Thursday, May 29, 2014

Speed River Inferno Downtown Mile - Pre Race

So I'm racing in the Speed River Inferno Downtown Mile tomorrow night. This will be my first time ever racing in a mile event, and basically my first time ever running a mile flat out. I've done lots of mile repeats at threshold pace, and I've run 1600m at the track during a ladder workout last summer nearly flat out (5:25), but never that extra 9m in a racing capacity.

I'm excited to see what's in store and to test my anaerobic limits, but to be frank, I'm a bit nervous as well. I'm used to easing into a race and then basically pushing the pace until something starts to break down, or I begin to cramp up. Then it's as much a battle of willpower, composure, and fortitude as it is a battle to maintain and push myself physically. As far as suffering goes, it's a "nice" slow burn.

The mile is a different beast entirely. It's an in-your-face, death metal, mosh pit of a race. In the realm of suffering, it's more a controlled chaos than a slow burn. The mile's sweet spot lies somewhere between the heart popping, lung busting, VO2 max efforts associated with shorter distances, and the patience, grace, and artful pacing associated with longer distances. It's about pushing yourself to the limit without popping.

Having never raced the mile distance before I have only a faint sense of what my popping point might be. However, I believe a race is about getting from the start line to the finish as fast as you possibly can. It's not about just finishing. Even if you're hurt or undertrained your goal should still be to finish as fast as you can on that day. With this in mind, I think a reasonable goal for this race is around 5'30".

I may be reaching a bit on that time, or I may be short-selling myself. My only basis for comparison is the aforementioned 1600m I ran last August as part of a ladder workout session. I think I'm in better shape, however tomorrow's downtown mile is part of a two lap loop that includes a few rises in elevation and several sharp turns - including two over 90 degrees. 

My original plan was to go out steady, but hard the first lap, and then dig in and hold on. Now, I think I might go out like gang busters and see if I can push passed the point my brain tells my body it's about to enter the danger zone. I know it's possible. Prefontaine lived and died (no pun intended) by this approach every time he laced up his shoes. 

I've never really gone there myself. It requires a delicate balance of guts, craziness, and faith in your training. We'll see if I have the right balance to push myself to the limit tomorrow night when the rubber hits the road.

*Going to have to revise my time goal. Went down to look at the course today and found out it's running in the opposite direction I thought. Two steep uphills just after a corner are going to make things difficult. I think 5'40" is more realistic, but still possibly pushing it.

**Check back for my post race report.

Monday, May 26, 2014


#WETHERIVER - Check out this multimedia project documenting the running community here in Guelph, ON throughout the summer of 2014.

Episode I

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Need for Speed

Referencing Top Gun will never get old for men of a certain age.

Well, I recently finished the first week (last Saturday) of my summer of speed training focusing on the 5k and 10k. They say if you really want to improve your marathon time (3:05 PB - Boston 2014) you have to get faster at the shorter stuff. That's all well and good, but it's not why I've decided to hit it hard this summer. In fact, I may be done with marathons for quite some time unless I can convince my wife it's not only a good idea, but utterly necessary to go back to Boston next year (more on this in the future). In which case, I hope any speed I do manage to develop this summer and fall carries over into next spring. At which point, I'll act like that was my plan all along. 

In fact, the real reason I'm trying to get faster this summer is simply because it sounds fun and I'm itching for a change. I'm only 38, which is prime time in old man running years, so there might just be some speed left in these legs before things start to trend downhill. Furthermore, all the focused training I've ever done - which is only over the past three 2.5 years - has been for the marathon. Over this time period I've completed four road marathons, one trail marathon (loved it), and one 50k. I'd say that's a pretty good resume over that time frame. 

Not only have I never trained for the 5k and/or 10k, I've never even run a 5k  road race, and just a handful of 10k races at that. Last September I ran a 19:10 over the cross country course at the University of Guelph in the Falling Leaves races. I went through the first lap (halfway) in 9:20, and then detonated on the second lap and couldn't manage a sub-19, which was my goal. Lessons were learned. My 10k PB is 39:50, which I did at the Guelph Thanksgiving Day races in October 2012 in the midst of training for an upcoming marathon. My goal is to get my 5k time down under 18 minutes, and my 10k down under 38 minutes. We shall see where the summer takes us.

At this point I'm basing my training off of Jack Daniels' (not the whiskey) 5k to 10k training plan for 64km-80km per week , which he highlights in his Daniels' Running Formula book. I recently read this book and was very much inspired by his knowledge and simple, yet sophisticated approach to running and training. It's simple because he lays out very specific training paces as various intensities based off a recent race time or time trial of virtually any distance. The sophistication lies in the science that establishes those training paces. Daniels has termed this your VDOT value. I can't quite remember what the acronym stands for, but I'm sure there's a Volume and an Oxygen in there somewhere. 

