March 31, 2012

Ready for Sunshine Coast half marathon?

After, what I believe to have been, dehydration knocked me out on Thursday and still left me feeling off on Friday, I was much better today. Two rest days and plenty of good hydration helped for sure and I felt good enough to try the 11K recovery run that was on my schedule today.

As mentioned in my previous post, I went from feeling fine on Wednesday night to waking up dizzy and weak the next day. Without any other signs of illness, I can only conclude that my sloppy attitude towards hydration over the past few days (and months, if I am honest) caught up with me. It is amazing how quickly one can go from feeling strong to being as weak as a wet rag.

I am looking on the bright side though, taking it as a crystal-clear reminder about the importance of hydration—especially when you're running as much as I have been in the past 12 weeks. In the final five weeks leading up to my goal race, the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6, hydration will be a priority for sure. Meanwhile, those two days of rest were also beneficial and I just hope that this unexpected 'taper' will have boosted my energy.

Sunshine Coast April Fool's 21.1K
It was very nice to be running today after two days of forced rest, and my body did well at the easy pace. I hope and expect to have recovered enough to race the BMO Sunshine Coast half marathon tomorrow, April 1, as planned.

It's a great event that draws a nice mix of runners. (Click here to read a 2012 race preview.)

I signed up for this half marathon with the intention to use it as another marathon goal race pace run; my schedule calls for 23K at 4:15/K and a total of 32K; that means my goal for the half marathon will be to cross the finish in just under 90 minutes, then to keep going for another 2K at the same pace, before a cooldown of about 5K. I am planning to warm up with about 4K.

Tim and I did the Sunshine Coast half in 2008; I was in the best shape of my life then, having just run my first 40-minute 10K four months earlier, followed by two 39-minute 10Ks (39:51 PB) in the next three months. I improved my personal record for the 21.1K distance by 63 seconds to 88:13 in that 2008 Sunshine Coast half.

There must have been mile markers then, as I took mile splits: 6:22, 6:30, 7:08, 6:36, 6:05, 6:37, (10km in 40:41), 6:45, 6:30, 7:16 (15km in 62:29), 7:44, 6:47, 6:34, last 1.1 mile in about 7:12. While the pace might look all over the place, most of it is explained by the course (see below).

I remembered being thrilled about it then, especially since it would take me four years to improve it, to 87:27 in the First Half last month. I was greedy too, writing on this blog four years ago; "While I am happy that the records keep on coming my way, and I know that bettering a previous best set in December 2006 by more than a minute is not bad at all, I was expecting more."

Greediness is both a runner's strength and weakness; without the self-belief that we can, and will, do better, we wouldn't have the drive to sustain the effort of training hard. Yet sometimes that also results in a rush that leaves us skipping over our accomplishments too quickly without savouring them.

It's something I have learned since that string of PBs in 2008; three at the 10K in as many months, lowering my best time from 41:18 to 39:51 and improving my half marathon time to 88:13, as they ended up being times that would remain my best until this year. In fact, my 10K PB from 2008 still stands, and I hope to improve it in the Vancouver Sun Run on April 15.

Since the Sunshine Coast half turned out to be such a benchmark four years ago, I am looking forward to see how the race goes tomorrow. Given my experience in the First Half last month, where I did the first 16K at marathon pace and felt so fantastic I sped up in the final 5K to run a 46-second PB, I have checked what time would put me on track for another personal record at 17.5K—this is the point in the Sunshine Coast half that marks the final downhill, more or less, to the finish.

A net downhill course, a fact easy to forget between 14.5K & 17.5K:-)
Should I find myself at 17.5K at or under 73 minutes (unlikely as it translates to an average pace of 4:10) and feeling strong, I might go for gold. Again, I don't expect this to happen, especially not given the climb between 14.5K and 17.5K, but I'd rather be prepared than realizing this afterward. PBs are special, and an opportunity to earn one should not be passed up lightly.

Yet I also don't discount the possibility that my body hasn't recovered as well from Thursday as I believe.

Having said all that, at this point I plan to run the distance at an average 4:15/K.

Tim's racing too and we're driving up with two other runners from Squamish, Volker and Zoe. We'll have to catch the 7:20am ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale.

The weather forecast for Gibsons, where the race starts, calls for isolated showers and 6 degrees C. Sounds great to me.

March 30, 2012

Floored by dehydration - I think

After Tuesday's rest day, i.e. a day without running that was the first after 1,267K in 71 daily sessions (and the second rest day after 1,473K in the 87 days of 2012), I was looking forward to Wednesday's session. On the schedule was a 19K run including 6 X 1K at 5K race pace.

I decided to run the intervals on the track and use the 12K distance to get there as a warm-up. Tim generously agreed to pick me up afterward. I left home at about 2:45pm in a downpour. Within 2K, though, the weather cleared; it ended up staying dry until I finished my workout.

Enjoying the warm-up as I ran from the south of Squamish to the north, I was glad about my decision to take the previous day off. My legs felt a lot better.

For some reason, I hadn't bothered to bring water for this run, a decision I would regret the next day.

Since it had been raining for much of the past 24 hours, the track which is a combination of dirt and gravel was soggy. There were a few puddles on the inside lane. Some required running around them. Using the Garmin, I marked a start and finish point on either side of the track.

Based on my 5K race pace, I needed to hit 3:45 for each of the six repeats of one kilometre. A VO2max (maximum oxygen consumption) workout. A kilometre is 2-1/2 laps around the track, so each repeat consisted of two 400-metre laps of 90 seconds each, followed by half a lap of 200 metres at 45 seconds.

I ran 3:48, 3:46, 3:45, 3:44, 3:44 and 3:45, taking breaks of between 2:03 and 3:07. It was a challenging session for sure.

As promised, Tim picked me up. Once home, I showered, stretched, had a drink, a little food and made dinner, pasta. Sitting on the coach, I debated whether to attend the monthly Squamish Writers Group meeting which started at 7pm. I felt OK, just tired.

In the end, I decided to go; can't sit on the couch every night. As usual, it was a good meeting. We read the pieces we wrote for this month's assignment (it had been my turn to provide one) and then did an on-the-spot writing challenge, and read each other the short results.

I still felt fine by the time I went to sleep that night. I slept well but when I woke up and turned to my left side, the room started spinning. Woah! It took a while to subside. I fell back to sleep. By the time it was 8am, I was still in bed and knew something wasn't right. I was dizzy and weak.

Dragging myself out of bed, I had to steady myself going down the stairs. I felt awful and told Tim, who took one look at me and recommended I go back to bed. And that's where I spent the rest of the day. Since I wasn't hot or cold, or had any other flu-like symptoms, Tim and I both suspected I might be dehydrated and overtired. Other than feeling dizzy and very weak, I didn't notice anything else.

Tim thought my electrolytes were out of whack, so he made me a gastrolyte with water and orange juice. The gastrolyte solution "consists of salt, water, and sugar, which replenish fluids and electrolytes that have been lost from the body. It also helps the intestines absorb water to prevent further dehydration," according to the package.

At 10am or so Tim brought me a small breakfast (Alpen cereal with milk). I ate it and went back to sleep. By midday I made a coffee but only drank half a mug; I love coffee so when it doesn't taste right, I know something is off. I still felt best lying down and had to be careful turning over as the room would start spinning again. Back to sleep I went, and was glad Luka was keeping me company.

By 1pm, Tim brought me lunch (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich). My appetite was fine and I had no trouble eating it. But I still felt dizzy and weak. So I slept some more. In the meantime, I had drunk some water. At about 3pm I got up and made a 750ml bottle with water, a scoop of Accelerade, mixing in another sachet of gastrolyte.

