Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Beantown shines again

The buzz in the running world today was around the announcement made by the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) over its registration and qualifying process.  Last October, entry to the 115th Boston Marathon filled last October in just over 8 hours, leaving many qualified runners shocked and in the lurch.  It was my opinion that the beantown 26.2 lost a little of its lustre with this stampede approach to registration...and apparently others shared this view.  There were calls for drastic changes to qualifying times - the question was, how would BAA respond?

And now we know.  Not only will the fastest runners receive preference in the registration process, but runners will also need to post faster qualifying times across the board (5:59 to be exact).

It has been interesting to read blog posts and message boards in response to the BAA's decision.  A clear message has been sent - the BAA wants the Boston Marathon to retain its prestige and competitiveness, and it wants the entry procedure to reflect this mission.  

I agree in principal with the changes being made.  If you want to run the Boston Marathon, you need to run the fastest time possible. If the race fills with people who bettered their BQ by 20 minutes, then so be it (we know that is won't happen).  But in my view, the race could conceivably fill with runners meeting their quals by 10 minutes or more. The faster time you post, the better chance you have of getting in - it is no longer strictly a case of meeting a qualifying standard and getting automatic entry.  

Notably, the BAA has failed to address concerns of gender preference in its adjustment of the qualifying standards.  The difference between male and female qualifying times at any given age remains 30 minutes, and I tend to agree with the view that this gap may be too wide.  

If the new qualifying standards had been in place when I started running marathons, I would not have qualified for Boston on my second marathon.  Indeed, it would have taken me several more attempts but in retrospect that would not have been a bad thing.  Running marathons is complex and even after 17 marathons, I am still learning.  I think the motivation to run faster, smarter and stronger drives us to train faster, smarter and stronger.  Entry into the Boston Marathon should be a reward for success and not a rite of passage.  (Nice way of saying it is supposed to be hard to qualify!!)  

It also seems to me that the BQ is not necessarily the benchmark we should seek.  Seeking continuous improvement and betterment is the goal (well, perhaps with some fun thrown in there!) and the new registration process aims to capture that.  If you meet your BQ, you run the risk of not getting in.  If you want to guarantee the BQ, you need to knock that PR outta the park.  And after all, isn't that what we are supposed to do?

So, thanks to the BAA for listening to the runners and for introducing a systematic and performance based entry process that will enable the Boston Marathon to be competitive and retain its distinctive and legendary qualities.  The new process, coupled with the more stringent qualifying standards, should once again make qualifying for entry into the Boston a goal and achievement in and of itself.  

I am very proud to say that I am a four time finisher of the Boston Marathon, each year > six minutes faster than the last (3:44, 3:36, 3:30, 3:24).  While I am a little disappointed to be miss the opportunity to be at the start line in Hopkinton this year, I look forward to the challenge presented by the new qualification and entry process....and I look forward to the opportunity to do a 3:18 in Boston to keep the tradition alive!    

Monday, February 14, 2011

PB doesn’t stand for Peanut Butter

When I finished Ironman Canada last year, my coach gave me a very cute little home-baked package of “PB biscotti”.  Those tasty little peanut butter biscotti didn’t last long.  Personal best biscotti!

After some really brutal wind and rain on Saturday, we were lucky to get a perfect day to race the first half marathon of the year (well, February in Vancouver perfect that is!).  And despite being early in the season, the fast course did not disappoint…it was a PB biscotti kind of day!

I have not had an ideal start to the 2011 season, with two bouts of the flu and less-than-stellar work ethic - my heart just is not into cold weather riding and running.  I signed up for the First Half as an early season benchmark (and because it is a great race!), but did not specifically train nor taper for it.  This week was a 10 hour quasi-recovery week of training and included a miserable two hour ride in the rain the day before the race.  Given the lack of training and taper, my “reasonable expectation” was to run close to my PB (1:35) and my stretch goal was to go a little under this.  I knew, however, that averaging a sub-4:30 per km pace was ambitious.

I felt good on race morning so the plan was to try to hit 4:15 to 4:20 for the first half of the race then hold a 4:30 the remainder of the race.  I did not want to torture myself with the math (4:20 multiplied by 21.2…argh!) and also was aware that the heavy lifting would come in the last 4k of the race so I tucked my watch under my glove and ran with abandon (actually I was rocking out to my i-Pod if you must know the truth)!  Fabulous calm weather and the comfort of running the seawall, which is a route I run at least twice a week, made for really good fun.

My RPE was around 85%.  I felt comfortable and was very capable of making small talk, so I was totally shocked when I took a little peek at my 310XT at the 10k mark and saw 42 minutes.  I panicked a little.  First thought was that I had accidentally stopped my watch but then realized that I was properly measuring distance so that was not the case.  Next thought was “oh shit”.  I had just PB’d my open 10k time by over a minute.  Totally awesome, except for the obvious problem that I had eleven more kilometers to go….. 

For the next three kilometers, I waged a little inner battle over pushing to the limit versus running more conservatively.  I swear there was a little red devil on my shoulder yelling “faster”!!!  I hung in at roughly 4:20’s for the next three kilometers and evaluated the situation.  I felt great, but I had a long way to go.  At third beach and roughly fourteen kilometers, I made the conscious decision to (a) slow down to roughly 75% RPE and (b) stop looking at my damn watch because it was stressing me out!  I am admittedly conservative towards the last third of any race and am quite scared of blowing up….this tends to be the source of post-race regret from time to time, but it’s just the way I work.

When we transitioned onto the gravel around lost lagoon, followed by a series of short ups and downs through English Bay to the finish, I was glad that I had turned down the intensity and had enough in the tank to started passing people along Beach Avenue.  This is usually where I completely fade.  At 19 kilometres, I peeked at the watch again and saw an hour 22 elapsed.  Two kilometers left, and I was solidly in PB range.  All I needed to do was hang together two easy kilometers and I was there.  10 minutes, max. 

