May 23, 2012

Rethinking running goals

I have had two and a half weeks to ponder my Vancouver marathon performance and what it means for the races ahead. It's interesting in that some people think I should be disappointed in not having broken the three-hour mark, but that's not at all how I look at it.
My 3:00:29 time is a new personal best and it's also a confirmation that the training I've done the last nine months in particular is helping to make me faster.
All I have thought about since Vancouver is that I managed to run 5 minutes and 37 seconds faster than I ever have in 16 marathons. Improving your time by more than 5 minutes is huge, especially when you have been at it for a while, like I have.
The last time I had a bigger leap in my personal best for the 42.2K distance was 12 marathons ago when I went from a 3:24:53 finish in the 2003 Gold Coast marathon (my 3rd marathon—excluding running that distance as part of a couple of Ironmans) to a 3:13:01 in the 2006 Gold Coast marathon (my 5th).

From there, I jumped 4:14 to 3:08:48 in the 2007 Canberra marathon (my 6th). I improved by 1:38 in the 2008 Victoria marathon to 3:07:10 (my 9th) and then needed until the 2011 Victoria marathon (my 15th) to finally eke out another advance in my personal record by 1:04 to 3:06:06.

So to have sped up by 5:37 in the 16th marathon, at the age of 41, is just such a boost to my confidence. Who cares about the 30 seconds that I have left to bridge before finishing in 2:59:59? I had a fantastic race in the Vancouver marathon 2-1/2 weeks ago, and feel that this is only the beginning of running at a new level for me.

While you haven't run Sub-3 until you have, I need a new stretch goal for the marathon as 2:59 doesn't quite do it any more.

I cannot wait to get back into training. As planned, I did no running in the first week after the marathon. In the second post-marathon week I did two 10K runs, both at an easy pace.

This week, the third after the marathon, I ran a Squamish Titans session on Monday. After a 2K warm-up, we did a 7K 'tempo' run—I opted for a pace of 4:15 per kilometre, which felt fast enough at this stage in my recovery. Tuesday I took a rest day.

Tonight, we're meeting up with VFAC coach John Hill who is leading 10 Wednesday nights of speed work in Squamish.
My next goal? Sub-39 at the Squamish 10K on August 5.

May 17, 2012

Marathon recovery & what's next?

Luka the 75-pound lap dog
I like to recover from a marathon with a complete break from running for at least the first week. Daily walks are on the menu instead, a normal part of life anyway given our four-footed kid Luka. We take him, or he takes us, for a hike along the local trails for about 45 minutes twice a day.

My body has felt surprisingly good in the week following a 3:00:29 marathon. After an eight-day break I was keen to try an easy jog. I headed out on one of my usual routes and enjoyed a nice 10K. I am planning to take it easy a little longer; this week I am certainly sticking to a relaxed pace.

As of next week, VFAC's John Hill starts coaching a 10-week clinic of Wednesday evening runs in Squamish for the Squamish Titans. His program is geared towards the Squamish 10K on August 5, a race that has naturally become a fixture on my schedule. As part of the 10-week clinic, the Titans are also organizing weekly tempo runs on Monday, beginning on the 21st of May.

I am keen to increase my speed, including over the 10K distance. For that I need more intense speedwork than I have been doing in my marathon training, so it's not surprising that my 39:39 10K best is lacking the 38:40 estimate of Merv's running calculator and the 38:28 estimate of McMillan's for a 3:00:29 marathoner.

In the three years I have raced the Squamish 10K, my fastest has been 40:14. I definitely want to run 39, but 38 would be better:-).

Focusing on 10K speed with the Titans under Hill's guidance will be a nice two-month 'break' before I get stuck into the preparations for my next marathon. I have yet to decide, but am eyeing one at the start of December.

A Toronto wedding coincides with the October 7 weekend of the Victoria marathon, a race I love and received an invititation for the day after Vancouver. I have done Victoria twice (in 2008 and 2011), running PBs both times on the mildly undulating course. The event is superbly organized and I highly recommend it. I hope to run there again in 2013.

The Toronto marathon on October 14 also offered me a spot, which is very tempting and I am seriously thinking about a way to extend our stay after the wedding there until then; I am not sure that I can.

Then there is the option to return to Bellingham in late September. I very much enjoyed that race last year.

Even before I ran 3:00:29 on May 6, I knew what would be next; the finish would mark the beginning of the next phase in the ongoing quest to improve over the 42.2K distance. "The desire to run comes from deep within us—from the unconscious, the intuitive, the instinctive. And that desire becomes a passion when the runner learns to race,'" Dr George Sheehan wrote in This Running Life.

Just 11 days ago, I wondered if I could do a Sub-3 marathon. In 11 marathons over five years, all between 3:06 and 3:15, a 2:59 seemed so close and yet so far away. The longer it took, the harder it seemed and the more room opened up for doubt.

