Whoa. Check out the race I DIDN’T run.

I need to shut up now about Southern Ontario weather. Because I just came across this from Syracuse. And I was seriously considering running this race again because it was so good last year – main reason I didn’t was we couldn’t fit it into our schedules. Lookee:



This is what the Syracuse Half looked like this year. Holy crap on a cracker.

If you ran this one, you have my complete and everlasting respect, for what it’s worth. Seriously. Y’all are old time tough.

The Polar Vortex, and its General Suckitude

I shouldn’t be complaining again about the weather. After all, I was fortunate enough to be in the southern sunshine for almost the entire month from mid-February to mid-March, plus we had a record for warmth in December and the rest of March after returning wasn’t terrible either.

It’s just, when you get to April, it’s supposed to be all daffodils and bunny rabbits and chirping birds and such. Not this:


Yeah, this is what it looked like where I live. Last weekend. IN GODDAMN APRIL.

So, the weatherman tells me it’s because of the polar vortex. You know things are bad when you see a weatherman and you have an irrational and nearly uncontrollable urge to punch him in the mouth. Or I suppose punch the TV since I rarely run into weathermen in person. Lucky for them, I guess.

I mean, seriously, WTF?


I have developed a pathological hatred of the color blue.

This actually started with an ice storm on Easter weekend. Ice storms aren’t very conducive to outdoor running, or driving, or, you know, pretty much anything not indoors. And this one was hideous enough that even the trees looked sad and defeated:


We are the trees of Ontario. See us despair.

This vortex has been vortexing (vorticing? or whatever it is vortices do, besides make shit cold) over us for awhile now and it seems it’s not going to piss off back north for another few days. So, I looked at the prospective weather for my race in London on Sunday, and, well, -5C with -10C windchill (that’s 23 with 14 windchill if you speak Fahrenheit). The normal temperature for this year is 8C (mid forties).

And I’m wussing out. Screw it. I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I hate running in the cold. I’m going to pick up a race in the summer instead; the Angus Glen 5 miler, I think, run on the cart paths of the golf course that hosts the Canadian Open, which is kind of neat. And it will be a sane temperature in July when it’s held. So, the next race will be my local, the Cambridge Mill 8K, on the first of May. God help the weatherman if any vortices try to intervene…

A sporadic January. Plus more plans.

January, ecchhhh.

Running in January is hard for me for a few reasons. I teach 3rd and 4th year undergrad students as part of my university duties, and the only time of year both classes are in the building is in January and February due to the weird co-op schedule. This just means for the first few weeks of the year I am in the shit work wise, if you’ll pardon the expression. It’s hard to find running time when one is working 60+ hour weeks.

Then, there’s the obvious – the weather sucks. No getting around it. So an inordinate amount of time is spent on the hamster wheel, which is a bit disheartening. I do try to bundle up and get out there when I can, but if the footing is crappy (which it usually is) I tend to stay indoors. The dark doesn’t help either. Though Cambridge is kind of pretty in the winter.



Nice to look at. Not so nice to run in.

My kids are great at sharing. One of the things they share is horrible mutant rhinoviruses from hell. So I’ve also been sick for a big chunk of the month, including a brutal sinus infection that I’m just getting over. I haven’t run in over a week, having seemingly spent most of my time boiling water for sinus irrigation (wouldn’t want the amoebae eating my brain, after all.)


Yeah. Gross.

On the bright side, the toughest part of the year is almost over, and I’ve got my running schedule more or less set. I’m gonna stick with the 12 races per year target I set last year and tentatively things look like this:

Orlando Xtreme 5K, Apopka FL. I know, I know. 5K races aren’t “Xtreme”. There is a half marathon also being run as part of the day which I suppose is slightly more “Xtreme”. I had originally planned to run a race in the Everglades, but the cost of the race plus a 6 hour round trip drive plus the cost of a motel worked out to close to 450 CAD. So, some other time. Damn Canadian Peso. I doubt I’ll be too fast in this one given my lack of January activity, but we’ll call it a tuneup.

Laurier Loop 5K, Waterloo, ON. They moved this race from the fall, and I’m not too sure what the weather will hold for a late March race in Southern Ontario, but who cares. Plan on doing this one as a team with B (the McFastlanes return to strike terror into the field, in other words).

