatever it was, it amounted to a stabbing pain deep in the center of my right buttock, and one that no amount of stretching or massage/hammering could alleviate.  My best guess is that it was connected to me running through my knee issues, and I just swapped one locus of aggravation for another.  What I did find out was that it was short-lived, perhaps in part due to the fact that just as it was raising its ugly head I had to relocate my at-home office and decided to opt for a sit/stand workstation.  The switch to standing 4-5 hours a day instead of lounging back in my office chair seemed to act in a therapeutic fashion, and my rearside pain only lasted about 36 hours.

Then it was back to my knee ... only different.

After only a few days of pain-negligible activity I began to feel a soreness radiating around the lateral side of my right kneecap.  It was probably the IT band acting up again but I'd have to say it felt different, although it affected my running gait all the same.   From time to time I'd do a pseudo-wrap of my knee with KT Tape (as my friend Christina observed about my application of the tape, "well, it looks like it's keeping your kneecap in place") which may or may not have helped me to power through the MEC Barrie Race Five (10k).  That particular race was originally to be a goal race for me where the aim was to finally clock the elusive sub-40 min. 10k ... however, I'd forgotten that it was the traditional pre-Hallowe'en event, and far be it from me not to dress up in costume when given the opportunity.  So on a rain late October Saturday I donned my best Angus Young outfit and put out a solid tempo run, weighed down by a soaking wet blue velour jacket.

This year's theme - favourite musicians/rock stars!

Feeling like I hadn't yet crossed the line of irreparable damage (yep, that's the flag on the field that I was waiting for ...) I stepped up to the start line for the Hamilton Marathon with Ricky in the hopes of getting him across in-between the 3:25 and the 3:30 mark.  His prep in advance of the race had gone well (with consistent Facebook posts declaring #ninjastrong and #bringonhamilton) and so it was up to me to try to keep him on track for the entire 42km.  Although the day of the race didn't pretend to offer ideal conditions (consistent rain and anticipated wind gusts up to 35 kph) it turned out to be a reasonably decent day to go long, and we were accompanied for good stretches of the course by other 3:25 hopefuls.
On the upside I managed to keep it together for most of the race, and we were able to get through 27km still on pace (according to my 3:25 pace band), but that's where things got a bit funky.  I wish that I could say that it had gotten funky for me, but it was Rick that was feeling some spasming in his calf that caused him to slow down.  However, in characteristic Rick fashion (because of his incredible mental focus and determination) he was able to claw his way back up to pace and so we spent the next 6km or so surging back and forth, still within reach of the sub-3:30.

However, as we hit my least favourite part of the course - the dreaded 'out and back' segment - Rick was hit with some kind of significant inner thigh/groin pull pain that reduced him to walking for 100m segments.  It was hard to see him struggle to this degree, knowing that his goal time was now slipping beyond our grasp - but I did my best to keep providing him with a moving target while not stretching the imaginary elastic band to the breaking point.  Still, Rick being the warrior he is managed to gut it out across the finish line in 3:43:34.

That's all mental fortitude folks ... #GoRickyGo!

I'm not sure that I've ever really come to the end of a racing season before where I felt like I wanted to take time off, but this year I knew that I needed to.  Call it overtraining, under-recovery or simply the effects of aging, my body wasn't going to have it any other way apart from a complete shutdown.  As such I've entered into a three-week hiatus from any running time on my feet - and this may well be the longest stretch that I will have gone without running since 2010 (perhaps the seven-year itch ...?).  But there's no getting around my need to rest, to heal, and eventually to re-tool for the upcoming year.  

I'm contemplating working with a coach once again as I think that I may need to break out of the self-coached stagnation/plateau that I seem to have hit.  My good buddy Stan reported that he found significant benefits in working with a coach (and if anybody knows the ins and outs of training and running science it's him) so I have a pretty good hunch that it might be to my benefit to have someone else tailor a program for me and to keep me accountable.

Thus was the late autumn of our discontent ... I'm currently enjoying sleeping in, putting on about 10 extra pounds and not feeling the pressure of keeping up with everyone on Strava.  We'll see what December holds, as all I've got on the radar is the Snowflake Series of road races in Orillia.  I sense a change - perhaps multiples changes - in the air.  

