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!

Wearing in my shoes – Topo MT2

I was desperately in need of some new shoes. The old ones had split on the sides, and the even older ones felt like they had flat tires. So I went into Gord’s Running Store in Calgary, tried on a couple pair and walked out with Topo MT2 trail running shoes. I had never heard of Topo before but I have been very happy with them. They were strongly recommended if I wanted something between moon shoes (think Hoka’s) and tight fitting trail shoes (my most recent New Balance). Maybe something like my old Pearl Izumi’s but something that didn’t blow through the toes so quick because of all the downhill I do. I don’t have a good sense for what makes good trail shoes, just for what has not lasted very long for me.

The Topo’s I purchased are very wide at the toes (like Altra’s), but they don’t have the arch like Altra’s do. They are light like Hoka’s, but not as wide. And they dry quickly. They have decent enough traction but not so aggressive you don’t want to use them on the road occasionally. I’ve always struggled with laces coming undone, but for some reason, these laces seem to just stay tied. Nothing worse (almost) than laces that keep coming undone at inopportune times. And the 3mm drop works well with me. No blisters, no problems with the toenails, and no hot spots.

So this morning as I was walking around indoors it suddenly felt a little lower on the outside of the heel. Both heels. Was it my imagination? On closer inspection I noticed that the grip was starting to wear on the heel. Have I overused them on sharp rocks? Has my family been sneaking them into their runs? Has our cat been gnawing on the rubber? Then I calculated backward and realized that I already had 400 km on them, and much of it on tough gravel. Maybe shoes aren’t supposed to last forever but I’d love these ones to last.

On the trail I don’t notice the loss of thickness in the grip at the back so I plan to keep using them much longer this summer. I’m sure I will put another 400km on them before anything else wears out on them but I was a little disappointed. I mean, I just bought them 5 weeks ago. But 400 km in 5 weeks is a lot, I guess.

I guess Gord will be seeing me a couple more times this summer.

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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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The Plan (as it is currently unfolding)

My training has begun for the Lost Soul Ultra which is a 100 km race in early September in Lethbridge Alberta. I have been ramping up my training this last month which I admit might be a bit early but at least I am starting to take it seriously already. I have a lot of running and elevation to do this summer and I don’t want to leave it all to the last couple months.

This week I have backed it off a bit as one of my step-back weeks. In the weeks going forward I plan to push 100km weeks for the next 3 weeks before backing off again. I hope to keep up this general weekly schedule total through June, July and start of August. The plan is to increase the amount of elevation, trail time, and weight of my pack each week or two until August. Also, I hope to keep about half of my kilometers to be over two runs on Saturday and Sunday. This will keep my legs tired on the weekend and fresh enough for shorter distances of harder hills or speedwork during the week.

This plan isn’t that different than what I did last year and it seems to have worked. I just need to execute it again.

Time to hit the trail!

Weekly total: 45km (April 17), 70km, 77km, 86km, 102km, 75km (May 21)

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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

Ctl C, Ctl V, Tweak

As I was working out what my training this summer was going to look like, I realized that my goals were very similar last year. Since I was quite happy with the outcome last year I could use a similar training plan. My “A” race this year was a similar length to the “A” race last year and they are within 3 weeks of each other. This is very convenient for training plans. I would only have to copy and paste the training plan from last year.

I can’t quite remember how I came up with the plan last year, since it was mostly my own creation but with a bunch of my own tried and true things that work for me. It is very similar to a standard marathon training plan but with bigger weekends. But the best part is that I had written down the training plan and had mostly stuck with it. So I had a very good record of how much I ran. I don’t have a record of how I felt during the training period but maybe the end (race day) justifies the means (training), especially since I don’t remember much in terms of injuries.

Right now the plan that I’m looking at from last year looks pretty daunting. Saturday: fast, semi long. Sunday: Very long. Monday: sometimes off, sometimes just a little. Tuesday: run length varied. Wednesday: hills or speed. Thursday: more running. Friday: OFF!! (or biking). Worked up to 110km per week. 400 km per month for 2 months before the race.

The easy part was the copy and paste. Now I need to work my busy life around the plan, or to work the plan around the busy life. So lets start tweaking.

Copying my own plan from last year works for me since I know what works and doesn’t work and I am confident enough in determining how I feel to be able to tweak it as necessary.

But copying someone else’s plan to your own plan can be more tricky. Be very cautious if you are doing that and be prepared to change it up as necessary.

