What I Learned About Marathon Training – Part The Second

So, back in 2018, I eventually did run a marathon, and my next post will be about that. I talked about my first foray into marathon training here – this was during my failed attempt to train for the Cleveland Marathon in 2015. To summarize that story: too much, too fast, without a great plan to manage things.

I learned a bit with the 2015 attempt, but still made mistakes with the 2018 one. One thing I’m happy I did do was join a marathon training group at our local running store. It’s a great way to make you more accountable, plus they already have a built in plan so you don’t necessarily have to worry about figuring it out on your own. I had recently gone through a divorce and suddenly found myself with a lot more time on my hands, so I was able to devote multiple days a week to building endurance and mileage, and we had speed and hill workouts included as part of the training regimen. Things ticked along pretty well for awhile, but eventually repetitive strain injuries started to crop up. This time, instead of being my groin, it was my shin and ankle on my right leg. Thus, I had to shut down for almost four weeks, and it was really hard to get back on track, and I ended up toeing the line in November undertrained and underprepared. So, a few things to add to my list of lessons learned:

Slow down. No seriously. Slow down. Especially on long runs.

My tendency is still to go way too fast on training. I’ve lately been reading My Marathon by Frank Shorter (good book, by the way – I recommend checking it out) and Shorter’s advice is to build speed as if you were training for a 5K, but do the long runs reeeeeaaaallly slow. This may not work for everyone, I realize, but I seem to have this irrational fear of losing my cardio fitness. My cardio is just fine. I just ran a 20:16 5K at 48 years old (more on that in a future post) and that was without really training all that hard. I don’t need to do my long runs at a 5:00/K pace. But I seem to be unable to help myself. If I were ever to do this again, which I’m really not sure I ever will, I would definitely be very careful with in this regard, because it appears to be at the crux of my injury issues.

I need to have a much better plan for electrolyte replacement for long races.

When I got over the injury, I was able to do 3 runs of 19-21 miles. I had hoped that this would at least get me across the finish line in Hamilton, and it did. But a problem arose during one of the 20 milers which I should have paid attention to (evil foreshadowing here). I was doing a 20 miler around the region with Michael, one of my run group members. It was a very cool but sunny day, and I started out with a nylon windbreaker layer on over my run clothes. Michael is a veteran marathoner and he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to wear that thing?”

I’ll be fine, I replied, and I’ll take it off if I start getting too hot. He shrugged in capitulation.

Now, it turns out I sweat a lot when I run, even on cool days. I mean, quite a lot. At about 7 miles I was getting pretty uncomfortable with the outer layer on, and I noted as I took it off and tied it around my waist it was totally drenched. I didn’t think anything of this until we got to about mile 18 and I started getting pretty bad cramps in my quads. I was able to finish the run though, and bid farewell to Michael. The horror show started when I got in my car and tried to drive home, only to have my quads seize (in the middle of driving) in the most painful cramps I’ve ever experienced. I literally almost crashed the car. I stopped, got out, tried to walk around, but the cramps persisted. Somehow, I managed to get the car to a convenience store, bought 2 litres of sport drink, and chugged them down. After about 15 minutes, the cramps subsided to the point that I could operate a motor vehicle, but they still would reappear off and on throughout the remainder of the day. I put it down to the bad decision to wear the outer layer, but ultimately it turned out to be more than that, as I’ll outline in my marathon story.

It’s a really bad idea to run a marathon underprepared.

I’ll say this – I finished. But it was gnarly. A full training cycle would have made a lot of difference. It left me not really wanting to do another one. That may change one day. But you should give serious consideration to putting it off if you have any doubts.

Friends of mine sometimes ask if I’m glad I did it, and to be honest, I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’m really built for marathons, and I really didn’t perform anywhere near as well as I should have. I guess it’s something to tick off the bucket list, but I still feel like I have unfinished business. For now, I’m going to stick to what I do well, which is mostly 5 and 10K races and maybe the odd half-marathon. As they say, if marathons were easy, everyone would do them. Maybe I can run one someday that isn’t totally miserable.

2021 Race #1: Tannenbaum 10K, Toronto, ON

Date: November 28th, 2021
Me:

Gun Time: 44:08
Chip Time: 43:59
Placing Overall: 36th out of 470
Placing in Age Group: 9th out of 65 (M40-49)

The Lad:

Gun Time: 51:49
Chip Time: 51:41
Placing Overall: 143rd out of 470
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 10 (M1-19 – seriously, they let 1-year-olds in this race?)

Theme Song:Angel From Montgomery“, Leslie Spit Treeo (John Prine cover, may he rest in peace.)

This, as you might imagine, was not just the first race of 2021, but was the first for a very, very long time.

