Tuesday, 27 December 2011


I had this list done in late November as I had feeling my motivation starting to wane, and while being in a training cycle is far better, this keeps me going until then. So, here's my planned list of races, including some of the "maybes":

Maybe - Jan 14th: Nose Creek cross country 8k. Can register on the day for this one, so if I feel like it, I'll show up.

March 17: St Patrick's Day Road Race, 5k. I'm not mad about the 10k course, but the event is well-put on with a good atmosphere. I'd go a little nuts if I stayed at home, so will do the 5. There's a chance of an age group medal, based on the 2011 times, though PB is not really a priority for this one.

April 22: Spring Trio 10k. My 10k PB from 2010 has to go. Flat course by the Bow River, so maybe less than exciting, but should make for a good time. Perhaps even a sub-40 minute time if everything goes perfectly.

May 27: Calgary Marathon. Time to qualify for Boston! This will be my second marathon, and will need 3:10, but will go for 3:09 to improve my chances of successful registration.

July 8: Stampede Road Race 5k. 5 weeks after the marathon, it would be great to PB this again - I could get an age group medal if a couple of quick 30-somethings stay in bed...

August 18: 5 Peaks cross country race, Nakiska. Stunning country about an hour's drive from Calgary, this will make a great headcam video! I might however be on holiday for this one, though it would be great to do a race on holiday..

September 29: Harvest Half Marathon. An annual staple, PB would be great, but not essential.

November 4: New York Marathon. Having read about it, seeing the tv show convinced me to go. If I'm not successful in the lottery draw, I can get a guaranteed entry, and overpriced hotel room, from an official tour provider. If this doesn't work out for whatever reason, the back-up is the California International Marathon in Sacramento on December 2.

Of course, there will also be  the Resolution Run on New Year's eve, which I'll be doing this saturday...

Friday, 23 December 2011

New Headcam movie - not mine, but I'm in it!

2 posts in one day! Just after my last post, I finally found the video by the lady next to me in this photo from the St Patrick's Day Road Race back in March. I guess not every video goes on youtube. The entire race is on there.
I lost the strap for my camera in Quebec City, and will need another. Her camera is a go-pro and can cost anywhere from $300 to $1,000. Mine's from ebay and cost me $40.

I overtook her just after this was taken, she sounded a touch out of breath. I pretty much went the same pace throughout.
The whole video's great, with the exception of the Bon Jovi song. I appear on the left just after my wife is to be seen on the right at 12:03 in her trademark earmuffs taking the above photo. My form is rather poor to say the least with my feet at odd angles. In my defence this did improve over the year, and I had just moved house when I lined up for this race. I felt out of practice in a way.
There's a good bit at 15:25 where it looks like I almost slipped on a patch of ice, though I often stick my arms out like that as a precaution. After that I disappear into the distance.

Video can be found at : http://vimeo.com/23619810
The company that posted it, and offers training on various sports is: http://thedoctrine.squarespace.com/videos/

2011 in review

There's still the Resolution Run to do on New Year's Eve at 6pm. While it has a start/ finish line with a clock, there's no official timing, and although I call it a "race", it's kind of a stand-alone event.

I might post my 2012 plan in January, although I put it together a couple of weeks ago to stop my motivation from flagging.

Before I forget though, and as it's the season for end of year lists and reviews, here's mine.

"The One That Got Away", St. Patrick's 10k, March: Don't move house a week before a race. I also could have done with calibrating my garmin - it's not a GPS, it uses a footpod - so I was going slower than I thought. To be honest I probably couldn't have improved my 10k PB that day anyway. It was what I had been looking forward to while I was lifting boxes, painting, etc. I did this in 42:12, so my PB is still 41:28. Of the distances I attempted this year, it is the only one that I didn't get a PB in - this 2010 PB will be history in 2012.

"90 minute barrier smashed", Calgary Half Marathon, May: Having re-jigged my training after the St Patrick's disappointment, I had a more structured plan when it came to speed work, and a carb loading strategy from a book I'd read. The 90 minute barrier in the half marathon had been my holy grail ever since my first half - and indeed first race - exactly 2 years before when I came home in 1:46. Everything went right, so the race in that sense was "undramatic", and I crossed the line over a minute under the 90, believing afterwards that I could've gone even quicker. It was a dream come true, and I also loved the sound of "62nd out of 2,965".

