Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012 and all that...

It's been a long year. While I wish I could race every weekend, it does lead to fatigue and strains even if not full-blown injury. Having said that, this was my best season yet.
I thought I had nearly plateaued when it came to the 5k. For the St Patrick's 5k, I had expected to PB by a couple of seconds. Instead I finished with 23 seconds to spare. Placing in my age group, I won a beer glass too.
Performance of the season? Either this or the Harvest Half.
One key time barrier I was looking to break since 2009 had been 40 minutes in a 10k. Somehow my PB had been stuck at 41:28 since 2010. Now for the Spring Trio in April. It was pretty warm that day, but along the Bow River pathways and with some quicker guys ahead to pull me along, I outdid myself even more than at St Patrick's the month before.
39:23, 4th overall and 2nd place age group medal.
My enthusiasm got the better of me and I went too hard in training right after the Spring Trio. Compromised training, not enough raw endurance work and probably a need for a different in-race nutrition plan (I sweat a lot) meant 4 stretches on the way to a time quite a bit slower than I am at least theoretically capable of in the Calgary Marathon.
Still, I'm not going to complain about a 9 minute PB, although I have unfinished business with the full marathon.
Another 5k at the Stampede Road Race, and perhaps a slightly underrated performance. 6 weeks post-marathon, hot temperature and the most Mickey Mouse u-turn I've seen and still a 19:46, 2 seconds quicker than last year.
Now I digress. Mud Hero was a beautifully fun day with A-Chang, and kind of a celebration of being fit and healthy. Speaking of A-Chang, I watched her do a local community 800m, flying past the leader on the home straight like a missile.

About this time, I decided to release myself from the fixation with qualifying for Boston. This is not my aim, though the time, 3:10, is still there as a long term target.
I changed my weights routine and took up hot yoga. There's no photo of that, not a pretty sight. Works for me - after marathon in December, my stiff right foot and curled-up toes improved markedly.
The Harvest Half Marathon is the other race in my joint top performances of the season. Having taken it easy for 8 weeks after the Calgary Marathon, I got some good quality training in, with hills, in the build-up. The half marathon is my distance. Odd that this was my only half in 2012, but it's been my favourite race since my first one in 2009. I know the course extremely well, and used it to the full. 73 seconds came off my old PB, which is now 1:26:48, almost 20 minutes up on my first ever half. Perfect weather, and 7th place.
I ran a leg of a trail race a week later, quite an education. Aside from the Harvest Half, best scenery a runner could ask for at the Grizzly Trail Ultra.
December 2 brought the odyssey that was the California International Marathon. The trail race straight after a half had an effect on my training - the hip flexors take a battering from those downhills - basically the same mistake as in April. There's that and it ending up my slowest marathon by 10 minutes.
That doesn't tell the full story behind what may end up being the most memorable race I ever do. Arrival in Sacramento was a day before the race instead of the scheduled 2. Strong winds and very heavy rain on race day on top of all that. Absolutely out of this world.

There's just the ritual of the Resolution Run 5k on New Year's Eve left, and only then is the year over. After 4 weeks of comparative r&r, it's time to see out 2012 in style and with fresh legs.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

California International Marathon: When It Doesn't Rain...

This marathon started not in Sacramento on sunday December 2, but at Calgary airport on friday November 30. With heavy rain forecasted for race day, first I had to wait out a 6 hour delay for my flight. Due to change in San Francisco for a 40 minute hop to Sacramento, we got on our first plane knowing there were no spots on any other flights for either that day or the next.

So, having been put up overnight by the airline, we took the shuttle bus back to the airport to get on the Bart (light rail), and then hop on the Amtrak train to Sacramento. We were going to be doing this on the way back anyway so we A-Chang could shop in San Francisco before flying back. I guess I will never get to see Sacramento airport and the Yolobus to downtown :(

One great thing happened on the train which I have to share. You can pay for your ticket on the train in the US, which I already knew. First of all the conductor asked for ID, and asked where we were going. Having seen my Canadian driver's license, he left a note on the locker above us as with most passengers, and said he'd be back later. When I saw him with 10 minutes to go before our stop, I reached into my pocket and he said "don't worry about it." When we got off, we approached him on the platform and he simply smiled. I asked if we should pay at the station, "no, that's ok". I asked him if he was sure - "oh, I'm certain". Fighting the urge to give him a hug, I patted him on the shoulder and gave a heartfelt thanks. Needless to say, he shall remain anonymous.

