Thursday, October 20, 2016

Next Up, Chicago!

The week prior to Chicago was spent in recovery mode.  That meant, relieving a toenail of the pressure and watching the colour slowly dissipate.  Usually, I just leave them be, but, figured I needed to address it this time to get race ready.  It also reminded me that I need a pedicure; which use to be my most post race reward.  Cornel had a few toenails, but, I was like that Angela Johnson stand up routine...."Beautiful Nail....just one!".  It also meant replenishing lost calories and building some carbohydrate stores.  I felt like Slimer from Ghost Busters, eating everything in sight and still, it wasn't enough.  And finally, the DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness).  And my favourite "adaptation response" which my body is still trying to recall.  Remember, its how the body is suppose to restore itself to balance in response to stress.  I'm pretty sure I never got out of the resistance stage.

Saturday, the day of the road trip we got a fairly early start and I had the good fortune of sleeping a good portion of the morning.  We arrived in Chicago by early afternoon and had about 4 hours to explore the race expo.  We required most of that time to cover all the vendors.  This is one of the benefits of U.S. races, the expo's are quite large in comparison to their Canadian counterparts.  There are now a few more races that have been added to my bucket list. You should have seen the race medal for Little Rock. It was literally the size of a dinner plate.

We got back to the hotel and decided that dinner was in order to ensure an early night.  We were staying at the Drake which put us in the prime shopping district and close to some nice restaurants.  Following dinner, we found our way to the closest drugstore so that Cornel could pick up some supplies for his toes. He was a little concerned that he would have ogre feet forever.  Between Slimer and the Ogre, we could have been additions to Shrek 4.  Nonetheless, we looked at the race map and devised a strategy for him to pull out should his feet give him too much aggravation. None of which he needed come race day. Following that, we jumped into bed fairly early to obtain some adequate sleep.  After all the races I've competed in, I still never get a good night's sleep the night prior.

The next morning came too soon as I was awake to every siren that tore through the city during the night.  Nothing that a good cup of coffee wouldn't fix.  We left the hotel, knowing that we had a 3 km walk to the race start and we were 20 minutes behind already. We were able to catch some of the first wave and then as we approached the park, we were able to witness some of our coral running past us. I forgot to mention our race strategy.  New Balance had partnered with Strava and was offering a pair of shoes to anyone that could produce a negative split.  Knowing that our legs were not at prime coming off the Toad, we figured this would be the most attainable goal and a worthy one. This vision would force us to slow down rather than following the pack and going out to fast.  We could allow ourselves to get nicely warmed up, even though the walk had already taken care of that.  By the time we checked in our bag and hit the chute, we had both missed our coral and we fell in where we could.  It took half an hour to advance up to the start line.  At least, we had another opportunity to visit the Porto-potty. Finally! We were off and the legs felt pretty good, all things considered, rested and limber.  Not the effort I thought it might be.

By the time we hit the half way point, we were ready to pick up our cadence and finish it.  That
feeling may have lasted 2-3 km`s and then it became a struggle.  It was difficult to break free of the group due to sheer number of runners.  It really didn't open up much along the course.  By, the end, we had ran an additional 3 km`s. That`s a lot of weaving.  We were staying positive and we were both feeling good. We lacked any real suffering coming off the Toad, other than lack of energy and that was surprising.  I thought there would be some residual.  Even though the mile markers appeared to never come, we were happy to count them down.  Our feet, to both our surprise were holding up, except for my left metatarsal (normal pain after 10 k), that Cornel massaged for me a few times.  The hardest part was getting back on my feet afterward.  The unlimited number of spectators along the course cheering you on, was exhilarating.  There wasn't a section of the course that wasn't covered.  There were even different organizations that came out to offer hydration and some nutrition.  They had bananas, oranges and even pretzels and gummy bears individually wrapped for you to grab and go.  Truly remarkable to see the support for us runners from the entire community.

