January 27, 2009

First Long Run Outside in '09

Without any fresh snowfall in the last couple of weeks, the roads are clear enough to venture outside for my long run. After doing my last two long runs on the treadmill I was very relieved to be able to run outside today. If there's no other option I will do my training on a treadmill - even my long runs. And I have done a three-hour run on the treadmill before.

But if possible, I will always opt to run outside. I can deal with a chilly -7 degrees, which it is today, especially because it is also sunny and dry. Wearing two dry-fit long-sleeve tops, tights and shorts with fleece gloves and a hat, I warm up quickly. I've brought one energy bar and one caffeine gel, as well as a bottle of water.

It is so nice to run outside. I do my usual out-and-back trick. Mentally I only think about running 1 hour and 20 minutes one way. Then I turn around and run the same way back, which gives me the nice feeling that I am on the home stretch.

The first 2 hours and 10 minutes I am fine. But the final 30 minutes don't feel so smooth. Luckily I have no other option than to complete my run if I want to get home. (Not that I would have cut it short anyway, but it saves me from thinking about the possibility.)

Unfortunately most of that final 25 minutes is uphill - argh. I just grid my teeth, try to relax my tight and sore muscles as much as I can and stay focused.

That hot shower is around the corner, around the corner, past that little uphill. I am so sore when I finish, more than I expected - and I think the cold has a lot to do with it. Even though I feel warm enough, my muscles are affected by the freezing temperatures.

It feels so good to stop and I am pleased to see the clock showing 2hrs 40mins. It astonishes me every time that long runs can feel so tough, as if you have never run that distance before, even though I have done so - and further - many many times before.

After a long hot shower and some food I feel much, much better. I hope I can run outside again next week because I will also have to do an easy 30min run in the afternoon, following a morning session of 2hr 40min.

January 22, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Treadmills

Having been a runner for more than 12 years now, I have often run on treadmills for various reasons.

It can be safer than running outside, for example, if you need to do a run early in the morning or late at night. Sometimes weather conditions such as snow and ice make the treadmill a better option like has been the case for me here in Squamish at the start of the year.

While you should be able to run anywhere and it is a great way to explore new places, sometimes it may be better to run on your hotel's treadmill if you are unsure.

Whatever the reason, running on a treadmill has many advantages. You can keep track of the distance you've covered and the speed you're running at, you can choose to stay flat or tackle a few hills and your water bottle and/or a gels/energy bars are within reach without having to carry them.

Another benefit of treadmill running is that you can test your willpower. There is nothing stopping you from simply getting off at any point. When you are running outside, and you're a 30-minute jog from your home I suppose you could stop and walk home or take a cab - but it doesn't make much sense and is less tempting.

By contrast, a treadmill doesn't take you from A to B. So it is great mental training to do your workout as planned.

I've never owned a treadmill but have recently started doing some research on whether it may be worth buying one for at home.

During this winter, when bigger than average snowfalls made running outside next to impossible, I opted to become a member of a local gym. I have so far tried out two of their treadmills.

Mostly I have run on a treadmill by TechnoGym which I quite like. The buttons to change speed are very responsive and the surface is comfortable without being too soft. (I never quite realized how expensive treadmills could be, particularly those used in gyms and hotels.)

Speaking of speed, I don't worry too much about it in absolute terms. It is hard to translate the speed you run on a treadmill to your speed on the road, partly because of calibration differences and partly because of the lack of wind and of course the movement of the band.

I simply aim to run on the same treadmill so I can use the speed in that workout to compare with the speeds I did in previous workouts. Mostly I run on feel, ie if my running program tells me to do an easy run I simply play around with the speed until I find one that feels `easy' for me. Then in speed sessions, I crank up the speed as high as I can tolerate for the type and number of repeats I have to do.

I think you have to take the treadmill simply for what it is: a means to run when for whatever reason you are not able to do so outside. Don't worry too much about the specifics - just do your workout the way it is intended to be done, ie recovery pace, or a more intense pace as in a speed session, or settle into the speed you'll be comfortable with for your long run.

Then just forget about your ability to get off the treadmill, listen to music, watch TV, chat to the person on the treadmill next to you, or think about your running goals, the next holiday, etc. Sometimes it is very nice not to have to pay attention to anything else than keeping up with a moving band.

Going back to the research on purchasing a treadmill for home use, it seems that for the amount and type of running Tim and I do (7 hours a week for me and about 4 1/2 for triathlete Tim currently), it seemed that we would need something sturdier and more durable than anything under $1500 has to offer.

At a fitness store we visited last weekend the treadmills on offer were by Precor and PaceMaster. The prices of the treadmills on display varied from $1800 (the cheapest PaceMaster on sale) to $3500.

For our needs, it seemed that both a PaceMaster for $1800 and a Precor for $2800 would do the trick. But it is a large investment - and while I do think treadmills offer fantastic advantages, if possible I will choose a run outside any day. And I was able to do so this week already.

Some treadmill reviews are offered here:

January 21, 2009

Accomplishing the Ultimate

From Running Within by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott (I read this amazing book before running the 2003 Gold Coast marathon where I finished in 3hrs 24mins, 45 minutes faster than ever before:

"... you totally give in to the natural environment and movement of your body. Tune into your form, pace, stride and fluid movement. Notice how running elevates your spirits and enlivens your body. When you feel this strong connection, you begin to experience the Zen state of satori - the union of body, mind and spirit. Such a union enables you to experience the ultimate in running...