I went back to bed but felt good enough by late afternoon to read a little; Run to Overcome by US marathoner Meb Keflezighi is a fantastic book and turned out to be the perfect read on the day. 
  
By evening I moved to the couch; Tim had made us a pasta dinner. I had another gastrolyte solution mixed with Happy Planet's Extreme Green. Later I had a couple of peppermint teas and went to bed feeling much better, though still not quite 100%.

Even after sleeping for most of the past 24 hours, I had no problem sleeping another long night.

This morning I was feeling better again, though I am taking another day of rest. I am pretty sure it was a case of dehydration so plenty of good fluids are on the menu for me today. Hopefully I'll be back in shape do the Sunshine Coast Half Marathon on Sunday, as planned at marathon goal race pace.

It's a good reminder that when you are pushing your body, you cannot slack off on something as crucial as hydration. I know I didn't drink enough after the 10K race I did on Saturday, which was a relatively warm day, and that I didn't drink the right things after Sunday's 29K.

I also hadn't brought water or other fluids along for Wednesday's 19-20K effort and, as usual, had drunk more coffee and black tea than water or other hydrating drinks during the day.

I am pretty annoyed with myself, but am also glad this reminder has come five weeks before marathon race day, as it will allow me to change my bad habits in time.

March 28, 2012

Radical running idea: a rest day!

What's radical about a runner taking a rest day, you might wonder. I couldn't agree more; rest days are crucial for recovery, allowing your body to absorb the training. Until the start of this year, I had rest days—i.e. days without running—every week.

In fact, until July 2011—only nine months ago—I had never run more than five days a week. Nor had my weekly running volume exceeded 90K; I had done 13 marathons by then, of which I had completed the last nine between 3:07:10 and 3:15:13 since July 2006.

A year ago, my marathon build-up for Vancouver consisted of running only four days a week, compared with the five days a week I had been doing in the previous four years. I ran 3:07:41 at the 2011 Vancouver Marathon, my second-fastest time marathon ever and closing in on a 2008 PB of 3:07:10.

Vancouver had been my first marathon in a year as I was rethinking my approach to training after finishing the Rotterdam Marathon in April 2010 in 3:11:51. In the meantime, I refreshed my enthusiasm by trying something different; a 50-mile trail race in August 2010, followed by a 100K road race in November that year.

In July last year I began running six days a week, covering about 100K on average. I ran a PB of 3:06:06 in the Victoria Marathon in October, two weeks after a 3:09 in the Bellingham Bay Marathon. (Bellingham had been my goal race but a couple of things didn't go my way on the day).

I took two months to recover from the two marathons, though I also ran another 50-miler on trails at the start of November. In the ultra, my body made clear that it wasn't in the mood for a good, i.e. fast, time so I walked a lot in the final 25K. And I was amazed at the fact that I felt good until about 55K, four weeks after a hard marathon double.

I was intrigued by the potential to boost my training volume further; running is like a personal science project. Everyone is different so, while there is plenty of conventional wisdom to apply and advice to follow, you don't know what your body is capable of until you try. It's exciting to try something new.

"Wonder is a bulky emotion. When it fills your heart, there is little room for anything else," writes Diane Ackerman in the fantastic An Alchemy of Mind.
 
Since my 18-week preparations for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6 began at the start of 2012, I have followed my training program, with at least one run a day, to the letter. Since January 1, I have run 1,473K in 86 days. With the exception of January 14, I have run every day.

Until yesterday, I had run 71 days in a row, covering 1,267K, or an average of nearly 18K each day.

Just as it is hard to get into the habit of following a training program, it can be challenging to let go of a schedule. A certain amount of obsession is needed to stay on track for a challenging goal, which is what a Sub-3 marathon is for me.

From January 1st until March 26, I had only missed three easy sessions: a 10K recovery run on January 14, an afternoon recovery run of 6K on March 19 and another 6K afternoon recovery run on March 26, on Monday (I still ran 10K on the latter two days in the morning.) Missing 22K compared with the 1,473K I have run this year, or an average of 120K per week in each of the past 12 weeks, is negligible.

While my body has been feeling anywhere between good on days and fantastic, I have also noticed an increasing level of fatigue. It's only natural, considering my training. However, as you may have noticed, two of the three missed runs were in the past eight days.

My marathon preparations, with a record volume, have gone so superb that I do not want to risk all that hard work by pushing my body over the edge. I can tell it is on the edge, especially after a 10K race on Saturday, followed by a 29K run on Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday, my legs had a type of fatigue and tightness that I don't like feeling.

So, after 71 days of running daily, I somewhat reluctantly decided to take yesterday off: no running. While I felt bad for missing a day in what was meant to be my second-biggest week in terms of volume, I think it's OK to take a second rest day in 12 weeks. Still, it seemed like a tough call since I am healthy and could have gone for a run.

Yet I have to remind myself that it is only for the first time that I am running daily; my body has responded well. So has my mind, as I love the commitment and truly enjoy the sessions. But there's no point risking all that superb training just for the sake of being obsessed with keeping a string of daily runs alive.

March 27, 2012

Q&A with Dutch marathon masters champ

Dutch marathon masters champion Vanessa Gosselink answers my questions about her Sub-3 preparations for the Jaarbeurs Utrecht Marathon in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The race starts at 10:30am on April 9, 2012. Her responses are from March 14, which is 3-1/2 weeks before race day.

Utrecht will be Gosselink's 7th marathon and the Dutch masters marathon champion, a title she earned with her 3:02:42 performance in Amsterdam in October 2011, is ready to speed up again. She's aiming for 2:59.

Read the full story I wrote about her here.

On March 9 you ran the 30K Kastelenloop in 2:08:54. What was your plan for this race?
This race was the conclusion of my biggest training week in preparation for the marathon. I was already pretty tired, which I noticed as I couldn't get my heart rate up as much as I normally can, read: it's a sign of fatigue. I wanted to run Sub-2:09 and I just managed to do so. With an average page of 4:21 per K I am certainly pleased, especially given the course. There was twice a stretch of about 3.5K consisting of trails and dirt roads and there were many roads with uneven surfaces, paved with klinkertjes (cobblestones). That made it tricky to sustain the pace and rhythm and it takes a lot more energy. Only in the final 8K, which followed mainly asphalt roads, did I get into a nice rhythm and was I able to feel that I could pick it up somewhat.

How did you feel, both mentally and physically, during the race? And afterward?
Because I started already somewhat tired I noticed that I couldn't get my heart rate up as usual. I felt like I took it easy, and in the end I ran a very steady race, during which I ran nearly the same splits for each 10K. Mentally I always struggle a little to maintain pace just before the halfway mark of a race (in this one, the second 10K stretch), but once I get past the halfway mark, I can 'step on it'. That's the way I felt in this race which then translates after a relaxed start to a nearly steady race (1st 10K in 42:31, 2nd 10K in 42:55, 3rd 10K in 42:48). 

During races I am always supported superbly by my husband, who follows me and hands me water and gels with carbs. I get a bottle of water (500ml) at 10K, a gel of pure carbs and water at 15K, and at 20K water again, and at 25K another gel for the final sprint. Those gels (Maxim) are perfect because they consist of pure sugars that are immediately absorbed in the bloodstream. I always immediately get the Popeye-feeling, and am convinved that they help me maintain my level of energy during the race.

Three hours before a race I always diligently eat a couple of slices of bread with sweet spreads (jam) so that my stomach is empty during the race. That is why my stomach never bothers me during races. 

Immediately after this race, I was not completely exhausted; I was very tired and had pretty tight muscles. 
And the first couple of hours after the race I felt pretty good, as I usually do by the way.
Only once I sit down at home, the effort usually hits me a few hours later. That's when my stomach reacts. I have gotten used to it by now.