I realize that the five-minute-kilometer conservative thinking is self-defeating, but for me, envisioning the worst-case scenario provides a little safety net.  When I am in the “what if I start running fives” safe zone, I know I can comfortably dial back to my steady state run pace and not disturb the relative outcome of the race.  It is an interesting mind trick, however, because I was still managing 4:30’s despite having it in my mind that I was running fives.  Somehow I think that telling myself to run slower just calms me down.  Even if my legs aren’t listening!

Resorting to this approach miraculously gave me enough energy to sprint to the finish and I outran two other women close to the line.  It felt good to finish this way instead of suffering.  I know my conservatism cost me in total time, but it was ok by me.  I finished with a very unexpected 3 1/2 minute personal best at 1:31:29, and felt great.  Asking for any more (or in this case, less!) would have just been too gluttonous in the PB department.

I am really proud of my brother-in-law for finishing his first half marathon.  Peanut butter biscotti for everyone!!

(Note**:  Coach Calvin's lovely wife Leanne is the one who bakes the yummy PB biscotti.  Coach Calvin is strictly in charge of Quality Control and Distribution.)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Eating right....and getting it right!

A couple weeks ago I met with a nutritionist as part of an employer-mandatory health check.  The appointment was extremely comprehensive and it was interesting to get a snap shot of my health.

Prior to meeting with the nutritionist, I was asked to keep a food log for three consecutive "normal" days that would be reflective of the way that I usually eat. By "normal", this means not going out of my ordinary habits too much.  Keeping a diary of food intake is actually quite exhausting, but it does bring focus to the quantities and types of food that one consumes in one day.  

Day #1
Day #2
Day #3
Cheerios + banana w/ 1% milk
Cereal + blueberries w/ 1% milk
Earl grey tea w/ honey + 1% milk
Hot cereal w/ brown sugar; banana, 1% milk
Earl grey tea w/ honey + 1% milk
Non-fat chai latte (post run)
3 kiwi + ½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt
Soda water
Non-fat chai latte
Low fat banana bread
Non-fat chai latte
Low fat banana bread; mandarin orange; water
Pre-run: banana
Grilled turkey sandwich with avocado, spinach on black olive bread
Honey yogurt + cherry compote
Roast beef sandwich on whole wheat w/ veggies + mustard
Handful plain chips
3 mandarin oranges

Leftover quinoa (without cheese or tomato sauce);
1 cup nonfat yogurt;
3 oz manchego cheese
Apple, diet coke, apple muffin
During ride:  Water w/electrolyte
Post ride:  500ml chocolate milk
Apple, herbal tea
Chicken + black bean soup
Tortilla chips (handful), cheddar cheese as topping
2 cans soda water

3 cups Italian quinoa (quinoa mixed with tofu ground round, peppers, zucchini, kale, tomatoes, tomato sauce, cheese)
1 can soda water
3 pieces pizza (2 veggie / 1 ham + pineapple)
Diet Coke, water

Grapefruit cup, handful blueberries
Blueberries, ½ cup non-fat Greek yogurt
13k run
(gel + Nuun)
Bike ride – hard 60’
3k swim
14k run

Although the nutritionist was in general quite pleased with the amount and variety of food that I was eating, we did get into an interesting discussion concerning eating for performance and it made me realize that the way I view nutrition is really quite different from most of the population.  I love food and it is my fuel.  I look forward to meals and generally prefer healthier foods like veggies, fruit and yogurt over processed or fast foods.

However, just because you burn calories doesn't mean you get to consume at will (How many times have you had someone say, "you are training so much, you can afford to eat whatever you want!").  Uh-uh.  Garbage in is garbage out.  Although I burn a lot of calories while training, it is still easy to eat them back. As such, over eating is just as much a concern as under-eating and keeping a nutritionally balanced diet is really, really challenging - particularly because I am usually VERY strapped for time!  

One of the most important lessons I learned last year while training for Ironman was that squirrelling doesn't work.  Your body can store only a finite amount of nutrients and glycogen, so for the most part you ALWAYS need to keep your nutrition balanced and on track.  You are only as good as what you have eaten recently...of course, bearing in mind that yummy snacks like ice cream, licorice and chocolate have their place in all of this.  Everything in moderation, right!? :)

My inherent frustration with nutrition is that, although I am very interested in learning how to eat better, I find most sources of nutritional advice to be very condescending and unrealistic.  It is hard enough to work full-time, train, manage 9 tonnes of laundry, keep my dog happy and still stay sane...I do NOT need to feel guilted out by authors on nutrition who seem to think we are all latent Martha Stewart clones.  Even the Health Canada guidelines are frustrating at times - it seems completely unrealistic at times to get in all of their minimums every day without completely overeating or losing my mind.  Any recipe with a preparation time greater than 30 minutes is strictly out of the question, as is anything too contrived.  Whole grains and beans are awesome, but if I need to spend two days soaking and draining them, forget it!  

So I stick to what I know - fresh fruit is always on my desk at work and I try to make leftovers of health dinners for lunch to have later in the week.  I read labels.  I prefer healthy lunches and frequent snacks over large meals, and I try not to snack late at night.  (Stop tempting me Lay's potato chips!)  Yet, there always seem to be lapses where I am rushing from work to workout when I need to eat NOW.  Those are the dangerous times when overprocessed / convenience / junk food is most appealing and I totally blow my diet.  Half a pizza anyone?!           
So if anyone has any great suggestions as to nutritional planning or great tips that work for them, I would love to hear them!