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

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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11 Years of Wearing Out Running Shoes

Running my shoes off over the last 11 years.

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2005 – 400km

2006 – 1600km – Vancouver Marathon, Emporer’s Challenge (21k)

2007 – 500km

2008 – 1600km – Calgary half marathon + Footstock marathon + first triathlon

2009 – 1600km – Calgary marathon + Sylvan Lake half iron

2010 – 1600km – Vancouver marathon, Calgary marathon + Calgary half iron

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2010 Vancouver Marathon

2011 – 1600km – Calgary marathon

2012 – 2800km – Calgary marathon, 50k (Frozen A)

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First time Boston qualifier!

2013 – 3000 km – Boston marathon, Calgary marathon

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Boston Marathon

2014 – 2700 km – Lost Soul 50k, Calgary 50k

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2015 – 3161 km (biggest year by 5%) – Iron Legs 50 Miler, Daughter’s first half, Vancouver Marathon

2015

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What a journey it has been so far. Hopefully it is far from over.

And just because I like summaries, graphs and trends…

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That Looks Like Fun!

It not only looks like it was fun, it was fun!

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When we say cross-country, we mean serious cross-country. None of this groomed, cut grass on level ground. No, we mean mud, ice, and even blood sometimes.

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8 km through thick and thin with 100 other runners with the only prize being a high five from my family if I’m lucky. These races are my hill / speed work through the winter.

No pressure, no schedule, no training regime. Just give’r!

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I wiped out twice in this race, and had blood streaming down my legs. Once right in front of the camera. I looked up at the wrong time trying to smile for the camera and twisted my knees, slamming into the mud at the bottom of the hill. But it couldn’t have been that bad since I still finished with a smile.

This race was a month ago, so the mud is long gone. It has been replaced with ice and snow. I’m sure our footprints are set in the icy mud now for the winter.

Calgary Road Runners – Winter Cross Country Race Series. It’s a blast.

More craziness and photos here and here.

General info about the Grand Prix Series here.

Next up: Silver Springs – Dec 12

 

 

How to Pick ‘A’ Races

I’m going through the process of picking some ‘A’ races for 2016. Those would be my goal races. The ones that I would like to build my training around. I will have other races, which I call my ‘B’ and ‘C’ races. ‘B’ races are those that help build up to my ‘A’ races. And ‘C’ races I do just for fun.

So some of my considerations when picking races:

A Races: These are the bucket list races, or the goal races, or the ones that I want to do a PR in, or ones that I really feel I would be stretched to do. There should only be a maximum of 2-3 of these races in any given year. Any more, and I would start to lose focus on what I am really training for. These are the races I am the most excited about and probably talk about the most. I need to be sure of my schedule before I pick these races so that nothing comes in the way of them once I’ve set my eyes on them. Sometimes this is impossible and I need to pick a backup A race.

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One of two A Races in 2015 - Ironlegs Ultra

B Races: These are included in my training schedule for the ‘A’ races. So if I had a marathon on my ‘A’ list, a ‘B’ race might be a half marathon one month before the ‘A’ race. Or it might be another marathon in the months following my goal marathon if that second marathon time didn’t matter so much.

The problem with B races is that it is very easy to slip into making them A races by going out too hard. They are not meant to take anything away from the big races, only either to let you know how well your training is going, or to fine tune some speed, or nutrition or something else you are working on. You are usually in great shape by the time you do your B races so the temptation is huge to go all out. Don’t! Save it for the big ones. Don’t risk injury.

C Races: These lower priority races cannot jeapordize either my A or B races. These would be short and fun, and probably with friends or family. They might be just a cool race that I can fit in on short notice. I wouldn’t be too disheartened if my time was horrible but if I got injured it would be devastating.

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Definitely a C race - the Color Run

In 2015, my two A races were the Vancouver Marathon in May and Ironlegs Ultra in August. In the marathon I wanted to get a PR so I trained really hard for it (but I missed it). For the ultra, I wanted to finish, mostly just to finish but also to get a good time.

I had a lot of C races including a half marathon, 8k cross country series in early spring. These helped me stay fit but didn’t push me very hard. Looking back I guess this year I didn’t really have any B races. I had one planned in April that didn’t pan out and another in July. I was training very specifically on the weekends and pushing myself quite hard on those training runs. B races didn’t quite fit in that schedule. And my kids’ A races trumped any of my proposed B races, but such is life. Perhaps I might have been able to squeeze some in if I had been prepared to travel a little further to the races. I have fit them in on other years and I plan to do so again next year.

I am still planning my 2016. My one A race I was counting on (Pikes Peak) probably won’t pan out due to our family schedule so I need to switch gears. Another possible A race (Blackfoot 100k) conflicts with a C race I am coordinating a charity team for, so that won’t work. So I am researching a couple others to see if I can make it work.

