Thursday, June 13, 2019

Running Through Europe



I put running on hold for a three week vacation through Italy, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro. Ah yes, life is good.

I did a little bit of running while I was there. Italy was tough, as the crowds in Rome and Venice were so congested. Florence was better, as I made my way to the best view of the city at Piazelle Michelangelo and then continued on past a hospital and a sports stadium into the modern part of the city.

I also had the chance to summit Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii, near Naples. The still active volcano (and overdue to explode again) once buried Pompeii in ash, leaving it unfound for centuries. The climb, which I hiked more than ran, was anti-climatic in that the mountain was fogged in. There was looking into the steaming crater on this trip. 

Once we boarded the cruise ship out of Venice my running was mostly left to the single lane running track on the top of the boat. The 400m track was frustrating as it attracted many drunk and ignorant photo takers standing in the way. C'mon people! There were 14 other floors on the ship where you could have taken the same photo without the possibility of a runner coming along every couple of minutes. 

One fun thing I did do was run a 16km marathon. Now we all know a marathon is 42.2 km, but after approximately 16km and one hour and fourteen minutes, my watch said I had completed 42.2 km. Of course the watch and accompanying satellite were tracking the moving ship more than myself. I tell you it was the easiest marathon I ever did. It probably could have been easier as I could have spent that entire hour-plus sitting in the hot tub and gotten the same result!

I did get the chance to ascend the 1355 steps up to the ancient fortress high above Kotor, Montenegro. Despite the heavy rain, slow crowds and crumbly steps, I think I could have really powered my way up there. But I was there for other reasons, and of course stopped often to take in the moment and take as many photos as possible.  It was a great day.

Now that I'm back I'm going to get serious about building my running base. I had only been doing 35-50 km a week, though much of that was climbing trails. After nearly three weeks off I want to be consistently 70-80 km. That means a lot more road running. If I commit more to trails I will look at time spent on my feet rather than mileage.

Here is to a great summer of running. 

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Why They Call Old Runners "Masters"

I told a non-running friend that I won the Crest Glory Days.

The response - Does that mean you get a lifetime supply of toothpaste?

For the uninitiated, the Crest Glory Days is a 34 year old foot race in Prince Rupert, sponsored by the Crest Hotel. There is a 5km race, which I won - yay! - and a 10km.

Braeden won the 10km completing the male sweep for Skeena Valley Runners. There were some strong performances from Terrace. Jenna had a really strong race, and little Aiden ran his heart out. No race is complete without the Reids and Adam Brown there.

I didn't even know I was in the 5km race until a couple days earlier. I had arranged to take the bib number of a Terrace runner who could not make the trip due to work. I thought sure I'll take his spot and run a 10km race at threshold. Threshold, with the notoriously tough hill on this course, probably would have seen me finish somewhere in the 43:30 range. I was fine with that, thinking I'd treat it as another training run.

I suspect the Rupert organizers would have placed me in the 10k race happily but I decided not to ask. I wanted to embrace the 5km because it is not a race I usually enter. Outside of the Centennial Spring Classic in Terrace, which only offers the 5km distance, I have never really raced, and absolutely never trained for, a 5km race. Entering the Rupert 5km would give me a growth opportunity of better understanding the shorter distance and the runners who embrace it so feverishly. I believe immersing yourself is the only way to truly understand, and will allow me to grow as a runner and as a race organizer.

I may be old, but I still line up each race thinking I can win. I was sizing up the competition at the start line, noting the usual suspects. But there were two young guys right at the front that I had absolutely no clue who they were. It turns out they were exchange teachers from Quebec, in Rupert for the semester. One was shorter and stocky, but clearly athletic. The other looked like a runner who had designs on winning.

As we headed down the first 400m before the first turn the taller Quebecois gentleman was leading the race. Cue my tactical acumen. I knew that if I was going to beat this guy, I had to get ahead of him early. The guy was at least 20 years younger than me, but they call us older runners "masters" because we have experience - the great equalizer. If I could speed past this guy - knowing that young Braeden was going to pass at any moment too - I could get in the head of these youngsters.

Subconsciously we all fall victim to our limiting beliefs. How many times have I been passed by a runner and just let him stay out in front of me, often in striking range, but stay back because I decided earlier oh he's good. I'm not as good as him,. This is where I belong in this race,. I'm not going to try to outdo my ability. Too many times. I should push. I should strike. On any given day, maybe I am better. And no better time than right now to find out.

Knowing this, I wanted to get into the young teachers' minds immediately so that they would think that about me. And it worked like a charm. It was absolutely vital I did it early, at the same time as Braeden, so that it was a double whammy. That was the moment when I won this race.