"You no longer feel separated from your body: you again become one with the rhythms of nature and somehow feel in sync with them, the way running was meant to be. With this experience, you encounter for the first time, perhaps, the beauty of being alive and the truth about full-spectrum fitness for the ultimate game of life.

"Many people claim running is boring. There is no way that one could respond to that opinion. One simply must experience the passion, ecstasy and joy; the carefree lightness; the tranquil calm and vulnerability that such movement and play create. Running up a mountain in a relaxed state creates an opportunity to play like a child without concern about whether you will reach the top or whether it will hurt."

Contest Within

When it comes to my training and results as a runner, I've been told many times by people, runners and non-runners alike, that I must be "so disciplined". Since June 2005, I have been training mostly five days a week nearly every week.

When I didn't run it was because my body and mind needed to recover from a race that was marathon distance or longer. Since June 2005, I completed a 100km off-road footrace (Oxfam Trailwalker), a 46-kilometer trail race (Six Foot Track), and five marathons (Gold Coast 2x, Canberra, Vancouver and Victoria).

After each of the above races I took a break from training, ie no running for a week, followed by a week of easy runs as I pleased before resuming my training program. While I've also raced in numerous 10kms and half marathons, recovery from these races does not require a break from running, just perhaps a week without any speed work.

I rarely miss a training session, and never just because I don't feel like training. That doesn't mean that I always feel like doing my training, particularly when it is too cold or too hot outside, or I feel tired, or lack time. But I know that once I start running, I will enjoy it. And on the rare occasion that I don't enjoy the training itself, I will feel so much better after my run.

To me discipline has been creating a habit motivated by enjoyment. I love the sensation of running, mentally and physically. Yesterday's run, for example, was an easy 50 minutes. While it was a chilly 5 degrees, a bright sun in clear skies warmed up the day.

Within a few minutes of running, my mind and body relaxed into an easy rhythm moving with my lungs, arms and legs. I basked in the sun, and took in the sight of the mountains and the rock climbers that found it warm enough to cling onto the Smoke Bluffs rocks in mid-January.

I find immediate rewards in running, as well as long-term payoffs, therefore I find being disciplined about doing it easy. I think my real discipline is tested in speed sessions and long runs.

This is where the mind needs to control the body to perform outside of comfort zones. During these runs, the amount of discipline mustered makes a crucial difference. On easy runs my mind can do whatever it wants, as my body is comfortable. But in speed sessions, my body is extremely uncomfortable which it doesn't want to be.

As with all uncomfortable situations in life, the way your mind deals with them determines the outcome. The same goes for running. Let's take the speed session that I find typically the toughest to deal with mentally: 2x 1500 meters, followed by 2x500 meters. My coach will give me goal times that he thinks I should be able to run based on recent results.

His time goals are achievable but typically only just. I know this from experience, so that is my first mental challenge: I know beforehand that I will have to push my body close to its limits. That is going to hurt, mentally and physically. The first 1500 meters will be OK, but it will also determine how the other three repeats will feel and go.

While I have to achieve my time goal, I also have to make sure I don't spend all my energy on that first repeat and have nothing left for the other three. But I also don't want to run too easy, because then it will take me more time to complete the distance than I am allowed. As you can probably tell by reading this, it is easy to overanalyze and psyche yourself out before even having started.

So that is where you need the discipline to control your mind. You must focus, don't allow it to decide beforehand that it will be too hard or too painful or too impossible. You must especially focus on the here and now each step of the way. Do not think about the previous steps and don't think about the steps you still have to take. Relax mind and body, and focus on making each single step the best possible to achieve your goal.

Another mental example are my weekly long runs which are set at 2 hours and 40 minutes in the coming two weeks. While I know my body is ready and capable or doing so, my mind may come up with excuses.

If I allow myself to think after 40 minutes of running that there are two more whole hours - or 120 minutes - to go, I may not feel like continuing. But if I `trick' my mind by, for example, thinking about the run as two parts, each of 80 minutes, it will be easier to deal with.

When I run alone, as I have done mostly since moving to Canada, I typically will do an out and back course on my long runs. That way I only think about running 80 minutes one way, quite manageable. When I reach that point, I simply turn around and retrace my steps.

The mental benefit is that even though I still have another 80 minutes to go, I am able to tell myself (and trust me, I do repeatedly) that I am on the homestretch.

While this may seem far from enjoyable, these thoughts are only a small part of what I think about during a long run. Most of the time is spent thinking about my next key goal, the Vancouver marathon, or the two shorter races I plan to do in between, the First Half marathon in February and the Vancouver Sun Run 10km in April, or I think about things that have absolutely nothing to do with running.

I may think about answers to questions, ranging from irrelevant to meaningful, family, friends, future and - my favorite - nothing whatsoever. This latter state is rare and I truly enjoy it when it occurs. It can happen during easy runs when I am either very relaxed or extremely tired - but it also may happen during a speed session or race when you are completely focused on what you are doing.

This state typically allows you to perform to your true potential, and is often referred to as Being in the Zone.

Below is a paragraph from Running and Being by George Sheehan:

“Discipline in running, discipline in training, comes easily. Discipline in real life is another story. The mind and the will and the imagination are not as easily controlled as the legs and the thighs and the panting chest. Running, of course, helps. The art of running, as Eugene Herrigal wrote of the art of archery, is a profound and far-reaching contest of the runner with himself.”