Run for Retina Research OE Canada INC 10k, London, ON. Never run a race in London, but it’s only an hour away. This one looks like it might be pretty good.

Cambridge Mill Race 8K, Cambridge, ON. My local, as previously described.

Buffalo Half Marathon, Buffalo, NY. Buffalo gets a bad rap from some quarters, but I really like it there. There’s way more cool stuff to do and see than it’s given credit for, and Buffalo people are great. I’m definitely looking forward to this one.

Peach Bud 10K, Stoney Creek, ON. The main reason for running this one is it’s midweek and fits into my schedule.

KW Run for POGO 5K, Kitchener, ON. I was delighted that they made this race part of the Run Waterloo series, because it’s such a great cause. Doubt I’ll finish in the top 5 again this year though as the level of competition is bound to go up considerably.

B & O Yorkville 5K, Toronto, ON. This time I’ll pay closer attention to the sizing of my race kit.

Harvest Half Marathon, Wellesley, ON. Nice quiet half marathon on country roads north of the city for my second long event of the year.

Oktoberfast Run 10K, Kitchener, ON. For those of you who don’t know, our city has the second biggest Oktoberfest celebration in the world after Munich, due to the huge numbers of German immigrants who settled here. This race has been run for years, is supposed to be very fast, and should be fun (though my suggestion would be beer stations instead of water on the course).

Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon, Hamilton, ON. The big enchilada. At this point, I’ve decided I’m going for it. It’s fast – the #1 BQ marathon in Canada (not that I’m expecting to BQ).

YMCA Jingle Bell 5K, Cambridge, ON. Might as well finish with a local.

This will probably change, but for now, onward and upward. Now, let’s get some more warm weather – it’s 43F here today (7C) so I might actually be able to get out there for a change…


2015 Race #12: YMCA Jingle Bell 5K, Cambridge, ON

Date: November 22, 2015
Gun Time: 20:18
Chip Time: I don’t know, probably 20:16 or so
Placing Overall: 7th out of 142
Placing in Age Group: 3rd out of 18 (M40-44)
Theme Song: “Roxanne“, The Police

Well. Last race of the year. I did it. Man, it feels great.

I’d planned to do the Tannenbaum 10K in December in Toronto as my last one, but then my running club president sent us all an email reminding us about this race supporting the local YMCA. Since it was closer anyway, and it’s always my inclination to back local races, I decided this was a better one to do.

It was a spur of the moment decision, however, and I wasn’t even sure that there would be race day entry, because the website didn’t say either way. There was race kit pickup relatively early on the morning of the run at the Y so I swung by there to see, and got some bells (obviously), a Christmas ornament shaped like a bell (sensing a theme here), and a rather lurid pink T-shirt (um, OK?) in the race kit. There was a 2.5K timed fun run before the 5K was scheduled to begin and everyone was in a festive mood, as I suppose befitted the circumstances.


We stood around in the parking lot shivering while the timing guys pointed out that there was about a 6 foot deep pothole filled with water right in the middle of the course in front of the start line. Thanks, timing guys. The thing looked like it could swallow a Yugo whole and still have room for a Smart Car. Several Cambridge Harriers were in the race so we spent some time catching up waiting for the gun to go off. The only local elite was Rob Brouillette, and he took off at the start as expected. I tried to settle in at a fast pace (avoiding the monster pothole) as the course wound through the trails in the Dumfries Conservation Area before spitting us out on Dunbar Road for an out and back.

Did I mention I hate winter running? Pretty sure I did. A stout wind was in our face from the northwest at this point bringing little flakes of the white-stuff-that-shall-not-be-named. I tried to grin and bear it but wished I had some gloves as I was losing feeling in my hands. I was sitting somewhere in the top ten in a clump of runners that was ahead of most but rapidly falling behind Rob who was by this time way ahead. The one thing that was kind of nice was knowing that the wind would be at our backs pushing us along pretty soon.

We reached the turnaround and got some encouragement from the runners we were passing as we headed back. I was amused to see a runner in a Gumby suit motor by (it turned out to be another fellow Harrier, Steve Mota). The old familiar burn was setting in but the wind behind me helped a lot and I was actually gaining ground on some of the people ahead of me.