I started my blog shortly after that race. I had mostly wanted to keep a log of race reports. I quickly wrote-up my main races to date. It's another way in which my running has evolved this year.

"Sub-20 minute 5k!", Stampede Road Race, July: What a gut-busting distance that is. Leaving the startline confusion to one side, I managed - just - to get under 20 minutes in a 5k. Last year I went way to fast and burned out halfway round, coming home in 20:15. This time I managed 19:48, getting 4th in my age group, so no medal, but happy to achieve my goal. It finished on a track - 1st time ever for that too.

"Irene & The Hamstring". My 6th half marathon and the first time I had failed to get a PB. I went to Quebec City for this one, and I missed it by 4 minutes. The beginnings of Hurricane Irene and having to stop to stretch my hamstring both led to disappointment. I wasn't unhappy for long - I understood what had gone wrong on that day. What's more baffling than that is when things go right, it's hard to understand why...
...which is what made the Harvest Half Marathon just 5 weeks later all the more worth savouring. I was expecting at best to squeek inside my PB, but ended up knocking off 55 seconds. My favourite race of the year on balance, a beautiful day all-round.
It's also the second time I used a "headcam", for want of a better term. In the first picture at the top, next to me is a lady with a Go-Pro camera. I went for a way cheaper and lighter option. Once again, it's another way in which my running has changed, wanting to capture every second.

The biggest surprise of all perhaps was 3 weeks after that. I entered a 5-miler as a reward to myself for getting a new job, knowing too that my 34 min+ PB for the distance was slow and beatable. What stunned me was that I came home in 31:02, at a faster pace than my 5k PB. That 10k PB will soon be gone mwah ha-ha!
I also volunteered for the first time ever, and it was good to give back. Next year ought to be great!
Merry Xmas, I'll be going for my first run ever on Xmas day!

Monday, 12 December 2011


Running Under the Influence, that is. In between a team lunch featuring that rare term "open bar", and my wife's company christmas party, I was still able to get my run in on friday. Bloated and frankly a little drunk, this tempo run was surreal until 20 minutes in when the runner's full operating system just kicked in again.

In a small way, these christmas parties represent a small milestone. Not having bought any sharp clothes since my becoming a runner and losing a lot of weight, I went and got myself a Hugo Boss shirt - slim fit to show of being in shape or to show off just because I can. This is not something I'm really given to, but the point is that before I would have avoided doing this at all costs, not comfortable being myself.

It makes me wonder about the mindset of some who perhaps don't care enough to do anything about it, the wish they had when occasions such as these come up. Perhaps this is where many of the failed new year resolutions come from?
My sunday run was back to doing a snow plough impression again - tough and slow. Saw deer for the 4th week in a row, got stared at by some lovingly shooting me the "you're crazy" look. A teenager I ran past yelled "why don't you walk?" I replied "too cold".
So now it's time to plot next year's program of events...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

First tumble while running & snowploughing

Managed to get outside this week, seeing as unlike last sunday, there were no tarps or bags of trash flying through the air. I did the flying instead.
In all my 3 years of running, I had never taken a tumble. I slipped and twisted my foot getting off the bus in January 2010, which took a month to recover from, but never during running itself. Running on an unshovelled sidewalk, I stepped half on the paved edge. In the space of a second, I told myself "fall now, and choose how you do it, or take a few more futile steps, fall anyway and twist your ankle." So I twisted to the left, let myself drop, pulled my right arm in and pushed out as I rolled. I ended up rolling back onto my feet as I'd had a second to plan it, utterly painless! I laughed at myself for the next couple of minutes, but had to stop as my teeth started to get cold.
It was like being a snowplough in places, more than ankle deep. My Salomons were excellent however, and kept my feet completely dry. I missed my turn in Fish Creek Park, but found the second one which took me to the same exit point. 
Close to where I had seen a coyote 2 weeks ago, I kept imagining I was being watched as I edged toward the other side of the valley. Having stumbled up to the top, there were more unshovelled paths to negociate. Next time there's this much snow, I'll stick to cleared pathways even if it means going a certain distance then doing a u-turn which is somewhat unfulfilling for a long sunday run - I don't really mind when it comes to speed and tempo runs on wednesdays and fridays.
This was more like strength training, or cross training. Having to lift my feet up so high was quite tough of the hips - a real going over. I don't think I've gone at this pace for years too, 18.7k in just over 2 hours. Still, it's the overall training effect that matters - the reward will come at race time in the spring and summer. I read somewhere that "the will to win is nothing without the will to train." Perhaps replace "win" with "get a PB" though.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Windy sunday!

