Friday, January 4, 2019

Mighty-Chondria Soup

I commonly get asked why I name my long slow runs on Strava as "Mighty-Chondria Soup."

Long slow runs are the key to any endurance training plan. And on of the key reasons is the development of mitochondria in your muscle fibers. Mitochondria are "the enzymes that catalyze the chemical reactions involved in aerobic metabolism." That's science fancy speak you can run faster and longer if you develop these mighty little buggers and their ability to provide more oxygen to your muscles. Think of your muscles as factories, and the mitochondria as the workers. The more workers your factory has, the more productive your factories will be.

So the more you run, the more mighty little buggers you get. And true, you can develop them if you sprint 75km in a week, but you don't need to. You will develop equally if you run slowly for 75km in a week. Except if you try sprinting it, you'll break down with an injury at some point. So run it slowly, and you'll be able to run even more.

It's just another reason why running slower actually allows you to run faster. And come race day, you will be thankful for investing in Mighty-Chondria Soup.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Starting Lines


2019 started of with a fantastic Resolution Run for Skeena Valley Runners. A hearty crowd with many new faces gathered to run together and share some laughs and stories. Everyone has big running goals, and to find some friends to help us achieve them is what Skeena Valley Runners is all about.

New Year's is about new beginnings. It is about the many possibilities that may lay ahead. It is kind of like being at the starting line.

There are plenty of nervous moments, but also plenty of excitement. There is lots of energy and focus. It is a bit frightening each time, but it is at the starting line where you are truly you. Regardless of what happens, the journey is the reward.

The starting line you are probably thinking about right now is the starting line of that big race you will be preparing for. But no, I'm talking about all new beginnings. A new job. A new class. A new relationship.

So as 2019 gets under way, do not be afraid of starting lines. Just keep one foot in front of the other and you will be surprised where it leads you. Focus. Prepare. Challenge yourself. The key is to get to be brave enough to get to the starting line.. You may not realize it, but running has prepared you for far more in this life than just those races you train for.

Too many people do not commit to the starting line. But only those who do get to experience the often life changing rewards of the finish line.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Inspire No More?

A strange thing happened in Victoria this month.

I bought a totally different shoe.

I have been running in Mizuno Wave Inspires (neat tie in with my #runinspired theme, eh?) forever now. But I've been curious to try out the new Hoka One One Arahi shoe. I finally broke down and did it.

So far I have only walked in it. It is very comfy, and light for a stability shoe. I will have to get some runs in before making a true judgement on them.

Don't worry, the inspire them isn't going away soon. I have three unopened pairs for next spring, and will kill a couple of older pairs over the course of the winter.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Grateful

I managed to gut out a 1:32 half marathon in Victoria on Thanksgiving. That was not the sub-1:30 race I had been hoping for, but it was a good race and a great day. It is the end of a great running season for me.

And that, on this Thanksgiving weekend, is one of many things I have to be grateful for.

There's a bunch of excuses I could list as to why sub-1:30 didn't happen, but that's silly.  Although finishing well ahead of the 1:30 pacer was annoying. I knew I was struggling a bit so I just zoned out for the final third of the course. I kept telling myself don't panic, as long as you don't see the pacer you're good. I never did, but I know he never passed me. By the time I went for the final 1600m push it was too late. The goal was out of reach.

The real reason is I did not achieve the goal today was I did not flow.

I wrote in the past about the mental zone one can enter when totally in the now, concentrating and achieving the goal at hand. It makes everything so much easier. But it is elusive and never guaranteed. And it did not happen today.

The worse was the plantar fasciitis flare up half way through the race. Without flow I had to fight through every step, each of which hurt. It still hurts, but with the racing season now over I can hopefully let it heal up.

Though today's goal was not meant, bigger goals were.

First and foremost, this capped off a very successful comeback season for me. I have said for several weeks now I feel like I am on the verge of a breakthrough, though I also said it wasn't likely to happen until next year. I need another training cycle, and to somehow figure out how to maintain what I've gained through winter.

Another goal of mine is to always be a consistent 40 minute 10km racer and 1:30 half marathoner going through to my 50s. That consistency is, in my mind, a very admirable goal to have. And it allows you to always be open to the possibility that any given day might be THE day where a breakthrough happens. 

It was a great day for Skeena Valley Runners, with many others achieving inspiring results today. Everyone I have talked to, mostly in Victoria but also at other races, had fantastic days. 

And that, on Thanksgiving, is what we should always achieve. Something to be grateful for. Something to find inspiration from. Somehow inspire others. Because today might be the day.

#RunInspired

Sunday, September 30, 2018

One Week, Zero Pressure




Less than one week to go. Less than one week to my last race of the season: the Victoria Goodlife Half Marathon.