Thanks to Daniels I have a much better idea of the purpose of every workout I do, and which body system(s) I'm training. Knowledge is power. With this knowledge I feel I can effectively train smarter, not harder, and achieve better results. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Does Running Hurt Our Hearts?

Click here if video does not appear.

My friend Brady sent me this video the other day. It has been gaining traction around the interweb and I felt I had to share and comment on it. Warning: If you're a runner, or know and care about a runner you may not like what you hear, which is exactly what the producers want. The speaker, Dr. James O'Keefe, an avid exercise enthusiast himself, presents an argument claiming too much running in terms of volume and/or intensity may in fact be bad for our hearts. Unfortunately, this theory is a growing trend in the field of exercise science, however much of the reasoning laid out in this video is of full of loopholes and potentially flawed data interpretation skewed towards a confirmation bias. Click here if you'd like to read someone much smarter and more qualified than me pick this video apart.

I must admit, as an avid runner myself, and a promoter of the suffer better philosophy, this video delivers a message I don't really want to hear, which causes a certain degree of cognitive dissonance. I love living (duh) and hope to live a long and vibrant life. I felt I was mostly doing all the right things in terms of diet and exercise. I still feel I am, however now I'm not quite as sure.

But, does this information really change anything? At one point Dr. O'Keefe says, "running is supposed to add years to your life, and even life to your years." This part struck me because I've never really thought of running as something that is "adding" years to my life, but I'm sure there are a certain percentage of runners out there who do approach running with this in mind. For instance, people who have taken up running after quitting cigarettes, or people who have battled with excessive weight.

I'm a "life to your years" type of runner. In fact, I'd be willing to bet most runners out there think of themselves as "life to your years" types of runners. We run for the social connections. We use running as a vessel to get outside and enjoy nature, or our city. We run to challenge ourselves and chase goals. We run because it makes us feel good. We run because it's ingrained in us. It's a part of what defines us. It's a part of our being.

I suppose since I've run twice since watching this video (both times with some vigor) it didn't have much of an effect on me. I wouldn't expect any "life to your years" types of runners to be much affected by this news either. The information as it's presented in this video is alarmist and meant to capture our attention to generate interest in their research. You can show me all the studies you want about heart health and longevity, but none of it's "real" until we know what's going on inside our own bodies, which is what I really think this conversation should be about.

Don't tell me excessive or vigorous running might be bad for my heart. That will have zero effect on me and just about every runner I know. We all know too much of something is usually a bad thing, but how do we know how much is too much? It varies for each individual and depends on multiple factors such as genetics, training history, diet, environment, sleep, and stress to name just a few. 

If Dr. O'Keefe truly cared about people's heart health and longevity, he'd be advocating for more access on an individual basis to the simple cardiac scan he refers to in his speech. It's just an x-ray in 3-D form. These things should be affordable and routine for anyone over the age of say, 40. Only when armed with this concrete information would we be able to make an intelligent and rational decision about whether or not to continue running. Not until somebody shows me an image of my calcified, clogged arteries might I ever consider giving up the activity that brings me so much joy.   

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Love Sweet Potatoes?

We love roasted veg in our household. They're quick, easy, healthy, hands free, and our girls love to eat them. A staple in our roasted veg repertoire is the sweet potato or yam. One way to take the roasted sweet potato to the next level is to create a simple white miso (also called soybean paste) dipping sauce. It's so simple it can be made in less than three minutes while the veg is roasting.

Here's how:
1. Mince one or two green onion
2. Mince some ginger (thumb size perhaps)
3. Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a cup or small bowl
4. Mix in about an equal amount of miso paste 
5. Mix in onion and ginger
6. Dip your sweet potato wedges and enjoy with delight

I swear by this sauce. I love it so much I usually eat any leftovers with a spoon.

*Recipe courtesy of my lovely wife.
**I have learned since my original post that the brand and/or quality of miso matters. We just got a new brand and it's too salty.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Recovery Mode

"Recovery!? I don't need no stinking recovery" -Me.

Admittedly, I've never been good at recovering after a race. I'm usually itching to go after a few days. However, this time (post Boston) I've committed, and I'm forcing myself to go easy for 20 days before I jump into my next training phase, which is going to be a speed focused 22 week doozy. It's been 18 days. I'm excited.

I've heard the old adage that recommends one day of rest for each mile raced. I think that's B.S., and not a suffer better approach. If you're fit, and you get proper rest, and you eat a healthy diet of varied, nutritious, whole foods (we'll get into diet plenty in future posts), you don't need 26.2 days to recover from a marathon. In fact, I recently read in Jack Daniels' book, Daniels' Running Formula - 3rd Edition, that he recommends one day of recovery for every 3km raced, which I think is a more reasonable approach.