I managed to keep the legs churning more or less all the way through the pandemic; in fact, it was one of the few things that kept me from going completely off the rails. But as some of you probably noticed, it’s a real drag when you aren’t able to race anymore. Those “virtual” runs? Not for me, although I do appreciate the efforts of race organizers to do something.

So it was with glee towards the end of 2021 that I noted in-person races were starting to come back. I went into this one with no idea how I would perform after a two-year hiatus, but I had done some pretty solid recent tempo runs, and was optimistic. The idea of competition was enough of a motivation, so I did not worry overmuch. But one always wants to put one’s best foot forward (if you’ll pardon the pun).

The great thing about the passage of the intervening two years is that I now have a willing running partner in my son Brendan, so I’m going to be posting his results as well. He’s made appearances in this blog before, but he’s now a lanky 15-year-old who can already utterly destroy me at the 400 and 800 meter distance. He’s still learning long-distance running, so for now I have the edge in that (not for long I’ll wager). The Tannenbaum was unfinished business for us. Back in 2019, we had planned to run it to cap off the year, and weren’t able to make it to Toronto due to freezing rain and unsafe conditions. So, it seemed only fitting that it would be the race to kick off our slate of competitions as the pandemic was on the wane. It would be his first 10K, and he was stoked, if a bit nervous.

For 2021, the Tannenbaum, put on by Beaches Runners Club, had a new course. It now would start at Tommy Thompson Park and would be an out and back along the Leslie Street Spit, which splays out into Lake Ontario in Toronto’s east end. It’s a beautiful area of wilderness minutes away from the buzzing, hyper-urban expanse of the city – in summer, that is. My concern was that running out onto a spit of land surrounded on all sides by a huge freezing body of water at the end of November might prove to be, ah, a bit challenging. Yeah. I was right.

Pleading to the weather gods for clemency did no good, and the morning dawned grey and cold, with 2 inches of snow having already fallen and more on the way. We got to the end of Leslie Street and found parking alright, and headed down to the start line near the park pavilion.

Yeah. It was that kind of day.

The race would start in waves 30 seconds apart, because, you know, pandemic. I was up front in the first wave, as I was pretty sure I could bust 45:00, but Brendan hung back in the second wave. As the horn went I looked at the course ahead and thought, “huh, that footing doesn’t look great.” One of the race organizers even went out of his way to tell us not to expect a PR while we were in the starting corral. Thanks for the vote of confidence, my man.

Let’s get moving already. We’re cold.

So, yeah. The footing was pretty bad, but the course was largely dead flat. I felt like I was moving along pretty well given that I hadn’t really tried to run an extended period at race pace in a long time. We hit a slight rise followed by a downhill at about 2K, and then crossed this wacky floating bridge that was made of steel and really slippery. I felt pretty good at this point (and would soon realize why) and wondered how Brendan was making out behind me. The 42 minute pacer was still in my sights, although he was starting to pull away a bit. I had set a goal of wanting to go under 44 minutes for this one, and so far everything seemed to be going according to plan.

Me in a pack, with the pink Vaporflys on (I’ll talk about them in an upcoming post).

Having hit the 5k turnaround, I glanced at my watch (yes, I now wear a Garmin – more on that later) and noticed I was at about 21 minutes. I soon realized why, when the howling wind that had been pushing me along hit me smack in the face. Uh oh, I thought. It was blowing at about 20-30 mph and there was absolutely no wind break. To make matters worse, it had started to snow, and we were getting a faceful. I did get a bit of a burst as I passed B coming back and gave him a wave (he told me that he was a bit gassed at that point, which was around 4k for him, but got a substantial second wind later).

Unfortunate conditions for the kid’s first 10K.

So, I was really trying to gut it out and keep the pace as we moved into Km 7 and 8, but man. That wind was absolutely brutal. And cold. I don’t know what it is about this race, but it does not seem to be favored by weather conditions. Anyway, I knew I had dropped off the first half pace, but I wasn’t being caught from behind and I was holding my own. As we went over the weird bridge and up and down the little rise again I was pretty sure I would hit my goal time. And I did. Barely. 43:59 is not much faster than 44 minutes, but I would take it given the conditions. Even though I almost went ass over teakettle on the slippery bit at the finish line (despite being fairly warned by a race marshal).

An uncomfortable return to racing.

Brendan rolled in at just over 51 minutes, and he seemed pretty pleased with that. He was still feeling the adrenaline after the race, and couldn’t wait to do it again. He’s got the bug now. I suspect we will be racing together for a long time to come.

It’s good to be back. And hey, we also got these nifty hoodies!

Well now. This blog is defunct no longer.

It’s been so long since I last posted here that the interface for WordPress is completely different. Ah well.