Yet with each marathon I also found at least one reason to believe I could get closer to my dream goal. I had a gut feeling I could do it. Friends encouraged, yet nothing helped more than coming across runners with performances I could relate to and who had made such, or an even bigger, level of progress.

When I was interviewing women for Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend, my first book, one of the questions was, What's your best memory/experience involving running?

In January 2008, Elizabeth Bennett told me: "There are too many to recount. Recent ones include running a 9-minute marathon PB to run 3:00:38 in the 2007 Canberra Marathon and then to break 3 hours a couple of months later and run 2:59:38 in the 2007 Gold Coast Marathon."

Her response gave me both goosebumps and hope; I had just run 3:08:48 in April 2007, in that same Canberra marathon, though then didn't know Elizabeth. And here was a longtime runner, a marathoner, who had just made a giant 9-minute leap to my dreamtime; it was possible. I filed away that knowledge mentally.

As nearly three years passed, and I had only managed to get 1 minute closer by running 3:07:10, I read Kathrine Switzer's Marathon Woman at the end of 2010. Switzer is of course most famous for being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official entry in 1967, though organizers weren't too pleased when they realized K.V. Switzer, racing with number 261, was female and tried to stop her.

Yet I also found out that Switzer, after completing that first marathon in 4:20 in 1967, gradually kept improving her time until she ran Boston in a 2:51 PB in 1975. While I didn't expect to be able to get that fast, it reinforced my hope that I might be able to run 2:59.

Another piece of Sub-3 inspiration filed away for future reference, just like the fact that Switzer clocked up to 110 miles a week in preparation for her fastest marathon. She ran daily.

I love the focus that training for a Sub-3 marathon, a stretch goal, has brought to my running. Now, I am 30 seconds away. While you haven't run Sub-3 until you do, I am now absolutely certain I can.

"When we are enthusiastic, we develop a determination to equal the endurance of our muscles, a fortitude to match the courage of our hearts and a passion to join with the animal strengths of our bodies... Behind the enthusiasm, behind the inspiration, behind the passion, there must be the will. We can choose. We can decide. We can will to do it our own way. When we do, nothing can prevail against us," wrote Sheehan.

On pace for a faster time ...
Having just sped up by a whopping 5:37 on my previous best, and most recent, marathon, I know I can go faster. The big question is, how much faster?

There's only one way to find out...

May 12, 2012

Stunning sunset painting in oil

Yesterday I went to see my friend Michiko Splinter. A Japanese-born life-long oil painter, she has had her art in exhibitions since 1966 (not including juried junior highschool and highschool shows). 

Michiko hadn't been able to pursue her art in the 12 years before she moved to Squamish in 2005 as she dealt with big changes in her life. Here, with the support of her husband, she was able to resume painting inspired by the local environment which began to form the topic of most of her work.

"The beautiful natural surroundings inspired me to paint landscapes, which I had never painted before," says Michiko.

Rekindling her passion, she has been working harder than ever. "Here I am painting almost every day now, that makes me feel very happy and alive," she says.

She always emails me a picture when she completes a new work, and I was looking forward to seeing her latest canvases in person, especially one that was still drying, Rose Violet Sunset. Based on a sunset she saw from her window at home, this has been one of the hardest canvases she has completed to date.

She began working on Rose Violet Sunset nearly five months ago. She especially wanted to capture the purplish pink clouds but no matter how hard she tried, the oil paint didn't obey her commands.

"I wasn't satisfied with the colour. I've repainted it more than 10 times," says Michiko, adding that she ruined two canvases in the process. She almost gave up three times and in the meantime worked on other paintings.

One result was A Moment of Beauty (24X12).

A Moment of Beauty (24X12) - copyright 2012 Michiko Splinter
Yet, she couldn't let it go and kept working and reworking until she had the exact sky she had in mind originally. Finally, after five months and three canvases, she managed to paint the picture she wanted and finished the work this weekend. Here it is:

Rose Violet Sunset (24X12) - copyright 2012 Michiko Splinter
If you think the photo is nice, the painting itself is absolutely stunning, and it might be my favourite among her works yet.

Others she has completed recently include Luminosity, based on a photo she took in Crumpit Woods in Squamish. Another gorgeous painting.

Luminosity (20X16) - copyright by Michiko Splinter
Walking the Trail (20X16) - copyright by Michiko Splinter
Walking the Trail is also based on a photo she took during a hike in Crumpit Woods.

I love Michiko's passion for her art and her continued drive to improve by challenging herself. Her love for painting is what drives her. Her first work sold in Canada now hangs in the Services Canada office in Squamish and she recently sold a sunset painting, Before the Sun Goes Down (14X11).

Before the Sun Goes Down (SOLD) - copyright by Michiko Splinter

While Michiko is thrilled with those sales, selling her work is not what drives her to paint daily.