065 (1)

I’m Gumby, dammit. (Photo courtesy George Aitken)

So, avoiding the giant pothole again, we hit the line and I was not all that surprised to see that my time was basically the same as my last 5K at about 20:16, and I finished sandwiched in between two other Harriers members (Gary Cassel, who caught me from behind, and Colton Dorion, who won the 16-19 category). I was pretty pleased, as I knew I was in the top ten and felt I probably had another podium finish.

I went inside for some lunch in the YMCA gym, and there was lots of food available; cookies, cake, clam chowder, and chili, among other things. When the results were posted, though, I got a bit of a surprise. Gary was 6th, all right, but Colton was listed as finishing 7th.

No mention of yours truly.

I headed out to talk to the timing guys. Catching one of them, I mentioned that my time hadn’t come up. A second timer, standing nearby, said, “Oh, yeah. 154, we’ve been looking for you.”

He took me into a third guy who took my number. “Okay, let’s see. 154, 154… here we go… Roxanne…”

He paused and squinted at me. “Uh, you’re not Roxanne, are you.”

Nope. Nope, I’m not.

It turned out that somehow the names had been screwed up during registration, and that’s why my name wasn’t there. Normally I wouldn’t care about this all that much, but a podium finish was at stake, and more bling. The situation ended up being rectified in time for the announcement of the age category winners and I got my medal. I guess this sort of thing is inevitable from time to time, and I’m glad it worked out, because otherwise it would have been kind of a sour note on which to end the year. I still don’t know what my chip time was (it was reported as 20:43 which is obviously wrong) but I guess it doesn’t matter. Bring on 2016.


My hard earned (harder than expected, anyway) medal and retina-searing pink shirt.

A few things I learned in my failed marathon training attempt.

There’s a lot of stuff they don’t tell you as a neophyte would-be marathon runner.

I think I was a bit overconfident in trying to feel my way through the process. Somehow, I was under the impression that I could find an online plan, blindly follow it, and everything would work out. That clearly didn’t turn out to be the case at all. Things would probably have gone better if I had just tried to seek out some advice from friends of mine, and there are a few, who are veteran marathoners. Pride cometh before a fall, as they say.

So, for this post, I thought I’d look back and try to come up with some clear lessons learned, in order to help myself and maybe anyone else who reads this.

Here we go:

1. Marathon plans involving rigid running schedules and a specific number of miles don’t work for me.

break 4 or bust runners world

I felt like absolute shit after I ran my first 40-mile week, and I got hurt shortly after that. In addition to the problems with actually fitting all of the mileage into my schedule, I never felt like there was enough time for me to recover in between runs. The other thing I noticed was that it TOTALLY sucked all the enjoyment out of running for me. It really made me wonder about the concept of “junk miles”. A lot of the training I was doing was probably low quality miles where I was just slogging through and I don’t think it was helping me.

2. I was doing my training runs way too goddamn fast.


The run I got hurt on was an 18 miler that I tried to do at an 8:15/mile pace because I struggle with running slow enough on long runs. This was a theme in training.

3. Going from being basically a couch potato to being a sub 4:00 marathoner in 6 months is probably not going to work for most people (it didn’t for me).


Not me. But you get the idea.

I mean, holy crap. I read that sentence above again and I can’t believe I was so naive. I was really buoyed by some encouraging early results when I made the commitment to do a dozen races this year, but I was ignoring the clear fact that a marathon is so far removed from even the 1:40 half marathon I ran in February that it might as well be another sport. Building a base on which I could work toward the marathon should have been the priority, and it wasn’t. As a result, the overuse injuries killed me. The good news is, I have that base now.

4. I probably don’t need to run all that much to be successful, as long as I put in quality work.


Yeah. This is how I felt sometimes.

I’m not saying I can do a marathon on 20 mile weeks. But consider this: I ran three half marathons this year. My fastest time came when I was “undertrained” and running… uh… 20 mile weeks. To be fair, I did throw runs of 8, 10, and 12 miles in there. The key was I did all my mileage at or near half marathon pace and added speedwork every couple of weeks. Yes, I did feel the lack of work in the second half of the race in Toronto and given my 10K split I should have been faster. But feeling great physically going in really helped.