January 20, 2009


Watching US President Barack Obama's inauguration speech was inspiring overall but particularly the fundamental truth in this sentence:

"..firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task..."

This is true for any challenge we face, whether it is out of choice or not. It certainly is a core truth for any runner, regardless of experience or ability.

Whether the goal is to become a runner, or increase the distance we can cover on foot, or improve the time it takes to cover a certain distance, the fundamental reason we enjoy chasing such goals is exactly because of the profound reward described above.

January 19, 2009

Becoming a Runner is Easy

If there is one thing about running that is extremely easy, it is starting.

Ditch the lofty expectations about completing that 10-kilometer race in three months from now that you signed up for a few weeks ago, forget about that life-long dream of running a marathon "one day".

Don't think about why, how, when, with who, what if or why not.

Just take a pair of shoes, running shoes if possible (now I gave you an excuse didn't I?), shorts or tights, a long-sleeve top and a pair of gloves, and a banana. Then set your alarm so that it wakes you half an hour (only 30 minutes) earlier than usual tomorrow morning.

When the alarm goes off, get up, put on all the clothing you got ready yesterday as per the above, eat your banana and head out the door. Then you run.

There is absolutely no point thinking about becoming a runner without starting to run.

Sure it IS wiser to first buy proper running shoes (which are simply those shoes designed for that purpose), and ask a professional running coach for advice on how to start running. (Of course you did already get that medical clearance to run.)

But often those become the permanent excuses for putting off any type of running. And I can guarantee you that the majority of hardcore runners - which in my book is anyone who runs regularly regardless of pace or distance - began running by simply heading out the door and putting one foot front of the other.

As you may gather from this blog, I do a lot of running and am about to run my 10th standalone marathon on a certified course. (I mention this since I have run five marathon distances as part of Ironman triathlons and completed three races on foot that were 39km, 46km and 100km respectively).

I train five times a week, every week, following a training program designed by my coach, one of Australia's former top distance runners.

But I started running by .. simply going for a run, or rather a very slow jog. In 1996 I had absolutely no intention to ``Become a Runner''. I just wanted to get a little exercise, lose a bit of weight and thought that going for a run was the most flexible and cheapest way of achieving that.

I have no idea what shoes I wore that day. I had not even considered asking anyone for advice, let alone would have had the nerve or idea to track down a professional running coach. I just put on an old cotton T-shirt, shorts, shoes and headed for the closest park.

As it happens that park was pretty close by but by the time I'd reached it with a slow and tiring jog of five minutes, I was done and returned home.

But with the benefit of hindsight, that was my first and crucial step to becoming a runner: I simply went for a run. It was slow, it was a struggle, but it was a run. And then I did it again. And again.

Running doesn't become easier because the point of running is that it isn't meant to be easy (not as easy as sitting on the couch). Runners typically seek new challenges. But it does become more enjoyable as your body slowly adjusts to running (an activity we were meant to do anyway) and your physical and mental awareness increases.

Before you know it you'll realize one day that you have covered that 10km - perhaps it was even in that race you did sign up for a few months ago - and that you are a runner because you run.

Chilly Chase Lived Up to Name

Tim and I left our home in Squamish at 6:40am and arrived at the race start in Langley at 8:15am. While the temperature was just below zero, the skies were clear and sunny.

After we got our race numbers and chip, we went for a warm-up. I wore my knee-length winterjacket, a sweater, T-shirt, race top, shorts and tights plus fleece hat and gloves.

I'd planned to race in T-shirt and shorts, but decided to wear a sweater with hoodie instead because it was so cold. I did stay with my plan to wear shorts.

When the start gun went, I quickly settled into my pace. The first 3km is slightly uphill, and I could tell. My body felt a bit tired overall. Compared with the first half of the 10km I raced a month ago, I had to put in more effort for the same result.

I slipped on a couple of icy patches which made me cautious about my footing, though the course overall was clear.

Tim was a few meters behind me, I saw at two of the turning points.

While I was able to keep an even pace, I lacked my usual energy in the last two km.

Tim, on the other hand, picked up his pace in the final kilometer and went by me - I could not stick with him. He finished in 40:24 and I crossed 12 seconds later in 40:36. We love to compete in the same races as it often provides that extra lift.
Neither one of us had any oxygen to spare at 9.5km to say anything though.

Overall I was happy with my result, given that I simply felt tired throughout the race. At the same time I was also a bit disappointed as I had planned to improve on the 39:51 I ran on this same course a year ago.

Tim finished 3rd in his age group, and I was first female again, like last year.

Thanks to the organizers for putting on such a great event! Hopefully we'll be back for the third time next year.

January 16, 2009

Looking Forward to Testing Limits

I am always excited about the prospect of a race because it involves testing my physical and mental limits. The goal is to push the boundaries further each time. The fact that I do not succeed every time is what makes the excitement great when I do.

As a runner, I've been very focused in the past 3 1/2 years, with some great results. Some came much sooner than expected, others took more time than anticipated.

Racing to your full potential - and testing if and by how much boundaries can be stretched - cannot occur without the willingness to endure extreme discomfort at times. But this is what allows us to find that pace that, as Alberto Salazar says, you can barely sustain. When we do, the mental payoff is the biggest reward, leaving us as satisfied as it does make us wanting more.