I guess I have the excuse that it’s kinda hard to maintain a running blog when a worldwide pandemic makes it impossible to race. The good news, of course, is that we seem to be slowly moving to post-pandemic territory… and I’ve done my first two competitive races since November 2019 in the last 3 months, with another one coming up on March 26th. So, I’m going to try to write some stuff to get this blog functioning again, and because I’m bored so it’s a good time to pick up the thread again. The story of my first marathon was an interesting one and I will post it soon. I also did a couple of half-marathons last year, one with a rather surprising result.

But, I’m still running, and I still want to write. So let’s do this thing.

Well, let’s fire this up again.

A lot, and I mean a LOT, has happened in the last year and a half. I don’t even know where to start.

The initial idea behind this blog was to document my putative quest to run the Great Lakes Marathon Series. While a laudable goal, this turned out to be, ahh, not exactly practical, mostly because I don’t seem to be built to handle a marathon. I tried multiple times to train for one, and every time I ended up hurt, and it made me hate running for awhile. My goal was revised in 2018 to just run one marathon and get it off the bucket list.

Well, guess what? I did it. But it didn’t go at all like I had planned it.

I should mention here that I had a marriage fall apart last spring. It was difficult, as these things tend to be. In the immediate aftermath, I decided that I needed something to occupy my time and thoughts; something I could cling to as a goal to keep myself grounded, and to channel all of the negative things I was feeling into some sort of positive outcome. Marathon training seemed to fit the bill, and in order to force myself to stick with it I headed off to the local Running Room and joined a training group.

This worked. For a while, anyway.

Unfortunately, I started having ankle and calf problems about two-thirds of the way through training. This led to me eventually having to take a month off training, and although I was able to get a few 20+ mile long runs in, I wasn’t ready. Plus, I was still nicked up with little niggling things, pretty much all the time. I grew to hate having to go down a flight of stairs, because I couldn’t do it without pain in various parts of my legs. Oh, and there was the long training run I did where I ended up severely dehydrated and could not drive home… but more about that later.

Anyway, training was miserable and so was the race (report to follow where I deconstruct the experience in all its hideousness) and so was my life, pretty much. I haven’t been able to bring myself to write about all this until now. Good news is, I’m a lot better, and I have some new plans, including a seven continents half-marathon series that I will be doing in the next few years. One foot in front of the other, as they say.

A New Year… Thankfully.

So, yeah. I haven’t been posting. I won’t get into why exactly, but suffice it to say that the latter half of 2017 was… challenging. I didn’t stop running, and I did do a couple of competitions in the latter half of the year, including a 5-mile run around one of Canada’s more prestigious golf courses in the blazing heat in July (which I intend to report about at some point; it was a great competition) and revisiting the Syracuse Half Marathon, where I took over 6 minutes off my previous time. The blog ended up being a bit of a casualty of circumstances, as it turned out.

Nevertheless, it’s a new year, and time for new beginnings. My New Year’s resolution is to run the Rochester Marathon in September. I should actually have time for training this year, as my summer will be very light in terms of work. Before I do this, I’m going to be revisiting a couple of races I did in 2015 down in Florida next month, and will no doubt be doing some other races along the way.

The challenges haven’t ended. But putting one foot in front of the other has always helped. So bring on 2018.

2017 Races #4 and #5: MNP Mississauga 10K, Mississauga, ON and Jerry’s Peach Bud 10K, Grimsby, ON

Date for Race #4: May 6, 2017
Gun Time: 42:29
Chip Time: 42:21
Placing Overall: 31st out of 800
Placing in Age Group: 6th out of 80 (M40-49)

Date for Race #5: June 27, 2017
Gun Time: 44:53
Chip Time: 44:51
Placing Overall: 47th out of 298
Placing in Age Group: 8th out of 19 (M40-44)

Theme Song: The Bug“, Dire Straits

Two for the price of one with this post. I decided to do this because A) these races definitely provided an interesting contrast to one another, B) they were both 10K runs, and C) I’m a lazy, lazy man in many ways. From a performance aspect, they were definitely at opposite ends of the spectrum. As Mark Knopfler helpfully points out in the above theme song, “sometimes you’re the windshield/sometimes you’re the bug”.

There was legitimate concern that the Mississauga race would be flooded out. We had rain of near biblical proportions in Southern Ontario this spring, and Lake Ontario is currently at the highest level it’s been in recent memory. The weekend of the race, there was a plan to evacuate Toronto Island (which, fortunately, didn’t need to be executed) and everybody living there was sandbagging like mad to hold off the deluge. A significant part of the course was to be run along the lakefront trail system, but it seemed the trails were far enough away from the water that flooding wasn’t a concern. So, on a freezing cold and damp early May day, I made my way down to the Mississauga neighborhood of Port Credit to hit the race expo. There was the usual array of local race booths and gear, and lots of free stuff being given away. I stocked up on pasta at the Catelli booth, but somehow missed Canadian Olympic Marathoner Lanni Marchant who was supposed to be there. Oh well.

