February 28, 2009

When Running 37km Feels Easy (Almost)

As mentioned in my previous post, I am as excited as intimidated about my 3-hour training runs. I've done them often enough to know that they can be very painful and very long if you don't take them seriously.

So I always take some extra care with my preparations. Today I brought seven energy gels (3 Powerbar, 3 Clif Shots, 1 Gu). Each gel contained caffeine. Typically I try to use as little caffeine in my training as possible but for my first 3-hour run this year I made an exception. I've felt less than energetic during some of my training runs in the past two weeks, which is not abnormal after racing a half marathon.

In a ziplock plastic bag I carried my house keys, a two-dollar coin, a 20-dollar bill and a piece of ID. The coin I planned to use for buying a bottle of water during the run - I wasn't planning to use the $20 bill but you never know.

During my long runs and my races I always wear a top that has two pockets on the back. Since I've only found one top over the years where the pockets are tight enough to my body that prevent the gels and other objects I carry from bouncing around, you usually see me in the same top (see the picture). The top is made by De Soto.

I also carried a 500ml bottle of water. I selected an On The Go playlist of my favourite 74 songs on my iPod which I carried in the back pocket (with zip) of my Nike shorts. (And in perfect timing AC/DC's Heatseeker marked my halfway point - love the first few lines of the lyrics (though I'm pretty sure they don't have running in mind) and the energy of the song.)

For breakfast, I had my usual coffee, then two bananas and a Clif Bar (I prefer the plain Powerbars but had run out). It was cold but sunny. So I wore compression tights, with my shorts over top. Then I had a short-sleeve dry-fit shirt with my favourite long-sleeve running sweater with tight hood (by MEC).

Wearing the tight hood isn't exactly flattering, and looks very hardcore Cathy Freeman in her catsuit but it is perfect for the cold. I always wear sunglasses, with blue lenses, and I applied some sunscreen (nothing like a few years in Australia to notice what the sun does to your skin).

Time to go. During my recent long runs, longest 2hr40min, I had felt exhausted and sore in the final 10 to 20 minutes. But I hadn't brought as much nutrition and water. Today I also made sure to watch my cadence, ie keep it high which also avoids lifting your legs too much at the back.

I counted my strides after about 80 minutes of running and was taking about 100 strides a minute. My partner's triathlon coach has been telling him to focus on increasing his cadence, which made me realize why I usually felt better running when my strides are shorter and leg turner is faster. It's great to learn from different people!

I followed the same out-and-back course as I have been doing for my long runs. I felt like I was running easier than last week but found to my astonishment that I ran 3 minutes quicker (over about 16 kilometers) today. I had another 13 minutes to go from that point until I could turn around.

I felt great so far, and realizing that I actually ran faster as well put me truly on a high. At the halfway point, so after 90 minutes of running, I had my third energy gel and was close to finishing my 500ml of water. I knew I'd pass a corner store after about 2 hours of running and that's where I planned to spend my $2 coin.

While I was reluctant to stop running by the time I got to the store, I knew that I would pay the price if I kept going for another hour without water. So I took the 2 minutes needed to buy a 600ml bottle of water. In Sydney I would always plan my long runs along the public water fountains you find throughout the city. But unfortunately those are not available here, for logical reasons.

I got home a couple of minutes quicker, so I did a small detour to ensure I ran for thr full 3 hours (I know that sounds silly but I feel better that way - if you think I am bad, how about one of my friends: She is so precise with her running time that she stops her watch for every traffic light and other reasons to that interrupt her training - so much so that when she tripped over a tree trunk one day and fell, the first thing she did was to stop her watch on the way down to the ground.)

While I was tired and sore during the final 10 minutes, it was nowhere near as bad as it has been on recent long runs. My three hours had flown by, This was one of those rare days where running 37 kilometres almost felt easy! While clearly my body cooperated, my high cadence and ample nutrition and hydration made all the difference. Something to remember for race day!

