Juggling the Long Runs

For the next 7 out of 12 weekends I will be living out of a suitcase, mostly travelling for work. But I will be at home for 10 out of 12 Tuesday through Thursdays. This schedule is looking problematic when it comes to getting consistent runs in and on getting the long runs spaced evenly apart.

The weekday evening runs are still in the dark, still icy, and still tough to get in so making them longer is not easy. And I’m not looking forward to the treadmill running at a hotel. An hour on a treadmill is an eternity for me. But if I can muster it energy wise, I will try to find some new routes from the many hotels and friends places that I am staying at.

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Packing the shoes first

I think I will have to wait until these 3 months pass before trying to firm up a training schedule. I would love to start a stricter regiment already but it is probably pointless right now.

Just show up with your shoes tied

And bring some dessert to share.

Our local running club puts on a cross-country series through the winter and we always get some doozy races. Today was 8 km in a city park with rolling hills but a bunch of side slope and a lot of ice. We even had a 5m long section where it was glare ice on a slope. At least today we had no wind and the temperatures were bearable. Not every race is this comfortable.

They are very casual races with maybe 70-90 runners of all abilities and ages.

One of the best parts is the soup lunch after and the dessert potluck. There is always lots of variety of soup and large tables of desserts. This is probably the main reason people keep coming back to these races. No prizes, no medals. Just bragging rights and dessert.

It is a great community of runners who love to put themselves out there in the snow, ice, blizzards, and whatever else comes our way between October and March in wintry Canada.

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Racing in the winter requires a special kind of crazy.

Check out the Calgary RoadRunners club here 

Out and back, then back and out

Tonight I ran downstream along the river, returned home, then ran upstream along the river. Why downstream first? I have no idea. But it seemed right. Sunset views all the way both downstream and upstream. Perfect timing.

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I got home early from work so I was able to run mostly before dark. That doesn’t happen very often these days. But I will take it when I can get it. It was a whole lot better than yesterday when I ran near downtown on the sidewalks with the eerie streetlights in a strange area.

So today was 6 km + 6 km with a 2 minute break in the middle.

My weekly mileage is hopefully going to slowly creep up for the next few months in anticipation of another big spring and summer of running.

Happy trails.

Saturday morning trails

Saturday mornings are meant for runs. Even better if I can get out on a trail. We did 5km on a new trail this morning on some new snow. Couldn’t ask for a better start to a day.

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For the first time in a long time one of my daughters was not sleeping in, so we went for a run together. We were staying overnight at a retreat center and needed a reprieve from the meetings the day before and the meetings this morning. A run was the right cure.

We were probably the first and only ones out on the trails which wound down to a frozen creek, beside the creek for a while and back up a steep trail to finish up in sort of a loop.

We saw one deer but were expecting more. The local family of moose was unfortunately also not around.

It was just us, some conversation and the trail. Perfect.

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In a Race Long Ago – #TBT

I was just looking back at the pictures of my first race 11 years ago. It was the Vancouver Marathon. No, I didn’t start with a 5k or 10k. I went straight to a marathon. Looking back, I don’t know what was in me to commit to this or any race, except that it was a challenge from my brother. And you don’t turn down those kind of challenges.

My first taste of racing and marathoning was after training mostly outdoors in northern Canada through the winter. I drove 1200 km south to Vancouver to race in May in the drizzle and miserableness that is typical of coastal locales. Totally different than the sunny but frigid training conditions. A definite shock to the system.

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That’s nervous energy behind that smile at my first start line
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Cold, wet, rainy race day

Of course I wore all the wrong clothes. Went out too fast. And wasn’t prepared to make quick decisions at the aid stations. And every couple miles vowed never to do this again.

But I finished and I was very proud of my 3:36 finish.

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“Dad, even my medal was bigger than yours”

One of the lasting memories is doing that last mile saying “Just get this over with. I NEVER have to do this again.” Well that “never” didn’t last more than a couple years.

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The arrow is wrong. I’m the other guy.
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My biggest fans climbing on my aching legs at my high quality recovery meal right after the race.

Eating the wrong recovery food. Yeah, that’s one lesson I learned that day.

And also, don’t drive 500km right after the race. It’s very difficult to extricate yourself from a vehicle after having just run a marathon.

Oh well, live and learn.