"I love the moment just thinking about what to do next on my painting. That is one of the happiest moments of my life. Thanks to my husband's support, I'm a happy person to be able to have such a great moment almost every day," says Michiko.

"I also enjoying walking almost every day. I walk over an hour including a little running in between when I feel like it. After painting, walking and a little running, I always feel great."

Michiko exhibits her work locally. You can usually find one of her works at the Squamish Adventure Centre. You can also check out more of her work at her blog and her Facebook page.

May 11, 2012

Marathon recovery

After 16 marathons (and a few ultras), my recovery strategy has slowly but surely evolved into a simple one; I don't run for the first week after the race, but stay active with daily walks (the dog guarantees those) and get plenty of rest. Plenty of food, a glass of red wine or a beer are part of the post-race week too.

My legs have felt amazingly good after Sunday's 3:00:29 effort at the Vancouver marathon. Aside from some tightness in the hamstrings in the first couple of days, all was well. Funny, given the fact that I could barely make it down the stairs for a couple of days after the Sunshine Coast April Fool's half marathon a month earlier.

Even though my legs are fine, I am resisting the temptation to go for a run. What's helping is that I have been very tired. That is hardly surprising, yet another good reason to take it very easy.

"The day after the race is usually characterized by varying degrees of mental and physical fatigue and, in some, mild depression. Typically, your legs will be stiff on account of the muscle damage, and anything except sleeping will seem to sap all your available energy," writes Tim Noakes in Lore of Running.

"Little can be done about these feelings, except to accept them as normal, to sleep more, and to avoid excessive physical and mental activity."

After this marathon my legs feel pretty loose and limber but the level of fatigue, especially mentally, is very high. Everyone is different and of course a lot depends on how you raced your marathon.

I have found that my body generally doesn't enjoy running in the first week after a race of 42.2K (or more), so I don't. I prefer to err on the side of caution. Daily walks help loosen my muscles without jarring or adding any extra fatigue.

"Most marathoners don't take enough time for recovery. I must admit I was among the worst of them," Alberto Salazar writes in his Guide to Road Racing. "If you gave the race everything you had (or nearly everything), marathon recovery should be a 6-week process. Don't run at all for 2 weeks."

Once you resume running in the third week, Salazar recommends you begin at a third of the mileage you were doing before your marathon buildup, and then take another three weeks to slowly increase to "your original baseline volume."

No speedwork in those first six weeks and "don't even race a 5K until a couple of weeks after that," according to Salazar.
At this point, I plan to slowly ease back into training over the following 4 to 5 weeks as per Advanced Marathoning. While their five-week recovery schedule allows for three easy runs in the first week (totalling 26K for someone who has been running 100-140K weeks in their marathon preparations), the authors also stress caution.

"You have little to gain by rushing back into training, and your risk of injury is exceptionally high at this point, owing to the reduced resiliency of your muscles and connective tissue after the marathon," Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas write. "If ever there was a time to lose your marathoner's mindset, the week after your goal race is it."

Advanced Marathoning recommends keeping your heart rate below 76 percent of the max during all runs in the first few post-marathon weeks, and I plan to heed their advice as it has worked extremely well for me. I'll try some easy runs next week, see how that feels and take it from there.

May 10, 2012

It's not about the shoes - or is it?

The first time I came across the New Balance REVlite 890s was when I reviewed a pair for the March/April 2011 issue of IMPACT Magazine.

After a few runs in them, I wrote, "I'm in love with these shoes... These shoes are light, yet cushioned, with a great ride. I haven't owned a pair of New Balance for nearly a decade but these will get a ton of wear for sure. There's nothing I do not like about these shoes. These could be my Vancouver Marathon shoes."

I did indeed run the 2011 Vancouver Marathon in them, finishing 5th woman overall and earning the women's top master title. They stayed on my feet in the other races I did in 2011; earning 2nd place in the F40-44 age group at the Scotiabank Half (89:44); 3rd in AG at the Squamish 10km (40:14).

REVlites in Bellingham
They were with me when I won the Bellingham Bay Marathon in 3:09:41 on a blustery day in September, and again at the Victoria Marathon two weeks later as I ran a PB of 3:06:06, fast enough for the top master title there.

Four weeks after Victoria, I ran the Whistler 50 (mile) in them, where 7:57 was speedy enough to finish first in the F40-49 division.

REVlites in Honeywagon
My first race of 2012 was the First Half half marathon in February. The New Balance REVlite 890s carried me along for a 87:27 PB, 2nd in my age group.

Next up was the Run for the Honeywagon half, another blustery day but great boutique race in Washington state; my 89:20 was the fastest time among women and an improvement of the F40-44 age group course record.

REVlites in Sun Run
Last month, these shoes helped me run a PB of 86:54 at the Sunshine Coast half marathon (2nd AG) and then a 39:39 10K PB at the Vancouver Sun Run (10th among women masters).