I have to run another half hour easy this afternoon. My calves are a bit tight (I am overdue for an ART treatment and made an appointment for Wednesday). So I followed a recommendation from my fantastic ART therapist in Sydney - slather those calves in cooling Voltaren gel, wrap cellophane around them and leave as long as you can stand it. It really works!

Three Hours Plus

Today I have to run for three hours: sound intimidating?

It does to me, every single time I have to run one. But they're also very exciting. They are a superb mental and physical challenges requiring focus and dedication.

I've done quite a few of these over the years, including some that came after cycling six hours or about 180 kilometres earlier that day. Ah the good old Ironman days. The biggest lesson I've learnt is that you truly complete these by simply putting on one foot in front of the other.

These big sessions don't come around that often. In 2008 I did seven of them: three in preparation for the Vancouver Marathon in May and four in preparation for the Victoria Marathon in October.

Now I am again preparing for the Vancouver Marathon in May - and I have five 3-hour runs before the big day. You can see that the number of 3-hour sessions has increased in the past year. Since July 2006 I've run five marathons, with the slowest 3hr5min and the fastest one 3hr07min about every six months.

While slightly intimidated, I must admit that I was also extremely excited when I saw my training program for the first time and noticed that it included five of these monster sessions. It means that my coach believes my body is ready to take on a bigger training load, as my body has been holding up well (knock wood).

Even so, Pat has added extra days off in my training program. That means some weeks I will only run on four days, instead of five days a week. My overall weekly volume is about 80 kilometres a week.

Today I plan to follow the same course I have been doing for my other runs - out and back. As I've mentioned before, it is easier to deal with running that far mentally when you break it up into pieces. A 90-minute run is manageable. So I simply think about my 3-hour run as two 90-minute runs.

And most of all, I keep focused on the goal of this big training session: improve my marathon and try to get closer and closer to that goal of a sub-3 hour marathon.

Did I mention that I also have a half hour easy run later this afternoon? That means my total volume today will probably approach an entire marathon.

OK, time to stop typing about running and head out the door!

February 26, 2009

Reasons to Run

It's a good thing that I have so many reasons to run. That's what I thought to myself on Sunday after 30 kilometers of running on my own in the drizzling rain - I still had about two kilometers left to run.

I don't actually run for distance - I run for time. My coach tells me what period of time I should run for which on Sunday was two hours and 40 minutes. But I check the distance of my long runs afterwards with the help of Gmaps Pedometer.

Partly because I want to know the distance I covered obviously but I also wanted to know what pace I'd been running at. Even so, the main goal of my long runs is to run for the period of time as advised by my coach - it's all about time on your feet.

In preparation for this marathon 2hr40min has been my longest run. And in the final 20 minutes I was tired, sore and ready to stop. I couldn't help but think that my main reason to run that last little stretch was to be finished and leave the cold wet outdoors for a warm house and a hot shower.

When I got home I just changed into dry clothes - I didn't have the energy for a shower immediately - and lay down on the floor with my feet up in the air against a wall. It's a great way to get rid of the main soreness after a long run.

February 22, 2009

Back to Long Runs

Today it was time to resume the weekly long runs after a two-week break with a 2-hour easy and a half marathon race respectively.

By now the roads are clear, and I only had to contend with some rain today. I did my usual out-and-back course and even got a few hundred meters further today. I'd brought three caffeine gels and 600ml of water.

My breakfast was two slices of bread with honey, two bananas and a Powerbar. I didn't leave for my run until 11:15am and I could have brought another Powerbar in hindsight.

My legs felt reasonably OK after last week's race. But I had skipped two runs this week, the first one because I was still too exhausted from the race, and the second one for another reason. I rarely miss runs, but this week I was OK with doing so as part of my recovery.

As of next week, my long runs increase by 20 minutes so I will be running about 35km in the morning before doing another easy 30-minute run in the afternoon as well.

The final 8km today were tiring. And I had to give myself a few reasons to keep running. I have a lot of reasons to run. Some are big lofty goals that keep me going day in day out, others are little ones along the way that keep me going for another meter of 10.

It's always good to have a few solid reasons ready for those moments when your mind starts wandering and wondering why you're out there - particularly on those long runs.