This is my 2nd go at this beautiful course. In 2016 I ran my personal best half here, a 1:30. In 2014 I ran the full Victoria marathon.

I was still an emerging runner back then. Every race was a victory for me, in my own mind anyway. But by 2017 I was struggling to find my running identity. I wasn't a full marathoner or, god forbid, an ultramarathoner, like my training partners. No, the half is my game, and I want to play.

The problem is no one respects the half marathoners. If I hear "just the half" one more time I swear I'm going to strangle that person. It is "just" as a significant accomplishment in every way.

That helped lead me to struggle to keep my own perceptions of myself as a bad ass runner against endurance kings and younger phenoms led me to overtrain in 2017.  But in 2018 I'm back. I eliminated whatever pre-conceived notions I had. And I'm back. Winning races. Challenging bests. Kicking ass. Old guy kicking ass.

I still feel like I'm on the verge of really emerging as my best as a runner, and am really, really, really looking forward to 2019. But as I approach the last race of 2018, I feel zero pressure. Though I have a time goal, I really don't care. I have truly enjoyed the journey to this point. That truly has been the reward. Race day is going to be a fantastic day. A day to celebrate my running season.

But it is another day on the journey to achieving my running best. And that day is not next weekend. It is many more weeks, months, maybe even years away. It is a journey I am so looking forward to!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Victoria

The GoodLife Fitness Marathon in Victoria is less than 2 weeks away. I will be returning to this race for the first time since 2016 and I will again be running the half marathon.

The race is 5 weeks after my Texada Island half marathon win, so I put in three weeks of quality workouts and now am on taper. It seems highly unlikely that I could improve much in three weeks, but I focused on distance.

In the two months before Texada Island I only had two training runs that exceeded the race distance of 21.1km - both 24km runs. I noted that I was slowing down for the final couple of km on Texada. Perhaps this was because I was so far ahead of everyone that I just did not have that push. Or perhaps it was because I did not do enough long runs.

Betting on the latter, I put in six training runs longer than race distance in the three weeks after Texada, with the longest run being just shy of 27km. I hope that allows me to run a little longer in Victoria.

It's funny how Texada consumed me all summer, yet this Victoria race now seems like just another day. Maybe whatever pressure I put on myself is off after such a successful race in Texada. Maybe subconsciously I'm telling myself just enjoy Victoria, you had your great race this year already. Or perhaps its because Victoria is such a familiar course, race and city to me. So much of the unknown associated with most races is actually known to me.

I enter the taper with a slight concern. I seem to have a bit of a grump ligament in the hamstring area on the left leg. I had this when I tapered for Texada, too. I will manage it as best I can and get through my race, hopefully with a new PR. But then I think it's time to shut things down for a little bit, and let the body recover from a very successful season of running.

That season included 9th place finish (out of 1600) in Oak Bay, a memorable debut run in the Prince Rupert to Terrace relay, and the Texada Island win, as well as serving as race director for Skeena Valley Runners first two events. My season was not full of many races, but many learning opportunities in training. They say the journey is the reward, and I have found that to be true this year in my running.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Don't Run. Flow.


The goal had always been the same since late 2017 when we decided we were going to spend the end of August vacationing on the little-known British Columbia gem known as Texada Island.

I wanted to WIN the half marathon there.

Not just the masters' division. The whole race, young punks included. No time goals. Just the audacious goal of winning - a goal I never actually set even though I previously have won two races outright in the past.

Mission accomplished. 

Rob MacWilliam and his fantastic gang of locals put on a tremendous though small event. And to say it is a challenging course is an understatement. With pot-holed back roads and huge inclines, especially early in the course, this is not the easiest race around. Not even close.

I trained very hard all summer, with lots of trail and road ascents, and an average of 75km of running a week. Beyond that I did what I do best - gained advantages through research. I knew every nook and cranny of the course, studied every recorded Strava run on it and, quite seriously, stalked my competition. I knew ahead of time who the competition were, and what they were capable of.

That being said, I was full of self doubt until I got to the island and could actually see the course for myself a full day before the race. That is when I knew I was ready. The course had me freaked out for weeks all summer. Hills are not my specialty. Trail running - which is essentially what large segments of the course are - is not my specialty. Based on the intel I gathered about my competitors, I knew I was in the hunt for the win. But it took until just hours until race day before I knew that I would conquer the course first and foremost.

Conquer it I did. I raced a 1:32, a full five minutes ahead of the second place finisher. I had never really set a time goal for this course, though I had told myself if I could get 1:35 with all the hills, I would be happy. Needless to say I'm quite thrilled with a 1:32. My PR is 1:30 and I think had today been on a flat course, I could have broken that.