Excerpt from Running Within by Jerry Lynch and Warren Scott:

"Peak experiences, although they may involve a release of such natural opiates [that cause the runner's high] from the brain, have a much broader scope. In their book The Psychic Side of Sports, Michael Murphy and Rea White make it clear that when we push our psychobiological limits, the brain tissues record a remarkable range of mystical pleasures: extraordinary inner vision, peace, stillness, calm, detachment, freedom, floating, ecstasy, power, control, immortality, unity, mystery and awe. These are but a few of the psychic rewards of sport, otherwise known as the peak experience."

January 15, 2009

Getting Ready to Race

This Sunday I am racing in a 10km in Langley, BC. It’ll be my first race of 2009.

A month ago I ran in a 10km race in Dronten, the Netherlands, on a flat course. It was a windy day which was noticeable during the second half where the course ran through some exposed areas of the polder.

While I felt good throughout the race and put in a solid effort, I wasn’t willing to dig that extra little bit. But I was tired enough after my 40:26 effort.

For Sunday’s race I am willing to push that extra little bit. A year ago I did this race for the first time and finished in 39:51. It was a 33-second PB and the first time I broke 40 minutes, something I’d dreamed of doing for a long time.

I have not been able to run faster since then, though I came pretty close (39:55) on a course that was a bit hillier and had lots of twists and turns.

The Langley course is perfect. It turns right after about 150 meters before turning left after another 300 meters or so. From there it is a big rectangle, during which you hang right another three turns and finish by turning left for the final 150 meters at the place where you started.

The first 3 kilometers have a slight upward incline. I remember looking at my watch a year ago and thinking that my 4:10 to 4:15s didn’t quite do justice to the effort I was putting in.

Being unhappy with the pace I saw on my watch during my first three kilometers I decided to simply stop looking at it. Instead, I focused on catching the men in front of me (there were no women ahead). It wasn’t until the final kilometer that I checked my watch again and was stunned by the time as I quickly did the math and realized I was on track for a personal record.

I’m excited to test my fitness on this course that allowed me to achieve such a monumental goal for the first time. As an added bonus, my partner Tim is racing too. He’s just six weeks back into Ironman training. Hopefully we’ll be able to push each other.

The weather forecast for Sunday’s Chilly Chase is great: dry, sunny, 5km/h wind and 9 degrees. If you're thinking about doing this race, I highly recommend it. Everything about it was absolutely fantastic last year.

Here’s the link.

January 14, 2009

Training with Olympians

During my speed session on the treadmill at my gym today I was flanked by members of the Austrian Olympic ski team. Nice.

Excerpt from Running & Being

“Every mile I run is my first. Every hour on the road a new beginning. Every day I put on my running clothes, I am born again. Seeing things as if for the first time, seeing the familiar as unfamiliar, the common as uncommon. Doing what Goethe said was the hardest thing of all, seeing with my own eyes that which is spread before me. Bringing to that running, that play, the attitude of the child, the perception of a poet. Being a beginner with a beginner’s mind, a beginner’s heart, a beginner’s body.

“There’s no other way to run, no other way to live. Otherwise my runs become dull, uninspired interludes. The running becomes routine, becomes part of the humdrum apathy and indifference which the poet John Hall Wheelock called a shield between us and reality. It becomes a chore, a habit. And habit kills awareness and separates us from ourselves.”

From Running & Being: The Total Experience by Dr George Sheehan (1978)

January 13, 2009

Goals for 2009

After reviewing 2008 in a previous post, it's now time to look ahead to 2009.

While the start of the new year is a great time to rethink your major goals, my athletic objectives don't change that often as I believe in big dreams.

When I first broke 3:15 in the Gold Coast Marathon in July 2006, I was able to think that perhaps possibly one day I could run a marathon in less than 3 hours.

Today - 2 1/2 years and four marathons later - my main goal is still the same. I'm a lot closer now, having finished the Victoria Marathon in 3:07 three months ago.

To run a marathon in just under 3 hours, you have to cover each of the 42.195 kilometres in 4 minutes and 15 seconds. Given that I am 7 minutes and 11 seconds away from my goal, that works out to 1.69 kilometres based on my goal time.

Based on my current fastest marathon pace, which was 4 mins 26 seconds per kilometre in the Victoria marathon, I need to speed up by 10 seconds per kilometre for each of the 42 kilometres.

That's a BIG goal. And while I'll never say never, I am not sure if I'll have gained that much additional speed come the May 3 Vancouver Marathon. It may take another four marathons, or maybe more.

My more immediate goal is Sunday's 10km Chilly Chase race. When I did this event last year for the first time, I unexpectedly ran this distance in less than 40 minutes for the first time. My 39:51 time was also a big improvement on my second-fastest time of 40:24, set only four weeks earlier.

It seemed that the efforts of my speed sessions, two a week, were finally reflected in my 10km time. Of the big magic running numbers (40mins for 10km, 90mins for 21.1km and 3 hours for the marathon), I broke the 90 first in September 2006. It took another 15 months to break the 40.

This Sunday, I hope to improve that 39:55 time. And at some point in 2009 I'd like to make the next step to a 38-minute 10km. That means improving 6 seconds per kilometre to 3:53 each. And that would be a 2 1/2 minute improvement PER KILOMETRE over my first 10km race which I finished in September 1997 in 51:56.

While I am sure all but the most hard-core running fans are still reading at this point, running is not about times and PBs. It is about the journey they represent, about finding focus in something you love to do.

