June 28, 2011

Lacking sharpness at the Scotia half

Happy finishers
Sunday's Scotiabank Half Marathon was an awesome race on a day that actually felt like summer.
It was the first half my sister started in Canada (she moved here three months ago). She did fantastic, lowering her best time for the distance to 2:07 from the 2:17 she did in her debut in December in the Netherlands.

Angelique with 10-min PB!
Feeling good throughout this race gives her an extra boost of confidence as she now prepares for her first marathon, Victoria in October.

I felt good, too, but lacked sharpness. Hitting the bottom of the big hill, which also marks 10km, in 41:33, I was right on target and felt OK. Even so, I missed that extra gear needed to improve on last year's 88:30, let alone my 88:13 PB.

Mentally it was hard work to stay focused on the good stuff, and I reminded myself over and over again to stay relaxed. After all, I was still right on pace. In the second half, as my sub-88 goal began slipping away, I concentrated on making every step the best it could be at that moment.

Focused with less than a km to go
It's a challenge, after all. Ahead of me I'd noticed a woman ducking into the bushes for a mini-stop before catching me again, which she did at least four times over the next few kilometres. This fast runner was clearly having a tough day with stomach issues. But rather than giving up and packing it in, she kept going.

I crossed the line in 89:44, fast enough for second place in my age group though short of my goal. Thanks very much to the organizers for the elite starting slot, wish I could have done better but I suspect that my cold of the previous two weeks, interrupting my training, took the edge off my performance.

Overall, it was an awesome event which drew 19 runners of 70 years and older. The fastest woman in that division ran 1:55 while the fastest man ran 1:46. Inspiring or what?

Overall winners Kip Kangogo and Ruth Perkins ran a swift 63:22 and 76:14 respectively.

Tim, Luka and I
A big thanks to Tim for getting us to the start on time, cheering us on, taking care of the dogs, and the gorgeous photographs! It's his turn to race next weekend at the Vancouver Half Ironman.

June 22, 2011

Gearing up for the Scotiabank half marathon

In a few days it's time for the annual Scotiabank Half Marathon in Vancouver from UBC to Stanley Park. I did this race for the first time last year, finishing in 88:30, my second-fastest half and 17 seconds from my PB in the 2008 Sunshine Coast half marathon.

It's a great course that's especially fast in the first half as it has lots of downhill; a year ago I covered the first 10km in 40:42, or a pace of 4:04/km. While that was great, I struggled in the second "half", taking 47:48 to cover the remaining 11.1km. That translates to a 4:18/km pace.

As you can tell from the course profile, the first half is certainly faster, however, I think I can do better by lowering the difference in my pace for the first and second half this year.

To do so, I may need to ease my pace slightly in the beginning so that I can keep a faster pace at the end, in other words, slow down less--and ideally not at all. ironguides coach Shem Leong just wrote an article that touches on that topic, saying that many athletes would benefit from training their mind to focus better as they chase that extra 10% improvement.

Leong suggests you think back to your PB race, as you seek to better that performance, and writes,Chances are that you could have made significant gains from handling the low-energy patches of the race better; such as the moment you decided to ease up three-quarters into the run so it became a whole lot less painful ... Regardless of your level of fitness, there comes a point in every race when we have to decide whether to bite the bullet and suffer more, or whether to ease up and cruise for a bit.

You can read Leong's entire article here.

As I am gunning for a PB on Sunday, I am certainly focusing on dealing better with my low-energy patches in last year's race, clear in my splits here. Last year's 88:30 was a 4:12/km average pace (my 88:13 PB from 2008 was 4:11). This Sunday I'd like to end up at 4:10/km for a sub-88.

I believe I'm ready for it. The one uncertainty is whether my body will be recovered enough from the cold I've struggled with for the past two weeks. But I'm optimistic and looking forward to give it my all this Sunday!

June 20, 2011

Recovering from a rare cold

Running strengthens your health; I cannot remember the last time I was sick. But, alas, I am now recovering from a headcold. It started Tuesday night (June 7) with a sore throat, typically a warning sign that I need to be careful. During the day I'd been tired, not surprising as I was working hard on the big job of painting the exterior of our house.

