Saturday, 9 July 2011

Calgary Half Marathon 2011

January 2011: the decision to push for a sub-1hr 30min time, something that I had deemed almost impossible in 2009 when I completed my first half in 1hr 46min 15sec. My main weapon? Books!
I would learn more about interval running and periodization later on. What mattered at the start of the year, I knew, was to build a good base. This meant throwing myself at the challenge of running in the Canadian winter, although that did have its compensations, such as the view on sundays. It mostly made up for the tedium of putting on 3 tops, 2 bottoms, running jacket, 3 (thin) pairs of gloves, neck gaiter, hat and balaclava.
"Running Anatomy" made it clear that more reps of lighter weights would help muscle endurance strength, along with balancing on the bosu ball. The balancing would work the lower leg more, enabling them to take on a fairer share of stabilizing work. I also took to doing As, Bs and Cs - drills that split the running action into 3 separate motions.
The foam roller would benefit also in loosening things up, my chiropractor added. I find that anything new in terms of resistance work takes around a month to kick in. Still, it made gym sessions a little less boring.

Nutrition and weight was another area I got to know much better. My weight had crept up a little by the start of the year. From the incomparable Roland I got key advice on attitude as much as food itself. "Mindful eating", taking one's time to feel just as full with less can work for anyone. Also, while this might scare some, I fasted on mondays. After sunday dinner I wouldn't eat again until monday dinner. Just water, tea and black coffee. Rather than just loosing weight through missing 2 meals, this encourages "metabolic flexability" which in effect means the body will access fat earlier as a matter of course. Not as tough as I had thought, the main thing was plenty of water to keep the stomach occupied.
"Performance nutrition for runners" expanded on some things I had previously read, but gave me 2 new pieces of key information. Firstly, you should train with a sports drink. The training effect will be much greater, I found this especially true for intervals - just take a sip during each recovery. I had previously treated gatorade as a special occasion drink, "race day, champagne!" Now I could do intervals without a dip in pace during the last few. The second thing I learned from this was what to do in the week, day, and morning of the race. More of that later, I'm trying to be chronological... 

As I mentioned in my Harvest Half report, I had a footpod to go with my Garmin. At the St Patrick's 10k 11 weeks prior though, it told me I'd run 10.7k. This was probably due to new shoes which had space under the insole for it, instead of a clip on top. I got 42:12 for that race, missing my PB by 44 seconds. At the same time though, I felt I lacked speed anyway so I decided to look at a training plan, that would have me peak at the right time - "periodization" this is called. Impact magazine had one that I adapted - it called for 5 runs a week. I had been doing 3, so I added one, plus an extra 45 minutes on the exercise bike after satuday weights. It was hard at times, especially sessions like 3 x 10 minute intervals at 5k race pace (my PB at the time was just over 20 minutes).
Because such plans are supposed to work you hard, and ease up just in time for the race, I wasn't really sure what effect it was having, save for a general feeling I was getting a little fitter. Funnily enough, it was during weight training that I noticed that the hip abductor and adductor machines (thigh push and thigh squeeze, if you will) were becoming increasingly easy. "Your stabilser muscles are gaining strength," my chiropractor told me. Something had changing then.

24 hours to go:  Having followed the training plan and its taper, the day before was all about the "loading plan" mentioned above. First of all, the workout. 2 1/2 minutes at one mile race pace followed by a 30 second sprint. I didn't exactly sprint those last 30 seconds, but close enough. I call it the "3 minute murder". Doing this the day before a race after having tapered, according to Australian research, leads to "supercompensation". The body in a way panics and stocks the muscles with even more glycogen than usual as more strenuous demands on it are anticipated.
The workout is done first thing in the morning. The rest of the day is spent taking on board lots of carbs. Post workout I drank 2 bottles of gatorade with a little whey protein mixed in. Breakfast itself was a bowl of cereal and orange juice. Then the mid-morning snack of a banana and a bottle of ensure, a meal replacement drink. Lunch: nutella sandwich, garden salad and apple juice. Mid-afternoon snack: an apple and another ensure. Pre-dinner snack was another bottle of gatorade. Dinner: noodles with assorted vegetables and an apple juice. Finally the evening snack of a power bar and an ensure. Notice no meat? Too many calories.
It was late afternoon that I started to get a touch anxious. The buildup to this had lasted months. I decided to lay out everything I would need. I even put my clothes in a pile in the order in which I should put them on. While doing this, I rationalized my chances of success: My PB, 1hr 33min 36sec had been set on a hilly course and this one was largely flat. I was leaner now, stronger, and injury-free since the start of the year. Good thoughts to take to bed at 8:30.