And that is ultimately my main driver behind any running goal I've had since I could barely jog for five minutes in 1996: I truly love how I feel when I am running.

January 12, 2009

Another 17 treadmill miles

With the weather and roads still not conducive to enjoyable and safe running outside, I went back to my gym for another long run on the treadmill.

I warmed up with an easy 6.5mph pace before speeding up to 7.5mph within 30 minutes. I chatted with Tim who was running on the treadmill next to me until he needed to focus on a speed session. So I reached for my iPod and upped my speed to a comfortable 8mph.

Besides a fully charged iPod, I also make sure I have a towel, a 750ml bottle with water or a sports drink, and an energy bar on my treadmill's shelf.

Like last week, I needed to remind myself to focus as it is easy to be distracted by watching the minutes tick by slowly on the treadmill clock right in front of you and feel overwhelmed by the amount of time left to run.

To concentrate on each step and the enjoyment of running is a great mental exercise, as a marathon (or any distance race) can feel overwhelming at times too when you start thinking about the distance left to cover.

The key is to focus on being in the here and now, to concentrate on feeling good, to monitor pace, breathing and posture. In training, I love listening to music and connect it with the rhythms of the running motion: arms moving back and forth, chest expanding as you breathe in and relaxing while you breathe out, legs taking turns touching the moving band and that tiny moment in between when you are suspended in the air.

I love daydreaming and running provides the perfect time to do so. But I will always go through a mental checklist - from top to bottom: relax my mind (by simple mantras such as relax and achieve the max), relax my breathing (slowly breathe in and out), relax my shoulders (check that they are nice and low instead of raised and tight: I also periodically drop my hands and shake them), focus on my legs (picture them moving in the perfect rhythm: efficient, strong and light).

The faster my pace, or greater my effort, the more often I run through this checklist. During most speed sessions and in races I focus on running alone, which means I continuously monitor myself mentally and physically by going through the list mentioned above over and over again.

As for music, my current running favourites are AC/DC's Black Ice and Live albums as well as Coldplay's Viva La Vida.

Yesterday I listened to Great Big Sea's Sea of No Cares album (favourite song A Boat Like Gideon Brown) and James Blunt's All The Lost Souls album - could you tell I was in a relaxed mood. However, I wanted to some big swelling sounds so I repeated Linkin Park's Shadow of the Day until the end of my run.

I mostly love the rhythm of the Gideon Brown song but also the sound of promise:

"A Boat Like Gideon Brown"

Oh Gideon lived across the bay
He's gettin' older now
His boat is big and strong and bold
She has a stalward bow
But my father's boat was second hand
One someone used before
And after every fishing trip
My father always swore
That someday he would save enough
To go to St. John's town
And buy himself a big new boat
A boat like Gideon Brown
A boat like Gideon Brown

Confederation came around
And the days of old age pension
He said 'Son I'm saving every cent'
And this you must not mention
You save the baby bonus too
And things just might turn around
And we'll have enough to buy a boat
A boat like Gideon Brown

'Cause she can punch ahead in any gale
And ride the fishing ground
I often thought how proud I'd be
In a boat like Gideon Brown
In a boat like Gideon Brown

Many years did pass away
And Dad began to fade
He didn't talk of boats too much
He said 'Son I'm afraid'
If things don't soon improve
Then I'll be underground
Before we ever get to see ourselves
In a boat like Gideon Brown


I sat and held his hand one day
And he said 'Son, that policy'
The insurance is all in your name
You're the beneficiary
And when I'm gone they'll pay you off
Then go to St. John's town
And buy yourself a big new boat
A boat like Gideon Brown

[Chorus (2x)]

Time for a short run before it gets dark here.

January 10, 2009

Reviewing 2008

At the start of January resolutions are never far away. Unfortunately the word resolution has connotations of aspirations that are considered annually but rarely accomplished and soon forgotten until the following month of Janus.

Janus is a Roman god presiding over doors and gates and over beginnings and endings, commonly represented with two faces in opposite directions. I, and no doubt many other amateur and professional athletes, am like Janus at the start of 2009: looking back to review the accomplishments of 2008, and setting goals for the next year.

Goal setting creates purpose for our endeavors, or a resolve to succeed and perform. The latter can be a word runners shy away from as to many it implies beating others. However, to perform simply means to begin and carry through to completion.

Sometimes finishing what you start is the toughest challenge we face as runners. My 2008 Vancouver marathon was a case in point. I had high hopes for this race in May after lowering my personal best for the 10km to 39:51 four months earlier.

It was the first time I’d managed to break that monumental 40-minute barrier, and only the second time that I’d finished the distance in less than 41 minutes and 18 seconds after 12 years of running. Truly a personal milestone and – I hoped – a turning point towards my quest for the sub-3 hour marathon.

(In case you are wondering, as I did, about the accuracy of the course: I ran the 10km on another race course in March in 39:55 which eased my doubts whether I truly had held 4-minute kilometers for the distance.)

April brought another PB, which lowered my fastest half marathon time by a minute to 88:13 on the certified April Fools Half course.

I was on such a high and expected nothing less than another PB in the Vancouver Marathon a month later. My best time until then was 3:08:48, set a year earlier in the Canberra Marathon in Australia. (It also the first time I won my age group in a marathon.)

