Back to training, and the (delayed) beginning of the 2016 season.

It took me a hell of a lot longer than expected to get healthy after coming down with a respiratory infection in January. Fortunately for me, I was able to do some running down in the warmth of Florida and managed to avoid having to do any training in the February chill of the Great Lakes region. The “Extreme!” 5K I was supposed to do in the Orlando area? Yeah. Didn’t happen. Leaving aside the appeal of sitting poolside with a beer, I didn’t feel based on the runs I did that I was anywhere near being able to compete effectively. Every time I came back from a run I spent 5 minutes doubled over, coughing. To make matters worse, the sinus infection that plagued me in January seemed to be rallying.

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Ahh. Now, I was supposed to do something, wasn’t I? Something athletic? Forget it, just pass me another beer.

It took a few days, but by the time I was back in Ontario I felt like I was on the mend. Lucky me, I got to turn around later that week and head to Costa Rica on a family vacation. Bouncing around the backblocks of the country in a little rented 4 x 4 was tons of fun, but what really struck me was the number of Costa Ricans who are either runners or cyclers – we saw them everywhere, laboring up and down the many hills in the country. I did my best to join them over 17 days. Running in Central America poses some interesting challenges; the heat on the coast is like a blast furnace, the humidity can be overwhelming, the roads are pretty bad in parts of the country and you have to constantly be watching out for large vehicles that don’t really yield to those on foot, and especially in Guanacaste province in the dry season the dust thrown up by those vehicles can really be choking. Also, there are a lot of hills (which are great for training, but also which, as I mentioned before, I tend to be crappy on).

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We saw these guys everywhere in Costa Rica, especially on weekends along the coastal highway. Lots of runners, too.

 

Nevertheless, I got some good work in, and am now prepping for the Buffalo Half. Tomorrow is the Laurier Loop in Waterloo, ON, first event of the season. And since I’ll be traveling to Chicago and San Francisco for conferences, I added a couple of events in those places to the schedule. Should be fun.

 

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.

 

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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.)

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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 #3: Edison Festival of Light 5K, Fort Myers, FL

Date: February 21, 2015
Gun Time: 21:12
Chip Time: 21:06
Placing Overall: 95th out of 1207
Placing in Age Group: 7th out of 47
Theme Song: Fat Bottomed Girls“, Queen

Well, one race was apparently not enough for me in the Florida heat, so I found myself at the Edison Festival of Light in downtown Fort Myers preparing to lace ’em up again. Frankly, it was a treat not having to run through snowbanks, and I had been taking full advantage over our vacation, going out for training whenever I could. The Edison Festival is a good time, with a bazaar, lots of food, and live music, and the family and I took full advantage of this as we waited for the late afternoon race to begin. Lots of tall skinny teenage track club types were hanging around the start line in their gear, sizing up the competition; the race is a magnet for competitors state wide and has apparently hosted a masters’ world record and an American open record in the past.

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This distance was a bit more in my wheelhouse than the longer races I had been learning to run. I was a 3K and 5K runner as a youth, and I was still pretty comfortable with these types of events. I was curious to see how much of that aerobic capacity I had maintained over the years, given that I hadn’t run competitive middle distance in, oh, 25 years or so. A gentle breeze wafted through the swaying palms as the sun started to set and we were called to the start line.

Though limited to about 1200 participants, this was the largest race I had run in to date, and the spectator support was great. The 5K is run just before the Festival of Light Parade, and the streets were lined with thousands of people, cheering loudly. I had not run in this environment before and the adrenaline was surging to the point where I had to take some calming breaths before the gun and remind myself not to take off too quickly.

Having positioned myself toward the front of the pack, I settled into a fast pace as we steamed down Edwards Drive along the Caloosahatchie river. The cheering crowd was energizing and I was rolling along at about a 6:30 mile through the first third of the course.

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I realized pretty quickly that my cold weather training had another flaw; namely, I was getting a bit bothered by the South Florida heat and humidity. The temperature at race time was around 74 degrees, which, while not blazing hot, was not quite what I was used to. Usually I am a bit bemused by water stations appearing on a 5K course, however I was glad to be able to use the water on my head and neck to cool down a bit as I tried to maintain a fast pace.

Rounding the last corner I dug deep and started to sprint to the finish. I could see the finish line clock was still sub 21 minutes, and though I gritted my teeth and gave it everything, I couldn’t quite get there in the 20 minutes and change I was hoping for. Here’s video of me crossing the finish line at 21:12 (I’m in the grey shirt and blue shorts to the left of the picture).

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In the end, a top 100 finish was a pretty good consolation prize. I was only several seconds short of placing top five in my age category and winning an award, and out of 252 Masters’ finishers I was 12th. Plus, according to Lori the band serenaded us with Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” as our group of runners hit the finish, which I would have found hilariously ironic if I had actually heard it (I guess I was so focused on finishing I shut everything else out).

The old man can still pick ’em up and lay ’em down when he wants to, I guess.

