Thursday, 31 December 2015

Getting Going

Old v new, before and after. 
How does one get from one to the other? 
Let me share what I have learned from personal experience. While I am not a kinesiologist or a dietitian, I know what has worked for me. 

I have since read extensively to better know the theory behind my results. Getting healthy involves a combination of physical activity and proper food intake together. I shall deal with each separately for clarity. 

The Truth About Exercise 
The above graph is known in the business world as the J Curve, or Death Valley Curve. Bare with me here. A new business or product suffers to start with, eventually picking up if it doesn't first fail in the trough of the valley.

Now, imagine the $ sign represents energy level. To start off with, fatigue sets in and recovery is poor without fitness (which is partly about how quickly you can recover). In other words, you will initially feel worse than before you began. 
As with a business, many (or dare I say it, most) give up at or even before reaching the bottom. This explains how gyms go from over-busy back to half full before the end of January every year. 

The break even point on the graph is where fitness has improved enough to recover to pre-exercise levels of energy. Continued exercise beyond this point brings greater fitness and increasing energy reserves (to put it another way, feeling better than ever). Realistically, 3 workouts per week will bring you to this stage in 6-8 weeks. 
Eventually you will plateau, though by this time motivating oneself will no longer be hard. Just you wait and see. 

Food Glorious Food
I started working out in January 2007. Still eating the same foods in the same quantities, my weight barely changed. In September, my doctor warned me that my cholesterol was through the roof - double what it should be. 

She handed me a fact sheet on how to eat healthily in general, with the aim of lowering my cholesterol in particular. 
Here's the real revelation: it told me nothing I didn't already know. All those things that deep down you know you should and shouldn't eat. You could list them all right now, couldn't you? 

Our problem is that we still have the bodies of cave people. We would go a while without eating, so it was best to seek out the most energy rich foods. They taste better as an added incentive and survival mechanism. Combine that with the modern world, it leads to obesity and poor health. 

Key points to remember 
I'm not going to offer a specific plan (meal or exercise), however the following have helped me get to the after photo.

Finding time: it's a little macho to say "no excuses!", and go on a rant about the things people say, but not here. 
Blocking off the time and persistence, and viewing working out as an essential part of your day should be made to override what is essentially the subconscious trying to find justification not to try. 

Gym smart: include resistance work - weights - in your exercise regime. It's not just for bodybuilders, an extra measure of strength makes the rest of your activities safer and more effective. Alternate between the arms and legs, 3 sets of 10 for each with 30 seconds break between sets is a good structure that helped get me started. 

Gym safe: A few things to avoid hurting yourself are also advisable. On the rowing machine, keep your back straight and hands low to protect the lower back. When using a treadmill, do not hold onto the sides except to perhaps steady yourself in the first minute. It gives a false sense of your progress. Above all, do not hold onto the front. There's a guy at my gym who's done that for so long he has a curved back. 

Eat no evil: the best way to cut out the really bad stuff such as ice cream, cookies and chocolate is to leave it on the supermarket shelf. Daily muffin? Replace it, it's one of the worst things for you. The same goes for lattes at Starbucks, it's a big serving of cream with a bit of coffee underneath. 

Portion and proportion control: eating less is an obvious one. What is mostly wrong is probably the proportion of meat and sugar to everything else. Try replacing meat with fish, and even one or two meals a week meat free (gasp!). The same volume of food with a lower percentage of fat and sugar can lead to better health. 

No detox: this comes across as being rather counterproductive, as if the 2 weeks without eating 'bad foods' undoes the negative effects of the other 50 weeks of the year. More beneficial is a proper year-round healthy diet with the occasional treat. Ditch the fads. 

When can you start?
The work is yours, and yours alone to do. It is however you who gets to reap the benefits. Having said that, those around you benefit from a healthier, improved you. All you need is persistence and to be honest with yourself to end up on the right side of the J-curve. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Cross training with mountain dogs

He's a runner. 
High up into the Rockies near Canmore, Alberta for a new experience. Dog sledding, sometimes called "mushing". 
Large dogs usually make A-Chang nervous, but this mixture of various husky breeds was like a gathering of fast-running cuddly toys. 
The trail was at nearly double the altitude of Calgary, itself 1,000 or so metres. 
All keen to meet the huskies, Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours had a clever system in place: the shy dogs wore red bandanas. It meant you could easily identify the friendly ones, some of whom were very friendly. 

First time for both of us, I was a co-driver, with the GoPro taking care of capturing it all. 
Some were really keen to get going.
A-Chang as passenger in the sled had this view. 
The initial acceleration is quite strong. Some of the huskies were literally jumping up and down to get running while stopped.  
For the chauffeurs among us, there was one golden rule: don't let go. 
Always be ready to stop though, because if one dog gets the call of nature, it will just get dragged along on its bottom with all the others. The guides were also looking out for slower sleds, swapping dogs to even things up. 
On the uphill sections, the dogs would look back expecting a little help from the humans - all part of the team. I joined the guide in running up some of the inclines, but I found the air thin, even though I live in the "kilometre high city". The heavy boots didn't help either, but I was never cold. 
Break time, hanging out with Abbie-May. The guides and the 3rd generation owner know every dog's name and personality. More than just work, it's a way of life for them. They were continually looking out for all the dogs' health and happiness. 
There was one near tip over, though the guide quickly undid my bad drunken steering.

