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.

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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.

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Sadly, I missed Lanni.

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.

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They are pretty stylish.

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.

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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.

“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.

Races, and goals, for the coming year.

So, it’s January again, and I’ve been back into the weeds at work, but I have been thinking a lot lately about running plans for 2017. I’m shooting for ten races of varying distances, and have put together something of a tentative schedule for the first part of the year. I’m sure this will change, but for now, it’s as follows:

January – No Events

This of course is the month where I choose to run inside to prevent being flash frozen. Our winter has so far been up and down, but the last three weeks have been pretty cold. We are going to get a thaw starting this weekend, so there is a slim chance I might be able to get outside for a run early next week. I will also get a reprieve due to a conference trip to San Francisco later next week, so I plan to at least do a couple of runs there. Although, I guess Northern California has been pretty rainy so I might get wet. I’ve already started a new training cycle for my next half marathon in March. It just sucks that I have to do a lot of it on the treadmill.

February – Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8 Mile

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Running in Southern Ontario in February is no picnic either, but it’s a bit better than January. In the past, I’ve always been somewhere south on vacation during the Re-Fridgee-Eighter, but this year it fits into my schedule. There’s an 8K and an 8 Mile – I’ve never run an 8 mile race before so I figure it’s at least good for a PR. Going to shoot for under an hour but I guess it will depend on the weather. Also, I get to complete my training cycle for the March race in Cuba at the end of February, which will be hot and humid and will prep me for the following month, where I will be taking on…

March – Puerto Rico Half Marathon

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We’ll be in Puerto Rico for the first two weeks of March, and I plan to make the most of it. The main worry I have is that I might, erm, overindulge before the race. I mean, mofongo! Lechon asado! Puerto Rican rum! So many temptations. I’m definitely going to shoot for a PR despite the fact that I will likely eat my weight in suckling pig and chicharrones. I think with the way I finished last year and my 10K times I should be able to crack 1:35.

April – OE Canada INC Run For Retina Research 10K

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I have some unfinished business at this race, because last year I wussed out. There was a big early spring snowstorm the week it was on and I just couldn’t get myself interested enough in running in the cold. Weirdly, we got more snow last year in the first two weeks of April than we got in January and March combined. Doubt that will be the case this year. Will also be starting a second training cycle this month for my June event. And it finally gets warmer at home!

May – GoodLife Fitness Toronto 10K

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No real reason why I chose this one, other than it fits into my schedule, and it’s always fun to come back to Toronto to run. May is usually beautiful in our neck of the woods, which is good, because I’m going to be doing a lot of preparation for…

June – Conquer the Canuck 25K

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This is put on by my club the Cambridge Harriers, and I couldn’t do it last year because I was out of town (and pretty bummed about it). It’s a trail run through Shade’s Mills, our local conservation area. June was super hot last year, and the course is pretty challenging. I’m stoked about this one and my goal is to break two hours. The weekend also includes a marathon, a 50k, and (for some reason) an 8.33k race. The marathon and 50K can also be run as a two-day staged race. No, I’m not doing it.

Still have to figure out the latter half of the year, but I think there will be another half marathon in there and at least a couple of 5K runs (gotta bust that 20 minutes).

Happy running everyone.

2016 Recap, and plans for 2017.

So, the holidays are upon us, and it’s time to reflect on another year.

I had some pretty grand plans for this year, and well, not all of them came to fruition. Nevertheless, I’m pretty happy with how things went. I ended up getting a respiratory infection that took me out for part of October, so I had to cut a couple of events, unfortunately. I don’t intend to do any more competitions until February, so let’s look back at 2016.

Going into this year I had a few goals:

PR in the 8K – Check. I ran 33:39 in the only one I did this year, the Cambridge Mill Race.
PR in the 10K – Check. Again, I only ran one, but it was 41:17 in San Francisco, an utter dismantling of my old PR.
PR in the half marathon – Check. 1:35:46 in Buffalo.
Sub 20:00 5K – Not quite. Best I did was 20:09 in Chicago.
Finish a marathon – Nope. Could not fit a proper training schedule into what turned out to be a rather topsy-turvy year.

So, in 7 races, I had:

One victory (in the Harvest Quarter Marathon)
Two second-place finishes (in the KW Kids with Cancer Run and the Lurie Cancer Survivors Run in Chicago)
Two top-15 finishes (Laurier Loop, Cambridge Mill Race)
One top-20 finish (San Francisco Giant Race 10K, which it should be noted had almost 6,000 participants. This is probably the race I’m proudest of this year.)
One top-100 finish (out of almost 4,000 in the Buffalo Half Marathon).

Not bad for an old guy.