Your longest training run was 43K was op February 27 in 3:30:44, or an average of 4:52 per K, and an average heart rate of 134 beats per minute.
That's right! I really like over-distance (which is because of my background in cycling in which you want to have a buffer in terms of endurance). I do this only once in preparation for a marathon, running a very relaxed pace—a pace that feels good.

This year I am training with a GPS for the first time and it is a lot of fun to see the number of kilometres my legs have done. During this run, I had started very easy and was able to speed up in the final half hour and run a good pace; that was awesome! It makes me feel that I am ready for the marathon.

As of this week [March 14, with race day on April 9] I am running less in terms of volume, with more intensity at, and faster than, race pace, to dot the i's and cross the t's. I have to avoid training too much, because then I tend to want to run more but notice that I get a lot more tired.

In terms of weekly mileage, I have noticed I really need two days of rest; in this marathon build-up I began for the first time with running six days a week and I have found that very tough. I have already had to take an extra rest day twice. Listening to your body and staying in one piece is very important in preparations for a marathon.

How does that compare with your previous marathon preparations?
In the buildup for the previous marathon I ran 'only' five days a week; then the focus was a little less on speed than it is now. I am now training more specifically around lactate threshold, to boost VO2Max—and get faster!

The second change is that I am now reducing mileage sooner because I increased the overall volume per week. Before the previous marathon [Amsterdam, 3:02] I did three weeks out another 3-hour run, though then my longest training run had been 3:15.

Finally, I am going to race in lighter shoes and already know now which shoes I'll be racing in. The last time my shoes were 'done' three weeks before the race, I almost got injured as a result, and ran the race in pretty heavy shoes—because those were the ones that I knew for sure I could handle a 3-hour run in; halfway that turned out to be not so great as I couldn't run lightly in them. This time I am better prepared.

How are you feeling about race day now?
Now I am still very tired, and can't really lift myself from that, but that makes sense because I still have another two weeks of training left. I have to maintain the pressure and not recover too much yet. After the final week of training, I have one week with tons of rest (only 3 runs), and then I have one week of sharpening, and then the Utrecht Marathon!

How do you feel about the Sub-3 goal?
Tired, but with a good feeling. The preparation is going great, I have no injuries on my feet or muscles. It's now a matter of not recovering too much, but also avoid getting over-trained; prodding the body a little at speed and decreasing volume. 

Are you thinking in terms of Sub-3, or Sub-3:02:42?
I am focused on 2:59:00. An average speed of 4:15/K should be fine once I am rested. So far I have run everything more or less fatigued. I haven't raced fully rested.

In training I am comfortable around 4:10-4:15 per K in tempo sessions and in lactate threshold sessions I am around 4:00-4:05 per K. I am confident that when I am rested, and am feeling good on the day, I am going to run a time of less than 3 hours. There are always factors you cannot control (the weather, or some mysterious bad feeling) but I am letting go of that completely.

Which sessions and/or races have given you the most confidence this year?
The long runs, at a pace below 5 minutes per K, during which I could run nice and relaxed. The 30K race; a tricky course and an average of 4:21 per K. And the lactate threshold sessions at a pace of about 4:00/K that I was able to sustain comfortably. 

Have you already decided on your race plan?
'Never change a winning formula.' As always, I am going to start easy—4:15-4:20, by feel, and then speed up in the second half. With that I want to run a pretty steady race, with every 10K in about 42 to 43 minutes, and then I hope I can speed up a little in the final 10K and head for that Sub-3. So starting pace 4:18/K, then speed up a touch after 5K, hold on to that pace through 25K, and then try to speed up another touch, then the last 10K I am going for it.

My husband will again supply water every 5K and a gel at 10K, also a tried and tested strategy.

Do you know the course?
No. I did check it out through Google Earth, plenty of asphalt with a few K's through the city centre, with cobblestones in parts. I don't plan on checking out the course because I prefer not knowing it.

What will your race morning look like? Do you sleep at home? What time do you get up, what do you have for breakfast?
I can sleep at home. The night before the race, I will have a large plate of potatoes, very few vegetables, and fish. In the days leading up to the marathon, I eat a ton of potatoes. In my cycling career I ate so much pasta that I don't enjoy that very much any more:-).

I'll get up at about 7.30am, take the horses outside first and muck the stables with my husband. Three hours before the race I will have a light breakfast, then a few lightbrown slices of bread with jam (or another easily digestible sweet spread). I will have a few cups of tea.

Then I won't eat anything until the start of the race. I will drink water if I feel like it, and another 250ml just before the start.

What is your mental strategy for the race? Do you use a mantra for example? Do you think a lot, or a little? What gives you strength during a race? Is there anything you need to be careful about, internally or externally?
I try to draw the focus inward as soon as possible, ignore fellow runners around me and just focus on 'relax, save energy, run light' (Dutch: ontspannen, energie sparen, lichtvoetig lopen). Those are the words that I keep repeating in my mind often.

Before the start of the race, I do that too; focus inward and concentrate on saving energy in the first 10K. Run my own pace, focus on feel, relaxation.

In short, I try to get into the 'flow' as much as possible and to stay there. I focus at every 5K mark where I'll get water or a gel. So I run from 5K mark to 5K mark. I look forward to water and/or gel, and especially during 15K and 25K I have to make sure to stay relaxed.

I am a real distance runner, so if I get through those first 25K relaxed, without wasting too much energy, I can always do something extra in those final 17K.

If the flow doesn't arrive and things don't feel good (which was what I felt in the second half in Amsterdam last year because I had started too fast [she ran the first half in 88:33]), then it is a matter of survival and then I keep thinking about relax, relax, relax. That's mentally tough but I am confident that I can handle the distance just fine, and that confidence gives me energy.

Do you plan to wear a heart rate monitor and will you pay attention to it? Or will you focus on the pace per kilometre?
I am running the marathon purely by feel. I will pay attention to my pace during the first few kilometres to avoid starting too fast but after 5K I won't look at my watch again. I will wear a heart rate monitor because I really enjoy seeing the data (in terms of HR and pace) afterward so I can learn something for the next marathon.

I purposely don't look at my watch too much because that simply provides unrest in my mind. Running by feel is the best method for me.

What does training look like in the final month before the race?
My program changes after each block of three weeks. In this final training block, before I take a week of rest and a week of sharpening (in the pre-race week):
- Monday recovery run of 30min, rowing 30mins (for my back)
- Tuesday pyramid at around lactate threshold (last week I did 4'/5'/6'/5'/4'; this week I'll increase all by one minute and then the third week increase all by another minute again)
- Wednesday fartlek/medium long run with heart rate between 130 to 150bpm (last week I did 1hr 40, this week 1:50 and next 2:00)
- Thursday extensive interval (last week I took a rest day as I was too tired; this week 3 X 12 min at marathon race pace and the third week I will do 3 X 14' at marathon pace)
- Friday 4 X 400 metres all out (this sessions remains the same for 3 weeks, total running time 40 min).

And how about that final week before the race?
The second-last week: only three runs, very extensive [easy]. I'll only once do a little intensity, short, with plenty of rest, on Monday. I will move the long run because the race is on a Monday [a holiday in the Netherlands]. Sunday I'll run 90 min.

The final week:
- 30 min recovery run on Tuesday
- rest on Wednesday
- Thursday intensive interval (pyramid), total about 1 hour
- fartlek/'long' run (1 hour) on Thursday
- rest on Friday
- Saturday: intensive interval, 4 x 200m (30 min total)
- rest on Sunday
- Monday race day

 The Jaarbeurs Utrecht Marathon starts at 10:30am on April 9, 2012.

- Margreet Dietz is the author of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, From my Mother (a novel), Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon.

March 26, 2012

Race preparation phase: a week of 112K

Monday marked the start of the race preparation phase, which is four weeks. There are VO2-max workouts, tune-up racesand the final marathon race pace run this Sunday.