A major flaw in the organization of this race – kit pickup for the 10K had to be done by about 2 and a half hours before the race actually started. This arrangement sucks for out-of-towners, because the question of what the hell to do until the race starts becomes rather prominent. Mississauga is the giant belt of suburbs between Cambridge, where I live (Cambridge is rapidly becoming famous as the filming locale for “The Handmaid’s Tale”, but maybe more on that later) and downtown Toronto. Oscar Peterson is from there (if you’re into jazz), and so is, um, Billy Talent (if you’re into pop/punk hybrids). It is famous for having a giant mall, the Marilyn Monroe towers, and, well, not much else.

Marilyn Monroe' towers in Mississauga among world's best new skyscrapers |  The Star

So, I hung around in a parking lot playing with my phone until I felt like it was not insanely early to be heading to the start line. I hadn’t been doing a huge amount of work prior to this one, but still felt good, and had run a sub-20 5K a few weeks prior. The rain at least stopped by start time, and I hurtled off into the course with designs on at least getting within sniffing distance of my PR.

The big problem in this one was the wind, which was blowing at about 25-30 mph out of the northeast, meaning it was in our faces for most of the run. There was a 10K relay of school kids being run at the same time, so at 2.5k intervals I would have a bunch of youngsters come flying past me, only to catch them and pass them a kilometre or so later as they gasped for air.

2017-07-02 19_12_37-2017 Mississauga 5km and 10km _ MTAA0708 _ Marathon Photos.png

I look a little windblown.

I managed to get to the line in a very respectable 42:21 given the conditions, and since the top 3 masters were all 40-49, I snuck into 3rd place and scored a couple of gift certificates (Panera Bread!). I was quite happy with this race and in perfect conditions I’m sure I would have been under 42:00 easily.

The interval until the next race was, however, not kind. I got sick with a bad chest cold, then had a nasty bout of strep throat and was on penicillin for awhile. Then, my first run back I pulled the same groin I injured a couple of years ago in the lead up to the Cleveland Marathon, and was out of commission for a couple more weeks. Coming into the Peach Bud 10K, which was held in Grimsby on the west side of Lake Ontario, I felt physically pretty good, but I was interested to see how much cardio I could possibly have retained having basically not run for a month. The answer, sadly, was not much.

I was hoping to at least do a sub-44, but my problems in the Peach Bud were compounded by the fact that I made a very stupid mistake in pacing. I started feeling strangely winded just before the 2K mark, then noticed the clock. It said 7:49. Seven-goddamn-forty-nine. In other words, I was on pace for a sub 39-minute 10K. I’m fucked, I thought. I’ve always held the belief to be true that for every minute you go too fast in the first half of a race, you lose 2 minutes in the second, and that’s exactly what happened. At the 5K mark I was at 20:40 and I was completely gassed, with people passing me left and right. I managed to limp in just under 45:00, but was not happy about it. That’s JV shit by my standards. At least the weather was nice.

So, back to building up the training. I didn’t include any pictures of the Peach Bud because I’m still kinda pissed about it. Good motivation I guess. At least I’m physically good and looking forward to some hot summer runnin’. Got plans to do a 25K trail race and probably another half marathon in the fall, so time to get moving.

Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug. I’m damn well fixing to be the windshield next time.

2017 Race #3: Run for Retina Research 5K, London, ON

Date: April 9, 2017
Gun Time: 19:57
Chip Time: 19:54
Placing Overall: 6th out of 278
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 24 (M40-49)
Theme Song: You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son“, Wolf Parade

You know, it’s a good thing I’m not as lazy a runner as I am a blogger. I realized today that I haven’t posted on this thing in over two months. So, I think it’s time to do a couple of updates and race reports. The most important goal I reached in the interim was finally running a sub-20 5K after trying for a couple of years. I’d like to say I discovered some sort of magic training regimen or was noshing down on radioactive quinoa or something, but really, I didn’t go into the race doing anything different than usual.

This race was the one I opted not to do in a freak early April snowstorm last year. I probably would have opted for the 10K, but my son wanted to run too, and so we packed into the car early on a Sunday morning to make the 45 minute drive over to London. In addition to the 2.5, 5, and 10K races there was also a half marathon to be run as part of this event, and runners were starting to gather at Springbank Park, where the events would be run on the asphalt trails along the Thames River. (Yes, the London in Canada has a Thames River. No London Eye, though. Or Buckingham Palace or Beefeaters or any crap like that. But hey, they do have the Guy Lombardo Pavilion!)