I had enough reasons to keep me going today, and some of them included simply getting home so I could put on dry clothes and put up my feet. Another was some good food, and I made a big omelet of three eggs and three big slices of ham with cottage cheese on three slices of bread. Yum.

February 18, 2009

Marathon history

The Vancouver marathon will be my 10th certified marathon and I will run this 10 years after completing my first. My key goal is to have a better day on this course than last year, and I would like to improve my best time for the distance.

Victoria October 2008 3:07 (PB)
Vancouver May 2008 3:12
Gold Coast July 2007 3:15
Canberra April 2007 3:08
Gold Coast July 2006 3:13
Honolulu December 2003 3:36
Gold Coast July 2003 3:24
Sydney September 2001 4:44
Ottawa May 1999 4:18

(I've run the exact marathon distance, or further, another seven times in various races: five marathons as part of Ironman triathlons, the 46km offroad Six Foot Track and the 100km mostly offroad Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker.)

The biggest lesson I've learnt in the past 10 years is that preparation means everything, yet guarantees nothing. Running a marathon is never easy.

My `easiest' marathon where I felt extreme discomfort for the least amount of time was probably the Gold Coast Marathon in 2006. In this race I only suffered in the final four kilometers of the race. I would say that probably my toughest marathon was probably the Vancouver marathon in 2008 where I suffered, mentally and physically, during the final 17 kilometers.

February 17, 2009

Half Marathon Result

On race morning the alarm goes off at 5:50am. After a shower I apply some `deep heat’ cream on my calves to help warm up my muscles. Based on the weather forecast for a dry sunny day with temperatures around 5 degrees I decide to wear shorts, a top with back pockets for my gels and a dry-fit short-sleeve T-shirt (my finishers’ shirt from the 2007 Gold Coast Marathon). Then I add some layers to stay warm for now.

At about 6.15am I eat a Powerbar (vanilla flavour) and drink some water. I’ve also made my morning coffee to take in the car as we drive to the race start. Tim and I leave at 6:35am. As always, the drive between Squamish and Vancouver is stunning, especially since we catch the sun rising. Tim is driving. We talk a bit more about our race strategies. I drink my coffee, and some water. I eat another half Powerbar.

We get downtown at 7:30am and find a parking garage quickly. There’s a small line-up for the parking meter, and all the people in line are either runners or spectators. After we get our parking ticket, Tim and I each take a bag with us for our spare clothes which we can hand in at the bag check later. We power-walk to the race headquarters, which is already busy as the race starts in less than an hour.

There are small line-ups for the pick-up of our race chips and numbers. The volunteers are efficient so Tim and I are done quickly. Then we head immediately for the bathroom, knowing that the line-ups can be lengthy. I am in line at 7:55am. There are at least 15 women ahead of me, so I use the time to pin my race number to my shirt and wrap the timing chip around my ankle. I also take off the long pants and re-tie my shoe laces, so that they are nice and snug. I always double-knot my laces to avoid them loosening during the race. As I leave the washrooms at 8:10am the line-up has tripled. I quickly find Tim near the spot where we agreed to wait for each other after our bathroom stops. By now I’m getting anxious to get outside to do our warm-up. There’s only 20 minutes to the race start, and only 15 minutes until I want to be ready in the start area.

There’s another short line-up at the bag check-in area. I had already stripped down to my race outfit while I was standing in line for the washrooms. I double-check that I have everything: race number, race chip, sunglasses and gloves. I had put the four gels in the back pockets of my race top as soon as I put it on this morning – one less thing to forget.

We head outside through the stream of runners. Deep breath. It’s 8:15am. We have exactly 10 minutes to warm up which is fine. Tim and I run away from the start area. We begin with a 7-minute easy jog and finish with four sprints. Now I feel much better: we’ve done everything that we needed to do and are now ready to line up.