As for next year, still some stuff to work on. Right now, the plan is to do the Re-Fridgee-Eighter 8K (or possibly the 8-mile, which is also part of the event) in February, the Puerto Rico Half Marathon in March, the Mercedes-Benz 10K in Oakville in April (if I can fit it into my schedule – they still haven’t announced the date), the GoodLife Toronto 10K in May, and a new local trail race, the Conquer the Canuck 25K, in June. We shall see if this holds up.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

2016 Race #7: Harvest Quarter Marathon, Wellesley, ON

Date: September 24, 2016
Gun Time: 44:14
Chip Time: 44:14
Placing Overall: 1st out of 60
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 2
Theme Song: The Weeknd, “The Hills

This was actually supposed to be my second half marathon of the year, but I haven’t been able to train the way I wanted to lately. My wife landed in the hospital with a back injury and since coming home has been hobbling around like an arthritic grandma, and so I had to take on a lot (read:all) of the household duties for awhile, which is pretty heavy when you have two youngsters in elementary school. I didn’t want to run undertrained, so I decided to scale back to the quarter marathon distance, figuring that a) I was still in pretty good shape to run to what amounted to a 10K race with pretensions, and b) I knew that I would at least run a PR, since I had never run the distance competitively before.

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In fact, from what I can see, there aren’t very many quarter marathons run anywhere; aside from this one there is one other one in Ontario, the Durham Quarter Marathon in Oshawa, and a handful of them in the US in Hartford, Baton Rouge, Katy TX, Houston, and a few other places. Most participants on this day were going to be running the half, with a smaller number of us being bussed out to the midpoint of the course for our race. The origins of this race are quite interesting. It’s out in rural Wellesley Township northwest of the city of Waterloo, run on gravel roads in Mennonite country. Tarah Korir, nee Tarah McKay, is a national class 10K and half marathon runner from the area who married Wesley Korir, a Kenyan who won the Boston Marathon a few years ago. When the couple lived in the area, people used to watch Wesley tearing around the area on training runs (he claimed the rolling gravel roads reminded him of some of the tracks he was used to training on back home in Kenya’s Rift Valley). Tarah and Wesley now live and train in Kenya, but they set up this race three years back to benefit the Kenyan Kids’ Foundation, which makes all kinds of investments in co0peratives benefiting the education and health of African children.

So, I got to the hockey arena (naturally) in tiny St. Clements, Ontario, where the half marathon was to be started and finished as an out-and-back. The quarter marathoners were put on yellow school buses and shipped out half way to run a point-to-point. I’d looked at the altitude chart for the race and noted that it was a net downhill, with a net elevation gain of negative 27 feet.

Overheard on the bus, from a whippet-thin lady of about 50: “Well, it’s mostly downhill, so it can’t be too bad.” (She spent most of the rest of the ride talking about a recent high altitude race in Utah she and her husband just did).

There was a small field of about 60 people, and the timers synchronized our start with the start of the half-marathon. I threw caution to the wind in this one, and took off at the start like I was shot out of a cannon. I figured I’d get a reasonable lead, and then settle in to a groove and ride the mostly downhill course for the rest of the way. It quickly became evident that the course was… ah… not exactly a downhill. In fact, it was seemingly endless hills of loose gravel. I was settling into my pace, but it was pretty tough slogging. The other problem was that there was a headwind I was fighting against, though it was only strong enough to be a bit annoying and not really a problem. The beginning of this race reminded me a bit of the 5K in Chicago earlier this year when I went out really fast and then died at the end, but I’m in a lot better shape now, and I didn’t feel like I was slowing down much. Stopped for a quick drink at the first water station at about mile 3, and kept on running the long straight stretch of rolling hills.

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The half marathoners heading out, and me coming back leading the quarter marathon.

In short order I started to see the leaders of the half marathon coming in the other direction, and I tipped a few of them a wave. Several of the runners coming the other way shouted encouragement. Now as I mentioned, this is Mennonite country, and shortly I was in the unusual situation of having a horse and buggy as a pace vehicle, which was definitely a first. It was rolling along in front of me and I was slowly catching up to it, which meant that dodging piles of manure was quite possibly going to be an added hazard soon. The Mennonites in the area were evidently quite amused by Korir back when he was ripping around the area, and some of them even took to timing him, so they weren’t completely unused to runners puffing along the roads. I waved to a couple of them who were standing at the end of a laneway and they waved back encouragingly.

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Rollin’.

The buggy eventually turned off the course and I was alone again. I chanced a look back and noted that there was another runner (Jeff Martin of H & P, against whom I’ve run before) about 30 seconds or so behind me. I was getting pretty tired by this point, but I resolved that I was not going to let anyone catch me from behind this time. Skipping the water station with about a mile to go, I turned south along the course onto asphalt to head back toward St. Clements. Now, I had a police car as a pace vehicle (nothing like having some variation), and I absolutely put everything I had into a kick, gasping lungfuls of air while trying to keep my body as quiet as possible to conserve energy. As I crossed the road into the arena complex I could tell I had it in the bag as I had opened a wide lead, and I raised my arms at the finish line with a smile for the first victory of the season after enduring a couple of bridesmaid finishes.

Afterwards Jeff came up to me and said “Man, how fast did you do that last km? I was 4:14 and you just ran away from me”. I couldn’t tell him, since I don’t wear a timing device, but I imagine it was down close to 4:00 flat, which is pretty good for the end of a 10-or-so K. All the speed running I’ve been doing is paying off and I had a really good final charge. Plus, I led the race wire-to-wire, which made me pretty happy. The runners coming in were wheezing about the hilliness of the course, which was considerable, but I hope next year I can do the half marathon, as this was a fun little race for a good cause.

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