Sunday, a fresh pair was on my feet in the BMO Vancouver Marathon as I (finally) smashed my best time at the 42.195K distance by 5:37 to finish in 3:00:29, again finishing 5th woman and top master.

REVlites after Sunday's 3:00:29
It's not all about the shoes but I do love the New Balance REVlite 890s.

May 09, 2012

A runner's duty to encourage

2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon. Photo: Kangsoon Park

Yesterday morning I received an email from a complete stranger by the name of Kangsoon Park. He had been watching the BMO Vancouver Marathon and taking pictures of the runners including of me.

He took the above photo at about 28K and made the effort to look up my name and track me down via email to send me the image. In his email Kangsoon said, "I am not a runner, who is still struggling from the last Saturday's 9K run on my own. Anyway I love taking photos of people running and the determination of the runners is very inspiring, especially the ones who run the full marathon."

The legendary Bart Yasso often talks about a runner's duty to encourage and/or mentor others who think they cannot do the same; I couldn't agree more and it's a key reason I began writing books. I really appreciated Kangsoon taking the time to email the picture to me.

So I wrote back thanking him and said:

This was by far my fastest marathon so I am very tired but very happy.

Running 9K on your own is fantastic so congratulations!!!

When I started running, I could only run 10 minutes. But it slowly got longer and longer. One day I was surprised to run for an hour (probably also 9K like you) and then one day 20K. This took at least a couple of years.

Keep running, be careful and listen to your body, and you will be surprised how far you will go if you are patient. If you want to run a marathon, you can. Take the time to let your body adjust to running, two or three years, perhaps longer. Many people start doing too much too soon, get injured and that stops your training.

Attached is a free copy of one of my books,
A Hundred Reasons to Run 100km, as a thank you for the photo. While it might sound crazy now that you are running 9K, I hope you enjoy the ideas and find inspiration.

I started running at the beginning of 1996 and I ran my first marathon three years later in 1999. Sunday was my 16th marathon, and I am still learning about running.

Stay injury-free and enjoy your training, and you will be surprised! 

Hope to meet you at a race some day,

Kangsoon responded late last night; he thanked me for the book, saying he was so inspired that he just signed up for his first 10K race, taking place next month.

Now that makes me very happy!

Check out more of Kangsoon's 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon photos on Flickr.

May 07, 2012

A 3-hour marathon

At the 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon I ran 3:00:29, improving my personal best by 5 minutes and 37 seconds. I am so happy ... and so tired!

The first half I covered in 90:09, before running the second half in 90:20.

The entire race I was focused on one thing: my finish time. I was gunning for a big personal record, 2:59:59. That's all I thought about.

I concentrated like never before, especially once I passed 25K. "From the halfway mark to 20 miles (32K) is the no-man's land of the marathon... Slowing during this portion of the marathon is often more a matter of not concentrating than of not being able to physically maintain the pace," according to Advanced Marathoning.

I noticed what was going on around me, and yet I didn't, as I was so focused on maintaining my pace. At 30K Tim apparently told me I was 9th woman. I didn't hear it, though I smiled at him to acknowledge his support, as I was high on focus and adrenaline. I reached 34K in 2:24:17.

I was elated to hold on to finish in 3:00:29 as I know I gave it all I had on the day.

Having crossed the line just 30 seconds short of the Sub-3 goal is a huge improvement from the 6 minutes and 7 seconds that separated me when I got up yesterday morning.

Tom Howard, me, John Hill w Master trophy
My 2:XX marathon will come. For now I am celebrating yesterday's fantastic result. As it turned out, I finished 5th woman overall and won the women's top master title for the second year in a row.

I am absolutely thrilled with my result yesterday because I confirmed to myself I am capable of running a 2:XX marathon. Confidence is everything; it has taken me 16 marathons to get this far, and I am looking to race No. 17 later this year.

Somewhere between 40 & 41K.
Tim, my No. 1 supporter, made sure I got to the start of the race on time, before cheering me on at 30K and again shortly before 41K.He also took these photos. Thank you!

A big thanks to my sponsor, Chief Chiro's Doctors Leah Stadelmann and Paul Fleming. Leah's treatments helped me sustain the training I needed to run a 3-hour marathon, thank you! Both Leah and Paul raced the half marathon yesterday, resulting in a fast PB and a stellar debut respectively.

Me, with Chief Chiro's Dr Leah and Dr Paul
Last but not least, thanks very much to the BMO Vancouver Marathon for hosting such a great event. The volunteers were superb, from start to finish; I especially loved the rockstar welcome every finisher received at the end.

I'll write a more detailed race report later.