But the line between brimming with confidence and putting pressure on oneself can be a fine one. I hit my race pace comfortably in the first mile of the Vancouver Marathon. But after 10 miles it was hard to keep up with what should have been a reasonable pace. Perhaps the weight of my own expectations slowed me down. Perhaps it was something else.

In any case, the result was that in the second half of the race my goal had shifted to from aiming for a personal record to crossing the finish line, regardless of time. I was distressed, and struggled to push aside thoughts of quitting. But I’ve never failed to finish a race – even when in one triathlon the SAG wagon was on my back wheel throughout the entire bike ride.

I was upset as I didn’t understand why my body felt the way it did. My planned race pace was a responsible one based on recent race results and even based on a marathon pace of 12 months earlier. It was also recommended by my coach, who always sticks to the conservative side. Whatever the reason was, I had to deal with the result and push aside the overwhelming desire to pull out of the race.

It took me a few kilometers before I was able to accept that it was not going to be a personal best performance and that that was OK. For me, it was not a valid reason to give up entirely. I wasn’t injured or feeling unwell, just upset. I could still finish this race.

So finishing became my main goal. My most immediate challenge was to keep running, no matter how slow, and avoid giving in to the desire to walk. Slowing your running pace can help you recover, and you are still moving much faster at a slow run pace than you would walking.

When challenging yourself, especially over a 42.195km distance, you will most likely at some point feel like you cannot keep it up. You should first try to mentally deal with that feeling. If truly that doesn’t help, you can ease off your pace slightly. It takes the mental and physical pressure off.

For my final 10km of the Vancouver Marathon I had refocused on performance in the truest sense: finish what you start and appreciate that accomplishment alone. I reached the finish line in 3:12:26 after running the first half in 1:33:17 and the second half in 1:39:10. Initially I was devastated. It had taken me 4 minutes longer to complete this marathon than it had a year earlier.

My expectations had been closer to 3:05, based on my recent 10km and half marathon performances. But with the help of friends, and particularly my partner Tim, I realized it was still my second-fastest marathon then. And most importantly, it was silly to feel disappointed about a 3:12 marathon time when it had taken me five marathons to even break 4 hours.

After a recovery period that for me typically includes one week without any running, followed by one to two weeks of unstructured easy runs, I looked to some new races and asked for another training program from my Australia-based coach Pat Carroll.

He’s been my (online) coach since June 2005. I love the training programs he’s designed for me, as well as his positive and encouraging responses to my questions and feedback about training and race times.

The sluggishness I felt during the Vancouver Marathon didn’t go away for a few months. I felt physically fine and enjoyed my training. But my speed just wasn’t there in training sessions and the 10km race I did in the summer. I finished in 41:43, nearly two minutes slower than in January and March.

Whatever the cause of my sluggishness, it prompted me to lower my expectations for the Victoria Marathon in October. While I did secretly hope for a tiny PB, even one second would have been fantastic, I also reminded myself that my body and/or mind just needed a break from high expectations.

And then I did a 3-km time trial nine days before the Victoria Marathon. My time was surprising, and very close to what it was before the Vancouver Marathon.

Perhaps it was a physical recovery, or maybe I was mentally more relaxed. The result was that I ran the Victoria Marathon in 3:07:10, improving my best time by 98 seconds. I felt great, both physically and mentally, throughout the race. (Though feeling great in the final 5km of a marathon is a relative term.) I even managed to run the second half slightly faster than the first half.

In December, I did a certified 10km race in The Netherlands in 40:26.

So as I review 2008 it has been a great year despite some struggles:

Most importantly, I remained injury-free.
Overall I enjoyed my training.
I improved my times on all distances, ie 10km, 21.1km and 42.195km.
I managed to break 40 minutes for the 10km, a long-held dream goal.
I raced two solid marathons.

That bodes well for 2009.

January 07, 2009

Speed & strength training

My new ART therapist, Brent, told me - as others have before - that strength training not only helps avoid injuries for distance runners, it also aids to improve speed. So perhaps I should be very thankful for the unusually large amount of snowfall in the last couple of weeks because it prompted me to sign up with a local gym.

Yesterday I went to my new gym for the second time. While the outside temperatures have warmed slightly, big piles of snow still line the roads and cover sidewalks. It has also been raining non-stop for at least 48 hours.

Tim dropped me off at the gym while he drove to the pool to do his swim training. At the gym a few people were working out, but the five treadmills were empty. The gym's manager recommended, like Sunday, that I use the newest Technogym treadmill.

Originally my Australia-based coach Pat had given me a timed speed session of eight 500-metre repeats for today. He provides me with a time goal for those repeats and I have to report back my actual times. When I told him that I'd have to do my session on the treadmill, he suggested to simply run eight 2-minute efforts on the treadmill instead.

After an easy 10-minute warm-up and some light stretches, it was time to speed up. This treadmill is very responsive - the buttons respond well and the speed of the band changes quickly too. My legs felt good, and much looser after yesterday's ART treatment.

The session went well - I felt quite tired in the second half of my 2-minute repeats but recovered quickly in the rest period in between (I took about 2 minutes). I was able to slightly increase the speed, starting off at 10.5mph, before doing half of the repeats at 11mph with the final one completed at 11.5mph. The absolute numbers don't necessarily mean that much, as running on treadmills takes less effort than running on the road. (Then there's the calibration of each treadmill.)