I was going to do a short blogpost, so I thought on saturday, about how weird it was running in shorts when I looked like an astronaut the week before (forecast was for 13 degrees). However, howling gusts of wind over 100 km/h greeted me on sunday morning. The whistling was so loud that my wife and I had to raise our voices to talk to each other. I live in a new community, with much construction still going on, so there were tarps aplenty dancing around. It's surreal to say the least to see cereal boxes and plastic bottles fly past your window, only to see the exact same cereal boxes and plastic bottles fly back in the opposite direction.

I don't want to get hit by IFOs (identifiable flying objects), I thought, so indoor track at the Y it'll have to be. I'd never dreamed that this kind of wind would drive me indoors, as opposed to a blizzard.
Feeling nice and light, I did 18km in just under 1h 24min. The track is only about 125 metres long, and it's difficult to get the balance right in the corners. My left achilles would start to ache a bit, so I lent less in the corners. 10-15 minutes after that, I'd feel a mild ache on the outside of my right knee, so would lean in further, and so on. I actually felt that I was able to analyse and understand what was going on from the point of view of mechanics and anatomy. There wasn't really much else to do except yell "boo!" at numpties crossing the track in front of me without looking. Amateurs!

At work today, a couple of offices had had their windows blown out.

When I got home, I had to clean up as well as deal with a piece of roofing felt and a tarp. The tarp was big enough to cover most of my garden. I folded it up and carried it across the road to the building site, wishing the builders "merry bloody christmas" as I dumped it.
It made me realize something all over again though. Being a fairly serious amateur runner for the past few years has given me good fitness and stamina which also come in very useful in practical, everyday situations. I love to push myself in races, but this gives me a quiet satisfaction when I compare it to similar situations a few years ago that left me gapsing for breath and a touch depressed about being so out of shape.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Road testing winter gear and too much excitement

I don't believe I've specifically blogged about an indvidual training run in detail so far. While I love every step I run, there's not too much to report really. Not this time...

Calgary just had a very sudden jab of winter over the weekend. Time to test out some winter stuff. I've only got the one balaclava - Running Room - and it's a touch thin, so I wore a double layer Under Armour hat on top. Ski goggles were a new purchase, I didn't like icicles on my eyelashes in January this year, but more than that - when it's -20 and you blink too slowly, your eyes can freeze shut which is some scary sh!t.
Also over 2 thin pairs of gloves I tried out new Sugoi mittens. Finally, it was my first time out in my new Salomon cross country runners. One day when it's -25 or worse I'll take a picture of everything before I put it all on. Any readers from warmer climates might be a bit taken aback by it all.
First hill above - and I didn't slip once on toe-off. Amazing shoes. A sterner test will come when the slopes are truly icy, or the melt/freeze stuff starts in the spring. My googles were stopping my eyeballs from hurting, though they did steam up a bit. An essential purchase nevertheless.
I was trying out a new route, going along the north ridge of Fish Creek Park, but didn't study the map well enough as I turned off early. There's a river (Fish Creek) and a series of streams below and normally I'm on the other side on paved pathways I've run on for years. I go to one stream, and crossed slowly and heard cracking - it had only been this cold for 2 days - jumped up the other side and ended up at the river. Turning around I knew I'd have to cross the same stream again, did some cartoonish tippy-toes across, then followed the path round. I tripped on a tree root, but somehow didn't fall flat on my face by grabbing at dry grass, perhaps it was enough to slow down my top half and re-balance?
After seeing this fella, I came to an eroded pathway which went either back up to the ridge or down and through some trees and I thought towards the familiar path the other side of Fish Creek. Just as I was getting going, I saw a knee height dog-like animal with a thick tail dart into a clump of trees. I could take a coyote, I thought, but there's no point trying to find out. I got to the top of the hill very quickly, partly because of the Salomons' phenomenal grip and if I'm honest partly due to wanting to put distance between me and fido.