So, arrived at the hotel 2pm on saturday, instead of 6pm friday. At least we didn't miss the expo, so I'd make it to the start. Then we had to find some supplies for my breakfast and gatorade for my bottles during the race. We were back at the hotel at 5pm or so.

To set the scene then: instead of doing a quick shakedown run the morning before, followed by sitting around and carb loading, I had spent most of the day travelling and walking and eating only a modest amount. All along, I was aware that the forecast would be for a centimetre of rain per hour with wind gusting up to 60kph (40 mph) on race day.

I could hear the wind outside as I was getting dressed, and looking out of the window many of the trees were swaying. If this had been a training day, I would've waited until the afternoon when it was due to clear up (but of course), or cross-trained. Being a point-to-point race, all the nutters runners filed onto buses to the start at Folsom. The quickest way back would now be doing the race. I had 2 jackets - one I wore during the race, and another that I put in my bag to pick up at the finish.

Photo: Sacramento Bee
Getting off the bus, I was side-swiped by the wind and sprayed in the face by the rain. Close to the start line, there was a gas station. Lots of people took shelter by the pumps. and others stayed inside the store next to it. The cashier shook her head in bewilderment many times. Among all the banter, one joke stood out. One guy was putting on A535 or similar, and had dropped rather than taken off his tracksuit to do it. Another guy said "where else can you stand with your pants around your ankles and not get arrested?"

With about 20 minutes to go, I made my way to the bank of toilets/ portapotties. There must have been several hundred - the race was flawlessly organized even with the conditions. There was no banner to mark the start line as it would simply have blown away and hit someone. I ran from my pitstop to the start and almost crossed the timing mat, so edged a little backwards. My new gopro camera got a few looks and comments - quite the occasion to use it for the first time.

Star Spangled Banner and countdown, before which I summed up the race before we'd even started by saying, "well, we're all nuts". Off we went, and aside from the wind and rain the sound I mostly remember was a collective swishing noise from all the runners starting with trashbags on. Unless you were wearing waterproof shoes - or those who had tied bags around their shoes which is a little dangerous at speed - your feet were soaked already.

It was a relief to get to the first turn, out of the headwind and into "only" a crosswind. Some started discarding their bags at this point. For the first hour, it seemed to me that the wind got stronger and the rain heavier.

One impressive site was the blind runners and their guides. I can only guess how intense the conditions felt for some of them. There was some debris on the road, though only sticks and twigs. I heard that the course had been re-routed due to a fallen tree somewhere, although I can't say I noticed.

About an hour in, with the wind at probably its strongest, I twice saw palm tree branches fall onto the course. They didn't hit anyone.
An impressive number of people were out on the course, many with their dogs which ranged from enthusiastic to forlorn-looking. The wettest part was the town of Fair Oaks.

A few parts of the road surface had subsided at the edges. It first sloped left to right, before a left turn to go uphill along the main street and back down again. At that left turn, there was no shallow line at all, just an inch of flowing water to slosh through. Just after Fair Oaks, a guy wearing a bikini came sprinting past in the opposite direction. Uber-spectator.

Mankini Man


Big Bird's found new work despite being saved...
It was about 2 and a half hours or so when I noticed the wind fade away, though the rain kept coming. On past performance and given the less than ideal build-up I figured that attempting a PB would lead to cramping.

Coming in to Sacramento, that happened once, and I backed way off the pace and took frequent walking breaks if I felt at risk of it happening again. I suppose I am pleased that I had my priorities straight - not to run myself into the ground trying to be matcho. On one such walk break, I saw a sign that read "smile if you've peed yourself just a little." It made me laugh so much that a large group of Californians now think I'd engaged in an accidental bout of self-irrigation.

At about the mile 23 sign, the camera's battery was finished. Next marathon I do, I'll have to carry an extra one.

It must have been about mile 25 when the rain stopped. A few minutes after that, the sun came out. I then did the last 3 minutes holding my folded up jacket in one hand and camera in the other. After all that had happened during the race, getting to Sacramento, hip flexor trouble in the weeks leading up, I guess it just had to be. It must almost seem like the sun coming out part is made up.

Picking up my bag. Muddy in there.
What was not made up was my time of 3:39.33, which is my slowest time by 10 minutes. 1,300th place out of 6,514 finishers. Some 9,000 were registered, so a whopping 2,500 didn't start or dropped out. Looking at it a week later though, I'm at least partly glad the weather was so biblical. It's not always about the time, and while I may envy the perfomances of elite runners, they face heartbreak when things don't go their way. For the rest of us, there is the ideal of savouring experiences such as this, and finishing with your head held high.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Who'll stop the rain?