As we position ourselves about five rows from a rope that separates the main pack from the front, the race organizer announces that runners with race numbers 1 through 114 are allowed to ahead of the rope. My race number is 53. It’s nice to have a start privilege, so I decide to use the opportunity. Tim and I wish each other good luck and then I position myself at the back of that front pack. Just before the gun goes off, the rope is dropped and the main pack closes in.

While chilly, it is a beautiful day. I know I will be warm very soon. The atmosphere is excited. After a quick countdown, the gun goes off and I start my watch. There we go. As usual, the start is quick. I try to find my pace while a myriad of thoughts run through my head. “Am I running too fast, this pace feels easy, it wouldn’t be too slow would it? Everyone seems to run by me. I have to listen to my coach. He said no faster than 4:15/kilometer in the first half. Then I can speed up. I hope I can speed up by as much as I want to. What a beautiful day. I feel good, but do I feel great. Distance will tell.”

I approach the 1-kilometer mark. I check my watch as I pass it. Darn, I thought I was running easy but my watch says I ran 4:00. Way too fast and I slow down immediately. “I hope this isn’t too slow. I need to find my pace. Don’t worry about all the runners passing me. If you don’t see them again, they are simply faster runners. And if they are not, you will see them again in the final third of the race.” Tim passes me. I ask him what his 1-km split was: 4:12 he responds. That’s great. I let him go. I need to focus on my pace, and avoid being tempted to run with him.

So I settle into the pace as advised by my coach and return to my own thoughts “I think I feel good. Positive thoughts: I feel great, my shoes feel great, I am comfortable. There’s the 1-mile mark.” I pass it in 6:43 – that’s much better. A 4:15/km pace is 6:50/mile pace. I reach the 3-mile mark in 20:39 and try to do the math quickly. “Three times 7 is 21, minus three times 10 seconds. Yup, that’s great.”

The course follows the seawall around Stanley Park. It’s beautiful on this sunny winter day. As I am still running relatively easy, I make sure to take in the beautiful views. I run through a few mantras. “Relax and achieve the max. Right on pace, and feeling great.” My mind repeats these mantras over and over to avoid any question marks or negative thoughts. The next miles takes me 6:52, 6:54 and 7:00 respectively, so I am at the 6-mile point in 41:26. This is about 25 seconds slower than the ideal time but pretty good. I can see Tim a few hundred meters ahead of me. I need to run my own race. I take a gel as I see the water station ahead of me. It’s always nice to wash down the sweet and stick gels with some water.

When I reach the 10-km mark in 42:55, I repeat the words of my coach in my mind. “If you’re feeling good, slowly wind up the pace.” At the halfway point which follows 550 meter later I quickly check my watch to do the math: 45:12. That means a 90:24 finish if I were to run the second half at exactly the same pace. I definitely want a sub-90 finish and am confident I can achieve that. But I want more than that, I’d like to get close to or even better my 88:13 PB. That seems a stretch, though not impossible. The only way to find out is to try. With permission to wind up my pace, I now can run as I feel and stop looking at my watch. I slowly accelerate and focus. I focus on my breathing being deep and relaxed, on my body feeling challenged but not overly so, on my thoughts being positive and supportive.

Another runner has decided to run with me. He matches my pace stride for stride. I like when people do so running side by side. It’s another mental boost. After a while he asks me what my goal is. “Dunno,” I respond. While partly true, it is the first and shortest answer that comes to my mind. I do not want to break my focus by chatting – this is not the time for small talk, no matter how short. And I’ve learnt the hard way that talking can bring about a stitch that kills the race. Three years ago, I was about halfway in a half marathon. Parts of this course were double-backed, so you could see people ahead and behind you. While I was racing, I also like to encourage others, especially people I know. The effect is two-fold: they get a lift from your encouragement, and it also helps me to express positive comments. I’d shouted encouragements to two people earlier. But when I saw a third friend and shouted at him, I almost stopped dead in my tracks when I suddenly got a sharp and painful stitch. Even focusing on my breathing didn’t allow me to recover from it. I was forced to walk for several hundred meters to let it subside. Needless to say that destroyed my race goal and I learnt a valuable lesson. Use your breath only to breathe when you’re running at race pace.