There are plenty of ultra-runners out there these days blowing the one day of rest for each mile theory out the water (Tim Olson, Rob Krar, and Ian Sharman to name a few), and killing it in the process. Granted, these guys are the elite of the elite in the ultra world, but their approach towards training and racing is a microcosm of a larger movement of athletes challenging barriers in the running world.

So, when it comes to "recovery," I simply feel it's important to learn to listen to your body and know your mindset. Just as there's no single training plan that works for everyone across the board, there's also no set recovery plan that works for everyone. 

I know recovery is important. It's on recovery days that our muscle tissues, ligaments, tendons and bones heel and make themselves stronger. But, if becoming a better runner and racing as often as you can is important, then it behooves you to learn how to recover faster and more efficiently. You might surprise yourself. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Suffer Better - Part 2

"Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm" -Churchill.

I'm an educator. There's a new approach to schooling beginning to gain momentum that emphasizes Five Essential Skills: Persistence, Resilience, Patience, Courage, and Grit. The theory is we need to focus less on results and test scores, and focus more on process by teaching and developing these skills within students in order for them to grow up and become contributing members of society. Too often children think the "smartest" kids in class are simply born that way, whereas most often the most successful students have learned to embrace and harness some combination of the aforementioned five essential skills. As educators, it's imperative we teach our students that success in school and in life is not an entitlement. It's not a right. It's not owed to them. It's something we all have to work for, and it's not always fun. To be successful requires a certain degree of persistence, resilience, patience, courage, and grit. We have to teach students to suffer better.

Paul Tough does a fabulous job of explaining this approach to education in his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.

These same principles can be applied toward becoming a better runner:
Persistence - the more you run the better you become at it
Resilience - intervals hurt, long tempo runs hurt, hill repeats hurt; but they make us better       runners
Patience - we don't become better runners over night, but eventually our bodies adapt, our     heart's stroke volume increases, our muscles and lungs increase their ability to take up oxygen, and our bones grow stronger and denser 
Courage - it takes courage to set goals (especially when made public) and chase after them
Grit - cold and windy winter runs, scorching hot summer runs, rain coming at you sideways, 
the last 10km of a marathon, the second to last interval of any session, etc.

These principles also apply to parenting:
Persistence - no you cannot have another cookie, yes you have to brush your teeth, no you 
cannot eat that piece of gum off the ground, yes you have to buckle your seatbelt, POTTY TRAINING!
Resilience - getting out the door in the morning, sleep training, road trips
Patience - see above, also...please tidy up, I'm going to count to five
Courage - letting your children learn things for themselves, walk home alone for the first time, having another child
Grit - waking up every two hours for months on end, getting less than four hours of disrupted
sleep night after night and not only thinking I'm good, but training for a marathon on top of it

Being a parent is ALL ABOUT learning to suffer better.

Suffer Better - Part 1

"That which does not kill me makes me stronger" - Nietzsche.

I'll keep this simple. You can go out and run everyday at a relaxed, easy pace and go forever and experience a lifetime of relatively pain free, happy running. You can call yourself a runner, and in all honesty, in terms of longevity this is probably the best approach.  

This is not my approach to running, or life for that matter. Although, over the past year or so I've come to appreciate the importance of a nice, easy maintenance run, or a chillaxed day around the house; I like to get out and go. I like the feeling I get from a hard interval session, or a long tempo run, or an incredibly long run through the forest or city (running through a new city, or even a familiar city at night, is invigorating). Heck, in hindsight, I even like the feeling I get from a punishing run through sub-zero temperatures with bone-chilling wind sapping you of nearly every ounce of energy you think you have (thank you Canada). I like the feeling I get from finishing chores around the house. I like the feeling I get from walking to the top of any hill or mountain I can find. At times with a child on my back. In short, I like to move, and if there's some pain or suffering involved with the task I'm okay with it.

Most of the runners I know want to get better in some way. Either they want to get faster, or more efficient, or improve their stamina and endurance. None of these aspects can be improved upon by simply plodding along for an hour everyday. As I said earlier, there's nothing wrong with this approach if you're just after general fitness, a healthy heart and lungs, and an improved mental clarity and state of mind. However, to become a better runner it's going to require some harder efforts in terms of intensity (speed or incline) or increased volume. These harder efforts will involve some degree of suffering. With this in mind we must learn to embrace our inner-sufferer, and make peace with him or her until suffering becomes an old friend. In short, we must "suffer better." 

To suffer better is simply a state of mind. It's in the eye of the beholder as they say. Once you accept suffering as a fact of life, or becoming a better runner, you will be happier, easier to be around, and have more friends.