Calgary Half Marathon

What a great day to run a race! On Sunday, the sun was out, and the smiles were everywhere as the gun went off for the Calgary Half Marathon Charity Challenge.

At the start line we were treated to a whole choir singing the national anthem, and the mayor giving his encouragement.

The smiles and chatter only lasted for a kilometer and then the chatter suddenly  disappeared as we started our first hill, even though it was a pretty small one. But huffing and puffing at km #1 can be pretty discouraging. But then the crowd thinned a bit, we crossed the river twice on beautiful old bridges before hitting the first aid station just outside the tiger cages at the zoo (but unfortunately we couldn’t quite glimpse them this time).

Many runners started at 7AM with long sleeves, but it was too warm to finish the race with long sleeves. I was glad for a hat because the sun was still so low in the horizon for most of the backstretch.

At 7:20AM, at km 5, one of the bystanders had a sign that said “I’m still in my PJ’s”. We had been up for hours already, so we thought that was pretty funny. It was nice to see the crowd really into it.

This is definitely a downtown type of race route. We crossed six bridges over the two rivers. Plus there were two underpasses, two overpasses and one U-turn. Half the route was immediately adjacent to the river. But because of the crowds, unfortunately, the goslings weren’t out and about. They’ll be back tomorrow for sure.

There were a whole bunch of cheering sections, and lots of bands including Elvis of course and my favourite, a steel drum band. We ran the popular “Red Mile” which is Calgary’s strip of trendy places, and the outskirts of the zoo, where sometimes (but not today) you can see the tigers and camels through the fence. The race finish was in front of the stampede grandstands so everyone could see you sprint (or crawl) to the line.

I finished with one of my daughters and we were both very proud of her personal best time. My other daughter finished just behind us on her first half marathon. Way to go girls.

Great organization, great food, great entertainment.

Now, let’s see. When’s my next race?

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The organizers were definitely ready for the crowds
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And the crowds came out
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And we followed the crowds all the way to the finish line

Pitfalls of the Half

When you have run a bunch of races you start to know what works for you most of the time and what doesn’t for strategy. But as it gets ingrained in your brain it gets harder to articulate to others.

I recently have had to go back to figure out what are the basic strategies and pitfalls for running a half marathon. I am coaching my 13 year old daughter to her first half marathon tomorrow. She has run many 10km races before but nothing this long so I was trying to explain the differences for nutrition, being patient, and pace bunnies.

Hydration – she doesn’t necessarily have to drink during a 10 km but for the half she will have to take advantage of the water stations. But it is easy to take too much water. If you aren’t used to drinking much on long training runs, don’t change it up too much on the race. But do stay hydrated.

Gatorade – Just because they offer it and everyone else is taking it doesn’t mean you should take it. If you haven’t trained with Gatorade sloshing in your stomach, take it easy. My strategy is usually to alternate water and Gatorade between aid stations, occasionally skipping aid stations all together.

Gels – gels can do terrible things to your digestive tracks as I learned last year in a marathon when I took one too many. Go easy and don’t be tempted to take one just because it is being handed to you. I would max out at one gel maybe at half way through the half.

Being patient – Starting out too fast can destroy your finish. The hype of the first few kms and the crowds makes it really easy to go much faster than intended. Take your time and enjoy the part of the race before the pain kicks in. My strategy is to try to pace the first half the same speed as the second half. Then when everyone else is slowing down at the end, I have enough kick to pass a whole bunch of people in the last km.

Walking – aid stations are a great place to walk. You can walk for the 10m while you gulp your drink down or you can stretch it out a little further. I sometimes tell myself just keep running to the next aid station and then as a treat I can walk for a bit. It’s a small goal inside a race just to get to the next aid station.

Pace bunnies – use the pace bunnies to your advantage but don’t try to just stick with them. They are running their race which is not your race. They usually go at a very even pace which is not a normal person’s pace. Use them to judge your overall time and and goals. Keep them in sight or stay ahead of them. Doing mental math in your head while running to know your own time is really hard. Let them do it for you.

And remember to have fun out there.

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The training is pretty serious in our house!

Weather Worries

One shouldn’t have to worry about the weather for an end of May race. It should normally be quite pleasant on an early morning. But today, one week out from the Calgary Marathon, we got a dump of snow with temperatures hovering around freezing and frigid winds. Today would have been a very miserable day to have a race. Now, at 3pm, the snow that turned to rain has mostly stopped but the wind is still going and I am reluctant to even do my normal Sunday run. Yesterday was miserable too, and tomorrow isn’t looking good either. But everyone says, just give it a couple days and the weather will be totally different. Maybe, maybe not.

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My first marathon was in Vancouver where it drizzled for over 3 hours of my 3.5 hour race. I was from “dry and cold” country so I didn’t know what to wear in the rain so I got it all wrong. I had long sweats on but they had a cotton liner. Wrong! I got rid of them by the 5th km in some sketchy part of town. Then my legs froze in the cold rain. I had a rain jacket which I sweated it. I didn’t wear gloves since in my world you only wore gloves when it really was cold. Cold from rain didn’t really fit in to what I was used it. But I should have worn the free gloves they had given to all the runners. All the local runners did okay since they were used to the weather and had trained in this all year and they knew what the gloves were for. But us out-of-towners didn’t prepare well.

Weather is the biggest unknown in many races and we have to prepare for anything. I tend to bring extra clothes to the start line and then give them to my wife at the last minute. This is risky too since I may regret giving them away. And I have definitely regretted some of those last minute decisions.