The last time I did a flyaway, to Quebec City last year, I caught the beginnings of Hurricane Irene. This time, it looks like I'll be heading into heavy rain in California.

The weatherman's been in a teasing mood for the past week. Rain. Sunny. Rain. The closer race day (Sunday) gets, the more hope fades for a dry race. It might stop raining a few hours after. Hopefully that'll be a few hours earlier. A co-worker lent me a transparent cycling jacket which in worst case scenario weather should provide excellent protection. Any stalls at the expo will doubtless sell out of that kind of thing.

It's a question of waiting to see what happens on race morning. Runners can stay on the shuttle buses until 15 minutes before gun-time. If the wind is in my favour, a PB could still be on the cards. Otherwise, I will treat it as an epic test of fortitude and enjoy laughing in the cloudy face of adversity.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Come back, legs

Can now draft posts on my iPhone. Isn't that great? Just don't ask me where I'm sitting as I write this...

So my chiropractor was concerned enough to tell me to come back just 1 week later. Left hip flexor again, showing the effects of running in "mashed potatoes" (snow) for over 30k on a Sunday.
2 mid-week runs on the bike have seen a quick recovery. Last Sunday was a 22k which I did in exactly 2 hours, and only a slight pulling.
The more general lifeless feeling of high levels of fatigue was still there. I know however that strength will return by race day. Before the Harvest Half, it was only 4 or so days beforehand that they roared into life.
I can't wait for the blowtorch sensation to fade, as right now another familiar feeling is reintroducing itself: pre-race excitement. This emotion is one of the many reasons why I run.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Peak week done, thoughts on California International Marathon

I felt felt a touch burned out after sunday's long run. This coming week is only a little less workload than that just gone, but the easing off should start the build-up towards race-day energy levels. Snow and cold inevitably slows you down. There's the weight, drag and resistance of the extra clothing, the loss of efficiency from the low temperatures and loss of traction (both in slipping and snow absorbing the energy being put into the ground that would otherwise go into more forward motion). Feeling rather flat, I made my sunday run time-based instead of distance - 2 hours 45 minutes.
"Trust the process" is a mantra I've read and practiced for training. I felt rather wiped before the Harvest Half, with the feeling of speed and strength only coming to me a few days before the race. Look how that turned out:)
Last marathon I did, Calgary in May, I aimed for 3:10 and got 3:20:47 having to stretch 4 times (though still a 9 minute PB in my second marathon). For CIM on December 2, and with a watch that doesn't seem to have a "too fast" warning, I'll set it for 3:20:00, and pull slightly ahead of it. Gaining one minute every 8.5k will add up to a 3:15. I'd like this 3rd marathon of mine to not involve having to stop and stretch at all. Most vitally of all, I should finish one more race with the Mobot.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Snow stress and muscle memory

A bit of S&M recently. The first snowy run a week ago brought with it a slightly scary refresher course in winter running. It was as if I'd never run on snow and ice before. With an altered, heel-crashing stride, my hip flexors didn't like it at all. They had been tight since the Grizzly Ultra and all its crazy downhill trails.
2 days later, it seemed like I'd been running in sub-zero weather all summer. I noticed how I could tell what I was about to step on (what was under the snow - ice or none, etc) by looking at a spot a few metres ahead. That's quite a relief as it's usually this time of year that I'm backing off to fully recover and slowly get used to the (extreme) cold before ramping up for training again in January. No time for that with 4 1/2 weeks till Sacramento.
Sunday's 28k run was a little rough. Either going through snow or slush (very porous shoes!) was draining, now I need to revert to out-and-backs on the prepared pathways which will make for rather boring long runs. I had also done hot yoga that morning 4 hours before, instead of the usual saturday late afternoon. I found myself walking up the last hill 1k before the end, about 4 hours of accumulated workout. Not bad considering. When I got to the top, I had to say out loud "and running in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.." Yesterday (monday) I felt to stiff and exhausted to do my recovery run. To my delight though, legs and energy seemed to come back to me in the afternoon.
So, no more yoga before a run on the same day. For November then it's a matter of keeping myself just the healthy side of exhaustion until taper time.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Next stop Sacramento