In the previous week I had covered a record 141K. I was tired on Monday and considered taking a rest day instead of the usual double recovery runs with 10K in the morning and 6K in the afternoon.

But I enjoy those easy runs, so at midday I ran an easy 10K. While my legs felt good and light, I also noticed a tightness in my calves that pulled on my Achilles. I decided to skip my second run of the day. Since the start of the year, in 2-1/2 months, I have only missed two (easy) sessions including that 6K.

The following day I was ready for a 14K run with 5 X 600m at 5K race pace. I ran the repeats on the road, instead of the track. My target was 2:15. According to the Garmin, I ran 2:19 (602m), 2:20 (605m), 2:13 (608m), 2:14 (612m) and 2:09 (610m). A solid session.

Next I went to see my new sponsor Chief Chiro in Squamish where Dr Leah Stadelmann did a superb job releasing the muscles in my glutes, calves and lower back. Tight calves put tension on the Achilles.

Wednesday, I ran 24K at an average of 5:05 per K. My body felt so much better after Leah's treatment. I took it easy, especially in the first half of the run, as I do tend to be more tired for a day or two after a treatment as my body adjusts to the released muscles. I had a nap afterward. "Tired, tired. Weeks fly by and I am tired," I wrote in my diary.

However, I know that the level of fatigue is only normal for the training that I am doing. And I was reminded of that by emails with Dutch marathon masters champion Vanessa Gosselink, who has been feeling the same way in her preparations for the Jaarbeurs Utrecht Marathon in the Netherlands on April 9. She has begun her taper now, and with two weeks to go until her race day, she is having a week with lots of rest.

On Thursday I had 11K at recovery pace; the session also included 6 X 100m striders. And on Friday, I had another 10K recovery. What a luxury! It felt like an easy week and I kept doing the math as I couldn't believe that this would add up to more than 100K in 7 days. It's amazing how the mind and body adjust.

My easy Thursday and Friday sessions were a mini-taper aimed at a tune-up race on Saturday. This was meant to be a hard effort, i.e. I was supposed to give it all I had.  

"Tune-up races are important benchmarks for your fitness and prepare you mentally for the rigors of racing. Because less is at stake, even the toughest workout isn't as mentally demanding as a race. .. The all-out aspect of racing provides a mental hardening that's necessary to run a good marathon," according to Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Advanced Marathoning.

After a bit of Googling earlier in the week, I had managed to find a 10K starting at 10am at Jericho Beach in Vancouver. Tim, who is very supportive, agreed to come. It's a beautiful spot, and Tim knows it well, as the 10K course followed part of that of the Vancouver Half Ironman which he is set to do for the fourth time this year. He and Luka went for a two-hour wander along the beach, following the 10K course to the turnaround point.

Meanwhile, I signed up for the race, $40, and then went for a warm-up jog along the straight section of the course. It's mostly dirt/gravel paths. Since it was a gorgeous spring day, every man and his dog were out for a run, ride, or walk, so I'd have to be careful as the path wouldn't be closed off for the small race. There was a light headwind on the way out, which was perfect as that meant a light tailwind on the return.

After running for 25 minutes, with 4 strides at the end, it was 10 to 10am. Almost time to start. I had considered wearing the Garmin but decided against it as I haven't done a race with it yet; there's too much information to get distracted by. I prefer to let my body find its own pace in races and do simple checks on a Polar watch if possible by taking splits.

My plan was to go hard, as that was the goal, and that's what I did.

We immediately had a couple of turns in the first K, as there was a loop before we got to the out-and-back part. Volunteers did a superb job of showing us the way at each corner. A group of guys were out in front, and there were a couple near me for the entire way. Since I pushed myself into high gear immediately, I was committed to sticking with the challenging pace.

A stitch began bothering me just before 5K and I tried to hard to prevent it from getting worse by changing my breathing pattern and focusing on maintaining my rhythm. It took a couple of K to subside. Towards the end of the race, what I think was just before 9K, the guy who had been running ahead of me for most of the way turned left, and I followed, and I believe someone else behind me did as well.

It didn't seem right. We went over a little bridge, and could see the finish on the right, about 200 metres away, and the people at the finish could see us. We were in the right area but were we on the right course? We passed a volunteer at the next corner, who seemed taking aback by our passing her. The guy ahead of me turned right, and I asked, "Which way?" Left, she said, unconvincingly, looking just as confused as I felt.

The guy ahead kept going, so did I as turning left did not make sense either. Taking a wrong turn at 9K into a 10K race hurts. At the next corner, we turned left, away from the finish, and ran out again, before two volunteers turned us around the same way back. Argh. Oh well.

I sprinted across the line in 39:55, according to the big clock at the finish. At least I knew the time I had spent running as hard as I could, even if I didn't know the distance. It was a great hard effort, exactly what I needed to do. I asked the volunteer who was writing down our times if we had gone the right way. She'd check. The guy ahead of me said he believed that if anything, we had run long. I believe we ran short, by 200 to 250 metres, but I could be wrong.

It was a great event and I am glad I did it, as I could never have pushed myself as hard in training.

On Sunday I had 29K. Given Saturday's hard effort, my body didn't need much convincing to take it a little easier, running an average 5:11/K on an absolutely glorious spring morning at an average heart rate of 128 beats per minute.

For the week, I ran 112K. The coming week is another biggie, my second-largest at 137K. I am hoping to run a 5K time trial on Tuesday evening with the Squamish Titans. And on Sunday I am doing the Sunshine Coast Half Marathon, though my session calls for 23K at marathon goal race pace as part of a total 32K that day. That means my goal will be to cross the finish in just under 90 mins and keep going for another 2K at the same pace.