May 05, 2012

Marathon race pace strategy

This week I have been going back and forth on my pacing strategy for tomorrow's BMO Vancouver Marathon. The goal is clear: cross the finish in 2:59, which means running a pace of 4:15 per kilometre or 6:51 per mile.

Theoretically, there are different ways of getting there and success hinges on choosing optimal pacing for the individual runner on that particular course. While there are simple tried and tested guidelines, the two key variables—assuming that crazy conditions won't throw a spanner in the works and the forecast for tomorrow indicates excellent weather—mean finding the perfect pace varies per runner and per race. 

The art of marathon pacing is a skill that can take a while to master.

Advanced Marathoning, my training guide for the past 10 months, discusses the various strategies: running the first half hard and trying to hang on for the second half, aiming to run steady, i.e. the same time for the second as for the first half, and finally, a negative split in which you cover the second half faster than the first.

Initially I was going to aim for a negative split by starting at a 4:20K (6:58 mile) average pace in the first 10K and then slowly speeding up. But, looking at the halfway times in my marathons, I realized that I have rarely covered the second half faster than the first. 

And Advanced Marathoning says, "[The] basics of marathon physiology indicate that the best strategy is relatively even pacing... Most runners shouldn't try to run dead-even splits, however.

"... your running economy will tend to decrease slightly during the race, meaning that your lactate-threshold pace will decrease slightly as well. The result is that your optimal pace will be slightly reduced during the latter stages of the marathon," according to Advanced Marathoning.

"If you ran negative splits for the marathon (i.e., the second half faster than the first half), chances are that your run more slowly than optimally during the first half of the race and could have had a faster finishing time."

In my past 11 marathons, all of which I ran in 3:15 or faster, I have done a slight negative split three times. That was in the 2008 Victoria marathon, where I ran the first half in 93:37 and the second in 93:33; in the 2010 Rotterdam marathon, where I covered the first half in 96:06 (with a very frustrating first 5K) and the second in 95:45; and in the 2011 Vancouver Marathon where I ran the first half in 93:5X, and the second half also in 93:5X.
In my fastest marathon to date, 3:06:06, I ran an average 4:25 per K and 7:06 per mile. However, I covered the first 21.1K in 91:32, or an average 4:20 per K and 6:58 per mile. By 30K, I was still on track for the same average pace, reaching this point in 2:10:01. This was also the point where I began slowing down; I ended up covering the final 12.195K in 56:05, an average 4:35 per K and 7:24 per mile.

Why did I slow down? Was my 4:20 pace too fast and catching up to me in the final 12K? Did I 'lose it' mentally, not willing to take the pain needed to sustain the pace until the end? Or was the 3:09 marathon I had run only two weeks earlier the reason? I think it was a combination of those three factors, though I'll never know for sure.

I do know that it was the fastest I had reached the halfway point as well as the 30K mark in a marathon. Two weeks earlier I had run the first half of the Bellingham Bay Marathon in 92:02, my second-fastest first half; there, strong headwind was a clear reason for my slowing down in the second half to 97:38, while the first half had only marginally benefited from a tailwind.

(Check out the brutal impact of the headwind here: Split1 is the first half, Split2 is the second half. Overall Bellingham winner Uli Steidl won the searing 2012 Boston Marathon Top Master's title in 2:23:08.)

Having looked at my first half times for the past 11 marathons, I also looked at my splits for the second half. The fastest I did in Victoria in 2008 in 93:33 and the second-fastest was in Vancouver in 2011 in 93:5X (the official half times displayed in the results are incorrect so I am taking my watch split).

Marathon history (excluding my first 4 marathons of 4:18, 4:44, 3:24 and 3:36):

                                           Finish  1st half 2nd half
5. July 2006          Gold Coast   3:13:01   96:25   96:36
6. April 2007        Canberra       3:08:48   93:04   95:44
7. July 2007          Gold Coast   3:15:13   93:14 101:59
8. May 2008         Vancouver     3:12:56   93:17  99:39
9. Sept 2008         Victoria         3:07:10   93:37  93:33
10. May 2009        Vancouver    3:10:19    94:26  95:53
11. June 2009        NODM         3:10:39   92:53   97:44
12. April 2010        Rotterdam   3:11:51    96:06   95:45
13. May 2011        Vancouver    3:07:41    93:5X  93:5X
14. Sept 2011         Bellingham   3:09:40   92:02   97:38
15. October 2011   Victoria        3:06:06  91:23  95:42

Tomorrow, theoretically, I am aiming to reach the halfway mark in 89:59, 74 seconds faster than I ever have, and then hold on to do it again in the final 21.1K; that would be 3:34 faster than my fastest second half (from October 2008).

2012 BMO marathon course profile
If I want a chance of finishing in 2:59, I will have to commit to a 4:15 pace in the first half. Having said that, the profile is quite varied in the first 10K. It will be important to go by feel rather than time, conserving energy on the uphill, and letting go on the downhill, though not too much as I need to save those quads.