One last section in the open, and it was over quite quickly. 
Dog tired. It was a little warm for them, the guides said. 
We must've said thanks and bye to nearly every dog.
According to Strava, the whole trip lasted 59 minutes. Moving time was 44 minutes for a total distance of 9.1 km. The highest speed we reached was 23.8 kmh. 
Off to warm by the fire...
... and contemplate a first encounter running with huskies in the mountains. The best cross training I ever did. 

Thursday, 3 December 2015

2015 Awards

Every year I've been a runner has had high and not so high moments. 2015 maybe even more so. Even the clouds came with a silver lining, often of my own making rather than random luck. 

Here then is a rundown of category winners for my running year of 2015. Each category had only one nominee. 

Hardest Grind 
St Patrick's 5k. As luck would have it, this year's race was dry (it's often icy), offering good conditions to test oneself. Rebuilding after burning out the previous autumn, I aimed to get a sub-20 which at the time was a tall order. I had a hard battle on my hands for the last 1.5k, in the end finishing with 10 seconds in hand. 

Biggest Achievement 
Calgary Marathon 50k Ultra. An unusually warm day for my first ever race beyond the 42.2 kilometre marathon distance. I got into significant cramping trouble at 29km, enough to have a couple of medics check on me. I managed however to guide myself smartly home for the remaining distance (half marathon equivalent). So much so that I actually felt better at the finish. This, along with the action of completing my longest ever distance was my greatest accomplishment of the year.
My thanks to Neil Zeller for the photo of me at the finish, a very apt expression. 

Most Surprisingly Rewarding
Banff 10k. 3 weeks post-ultra, I was a pace bunny for a group of my wife's friends. Most them achieved PBs because I was there to slow them down for the first half of the race, a true demonstration of the negative split. 

Best Performance 
Stampede Road Race 5k. Before nearly every race I run, I have no idea how well it will go. Not this time. In the 5 weeks between the 50k and Stampede, I saw mounting evidence that a PB was achievable despite the undulating course. Despite forgetting to start my watch when the horn sounded, I lowered my PB by 3 seconds to 19:15. The icing on the cake was winning my age group. 
My thanks to Neil Zeller for the photo. 

Most Meaningful 
Torbay 10k. England bound for my Dad's 70th. Staying in his boyhood home of Torquay, it just so happened that his birthday fell on a sunday, the day of a race along the seafront. And so my Dad, brother and I ran. On a holiday beset by rain, it was bright and sunny on race day. 

Best New Experience  
5 Peaks Fish Creek. My first trail race, a great novelty. It was also a fine way to get in a long training run as I chose not to go all out, except the finish on more familiar tarmac when I came piling past 2 others. 

Most Yucktastic Weather
Harvest Half Marathon. Driving cold rain and wind for my 7th Harvest in a row. Despite not running through any deep puddles, my shoes started squelching at the half way point. I'll be back next year of course. 

Biggest letdown 
MEC Race 7 half marathon. I wasn't sure about it before starting, and at 14k my hamstrings cried enough. Fortunately, I knew when to stop, and was plotting my comeback before the day was out. 

Greatest Planning 
2016 is going to be a year of fun, while training seriously. Preparation began on November 1, after a 2 week running break. 
I suffered from late-season burnout, just like the year before. My weakest link seems to be hip/ glute strength - addressing that should unlock more performance. 
Regardless of all obstacles, keep training.  

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

November, easy & yoga

November, we will rebuild
Easing my way back to running, I kept the runs short - single figures - and quite slow. 
Strength training is even more vital than ever, got to get the core strong. Here's A-Chang and I getting our planks in on our anniversary. 
It's time too to reacquaint myself with slippery pathways, despite being able to sneek in a few runs in shorts (my thanks to Tammy Li for the photo). I managed 96k for the month, only doing 60 in October as I had to take a break at the end of the month. 
November was also a time make 2016 training plans and schedule races, all while enjoying the oven-fresh naans along the way. Subjects for another post.

A-Chang wanted to take yoga classes once again, so I decided to join her once a week. 
It's a bit far from home, but is a friendly place that avoids a few of the pretensions that have put me off other venues. 
I do a bit of yoga at home too. The class I try to get to is called "happy hips", an obvious choice for runners. 

Streaking into 2016
I got out to Marda Loop for the start of the Strides Streak. I enjoyed my first run across the dam that wasn't during a race. My runfie face badly needs work though. 
My weekly totals in November: 15.3k, 23.7k, 24.9k, 26.9k. With my 'winter legs' coming back, December is the start of base building. For the first time, I'm following my first base-specific plan. 
The intention is to be in better shape than ever in February when the sharpening phase begins. Those PBs don't run themselves, so let's go. 