After the speed session I had some time left before Tim would return so I had time for some upper body strength training. When I started on a machine that works the abs, the gym's manager quickly came over and showed me how to do it properly. He later came over again with another pointer and made sure I did it exactly right.

While I have done some strength training before, I am a novice at it so I appreciate all the advice from someone with experience.

I must have used the following two machines as they were meant to be used. But just as I thought that my biceps were quite strong on the fourth machine, the manager came over again. A few pointers quickly helped me realize that my biceps weren't as strong as I thought - I simply wasn't doing it right.

It also helped me realize that the gym's manager is not only extremely knowledgeable about strength training, he is very helpful too. A very lucky find indeed.

I may to start using the routine that I followed twice before for about 6-8 weeks. It's described in the book by Start to Finish Ironman Training by Paul Huddle & Roch Frey. But I will make sure to ask the manager at the gym for his advice.

January 06, 2009

The beauty of ART

It was about time. My left foot and lower leg had become extremely tight and close to painful during my runs. I know from unhappy experience that's always a situation to avoid.

With a move between continents followed by a move within a province, I'd neglected getting my usual treatments of ART, or Active Release Techniques.

When an ITB injury stopped me from running in late 2003, ART is the therapy that helped fix my problem. Ever since, I've aimed to get a treatment every 4 to 6 weeks to get tight areas loosened up and prevent injuries.

Knock wood, I've been injury-free since then through several Ironman triathlons, marathons and numerous other triathlons, road runs and trail runs. The first ART therapist I saw was in Sydney, Australia. He was amazing, as was his colleague who later took over my regular treatments which I now consider a key part of my training.

After moving from Australia to Canada, I had some trouble finding an ART provider I liked near our new home town. But after my partner Tim went on a triathlon training camp, he came back with a name of a therapist who was in our neighborhood once a week.

I went to see him and he was fantastic. Then we moved again, so it was too far to travel to see this provider and I didn't get any treatment (or other massages) since August. Four months of training (and one marathon race) without treatment is too long for me.

I've been very lucky to simply have a lot of tightness and even some sore spots during running (despite knowing better) without getting injured. Thankfully I finally was able to hook up with a new ART provider yesterday. With so much tightness across my legs, he was only able to work on the front to release the quads and shins during the 20-minute treatment.

But my legs already feel so much better, and I am keen to see him or his colleague who worked on Tim again. The 45-minute drive one way is well worth it.

January 05, 2009

Mental challenge of treadmill running

Waking up to more snow on Sunday morning made the choice easy – I headed for the gym of which I became a 4-month member yesterday to do my long run on the treadmill.

Like last Sunday, my training today was an easy run of 2 hours and 20 mins. I made sure my iPod was charged, brought a small towel, a 750ml drink bottle, two bars and a gel with caffeine.

When I arrived at the gym, the manager explained that they use a sheet for their treadmills. While they have five, one was out of order. He recommended I try their newest treadmill, a Technogym. So I put my start time and projected finish time down for that treadmill and got set up.

I rarely choose programs on treadmills. Today I also simply pressed the quick start button and eased into my session by running the first five minutes at between 6 mph and 7 mph. In the next five minutes I increased my speed to 7.5 mph (12 kph).

The most challenging part about running on a treadmill, to me and I think nearly everyone else, is the fact that the scenery doesn’t change and that the effort seems `pointless’. By pointless, I mean that you are not moving from A to B.

For most of my long runs so far in Squamish, I run the same route out and back because I love how it makes the long run mentally so much easier. For a 2hr 20min run, I only think about getting halfway which takes a very manageable 1hr 10min obviously.

At that point I simply turn around and consider myself on the homestretch. By the same method, a 3-hour run becomes only a 90-minute run before turning around for the home stretch.

On a treadmill, the main changes in scenery are the minutes ticking away on the clock, the amount of calories burnt and the distance run. But music helps, as does the joy of being able to complete a run in a comfortable temperature without the dangers of cars and slippery roads.

I typically vary the speed slightly to keep myself amused. Yesterday I stuck between 7.5 mph and 8 mph for most of the day. In the final 20 minutes I felt particularly good – excitement that I was soon finished combined with the effects of a caffeine gel probably – and bumped the speed to as high as 9 mph (14.4 kph).

At the end of my workout, the treadmill clock (obviously) read 2hr 20min and distance covered was 17.5 miles (27km). Calories burnt were about 1950 but since I didn’t bother to put in my personal details about height and weight those are unlikely to be accurate.

While mentally I found it a bit hard after 1 hour until about 1 hr 45 min, I was very happy with being able to complete a solid and efficient workout. I love running outside. While running outside in Squamish in the snow and winter light is pretty special, I do worry about slipping in those conditions. So a treadmill run was well worth it.

Before I signed up at the gym yesterday, I made sure to stress with the manager that my reason for becoming a temporary member was the unusually harsh winter weather. I was looking for a gym that would allow me to do my run training without interruptions.

Many gyms have policy of limiting time on their treadmills during busy times. While I can appreciate that policy, there simply was no point in me signing up with a gym with policies that would interfere with key training runs.

The manager explained the busy times I should avoid (around 8am and 4pm). He recommended that my long run on Sundays would be best start when the gym opens at 8am. Yesterday he recommended I try the newest treadmill and allowed me to complete my full workout.

It wasn’t busy though there was one short period where all four working treadmills were being used while two people were waiting (I realized after). So after my run, the manager again stressed the importance of me coming to the gym, particularly for my longer runs, during off-peak hours.