At the start, however, I will certainly keep in mind Alberto Salazar's advice from his Guide to Road Racing, "By the time the race begins, your adrenaline is running full-bore, then suddenly (finally!) all that flight-or-fight hormone finds release. Your body knows what it's supposed to do: run! chase! go! The trouble is that it won't be giving accurate feedback for the first few minutes. A pace that feels easy will be way too fast."

"Be especially careful if a race starts on a substantial upgrade or downgrade. Starting too fast on an upgrade will suck energy out of you faster than doing so on the level."

While I have never run tomorrow's course in this set-up, the second half is familiar from different races; its key incline just before 30K is Burrard Bridge, which I have crossed in quite a few races now. And when I picked up my race package on Thursday, Tim and I drove the final 2K of the new course, as they are uphill. I have made a mental note to reserve extra willpower for this final stretch.  

The main pacing and race mantra I plan to use tomorrow is, Relax and let it happen, a serious piece of no-nonsense advice from Dessie Suttle, a good friend from Australia. Few people I know are more passionate about running than he is. A runner for more than 40 years, he visited us last year to run the Whistler 50.

While he considered this 50-miler his first real ultra, he technically had already done one—Six Foot Track in 1996, Australia's most popular trail 'marathon', when it was still a 47K course instead of the 45K it is now. Dessie ran a swift 5:00:07. 

A great storyteller with a photographic memory for every detail he's every read or heard about running, he's been a true student of the sport for most of his life. What I admire most about him is that he's kept running and racing all these years, even though he's no longer covering the 1500m in 4:23 (his 1975 PB), 3K in 9:23 (also 1975), 5K in 16:11 (twice, in 1985 and 1990) or the 10K in 33:06 (1985).

He also ran a 2:59:03 marathon in 1983.

During his visit, Dessie brought with him a well-thumbed paperback copy of the late Dr George Sheehan's This Running Life from 1980, and left it behind for me to read. I love Sheehan's Running & Being. I began reading it this week, and found another piece of advice I will keep in mind tomorrow.

"When I get on the line, I realize that the issue is 90 percent settled. My recent training, whether I am over or under or at my peak, the state of my health cannot be helped. These factors are out of my hands. They are behind me. I need no longer worry about them. I have to remember only two things; one, not to do anything stupid and two, not to quit," Sheehan wrote in the chapter called The Race.

May 03, 2012

A marathoner's good luck charms III

Chief Chiro in Squamish
The ability to sustain a consistent level of training is crucial for a runner, any runner.

I certainly didn't think, nor did anyone else, that I had a 'gift' for running after I finished my first race, a 20K, in 2:00:18 in May 1997, or when I did my first half marathon in 2:04:44 in October 1998, my first marathon in 4:18 in May 1999 and my second marathon in 4:44 in September 2001.

Developing my running to where it is today—39:39 for 10K, 86:54 for 21.1K (both run in the past month), and 3:06:06 for the marathon—has been a labour of love for a good 16 years. It has been a journey of ups and downs in terms of perceived level of progress.

After a superb start to 2008, when I was stunned to run my first Sub-40 10K only a month after doing my first Sub-41, followed by an 88:13 half marathon PB, I inexplicably faltered in the Vancouver marathon, finishing 4 minutes slower than my best time and well short of my expectations.

While I ran a 98-second PB in the Victoria marathon in October 2008, my progress seemingly stopped there for the next three years. 

Was it age? Had I reached my physical limits? I didn't think so. But the results seemed to indicate that; no more Sub-40 10Ks or Sub-89 halfs. And no marathon PBs in 2009, 2010, and 2011—until, finally, a 94-second PB in October 2011 of 3:06:06—after having run another five marathons in 3:10:19, 3:10:39, 3:11:51, 3:07:41 and 3:09:40 respectively.

In the meantime, I did a lot of soul-searching and research about training methods. I stepped away from the focus on time and personal bests, refreshing my mind and body with the excitement of new goals: ultras—a 50-miler on the beautiful Squamish trails and a 100K on the roads of the Lower Mainland. I made sure that it was about experience, running rather than racing them—I needed a break from that.

The ultras, especially the 100K, helped underpin my understanding that our body can do things our mind has trouble wrapping itself around. Driving back on the A to B course after the race, I couldn't believe I had just covered that distance on foot in a mere 10-1/2 hours.

Those ultras—done in August and November 2010—also reminded me of the fact that A. I love to run, and B. the years of consistent training now allowed my body to do more than it previously could. I used to get very sore quads in marathons (and Ironmans). And in my first ultra, the 45K Six Foot Track in March 2006, it was again my quads that made what should been the final 2K an easy cruise down a hill to the finish next to impossible.