IMG_20170409_084751885

Anybody remember Guy Lombardo? Probably not, since he predates even me. Anyway, he was from London. Happy New Year!

I’ll admit I had designs of a sub-20 in my head at the time. Even though I hadn’t been doing any really heavy training, I had just finished a pretty successful half marathon training cycle, and the weather was perfect; little wind, sunny, cool. The course was flat as a board. And given some of the times I had the previous fall I felt like the elusive barrier was in reach. We got our race kits, which contained a pretty nice quarter zip, and lined up for coffee at the Tim Horton’s wagon which was thankfully present. The 5K was the third of the three races to start, so we had to wait a bit while the half marathoners and 10K runners got going.

IMG_20170409_084720382

Inside the Lombardo Pavilion, waiting to start.

As we lined up at the start, we endured a set of complicated instructions from the race marshal. Don’t turn around at the 2.5K turnaround pylon – check. (I would hope that I would notice the difference between 2.5 and 1.25K). If you hit Storybook Gardens you’ve gone too far. (Uh, OK). I decided to stay behind the people in front of me, and hope a simple out and back wasn’t beyond my comprehension. I wished Brendan good luck (his goal was to go under 28 minutes) and then the horn went and we were off. Once again, there were lots of youngsters in this race, but a bunch of them were wearing gear from a local London track club, and they were fast. I settled in behind a young girl with fiery red hair, with several other teenagers opening a gap ahead of me. There wasn’t much to say about the race itself – as I’ve already noted, it was flat, calm, and fast. I eventually passed red-haired girl (I found out later she was 12, and she finished right behind me, so good on her) and hit the turnaround to head back, feeling pretty good. A thirty-ish guy steamed past me after the turn, but I put myself in about 6th or 7th place, and vowed to hold there if possible. On the way back, we were greeted by the sight of a rather forlorn looking goose, standing over a broken egg. This made me feel kinda bad. Goddamn humans, trampling through everything. We suck.

Now, I had this vision in my head about what it would be like to finally break the 20 minute mark. I would come into the final stretch, legs pumping. Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” or something equally cheesy would be pulsing through my head. I would see the finish line clock starting in a 1, and would flash a conquerer’s smile. I would puff out my chest, arms raised, and bellow like a Viking as I crossed the line, and maybe even grab a banana and spike it like a football to punctuate the poignant moment.

Here’s what really happened:

The last stretch was down a hill with the finish line around a sharp corner. While I appreciated the downhill, I couldn’t see the clock, and so didn’t know if I was at 20 minutes or how close I was. As I rounded the corner and crossed the line, I looked up and realized… the clock was counting the time for the previous 10K race.

Goddammit. No Viking yell. No banana spiking. Only mental arithmetic. How anticlimactic.

My math told me, based on when the 10K started, that I was probably just under 20 minutes, but I had no way of telling officially. B came rolling in a few minutes later (looking exhausted – he really wanted to please his old man I think) and he was totally befuddled by the clock. I reassured him that he wasn’t as slow as the time indicated, which mollified him.

A peek at the official posted results confirmed that we had both reached our goals, I at 19:54, and B at 26:58 (he finished 49th). There was no awards ceremony, but $25,000 was raised for research into macular degeneration, which was great. So, another goal to cross off the list. I guess I’m going to have to set some more challenges soon. And, there’s still the marathon looming in my consciousness. Getting closer, step by step…

IMG_20170409_084851958_HDR

The requisite selfie.

IMG_20170409_120958543

2017 Race #2: Puerto Rico Half Marathon, San Juan, PR

Date: March 12, 2017
Gun Time: 1:40:02
Chip Time: 1:39:48
Placing Overall: 29th out of 760
Placing in Age Group: 4th out of 80 (M40-44)
Theme Song: San Juan“, Daniel Lanois

Note to self: don’t schedule a half marathon at the end of a vacation again.

If you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, get on a damn plane and go there now. I’ve been there four times, and the place never disappoints. It’s got everything: stunning beaches, verdant rain forests, winding mountain roads, great food, friendly people. Old San Juan is one of the most atmospheric locations in the Americas, and of course the temperatures in the 80s in early March are most welcome when the frigid north is being lashed by snowstorms.

incredible-view

Half marathon? What half marathon?

Now, the problem with all this for me was trying to exercise some restraint in the days leading up to the race, which was, well, basically impossible given the many, many available enticements. Instead of juicing and eating light protein laden meals, I was guzzling rum and Medalla Light and chowing down on spit-roasted pig. I ate mountains of tostones and mofongo and justified it by telling myself I was carbo-loading. And, I decided to take a few days off running because I had a shin that was a little tweaked, but probably took more time than was necessary, to the point that I was feeling pretty sluggish.

vegetables-mofongo-con-chicharron-flickr-arndog-Arnold-Gatilao-3923226702-4x3

Ah, mofongo. My delicious, delicious nemesis.

