Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Banff Marathon 10k - The Rabbit's Regeneration

The recovery continues 
The 50k was something different, in its aftermath another different experience seemed like a good way to continue the recovery. 
Summer's kicking in, though not all the time, unlike May 31's race itself, when it showed up early. 
Back to rebuilding core strength (while watching Netflix), needed to get back raw endurance. The hips still tire quite quickly, though time and hard work is gradually bringing them back. 
There's no shortage of speed however, and I certainly got a chuckle out of being in the lead on this segment on Garmin Connect. It makes a change from my collection of 4th places.

A different idea
I was asked and charmed into being a pace bunny at the Banff Marathon event's 10k distance back in April. 
Through A-Chang and some of my videos, I am apparently a minor celebrity in Calgary's Chinese community. There's an social media grouping called the Dragon Warriors with whom I have a little involvement too. I amuse many with a level of Chinese good enough to make hilarious mistakes. 
The general idea was to pace a group of 6 ladies to 60 minutes, a couple of them would probably pull ahead later on, and 2 others perhaps drop back. 
3 weeks after the 50k, it would be a way of enjoying race day without risk of injury and also a day in Banff with A-Chang. 

Race day
A portent of greatness to come, I found a street named in my honour. 
A 9:45 race start meant plenty of time to get to Banff from Calgary. Fortunately the weather cleared a little by the time we arrived, forecasts had contradicted each other. Package pick-up was the day before, a little inconvenient if living driving distance away, though fortunately one of our group was overnighting. 
The tutus were all well coordinated, my loudest jacket fitting in well. The brains behind the project was Tammy, on the far left. We were entered under the team name The Dragonflies. 
I inflicted my awful dancing on everyone to stay warm. I kind of look like this when I run anyway. 
The crowd applauded Canadian Pacific, keeping an eye on rail traffic on the line we'd all have to cross. The start was delayed for a couple of minutes waiting for a train to pass. 
I was going to run without jacket, but changed my mind just before the start. 
We headed out, and I kept it at a strict 6:00/k. From Garmin Connect, runkeeper, etc, I could see that many of the Dragonflies start too quickly - effecting finishing speed - so I restrained the collective enthusiasm. It was slightly uphill to the turnaround at 4k, so after that would be a good time to pick up the pace. 
Sadly, my gopro's battery had not charged properly and it cut off after 5 minutes. The only thing that didn't go well on the day. 
Tina was a course marshal, so an extra dose of fab and a group photo just a few minutes after my technical difficulties. 
Not that there was a shortage of photographers in the group.. Jin took this one.
This is Rachel, a sub-2 hour half marathoner. 
The rain came along after 10 minutes, though not too heavy. Nice and cool at the turnaround. 
I tried to sing a few Chinese songs, however while I might know plenty of lyrics, I don't know any consecutive sentences.
Xiao Yu and Jenny on the left. 
At the 5k mark by my watch (only marathon signs on course), 29:45 was the time. Keep it going, I said, maybe a bit quicker in a little while. We were joined for a few minutes by the young guy to my right, desperate not to finish behind girls in tutus. He didn't get his wish, as the pace started to gently increase. Chicked...
Back past Tina, "sorry, only a photo of your butt!" I shouted back a joke, can't really remember what exactly - perhaps "there are plenty of photos of that", or "that's my best side." I do know that the lady running next to me thought I was yelling at her.
Jin and Rachel pulled ahead at this butt-photo point, around the 7k mark. Tammy and Li (in yellow in the photos) whom I stayed with were now going about 5:40/k. I didn't try to slow things down, just calling out actual pace while running slightly behind. 
One last photo from Tammy, crossing the first of 2 bridges. I recalled another line from a Chinese song, a propaganda number about a big river. I learned that my falsetto while running needs work.
The course went under the second bridge before a 1k loop around to then cross it and a quick hop to the finish. 

The incline up to final bridge looked steep, said Tammy. It was nothing, and the finish was right after, I replied. "Lean forward, push up it." 
Sharp turn onto the bridge. "700 metres, as fast as you want." Already on target to get a PB, there was quite an acceleration. Looking down, my watch read 4:40/k. Had the Dragonflies all been following my advice, and adding tempos and speed work into their training? 
It was PBs all round, I was told. Tammy took 3 minutes off hers. Jin and Rachel were a couple of minutes ahead, Li just behind with Xiao Yu and Jenny next.