As a Calgary Marathon ForeRunner, I have been given a entry to participate in the 2016 race, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Don't mess with the Marshal

I like to volunteer in November, racing is out as I'm usually a creaking gate by this time of year. 
I was stationed at km 11, which was also about km 17.5. A small part of the course on a road, there were 2 of us, and I pulled traffic duty. 
It was turning into quite a warm sunny day by the time 2nd and 3rd places came through. I think the lady on the left once overtook me on a leg of the Banff Ekiden. 
Simon came past, later saying he was having an off day.
In 3 hours there were less than 10 cars, so I mostly used my sign to point the way. 
Simon again, on his way to 'only' 1:28. 
Done by lunch. I wasn't very animated this time as there was another marshal with me. 
Pleasant and quiet, it really was "Last Chance" with snow arriving a few days later. 

Saturday, 14 November 2015

2016 - let's race

I love race day. While I'll always go after a PB if I can, this season is above all about fun. I think I might even be capable of treating a few races as extended training, rather than fastest possible time at all costs. There's always a first time.  
So here's my calendar, hope to see you all out there. 

January 16 (sat): MEC race #1, 5k. 
I have never raced in January, so will do this quick and slippery one. 

March 13: St Patrick's 5k. 
An annual favourite, spring weather or blizzard? You never know. 

April 3: 2XU Compression Run 10k, Singapore. 
Yes, you read correctly. Not a destination race, just a race while on holiday. The course seems to vary a little every year, but if it's flat, I would love to get a PB there. My solitary sub-40 dates back to 2012. 

April 9 (sat): Jabulani Challenge 12k trail, Sydney, Australia. 
Holiday part 2. A trail race on the outskirts of Sydney, really looking forward to this one. 

April 30 (sat): Eyeball the Wall 15k. 
Back to Calgary for a guaranteed PB, will race around the reservoir as a medium tempo training run. 

May 29: Calgary Half Marathon.
The big one. My current PB dates back to 2013, when I finished limping with a pulled hamstring. I'm working on hip and glute strength for a smoother PB. 

June 19: Millarville 8 mile bun run.
You can be a runner or a "bunner", stopping twice to scoff cinnamon rolls. It should look great on the GoPro. 

July 10: Stampede Road Race 5k.
PB'd last year, another would do nicely. So would a flatter course without a turnaround. 

July 17 (sat): 5 Peaks 13.6k trail, Glenbow. 
I had my first 5 Peaks experience last year, really enjoyed it. This is just out of town, should be fun. 

August 6 (sat): 5 Peaks 11k trail, Fish Creek Park. 
The one I did last year, though it seems to have been shortened so might skip it. 

September 17 (sat): 5 Peaks 14.5k trail, Canmore. 
I've raced in Canmore just once (a leg of the Grizzly), an overdue return. 

October 1 (sat): Harvest Half Marathon. 
8th year in a row. The last few have not gone very well, so hoping to put that right. 

October 15 or 16: MEC race #7, 10k.
I had to drop out last year when I took on the half. Finishing is more fun, so 10k it is. 

That's 13 races planned. May the training and fun never stop.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Banff Winterstart

A quirky finish to the season, my first Banff Winterstart. 
7pm start, out of town, up Tunnel Mountain Road and back again with a few flashing lights, the stars and hope to guide the way. 
My GoPro was unlikely to capture much usable film, though its strap was useful for carrying a glow stick. 
For the final time this year, A-Chang was there for logistical and other support. 
The dangling running shoes were a nice touch. 
Getting outside at the last minute, there were more people than I thought. I shoehorned myself into the crowd about one quarter of the way back. I picked up a glow stick on the ground in front of me. I can only imagine the pandemonium if anyone had tripped up at this packed start.  
Guy in singlet...
"Hmm, no warmup. Never mind, this is going to be slow regardless."  
As I was leisurely overtaking people, a few exaggerated toe-offs had me realize the earlier rain had frozen in many spots. 
It takes a few runs on snow and ice to get my winter legs. This was my first such run since about early March. In the dark. 20 or 30 would come piling past each time I slipped a bit and anxiously backed off. 
Up Tunnel Mountain Road following the line of lights, watching out for those stopping to walk. The occasional glance upward at the star show above was all too fleeting. 
A tentative turnaround, I took it slowly down the hill out of apprehension for falling. The light show on the way down was a great distraction. 
A favourite was the guy dressed as a shrimp with his 2 buddies in leopard costumes. 
One runner even brought his dog along, wearing glow rings. 
Memories of winter runs had me slow down at intersections, always the slipperiest. After the turn back onto Banff Avenue, I managed to drop my water bottle. "I don't want to have to buy another one," I concluded, so I went back for it, waving my glow stick like a drunk air traffic controller. 
Back under street lights again, 10 minutes slower than my PB for a 5 miler. A good recovery run though, in which I victoriously didn't fall over. 
Some great costumes around, though the icy patches on course made me anxious. Fun overall, and a nice workout to continue my recovery. 

That's it for 2015. Training for a PB push at the Calgary Half Marathon starts tomorrow. It never stops. I want it to never stop.