Stay tuned ...

07 October 2017

Race report - 2017 The County Marathon (Pacer Edition)

I know that being a pacer is all about helping others to achieve their goals.

But to be honest, having my own goal in mind helped me to give my very best to the runners at The County Marathon this year.

And the goal was simple enough:  finish within the two-second window of my three previous appearances as pacer in Picton. 
  • 2014 - official clock time of 3:29:40
  • 2015 - official clock time of 3:29:40
  • 2016 - official clock time of 3:29:42
So this year, under absolutely splendid conditions (5°C at the beginning, 15°C at the finish, clear blue sky and breezes that couldn't have topped 5kph) all of us marathoners were set up for success ...
  • 2017 - official clock time of 3:29:40
I went into this race training to be my very best, because I knew that if I did any less than that then I would not be able to hold the prescribed pace (4:59/km) and coach/encourage/goad/joke/galvanize the runners around me to hit their targets.  After my first experience (ever) pacing in 2014 at this race I quickly discovered that the role encompassed much more than crossing the finish line within 30 seconds of your assigned pace time, but that it was about creating a helpful and enjoyable 'pocket' within which to run.  If I showed up on race day just being confident of being able to pull off a 3:30 marathon myself, that would cheat the group of having someone who wouldn't rely on a gut-it-out-sprint-across-the-mat finish much less having a motivator alongside them.  As such my training since my failed redemption run at The Limberlost Challenge was all tailored to this race.

I consider myself blessed to have been invited back to serve as a pacer by the self-proclaimed 'bunny herder' for this event, my friend Erin McDougall.  This year he proved himself even more gracious by denying my request to save a parking space on his driveway so that I could sleep in my car (!) and instead opening up his home to let me sleep on his living room couch.  This was all due to my complete inability to properly schedule/space-apart events, as my wife asked me several months back "what are you doing on Sep. 30" - and since that particular date didn't set off any alarms in my head I replied with "nothing, I'm free".  Of course I didn't calculate that I would need to be in Prince Edward County that night since I'd be pacing a full marathon the next day, so we wound up joining a team with her high-school friend and husband in a charity event modeled after "The Amazing Race".

Team Treetop!  (not named because of my height or my wife's ...)

The event didn't involve a lot of extra exercise/activity (which I normally try to avoid the day before a marathon) but it was held in the region of the Blue Mountains, about an extra hour away from Brighton, ON where I'd need to be to spend the night.  This just added to the complexity of my weekend, as the plan for post-race was to hightail-it to Ottawa to take my daughter (a frosh student at Carleton University) out for dinner ... but I was most concerned for the lateness of the hour and the inconvenience that it would post to Erin's family to have me roll in when everyone else was trying to bed down for the night.  As it was, our "The Amazing Race" event wrapped up earlier than expected and I was able to make some decent time on the highway, arriving in 'The County' by just after 8pm ... where leftover supper was awaiting me and a nice relaxed chat with Erin, his wife and kids, their dog (Percy) as well as another pacer (Ned) and his companion.

Race day
Given that the details of arriving at the start line mirror the previous three years' events, I'll just note that while staying warm in the Essroc Arena I connected with a few familiar faces from previous years/other events, including Richard (a tough-as-nails runner who had run with my group at least twice before, and not yet hit his 3:30 goal), Patrick Kelly (an amazing man and runner whom I'd been privileged to meet at the 2016 EndurRun), and my good pal Taylor (with whom I'd worked for several years at The Rogers Cup in Toronto).  This year there was no Kenyan or Ethiopian elite athlete to spy on/meet since this was the first year that The County Marathon did not offer any prize money - a bit of a shame since it was always cool to rub shoulders with the kind of people who were themselves rubbing shoulders with the best runners in the entire world.