With a five-day trip to Toronto to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Tim's parents pending, I was trying to finish the preparations and painting of a big wall on the side of our house, on top of work and run training. When I woke up the next day, my throat was just as sore as the night before so I decided to skip the one-hour run I had planned.

We flew to Toronto that afternoon (June 8). The next day I did a 65-minute easy run, allowing myself to get a little lost in the Don Mills neighbourhood. My legs felt light, even though my throat was still sore. Friday brought a wonderful anniversary lunch in the afternoon and a champagne toast at night.

On Saturday Tim and I went for a 90-minute run and then spent the rest of the day preparing for a garden party the next day. During the day I began sneezing repeatedly, and by Sunday I woke up with a headcold. Other than that I felt fine, and did a somewhat pacey 33-minute run around the neighbourhood - just like in my other sessions recently, my legs felt light and energetic.

On Sunday late afternoon, I flew back to Vancouver, and then drove back to Squamish. By Monday, I thought it no longer wise to train through my cold, as I worried it might move into my chest. So I took the day off, as well as Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday I wasn't back to normal but felt a lot better, and tried an easy 32-minute run, after a hot Epsom salt bath and a nap.

I did another, 40-minute, easy run on Saturday with Tim, my sister Angelique and Luka on Saturday and was ready to try a longer session yesterday, Sunday. Tim, Luka and I did a mostly flat run for about 95 minutes. I felt OK, and do today as well.

While I still have some mild cold symptoms left, so I won't push my pace, my body has been improving steadily over the weekend and I am hoping that come this Sunday, I'll be ready to run hard in the Scotiabank Half Marathon. I won't know until race day how my body has recovered from this cold, but I'll certainly be gunning for my 88:13 PB (set in the 2008 Sunshine Coast half marathon) and for improving on last year's 88:30 time in the Scotiabank half.

It's the first half marathon I'll be running together with Angelique, who is using this race as a stepping stone in the preparations for her first marathon, the 2011 GoodLife Victoria Marathon.

June 13, 2011

Inspiring read: Joan Benoit's Running Tide

Running Tide (1987) by Joan Benoit, with Sally Baker, is the most recent book I read, and I highly recommend this 213-page book (published by Alfred A. Knopf). I borrowed this hardcover copy from the Vancouver Public Library.

Benoit [Samuelson], the first woman to become an Olympic marathon champion in 1984 in an upset victory over favourite, the late Grete Waitz, describes the journey to that moment, and the one that followed, to her 1985 Chicago Marathon victory in 2:21:21 (which stood as an American record until 2003).

Running Tide is a superb read and while it should come as no surprise that Benoit is tough as nails given her accomplishments (last year she ran a 2:47:50 at the Chicago marathon at the age of 53), I was still struck by her incredible determination and focus, along with her absolute passion for running.

Benoit grew up pursuing many sports: she was an avid skier as a child and teen, and a superb hockey player, and believes this diversity contributed to her success in running. It was the marathon distance in particular where she made her mark, first in a surprise victory at the 1979 Boston Marathon in 2:35:15, setting an American and course record for women.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

"People ask how I can run with pain or keep working toward a goal that seems hopelessly distant ... If I want to run a marathon faster than I've run in the past, I have to cope with the discomfort that sometimes accompanies long-distance running. I know the end result will be worth the effort."

"People call me a natural athlete—and in some respects I suppose I am—but to say that is to dismiss a world of effort."

"I would squirm under compliments most of the time, not in false modesty, but because I had a voice inside that said, 'Watch it.' The voice kept me ever aware of the fact that I wasn't reaching my potential."

"If I start running for the awards, my career is over. I'm still running because I have a goal to reach, a time that has eluded me up to now." 

"Satisfying yourself is the key to any success, but especially in athletics. You have to know, deep inside, that you love what you are doing—not because the coach or your parents want it for you, but because you desire it for yourself."

"I've seen many people beat themselves. Talented people, blessed with health, education, and the love of their families, somehow find cause to give up."