March 25, 2012

Gosselink Aims for Sub-3 in Utrecht

By Margreet Dietz

           (March 25) -- When the alarm sounds on April 9, hours before Vanessa Gosselink plans to run her first Sub-3 marathon in Utrecht, the Netherlands, her three horses will be the top priority. With her husband helping, Gosselink will take the horses out of the stables and muck the latter. And then, it will be time for breakfast.
            Utrecht will be Gosselink's 7th marathon and the Dutch masters marathon champion, a title she earned with her 3:02:42 performance in Amsterdam in October 2011, is ready to speed up again. She's aiming for 2:59 now.
            Her horses are part of the program.  
            Gosselink, 40, typically gets up between 6am and 6:30am on week days. After a quick mug of tea, she feeds the horses, a five-minute task, before heading out for her run. After her training, she quickly changes into a dry set of clothes before taking the horses outside and cleaning the stables, a job of about 45 minutes. Then she has breakfast in the car as she drives the 35K to her office. She aims to work from home one or two days a week, allowing her to sleep about an hour longer.
            "The same routine—of feeding horses, then taking them outside, mucking the stables—also takes place on weekends and race days. The only difference is that then my husband is home to help, read: half the work, so it only takes half an hour," Gosselink says. "I always think that I have had a warm-up before I get to the race."
            Gosselink rides on average three times a week for about an hour on her retired race horse, varying outings between the arena at home, the forest and the beach. She particularly enjoys galloping across the sand around the Veluwemeer, a long narrow lake at about 1.5K from her home in Biddinghuizen.
            She sustains her riding routine during marathon preparations and believes it's beneficial to her run training. "It's a great way to relax and to keep my hips loose and supple because I have to move along with the movements of my horse," she says. 
            While Gosselink has only been running marathons for four years, she has always been involved in sports. As a teen, she rode horses competitively and, in true Dutch fashion, was a speed skater. In her late teens, she switched to road cycling and it didn't take long before she made the national team in 1988.
            Strange perhaps for someone born in the Netherlands, where every child learns in school that the highest peak in the country is the Vaalseberg at 321 metres, but climbing hills was her forte. That strength came in handy during, for example, the Tour de France Feminin where she secured two stage wins.
            After missing out on a spot for the 1992 Olympic team, she accepted a scholarship to study in the US at Utah State University. Once there, Gosselink swapped her road bike for a mountain one and excelled once again; she earned three Dutch national titles, two Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg) championships, and was ranked in the world's Top-10 for three years, from 1993 until 1996. Her dream came true when she was selected for the Dutch mountain bike team heading for the 1996 Olympic Games.
            It wasn't meant to be. A broken leg three weeks before the Games shattered that dream. Gosselink suffered another leg fracture a couple of years later. Running—short distances at an easy pace to start— was part of the recovery from those devastating injuries. Slowly but surely the distance she ran increased as her body healed.
            Gosselink immediately felt a connection with running; a decade later she decided to try her first marathon and hasn't looked back. In her most recent marathon, in Amsterdam, Gosselink set a personal record by three minutes, a rate of improvement that has marked her career as a marathoner which began in 2009 with a 3:47 debut.
            She respected the challenge, believing that simply completing the distance would be a fantastic experience. "And I thought it would be great accomplishment if I could run the entire 42.2K. I had, and still have, enormous respect for everyone who is able to do that," she says.
            The training and race plan for her debut were aimed at finishing. "In my first marathon I started very easy. I ran the first half in 2 hours and then I was far from tired so I sped up," says Gosselink, who ran the second half in 1:47.
            Six weeks later, she decided to run her second marathon, this time feeling confident she could last the distance. She began—and finished—a little faster, in 3:31. "I was more tired after that one but I also felt that I could speed up a little more. That's how my passion for the marathon was born."
            In 2010, she ran a 3:08, followed by a 3:06. Fired up from those big personal records, she started 2011 with a 3:05, before taking the national title with yet another PB. Now she has her sights firmly set on a Sub-3 performance.
            Gosselink loves to run, and loves to train.
            "I enjoy each training session; the result on race day in terms of time is for me always less important than the fantastic feeling I have now. The sense that I can train my body slowly but surely into shape, as muscles strengthen and fitness increases and a 3-1/2-hour run feels comfortable; that I am still somewhat fatigued, but feel on the right side of the danger zone and still can keep pushing, without going too far over that line," Gosselink says.  
            "That fun and that enjoyment in the months ahead, that's already been mine. Now I just hope that on race day everything is going to fall into place."
            In the past three months, she has been running on average between 75K and 90K a week; her biggest week has been 100K. Gosselink, who trains by herself, has done six long runs in excess of 30K. The longest was 3-1/2 hours in which she ran 43K.
            For her Sub-3 effort, she has added more speed to her training and also increased the number of weekly sessions from five to six.  
            Her eight years as an elite cyclist influence how she trains today as a distance runner; she aims for time, rather than distance. She does, however, make sure she only increases one factor at a time: either distance or intensity.
            Even as a pro cyclist, she worked hard outside the sport too, earning degrees from universities in the Netherlands and the US. These days she has a hectic fulltime job as Innovation Manager at Kadaster, a Dutch government agency for the registration of land titles. She also owns a consultancy company.
            Running helps her to maintain this busy lifestyle and enhances her quality of life; she loves the marathon. "For me, as an endurance athlete, it is the distance that allows me to get the best out of myself," says Gosselink.
            Then again, she's considering other challenges. "I don't want to exclude participating in events of a longer distance and/or different terrain ... once I have broken that 3-hour barrier."

Tomorrow: Q&A with Vanessa Gosselink about her Sub-3 preparations.

- Margreet Dietz is the author of A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, From my Mother (a novel), Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon.

March 24, 2012

Racing 10K as a marathon tune-up

This morning I am heading out to race a 10K in Vancouver to both test and improve my fitness. In my previous marathon build-up I tried to do such efforts at home with a couple of other runners. This time around I am keen to race, and was lucky to find one that matched with my training schedule.

"Tune-up races are important benchmarks for your fitness and prepare you mentally for the rigors of racing. Because less is at stake, even the toughest workout isn't as mentally demanding as a race. .. The all-out aspect of racing provides a mental hardening that's necessary to run a good marathon," according to Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Advanced Marathoning.

I even had a mini-taper, running only 21K in the past couple of days - both sessions at recovery pace. Thursday's had 6 X 100m striders. I am looking forward to a hard effort.

March 20, 2012

My newest sponsor: Chief Chiro in Squamish

Chief Chiro in Squamish
Chief Chiropractic & Sports Injury Clinic has agreed to sponsor me in my attempt to chase a Sub-3 marathon, support that I am absolutely stoked about.

I first met Dr Leah Stadelmann, who owns Chief Chiro with husband Dr Paul Fleming, at the Squamish Titans running sessions last year and was thrilled to find out she's a certified Active Release Techniques (ART) provider based in Squamish.

When an ITB (illiotibial band) injury halted my preparations for the 2003 Honolulu marathon, an ART therapist fixed the painful problem. Ever since then, I have used this treatment regularly to keep injuries at bay. Nothing ruins the results of months of training, and an athlete's motivation, like an injury.

It's crucial for athletes at every level, from the beginner to the seasoned runner, to know someone who can help alleviate any issues before they turn into chronic problems. My port of call is Chief Chiro.

Dr Leah Stadelmann
Leah holds a Bachelor of Human Kinetics, with a specialization in Exercise Science and Physiology from the University of British Columbia.

She graduated Summa Cum Laude, with Clinic Honours from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto in 2007.

She is a certified Active Release Techniques® provider, in Upper, Spine and Lower Limb modules, as well as Long Tract Nerve Entrapments.

Dr Paul Fleming
Paul Fleming holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with a minor in Biology from the University of Victoria. He graduated from CMCC in 2007 as a Doctor of Chiropractic.

He has worked with recreational and elite amateur triathletes, marathoners, cyclists, rugby, soccer and hockey players and golfers.

He is an Active Release Techniques Ironman Provider, and also has Full Body and Nerve Entrapments Certification.

Leah has been superb in fixing any tightness and issues. She listens to my concerns, before doing her own assessment, and addressing the areas that need to be released. She's a professional who inspires trust.

Since my Chief Chiro relationship began with Leah and she is now familiar with my body's quirks, I have mostly seen her for treatments. Once, Paul treated me while she was away and I also recommend his expertise and approach.

Both are athletes too; Leah ran her first marathon in Sub-4 last year which seems to have rubbed off on Paul, who has just signed up for his competitive running debut in the Vancouver half marathon on May 6.

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March 18, 2012

A 141K boost to running confidence

Luka's help in a post-run stretch
I have just finished my biggest week of running—ever as well as the biggest I have in my 18-week build-up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6. It's been an awesome week, with the key sessions boosting my confidence.

Monday had two workouts, with a 10K in the morning and a 6K in the afternoon, both at recovery pace. My energy levels were low, and I even managed to bonk in the little afternoon run. The good news was that it reminded me to lift my game in terms of nutrition and hydration, and to pay extra attention to my pacing.

The devil is always in the details.

Tuesday I did 13K at a pace faster than recovery pace, but slower than what I am aiming for in my medium- and long runs. I averaged 5:21/K. My frame of mind wasn't great before the run; "I hope I can sustain this program. V. tired this morning (7am). The past few days I have also noticed my knees—not pain but was just aware of strain," the notes in my running diary say.

My single-biggest fear is injury, and I am continually paranoid for any signs that might indicate something unusual. After Tuesday's run, during which I stayed on soft trails as much as possible, I took a hot bath with Epsom salts, which always eases tight muscles.