Within the first couple of kilometres of the start line I also met up with a few runners who indicated that their plan was to stick with me, including:
  • Albert - who'd just raced in the Berlin Marathon the previous weekend and notched a new PB (3:08), and was also planning to pace a friend in the following weekend's Chicago Marathon - making for three marathons in three weekends in three different countries.  He also brought with him a sportdrink that had Maurten fuel mixed in (now made famous as part of Eliud Kipchoge's Breaking 2 attempt), as they had provided some samples at the Berlin Marathon.
  • Dean - a seasoned marathoner who had posted results all in and around the 3:30 mark.
  • Nathan - a former 140.6 Ironman finisher (at Lake Placid) who had stepped away from endurance sport nearly 10 years ago and was just now trying to get back into it.
Along the way we managed to pick up a few other runners (whom we could have just as easily 'picked off' since many of them fell into the perennial racer's trap of starting out waaaayyy too fast ...) and so our pack grew to about seven, including:
  • Nancy - who was aiming for a BQ but upon seeing my "3:30 FULL" sign immediately exclaimed "Oh man - I'm going at least five seconds per kilometre too fast!".  We encouraged her that she had it in her and that she could use the group as her own personal drafting aid.
  • Shayne - dressed in a super-awesome Spider-man long sleeve tech shirt, but also running in nylon warm-up pants!  
  • Spencer - who dialed into the group at just about the 33km mark and toughed it out (saving most of his breath and energy by not speaking) for his first ever marathon.
As it was we had a really enjoyable time staying together (with a few new faces coming into and out of the group along the way) up to the 35km mark.  This was the furthest that I'd seen a group progress with me in the four years of pacing this event, and so it was a new experience for me and a super-proud moment!  The infamous hill just before the 38km mark did take its toll, but Dean (the last one to hang with me) proved to be mentally tough enough to plod his way up the hill alongside me and picked up steam after we crested it - cruising on through to a 3:29:15 finish.

To be honest I didn't do anything to try to speed up or slow down as I finished the tour of gorgeous downtown Picton and spied the finish line - I felt like I just kept to the effort I'd carried throughout the race, knowing of course that just about everyone picks up thanks to the crowd energy in the closing 150m or so.  I didn't even catch the clock time as I crossed, I was just pleased/surprised that I'd actually carried my "3:30" sign the entire way.

I assumed my 'usual' position at the back of the finishers' chute to watch the other runners come across the line, and I suspect that I was afforded a bit more latitude than other participants (since I was a pace bunny) as the volunteers tried to keep that area clear by having racers keep moving through to the open field adjacent to the roadway.  I managed to connect with Dean (who sounded quite emotional as he gave me a big hug), Spencer, Nancy, Nathan, Shayne and Taylor - all of them pretty spent but still pumped about having enjoyed a glorious day in the sun.

Not that I do this for the vainglory, but I'm pleased that I was able to do what they recruited me to do - and some of the evidence of this came in the form of a couple of generous social media shares from the other runners:

It was yet another spectacular day in Prince Edward County, and each year I have as much (if not more) fun than the year before.  If you're a veteran runner/road-racer and haven't yet tried your hand at serving as a pacer I'd encourage you to explore this option - not just as a way to help bolster the running community but also as a challenge for your own training and race strategy.  For what my opinion's worth, I think that you will be glad that you did!

Key race gear used:


29 September 2017

Race report - 2017 MEC Barrie Race Series Four (15k)

Some races just don't turn out the way that you expect them to ... in a surprisingly positive direction.

This past Saturday I ran in the fourth of five events comprising the 2017 MEC Barrie Race Series, and with three distance options (5/10/15km) I opted to go for the longest one as part of my final preparations for pacing this year's edition of The County Marathon this coming weekend.  I had no real designs on 'racing' the 15km but instead wanted to incorporate one of my regular Saturday "P-Train" (as in 'pain train') workouts into it and otherwise just have a pleasant outing with a number of my RunNinja compatriots.

So the scheduled P-Train workout called for the following:  warm-up + 4x(500m @ 10km race pace w/ 90 sec. recoveries) + cool down.  Now inasmuch as a warm-up is always a good idea, on this given day it might not have been necessary ... at 6:00 a.m. it was already 20°C (with the humidex making it feel like 25°C) and by race time at 9:00 a.m. it would probably feel closer to 30°C at the Orillia waterfront.