When I did run, most of my outings were in a place called Betances where we had a house rented. On the one hand, it was great, because there was little traffic and east of town the scene became decidedly rural and beautiful, my route crossing rivers and meandering under 30 foot coconut palms. On the other, Betances, like a lot of places in Puerto Rico, has a rather large contingent of stray dogs. On the first day, they eyed the strangely pasty interloper in their midst suspiciously, but didn’t do much else. On my second run, though, there was a lot more growling, and I noted one bitch, some kind of hound with droopy nipples and weird grey eyes, was paying me close attention, following me for a few minutes. On my final run there, I met this same dog on my return from running a few blocks away from the house. Bemused, I watched it sprint away from me in the direction I was going, barking like mad, and then all of a sudden four other dogs appeared out of nowhere and the motherfuckers chased me for a block and a half, only stopping when I stooped to pick up a large rock and hurled it at one of them, my heart jackhammering in my chest. Later, as we left town, I saw a guy out running who was carrying a rather large stick with him. Lesson learned.

We traveled with another family, friends of ours, on this trip, and unfortunately a rather nasty cold was making the rounds among them, so I spent most of the second week of the trip bathing in Purell. Somehow I managed to avoid getting sick, and was up at 4:30 in the morning to make the drive from the Punta Las Marias area where we were staying to the Caribe Hilton and Sixto Escobar Park, which were ground zero for the race. I had not been able to catch the race expo, since we were not able to make it back to San Juan in time, so I had to spring for VIP packet pick-up on race day, which was quickly and easily handled at the front desk of the Hilton. I blundered around for a bit in the dark trying to figure out where to go, eventually locating the starting chute off the street, behind Sixto Escobar Stadium. The runners were starting to gather there, and I checked my morning bag and started to do a bit of dynamic stretching. This race has featured a marathon and half every year until this iteration, which dropped the marathon for some reason and added a 10K instead. About 1200 runners were gathered to do the two races, with the half set to start at 6AM just as first light was starting to reach across the sky and a bright moon hung in front of us like a fat, round lantern. In true island fashion, the gun was delayed about 10 minutes while the policia ensured that the course was clear. Here’s a pretty good video of the start taken by another runner with a Go-Pro (not sure how you’d run with one, but I guess people run with pacer signs too).

This was beyond any doubt the most beautiful race I have ever run. We looped up past the 15th-century Spanish forts San Juan is so famous for, Castillo de San Cristobal and El Morro, and around the outside of the old town’s walls, past prime examples of colonial architecture and over cobblestoned streets. The sun was rising over the towers lining Condado as we crossed the bridge over the laguna and headed into the convention center area. People were out in the streets even at this early hour to cheer us on, and I tried to maintain a steady pace as we headed south along Calle Marginal beside Highway 1.

2017-03-17 21_52_15-Puerto Rico Marathon & Half Marathon 2017 _ FinisherPix

I still look pretty fresh here, but not for long.

A couple of things were becoming fairly evident by this time. One, there was no place on the course where the time was being displayed, so I had no idea how fast I was going. I felt like it was a pretty good clip, but I couldn’t be sure. Two, it was really, really freaking sticky and uncomfortable. The heat and humidity were way beyond what I trained in whilst in Cuba, so I adopted a strategy of taking two cups at each aid station, one of water and one of Gatorade. The Gatorade, I drank. The water, I dumped on my head. For the first 7 or 8 miles, this sufficed.

I took comfort in the fact that as I went through miles 7-10 I was actually passing people on the course. It seemed that some of the other runners were struggling even more than I was. As we bent west and headed through Condado on Avenida Ashford some old guy jogging ended up on the course and a bunch of us had to go around him. There didn’t seem to be a course marshal around to tell him to get out of the way, and I’m really not sure what he thought he was doing, as there was lots of space on the sidewalk (there was no indication that he was in the race at all).

Things started to get tough as I hit the Dos Hermanos Bridge at the end of Ashford and headed back toward Old San Juan. A crosswind was making life a little miserable and the sodden, heavy air was starting to take its toll. Also, the sun was high enough that it was really starting to get hot. I was grunting with exertion, trying to hold some kind of pace. We were starting to hit the last of the 10K stragglers now, and the route followed a bike path past the Capitol building and then bent right up a pretty steep hill to rejoin Calle Luis Munoz Rivera back to Escobar Park and the finish. I dealt with the hill all right, but all the juice seemed to go out of my legs shortly after. I had about a mile and a half to go, and I was completely spent. I slowed to a walk for a few seconds just to steady myself, and then gave it one last push. I always get energized to see the finishing gate at any race, and this was no exception, and I actually managed to work up a sprint and pass three more people in the finishing chute. Initially, I couldn’t even see where they had the finishing line clock; I turned around and noted it was just above 1:40. Damn.