Wednesday had 24K. Snow tested my resolve but I ended up having a fantastic run, with a 4:55/K average, covering the first half at 5:03 pace and the second at 4:46. "So glad to have an energized run," my notes say.

Thursday was this week's second day with two runs, 10K in the morning and 6K in the afternoon. Both were at recovery pace, and I felt good. That night I ate two dinners, both vegetarian.

Friday had 19K in total, including 11K at 15K-half marathon race pace. I decided to head for the track to run 27 laps (10.8K) as it is the perfect way to stay on pace undisturbed by traffic. Tim and Gord agreed to join me—it was awesome to have company.

Surprisingly, because the forecast had called for wet snow, the weather turned out quite nice, a stark contrast from the previous session similar to this one (which we did in wet snow). The gravel track was just a touch damp but in superb shape compared to that last time. We warmed up with 2.25K of easy running on a trail nearby.

We started the 11K hit just after 4:30pm. My 87:27 half marathon PB translates to 1:39.5 per lap (of 400 metres), which works out to 1:37 per lap for 15K pace; so I was aiming to keep my lap times between 1:37 and 1:40.

My plan was to ease into the session, and when I ran 1:37 for the first lap, I eased to do the 2nd lap in 1:40. Two done, 25 to go. I felt good and loved the rhythm of running around the track, which allows the perfect feedback on times.

I enjoyed the beginnning of the session. Having company, even though the three of us ran at different paces, made it even better. It seemed my legs had settled into the pace and the laps went by in the range I was supposed to run them at; my fastest was 1:36 and slowest was 1:41. Most were 1:39.

Since I felt good, I decided to run an extra lap—28 in total—for a distance of 11.2K in a time of 46:06, or an average of 1:38.8 per lap. That's 4:07 per K, and a 41:10 10K. A great session indeed. Afterward, Tim and I did an easy 5K cooldown on the trails.

Saturday had 13K. The Garmin took a few hundred metres to warm up, so I ended up running a total of 14.7K. I felt absolutely fantastic and had to continually hold myself back as it was an easy pace session. I ended up with 5:14/K average pace.

That brought the six-day total to 102K and left only Sunday's 39K. Never had I done a single training session of that distance. My goal was to take it easy at the start, as I considered it more important to finish strong, i.e. run the second half quicker than the first, than to stay within my 4:41 to 5:08 long-run pace range.

The day started out with light snow and rain but had cleared up by mid-morning when we started. Tim ran with me for the first 14.64K, which we covered at an average 5:20/K. By then I had taken two of the six gels I had brought. As Tim turned around to run back home, I settled in for the remaining 5K until my halfway point. (Tim ran 30.5K, his longest since the Whistler 50 in early November.)

I didn't feel great as I had the previous day, but didn't feel too bad either. The next 4:86K I covered at an average 4:58/K while my heart rate was an average 131 beats per minute. In the meantime I had had another gel, and took the 4th as I turned around to head back the same 19.5K. I had taken 1hr 42 to run the first half.

On the home stretch, my legs stuck with a nice rhythm and I went along with it; still, I knew from experience that these long runs can feel very different once you get past 2hr 45. Many of my 3-hour runs were a struggle in the those final 15 minutes.

Still, for now my heart rate stayed where it needed to be, so I decided to stick with the pace I was running, which now stayed mostly below 5:00/K.

With about 11K to go, I had my final gel and finished the remainder of the 600ml of water I had brought; no fuel left and I had no intention to stop until I got home. While I clearly felt the fatigue, I also seemed to have no trouble sticking with the pace. By now, my pace was 4:45/K or faster most of the time. Could this last, I wondered.

By 35K I was even more tired but kept churning out the right pace, at or below 4:45. "Crazy, crazy!" I was muttering to myself as I hit 36K.

I took a split with 2K to go, as the final stretch has a 1K hill and I expected my pace to drop there for sure. From 19.5K until 37K, I ran an average 4:48/K at an average heart rate of 140 bpm.

Still feeling strong despite the fatigue, I covered the final hilly 2K faster than expected, in 10:09, so an average 5:05/K at 152 bpm.   

I ran the second half of today's 39K in 1hr 34, 8 minutes quicker than the first. 

Overall the 39K took me 3hr 16, an average pace of 5:02/k at 137 bpm. While of course very tired, I was also very happy with the negative split—exactly what I wanted for today.

With that, I end my total for the week at 141K. Looking forward to next week's 108-115K.

Seven weeks of training left until the big day!

March 16, 2012

Looking back to stay on track

Checking the route
It's good to remind yourself at times about the progress you have made, even if it is less than you had hoped. Before getting ready for today's 19K run that includes 27 laps (10.8K) on the track at between 1:37 to 1:40 per 400 metres, I was digging up some training programs and results from the year that lead to my first Sub-3:15 marathon.

In July 2005, I decided to focus on training as a pure runner; the previous 4-1/2 years I had been training as a triathlete, completing five Ironmans, three of which I did between April 2004 and March 2005. 

Following that fifth Ironman, Tim and I had taken a three-month break from structured training, travelling around New Zealand and hiking some of the country's South Island's stunning trails.

We had hiked the remote North West Circuit, a 125K (78 miles) trail on Stewart Island, or the Maori name: Rakiura, that will test even the most optimistic and fit hikers over 11 days. There is one town on the island, called Oban, with a population of about 400. The ferry crossing over the Foveaux Strait can be rough, as we experienced on the way back.

NZ's North West Circuit
Muddy? An understatement
More mud...












The North West Circuit is muddy, and slippery, and there's no backing out of this one except by retracing your steps. It's tough; Tim and I both were Ironman-fit, yet we needed far more than the estimated times for each section. The spectacular scenery and the experience were well worth it.

Moving ahead - tramping in NZ
We also did the Routeburn, Kepler, and Abel Tasman Coastal tracks, as well as a part of the Travers-Sabine Circuit to Angelus Hut, an overnight hike to Mueller Hut near Mt Cook, and many other beautiful day hikes. So it's not like I wasn't active between finishing Ironman New Zealand in March, and starting on a running program in July. 

Running 43-minute 10Ks were a challenge in those first six months on Pat Carroll's conservative program; initially he gave me four sessions a week, totalling no more than four hours all up. There were two fast sessions, and two easy ones in the first two months. Then he gave me five sessions a week.

At first I was skeptical: how would such a low-volume program possibly get me faster? Remember I just came off Ironman training, where one regular bike ride would take more time than my entire week as a runner. But by January 2006, after six months on the program, I noticed progress with a 15:30 for a 4K.

And in May 2006, I was surprised to suddenly run 41:38 for a 10K, an improvement of 59 seconds from the only time I had run under 43 minutes three years earlier (both certified 10K events organized by the Sydney Striders).

Two weeks later I ran a 30-second half marathon PB of 91:38, and two months later, in July 2006, I finished my first Sub-3:15 marathon by running the Gold Coast Marathon in 3:13:02, a PB by more than 11 minutes. Two months later again, I did my first Sub-90 half marathon, running 89:31.

These breakthroughs all happened in 2006. And there were more the following year: I improved my marathon time by another whopping 5 minutes in April 2007, to 3:08, and ran 40:24 for 10K in December. In January 2008, I ran Sub-40 and repeated that in March, before lowering my half marathon time to 88:13 in April.

You can only imagine how pumped I was for the Vancouver Marathon in May 2008. And how disappointed I was with 3:12. Luckily, the Victoria Marathon in October that year brought a 3:07:10 PB, one I have had to make do with until Victoria 2011.

And it took almost four years to improve that 2008 half marathon best, which I did - somewhat to my surprise - in the First Half in February to 87:27. 

My 10K PB from January 2008, at 39:51, still stands. And having sped up by 2 minutes and 42 seconds in 5-1/2 years over the marathon distance might make one wonder about my expectations to improve by more than 6 minutes over six months, as I expect to do for this year's Vancouver Marathon.