Today, I am motivated by the man wearing a blue shirt running next to me. But I do not use energy registering anything else such as his face or guessing his age. I am focused on the runners in front of me. Slowly we’re reeling them in. I also see Tim’s white shirt coming a bit closer. I’m determined to catch him as well as a woman who is running a bit behind him. While we’re closing the gap on these two, it’s going very slowly. That must mean that they have picked up their pace as well. Finally with two miles to go I’ve caught the woman – or so I think - and Tim’s only about 50 meters ahead. I’m feeling the strain by now.

While I have checked my watch at a few mile markers I do not press the lap button and I cannot recall any numbers now after the race. I know that at this point I need to focus on not giving in to a desire to slow down. I hope I am not slowing down. But as I turn the corner at the 20-mile mark a short incline hits my legs. The woman and Tim are increasing the gap. Another corner, thankfully this is flat. But another corner reveals another and longer incline. I almost feel crying! I try to run as best as I can but the runners ahead of me are running faster. After I tamed this unexpected incline that feels like Mt Everest at this point in the race, I try to quickly recover my breath and thoughts. “Come on, the finish is close. I can’t see it yet. How close it. Come on you know it is close – pick up the pace.” Now that the road is flat again I accelerate and finally see the finish. The clock still reads 89. I am desperate to finish sub-90 so I sprint the final 150 meters as hard as I can.

Tim finished well ahead of me and I am so excited for him because that means he ran sub-90 for the first time. The first things I do after crossing the finish line is high five and hug him: he’s long deserved to break this – mostly – mental barrier. His official time is 89:06, a PB by more than a minute. It’s a fantastic result.

My official race time is 89:39. While relieved that it is sub-90, I am also a bit annoyed. This is a flatter course than the previous half marathon I ran about 10 months earlier: I ran 86 seconds faster there! Since then I’ve got more solid training under my belt as well as three more 10km races and two marathons. I know all is relative, and I cannot expect to achieve a personal best in each and every race I do but I cannot help but feel disappointed.

There is no doubt I am a Greedy Runner. I want to improve and am willing to work hard. While my coach and Tim are right about reminding me to be thankful for and happy with my result, I will also use that sense of wanting more to harness my motivation for the training for my key goal: the Vancouver Marathon. I love running, regardless of how much I may whinge and whine about a matter of seconds in results. If I am disappointed in subtle differences, then I need to focus on the details in my training. Better hydrating and fuelling my body during and after training sessions. Enough rest. Better mental focus in speed sessions. Better consistency and focus in my weight training. And most of all, Believe and Achieve.

I’m very excited about now getting stuck into the bulk of my marathon training over the next six weeks.

February 12, 2009

First Half Marathon

I'm running the First Half Marathon in Vancouver on Sunday. It will be my first half since April 2008, where I ran an 88:13 PB. I was surprised to realize it's been that long. While I've raced in 10km's and two marathons since then, a half just didn't suit my schedule for some reason.

I like racing half marathons. My first-ever race I did was a 20-kilometer event through Brussels (Belgium) in May 1997. The race has been held annually for 29 years and draws thousands of entrants. Click here to check details. It took me 2:00:18, which placed me 12,484 th.

I was so happy with simply finishing it and proving to myself that I could run 20 kilometers. It wasn't until February 2000 that I ran my first half marathon. By then I did have a few more races under my belt, varying from 10km, 16km, 30km, a marathon, and an off-road marathon that was cut about 3km short because of a sandstorm.

It was absolutely pouring during that first half marathon in Peterborough, Ontario (Canada). I finished in 1:54:15 (net time). My splits were very even: 57:02 for the first lap and 57:15 for the second.

I ran my second half marathon in August 2002 in Lake Macquarie, NSW (Australia). By then I training and racing mostly as a triathlete. While I had raced the half marathon distance two or three more times in between, it was after swimming 1.9km and riding 90km.

My Lake Macquarie half marathon had an amazing outcome: I finished in 95:35 and won my age group, both big personal milestones. In 2 1/2 years my half marathon time had improved by nearly 20 minutes.