The California International Marathon is on December 2nd. With some 8,000 runners, it'll be the biggest race I've taken part in. The end of October is usually down time until training begins in January for spring races. In a sense then I'm not looking forward to the next 5 sundays of 24, 28, 30, 32 and 30k. I know however that it'll be worth it for race day, and if I waited until Dec 31 for the ritual of the Resolution Run 5k, I'll be chewing the sofa for want of a race. 
The Grizzly Ultra gave my quads such a thrashing on the downhills that it looked like I might end up nursing myself to the startline a little like the Calgary Marathon at the end of May. Right at the top of the hip flexors I could feel a pulling, which is very pronounced when doing a lunge. My chiropractor seemed concerned, and told me to come back in just 2 weeks.
It seems that this trouble is slowly fading though. My first yoga session after the Grizzly worked very well to getting the flexability back. I've avoided any hill work, and take any downward gradient with very short steps. Instead of making wednesdays and fridays long intervals and marathon tempos, I've made them both marathon tempos. The reduction in speed, i.e. the elimination of the long intervals, has helped as well. It might also help in slowing me down at the start and not running at 10k pace in giddy excitement.
The giddy excitement is coming from the Gopro Hero 3 camera I just ordered. The hope is that my headcam vids, an extra passion of mine, will look less earthquaky. I aim to use it as a general camcorder too, helps justify the cost. I am calling it an early Christmas present, though a PB on December 2 would be the real gift.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Grizzly Ultra Canmore race report

"You did an ultra?!" I hear all 3 of you yelling incredulously. Leg 2, at least. I've never done a trail race before, so why not when Rich (of Harvest Half and general fame) asked me to fill a space in his company team.
The Canmore Nordic Centre hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic cross-country and biathlon events. I am a complete novice in the trail world, but I think it's a good place for an event like this. There were 5 legs, each starting and finishing at the Nordic Centre. Some were doing it as part of a relay, others solo. My fastest friend Scott was doing the solo, his first ultra. 8 days post-Harvest Half, my aim was to enjoy it and not lose any body parts.

It was sunny most of the day, though slightly chilly. Brent started for us, amidst a field of serious soloists and teams as well as those happy to finish and a team of guys dressed as chickens turkeys.
Back indoors for an hour to keep warm and then my turn. My barely used Salomons got an outing, and my feet had superb grip for the entire leg. I now have a Garmin forerunner 410, a GPS watch, which I still have trouble finding my way around.
I have no idea what I'm doing here.
Brent came in for the handover, and I had to be reminded to take my coat off. Rich, who was going to be doing leg #3, reminded me to take the chip-armband off when I got back for a quick handover.
My watch went back to normal time mode when I got the chip, so I spent half of the first hill stabbing my wrist getting it going/ set. That was the least of my worries. Having not seen a couple of the signs, I must have taken a hairpin bend too many. Without signs I could see, I followed the 2 guys in front. Their fault. Stopping for a brief conference, I suggested keeping going away from the Nordic centre, and after about 10 minutes saw leg #2 signs again.
Most of my leg was spent being passed/ re-passing an experienced trail runner, doing the entire race solo. He would tend to fly past on the downhills and I'd re-pass on the uphills. I tried to follow the line he picked, and also which surface - sometimes the grass edge, or mud or gravel, etc. Some of the rockier sections - 10 cm loose rocks, he was able to effortlessly skip across while I would walk in the fear of turning my ankle.
One solo lady runner was passing/ repassing me later on in a similar manner. I passed her at the halfway drink stop. When she re-passed I thought she'd disappear into the distance. When I came over a brow however, she was stretching her hamstring. After this, I was swapping places with both of these 2 until the finish of the leg, which was only halfway for them.
The view of the Rockies never gets old...
My 12k leg was, according to my new watch, 12.7 including the wrong turn. I finished up in 1 hour 6 minutes.
I had the chip ready to hand over, and Rich arrived from a bio-break a few seconds later. Apparently, I appeared at the top of the hill just seconds before he went.
Rich overtook Scott right at the end of his leg. This was about 38 km into it for Scott by this point, and must be the first time I've seen him looking fatigued.
Nicole headed out for leg #4. My camera work was all over the place (holding headcam in hand), so no action shots I could really use. She's in orange above. Ashley is below, next to guy in black.
I had the camera pointing up at the end, so missed Ashley bringing it home for the team. Quite pleased after the finish though. We finished 12th in the team event, with a time of 4 hours 31 minutes.
Scott managed 5th place in the solo event, picking up a couple of places in the last 10k from good pacing.
A week later, my hip flexors are somewhat paying for the downhills, though I wouldn't have traded this for mere rest. What new thing's next? A sub-3:20 marathon (road!) on December 2..
The headcam movie is here. I am seriously contemplating upgrading to a gopro, I would like California International Marathon to not look like I'm disappearing down the San Andreas fault.