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

Do everything in moderation? I don’t think so!

My 12 year old can definitely grind out a 10k and not leave anything on the line. She gives it everything she has and doesn’t let anything get in her way. This weekend at the Calgary Marathon’s 10k race, she started with the stroller division (because of the cute entrants), which she ditched within the first 50m. She ran with a friend for then next few hundred meters, then realized this was much too slow. Then she zigzaged through the crowd to make up for lost time. Even with her one-minded determinedness to do her best, she did happen to notice (and remember) Elvis singing on the sidelines. And then on the sprint to the finish she didn’t let anything stop her goal to get a PR. And she did get a PR – better than 58 minutes for the 10km – even with starting with the stroller division.

She was exhausted and hobbling afterward but with the biggest smile because she had done her best.

Since we had to stick around to cheer on other runners in other events, she eventually got bored. So she found a way into the 5k a couple hours later. Her excuse was that she liked the 5k medal better than the 10k medal. And of course she didn’t leave anything on the line for that race either. Her face on the pictures was pure tenacity and determination, even though she was exhausted and in pain from the start.

When I am racing, I regularly contemplate the pain I will be feeling the next day and analyzing how fast I am willing to go to moderate the pain. But my daughter seemingly doesn’t think of the next day.

The next day she was definitely hobbling around and not willingly going downstairs even to get ice cream. But she slept soundly!

Make sure you do enough every day, to fall into bed exhausted, not leaving any regrets behind.

Pre-race prep

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She’s the one in front in yellow after her first medal.

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The finish line

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Surviving the whole half

My amazing daughter and I finished the grueling full half marathon on Sunday. I am so proud of her sticking to the training and pushing through to the finish line.

The Calgary marathon put on an amazing weekend with an excellent course, volunteers and aid stations (we know because we made full use of the aid stations and the toilets).

Even with a 6:30 start there was no worries about having to decide what to wear. No one wore long sleeves. The weather was pretty much perfect.

We both had to push through the pain and ignore all the other faster runners out there. But in the last km we dug deep and even passed a whole bunch of others. And we finished in 2:04 in her first half.

Before we even left the grounds my girls were asking to do it again next year. That’s a good sign of a great event.

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Hang on to your (cowboy) hats

Hang on to your hat. Your cowboy hat, that is. Because it is the Calgary Marathon pre-race week coming right up. And Calgary is known of course for its cowboys, stampede, and crazy runners.

The lineup this week is packed.

It starts off with Calgary hosting the Canadian Race Director’s Summit on Wednesday.

Then it’s package stuffing by our amazing volunteers. They will be giving up their evenings to get those goodies packaged up.

We have package pickup Thursday to Saturday with VIP speakers at the fitness expo. – Elite Runner Panel, John Stanton (Running Room), Jordan Alicandro (The Biggest Loser)

We have a Running Room friendship run at 9:00 on Saturday with John Stanton at Eau Claire

We have a social tweetup right after that at 9:30, also at Eau Claire – #RunSocialYYC

On Sunday at 6:30AM, yes, AM, we have the national half marathon championships – At the sharp end, we have Canadian Olympian Reid Coolsaet looking to take top spot. I will be in the not-so-sharp end of the field. Wish I could watch the finish line.

And we have the 50k race for those masochists out there. Back by popular demand!

And of course there is a kids run, 5k, 10k, half, full and 50k. Bring out the whole family. Enjoy the day. Cheer on the other runners.

And besides the amazing medals and t-shirts, there are 10,000 bags of potato chips waiting at the finish line. Thanks Old Dutch.

Offical Hash tag: #RunYYC

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Yee Haw!

Making it Real – Running for a Cause

My two daughters and I are excited to be raising funds for charity by running next weekend in the Scotiabank Calgary Charity Challenge. My 12 year old is running the 10k and she is pretty confident she will be breaking 59:59:00. She doesn’t leave anything back when she’s running. And I am pacing my 14 year old to her first half marathon.

Let’s do this girls!

Our charity mobilizes engineers and architects to prepare quality designs for orphanages, hospitals and schools in countries like Malawi, Uganda and Haiti. Check out the organization (Engineering Ministries International) and then consider sponsoring us here as we run our legs off for those who don’t have it as good as we do.

If you know an engineer who wants to volunteer their skills overseas to make a difference, get them to check out this amazing organization.

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Run for a charity. Make it real.

“Keep it real, and if the opportunity arises, step it up a notch”

– my friend Phil Chan

From the sidelines…

This last weekend, I’ve had the pleasure of cheering on my teen daughters in their races. Both Sunday and Tuesday were beautiful days to be on the sidelines. It feels weird that I’m not running also, but cheering and encouraging them is also very rewarding.

They both ran in the Calgary Mother’s Day 10k. They were supposed to take it easy in this race on Sunday so they would be fresh for the race they really wanted to do well at – their school track meet on Tuesday. However, my younger daughter PR’ed, and the older one also ran a lot harder than she should have. In addition they had both run 7km on Saturday as a warm up run for the running team they are raising money for. So having run 17k on the weekend, they weren’t quite as pain free as they wanted to be for Tuesday. But they gave it everything they had. I love seeing them put all their energies into something and then do really well. Way to go!

These last few months they have been training and staying in shape for their big goal of their running the Scotiabank Calgary Charity Run. One is doing the half and the other is doing the 10k. I’m really proud of them to set these goals and to use these races to raise funds for charity.

They must have picked up this crazy running thing from someone…hmmm. I wonder who?

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The Medal is Just Ginormous!

Every year race medals seem to just get bigger.

This is the Calgary Marathon 2008 – 2014 medals. Back in 2008 when I received it, I thought the medals were about the right size. But they have just been getting bigger. For the most recent one in 2014, it was so large and heavy you needed a back brace at the finish line if you wanted to wear it. And if you used it as a belt buckle as it was intended, it was so heavy you almost needed to add suspenders to take some load off the belt.

Rumor has it that the 2015 medals have decreased in size again to a more “normal?” size. That doesn’t mean it is any easier to finish the marathon.

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Following are the Vancouver marathon medals from 2006, 2010 and 2015. Again, notice the size increase. I was happy in 2006 when I got that one, but now it just looks puny.

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I’m glad I’m not on the medal design committee. Must be a tough job to outdo the previous year’s medals, and to standout from all the other medals from all the other races across the country.

Someone recently suggested that to outdo previous medals, pretty soon our medals might come in the form of copper breast plates.

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I’m still proud to wear the smaller medals. I work just as hard to earn those ones.