I wonder too some days, but I also think it's possible.

At the start of 2006, a Sub-3:15 marathon seemed just as far away, as did a Sub-90 half marathon, while a Sub-40 10K was next to impossible to imagine. But they all happened. It just took a little time, a little work and a little belief.

After I ran that 41:38 10K in May 2006, my then-coach Carroll told me, "Sub-40 will happen Margreet, it's a matter of being patient and allowing your body to become stronger and fitter." 

He was right, and I believe that the same goes for a  Sub-3 marathon. On that note, I am heading for the track for the next session of this 140K week, my biggest ever.

March 14, 2012

Plenty of energy on today's 24K run

As mentioned in my previous post, I monitor closely whether the fatigue I am feeling (on Monday I needed a nap after a 10K recovery run) is persistent to the point where it hurts my ability to do my workouts as I should. To top it off, I bonked on the second run of Monday, a measly 6K at recovery pace, and dragged myself home on the final 1500 metres that seeemed to take f o r e v e r.

Bizarre perhaps but true.

It was a good reminder to take it easy on easy days, and to be more cautious with hydration and nutrition, both during and after the sessions. I always have a good appetite but was simply ravenous on Monday evening and ate accordingly. Tuesday, yesterday, I also made very sure to stick to the pace called for in the 13K run, averaging about 5:20 per K, and felt much better.

Sure enough the weather decided to question my determination, too. After a mild winter I had not anticipated that we'd have snow in mid-March. But Wednesday morning provided a steady stream of big white flakes and it didn't seem it was going to let up any time soon. While the snow didn't stick to the roads, I made sure to dress for the conditions.

I wore a waterproof hat (to also protect my eyes from the snow and avoid inhaling it too, as I clearly remembered struggling with in January runs) with a fleece headband to keep my ears warm. I also donned a fleece neckwarmer. On top, I added three layers over a running bra: a thin dry-fit tanktop, then the awesome 2012 Victoria Marathon finishers' shirt and a windproof sleeveless vest. If this sounds a little OTT, I enjoyed every part of the outfit today.

The ultra-awesome UnderArmour HeatGear capri tights and knee-high compression socks finished off today's look. Of course I wore gloves as well.

As fuel I brought a 500-ml bottle filled with water and topped with a good squirt of Hammer Espresso gel.

My iPod shuffle came along too with the same mix of 32 songs I've been using so far this year; most are from Linkin Park's albums Minutes to Midnight and A Thousand Suns. The others are from Adele, Pink, Hedley and covers by Walk Off the Earth. Depending on my pace, it usually takes about 17K to cycle through the selection.

I find that at the moment I am very much enjoying an almost groundhog day routine in my sessions including for the routes I am taking. Listening to the same music while following the same routes allow me to focus on running or to let my mind wander. There is plenty of variety in my mood, the way my body is feeling, the weather, as well as of course the sessions themselves.  

A superb 24K done
Somewhat to my surprise, I felt fantastic once I was warmed up, getting stronger throughout the run. With a total of 24K, I covered  the first half at an average 5:03 per K and ran the second half, purposely picking up speed while staying in a comfortable rhythm, at a 4:46 per K average.

Feeling strong and light, my body clearly signalled that, despite the fatigue, I am coping well with the training. Overall average for the 24K was 4:55 per K, perfect.

A marathon runner's resolve is tested

After 10-1/2 weeks of daily running (with the exception of one day on January 14 when I resisted the temptation to do the scheduled 10K as planned, and instead recovered from an Active Release Techniques session), fatigue is a constant companion. 

He's especially present in the morning. A plunger of coffee usually scares him away for a while. The distance runner trains to resist fatigue. Not just in training itself, but also in life that happens outside workouts.

Tiredness is something an endurance athlete has to get used to, as it is part of how training works. Then again, everyone deals with fatigue—a busy job, hectic family life, a challenging study or keeping up with the party circuit all require energy and cut into the time we have, or make, available for sleeping or resting.

We often think there is one more important chore or errand to do, one more item we can strike off the to-do list, one more friend we can catch up with or one more work task we should perform. Taking the rest we need is usually at the bottom of our priority list, if it makes the list at all.

Life's short, we are not going to spend it hanging on the couch. Yet sufficient rest is what is going to get a runner through her training. Fatigue builds up over time. Typically a build-up for a marathon takes between 12 and 18 weeks. Mind you, this is not from scratch of course. 

After spending the first six weeks on building Endurance (with weekly volumes between 102K and 129.5K), I am now in the final week of a five-week period aimed at Lactate Threshold & Endurance; this week is the biggest with 140K (my biggest ever and also the biggest in my 18-week preparation for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6). 

Fatigue doesn't mean exhaustion. But I am tired and that tiredness keeps progressively building, even as I get at least eight hours of sleep each night; usually it's closer to nine, or even 9-1/2 as it was last night. I will also more often than not have a catnap during the day. My legs, and overall energy, have so far bounced back. 

In other words, while I experience a sense of fatigue all the time, I am also able to complete my training sessions. The fact that I am sleeping like a log at night is also a good sign (a key clue to overtraining is trouble with sleeping). Knock wood, I have also remained healthy, staving off illness and injury which are both clear warning signs that an athlete is pushing herself too hard. 

Despite that, I am still tired and that can weaken mental resolve. If I am not careful, I can allow little things to get to me. A tiny mental voice that looks for the easy way out, the lazy option when there are small challenges that are really no big deal at all. Such as the steady stream of white stuff that has been falling from the sky since the start of the day when my schedule calls for a 24K run. 

It doesn't look like there will be a break in the weather (as there miraculously was in the previous two days during my runs), so it's time to dress accordingly and head out the door before I allow the tired me to come up with excuses good enough to stay inside. 

A marathon runner needs to pace herself well, not just in the daily workouts but also over the three or four months she takes to prepare herself for race day. No one struggles in the first month of a marathon training program (if you do, you're in trouble so choose a different program). The second month is usually not too bad either. 

But the third and fourth months of training are where we risk running out of steam, literally and figuratively, if we don't take care of ourselves with rest and recovery so we can steel ourselves for the extra challenges that are thrown our way and might loom larger than they really are.

Great day in March for a 24K run
You always need to reserve that little bit of extra mental gas in the tank so you can pick yourself up and push a reluctant body out the door for a midweek medium-long run when it snows on March 14; 52 days until race day. 

March 12, 2012

Recovered after a 120K week?

The past week I covered 120K, a touch more than the 118K I needed to. While not completely obsessed about distance, I have to admit that I cannot stand falling short by a few hundred metres in a workout now that Mr Garmin is keeping track of nearly all of them.

Unfortunately on cloudy days or when not fully charged, Mr Garmin takes a little longer to warm up than I do so he might miss the first few hundred metres of a session. The timer always starts working immediately but, like Sunday, when Mr Garmin said I'd run 338 metres in 5:12, I know that there's a few hundred missing as the GPS signal is being located.

I still want to see the number that I am meant to do on the Garmin, which means I run farther than I am meant to. Not much, just half a K here and there. Not completely obsessed, just a litte. Of course I could change this newly-developed habit but I don't want to.

It does make me appreciate the benefits of running for time, rather than distance, which I did for most of the previous 15-odd years until changing it up about eight months ago. But for me, right now, this approach - aiming for and keeping track of distance - works.

Just as I tend to be on my sessions that call for recovery pace, I was tired this week, one of recovery. While this might seem strange, it makes complete sense as the relative rest is only needed because of the stresses applied in previous weeks. I believe that there is also a mental component, as we allow our minds to rest and to realize that we are tired.