"My body may fail me, but my mind never has. There's a switch I can throw that puts me into high concentration: I focus one hundred percent on the immediate goal; I forget that I have a body, I don't feel pain. It's a gift that took some nurturing."

Benoit details her marathon training from page 150, saying she'd start preparing 3 to 4 months ahead of time by running 20 miles once a week. Her weekly volume was about 120 miles when healthy.

Benoit says, "Mileage is my safety blanket; I feel I'm doing okay if I can put in enough miles. My mental condition, how I feel about my training, is as important as my physical endurance. If you have confidence in your training it will show in your races."

If you need inspiration for your running, this book will surely provide it. It definitely confirmed my determination in the sub-3:00 marathon quest.  

June 02, 2011

My Gebrselassie workout

As I am reading my way slowly through Matt Fitzgerald's Run: The Mind-Body Connection of Running by Feel, I've begun adapting my training program, both in terms of philosophy and with specific workouts mentioned in his book.

One of them I did today, and I plan repeating this session on a weekly basis: it's my version of Gebrselassie's favourite. Fitzgerald says in Run that when he asked Gebrselassie for his favourite, his response was"Hill training is my favourite," he said. "Because that's the one that gives you a lot of problems. Pain. Breathing too much. Struggling too much. Of course you don't enjoy it during training, but after training, after you reach the top and you look down, and say 'That is what I did,' it gives you confidence."

Fitzgerald writes that he later learned Gebrselassie's hill training meant 90 minutes hard straight up Entoto Mountain outside of Addis Ababa.

Barely a 10-minute easy warm-up jog from my front door is a dirt road called Nine Mile Hill. It goes up for about 11km, with only a few sections of respite, and is part of the Test of Metal (mountainbike) course as well as the STORMY (50-mile trail race).

So, I decided that in my preparations for the Bellingham Bay and Victoria marathons, Nine Mile Hill will be my Entoto Mountain (though it's not at altitude). I've run (and run-walked) it a good handful of times including as part of the 2010 STORMY, and love doing so.

You can climb a solid 500 metres over about 11km if you follow Nine Mile Hill all the way to the top of Lava Flow.

Views from Nine Mile Hill (in January)

The road gets icy in January - clear in June!

Great views from Nine Mile Hill (again, in January)

The start of Nine Mile Hill

I'll ease my way into Gebrselassie's favourite session, however. This morning, my four-footed running buddy Luka joined me and after a warm-up we started our steady climb in the steady rain. After 25 minutes of running uphill at a solid (though not hard) pace, both Luka and I thought it was enough for today so we turned around and eased the same way back down.

Total running time was 70 minutes.

Next Thursday I'll aim to add another 10 minutes to the climb, for a 35-minute session up Nine Mile Hill, before turning around.

June 01, 2011

Ultra race friends

Last year I raced the STORMY 50-miler in my hometown of Squamish. In this awesome trail ultra, conducive to chatting, I met a guy named Steve and we ended up running together for about six hours, which was fantastic.

He told me then he'd only recently started running (though he'd been a competitive soccer player for years). He'd really taken to the sport. STORMY was his first 50-miler (as it was for me) and he did awesome. I hadn't heard from him since, but received this email last week. It's very inspiring which is the reason I'm sharing it here:

Hello Margreet

I see you are registered for the Tenderfoot 50 mile run! I was thinking about our running time together last year at the Squamish Stormy, all the wonderful people and the great running experience so I  plan on registering for the Tenderfoot 50 miler with a friend ...

I've continued to run after the Stormy and qualified for the Boston Marathon in my first marathon in Victoria-3:23.  I was lucky and able to register and run the Boston Marathon this past April posting a 3:09 time.  Boston was fantastic!  Not sure if I enjoy running on the pavement so I may need to retire from the marathon running world and stick to the mud, rock and snow trails of the west coast.

I plan to run the Sinister7 with a friend ... in July and solo the Canadian Death race in August and close the season with 100 miler somewhere on the west coast in September or October

Hope to see you at the start line!

How fantastic! I wish I could do the Tenderfoot Boogie. Unfortunately the change in date (from May 14 to June 18) means I won't be able to. I have no doubt I'll run into Steve again at another race and look forward to catching up in person.