I arrived with my usual 60 min. to spare before gun time and had plenty of margin to pick up my bib, chat it up with some of the MEC staff, hit the porta-potty and go out for a light shuffle on the course route.  I also connected with RunNinjas Juan, David, Becca, Christina, Shane, Holly, Laurie and Sarah (all running the 15km), plus Rick and Katya (tackling the 5km).  I was particularly interested in seeing how Katya would fare as she was aiming for a sub-24 min. finish but was (in her pre-children days) a member of Team Russia at the 1996 World Junior Championships in Athletics. There they finished 6th in the women's 4x400m relay, and she would post a PB of 53.08s (!!!).

It was also interesting to hear Juan say that in scanning the crowd he couldn't spy anyone that he would pick as the outright winner of our race, noting that ordinarily he might recognize some of the really fast runners.  I told him to go take a look in the mirror ... but also acknowledged that perhaps the heat was a deterrent to some runners who might otherwise participate, knowing that the conditions weren't conducive to really fast results.

The Race
A number of us were sporting RunNinja-branded tech tees and/or singlets so we thought that it would make for a great starting photo to all line up at the front.  Sure enough ...

Photo courtesy of MEC Barrie Flickr photostream

So right out of the gate I started my first 500m interval and while a couple of folks hung with me for the first 150m or so pretty soon I was out in front on my own.  Even though I shifted right down back to a trot during the 90s recovery segments I had built enough of a lead through the bursts that after the first 2.5km I was out in front by a good 15 seconds or so, being chased down by Juan, Shane and David.  With the temps they way they were I tried to just keep a nice aerobic pace going for the next 11km, enjoying the opportunity to cheer on the 5km racers as they came back toward me (our race started with an extra 'spur' that the other distances didn't have to cover) on the Tudhope Park trail and eventually the 10km runners that I either intersected with or caught and passed.

It's worth noting that while it was pretty crazy hot while running it was probably no better for the volunteers who were at the aid stations and offering spray-misting or wet sponges along the way - my hat's off to them for standing unsheltered in the sweltering heat to make sure that we were staying somewhat refreshed.

By the time that I re-entered Tudhope Park (it was an out-and-back) there was still a decent gap between me and the chase pack but in my head I was playing 'don't-let-them-catch-me' games, so I did pour on a little extra juice in the final 1500m.  I also wanted to make it look like I was working hard for the finishing-area cameras, not like a jerk who was smugly floating his way to break the tape.

Photo courtesy of MEC Barrie Flickr photostream

In the finishing straight I came up behind a gal who was wrapping up her 10k and looked to be just jogging it in, but decided that I wanted to come alongside and really cheer her on to a strong finish.  She heard me as I urged her to pick it up and swing her arms for a great final kick, and she yanked her earbuds out and really started to move it which was so cool to see.  As I've heard said numerous times, "we think that we're running as fast as we can until someone says that a bear is chasing you" - we all have an extra gear.

I didn't even note my time when I crossed through the start/finish arch ... I just took a moment to high five the stranger who had powered herself across the timing mat ahead of me and turned around to go root on my friends who'd yet to complete their races.  In backtracking I found that Juan and David (and many others after them) had taken the wrong fork on the trail just as we re-entered the park area and wound up coming at the final section from the wrong direction (shades of Gary Robbins!) and tacking on maybe an extra 500m to their distance, which would account for why they weren't as hot on my heels as they probably should have been.  I also ran Becca in (she was on the correct home stretch) but after that was asked by race director Lynda to take some pylons out to where the split was unclear to try to help avoid any other misdirections.

Dave taking on cheerleading duties - one of the nicest guys ever!

After all was said and done it was a solid day's effort in gorgeous full-on sunshine (I'm sure that I went home a few tan shades darker) and an amazing showing by all of the RunNinjas.  We managed to claim all of the podium spots in the 15km division, and Katya took home 3rd place female in the 5km division with a killer 22:38!

Photo courtesy of Holly 'Flyby' Trudeau

Here's a video rundown I filmed after finally getting back to my car:

It wasn't a bad day's work after all ... and I'll take a podium finish anytime I can get it!

Looking forward to hopefully getting a few runners across the finish line in Picton with a Boston Qualifying time this Sunday!

#GOlikeneverbefore #haveafastday #getyourmilesin #werunthistown