2017-03-17 22_13_44-Puerto Rico Marathon & Half Marathon 2017 _ FinisherPix

Little slower than I wanted, but I got there.

Collecting my medal, and a whole bunch of food (protein pack, various bars, the usual banana, no mofongo though) I sat in the park for a few minutes, exhausted, slowly dumping a bottle of Aquafina on my head. It was actually possible to go over to Escambron Beach and jump right in the water, but I was too damned tired to do it.

So, no PR in PR. (See what I did there? Heh.) In the end, I probably could have done better in this one, and indeed missed an age group award by a mere 32 seconds, but I’m going to treat it as motivation for next time. I really did enjoy this race, and with a little better preparation would definitely do it again. It was generally pretty well run and a lot of fun too. Puerto Rico, te amo.

No automatic alt text available.

2017 Race #1: Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile, Waterloo, ON

Date: February 12, 2017
Gun Time: 57:29
Chip Time: 57:25
Placing Overall: 18th out of 76
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 6 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

It seemed like it had been an age since I had last run a real competition, and I had been looking forward to 2017’s debut with great anticipation. I was in the midst of a training cycle for the Puerto Rico Half Marathon, which, this being February, had largely been inside on the treadmill. I did, however, buy a pair of those Yaktrax things that you slip over your shoes and have the spike-and-coil combination on the bottom for traction on icy winter surfaces. I was still ambivalent about them after a 10 mile run the weekend prior where it felt like my feet weighed about 50 pounds (the snow sticks to the bottom of them, you see) and it seemed they rendered running outside a choice between one of two evils. So, I was delighted to see, in the days leading up to this race, that it looked like the weather was going to be fairly benign, with a 45 degree Saturday the day before, and temperatures in the mid 30s on race day with, possibly, a little rain dampening the proceedings.

O, ye capricious gods of Southern Ontario weather, it seems you are still angry with me.

I awoke on race day to find that our yard was buried in 4 inches of fresh snow from a storm that no one predicted. Lori, no doubt hoping to stay inside next to the fireplace, asked me if I really, seriously, planned to run that day given the conditions, which suddenly were calling for an additional 2 inches of fresh powder over the course of the morning. I assured her that nothing would keep me from competing and watched her face fall a little. Trooper that she is, she helped me pack the kids into the car and off we went to RIM Park in Waterloo where the race was being held (normally we can drive up there in 25 minutes, but on this day it took us nearly an hour).

I’d signed Brendan up for the 3K the day before, and he was keen to run, having dropped some extra weight that he had accumulated last summer sitting around playing PlayStation (he’s deeply into basketball now and in much better shape). We sat in the community center waiting for the race to begin, and I sized up the competition. There was an 8K and an 8 mile being run, and the field in the 8 mile was shaping up to be a very fast one, with several elites taking part, including a couple of Canadian Olympic Team members. I went into this one hoping for a sub-56-minute time and a top 3 placing in my age group, and though the sub-56 seemed exceedingly unlikely I felt like I could still acquit myself fairly well.

32119699484_a04fdbedd7_z.jpg

The snow let up a bit for the start, and we all crowded outside into the freezing cold. Brendan and I had been working on a choreographed pre-race handshake celebration thing that we busted out to the amusement of some of the other runners. “Gotta let them know we’re in the house,” as I said to B.

Anyway, the horn went and off we trudged into the heavy snow. The first 500 meters or so hadn’t been plowed and were very sludgy, but then we turned onto the road and things got a bit better, at least for a while. I rolled through the first mile at a 6:45 pace, down a hill and around a sloppy, slippery corner. I remember thinking to myself that if conditions didn’t worsen, maybe the race would be faster than I expected.

32580871270_bacfdd1efe_z

Rounding a corner with a bit of a sly grin. I might not have been smiling if I’d known how much the course would deteriorate.

Worsen, they did, however.

The snow started to fall furiously shortly after, and to make matters worse the 8 milers had to detour through a residential neighborhood where the streets hadn’t been plowed at all. The footing was treacherous, and negotiating the white drifts was like running through heavy, wet sand. My calves and quads were getting pretty sore by the time we got through this section and into a second loop of the previous major streets, which by now were also snow covered. I was keeping my pace but starting to struggle a little at around mile 6.