After getting uncomfortable, lost then scared, the run home was a little tough. This cold snap came on so quickly, and acclimatization will take around a month. It was a dull fatigue that set in, and unlike most of my training runs, I was looking forward to finishing.
To top things off, and not for the first time, I got "runner's nipple". I wore 3 layers under my jacket, and wasn't cold. I sweated a lot, and they must've been, ahem, standing up a little more. All 3 shirts got a little blood on them, but it all washed off easily.
So next time, no improvising the route, stay in open areas and I'll make sure I keep those 2 naughty bits protected...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Volunteer

I finally got around to volunteering at a race! Only took me 29 1/2 months from the time of my first race. It was fairly uneventful, though interesting to be a close-up spectator at local event. The Last Chance Half Marathon is one of the larger races in Calgary. Perhaps I call it one of the "Calgary Majors", i.e. more than 200 runners and therefore one that I could never win.
The winner was Jeremy Deere, below, who got the $500 1st place prize some 3 minutes ahead of the next guy. I'd love to do a half in 1 hour 12 minutes, but that is faster than my 5k pace.
Lisa Harvey, below, came in at 1:23, which is the same as my 5k pace!
After this it was a question of making sure everyone did the u-turn onto the bridge and finish around 400 metres away.
 My toes were getting cold just standing there, so after the first few had gone past so I did a few jumping jacks, running on the spot and small jumps. My post was at the crest of a rise, so I must have stood out quite well bouncing around. I noticed that when I was mobile like this, runners seemed to pick up a little speed, and certainly smiled more than when I was static. Interesting learning of some human psychology. I kept it up even when my toes weren't cold, pointed the way, clapped and smiled at one and all. I could've said that old cliche "almost there!" as it would've been true, but have found it annoying while racing myself, not to mention the number of times I've read others being annoyed by it too.  
Martin Parnell ran past, but I didn't realize it until he was halfway up the bridge ramp. I would've liked to have said "hi". For those who don't know, he ran 250 marathons last year. Above is the final finisher.

So a nice somewhat Stampede-style lunch, then home. It goes without saying that I prefer running in a race, though they are largely made by the volunteers who indulge those of us who are doing what we love. This also marks the beginning of building a stronger base for marathon training in 2012. Now to find/ design a training plan.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

..and I'm spent!

Aside from the shock I got at finishing a 5 mile race recently at a faster pace than my 5km PB, I might have caught a slight cold that day. That race had been a reward for getting a new job which I was a week away from starting, and a good general demeanour may have helped get that surprisingly quick time. I had already defied expectations 3 weeks earlier at the Harvest Half Marathon, and now I feel as fatigued as I thought I was going to after that race.
With winter just about to hit for real, and daylight minutes dwindling rapidly I've had one of those low-level colds for the past couple of weeks. Once again though it's been a time to learn a little more about how an amateur athlete's body works. Modifying a workout so I don't feel more tired than usual (i.e. than when I don't have a cold) afterwards, it seems that every day my body is expecting to have to work hard, so is in a routine of having to also work hard to repair itself post-exercise using the food I give it right afterwards. Once the tiredness from the workout fades, I feel better 2 or so hours after getting sweaty. Things have certainly changed since 4 years and 25kg ago.

Speaking of the recent past, I was able the past weekend to take in part of my original sunday running route from 2008/ 2009. The back country roads and surrounding fields always look great, though they're still as windy as ever.
I realize too that the crown on this road may well have had something to do with a few of the injuries I had then, including the one I carried into my first ever race, the 2009 Calgary Half Marathon.  I guess on that day I surprised myself too, a habit that I never want to lose.  