2015 Race #2: Paradise Coast Half Marathon, Naples, FL

Date: February 15, 2015
Gun Time: 1:40:32
Chip Time: 1:40:21
Placing Overall: 43rd out of 427
Placing in Age Group: 9th out of 25 (M40-44)
Theme Song: The Cramps, “I Can’t Hardly Stand It

A warning before we get started with this post – it gets a little, shall we say, scatological. And not in a cuss word sort of way. So you may want to bear that in mind before reading.

I wasn’t supposed to run this race. The plan had been to run a competitive half marathon to sort of gauge where I was at prior to enrolling in my first marathon in May, but I had decided on (and in fact had registered for) the Syracuse Half Marathon in March. It was just that… the training was going so damn well, and I felt so strong, that I made a snap decision to head to Naples for this one as well. We were vacationing about 40 minutes drive north in Cape Coral, it made sense from a scheduling perspective, and with a couple of 13 mile runs already under my belt I felt like doing it wouldn’t be a problem, and would give me an idea of what I could do early in training.

The drive from Ontario to the gulf coast of Florida is a long one, and when you have kids it’s not like you want to dawdle. This meant that my diet in the couple of days previous to the half marathon (I was running it at 6AM the day after a late evening arrival in Cape Coral) consisted of, well, Golden Corral buffets and McDonald’s fries. In other words, not exactly the stuff of which Hal Higdon would approve.

Now, some foreshadowing, courtesy of Runner’s World magazine:

Runners’ Colitis is a term used to describe an exercise-induced form of colitis that is usually a temporary condition, brought on by long mileage or the intensity of a run, in other words, physical stress… consider your diet [prior to racing].

In other words, said diet was about to make a rather unwelcome contribution to my day.

Lori and the kids showed no interest in accompanying me to Naples at 5:30 in the morning, and so I arrived at the Florida Sports Park (home of the “World Famous Swamp Buggy Races”, whatever they are) in the cool morning air to get ready for the race.

After grabbing a coffee (in retrospect, given subsequent events, probably another poor decision) I did my stretching and got to the starting corral as the sun was coming up. The temperature was about 50F at the start of the race and with the course being flat and no wind it looked like perfect conditions were to be the order of the day, especially in comparison with the ones I had been running in at home.

The race was a small one, with about 500 participants running the marathon and half combined, and about four-fifths of these doing the half. We were off into the cool Florida morning at 6:45AM and my first official half marathon was underway. Trying to keep my pace controlled, I breezed through the first mile in 7:30. My pace felt comfortable, conditions were perfect, and the miles started to roll by as I passed palm groves and gated communities. My goal going into the race was to run sub 1:45, and it certainly seemed to be playing out that way early on.

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The first hint of a problem started to emerge around mile 6. The sport drink I had just taken at an aid station did not seem to be sitting right. The following is a quick synopsis of my thought process for the next few miles:

Mile 7: Shit, cramping. Ow, ow, ow. How is it possible to have a cold sweat on my forehead when it’s 70 degrees out and I’m running?

Mile 7.5: Running around a lake now. Feel like I’m gonna crap myself. OK. Don’t stop. Wow, that guy’s totally sprinting for the portajohns. Guess I’m not the only one. Godspeed, brother.

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Mile 8.5: OK. OK. No big deal. Hold your pace. Just gotta get through a couple more miles and OH GOD DID SOME COME OUT? I THINK SOME CAME OUT. Wait, no. Maybe. Just keep running.

Mile 10: Jesus, 3 more miles to go? C’mon. Hold it in. Damn, my legs are sore now too.

At this point, I checked my split (1:14:30) and calculated that sub 1:40 was still possibly in play, despite struggling with my pace due to cramping. A long, brutal straightaway that seemed to go on forever dominated the end of the race and despite my troubles I (pardon the pun) gutted things out to the last stretch and the entry to the Sports Park. Being so close to the finish was energizing and I couldn’t help smiling as I came within sight of the finish, even if it was more of a grimace.

Then I saw the time on the finish line clock was 1:35:30. What the hell? The last 3 miles were a bit fuzzy due to my efforts to keep my insides in, but I didn’t think there was any way that I was that fast. After grabbing my medal and some water at the finish, it was off to the portajohns myself. Fortunately I finished fairly early compared to most of the runners and there were no lines.

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I recovered sufficiently to grab a slab of post race pizza and it soon became evident that there was beer on offer. And it was free. At least, the Budweiser, and Bud Light were. The guy behind me asked for a Stella, and was told he would be charged for it.

“I’ll go get my wallet,” he sighed, stomping off.

A man of discerning taste, apparently. Me, I’m good with free.

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Sitting in the Florida sunshine afterward, aforementioned cold beer in hand, I felt a lot better. It soon became clear that the organizational skills of Elite Events, who were coordinating the race for the first time this year, were, uh, a bit lacking. For example, it took them forever to announce the winners of the various age groups, or even figure out who they were. My posted time and placing changed several times after the race, and there were no monitors where times could be checked. And most egregious of all, how the hell can you allow the bloody finish line clock to be off by 5 whole minutes???

Nevertheless, gastro troubles aside, I was happy with my run and my time. I was guaranteed a PR anyway and the fact that I pretty much crushed my goal was gratifying. Plus, lessons were learned for future races, even if said lessons were learned the hard way…

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