On Monday, I ran 16K in two runs, both at recovery pace. Tuesday had 14K at a pace faster than recovery but slightly easier than long-run pace. Wednesday was a VO2-max session, with a total of 14K and 6 X 800 metres at 5K race pace. In this workout, I ran closer to 15K.

Thursday called for 11K at recovery pace, I ended up doing 11.6K. Friday had 18K in the morning, at long run pace, with a 6K in the afternoon, at recovery pace. Both days I did some push-ups in a weak attempt to  revive my failed plans to attempt a core strength program. (Did 2 sets of 5 on Thursday, 1 set of 5 on Friday, and could feel the effects on Saturday and Sunday - how pathetic).

Saturday had 13K easy, with 10 striders of 100 metres. Sunday had 26K, I ended up running closer to 27K on a windy, though mostly and unexpectedly dry, day. This rounded up the week's volume to 120K in total.

Now I'd better head out for my first run of the day, and the week, a 10K at recovery pace. I have been dragging my sheepskin-boot-covered feet - there's a Dutch saying about crazy weather patterns of this time of year, Maart roert zijn staart, which rougly translates as March stirs its tail. It sounds better in Dutch but it certainly applies to the conditions here in Squamish.

A day after we moved our clocks forward to start Daylight Saving Time, we woke up to snow so I've been safely wrapped in fleece in my office so far today (aside from the 45-minute morning walk with Luka). Now it's time to bite the bullet and head outside for the 'morning' run. I have an afternoon run of 6K later.

This week's the biggest in terms of volume, both ever and in this particular marathon buildup: 140K. Can't wait to see how it goes.

March 09, 2012

Recovery is crucial for a runner

This week I am reminded, once again, of the importance of recovery in our training as runners. Even a subtle reduction, both in volume and intensity, can make all the difference.

My total running mileage this week is 118K. Compared with the past three weeks when I ran between 128K and 132K, I can assure you that I am feeling the difference of that 10K-14K.

The first five days of this week have also been made easier because all runs were 14K or shorter, with the exception of this morning's 18K. Two of those days had double runs; Monday I did 10K in the morning and 6K in the afternoon, and today I ran 18K in the morning (my longest single run by 4K this week so far) and another 6K in the afternoon.

In the previous three weeks, my Wednesday runs alone were either 23K or 24K, so 18K is a significantly shorter run. Heading out for another easy 6K in the afternoon is a breeze, even in today's rainy conditions.

Despite the sense of recovery as a result of a lighter week, I have covered 80K in the past five days.

Tomorrow, Saturday, my session calls for 13K easy, with ten 100-metre striders. Sunday is also modest, with a 26K long run. Mentally and physically I didn't realize I needed the break until the program called for it. I know I will be refreshed for the following week, which has a (personal) record 140K of running on the schedule, something I am very excited about.

***

Good luck to my friends Fiona and Ian who are running the Kyoto Marathon this weekend! Neither is a stranger to endurance; both have multiple Ironman finishes to their name.

Fiona has also run the 100K Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker and the 45K Six Foot Track, each five (!!!) times.

Ian is an ace swimmer including in open water. In 2006 he was one of only eight finishers from a field of more than 40 in an 11K ocean swim from Sydney's Opera House to Manly. Most competitors pulled out because of bluebottle stings.

March 08, 2012

Running 800m repeats on the track

Yesterday's session called for a 14K run with 6 800-metre repeats at 5K race pace. Plugging my recent PB of 87:27 from the First Half Marathon in February into Merv's Running Calculator provided a nice flat number of 3:00 for the goal pace.

Tim had agreed to do the session with me, and we drove to the track in late afternoon where we first warmed up with a 6.5K trail run around the Ray Peters Trail that is also used for the Squamish Triathlon, held every July.

When we got to the track, Volker had already started his session—he was aiming for 10 repeats and his dog, Jessie, was pacing him. Volker is a talented athlete who ran a 2:56 marathon in 2006. He spent this winter cross-country skiing, ran the First Half in 87:23 and promptly signed up for the Vancouver Marathon. In 2011, he finished in 3:02 and he's eyeing another sub-3 finish this year.

We set out together on the first lap, for Tim and I—it was Volker's fourth. I immediately found a good rhythm, though that first repeat is always a little shocking to the system, and finished the two laps in 3:01.

We recovered by jogging a lap around the track. With different times for rest and repeats, the three of us did our own thing, all glad that the other two were there for company. Even if you're not running the same pace or workout, there's a sense of accountability and strength from sharing a session with others.

While the pace was challenging I also felt there was something left in the tank—which is of course exactly how you should feel if doing 800-metre repeats at 5K race pace. Unlike the previous time we ran on the Don Ross track, doing a 10K at half marathon pace in slushy snow, the conditions yesterday were perfect; dry, cool though not cold, without any noticeable wind.

I ran the second one a bit fast, finishing in 2:56, so I eased off a touch for the next. I ran the others in 2:59, 2:58, 2:59 and, again, 2:59. My recovery consisted of an easy 400-metre jog which took between 2:23 and 2:39.  

It's the fastest I have done these 800m repeats, ever; a year ago, in late March with five weeks to go until the 2011 Vancouver Marathon (which I ran in 3:07), I ran 10 800s on the same track, finishing them in 3:10, 3:11, 3:05, 3:10, 3:06, 3:04, 3:04, 3:04, 3:02 and 2:54. Recovery was a little longer than I took yesterday, taking the same amount of time of rest as it took to run the 800m.

In July 2011, I did the same session as yesterday and ran 3:06, 3:01, 2:59, 3:01, 3:01 and 3:01. 

Improvement is what it's all about. Overall, I have sped up by a total of 15 seconds over these 6 repeats from July 2011; that works out to 2-1/2 seconds on average for each 800 metres. I'll take that.

March 06, 2012

My novel in BC BookWorld

Click to read online
BC BookWorld is a quarterly newspaper about books. It's Canada's largest-circulation independent publication about literature, reaching about 100,000 readers per issue.

This newspaper is distributed in 900 outlets including libraries and bookstores. It's available on BC Ferries carrying 10 million passengers per year.

The Spring 2012 edition is a fiction issue and I am excited that my novel From my Mother is featured on page 12 (see below).

You can also find my listing in BC BookWorld's online archive here.

BC BookWorld's 2012 Spring issue p12

March 05, 2012

A lighter week of 118K ahead, pfew!

Tired. Coffee. It's raining outside. Monday morning. In the past week I ran another 128K, perhaps 130K, of which I covered 50K in the past couple of days, so the fatigue is not surprising.

On Saturday I did the Run for the Honeywagon half marathon, with a 6K warmup and a 2K cooldown, followed on Sunday by 21K in 1hr 49, or a pace of about 5:12 per K at an average heart rate of 131 beats per minute. 

The next seven days are relatively light, with 'only' 118K on the schedule. Today, I am starting the week with a 10K recovery run in the morning, followed by another 6K in the afternoon.

There's a second double run; on Friday I have 18K in the morning and 6K in the afternoon. I also have my first VO2 Max session in the 18-week buildup for the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 6; Wednesday calls for six 800-metre repeats at 5K race pace. I might head to the track to do it as they are nice round numbers of six times 2 laps in 3 minutes flat.

My long run on Sunday is 26K, just 2K longer than most of my midweek long runs typically are. 

The new 2012 marathon course
I'd better enjoy the light week, as the next one calls for 140K including a 39K long run. I might use that session to check out the new BMO Vancouver Marathon course.

On Saturday I was reminded how knowing (parts of) the course definitely can help you sustain the effort; I happened to have covered the final 2 miles of the half marathon in Everson in my warmup and, facing a fullblown headwind, knowing where the course would end helped me manage.

Tim, who suggested I try out the marathon course which runs from A to B, has generously volunteered to support me.