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Robert Hamilton Memorial Road Race report

Retro time. I was persuaded (by myself) into one last race before the snow and ice hits. The Robert Hamilton Memorial Road Race has been going for around 30 years, mostly as a 10 miler, though there's also now a 5 miler.
Just 3 weeks after the Harvest Half, I felt I couldn't do the 10 miles justice. I had done an 8k race last year, and knew I could beat the 34.19 time I set. Under 33 minutes was the aim, so I set my garmin at 3:55-4:05/km pace.
We lined up on the grass, I think my camera is getting a couple of inquisitive looks in this picture. (The unusual pose of the lady in grey is partly a stretch and partly to talk to someone behind me)
 As starts go, it seemed as frantic as any other, though being a Calgary Road Runners event with knowledgeable participants, all runners were able to make it orderly and bump free.  
 While the course is marked in miles, my garmin and I still run in kilometres. I only rolled my sleeves up at about the 1 mile sign, so didn't see I'd done the first k in 3:39.
 The guy in the white shirt was a constant presence just in front for the entire race. I believe this is the first time I've had such a pacemaker from flag to finish. The race winner, above in black, has already done the turnaround. I had decided after the turnaround to sing a couple of lines to my headcam and match it up with a song upon editing the short movie. I did, but just barely.
There were some great spindly shadows going back north to the finish line.
The other unusual sight greeting me was my watch saying I'd just done the first 5k in 19:29. My PB in a 5k race is 19:48. There's a dip on pace on the 5 k mark in my pace chart below - I remember thinking about it enough that I slowed down, prompting my garmin to tell me to move it.  
The next k was nevertheless the slowest of the race. I could feel my stride getting a little shorter.
That didn't last for too long, though looking at the graph and table, the "finishing kick" amounts to only just under goal race pace. That's proof that I essentially ran the quickest race that I could have.
I held on for 10 place overall out of 52. 31:02 is much faster than I had been expecting. A sub-40 10k now looks doable.
This race had the best medals I've ever seen, freshly baked gingerbread men. I finished 3rd in my male age group. There was only 4 of us I've now learned. 1st and 2nd men in their 30s had gone home already, so I hammed it up a bit. I ate a leg, and thought I was going to get booed, then I hopped away..
There's nothing like surprising yourself.
So, to the headcam vid. I will need to work on steadying the shot over winter, it's nothing that ebay can't fix. That said, I hope you enjoy the genius cover version of "You Are My Sunshine" by the Chinese band Reflector. (try the link, if below doesn't work)

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Harvest Half Marathon 2011 report - a perfect day (& another headcam video)