You never get it perfect. Either you wear too much, or you wear too little. Given these longer races last hours, the weather will change throughout the race. You can’t bring it all with you. You just hope you can last long enough with the less-than-perfect conditions.

One strategy I have is to run outside all year no matter the weather. I am probably much more attuned to what I need to wear in inclement weather than someone who does a lot of treadmill runs. Another is to bring a backpack on many of my training runs with extra clothes or as a place to put that rain coat when it does clear up. This also helps me to be ready for anything and then not have an excuse to head home when the weather does change up.

But I don’t know what to do about hail. Good thing hail doesn’t tend to materialize in early mornings when the race is on.

So in this race coming up next week, everyone will be in the same boat as far as the weather. I just hope I can make some good decisions on what to wear and then not to make any last minute clothing adjustment errors.

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In a Pickle

I have gotten myself in a pickle and I need some help.
I am working with 3 teen girls (13-15 years old) to train them to run a half marathon. They are doing amazing with their training and they all want to run the same race. The problem is that they all want me to pace them, even though they are different speeds. 
You have 2 options if you choose to accept the challenge to help me.
A) Pace one of these three fast, gritty teen girls on the half marathon in Calgary on May 29.
B) Encourage me (i.e. sponsor me, or at least cheer for me) as I pace, encourage, have my ears chatted off, keep up with, and keep looping back to the three teens of varying speeds on the 2+ hour race.
Can you sympathize? Sponsor me here 
We are raising funds for Engineering Ministries International so they can help facilitate housing construction in northern Mexico.
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Collapsing on another finish line as we train for this half marathon

Race Volunteering

We had a lot of fun stuffing race packages last night and handing them out today for the upcoming local St. Patrick’s Day race.

I really enjoy racing but I am starting to also enjoy the coordinating and volunteering for races.

Sure there is a lot of time to put into meetings, setting up, and tearing down, but seeing so many people benefit from your contributions makes it worthwhile.
One of the deals when we signed up for the organizing committee was that we couldn’t race on race day because there was so much other work to do. The organizing isn’t really that much work if you have a great organised race director like we have. She is a veteran at these things.

This year, not only do I not get to run it, but I have double booked myself and now I can’t even volunteer on race day. I put all this effort in and all I will get out of it is seeing the smiles on the photos of the finishers.

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This one armed mannequin may look like one of the volunteers but most of us wear out hats straight

But I’ll get pictures. And the photos are always great especially with the costume contest. Hopefully I will remember to post some of the best ones here next week.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day this weekend. Have a great run. Wear green.

Run your own Race

Run with perseverance the race set before you … not your competitors race.

The first part is taken from the Bible, and the second part is just my addendum to make it relevant to running.

All too often we get caught up in the race, latch onto other runners who we think we should be able to keep up with, forget to check our speed, start out too fast, and maybe take too much at the aid stations.

But the race is our race. We need to follow the plan. If we throw out the plan as soon as the race starts it wasn’t a good plan, or we aren’t being diligent enough.

Stick to the plan. Run your own race. Trust your training. You’ll do awesome.

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My Introduction to Mountain Races – #tbt

My second ever race was a half marathon mountain race about 10 years ago. I had just run the Vancouver marathon a few months before and felt the need to keep going with this running thing. The closest thing to a race near our small town in northern BC was the Emperor’s Challenge about 2 hours away on the edge of the Rockies. Someone casually told me about it and as I looked into it, I got excited. It sounded crazy. But crazy was good. Basically it was 600m up a mountain following a creek bed and then back down a mountain road. I don’t remember having a good idea how much 600m is but I knew it was going to be excruciating. And I was going to have to do some hill training and learn how to do trails.

So I set about with hill training. Having grown up and still living in the prairies I didn’t really know what hills were. And trails? I didn’t know where to find them. All my marathon training had been on dead flat roads.

By accident I discovered that one of the dead ends near the river valley had a deer trail down to the bottom. So one day I went down it. Straight down it. Then straight back up heaving like never before. Over a matter of months I upped it to three times in one go. This dead end at the top of the hill was one of the romantic lookouts where cars came to park for a while, so I’m sure there were a few couples who wondered at my sanity. I wondered too.

On the way to this hill, I would run pass one of the farms that housed dog sled dogs. In the summer they trained on wheeled sleds on the adjacent road. As I would pass them, it would be very noisy with all the yipping, but all their training worked to inspire me to train harder.

A couple times, I also ran down the highway on a 5 km downhill stretch that was 5% slope for 5 km. And then I had my wife (and 3 and 5 year olds) pick me up at the bottom. I couldn’t contemplate going back up. She is amazing.

I never really got my trail training in except a couple times while camping, but I did a good effort on the hills.

I didn’t really know what to expect for the race, but now as I look back it was not that abnormal from a trail race. Maybe 100 competitors. Very casual start. Very crowded, confusing first kilometer. I wore too much at the start but was freezing at the top and warm again at the bottom. I wore my road shoes since I didn’t know there was such a thing as trail running shoes.

I was quite happy with my finish. I was very encouraged by being able to pass people even to the end, and even after the 14 km of continuous downhill.

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We had warning that it was going to be a steep one!
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My daughter’s first race, and my second race.

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It was a great introduction to trail running. But oddly that was the last trail race I did for a few years. I’m not sure why, but at first it didn’t stick. It took a couple more trail races before trails got into my blood. And now they are in my blood.  I would love to go back and try my hand at that race again.

The views are spectacular (if you notice them between all the huffing and puffing).

Capture

http://www.emperorschallenge.com/ – Tumbler Ridge, BC – Babcock Mountain

 

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 

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.

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.