And that's the wily experience of the masters runner!

Ultimately I don't think either of these two Quebecois runners - who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively with times over 21 minutes - had the endurance to keep up at this point of the season. I had built enough of a lead by the hill which comprises much of the 4th kilometer. That hill is an absolute chore by the way, but my mountain running helped me extend that lead quite healthily, topping it with Braeden. The Quebecers were nowhere near.

Braeden sped off on the downhill en route to his impressive 10km victory. I knew before I entered the Sunken Gardens that I had the 5km in the bag. Subconsciously that allowed me to let up a bit on that mild incline back to the Crest hotel to finish the race. That's my only blemish on my race, in my opinion. That final km was a 4:10 pace. I should have pushed that below 3:59.

My official time was 20:34 even though my watch said 20:11. It was my 5th career victory - and for a runner with no races this year, I'm somehow 2-0 in Prince Rupert so far this season! I have now won at 5km, 10km, half marathon road, half marathon trail and half marathon relay distances. All of which means not much but shows I think I can help runners at all distances achieve their goals.

And maybe teach a couple wily masters tricks along the way.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Time

Time is a currency. It is the most precious thing we have.

In life we don't know how much time we get. So we are taught to maximize every moment. But time is ultimately just a way of quantifying productivity. And thus each minute is unforgiving. We must cram as much as we can into each minute. It makes us hurry through life, without always appreciating it.

As runners, time is a goal. Maybe we want to break 4 hours in the marathon. Or maybe it's 1 hour 30 minutes in the half marathon. Or maybe it's 25 minutes in the 5k. Or maybe it's just running non-stop for an hour.

Achieving such goals are big reason we run, and so should they be. But at some point you will realize these time goals are not the most important reason we run.. Sometimes we need to be reminded that running is most meaningful and most enjoyable when it exists for nothing more than it is, and without the pressure of a time clock.

My recent sojourns up Terrace Mountain have reminded me of this fully. I eagerly head up the mountain, exploring all the trails, with almost no time goals or constraints. I just go. I run. I be. I enjoy. It is pure bliss. I appreciate every moment I can while out there in nature. Time flies by, and is of zero importance to my run. Will I still chase time goals? Sure. But this has reminded me that training from this place of gratitude is the best way to do it.

So in running and in life, do not fill your minutes. Let the minutes fill you.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Importance of Play



As a kid I grew up on Terrace Mountain. Literally.

Where condos now stand were two trails that connected to the original trail head, and both started in my backyard. It's called Munthe trail head nowadays, but the original trail head was a little further to the north and I believe was known more as the Halliwell trail head, at least unofficially.

We rode our bikes, played GI Joes, tag and hide and seek and built forts, the remains of which can still be spotted. It was the best days of childhood because our play was full of exploration and nature. We knew that mountain better than anything else.

In the last month or so I have been reliving my childhood. I have done 10 runs, exploring 12 trails including several decommissioned trails many people don't even know about anymore. I have totalled 82.5 kilometers, 3934 metres of elevation gain and over 12 hours of running/power hiking, all on Terrace Mountain (no crossing the road to the adjoining Steinhoe trails!)

It is the healthiest mid life crisis a man has ever had. Both physically and mentally.

I am not a good trail runner, but I have not had this much fun running in such a long time. And the reason is because, just like when I was a kid, this is all play.

I've told my story before. Up until 2016 I ran for all the right reasons - fun, health, social connection, personal growth - and got quite good at it. 40 minute 10k, 90 minute half marathon. I wanted to help others achieve what I had, and with the help of Brent and Adrienne and others, Skeena Valley Runners was reborn.

The problem became we attracted some very high end runners right off the bat, and I began running for the wrong reasons. I got competitive, and wanted to beat them all. I badly overtrained in the process and spent the entire year recovering. In 2018 I spent the entire year returning to form, performing spectacularly well at races in Oak Bay and Texada Island, but I was still running for the wrong reasons. I was running to be competitive. And, even if I did not fully know it at the time, I was not having a lot of fun.

Call it the love/hate relationship with running. But I was spending a lot of time working at training plans, working at drills, working at specific runs. Working.

But in 2019 I have nothing really to work toward. I have no goal races due to travel opportunities. I have no pressure to perform. I have no goals to meet. It is the most freeing experience and the best thing that has ever happened to my running

Now I can take a lot of enjoyment out of working, but let's face it - there is far more enjoyment out of play than there is work. Just ask your dog.