The next big breakthrough came in September 2006 at the Sydney Half Marathon where I broke 90 minutes for the first time, finishing in 89:29.

Three months later, I found myself taking the lead in the Central Coast Half Marathon (NSW, Australia) at the halfway mark. My strategy was to run as hard as I could for the next few kilometers and hopefully open up a gap big enough to discourage anyone to close it. I won my first half marathon in 89:16. I won my second the following year in Joure, the Netherlands, though as it turned out afterwards the course was 500m long. I ran 21.6km in 92:10.

My next half marathon was at the Sunshine Coast, BC (Canada) in April 2008, where I set the PB as mentioned above 88:13. My time was good enough for 10th female. In the First Half 2008, the 10th female ran 86:11. I am looking forward to be inspired by the high level of runners that are drawn to the First Half.

My coach told me to stick to 4:15/km pace, and definitely not faster, for the first 10km. After that I should "wind up the pace slightly". Of course I will heed his advice. Since I am not sure whether there are mile or kilometer markers on the course, I also worked out that 4:15/km translates to 6:50/mile.

A month ago I ran a 10km race in 40:36, or just under 4:04/km. So I should feel relatively comfortable after running 10km at a speed that is 11 seconds per kilometer slower. I should reach the 10km mark at 42:30, or the 6-mile mark at 41:02.

The race starts at 8:30am. Since we (Tim and I) are driving from Squamish and still need to pick up our race package, we'll leave the house no later than 6:30am. That means our alarms will go off at about 5:45am.

I'll have a couple of plain Powerbars as soon as I wake up, and will drink a total of about 750ml water between then and 8am. (I always stop taking fluids half an hour before the race start - it's no good to start with a sloshy stomach full of water.)
I'll also have my morning coffee as usual.

This breakfast should get me through the first 45 to 60 mins of the race. I will take a sip of water as I take a cup or whatever it comes in as I run through every aid station. I will also bring 2-3 gels of which I'll take at least one.

Right now, the weather forecast for Sunday is Sunny, with 0% chance of rain, temperatures between 0 and 6 degrees, and wind of about 10km/h. Sounds pretty good to me!

Today I only have a light speed session, followed by two days without running. I'm looking forward to that after my training volume has steadily increased with my key goal the Vancouver Marathon on May 3.

My training has been going well, despite the fact that this former Australian resident still struggles with the Canadian winter weather - even as mild as it is in Squamish compared with other parts of the country.

It doesn't get below 5 degrees often in Sydney, where I lived for seven years. The challenge for runners there is in fact the opposite: dealing with the heat and humidity in summer.

Training during a second consecutive Canadian winter has allowed me to adjust to the cold and snow. My biggest problem with winter is when the roads/sidewalks are icy and a lack of variety in running paths because of safety when sidewalks have disappeared under a big layer of snow, leaving only the roads to run on.

This winter I got a gym membership for four months, so I've done some training on the treadmill on days when it wasn't safe to run outside. Now the snow is slowly but surely melting away. The days are getting longer and the sun has come out for some beautiful days. I know we are not quite there yet, but I cannot help but get so excited about spring time.

I'm planning on kick-starting my spring with a great half marathon!

February 09, 2009

Productive Long Run

My long run today is `only' two hours - still a long way to run. But all is relative, and it is 40 minutes shorter than the two prior weeks. I have a coffee and an energy bar before I head out the door.

Thankfully it is dry, despite a forecast for rain/snow. At the start my legs feel like they have in the previous two days - pretty heavy. I enjoy the thought of a shorter run today, before my 3-hour sessions begin in two weeks.

While I am always excited about the big training sessions, I can't help but feel a bit intimidated by them too. But nothing to worry about for today. I am running on a pair of Adidas Supernova Glide shoes which I'm testing and reviewing for a magazine, along with a pair of Nike Zoom Vomero 3.

I'm carrying a 500-ml bottle of water and two gels (Clifshots), both with caffeine. After about 20 minutes my legs start feeling a bit more supple and my thoughts turn to some work projects. Running usually brings creative ideas, and today is a top day.