The Crafty Northern Sidewalk Snake

One of the lesser known dangers of winter running in Canada is the crafty Northern Sidewalk Snake. For those who are unfamiliar with this native of Canada these snakes are usually only seen in the few coldest winter months. They can be coloured bright yellow, orange, and sometimes red. They like to stretch themselves across sidewalks late at night. If they are noticed in time a vigilant pedestrian will cautiously move around or step over quietly.  Those not paying attention have been known to panic as they sidestep the snake trying not to disturb it or to trip over it. Those not careful can easily injure themselves in the sudden movements and can potentially harm this mostly dormant species. Angry pedestrians have been known to fight back by assaulting these passive creatures.

Urban legend holds that the snakes can perceive a runner approaching and will often jump imperceptively fast up to 12 inches straight up, purposely tripping the runner. Many a runner will attest to being assaulted by these creatures. Hospitals are inundated at this time of year by snake-induced injuries.

With the temperatures hovering around -5 C to -10 C there are only a few out, but when the temperatures drop much below that they seem to come out in hordes stretching themselves along the sidewalks. Inexplicably, their numbers multiply exponentially as the evenings stretch to nighttime, and by morning most have disappeared again.

So if you are a runner, run earlier in the evening when there are fewer out. Watch for especially dark areas, where the most active, seemingly vengeful snakes lie. One preventative measure to being surprised by these terrors is to wear headlamps in the dark winter evenings to eliminate the shadows. Of course, the best precaution is vigilance.

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Some homeowners, have resorted to providing alternate crossing locations so the snakes can cross without interfering with passers-by. These crossings are often located above the pedestrians head level which can be unnerving but is a safe alternative. Many snakes lives have been saved from irrate pedestratians by installing these contraptions. Also, many a runner has been kept free from injury by these ingenious devices.

 

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This snake is still working his way across the sidewalk crossing contraption.

 

 

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This deluxe model swivels out of the way during the warmer months

 

All experienced runners in Canada know to respect the sidewalk snake. Be aware, be safe.

PS If you don’t live in a climate where you’ve ever heard of a car block heater, you’ve probably never heard of these sidewalk snakes. But they do exist, and they’re nasty.

Passing, Getting Passed, and Busting a Gut

I was pretty happy with how the race started out. I knew from past winter trail races that if you started in the middle of the pack you tended to stay there because of the lack of opportunities to pass. On Saturdays 8 km race I started out hard, even passing a bunch of people in the first hundred meters by running off the trail in the ankle deep snow. I was totally out of breath by 200m but it paid off. I was in a good position just behind the fastest runners but not stuck in the pack.

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The pack starts out pretty thick

Other fast runners stuck further back had less opportunity to pass and so I didn’t have to contend with them. But I knew they would slowly try to catch up so I kept up the speed as best I could.

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Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and go in the deep snow to pass. It's tough slogging.

After regaining by breath a little I eventually passed a few others on the downhill who had started out too hard. Then the line of runners started to string out.

At the 2 km mark I had a chance to look behind me and felt relieved to see the line behind me quite strung out already with no one on too close on my tail.

At 4 km I was pushing to stay with the bright yellow toque in front of me. At 5 km the yellow toque passed a dull grey jacket. But I couldn’t keep up with the yellow toque. He slowly sped ahead but not quite out of sight.

At 6 km to my horror behind me I saw the one guy that I always think I can beat but almost never do – a 16 year old lanky boy who doesn’t seem to ever be out of breath. He quickly passed the line of people behind me and sat on my tail for a long time. Then I got a surge and passed the dull grey jacket and glimpsed the yellow toque again, getting my hopes up. But the young snirp (nearly one third my age) behind me was breathing down my neck and then passed me and sped ahead. I couldn’t keep up to him. For the last 500m both the yellow toque and the young guy were within striking distance but just not quite. My tank (morale, ego, and lungs) was empty by then. So unfortunately I finished behind them. But almost no one else passed me for the entire race.

That big sprint at the beginning was worth it. I got 17th out of perhaps 60 people in the 8 km race. There was probably another 15 people in the 2 minutes behind me meaning I was lucky I didn’t get stuck behind someone at the beginning. It was a much better result than recent previous results.

I will admit that those small races have a lot more drama and excitement than big ones. This is especially true if the races are a series and most of the same competition show up every time.

Racing in the Depths of Winter

Racing in the depths of winter is not for the faint of heart. You need stuff, you need other crazy people to race, and you need guts.