5. I’m wayyyyyy faster at the shorter distances.


Again not me. This is from the film “The Fast Runner”, which, apparently, is about a fast runner. I don’t run naked over ice floes. Usually.

My half marathon PR equates to a 21:17 5K, apparently. My real 5K time is almost down to 20:00 flat. I will continue to do a mix of distances, but my podium finishes in the 5K races have me thinking about leaning a little more toward these as opposed to the longer ones.

6. Half marathons are great, people are still impressed when you say you run them, and you can still, like, do stuff with the rest of the day after you finish one.


Yeah, we know. You a bad bad man.


I gotta say the marathoners I saw in Cleveland did not look like they were doing well after finishing. Not that I am disparaging the marathon. I still want to run one. But, if your goal is to seem like a badass, you can probably get away with the shorter distance as long as your friends aren’t ultramarathoners or something.

7. On balance, I really prefer running in Florida in the winter.


Hey, what do you know. I can reuse the photo.


Because, you know, genital nip and stuff. I also ran in San Francisco when I was there which was pleasant weather wise but, wow. Hills.

8. Don’t say you’re going to run a marathon for charity when it’s your first time.

charity scams

Yeesh. This was dumb. It’s pretty tough to admit to a bunch of people that have given you money that you can’t physically do the race. They were understanding. But still, don’t do it.

9. I’m still doing the damn marathon. But next time I’m gonna do it right.

It might not be next year, or the year after. But it is going to happen. Mark it down.

2015 Race #4: Syracuse Half Marathon, Syracuse, NY

Date: March 22, 2015
Gun Time: 1:43:51
Chip Time: 1:43:38
Placing Overall: 303rd out of 2773
Placing in Age Group: 27th out of 136
Theme Song: (Tie) Arcade Fire, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and Foreigner, “Cold As Ice

Ah, the first weekend of spring. Rebirth. Renewal. Return of green and warmth, and druids dancing around Stonehenge and stuff.

Except, um, if you live in Central New York State. And to be fair, most of Canada.

I had only ever been to Syracuse for a very brief overnight visit during a college road trip, and I have to say, we really enjoyed the city on race weekend. A cold rain washing over us on the I-90 as we approached the city gave way to clear skies later in the day. The kids loved the Museum of Science and Technology, we had some great eats downtown, and though we missed the NCAA tournament games at the Carrier Dome by a week, we took in a Syracuse Crunch hockey game at the War Memorial Arena (the home team losing a close one to rival Utica). I felt good and rested as I turned in for the night, having taken 3 days off to rest and prepare for the half which was to start the next morning at 8AM. Packet pick-up earlier in the day at Fleet Feet in East Syracuse had been extremely well organized and I got a nice quarter-zip pullover for registering, in addition to a couple of cans of Red Bull, which I decided I’d stay away from until the race, given my, ahem, problems with the last half (I came well armed with Imodium and was careful with fibre the day before and that’s all anyone probably wants to know about that).

Rising at 6AM I was raring to hit the bricks. I knew it would be cold from the forecast, but looking out the window, um, this.

I believe the air may have turned blue for a second and it had nothing to do with the cold, if you know what I mean.

Facing the prospect of running 13.1 with seriously crappy footing, I nonetheless headed down to the OnCenter a few blocks away, where the race expo and starting line were. This was a large race, with 3500 spots sold out before race day, and given that the temperature at race time was in the teens with close to zero windchill, most of us were huddled inside the building, waiting for the starting gun.


It has to be said, though, that this was an extremely well organized race. There were clear directions given to runners, the race expo was solid, and it felt like a smaller competition despite the number of participants. The only blip of the day was the delay of the start time by 15 minutes, which was presumably done so that the city workers could get the course as clear as possible. Eventually we all gathered outside in the starting corral, and I lined up near the 8:00 mile pace sign, shivering with the other runners. After the anthem, the gun mercifully went off, and thankful for the opportunity to generate some warmth, off we all went.


Snaking out of downtown, we headed up a long incline along James Street into the pleasant Eastwood neighborhood. Two things became evident to me fairly quickly. Firstly, the organizers and city had done a magnificent job of clearing the course – the footing was not a problem at all during the entire duration of the race (big kudos to you guys for this). And secondly, there were hills on this course. Quite a few hills actually.