I have a very happy dog who I take running with me on the trails from time to time. The entire time he is at play, happy in motion and in nature, fully engaged in exploration and curiosity. He is fully in the now.

Play is of equal importance to us. And oddly enough, it is the runner who is happy, the runner who is at play, the runner who is fully in the now, that is the most dangerous runner on race day.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Positively Fantastic!

I have not enjoyed running this much in a long time.

That's quite the statement, given that people in northwest BC know me as that running guy. "He sure runs a lot" my wife hears all the time. They are right, but in all honestly I have not enjoyed running at the level I currently am since at least 2016, and maybe ever.

I think it is something all runners experience. There are always frustrations and set backs. This results in a love/hate relationship with running. Undoubtedly it will sway back the other way at some point, but for now positivity reigns supreme.

And all this comes in a year with no races. Well, no big goal races anyway. Our time off is being spent travelling the world and seeing our daughter get married. Mind you, I haven't seen an official wedding invitation just yet so there's a 1% chance I'll get to the Victoria marathon weekend yet.

I will get to the local events where I can, but the training has not placed me quite where I would like to think I should be so far. Now yes Brent and I did win the Rupert half marathon relay and I finished top six at the Centennial 5K, but my times weren't spectacular by any means. I think it's because I lacked focus as I zeroed in on what exactly I should do in a year with no goal race.

But I have figured it out, and I am in such a great mindset right now. And I am so certain this plan and this positivity will lead me to the be the best runner I can be at some point in the future. I don't know when exactly, but it will.

I have my strongest zest ever to get out running every day. I have largely left the roads (that will make it tougher for the wife's friends' to see me running all the time!) and thoroughly enjoying running the various Terrace Mountain (especially the decommissioned trails from yesteryear that others don't know about). I will begin hitting some other trails once the snow pack disappears, but for now I'm a Terrace Mountain regular.

Being in nature rather than the roads has truly done wonders for my mental health. I am in such a positive frame of mind right now.  Have I said that already? I know I have, but it is such a great place to be in! And I am already seeing tremendous benefits of improved leg strength. I think this is a weakness of mine - my legs will hurt on a long run well before my lungs.

I have a great plan for the six months (minus my running-less weeks in Europe) that will put me in top shape. Each week will have one two-hour plus long run, one lactate threshold run and several days building leg strength on the trails. If I can add a bit of speed work at the right time, I should be able to push for a PR later this year, even if it is just my own course.

I do need to remember to make time to run with my friends. Trails are great, but my trail running friends are so much faster than me. My road running friends tend not touch a dirt road let alone a trail, especially during training weeks.

But for now my intention is to keep getting out, enjoying nature, exploring the great outdoors and fully embrace this great feeling of the love of the running.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Poop Stories: Volume 2

Poop Stories: Volume One went a totally different direction than everyone thought, didn't it! 

Well Volume Two is a little more along the lines of what you were expecting, but, in my typical style, not really.

Back track to December 2013. I publicly announce to family, friends, co-workers - pretty much any one who would listen, really - that I am going to run my first marathon. Thanksgiving 2014 I'm heading to Victoria for the GoodLife Fitness marathon with the stated goal of breaking four hours!

Telling everyone meant I could not back out. I had to do it, and had a goal to achieve. In hindsight, I clearly had no idea what I was doing when it came to training. Which is fine, because all these years later I still really don't know what I'm doing.

When training for your first ever distance event - the marathon particularly - there are two things that everyone must do. Carbo-load and carbo-unload.

You have to time these things just right. Especially the unload. You don't want to start running with a four hour goal unless you poop before the race. Standing in line at a on-course porta-potty will take out too much time out of your stated goal. And it's terribly uncomfortable to try to get through, and will slow your pace significantly.

Now if you are lucky you are one of those people who can set their watch by their bowel movements. Same times, every day. Piece of cake. But not me. I'm very unpredictable. Which meant starting as early as December 2013 I was charting loading and unloading patterns so that I had two-thirds of year of data to best make may decision on race weekend.

I won't get into too many details, but bottom line is I had to give myself 18 hours after eating. So on race weekend, that meant eating a big ol' plate of spaghetti at noon the day before the race so that I could take care of business at 6am on race day. That gave me two hours of lee-way. 

I did have a bagel and peanut butter was an evening-before snack. And I had a whole breakfast routine planned out. But things did not go as hoped on the 6am unloading plan.

I probably got up by 5 and began executing the plan. But nothing was happening. I went for my trademark pre-race walk. I came back, nothing was happening. I jumped up and down, because I had no idea what else to do. Still nothing.