One of my key concerns for the 50-miler in August was not whether I'd be able to cover the distance, but whether my quads would hold up; especially since I would have plenty of up- and downhills to cover. I remember that I kept waiting for my quads to begin screaming, but they never did as they had in previous years in shorter events.

Realizing how much I love to run and that my body could now handle a lot more running is what led me to the kind of training I have been doing since July 2011; boosting the volume but lowering the intensity to max out at a 5K race pace in my fastest intervals.

By the time I start the BMO Vancouver Marathon on Sunday, I will have run about 2,000K since January 1. Including today, I will have taken only six days off in 18 weeks. And my body has allowed me to do that.

A key reason that my body has held up so well is of course the years of consistent training. However, the support of Squamish-based Chief Chiro, owned and run by Doctors Leah Stadelmann and Paul Fleming who generously agreed to sponsor me by providing regular muscle-releasing treatments has been instrumental.

Preventative treatments—used when I start feeling a certain level of tightness that might become problematic—are crucial for efforts to avoid injury.

Nearly every runner I know has suffered injury—so have I. And the number of treatments to fix an injury always exceed those required to prevent one. Besides, the amount of time it takes to nurse an injured body part back to health risks seriously setting back a training program.

Every athlete is different. Every athlete progresses at a different rate. I know that my body was a lot more fragile in my first decade as a runner (and triathlete; running injuries were in fact what led me to triathlon). I sustained an injury that halted my training for the 2003 Honolulu Marathon, and the training week that tipped me over the edge consisted of less than 70K of running.

In the past four months, my biggest week was 141K; and, including my taper, I have run an average of 111K per week in each of the past 18 weeks. I couldn't have done it without the superb treatments by Chief Chiro's Leah.

Leah gave me a final treatment on Friday, eight days before my goal race, so that my body could recover well in time for the big day as I attempt to improve my 3:06:06 marathon PB to 2:59. She focused on releasing my calves, hamstrings, glutes and lower back, and I am feeling great as a result.

So thanks very much Leah and Paul, who are both racing the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon on Sunday. Paul (BIB# 11220) is making his half marathon debut while Leah (BIB# 11799) is gunning for a PB!

May 01, 2012

A marathoner's good luck charms II

The marathon, arguably, has proved a matchmaker for Tim and I. 

Tim and I met in Toronto some time in 1998. We both worked as reporters for Bloomberg News. By then Tim had been based in Vancouver since mid-1996, after having started and run the Toronto newsroom for the five years prior to that.

I began in the Toronto office in April 1998, after having started my career as a newswire journalist in the Brussels newsroom of Bloomberg (then still: Business) News in September 1996.

We were colleagues working in offices on opposite sides of Canada and didn't have much to do with each other. However, we soon found out we were both, still fairly novice, runners.

Tim ran his first marathon in November 1998 in Portland, Oregon in 4:14.

By then I was preparing for my first marathon, set for May 1999 in Ottawa, with the guy I had recently started dating.

Tim was happy to share his experience via the Bloomberg message system, as internet email was not yet widely used, and I appreciated his advice. Before moving to Canada in 1998, I had run three races, all in Belgium; the 20K of Brussels, as well as a low-key 10-miler and 10K as I had only started running from scratch in 1996, or perhaps late 1995.

My boyfriend at the time had started running because I did and we did most of our races together; in Canada I ran my first half marathon in October 1998 in 2:04 and in March 1999 I did the classic Around the Bay 30K in 2:53. In Ottawa I ran 4:18.

I ran another race in 1999 that was supposed to be a marathon distance in Death Valley but extreme weather, a sandstorm, forced the organizers to move the finish line from the open desert to the final part of Titus Canyon, making it something of a 39K event.

Tim, meantime, ran his second marathon in NYC in November 1999 in 3:49.

In June 2000, I moved with Bloomberg to Australia; the boyfriend stayed behind. Two colleagues, however, also got a transfer to Australia including Tim who arrived in July 2000. By then both of us had tried our first triathlons and swapped race experiences.

We each got apartments in Bondi. It was easy to share some of our training. We travelled to our first half Ironman in Forster Tuncurry together. While we did the same races, we certainly didn't race together. From the start there was a healthy and fun sense of competition; I was pleased to kick his butt in our first half Ironman, and have had to enjoy it ever since as I haven't been able to repeat the feat, at any triathlon distance.

In running, however, we have been much more evenly matched, though it took me a while to catch him in the half marathon and marathon, and I am still chasing him on the 10K distance; Tim improved his PB to 38:42 a week ago.

In 2001 I ran my second marathon in Sydney; by then we were dating and living together, and not just because dragging triathlon gear back and forth between two apartments had worn thin very quickly. Tim had registered for the marathon too but only to run the first 30K with me. I struggled in this race with a recurring theme; sore quads from 25K, and I finished in a net time of 4:44.