Raceday: Waking up at 4am, I chirped "race day, race day!", camp fashion. One slice of bread with nutella, 2 bananas, 2 ensure and a cup of coffee later, A-Chang and I were on our way. I'd remembered to "go" both before leaving home and at the venue, so as to avoid "going" during the race like last year's full marathon.
Copious rain in the days prior had left everything looking very bright and green. 4 degrees and no clouds, perfect race conditions.
I met up with Rich from work, who while preparing for the Seattle marathon wanted to go for the 90 as long as he felt ok during the race. He's busy plotting in the above pic. Apparently, my relaxed demenour at the startline relaxed him too.
Ready to roll, the countdown seemed to stop at 3 when the horn sounded, one guy having to virtualy dive out of the way to avoid getting flattened.
Why is no-one else smiling?
Going with the quick starting pace is the only real option in dealing with the chaos. One guy chopped diagonally from right to left after the first corner, setting a record for the most runners simultaneously upset by just one. My watch's pace alerts were set for between 4:10 and 4:15. The first km was done in 3:57, so I then made a point of slowing. Rich pulled up alongside having got separated in the mellee. The general plan was to stick within my watch's paceband. Things would be looking good, I felt, if the pace was manageable after 20 minutes. Another "checkpoint" would be at the 10k mark at the start of the westward section of Memorial Drive, then at the u-turn back again at around 14k.
At the first drink station - they were every 3km - several runners up ahead slowed for a drink and didn't start back running again. If I had seen that before I certainly don't remember. I had my own 2 bottles on my drink belt as I didn't want to slow down. I was taking a sip at around 5k when I heard in the distance the first of the "neighbourhood cheer squads" just after the Stampede grounds. "They know we're coming," I said to Rich. I flashed a victory V at the cheerers, then at the next squad around the corner.
17th avenue had a fun atmosphere, and I felt relaxed cruising along the "red mile". Having run and driven on it countless times, I found myself instinctively avoiding known bumps in the road.
10k, and I remember my watch saying 42 minutes, 12 seconds faster than my St Patrick's 10k time 10 weeks earlier. 30 seconds ahead of schedule. Up and over the Crowchild overpass (above), there was a slight wind. The other side, the 3 leaders came past the other way, about 3k ahead. They were 2 African runners and a causasian, leading me to joke with Rich "guess who's finishing 3rd?" Cheeky of me I know, but it turns out I was correct. The leading lady, by herself, followed around 5 minutes later. She looked extremely small and lean.
At the turnaround, and Memorial Drive was a slight downhill with a slight following wind. Speaking of which, it was around the Crowchild underpass that the previous day's garden salad made its presence felt, in the key of c#. "There you go," said Rich. Was he expecting it?
Getting to 14th street, one slow moving guy we were about to overtake got competitive and sped-up. He dropped off a couple of km later. Going the opposite way from those just joining Memorial from the 14th street bridge, we seemed to get admiring glances from runners who must've taken Rich and me for the overall leaders. I gave a couple of girls a cheesy grin, making them laugh. "Don't tell me wife," I said to Rich.
Seconds later, we passed the turnaround for the 10k race. Starting 30 minutes after the marathon and half, we would pass people taking 60 to 90 minutes to do that distance. That's a lot of people. There was a traffic barrier between us at first, when this finished, there were cones and a sign saying 10k-ers on the left, marathoners on the right. There were no further signs, however, and predictably many of them started wandering. I made sure to pull out early to overtake, which was just as well as there were many who would break into an instant walk with no warning at all.  
At the 20km sign, we were about 40 seconds ahead. The course left Memorial drive, and there was a 100 metre stretch only closed to traffic in one direction. It was like a slalom course for this stretch, exhausted and slow 10k-ers randomly positioned and in places blocking the course completely. I said to Rich that it shouldn't come down to race between the two of us. After turning the corner to more open road again, there was one last hill. Rich was a few metres ahead, so I thought I should draw level. It seemed like a bit of a race was happening afterall, or perhaps just excitement. I came close to yelling "charge!"
A-Chang had already had her phone call, and I turned the final corner, crossing one of the timing mats which prompted my name to be announced. As can be seen in the pacing chart below, my fastest pace came at the end. Crazy runner's high!
 Seeing the clock still saying 1 hour 28-something, I flailed my arms in the air like a loony and finished with a gun time of 1 hour, 29 minutes, 0 seconds. "Chip time" was later given as 1.28:56.
As I said in a facebook post, "I could just break into a Bollywood dance number!" The preparation and planning had gone so well that I had beaten my previous PB by 4:40, one minute ahead of target. It had all been months in the making.  
Apparently wishing he had joined us, Superfast-Scott(TM) did the 10k in under 39 minutes. Perhaps the 3 of us will all do the Harvest Half together. I wonder if I can sub-90 that one?
62nd out of 2,965 finishers I came in at. Not a very dramatic race (unlike those before), but one that went almost perfectly. The revelation afterwards is that I could've gone quicker. I didn't feel tired - no burning quads or aches, just slightly stiff. Nothing that a few stretches on the train wouldn't solve.


  1. That's a fast half marathon time! In my previous body (13 years ago) I ran a 1:41 and that is my best. Nowadays I'm happy with a sub 2:10! At least I can use running ultras as an excuse and everyone accepts that.:)

  2. Cheers Johann! I'd say you're a great runner with all that mileage week-in, week-out.