I had merely slowed things down at the start, the result being that every badass Chinese lady in a tutu produced a good negative split to finish strong and fast. 
My watch said 9.63k, probably because of loss of signal passing through clumps of fairly thick tree canopy. Still, a measured course, and all times stand. 
A collective post race stretch is quite a common practice for all of them. The photographer took a while, I had to switch legs a couple of times.

So now I know what others mean when they talk about how rewarding being a pace bunny is. Using one's own experience to help others outdo and surprise themselves is simply magical. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Post 50k legs

Uncontrolled exits from buses. Falling like a tree into bed to avoid bending the knees. A vendetta against stairs. Needing a crowbar to get out of a car. Or into it.
Such are the consequences each time I run a marathon, or in this case a 50k. 

Stats from my race show that I was stationary for nearly 7 minutes. I consumed a whopping 4,049 calories, the equivalent of about 3 days' food. In hindsight, my condition improved over the final 18k, gently easing myself to the finish. I was much better at the line, and the gradual recovery has continued since then. 

A marathon or ultra is done for the challenge. It certainly lifts the spirits when lots of praise comes your way. 
The main drawback is not being able to get right back into running straight away (lacing up after even a half can be done within as little as 2 days if taken gently). 

The first steps of the day open the eyes. 
It seemed like I couldn't extend my leg forward. Bending at the waist to shift weight forward starts a gradual falling motion, which could perhaps be called "walking". That first set of stairs has you wishing for the ability to walk on your hands. 
On tuesday, I did my tried and tested first post-race workout. 20 minutes on the exercise bike and a 10 minute walk. Without bringing on fatigue, it engages the body's recovery mechanisms and flushes the muscles of broken fibres and lactic acid. 2 hours later, stairs no longer brought on a grimace even if not completely comfortable without using the rail.
A gentle weights routine the next day and stretching, and a repeat of tuesday's workout on thursday and friday. I went back to my full core/ weights workout on saturday, only feeling a mild burn in the quads.

Sunday, a return to running. It felt odd at first, mainly because it's odd to not run for 7 days. "10k, try to keep it quicker than 5:00/k." 
Settling in after 10 minutes, a little devil on my shoulder whispers "faster, you know you want to..." Another 5 or so minutes and despite the heat it got easier and quicker. Eating up a steep hill, accelerating at the top, it was a quietly thrilling return to action. 

Monday, 1 June 2015

Finding it: Calgary Marathon 50k Ultra

Before the gravitas of the race, the buildup. On friday, I took part in the Forerunner panel at the expo. The photo makes us look like a choir, and we do all sing a great tune.
That evening was the VIP party. Rich was hosting a visiting athlete, Benny, for the race weekend. I surprised him with a word of Swahili I remembered from Reid Coolsaet's blog. Reid was there, though I was a little shy speaking to any of the other elites.
Elite bloggers were there, just time for a group photo before heading off for an early night.
Saturday, and I showed up for the friendship run for my first time. It's a fun way of getting in a pre-race shakedown and building positive vibes for the race. Cool with a light drizzle. 
I was also part of saturday's ForeRunner panel. 
We all love to talk all things running, so it was a blast. A bit of a blur now, the one thing I can remember saying is that the runner I admire most is Haile Gebrsellasie. Aside from his record-breaking career, he shows a love of running that all of us, regardless of ability, can relate to. 
Looking ahead to the race, the hourly forecast showed a big temperature increase by 10am. A heavy sweater, 17 degrees and rising by the end of my first 50k Ultra was a concern. The day would require mental fortitude. 

Race day
The start line vibe was, as usual, palpably all positive. 
It felt like good running weather, though I knew it would be getting warm, and quickly. I had also forgotten the sunblock, facepalm. 
GoPro at the ready, I knew I'd need to switch it on and off several times to last the race. 
Great to capture the army of runners.
Also Rich, never to be seen again (in the race). 

Picture perfect start. 

Vitally, I started off at race pace from the first step instead of the usual adrenaline-fuelled-nutter-sprint. 
First of 3 times along the underpass, a sharp right saw a runner shove a cyclist entering the course. 
Heading into Inglewood and across its historic bridge, due to be replaced in the next couple of years. 