It was fairly close to being the perfect day (the headcam video is at the bottom of this post, by the way). Logistically, this is the closest race to my home, and the course covers much of my regular Sunday route. It was certainly the perfectly run Facebook campaign by Barefoot Neil Z. He took this one of myself and A-Chang at the "Facebook muster point".
5 weeks before I had aimed to beat my half-marathon PB of 1:28:56 at Quebec City, but was thwarted by a headwind and then had to stop to stretch my hamstring, ending up just inside 1:33 (Click here for the heamcam vid). The plan had been to PB there by a big margin, then try to get any sub-1:30 at the Harvest Half.
Overall though I was feeling quite good at the start line. My PB from May was at a pace of 4:13/km, so I set my garmin at 4:07-4:13 pace. The assumption was that I would have around 30 seconds to spare before Sikome Hill at 17 km, be about 20 seconds behind at the top, then just squeeze inside a PB at the finish line.
I had run once a week since QC, the long Sunday run, and done other speed work on the exercise bike, with my right leg gradually improving week on week. Still, I took a tylenol before the race just in case.
I had also copied my nutrition plan from May which had worked well. Active warm-up rather than stretching too.
The headcam had worked so well in QC and I was very determined to capture this course's landscape and autumn colours.
Neil really was everywhere that day, chatting to odd ducks such as myself.
Lining up too were Rich and Scott. Scott was expected to disappear into the distance fairly quickly.
It was quite a narrow funnel at the start, so the 3 of us got ourselves to the front.
Big brother's watching...
At the start I could see I was in pole position, a foot in front of everyone else. This would be my chance to do something I'd long joked about - leading a fairly large race (709 finishers), at least for the first 100 or so metres.  
I could see too that A-Chang along with Rich and Scott's better halves and others with cameras were well placed to capture such an hysterical historical moment. A 20 second countdown, then "go!" rather than a starting horn (I liked that) and it was more my reflexes rather than speed that had me nicely placed for pictures. 
This is Neil's shot...
As I passed the 3 ladies I said "I'm winning, yay!"
"Know which way to go?" the race winner and leader for entire rest of the race asked as he overtook (guy in blue). "Yes, I'll just follow you!" was my reply. I then turned round to Rich and said "I told you I'd lead the first block!"
Seeing my printed wristband, the leading lady asked what time I was going for.
This was all within the first km, after which the race order seemed reasonably set. For half-marathons, I seem to do well when I set off initially at 5k race pace then settle down to race pace.
One thing I missed on the headcam was a police car rolling toward an intersection on its own, its owner then frantically opening the door to find the brake pedal.  
After this the hill after passing under MacLeod Trail, which keeps on climbing after the worst seems over. I did feel a touch out of breath at points as we kept on climbing through the Evergreen neighbourhood.
This being my third Harvest Half, I knew it would be mostly downhill for the next 12 km after entering Fish Creek Park.
There's a great roller coaster part at the start of the park, winds downhill, a tight hairpin, a looser hairpin then a bridge across the creek.
I'd lost Rich somewhere on that downhill part, and at another hairpin after exiting the pine trees he waved, I felt he was saying to keep going. From that hairpin past the second drink station above and onward another 7km I made good time. I had felt another couple of runners close behind, but making good time they dropped back. I had known what place I was in, but easily forgot that number as I was mostly thinking about time rather than position. I was overtaken by a guy just after the halfway mark, he seemed to be on a well-planned negative-split strategy. I perhaps could have followed him, but I was satisfied with feeling comfortable going mostly faster than my garmin's "pace high" warning.
I saw a deer which would have been great on camera, but didn't have it rolling. I managed to capture myself well in full-flight though. 
This is me in almost the same place, taken by Alan Lam at 15km. At this point I am just over a minute ahead of schedule. I had by now caught up with the second placed lady, who was quite a good pacemaker for this stage of the race.  
By the time Sikome Hill came into view, I knew the PB was there for the taking. The overall climb is about 600 or 700 metres and based on last year's garmin readout would cost 45 seconds. In my view it's not really about the hill, but how quickly you can pick up your pace at the top. Having the garmin here is a big help for me, as instinct tells you to build your pace back up slowly. Initially allowing myself to speed up "naturally", I started pushing after about 20 seconds of being on flat ground, waiting for the "pace in range" sound. The "pace low" sound also kicked in repeatedly for the next couple of minutes as I passed the second placed lady, who was listening to loud music. My legs felt a touch heavy, but I told myself not to settle into what would feel more comfortable.
The last kilometre is on winding pathways, and I had by then been flying along seeing how low I could get the PB to be by this point. I recall turning around and one guy yelling "I'm going to pass you!" He didn't. 
The knowledge that I was going to set a PB by quite some margin had me grinning like a Cheshire cat at the last few marshals. It might have helped too that the cloudy skies meant I hadn't worn my sunglasses, so I smiled broadly and looked directly at the final marshals who said something like "great smile!" as I went past.
Looking at the garmin readout, I could have run the last 95 metres or so (a half is 21.096km I believe) in just 16 seconds.  
The clock says 1:28:13 here, though the official result was given at 1:28:01, and is also borne out by my garmin readout.
This got me 11th place out of 709. 
I did an arm-whirling movement I had also long joked about doing upon crossing the finish line.
Pacing chart and splits below. Sikome Hill is clear to see.
This performance of mine is one I'm extremely pleased with. This is my 3rd Harvest Half, and I did it 10 minutes quicker than my first. It is a case study too, in my view at least, of how a relaxed frame of mind can lead to a good showing on race day.
 The winning time was in the 1:22s.
 Rich got a sub-1:30.
Scott did an excellent 1:24:08 for 4th overall. He is a sub-3 hour Boston finisher, and beat his own PB by about 2 minutes. I could though stake a claim to having enjoyed myself the most.

Now to the headcam video!

The link, just in case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipp969xuFos