I return home having worked out four great ideas during the 2-hour run. Overall, I felt good both mentally and physically - a sign that my nutrition and hydration was sufficient and the caffeine didn't hurt either.

February 07, 2009

Preparing for the First Half

Tim and I were both lucky enough to secure a spot for the First Half Marathon in Vancouver next Sunday. The race sold out in a few hours and seems to attract top runners, judging from the results from previous years.

That should make for an inspiring race. The course looks good, see here.

I haven’t raced a half marathon since April 2008, when I ran a PB of 88:13 in the Sunshine Coast half marathon. It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster half year since then. But my last three races were solid, and I was glad to set a PB in the Victoria marathon.

I did a 10km in December, and one in January. Both were flat courses. The January race was very cold, with a few icy spots on the road making me careful about my footing. While I ran a relatively comfortable 40:26 in the December 10km, I struggled to finish in 40:36 in January. Both races fell short of my 39:51 PB, set in January 2008.

When I put my December 10km time into Merv's Running Calculator, I theoretically would end up with a 89:53 for a half marathon. I find this tool helpful to make comparisons of theory and practice, and to calculate a pace per mile or kilometre for a race.

This calculator takes into account that you fatigue as the distance increases, so it allows you to see what time you theoretically should be able to run for a certain distance based on a time you actually did run recently for another distance.

Using this tool, my half marathon time seems often to be slightly ahead of my 10km and marathon performances.

For example, I ran a half marathon in less than 90 minutes for the first time in September 2006 (89:29 on a certified course). My best 10km time then was 41:39(!), though the calculator shows my half time translates to a 40:15 for the 10km. (Based on my actual best 10km time then, the calculator suggest a half marathon of 92:35. The first time I ran a 10km in less than 41 minutes was in December 2007 - 14 months later - when I did 40:24.

My 88:13 time translates to a 39:40 10km and a 3:05:11 marathon, neither of which I have accomplished yet. My most recent marathon time of 3:07:10, run in October 2008, translates to a 40:06 10km and an 89:09 half marathon. Of course I'd like to aim to get close to 88:13 again, and ideally a bit faster. To do so, my pace will have to be 4:10 per kilometre, or 6:43 per mile.

My legs have been tired from the increasing volume as I prepare for the Vancouver marathon in May. But this Sunday, my long run is only two hours (40 minutes shorter than the previous two weeks) and next week my volume is light as well, with some short but intense speed sessions.

So I'm expecting to be on the start line more rested than I feel today. As always, I am looking forward to testing my fitness. My pace goal in the first half of the race will be 4:10-4:15, a relatively comfortable pace that should leave energy in the tank to pick it up in the second half.

February 05, 2009

It's Never Too Late to Start Running

Just like before a long run or a speed session, I need to mentally prepare myself to start writing for a book I'm working on. I usually read a few pages of another book. Today I flicked through Alberto Salazar's Guide to Road Racing and a few sentences about the late Mavis Lindgren caught my eye.

"The late Mavis Lindgren, of Portland, Oregon, for example, began running in her early 60s, ran her first marathon at age 72, and by age 93 had run 76 marathons."

Wow. I Googled her name and found articles about her in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated. There seems to be some confusion about a few statistics in the various resources but regardless of which numbers are correct, this woman was amazing! Especially since she began running marathons in the 1970s.

Women were not allowed to compete officially in the Boston Marathon until 1972 and the women's marathon wasn't introduced to the Olympics until 1984.

Click here for the Sports Illustrated article from 1978.

Click here for a link to the NY Times article from 1993.

If this woman doesn't inspire a can-do attitude, I don't know who or what else could.

February 04, 2009

About Weight, Diets and Nutrition

I just came across some papers dated November 27, 1998. It is a Microfit Fitness Profile, compiled by a gym in Toronto that I was joining then.

That was just over 10 years ago. I'd been running for nearly three years, though was lacking much knowledge or guidance about basic training principles. But - as I mentioned in an earlier comment on this blog - I was running and liked it.

