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!

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