January 03, 2009

Escaping winter weather

OK, another day of snowfall saw me break down and sign up for four months with a gym here in Squamish. I got the Christmas special, 3 months + 1 month free.

I'll start using the membership immediately and do my 2hr 20min run tomorrow on one of their five treadmills. That means I'll definitely will be bringing my iPod.

It also means I can finally start adding weights to my workouts. Finally because it is something I've been talking about doing for the past two years or so. The gym's strength training equipment looks quite impressive.

Winter training

Winter training can be a bit tricky in Canada, even if you live in that part of the country with the mildest weather.

When I returned from a month in Europe on Christmas Eve winter had arrived. Even getting home from the airport was challenging with all the snow. With temperatures hovering around zero degrees, and lots of snow, running outside requires caution.

While the main roads in Squamish are cleared, the sidewalks aren't. Running on the main roads seems to be my only option. Dodging cars is far from ideal and speed sessions are out of the question.

It has been snowing today since we woke up and it is now midday. So I am going to check out a local gym this afternoon. I'd called the gym earlier this week to ask about the possibility of becoming a member for a few months and the number of treadmills.

Most gyms have a time limit on the use of their treadmills, and other equipment. While completely understandable, I do not want to sign up with a gym to use their treadmills because running outside is too tricky to then find it still impossible to complete my workouts uninterrupted.

I've looked into buying a treadmill but it seems that getting a decent one requires a whack of money. So for now I will just check out this local gym. I have a speed session today, and a snowball in hell's chance of being able to do it outside, and a 2hr 20min long run tomorrow.

January 02, 2009

Managing Expectations

As a runner I am a goal-driven person. Everything is about expectations: meeting them, exceeding them and unfortunately also about falling short.

I started off 2008 by exceeding expectations in the 10km Chilly Chase. My time was 39:51, the first time I broke 40 minutes – a very big personal deal. While I had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the 10km course, I felt that a 33-second improvement on my last 10km was a lot. So rather than celebrate my big personal victory, I wondered if the course had been short.

But when I finished another 10km a few weeks later in 39:55, I trusted that I truly was a sub-40-minute 10km runner. While it boosted my confidence in my training and my ability to keep improving, it also raised my expectations.

Big expectations can create big results – such as when I finished the April Fools’ half marathon in 88 minutes, a PB of more than one minute. My confidence was high going into this race and so was my willingness to test my mental willpower and physical fitness. That meant tolerating a bit more pain than usual and it paid off in the form of a PB and even more confidence.

But lofty goals can also increase pressure and create much distress when they are not met. That’s exactly what happened the following month in my Vancouver marathon. With a previous PB of 3:08, set a year earlier on the undulating course of the Canberra marathon, I was convinced that sub 3:05 was doable in the best case scenario and at least a PB, however tiny, in the worst case.

And my recent 10km and half marathon times suggested those goals were realistic. But as much sense as they made on paper, they simply didn’t work in practice on race day. I ran the first mile perfectly on target and felt good.

But by 10 miles I was already struggling to stick to my pace. As the miles went by I slowly but surely saw my goal time slipping away and become unattainable. I felt more and more distressed as I was racing exactly according to plan.

My pace should have felt comfortable but it simply didn’t. I didn’t understand why as my preparations had gone so well. Eventually I had to accept that this marathon was not going to be what I had expected and threw me a different challenge. I could either reject it and give up, or accept it and rethink my goal on my feet.

I did the latter. The most immediate goal I set myself was to keep running, no matter how slowly. I knew that if I allowed myself to start walking it would almost be impossible to resume running again. It was no longer about testing how much faster I could finish this distance than I had before. It was about pushing away the overwhelming sense of disappointment that I was not going to meet any of my original goals, not even the worst-case scenario one of simply going one second faster than my previous PB.

Eventually the sense of failure gave way to a sense of pride that I was dealing with an unexpected challenge and the fact that I did stick to my revised goal – simply keep running, no matter how slowly. My expectations had been lowered dramatically which allowed me to still meet or surpass them. My mental distress subsided.

As I finished in 3:12, and was passed by three women in the final 200 metres, I was struggling to understand what had gone wrong. But I also was able to feel a sense of accomplishment because I’d refused to give in.

The months after the marathon I kept struggling with my running. While I enjoyed my training, the times in my speed sessions were the slowest they had been in two or three years. I raced one 10km and barely finished sub-42 minutes, nearly two minutes slower than earlier in the year.

So when I lined up for the Victoria marathon in October, my expectations were different. Most of all, I wanted to enjoy the marathon. Sure I was willing to be uncomfortable but I didn’t want to feel distressed as I had for much of the Vancouver marathon.

I had a secret hope of finishing slightly faster than 3:08 but I told myself that running faster than in Vancouver would be good enough. So perhaps it was the lower expectations that helped me exceed them – I finished in 3:07, a PB.

Most importantly I finished feeling good, at least in marathon terms, and I ran the second half a few seconds faster than the first half. I had pretty run the perfect marathon.

Two months later, just two weeks before the end of 2008, I also raced another 10km and was very happy to finish comfortably in 40:26.

So as I start 2009, I've begun training for the 2009 Vancouver marathon. Partly I want to lay to rest the demons of last year’s race. But most of all, I’d like to go back on that course and remember that I accepted a different challenge than anticipated and came out on top.