April 30, 2009

April 29, 2009

More about tapers and puppies

After months of training for the Vancouver Marathon – set for Sunday with 13 competitors from Squamish – I was about to start my taper. That's when volume and intensity drop significantly – in my case from an average of eight hours a week to three - to allow the body time to rest and recover before a key race.

Not only is the taper a great excuse to be lazy after months of hard work, it is also crucial to a good performance in the marathon.

While a good taper - ie plenty of rest mentally and physically - doesn’t guarantee a good marathon, a bad taper guarantees a bad marathon. This marathon will be my 10th and I’m aiming to finish in less than 3 hours 7 minutes. Every Sunday morning over the past four months I either pounded the pavement in Squamish for up to three hours, or the treadmill at Club Flex, followed by a 30-minute run in the afternoon.

During the week I ran another four days including two speed sessions – the latter best summed up as short and painful - and did two hours of weight training.

I truly love running and the resulting feeling of fitness and wellbeing. My partner Tim, a triathlete training for Ironman Canada, and I had talked about getting a dog one day, and more seriously since settling in Squamish last September.

Our search started at the BC SPCA website which has a wealth of information – including up-to-date postings of adoptable dogs and other animals. Our preference was to adopt a dog from the Squamish branch. And we didn’t have to wait long.

Four weeks ago, one puppy photo made my heart jump. Two days later Tim and I met this four-month-old guy, likely a Border collie and Labrador retriever mix. We liked him instantly – partly because of his high energy – but took another four days to consider the responsibilities and time commitment involved. After a second meeting, we filled out the adoption papers and brought Luka home on April 12.

It was good that we liked his energy because he has plenty of it - testing our limits. I had registered to race the Vancouver Sun Run 10km but after the work involved in housetraining, caring for and bonding with Luka during the first week I was too exhausted to even make it to the startline.

As first-time dog owners we also realized within days that we needed more help than that offered by our dog-loving families and friends. Squamish-based professional dog trainer Tiffany Wall has since provided invaluable advice during three one-on-one sessions, one late-night phone call and two puppy classes. Luka’s immediate response to our new skills is a testament to those of Tiffany.

This week Tim has taken care of Luka’s exercise needs, allowing me to focus on my final race preparations including rest. While this taper may not have been as quiet as it needed to be, our new puppy has definitely been worth it.

Luka will come to watch Sunday’s marathon with Tim as it is great for his socialization. And once he's a bit older, he’ll probably make a great running partner.

April 27, 2009

Pre-Marathon Week

Six days until race day!

Rest is crucial. Tim is taking care of Luka's morning walks and other activities until noon. While I love our puppy, he takes a lot of mental and physical energy which I need to preserve this week. (After the marathon, I will focus on Luka while Tim prepares for Ironman Canada held in August).

My race plan is decided. Coach Pat Carroll agreed that I can aim for a PB this Sunday: that means my goal is to finish in 3:07:09 or faster. I will target to run about 4:25 per kilometre or 7:06 per mile, which would get me across the finish line in 3:06:22.

I've only raced twice in the past four months, a 10km and a half marathon. While I had planned - and registered for - the Vancouver Sun Run 10km held a week ago, the work that came with a new puppy had both Tim and I absolutely exhausted. On race day our alarm went off at 5:15am.

I worried that racing when already exhausted might jeopardize my health - and therefore my goal race the Vancouver Marathon. While a tough call, I decided to stay in bed to get extra sleep and skip the race.

I've felt tired during my training runs over the last two weeks, in large part due to the mental and physical energy required for our new puppy. So this week I really need to focus on rest.

Tomorrow I will do the final test of my race outfit - my new sponsor New York-based SBR Multisport has sent me a race top. I've already run with it twice and it is extremely comfortable. The final thing I need to test is whether the two backpockets comfortably hold the 10 gels I plan to carry with me in the marathon.

Nutrition is absolutely crucial in the marathon. After racing nine marathons, a couple of ultras, and five Ironman triathlons, my nutrition plan has been well developed. My breakfast consists of two Powerbars, eaten two hours before the race at the latest. I will drink about 750ml of water before the race and also have my usual morning coffee.

