Monday, March 29, 2010

Taper time

Yesterday, I did my last 20 mile training run before Boston. Reaching the end of a training cycle before a taper is a pinnacle – at this point, if you haven’t done the training or put in the effort, it is simply too late. The focus for the next three weeks changes to recovery, nutrition and removing stress….much more passive than training and it is sometimes hard to wrap your head around doing less. For this reason, I always like to have a strong last long run to boost my mental game going into the taper.

The route I chose was an out-and-back from my house in Kits to Dundarave Pier in West Vancouver. This route is a “greatest hits” album of what Vancouver has to offer a runner…a quick tour of Cornwall past Kits beach, jaunt over Burrard Bridge, sweeping views over English Bay, throw in some Stanley Park trails, over the Lions Gate and then a nice long stretch in the middle past Ambleside out to the Pier. It is not an “easy” run, with Prospect Point looming in the first third of the run, but I find it really soothing.

Since my first marathon in 2005, one of the things I have learned is to embrace the long runs in training. It is so hard to explain to a non-runner the joy that I find in the solitude of a 32 km run….but there is just something so peaceful about concentrating on nothing but the next step and reveling in the gorgeous backdrop that the North Shore mountains and English Bay provide.

Admittedly, running can be a slog sometimes, when you are tired, when the wind is howling or the rain is driving in your face….but not yesterday. Passing English Bay beach, the water was barely rippling. The temperature was perfect – not hot, not cold. The sunshine even popped out from behind the clouds a few times. I marveled at the scenery, thought about how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful city and reflected on how fortunate I am to be able to run.

Novice runners and non-runners will inevitably tell you that they "can't run" or don't enjoy it because it hurts. Yes, yes it does hurt. But you gradually learn how to embrace the pain a little….and learn to trust in yourself to push a little harder. You learn to differentiate between the good hurt and the bad hurt and you learn when to say no, and when to keep pushing. You can choose….every section of every run can be made into a challenge or you can slow down and coast through. Yet, persevering through adversity always results in a little revelation about yourself. You can do it.

I hauled my tired legs up Bridal trail even though my legs and lungs were screaming at me and taunting me to stop….each step telling myself, No, Mr. Hurt…you will not prevail today....I am going to embrace the challenge in front of me and work through it. And soon, the laboured breath, self-doubt and pain peeled away as I crested the hill…. a short pick-up over the arch of the bridge and I found myself joyously stretching out my legs and pacing down the long, gentle incline of the Lions Gate while marveling at the gorgeous backdrop. Waving and saying good morning to the other runners…with a smile on my face. Heading down the stairs and back to sea level, I sped up to race pace for the out-and-back to Dundarave Pier. Five years ago I would not have done this because I didn’t believe I could do it. 10k of race-effort sandwiched in the middle of a 32k run…are you crazy!? Cannot simply does not exist. I can.

Finally, 32k later and 2:40 after I set off, the feeling of bliss….returning back to Point Grey Road knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do. Legs tired and a bit winded from a last kilometer sprint, I was completely done, yet in an exhilarated and happy way because I know I put the effort in and succeeded. Five years ago, I struggled to finish my first marathon at a pace slower than what I run my training runs at today. Even better, I have no blisters and I can walk today without any pain. It’s a quiet little revelation for me, especially on my last long run before Boston. It will not win a race or change the world….but I know I put in my best effort, and that counts for something.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mercer Island Half-Marathon

I ran the Mercer Island, WA half-marathon this weekend as a tune-up for the quickly approaching Boston Marathon in 4 weeks. Tune up indeed!

I was forewarned that the course was hilly and the competition stiff, and had set my expectations accordingly. Completely opposite from the pancake flat, lulling half in Phoenix in January, there was no single stretch of flat that simply allowed me to settle into a pace - instead, a continuous series of quick, undulating ups and downs as we circumnavigated Mercer Island. Good thing the island happens to have a circumference of 13 miles :)

The winding course also meant that it was necessary to run tangents and watch footing as the camber of the road changed constantly. Cut inside down through the turn, back outside up around the bend, over and over.

My race strategy was to see how I felt on race day and run accordingly. If I was feeling off, the plan was to run at marathon goal pace (4:45/km); "on" was anything faster than that. My heart rate skyrocketed from the get go, holding around 179, higher on the hills. Although I have not been tested for a couple years and my zones have probably changed, I tend to view 180 as a zone 3 "redline" was trying not to get too freaked out by the read out on the HRM. From the perspective of perceived exertion, I felt like I was around 80-85%. I took my first gel at 30 minutes because there was no electrolyte drink on the course and was feeling a little thirsty. At 10k, my watch said 44:00 and I decided to keep at 'er.