My original strategy was to race this tactically. My usual race pattern is to quickly fall into my rhythm and desired pace and just go with it. This time I had every intention of sticking with the lead pack - and with one runner in particular - until we got through the worst of the hills. Then I would make a decision as to when to try to break from this small pack and gun it home.

It was a sound strategy, but I failed to follow it. Thankfully.

From the start I headed out with this guy from New West who I thought was going to be my main competition. We were doing 4:25/km pace or so, but on the very first hill maybe 500m into the race he dropped back and disappeared. 

The first km is actually a loop of the village of Van Anda, and we were going back past the school where we started. With Charmaine and the crowd down the hill I decided to race in and, much to Charmaine's amazement, I had obviously already dropped the plan and was running how I run best. Gunning it.

The cheer of the crowd was nice. But I noticed something interesting. Before the next cheer erupted to welcome the next runners I had already moved on quite a nice distance. 

I continued to gun it for the next couple of km before the course veered off the pavement and onto the rough uphill roads. I would completely follow my strategy here - run by effort. Keep the breathing under control and just do what you have to do to get the job done.

Before I left the road for the trails I took a quick look back. I did not see my expected competition anywhere. I only saw one fellow back there, and probably 500m back. I had done my homework on him and didn't think he was a threat. He would run the best race of his life though, setting a new PR on a very tough course. He is an up and coming runner for sure.

The off road section continued on past the 7th km, and I was able to "do what I had to do" with time splits that shocked me. I was flying. 

More importantly. I was fully in flow.

Flow is something I've been working very hard to understand and cultivate in my running and other aspects of my life. By being fully in the now and giving full concentration to the task, you are able to enter this almost super-human state where everything seems to be just easy. Pro athletes call it being in the zone. Everyone from writers to piano players can experience it. You are so fully immersed in what you are doing you lose sense of time and space. It is this natural high that is very addictive. 

I have studied this phenomenon that comes to me with all my best races. And I worked hard to set all the conditions for it occur on race days. So I was ecstatic when I entered it so quickly on this race. At that point I knew I would accomplish the goal at hand.

In fact, I was so immersed that I did not even notice a gory scene on the course that was the talk of many of the runners at the finish line. A poor deer must have been hit by a car, and his carcass was on the side of the road. Half a dozen vultures - I don't think I've ever seen vultures before - were feasting upon it. I ran right by and never saw a thing. 

By the time Charmaine drove past me on the highway I was already past the half way point. She thought something had gone wrong because she was shocked to see me so far ahead of the others. She feared I hurt myself on the trail until she found me.

It's a good thing she did find me at that point because it was not much longer before I had to once again veer off the pavement and through some gravel roads before returning to the pavement. It was at that turnoff there that I seemed to especially shock the volunteers. None of them seemed ready or expecting me. It was kind of a neat feeling.

When I returned to the roads I knew my reward was waiting. There was about a 3km stretch of paved downhill where I was just going to pound it had my expected competition still had been with me. I really tried never to look back and see how far they were behind. But I could tell from the lack of cheering at the many aid stations that no one was near.

So I flew down the hills into Gillies Bay at a controlled 4:00/km pace, thinking I would at least hold that lead. I wanted save something for the final 5km of the race just in case the competition showed up. The guy from New West is an avid cyclist and I knew he'd have a huge aerobic base and I suspected he finished strong. Twice I looked back on the longer straight stretches, but I was all alone.

Much of the run through Gillies Bay to the finish at Shelter Point park is a 3km incline that would have to be described as deceptively tough. I slowed here a bit, partly because I knew there was no push from behind. I fell out of flow at this late stage and was just getting through the hill until the nice downhill spring into the spectacular Shelter Point park.

I was the first runner to arrive - a marathon and 8km race was also being raced at the same time with all runners ending at the same spot, but I beat them all to the finish. I raised my fist in victory as I could see the photographer straight ahead of me. I had accomplished my goal.

I wanted this accomplishment partly to re-assert my return to form after overtraining in 2017. But as 2018 went on I wanted this accomplishment also as a form of validation. So many other top runners I know pay a lot of money for professional coaching and the results are impressive. While I relied heavily on advice from other Skeena Valley Runners - namely Sheldon, Derek, Adrienne and Brent - I accomplished this goal uncoached and on my own. I know I know my running ability better than if I was coached by an out-of-towner. 

I also know the coaches are not teaching the secret to ultimate running performance: flow. And it is so very addictive that I can't wait to run again.

Mighty-Chondria Soup

I commonly get asked why I name my long slow runs on Strava as "Mighty-Chondria Soup." Long slow runs are the key to any enduran...