Sunday, 8 November 2015

My New Sparring Partner

I fought the good fight this May. I finished. But Blue Nose kicked my butt. I can still remember the fear in friend's faces afterwards. Apparently I was pale as a ghost. Just not any ghost. But a real pale ghost. Color eventually returned after rest and some bananas and anything else I could get my hands on to consume.

I had met my goal of crossing the finish line. My other goals would not be realized. Among them the desire to cross the finish line not looking like an extra in the walking dead. I wanted to cross feeling strong. Well as strong as someone can feel after a marathon. And relative to my training I was disappointed in my finish time.

I've analyzed, ruminated, speculated on what went wrong that day. I knew before the gun I was in trouble. Before I went one step my heart rate was too elevated. It was at least 10 bpm were it should be. Race anxiety? Over training? Was my body fighting a flu? I hadn't  been feeling well the last few days prior. And there was the 32k training run on only two or three hours sleep. I never did feel energetic after that run.

During the run I felt like Rocky. In the original Rocky.  Getting clobbered repeatedly, and refusing to quit. And just like Rocky, finishing was a victory. And I definitely want a rematch. I want more than a rematch. I want revenge. I don't want to finish Blue Nose. I want to humiliate it.

There won't be a rematch in 2016. The Blue Nose route will be changed due to work being done on the bridge. It's taking a break. No doubt in my mind this break is being partially motivated by fear of me. You can't duck me ever Blue Nose.

I need a capable sparring partner. Word on the street there's a pretty tough kid south of the border named Sugarloaf Don't be fooled by the silly name. Apparently this kid has speed and one daunting mountain to go up. Then it's a brutal punishment on the way down to the finish.  Sounds like just what the legs need to prepare for the ultimate rematch with Blue Nose in 2017.

Sugarloaf give me your best, I will give you mine. And I'm bringing a crew. We will see if you're rumor or a real legend.  And did be cocky kid, I'm bringing some class heat to pound your 15K race.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Fear and Lying in Nova Scotia

I made a decision today.

We all have that place. That place we hide the fear, the doubt, the insecurity. That place makes us so vulnerable we not only hide it from others, we hide it from ourselves. You know the place. It's the place we call "deep down". You've had this conversation. "Deep down I know I should have", or "deep down, I knew if I tried a little harder...". And the more frightening and dark the secret, the deeper down it hides.

Last year a world class marathoner from Kenya was invited to run in the Blue Nose Marathon. He finished his marathon before I finished my half marathon. To be fair, he had a ten minute head start. Yes, that's a joke. Another gentleman who ran the marathon is running a marathon in every state and every province. They were both featured in the Halifax media. During interviews they both had a similar comment about the Blue Nose Marathon. That comment? I can't remember their exact words, let me paraphrase, "holy crap that's some major hills you have on your course".

You see, I really wanted to make the Blue Nose marathon my first marathon. I didn't. The general feeling around the community is that it's a hard marathon to do for a first marathon. And for my first marathon I wanted to run at a nice easy pace and enjoy the experience. I didn't want to come across the finish line completely exhausted, bonked, and broken. So I chose the Prince Edward Island Marathon. And I crossed the finish line completely exhausted, bonked, and broken. Oh, and in excruciating pain. I don't know if PEI is as hilly as the Blue Nose. I know now it is very hilly. I started to struggle midway. I kept waiting for a nice down hill to recover, get a bit of break. Make up some speed. I mean it's like PEI defies the laws of physics. It's just up and up and up, but no down, down, down. Finally at 36k you start your descent down. It might have been my delirium but I think we went through some clouds on the descent down. Unfortunately by that time the downhill didn't provide any relief. I did discover what a painful IT band feels like. Just another addition to the pain. After PEI my fear of hills only worsened.

My plan after PEI was to run the Blue Nose. But deep down I feared the Blue Nose. I told a lie to myself. And when you lie to yourself it becomes real regardless it's a lie. That lie was the goal of surpassing my PEI time was mutually exclusive to my goal of running the Blue Nose. I hid this lie deep down. Safely hidden away in that dark frozen place deep down I could rationalize doing the Fredericton Marathon. You see, this is a flat route. I could surely best my previous PEI time. That was my rationalization, my lie, my dirty little secret.

It gnawed at me. Shut up deep down. Tracy often reminds me of my original goal. What it is deep down I want. Heck I've even thought of going to Ottawa to run my next marathon. A lot of friends are running their first one there, including Tracy. On all accounts it sounds like the perfect place to run a first. Ottawa would provide perfect cover for my lie, my deception, my misrepresentation, my shell game.

Ultimately, maybe, sort of, it was peer pressure. I just started training. And on the first night of training I stood in a room where other runners stood up confidently and without fear stated they would be running the Blue Nose as their first run. Deep down couldn't hold my fear and doubts any more. Like dangerous criminals escaping prison those fears assembled in my heart and thoughts. They weren't going back to their prison deep down.

I can't lie to myself any more. I can't lie to you anymore. I fear the Blue Nose. There's only one course of action. Tackle the fear. Kick its butt. I will own it, it won't own me.

Today I decided to run the Blue Nose.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Next Chapter Begins

The winter and fall has seen some fantastic runs. Without the rigors or demands of a schedule you're free to explore. Try new distances. Try new distances and different paces. Try some new snacks while running. Try running new routes and different times I had a small group of friends to do a sort of kind of schedule to keep our legs going before the marathon clinic starts. That was extremely rewarding to push some peers and to be pushed.