From 8k through 16k, the course wound upward, followed by a sharp downhill section at 18km. At this point I felt freaking fantastic and knew I was in PB territory. If I could hold a 4:30/km pace, I would be under 1:35....which was baffling because the course was so much harder than Arizona.

If there is one lesson I have learned from running marathons, however, it is that feeling "freaking fantastic" is fleeting at best. And sure enough..."freaking fantastic" lasted about 200 metres. Wham! At precisely 18.14k, some nasty race planner decided to insert a mother of a hill that rose 40 metres in elevation over the next 600 meters. I sucked wind and tried to focus on anything and everything to distract me from the hill and my spiking heart rate. 185bpm. Yikes.

At 19k we were rewarded with a sharp downhill. Aaah. I kept my turnover high and sped up. Back down to 176bpm. And then another uphill, followed abruptly by ANOTHER uphill to the finish line. Seriously....a three hill uphill finish. Gaaaasp. Ack. Despite knowing that the finish line was only a few hundred metres away, I seriously contemplated walking up the last hill. 1:34 on my watch. Big hill in front of me. So long PB.

As far as finishes go, I left everything out on the course on this day and could not have run another step. My watch was telling me 1:35-something and honestly, I didn't care. I was extremely proud of the effort and yet humbled by the hills. It was a good reminder that you can run a perfect 9/10ths of a race and watch it go in the toilet on the final 1/10th.

The running gods must have felt sorry for me on this day, however, because they managed to rewind the clock....or perhaps I was just moving quicker up that last hill than I felt? Final time: 1:35:01 and a skinny little 7 second PB.

Official finish time 1:35:01
Pace: 4:28/km
Overall 179 / 2137
Female 24/1060
Category 5/ 193

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hello, windshield....

Sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes you are the bug. Yesterday was decidedly a "bug" sorta day.

After coming off my highest volume weekend of training to date, I admittedly overdid Monday a little with a 2500m swim at noon and the Mike McIvor-designed "hilly" stage 12 of the Peak winter racing series (aka 25.4k of indoor racing hell....gasp!). This did not prepare me well for what Tuesday had in store.

At 4:45am, my alarm rudely reminded me that this was the first day of my swim sessions at UBC with the Pacific Dolphins. Gone was the warmth and comfort of my tri-swim class at the downtown YWCA, replaced with the brash reality of a gruelling workout in the outdoor long-course pool at UBC. Let's just put it this way....I got my a** handed to me in the slowest lane!

The combination of an early morning start and a cumulative 3 days effect of pretty heavy workouts left me completely exhausted all day, yet I meekly managed to lace up my trainers for the 45 minute steady state run prescribed by my schedule. Gone was the spring in my step from the weekend, replaced with lead-filled legs and utter fatigue. My glacial pace of 5:20 on the first km felt like the 40k marker of a marathon....oh how quickly your body can remind you exactly who is boss. It was an absolutely gorgeous evening - sun setting over English Bay, calm water at Kits beach - but I wasn't revelling in the scenery. Every step was a push. I willed myself to run 3k, then 4, then 5, so absolutely relieved when I reached my turnaround point.

Eating humble pie seems to be a good thing once in a while...keeps me focused and reminds me that I have limits. I'd rather realize that now than on race day.

So no windshield today. All bug. But tomorrow will be better!

Monday, March 1, 2010


With just under six months to go until Ironman Canada, I'm in my second base-building week and am starting to adjust to the volume. Maybe this thing is achievable after all....but there is still lots of work to do.

This past week I logged 13 hours, 30 minutes and actually enjoyed most of it to boot! Having the winter Olympics in the background was a great motivator as well as the unseasonably warm weather.

I spent 6:30 on the bike, 5 hours running and 2 hours swimming, including a 100k ride on Saturday morning and a 20-mile run on Sunday morning. Admittedly, I freaked out a little early in the week upon realizing that I only have 7 weeks to go until the Boston marathon with no 30k+ runs under my belt, but am feeling a little more confident about my race preparations after having put in the 20-miler on Sunday at a 4:57 pace.

Last year this time I was logging 100+ km weeks, so it will be interesting to see how the lower run volume and massive amounts of cross-training impact my marathon. It is really strange to me to spend more time on the bike than running :) Somewhat interesting, however, is that my average run pace is faster than in previous training blocks - this week was 61 km at 4:59, the previous week 57km at 4:38. I attribute this to more high quality run workouts and fewer recovery runs. Only time will tell if this approach translates to success on race day.

Pre- and post-workout nutrition is still a challenge, and I am struggling a bit to manage my diet. So. Hungry. All the time. I feel like I'm eating constantly and yet still having hunger pangs pretty regularly, which is really surprising because I estimate that I am consuming in the neighbourhood of 2800-3000 calories a day. It's also really hard to juggle eating well with the training volume, full-time work and life in general...damn those gummy bears!