In 2002, Tim ran his third marathon, also in Sydney, fighting hard to reach his Sub-3:30 goal. He finished 3:29:40, smashing his NYC time by 20 minutes. 

It wasn't until 2003 that we lined up together for a marathon. We were both fit, having finished our second Ironman three months earlier (Tim in another stellar time close to 10 hours). I had yet to run a Sub-4 marathon; Tim was looking to improve on his 3:29. As usual, we had no plans to race side by side.

Tim was a little ahead in the first 10K, then I went a little ahead. I was moving very well, surprisingly well - until the good old sore quads slowly but surely returned.

Somewhere around 32K the pain was so excruciating that I stopped, trying to stretch my legs as I cried - over the discomfort in my quads and over having to stop in a race that was going so well.

I was waiting for Tim to catch up and looked forward to his words of encouragement. When he ran by not long after, he did have a few words for me indeed; without breaking his stride he yelled: "What the hell are you doing?! Keep moving!"

Gun time 3:25, net time 3:24:53!
So I got moving again. We passed each other back and forth over the remaining 10K, and it wasn't until the finish shute that we ran side by side across the finish line, both setting personal bests of 3:24.

In December 2003 we both ran the Honolulu marathon, with Tim finishing 3 minutes ahead in 3:33. Then Ironman took over, until 2006 when we both ran the Gold Coast Marathon, both finishing in 3:13.

By then I was training as a runner, while Tim remained focused on training as a long distance triathlete.

In April 2007 I ran the Canberra marathon in 3:08, another big PB and breakthrough race that firmly sparked the Sub-3 marathon dream. Tim opted to watch this marathon from the sideline as he had just fulfilled his dream of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in the brutal Ironman Malaysia two months earlier.

In July 2007 we both started in the Gold Coast Marathon, each racing this marathon for the third time. In his 7th marathon, Tim ran 3:10:38, a PB that still stands today as he has remained focused on triathlon. However, I have no doubt that it is waiting to be shattered, perhaps later this year.

Since then he's run another three marathons in 2008, 2010 and 2011. And he's done 9 Ironmans, including Kona, with a PB of 10:09.

Sunday's marathon will be my 16th and I am looking to run 2:59, a tall order perhaps given that my best time is 3:06:06.

No one has been more supportive and understanding of my desire to run Sub-3 than Tim. He's been encouraging and patient as I have trained at a record volume in the past four months, with 1,951K under my belt.

Running an average 16K per day every day (or an average of 16.8K on the 116 days that I did run, taking into account the 5 days in the past 17 weeks that I didn't) hasn't always made me the most exciting or pleasant person to live with, yet Tim's support never wavers.

I could not spend my life with someone who was unsupportive of my need to run and my desire to compete and continuously challenge myself. Yet Tim not only supports but actively encourages it; he's wired the same way.

He's there to cheer me up when progress is slow and he's there to celebrate when the hard work pays off.

This morning he had emailed me a quote by Napoleon Hill:

Remember, the thoughts that you think and the statements you make regarding yourself determine your mental attitude. If you have a worthwhile objective, find the one reason why you can achieve it rather than hundreds of reasons why you can't.

When I cross the line in 2:XX on Sunday, Tim will be there and no one will understand better what the achievement—and his role in helping me get there—means to me.

A marathoner's good luck charms I

Superstitious I am not. But I do like rituals and habits when it comes to running and racing.

Since my parents live in the Netherlands and cannot attend most of my races, I like to wear something that represents them. This season I have been wearing a necklace my mom made when I visited them in November last year.

Sterling silver necklace & bracelet made by Rezie
My mom took up silversmithing in 2006 at the age of 66 and has learned to create stunning pieces since then in weekly classes at her local arts and culture centre from Marjolein van Lubeck. Some designs are my mom's own, others have been inspired by pieces she has seen elsewhere.

Sterling silver bracelet, necklace & ring made by Rezie
For her 70th birthday in August 2010 I made a one-off hardover photobook with some of her jewelry, click here to see the online edition. More than 18 months have passed since then, and she is continuously honing her skills.

She also likes to make 'simple' pieces. When Tim gave me a Tiffany's catalogue to bring to the Netherlands for my mom, she instantly took to a heart-shaped pendant. She played around with a thick piece of silver wire and created the base shape.

In her next silversmithing class, she used soldering to finish it. Then she gave it to me.

It's beautiful and light, so I have been wearing it most days since. I didn't take it off for the First Half half marathon in which I improved my personal best for the 21.1K distance for the first time in four years. 

Good luck charm 1
And it was around my neck again in the Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run half marathon, where I ran my fastest half marathon yet in 86:54, just like it was in the Vancouver Sun Run 10K, good for another PB of 39:39 and my first Sub-40 10K for the first time in four years.

I am not superstitious but the necklace with my mom's beautiful pendant, representing my parents' support, is staying on for Sunday's Sub-3 attempt.