The finish was within reach and we assumed the New Balance shoes were just a few km's away.  Both were attainable.  There had been some bad smells along he course, but, I came upon one that was particularly foul.  Right about that time, Cornel was saying move to the right, move to the right.  Then I understood why.  You start to move and things start to move within you.  Kudos to that woman for her perseverance as I don't think I could do it.  She just ignored it and kept on going.  We saw people with prosthetic legs.  I always get emotional when I see the hurdles that other people overcome.  We had a few extra walks as fatigue was setting in, but, our pace seemed to be where we needed to be. Coming up that little hill near the finish was one of those, ; we should have pushed ourselves....just like skeleton hill, but, the mental got the better of us.  What a terrible spot for cameras. That's just mean. There was a slight turn and then the finish line came into view.  You get this sudden jolt of energy and surge with whatever you have left in the tank. Ahhh, the finish.  The glorious finish.  First a bottle of water, then your medal, then nutrition, then beer, then Mylar blankets, ice, photo's.  They just think of everything.

It may not have produced any PR's for me (almost 40 minutes slower), but, it was a great race and one that I look forward to racing again.  Once we had wobbled over to pick up our belongings from the bag check and found a place on a bench (easier to get up again) to relax and finish our beer; it all seemed worthwhile.  You recall the things that went well and what you would try differently next time. Then, all of a sudden, you are discussing the race strategy for your next one.  However, I have been told that a certain someone has already surpassed his maximum running distance for the year, so the next race I may have to do alone.  Horror Hill is just around the corner and it would be a shame if I had to run it solo.

We had not finished our stumbling as we had yet to make it back to the hotel which was a vast 3 km away.  We had considered Uber, but, just kept walking, as unsteady as we were.  On a positive note, we passed a Cheesecake Factory and knew exactly where we were having dinner later.  We were in good company along the way with so many runners.  Once back at the hotel, we jumped onto the computer to claim our shoes and wouldn't you guess, a mere 20 seconds behind a negative split.  It certainly sounded easy at the time.

Happy Trails my Friends!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tempo Runs

Description and Technique

Tempo runs are the single most important workout you can do to improve your speed for any race distance. Long runs develop pure endurance, but, tempo running is crucial to racing success because it trains your body to sustain speed over distance. In essence, as runners, we have trained our cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the muscles but we have not trained our bodies to             use that oxygen once it arrives. Tempo runs do just that by teaching the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently. Most important, this faster-paced workout or lactate-threshold workout,  teaches you to push your 'threshold" so that you muscles become better prepared at using the by-products (lactate and hydrogen ions) produced while you run when your muscles fatigue.

Even though there are many ways to perform tempo runs, I normally stick with the progressive type and build on distance, but, have fun mixing it up. For me, the progressive is simple to perform and is in many ways more enjoyable because your body gradually warms up to tempo pace. You feel stronger through the middle portions of the run and are able to finish at a faster pace. To do a progressive tempo run start with 1 kilometer or 1/3 of your distance at warm up pace. Then gradually and evenly increase your pace over the next 1 kilometer or second 1/3 of your distance at an easy endurance pace. The last 1 kilometer or 1/3 of your distance is at 90% of your maximum heart rate or just shy or breathlessness-we can also call this your 10 K race pace. This type of tempo run gives you the additional advantages of running and improving your ability or simply put, to run faster at the end of a long, quality run.  Once you become comfortable with this technique, try mixing it into some of your LSD (long slow distance) .

An interesting article from Science Daily explains how lactic acid can be used as energy rather than the poison that most athletes believe it is:

Ensure that all speed work sessions begin with a dynamic warm-up and cool down routine.

Happy Trails my Friends!

2016 Run for the Toad

Race kit pick up
Another year, another 50k and although, this was my slowest to date; it was also the most memorable for many reasons.  This was the 15th anniversary and also my 5th time running the Fifty. Year after year, I return to the trails and the hills, only to learn to walk gracefully again the next day. There was no sun to be seen, but, you were surrounded by plenty of warmth.  First off, Peggy and George are always improving on this event.  It was an 'A' race years ago, but, their thoughts are of the runners and how they can improve on the experience for us, so they keep trying.  Its obvious, they love everything about this time of year.  We may be planning and getting everything just right for race day, but, they are doing their own ultra of sorts.  The amount of time and dedication that goes into this race is almost insurmountable,but, it always comes out perfect.