My first running race was the 20km of Brussels in May 1997 and I also finished a 10km and a 16km race that year. And at the end of 1998, I was thinking about training for my first marathon.

There were some promising results from my test. Each aspect was rated according to the following categories: Unfit, Fair, Average, Fit, Athlete. My highest score was on my Rest Heart Rate, which put me well into the Athlete category. My second-highest score was for Flexibility, which also ranked me as an Athlete. My third-best score was for Aerobic Fitness, which put me in the upper range of the Fit category.

My body fat percentage was calculated at 23%. That put me in the lower end of the Fit category. My weight then was 158.5 pounds, or 71 kgs (the test was done at night, wearing clothes of course, and I even believe shoes though I am not sure.)

Reading this now, I went to the scale to check my current weight (done at noon, wearing clothes and Ugg boots): it's now 139 pounds, or 63kgs. (I don't know what my body fat percentage is currently but it would obviously also have to be lower.)

Much of that difference in weight can be attributed to a transition to regular training. After that fitness test was done, I ran my first marathon in May 1999, and tried a triathlon a few months later. In 2001 my approach to training changed from a DIY-one to hiring a coach (triathlon). Since I decided to focus on running, I enlisted my current running coach in June 2005.

Ten years after that fitness test, I am training for my 11th certified marathon (I've run five marathons as part of Ironman triathlons, as well as a couple of off-road just below and above the marathon distance). Consistent training over the years changes your body, and weight.

But my lower weight also has much to do with a change in nutrition.

In many ways I eat anything I want to - the key is that there are many "foods" that I simply do not want to eat.

I do not hunger for typical junk food: no fries, burgers, sodas or pizzas. I do not care for cookies or chips. I will not eat any food that I cannot recognize because it has been deep-fried and/or covered in sauce.

But I do love a big steak with baked potatoes and salad with, say, feta cheese. I will eat a bigger plate of pasta with tomato-based sauce than anyone I know (including my partner Tim who is a hungry triathlete). I love cinnamon bagels with raisins, filled with ham and cheese.

While I do not care for cakes in general, I love a quality mud cake. Dark chocolate is hard to resist, as are certain types of jujubes. I love peanuts, cashews and almonds. Fresh and dried fruits are great snacks too. I love crackers with hummus, especially combined with a glass of bold red wine.

I always have breakfast, always. Most of the time I have cereal, though only if it is one without added sugar. (My favourite is made by Alpen. The dried fruit makes it sweet enough). If not available, I will have a sandwich with ham and cheese (cottage cheese is even better). As many experts have said, breakfast is the most crucial meal of the day. And I certainly know it is for me.

I once read that the closer a food is to its natural state, the better it is. So that's generally what I try to look for. I always read labels on food packaging, to check for fat and sugar content.

Noodles are a good example. Some of those will have close to 20 grams of (unhealthy) fat per 100 grams - I stay away from these. But others have about 2 grams of fat per 100 grams - that's OK.

Fat and sugar are not bad per se, quite the opposite. For example, the fat found in cashews and almonds are good for you (I eat them in moderation, a couple of handfuls - not the whole bag in one go). And the natural sugars found in fresh and dried fruit are good for you as well. I always pay attention to dried fruit: raisins, dates and figs typically don't have any added sugar, but most of the time things like dried pineapple and mangoes do. I tend to stay away from the latter.)

My weight has come down slowly over the years and I believe I've reached my natural weight. Depending on the time of year (more food in Canadian winters to stay warm) and what race distance I am training for (more calories burnt in those 3-hour marathon training runs), my weight seems to fluctuate between 60 and 62kgs if weighed in the morning before breakfast. (My height is 178cm).

I say, seems, as I rarely reach for the scales. I did check more regularly 10 years ago, when losing weight was still a main motivation for my running. And of course the weight issue is still important, but now it is a result of my regular training and better eating habits rather than the main motivation for them.

Particularly running, but of course any exercise, helps you to get in touch with your body. Fuel it well with the right food choices. It doesn't have to be hard.