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You Need Stuff:

  • Gloves – you head out the door with thin gloves but pack thick ones just in case. At the start line you wish you had not left the thick ones in the car. At the 1 km mark you can’t feel your fingers. Good thing you don’t need fingers to run. After bunching your fingers up inside your gloves at the 5 km mark the feeling starts coming back. At the 7 km mark you have removed the gloves and are carrying them. The crowd (ok, there’s no crowd except for maybe five frozen spouses) thinks you’re crazy for running with exposed skin. Good thing these races tend to be short – our local winter running series are about 8 km.
  • Toque – you know “toque” – that knitted cap your grandmother gave you last Christmas. Usually the toque is too warm but with no toque you are sure to get frozen ears. Toque on – Toque off – Toque on – Toque off. Craziness ensues.
  • Thermo layer – Need a thermo layer for both your top half and your bottom half. Bonus if the thermo layer has odour reducing qualities (definite necessity if you don’t want to be washing every single run).
  • Parka (just for the start line). A wind resistant winter running jacket underneath.
  • Socks – 2 pairs. Depending on how high the snow is and how long your tights are you are probably going to need longer socks than you thought.
  • Shoes – not just your cool summer shoes. If these aren’t semi-air tight and hopefully water / melted snow tight you’ll have wet feet. And wet feet are cold. Cold feet are not fun.
  • Face mask – to keep that nose and chin from getting numb. Face masks end up being about the grossest things hanging around a winter runners racing stuff. Just think frozen saliva, sweat and snot. Yup, never borrow another runner’s face mask.
  • Tech – NOPE – Don’t even bother with a phone / camera  / GPS watch – The battery will freeze up on you and you will just be frustrated. Plus your gloves are likely not touch-friendly.

You Need Other Crazy People to Race

  • Sometimes other crazy runner people are the hardest people to find in the depths of winter. Most runners are either curled up on the couch for a few months, or are on a treadmill. But crazy people are drawn to each other, I’m sure. The few that there are seem to all show up at these crazy events. Great place to find winter running partners after the race.

You Need Guts

  • Runners have guts.

Oh and don’t forget hot chocolate. You always need something to help warm up after.

Don’t let winter scare you off. Just be prepared.

50 Lessons in 50 Days in 50 Runs

Today was my 50th day running in a row.

I know, you think I’m crazy. Most people do. But like they say, running is cheaper than therapy.

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I previously posted about someone doing a 50 day running streak and posting 50 things they learned. I don’t think I could come up with 50 things, but this is a great list.

Here’s the start. Link to the rest is below.

50 things I’ve learned during my 50-day running streak

by Matt Frazier

1. I finally understand those “Running is Cheaper than Therapy” t-shirts. The difference in my mood before and after my run is so noticeable that my wife has several times suggested (on certain, grumpy mornings) that I make today an early run day. And rightly so.

2. You can dramatically lower your breath rate (and as a result, your heart rate) if you learn to breathe through your nose and focus on taking more steps per breath.

3. If you don’t have the same trigger for your run every day (waking up, lunchtime, etc.), it’s easy to forget, and find yourself running at dusk to keep the streak going.

4. On that note, running hills right after dinner is a terrible idea.

5. You can go from zero motivation to full-on, can’t-think-about-anything-else mode in only two weeks or so. The key, for me, was inspiring reading and using the tools of habit change to get started.

6. The 10% rule really doesn’t matter much.

7. Hiking up hills can be a much better exercise than struggling to run up them, especially if you’re training for a trail race where you’ll have to hike.

49. A daily run is the perfect trigger for a quick set of pushups, situps, pullups, or whatever you choose. These things are so easy to do, and so easy not to do. Running every day has helped me to remember to do them.

50. This has been way too good, for both my body and mind, to stop at 50 days. I guess it’s 100 or bust!

41 more at this link: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/50-lessons-running-streak

Thanks Matt for these insights!

Now I need to decide if I am going to continue this streak. But for today, I’m putting my feet for the rest of the day.

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Criss Crossing the Neighbourhood

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Criss crossing the neighborhood
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Finally accomplished!

We did it!

We ran every single road, alley, side street, pathway, trail, and side walk in our neighborhood. It took us the whole of the December run streak and 90.5km. All but 7 of the runs were in this neighbourhood. Each color on the map is a different day. Most days were 2-3 km but on some of the last days we needed to get 6-7 km in to get some of the further away streets. And we had to keep checking the map each day to make sure we had got them all.

My teen daughter was very determined to get to every street and to run every day. Glad I had her for motivation.

We can confidently say that we saw all the Christmas lights in the neighborhood and we never repeated a single route.

It was a blast to change it up a bit!

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