So, yet another flaw exposed in the training. I need to run more hills.

Now, the elevation gain on the course wasn’t enormous, but it was a good 400 feet, and it was clear early that this was slowing me down somewhat. Periodically I would turn a corner and curse to myself as another upslope came into view. On the other hand, most of the gain was in the first half of the race, so at least we weren’t expected to climb when more fatigued at the end. As well, we were greeted by a long and much appreciated downhill at around mile 8 as the course headed to Inner Harbor and back downtown.

There were also more hardy Syracuse natives out to cheer us than I expected given the weather. I saw one kid holding a sign reading “Hurry Up, I’m Freezing!” and gave him a thumbs up. It was really nice to have the support of the locals in the harsh cold.

Running past our hotel I wondered whether Lori and the kids would be waiting outside for me to pass by, but they weren’t. It turned out that they were not aware of the late start and thought they missed me. I soldiered on through mile 11 or so. By this time a PR was not a possibility based on my splits, but I was still going to be able to run a sub 8:00 mile for the race if I kept pace. Heading down the last straightaway I was tired but still felt good enough to pick it up a bit, and crossed the line in 1:43:51. I could hear my son shout my name, and I looked over to see my family standing there, teeth chattering.

“Hunghh hhhnnn huhhn,” I said, approximately. My lower jaw had become so numb I couldn’t really move it, and we quickly moved inside to get warmed up.

So, not a PR, but a cool medal, post race pancakes, bacon, and sausage helped a lot, and there was a live band playing. And I felt pretty good about my performance under the circumstances. I would definitely run this race again, and indeed probably will next year. There’s lots to like about Syracuse and the race was really enjoyable.

I just hope it’s a bit warmer next year.




2015 Race #1: Robbie Burns 8K Road Race, Burlington, Ontario

Date: January 25, 2015
Gun Time: 35:38
Chip Time: 35:33
Placing Overall: 151st out of 1047
Placing in Age Group: 20th out of 67 (M40-44)
Theme Song: Modest Mouse, “Florida

“Are you really gonna park there, in front of my driveway?” said the dude who had just popped out of his front door, like a Morlock from his hole.

I eyed the 3 inch sliver of bumper that was currently technically the obstruction in question and looked at him a little incredulously. Shrugging, I sauntered back over to my car’s driver side door, half expecting him to make the “I’m watching you” gesture of pointing to his eyes and then to me. I moved a comfortable distance down the street; it never pays to antagonize the Morlocks, I’ve learned.

Welcome to Burlington, apparently.

It was definitely one of those genital nip sort of days. Burlington in January tends to be about as charming a place as the wilds of Siberia. The mercury read -11C an hour before the race, and it wasn’t looking to get a whole lot warmer. A cutting wind from the northwest wasn’t helping matters.

Safely inside the gym at Burlington Central High School, I picked up my race kit (basically consisting of a short sleeved shirt with a grinning Scotsman in a kilt and running shoes adorning the front) and surveyed the other runners, who wore an eye watering assortment of plaid over their cold weather running gear. A group aptly named the “Tartan Tarts” went chattering past as I wondered idly what the immortal bard would have made of them.

Sadly, “Ode to a Haggis” was not part of the opening salvo of ceremonies, though of course the requisite skirling bagpipes were evident. A couple of too long announcements were made as we stood shivering behind the start line.


The gun went eventually, and unfortunately the cold led to me going out a bit too fast in an effort to warm up. I did the first mile in 6:30 and though I was feeling pretty good, I felt I had better slow things down a bit. A funny thing happened as the race progressed – I didn’t think it was possible for me to overdress for the conditions, but I did. About halfway through the race, I felt like I was overheating. I was wearing a poly/spandex full zip as my top layer, which I partly undid, but the layers underneath still seemed to be too warm.

Things got a little worse when I turned the corner into the last straightaway at the 6K mark and ran smack into that north-west wind. Worse still, this part of the course hadn’t really been properly salted or cleared, and I was having a hell of a lot of trouble finding my footing, which is a real pain in the ass when you’re at the end of a race and trying to maintain your pace while increasingly fatigued.