Kingston in true competitive form
Another eventful point was having my daughter Mindy and my grandson Kingston toeing the line for the 1 km Toad Pals.  This was Kingston`s second race and he was pumped.  For only being 4 years old, he has quite the competitive streak already.  He tried his best and did amazing.  We also got to watch Mindy try to catch him as he sprinted the entire way.  You really have to push to catch this kid when he goes out of the gate.  He`s got legs.  All the children received a full size medal and the events they had planned post race were incredible: movies, reptiles and more.  My daughter absolutely hates running and post Toad she commented about wanting to run another 5 km race again.  You know that the energy and impetus was flowing that day for her to be so inspired.  Such an incredible feeling.

The other momentous account was that Cornel was running his first Ultra.  He had signed up after meeting Peggy and George post race at the Boxing Day 10 Miler.  His longest distance prior to this race was 25 km and although we were going in under-trained, we both knew that a finish was all that was required.  He would be covering his first marathon and ultra distance in a single race.  It was being used as a training race for next weekends Chicago marathon.  Slow and steady was the strategy.

All started out,  anything but well.  The socks I had worn had already slipped under my heel on my right foot.  As the race would be running past the first water stop where I had placed my bag, I decided to wait and change my socks after the race had begun.  Cornel stayed with me, but, I`m sure he must have been feeling anxious.  Then, at only 4 km in, I had already determined that I had overdressed for this.  It seemed to be warmer than last weekends Tour de Hans; we were just absent of any sun.  Thankfully, it was not raining though.  I ducked into a public washroom (another great feature of this course is not having to use the bushes) and shed my base layer.  I suggested that Cornel keep running and I would catch up.  Well, that never happened.

My first two loops were  enjoyable.  I felt good.  There is something about that course. Its just so innervate and tranquil.  At about the 15 km point, I met up with Susie and Maxine and ran with them to their finish.  These were passionate ladies that had a zest for running, family and life in general.  This is one of the benefits I have found in trail races; you meet some incredible people.  I think trail running cultivates not only a sense of resilience, but of conversation among fellow runners.  Sharing experiences and personal details.  The pace, the environment, competing with one self and giving back to the community seems to have a calming affect whilst bringing us all closer to nature.  Appreciating what we have around us, out on the trail and at home. Speaking of which, Mindy and Kingston were waiting for me to loop and we walked to their car; Kingston beating me up the hill.

Now, for the third loop, which is always my slowest.  My nemesis.  The loop where the mental and physical struggles attack in full force.  I know many times over, that I just have to get through this and I'll be golden.  The last loop always produces faster turnover with the idea of finishing and sitting down to that gourmet meal at the end. I could feel the second toe on my left foot, it was creating a problem, but, I was too lazy to do anything about it.  I know, having to run another 25 km really doesn't justify the term lazy at least to some people, but right now, it was more of an apathetic feeling.  Its a loop that I ran alone with only my thoughts and one major thought at that......where is Cornel?  I have seen him on the course, during some cross overs, so, I know he is just 3 km ahead of me.  I thought for sure that I would catch him on this loop. At this point, I'm feeling like I should pick up the pace, but, I can't as its the dreaded 3; like the witches in MacBeth. "Double, double, toil & trouble.  When shall we meet.  When the hurly-burly's done. When the battle is lost and won".  There was some other language I was citing, but, we won't get into that right now.  Then, before you know it, I'm approaching the 9 km marker and I know I'm just 15 km's from finishing this thing.  I see Rhonda whom I met at Sulphur Springs and she is there merely to cheer us on.  The timing couldn't be more impeccable.

All is good.  I think to myself, it wasn't that bad really.  The loops seem to be getting shorter each year I run it.  I pick up the pace a bit.  It wasn't near as fast as I thought.  Really just a slow increment. As I see from my splits post race, but, it was something.  I start to pass a few on the course and I think that I may just be able to catch Cornel at this point.  He has to be struggling, right?  There is a light misting of rain and it feels refreshing. I lavish in glorification now as I know the end is near.   I approach Skeleton Hill and my 4th loop is the only time I run up that thing.  Its just me and that hill as all the volunteer supporters have left at this point.  I have the internal struggle with myself and I think this year I'll just walk it, however, I recall telling Cornel that the fourth loop is the only time that matters, so now I'm forced to fire up it with all I have.  Victory at the top and then a walk to bring my heart rate back down and I'm off and running again.  Just another km until the finish.  Its about 300 m when I spot Cornel.  He has finished about 15 minutes ahead of me and has come back to run me in.  I have my selfish moment and tell him that I just want to run it out solo and I'll see him at the finish.  