I had to eat my pre-race meal by 6:30, so I did that. Went back to the bathroom. Then again. And again. By this point I'm starting to panic. And Charmaine, who was still hoping to sleep, was getting annoyed. My butt touched a toilet seat probably 30 times that morning, and nothing!

We left the hotel and went to the starting line. I hit the porta-potty. Nothing. I took in the race day experience, but the whole time I was really worried that I was not pooping! Based on all my charts and calculations, there was no way I was going to make it through the four hour marathon without having an issue.

On the way to the starting corral I noticed an empty porta-potty that others did not seem to note and I rudely jumped in. Again, nothing! By the this point I have resigned myself to having to stop on course, and just hoped it did not become too big of an issue in the kilometers between the porta-potties.

The race started. In some ways this all proved to be a good distraction, as the normal first-marathon nerves were directed away by the toilet rather than the daunting task ahead. 

The race went well. I hit the goal, despite starting out too fast. Race inexperience yes, though I was trying to buy myself a bit of time for when I had to stop at a porta-potty. But the race was good though I don't remember too much of the last 10km or so. And I never had any issues! I had completely forgotten about it at some point in the race, probably because everything else hurt so much. 

I pigged out on food the finishing chute - Charmaine thought I was drunk as I kept going on about how good the oranges were - and went for a big post-race meal at Pagliacci's soon after. I don't remember what we did later in the evening, but I'm sure I had some unhealthy foods of some sort.

Still nothing!

The next day we drove all the way to Courtenay - not the greatest idea to sit in a car for a combined 5-plus hours - to visit Charmaine's Auntie Arlene. She's a lot of fun and had a huge meal ready for us. And I really enjoyed her home. But I never did see her bathroom.

Fast forward to Tuesday. After another big continental breakfast at the hotel, Charmaine is flying home to Terrace. I take a bus to the ferry terminal as I'm going to Vancouver to see my nephews. On one of those awful old flip phones I texted Charmaine from the ferry as I finally took care of the last piece of pre-race business - some 50-plus hours later.

So much for the charts.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Poop Stories: Volume One

Every runner has a poop story. I have two. I'll share this gem with you today. Check back later in the week for the second story.

It's the summer of 2016. It's a hot August day, and I'm working night shifts. I've got a 28km run with Brent planned for late afternoon. It's a key workout with the Victoria race something like six weeks away.

Normally when on night shifts I would get some sleep, but on this day I get up early to call the septic cleaning company. It's, well, let's just say, a little overdue. Having moved in not so long ago, I asked Charmaine when was the last time this smelly task was done, and she said never in the eight or nine years she had lived here. Wait...what? Three teenage girls and a couple of adults filling a septic tank close to a decade without emptying it?

Oh, shit! That's what I'm thinking to myself. This needs to get done before winter, as I'm not digging through frozen ground. So I make this a priority. I call just get an appointment, thinking I'll get it in a week or two. But no, they're coming over that very afternoon. So much for a relaxing morning getting ready for a hot, afternoon long run.

Now to start digging. Except I don't know where to dig. And apparently there are a whole lot of big rocks under the lawn. It took a whole lot of trial and error, but after 3 hours of digging I was ready. I initially hit the tank, then went the wrong way to find the lid. I had to back track.

Before I could rest much, the big vacuum truck showed up and did it's job. Even though the hole is in a pretty secluded part of the yard, I can't just leave the lawn looking like this. Especially with my dogs sticking their nose where they shouldn't. Quite literally. But I'm not burying that lid like that again.

I hop in the truck armed with a shovel and about 10 large buckets, I head off to find some sand to bury the septic tank. That will be much easier to dig up next time, even in the winter if we had to. I lug these heavy buckets from the truck, bury the lid, pile up the rocks and put the dirt back in place, sort of.

I'm doing all of this while watching the clock. Brent is waiting, the day is only getting hotter.
I text him I will meet him at 4 o'clock. I quickly shower, change, and hop in the car.

To make matters worse, I had not been hydrating all day. And did I mention it was hot? I stop at the Chevron to pick up two Powerades, downing both before the run. That is not the proper way to hydrate, by the way. To make matters worse, I'm now pissed off because Powerades may cost a buck each at Safeway, but the corner store charges nearly $4 each. But what's a guy to do?

I showed up at Brent's and we went for a great run, laughing at stories about my day.

28km later, I hop in the car and drive home. I quickly shower and get changed again. It's time to go to work. I get to recover from a long run by staying up all night working, but only after buying a couple more Powerades at a much more reasonable price.

Running Through Europe

I put running on hold for a three week vacation through Italy, Greece, Croatia and Montenegro. Ah yes, life is good. I did a little...