Nevertheless, in spite of the challenging conditions I managed to cross the line in 35:33, which was a PR, although I had done the distance faster in training. I was relatively happy with this, and it was fun hanging around the start line for a bit and watching some of the rather whimsically costumed participants reach the finish.


No haggis post-race either, but hot oatmeal (as I suppose befits a Scottish themed race) and the usual assortment of bananas and bagels. As a local band belted out vaguely Celtic songs (Great Big Sea, anyone?) and the medalists climbed the stage post-race to receive their due, I resisted (somehow) the urge to proclaim,

“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face
Great chieftain of the puddin’ race!”

Because, of course, no one wants to be compared to a haggis, really.

As I drove home, my iPod shuffle rather shrewdly coughed up Modest Mouse’s Florida: “Even as I left Florida/Far enough, far enough, wasn’t far enough.” Appropriate given the location of my next races – but with my first half-marathon coming up I was left to hope that far enough would indeed be far enough.

Canadian Winters (and the Dubious Joys of Running in Them)

Running in cold weather sucks.

I love my country, but with regard to my tolerance for the cold, the place of my birth sometimes seems like a bit of an unhappy accident. Let me be blunt: I hate the snow, I hate the freezing temperatures, I am not a winter sports person, and every day that goes by in the less salubrious months of the calendar here I pray for an end to the frigid horrors (which, I would surmise, makes me not unlike the vast majority of Canadians, if we’re being perfectly honest).

Now, the problem: I had just committed to myself that I was going to run the Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon in May, and thus the training, or at least part of it, was going to have to take place in the winter. I therefore had to steel myself for the eventuality of heading out in, shall we say, rather less than perfect conditions.

This, it soon transpired, created a few logistical problems. As a rather extreme and unfortunate example, I had never heard of genital nip before I started seriously running. It is not a comfortable experience. Apparently there are shorts with a special lining designed to ward off just such a circumstance. This is one of the things no one tells you about cold weather exercise. (So, guys – be warned.) Also, it’s difficult to prepare for the effort involved in running when there is deep icy slush on the roads. The first 10 mile run I put in was not only slow, but my hamstrings hurt for days afterward from the effort of just lifting my feet out of the frozen quagmire. Trying to pick one’s way down a road that is a solid sheet of ice is no fun either. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have any serious falls, but I certainly slipped a few times, and again, extra effort is required staying upright that saps one’s energy and resolve.

The alternative, of course, is staying inside on the hamster wheel. This is what I tended to do when the weather got really cold, or the roads were slippery enough that I just didn’t want to bother with them. The running community on the internet has lots of things to say about treadmill running, and just like most things there doesn’t seem to be any consensus about it. The most damning criticism leveled at the treadmill seems to be “it’s not the same as road running.” Well, duh. In January in Canada, it’s a hell of a lot warmer, for one thing. I realize that it’s not a good idea to train for road racing entirely on a treadmill, but I would never do this, or advocate doing it. I have, however, found that mixing treadmill runs in with outdoor ones has allowed me to get mileage in and reduce the amount of wear and tear from repetitive strain, since the impact is much lessened with the cushioning a treadmill provides versus a hard asphalt surface.

I’ve had a few fellow runners who seem to feel this is anathema, and their reasons usually boil down to the following: lack of wind resistance and road surface makes treadmill running too easy (that’s why I mix it up, and I still seem to be able to go pretty fast on my road runs), you run the risk of overstriding during speed workouts and ending up with hip flexor and hamstring pain (funny that, but my hip, hamstring, and shin pain got better when I started using the treadmill), and using a treadmill all the time will screw up your ability to innately find your pace in the road (last 12 miler I did on the road I set 8:15/mile for my goal pace and wound up running within 5-10 seconds of that for every single one of my mile splits – enough said).

As for dealing with the crushing boredom of doing a two-hour run on a treadmill – well, I still haven’t figured out a strategy for that yet. Suggestions are welcome.

We runners are a crazy lot, and I’ve still found myself out there when the weather is insane. I’m not alone. Exhibit A:

That’s fellow Cambridge Harrier Mitch Free, after one of his competitions this February (photo courtesy George Aitken). All in a day’s work in the Great White North…