Another great year for the Toad and I have so much adoration for Cornel for finishing his first marathon and ultra distance that day.  He really has that mental fortitude.  Don't mention it though as we wouldn't want it going to his head.  For me, not my best Toad race, but, I figure that will happen next year.  We both had some purple toenails and some chafing and blistering, but, we had success and a great time overall.

Next stop, Chicago.

Happy Trails my Friends!

2016 Tour De Hans

2016 Tour de Hans

My first ever road cycling race and boy was I nervous.  It could have been the cold temperatures that had me shaking too.  However, I have heard of it being just shy of winter in past years, so I wasn't complaining about 13 degrees and sunny.  Regardless of how many races I do, the nerves always get the best of me.

After the initial sign up, I had taken a good look at the 2015 results and these ladies were fast, especially in my age group (40-49).  Faster than I could comprehend. This is such a competitive age group.  I thought to myself, that's okay, this is going to be the fastest I've ever gone over the 100 km distance and I will just be happy with that.  Normally, when we ride with the GCBT group, we stop for a nice relaxing lunch, some conversation; there would be no such pleasantries here-it would just be 100 km straight out.  I had never done that distance in a single stretch before.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
Tour de Hans
The morning was cool as I said so I decided to keep my jacket on as I hate being cold. That turned out to be a good plan as the wind continued to stay cool for the day and I remained comfortable for the entirety of the race.  It also helped that Cornel or as I occasionally call him, the "Crazy Train",  is a good deal larger than me and with him pulling, I was relatively sheltered.  The beginning of the race, had me struggling to keep up to Cornel and Karen.  I require a good warm up,but had no time prior to our start.  It started with very gentle hills, but, had me huffing and puffing a bit.  Finally, after about 5-6 km, I felt good and we started to roll.

The course was capacious, covering relatively quieter roads through the country, all with decent surfaces and moderate to little traffic. There was a tremendous amount of volunteers helping to direct the course and provide hydration.  I was riding my new Liv Avail and having only road it twice previously, we were already establishing a fairly tight bond.  She was light, compact, responsive and I felt inspired to push it down.

Cornel had been trying coach me on riding within a peloton, but, having never tried it previously, I was reluctant on trying it now.  I think he was aware of my inhibitions as he commented on safety and said that he would prefer to do the work, than ride perilously.  I know he was worried about me, but, didn't want to acknowledge it.  I was more comfortable than I use to be, having rode at the velodrome last year, but, still require some improvement when riding with a group. However, with Cornel pulling, its like hopping on the A-Train or Crazy Train as I like to call it.  He is rapid and precise.  He just flows like water.  Its so easy to draft him. I only pulled twice and the first time, as luck would have it, we were caught by the camera crew.  Beautiful!

Once we hit the 60 km mark, we came into a fairly strong head wind and Karen caught up to us at the water station, having said previously that she would grab a slower group.  She is an experienced rider and triathlete, so I think this was part of her race tactic.  We now became a party of three.  I was beginning to struggle and our pace slowed.  It was becoming tough.  Physically, mentally, but, I knew I had to maintain some consistency or all our efforts to this point would be in vain. I was thankful to have to experience riders to draw from.
AG Winners

In the end, Karen placed 2nd in her AG and came in 8th overall ladies and I placed 3rd in my AG and came in 9th place for the ladies.  What, top 10?  It was beyond my expectations.  In the end, I think some of the ladies that had raced the year prior decided to stay home and I'm okay with that. If I decide to race it again next year, I hope to be able to join one of the groups and pick up the pace a bit, but, we will leave the race planning to Cornel.

Happy Trails my Friends