The goal is to have this figured out early in the New Year. Planning is half? the fun. Maybe not half, since racing and training is pretty fun too.

Cute to hard core – less than $5

How to turn cute, unassuming, experienced shoes (my daughter’s) into hard core winter cross country spikes with unsurpassed traction.

Maybe you’ve fallen on the ice once too many times this winter already. Or you just want that extra confidence for passing people on the trails. Why not beef up those shoes with cheap cleats you can install yourself?

1) buy sheet metal or wood screws – #8 by 1/2″ X 10 per shoe – a box of 100 is less than $5. Oh yeah, don’t get the ones with the round heads, that might make it worse. You want the flat head screws.

2) experiment with a pattern or use mine: 4 in the heel and 6 up front

3) screw them most of the way in. (From the outside bottom, not from the inside!)

4) you’re done!

Run on them on a hard surface (not the hard wood floor) before the race to make sure the screws aren’t poking through (those can be tough lessons)

Really test ’em out: find a nice icy trail with some sharp corners and downhill. Go hard and hope for the best.

Now you’re ready to race winter cross country.

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These may not be a complete replacement for spikes or Yak Trax or Katoola’s but they are a whole lot cheaper.

Have fun out there passing everyone else splayed out on the ice.

Inspiring Greatness

Cross country for middle schoolers seems to be a great way to get kids running and a great way to get many of them to actually enjoy it. In the schools in our area, a huge number of kids are on the cross country teams. Meets are huge events. And most of these kids are actually having fun (before, after and even during the events).

It was easy to pick out which kids have the killer finish instinct, which ones can pace, and which ones are just hanging on to the coattails of the one in front of them. Since this was the first race of the season many kids were making mistakes. But that is how we all learn. At the next race next week they will all run smarter.

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But sadly there are fewer kids out there in the older grades as their priorities change or as they get discouraged with their progress.

So I think we need to continue to encourage these youngsters to stretch themselves to be the best they can be. When they get discouraged, we need to help them push on so they don’t quit prematurely. There is so much potential out there.

And they need heros and role models to look up to. That’s us, fellow experienced runners. We are the heros and role models whether we accept the challenge or not, whether we feel we are worthy or not. They are looking to us for inspiration.

So let’s keep running, and let’s keep inspiring those around us to greatness.

How do you train for 87k? he asked incredulously

“87 km race? That’s more than 50 miles? How did you train for 87 km?”

“By running a lot”

No kidding you must run a lot

Actually my training was quite similar to marathon training, just longer

Longer? You’re crazy!

Yeah I hear that a lot

How long were your long training runs?

I ran 50km one Saturday, and 42 km on the Saturdays each side of that. Those runs were about a month out from the race.

I hear some runners run over 100 miles (160km) per week.

I don’t go that far but normal weeks for two months straight were over 100km per week.

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It's a long road to an ultra

How do you fit in the other 50 to 60 km per week?

I aimed to put in 50 km per weekend over two days usually. This year I opted to run to and from work several times per week depending if I was running in the evening with anyone else. I am lucky that my work is about 10 km from home so that would make a 20 km day. So three days of a running commute would give me enough kms.

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These were my friends during long lonely training runs that I had to do by myself

Did you ever give yourself any days off?

I always took Fridays off and often Mondays too, so my Tuesday through Thursday was quite tiring.

I hear you should be doing speed work or hill repeats once per week.

I hardly did speed work. I had run a marathon in early May and I had done speed work for that. But once that was over, for the next three months, I didn’t put myself through that. Maybe I should have but my plan was exhausting enough.

And hill repeats?

I definitely got my hills in. This race was a mountain race with an insane amount of vertical so I knew how important that was. So all my long runs had a similar amount of vertical per km as the race, about 100m per 2km. And I took the hilly route to work. A couple times I found some mountains to climb (and to come down). That hill training was absolutely necessary and I am very glad I put myself through it.

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If that's the size of your hill your going to have to do a whole lot of hill repeats

Did you try to fit in any cross training?

I had hoped to bike to work on my off days but I realized that I didn’t have it in me, especially mentally. I needed a break. I did some core strengthening exercises a few times per week until about a month before the race when I suddenly just lost motivation to do core. But I am sure glad I got it in as long as I did. My back and hamstrings would have been much worse off otherwise.

So is there anyone else out there to train with for these crazy distances?

For sure. You just have to know where to look. Many of the trail running groups draw people who love ultras. But the problem with trail running groups is that people are quickly inspired to sign up for more races which inevitably are longer or harder. So while it is good to meet these people for encouragement and inspiration be prepared that you won’t be able to quit after one ultra. It can be addicting.

So what would you say if I said I wanted to run an ultra?

You’re crazy! But go for it!