Elvis and a runner taking out the trash, Inglewood 12th St bridge. 
17th avenue saw the half and full/ 50k courses separate. 
More crowded for me than when I do the half, which is considerably faster. 
It was a relief to get to the marathon turning, less concentration needed on road positioning.
Nice to be recognized at km 11. I had noticed feeling warm by this point. Drop the pace a little, adjust that finish time. 1:42 at the half marathon point, and I realized my bandaids had fallen off you-know-where when I started to feel an itch. 
Just before the halfway mark, reached in 2:02, I felt a familiar hamstring twinge. This was my warning to take a walk break within 5k or grind to a long halt with severe cramping. 
Before that, a couple of minor traffic snafus, including wrong lane and hasty reverse.
Then one too many at the next junction. A small orange patch had now taken shape on the front of my singlet. 

The Grind
At the 30k aid station, I took a walk break. Being a slightly less exciting stretch of road, I had the camera off to save on battery power when the low point came. 
My hastily devised plan was to take a walk break every 5k. Coming off the Crowchild overpass and approaching the 32 km sign, my right leg turned to concrete. Painful, unyielding concrete. Don't let the knee bend, stretch it out and start walking I told myself. I tried this more than 3 times, each time my leg tried to fold. 

"Hey, what's happening?" A couple of medics had shown up. "I dehydrate a lot, leg's locked up." I explained how it had happened to me before. My responses were lucid enough that in hindsight I think I was starting to bore them.
"What do you want to do now?" "Wait for this to pass, get walking, and carefully manage things. I can finish." Writing this now, it's a bit surprising I didn't have to have a motivating chat with myself to psyche myself up. I merely issued that statement as if it were as bland as something one says in small claims court, and got moving. 

The Voyage Home
Sponges and cups of water were plentiful at aid stations. Each time I dumped water on my head, my pace quickened until it warmed up again 2 minutes later. 
At the second turnaround, I was slow working out what to do with the wristband (needed to make the cut-off), so I was given a second one. A fitting double souvenir.
The third and final turnaround at about 41k, elated to be putting the distance behind me, albeit slowly. 
And another.
I crossed the full marathon timing mat just under 3:50, to move into uncharted territory. One bonus was that I had thrown so much water on myself that the stain on my singlet had washed away. Result!

With around 5k remaining, I caught up to Ashley, whom together with Rich I've done a couple of relays with (and is also a spin instructor). Moving along at 5:30 pace after the 2nd last aid station, we took a walk break through the final aid station. After taking one of everything (cup of water, energy drink, and sponge), we got moving again. 
Approaching the underpass for the 3rd and final time, Ashley noticed everyone running on the sidewalk instead of the road, so we did the same. What a great idea. 
It was far less of a plunge, but there were still a couple of marathoners in difficulty.  One lady stopped right in front of us, easily avoided as we were hardly running fast. 
Next was a guy who stepped off the sidewalk. The 10cm drop was enough by now to produce a wobble, which was then turned into a controlled fall. "Damn cramp" he said. 
The 49k sign was metres after him. I told Ashley if she wanted to go on ahead for the finish, she could. She pulled ahead, though after a couple hundred metres slowed to a walk. A tap on the arm and she took off again. She ended up winning her age group, and so did Rich. 
2nd from last corner, now within crawling distance. At the very last corner, there was loud cheering from a few people I know which spurred me on. I am most grateful to them and all those who encouraged me, many by name, others spotting my camera or noticing my Canada singlet. It all helps, especially in the last half of a hot race. 

I celebrated all the way down the finish straight, geeing up the crowd. 
I ended up with 4:37:11. While I had been aiming for 30 minutes quicker, I knew at about 1/3 distance that the weather was firmly in charge. From 168 finishers, I was 47th. Top 50 had actually been a loose aim of mine beforehand, so pretty pleased with my placing. 
A massive thanks to all volunteers, all of whom knew that finishers like me would need gentle guidance, such as which recycling bin to throw my cup in. 
Ace photographer Neil found me at the finish, armed with his favourite fisheye lens. 
I like it too! I feel this portrait captures the essence of many runners: deliciously bonkers. 

The sprinkler was frankly heavenly, I let out a big aaahhh, which came out more like "blaaaaauuuuurrrroooohhhh". 
The most trying race I've done by far. The magnitude of what I've done started to sink in even before the finish line, however what strikes me most now is the calmness shown dealing with a near disaster.