32147310433_b3e0f95dcc_z

This should give an idea of what we had to deal with.

Meanwhile, B had blazed through the 3K (which wasn’t chip timed, but he didn’t care) and was the fourth to cross the line, and the first one under 18.

32148559553_a2d1193a69_z

The boy’s all right.

I put everything I had into the last couple of miles. I seemed to get a bit of a second wind with a mile to go, and managed to pass a couple of runners en route to the finish, and we were starting to catch up to the back of the pack of 8K runners, which meant steering around some slower people.  The last 500 meters was over the unplowed section again, which wasn’t the easiest way to finish. I think I let out a couple of fairly inventive cuss words, in fact. But, I managed to hump my way over the line in a little over 57 minutes, and was pretty much OK with it.

32962199025_7b0f69b07d_z

Drafting. It didn’t help much given the footing.

32148487883_89b340498f_z

First race of the year, in the books.

We all went inside where hot coffee and pizza were waiting. A live band was playing, too, and Dana and Brendan got their groove on a little bit. I bumped into one of my former students who had run the 8K and we commiserated about the conditions. I was happy to see that I had a podium finish in my age group, and went to collect my medal. Somehow, the winner of the 8K had done it in a blazing 24 minutes and change, which was a bit mind-boggling to me. Everybody else struggled. Even Krista DuChene, an Olympic Marathoner, struggled to do the 8 mile in under 50 minutes. I figure I would have been about 3 minutes faster in dry conditions. Oh well. The next race I’m running will present a different challenge: Puerto Rico will be very hot and humid, though I did get 35 miles of training done in similar conditions last week in Cuba. Anything without snowdrifts will be a welcome change.

16729192_10155003486007052_1411405537797483152_n.jpg16683968_10155003486002052_2373704847963296981_n.jpg

“What’s a good 10K time?”

God, what a stupid question. But I asked it.

Idly whiling away the time on The Oracle recently, I submitted said query, and was pretty amused by the results. Let me say first that I understand “good” is entirely subjective. I don’t know what I expected to find, but it seems there are a lot of people with unrealistic expectations of how “good” should be defined. Some examples:

From Reddit: [Around] 32:00 is universally regarded as a decent 10K time. (underscoring mine)

Dude, WTF, are you kidding me? You and I obviously have rather different notions of what the word “universal” means. Note that this poster went on to say emphatically that he was not trolling. Uh huh.

From Runner’s World: My dad always said 42 minutes was what everyone at his running club considered a ‘serious’ time.That was 30 years ago though, and I suspect 42 minutes would now be thought of as rather slow by the serious runners at my club. 

Have runners’ times really gotten that much faster in 30 years? Maybe at the elite end, but I’m not so sure about the average club runner. I can tell you that at my club 42 minutes would be considered reasonably fast, at least for someone older than 35.

From the same Runner’s World thread: 40-45 minutes is a respectable time but to be classed as a good runner…you need to do a sub 40 for it, dont [sic] you….

Um, no, I’m pretty sure you don’t.

From community.myfitnesspal.com: For serious runners a sub 40min is considered a good 10k time. Obviously age, genetics,weight, dedication etc play their part. Decent club runners will be in the low 30’s.

Where the hell is this notion coming from that a sub-40 is “good”? I saw this a few times. There was one poster who considered a 40-42 minute 10K to be a good time for “hobbyists”. Christ almighty. Look, at my age, a sub-40 is about a 75% age grade, which is, in my estimation, better than “good”. Personally, I feel that age grading is the only real way to gauge how well one runs, but translating that into good vs. not good is utterly arbitrary. If I run at a 70% age grade and I can beat 95% of the other competitors in most races, shouldn’t that be considered “good”? I think so, but of course that’s my own interpretation.

I’m aware the counterargument to this is that running times are getting slower due to the people who enter races mostly to walk, or slowly jog, their way to the finish line. And of course, there was some additional claptrap about what constitutes a “serious runner” that I found in various threads. People were actually arguing about this. Really, who cares? We are a nation of sedentary, overweight, carbohydrate-addicted people, and we’re getting sick because of it. Why would anyone want to disdain someone as not serious when they, unlike many of our citizens, are actually making an effort to get out there? I’ve heard certain people lament the “state of the sport” because of this, as if some sort of purity needs to be maintained in running that is being sullied just because Joe Six-Pack wants to say he did a 10K. Come on. Stop being ridiculous.

I think it’s important for us, as a community of runners, to be as welcoming as possible. I have never maligned another runner based on appearance or ability, and I never would. I think, by and large, we are a group that understands and supports one another. So, for those with their noses in the air about how “serious” one is about the sport, let’s consider being as inclusive as we can, shall we? It’s my belief that we, and our sport, will be the better for it.