One thing I do need to do is to be more diligent with recording how the training is going, so that when I try to copy this plan again next year, I will know  where to tweak, instead of blindly following the plan.

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Training plans need to be tweaked in all kinds of ways when your travels take you to Nigeria 
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This would be a great idea for an aid station!

What’s in your Pack? Running with Weights

Yes, some people do run with weights. And yes, it is hard. But no, they don’t die, they just get a lot more tired and don’t go as fast. But they do develop bigger leg and core muscles.

This is not something you would want to do on every training run. Unsurprisingly, most people don’t want to do it on any run. Are they missing out?

I was feeling sorry for myself on my last stair repeat workout, when I noticed this other guy wearing a weight vest. I realized, there are harder things in life than just doing stair repeats. You can do them with weights.

There are a bunch of different types of weights you could use. A running vest, like the one worn by my stair-running friend fits snug so it doesn’t bounce around. But the weight is the weight. It is hard to increase or decrease. And the one he had wasn’t very breathable. Definitely not breathable like a running shirt would be. So be prepared to do heat training as well when you wear one of these.

There are weights you put on your ankles or shoes. But you need to be careful that your ankles do not get stretched too much since feet are not used to being pulled down on every step. A cheaper way to do shoe weights is to go for a run in the mud. Yeah, that sticky gooey kind of mud where your shoes getting bigger with every step. But again, you can’t control the weight, but it can be fun.

You could just wear big heavy boots, but beware of blisters. Not recommended!

Filling up your water bladder fuller than it needs to be is a great way to increase the weight you were going to wear anyway. Liquids are heavier than you’d think. It doesn’t take much extra liquid to come to this realization.

My favourite is just a plain old backpack. Whether it is a small snug running back pack, or a big ill-fitting backpack, just use the one you’ve got. The weight inside it can be adjusted to suit how masochistic you feel, and is only limited by your creativity. If you find it too heavy, you can always remove stuff. Sometimes that might be in the middle of a run so bring stuff you don’t mind getting rid of.

But stuff bounces around if you can’t zip it up tight. I tried putting my work shoes in my pack on my run home yesterday and they bounced all the way home since there wasn’t sufficient straps to tighten it up. Annoying! And then the zippers started making a racket right next to my ears. So packs are not always the best solution.

Of course if you are one of those the hard-core masochists you might be tempted to carry rocks in your pack. Rocks are heavy. Heavy things makes running harder. Harder makes you stronger.

Bonus: Pulling rocks out of your pack after a group run can be used to full effect as an intimidation factor.

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But take it easy. That weight really adds up with every step. Don’t go far, don’t go fast, even if you think you can. Work your way up by slowly increasing weight. It is super easy to injure yourself. And injuries would just sideline you. No fun in that.

The reward of all this weight training is the amazing feeling on that first run after you have run with weights for a week. You feel so light on your feet you could run forever. And you feel fast. And you are fast. Wee!

Any other ideas for weight training?

How Far are We Running Today, Dad?

Daughter #2 (13 years old): How far are we running today, Dad?

Me: Maybe 4km?

300m later

Her: I didn’t do my long run this weekend. We should run further today.

Me: Well, okay, we could do 5km

200m later

Her: How about we turn around at 3.5km?

Me: Noncommittal “Hmmm”

Her: I really should be running 8km for a long run. Her half marathon is coming up in 3 months and I admit that she needs to boost her consistent long runs a little.

a couple km later

Me: Here’s a good turn around point. It looks like we’ve done 4 km but it will probably be a shorter way back

Her: disappointed “Awww”

at 6 km mark

Me: I’m guessing it will be about 7.5km today

Her: We have to at least make it even. We’re doing 8km.

Me: Okay, we’ll go an extra block here.

at 7km mark

Me: It looks like it will be about 8.4km

Her: We can’t leave it at 8.4km. That would only be 50 minutes. I need to mark down 1 hour because 50 minutes isn’t a round enough number.

Me: We’re not doing 10 km. We were only going to do 4 km and you need to get to bed.

Her: Okay, okay, let’s do 9 km.

Me: Sure, OK

300m sprint finish with me lagging behind

Me: That was a great run

Her: Yeah, but my legs are sore. Oh well. You know, we should have run longer.

total run = 9.3 km in 53 minutes. 

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What have I created? I won’t be able to keep pace for much longer.

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.