I will take water from each aid station, and start taking my gels about 45-60 minutes into the race. From then, I will take a Powerbar gel every 15-20 minutes. Like last year, I hope to put a bottle of Red Bull at the Special Needs aid station at around 30km. It feels good knowing that it is there should I need it. Caffeine really helps me focus my tired mind during those final painful kilometres of the marathon.

Tim and our puppy Luka will be there to cheer me on.

The current weather forecast for Sunday is a 70 percent chance of rain, with temperatures between 7 and 15 degrees.

Today I will drive to North Vancouver for an Active Release Technique session with a therapist I've seen before. I'll ask her to focus on releasing my hips and if time permits my calves.

On Thursday I will drive to downtown Vancouver to pick up my race package.

Other than that, as mentioned the key is rest. I will also sharpen my mental preparation. With this marathon being my sixth since April 2006, my mind is fully focused on this distance. Even so, I really need to visualize this particular race over the next few days and get fully focused on May 3.

I will also carefully monitor my hydration and nutrition this week, especially the final four days before the race. Plenty of water and my favourite energy drink mix are important, as are foods that I know will gel with my stomach.

April 24, 2009

April 23, 2009

About tapers and puppies

Tim and I adopted a puppy from the local SPCA and named him Luka. Based on his teeth, he's estimated to be about four months old. Best guesses from the SPCA, vet and a dog trainer is that he's got some border collie, lab retriever and pointer in him.

We brought him home only 12 days ago and what a time it has been since then. Even though we thought - and even were told - that our preparations were solid, we underestimated what it means to adopt a puppy - especially one that has the energy levels that this guy does.

We're lucky in many ways. Luka is absolutely adorable. He has a ton of energy, is excited about everything that is going on, and is very affectionate. He seems to have been very well socialized to people and dogs, as in that he's curious and excited to meet both.

He was already used to being in a crate at night and for periods during the day. As a high-energy puppy he does not yet know it's OK to have a nap when he is tired. So we put him in his crate during the day in between regular walks and playtime in the backyard. He usually protests for about two seconds before passing out on his back with his paws in the air.

He was not yet house-trained and peed to his heart's content in our family room during the first afternoon. With help of the crate, tight supervision and very frequent pee breaks with lots of praise for doing so outside he has learned very quickly that inside isn't the place to lift his leg.

Luka is a quick learner in many respects. And he forced us to be quick learners too. Like most puppies he loves to bite. We tried the yelping, and walking away from him to teach him biting isn't a good thing. But his biting - along with jumping and humping - is also a manifestation of his attempts to dominate us.

With the help of a local dog trainer, we got in touch with our Alpha side and have adopted a zero-tolerance to his biting. And this has improved his behavior markedly in the last few days. As Cesar Millan recommends: exercise - discipline - affection.

He gets plenty of exercise, and we have now also learned skills that help to teach him discipline in a positive and encouraging way.

As for affection, Luka absolutely loves to cuddle, belly rubs or any rubs really.
He'll sit on your lap while he's playing with his bone, Kong or other toys.

April 12, 2009

Three Weeks to Go

I had company for the first two hours of my final long run before the Vancouver Marathon.
Our neighbour Paul took Tim and I on a run along some of the many trails of Squamish.

Because of the rain we stayed mostly on wider trails to avoid slippery rocks and roots. The last section that got us back into Valleycliffe has narrower trails and we had to pay a bit more attention to our footing. It's a great loop, with fantastic views.

I ran the last 45 minutes on my own, feeling very happy with my preparations for the race. Next week I am running a 10k, the Vancouver Sun Run. I haven't done this race before and am curious to see what it's like.

Like Sydney's City to Surf, this race draws tens of thousands of participants. Last year there were 59,000. The following Sunday I have an easy 90-minute run.

My main speed sessions until the marathon will obviously be the 10km, and a 3km time trail this Tuesday.

Mentally and physically I feel very ready for the marathon. I will sharpen my mental race focus in the next three weeks.

Next weekend two good friends are set to race in the Canberra marathon. For one, it's his first although he has race many triathlons, including Ironman, and other running distances. For the other one, running marathons each year is simply part of her life.

Thinking about them racing next weekend is a great mental warm-up for my own race. I'm very excited for them.