Learned some new things along the way. Some valuable lessons. First if you're sick, just stay home. I don't want to elaborate. I also learned I may be more able than I thought, and a bit of a wimp. Just a bit. I learned this at the end of a funsy 21.1 with my running buddy Paul. Near the end of the run he dropped the gauntlet and started to pull away. Boys will be boys. There was no way I was going let him get away. At the end of the run I had a new PB for 21.1 Had I been running alone I'm sure I would never of pushed at the end. It was the first time I pushed so hard so late into a long run. My legs didn't fall off, my lungs didn't come out my nose. Just sheer euphoria. A similar thing happened with Paul and Lisa, one of our resident elite runners and one of our coaches. Another incredible push from some great friends and runners that left me with that great feeling of exhaustion and euphoria.  And a new 14k PB and a 10K PB while doing the 14k.

Now the training starts again. I will be better equipped and feel more confident. I may finally be able to keep up with our esteemed leader and great mentor John, on one of our 10k tempos.

I find training for a marathon all consuming. Life starts to revolve around it. I've had people comment to me about not having a life. They couldn't be more wrong. It forces me to be focused and organized. My mind clears. There is no background noise. At that discipline and hard work ethic starts to become part of every facet of life.

This weekend I started the process. Cleaned my condo. It's clutter free and very clean. It will stay this way. Each night everything will be in its place before I lay my head down. Breakfast will be already made and in the fridge. My clothes will laid out the night before. My eating habits will improve dramatically. I will force myself to sleep better. Everything that makes life more efficient and easy helps keep me on track for training. I look forward to it. It's here.

And at the end of it all I'll run my second marathon. Not exactly sure which one yet. But my goal isn't  to a run a marathon. My goal is to follow the process. To live and eat healthy. To surround myself with fantastic people who understand that feeling, that euphoria. To continue put pavement under my feet. To celebrate the victories of others. To be part of my community. To do what I love.

I reached my goal last year of running a marathon. My new goal is to never stop running marathons until the good Lord calls me home.



Friday, 7 November 2014

The Most Important Lesson


There is one statistic I don't have access to. That is the number of words read per kilometre. When it comes to running, or for the matter anything that interests me, I want to learn and know more, more, more. I'm pretty sure I've racked up thousands, perhaps millions of words since I started running in May 2013.

Then there's the real life teachers. I don't think I have met another runner that wasn't willing to be helpful. I can speak only for my running circle. There are Boston qualifiers, there are ultra marathoners. There are n00bs like me.  There's leaders and mentors. Among all these levels of expertise is one common trait. The willingness to mentor, encourage and share. I suspect this is common in most running crews. These mentors and leaders can help navigate through the deluge of informations out there.

And probably most important there is the teacher of experience. You can read all about glycogen depletion, point of deflection and the oft mentioned lactate threshold. But until you have morale destroying experience of hitting the wall, these concepts have no real context. There's descriptions, strategies and advice. And it is helpful. It is not as helpful as the first time you "figure it out". And this is where we start to approach, what I think is the most important lesson. But wait, there's more.

One of the unintended consequences of all this knowledge and information is confusion.

I recently Googled "Tempo Run". I wanted more formal descriptions of terms that get thrown around my running plan. What I found is no two answers are same. And some are contradictory. I tried "Steady Run". Google joyfully spit back a gazillion results. No two of them the same. Many of the answers were by people very qualified. One particular answer was given by a sports scientist who runs marathons. His answer was completely different from a well respected coach who successfully trained world class elite runners. Asking experienced runners yields more consistent answers. Yet little consensus. And sometimes  some of this advise be it science or anecdote conflicts with what I experienced. I must be careful and point out one thing. There is some consensus. The areas of consensus are backed by physics and not some theoretical science. One particular piece of advice you will read about and hear is starting a race too fast. Another clear cut piece of advice. Don't rest enough and you will get injured. And the second most important lesson I've learned. You can't run beyond your fitness level. More on this later.

What to do?

The answer is simple. Trial and error. Pay the most attention to the advice that is consistent and makes sense. Other than that you will have to spend time figuring it out. Take the idea of the tempo run. Most resources agree this run is about lactate threshold. And that's about where the agreement ends. Exactly how do you run just below your lactate threshold? How much time to you spend running a tempo. what is the percentage of time you should train at this level? There's blood tests, the 'can you talk' test, and the heart rate measurement test. Where do you turn for the answer?

There is no correct answer for all individuals or situations. This is important to realize. I've read many training plans. And I've read about many training plans. I always wonder who the plan was created for. Who is the gold standard demographic. A twenty year old who did track in university is going to need a different marathon plan than the 40 or 50 something that has took up running in the last two years, a guy like me. You will get a better tailored plan by going with a personal coach. It will cost  you. And it might be a perfect solution for some people.

Back to trail and error. You have a sea of conflicting information for the mythical generic runner. This is why trail and error is important. It might seem inefficient. And it is if you don't pay attention to what you are doing and more important what you have done. In short, learn what works well for you, and what doesn't. I've found that running my tempo runs really fast for about 5k to 6k works best for me. To be more precise, it works best for me where I am in terms of fitness and experience. When I tried early in my running experiences to run these distances fast I couldn't finish without being exhausted. And it's no coincidence I tended be injured often when I did this. That's on the micro level. When you look at the big picture I've found the most important lesson is you have to find what works for you. There's guidance and knowledge out there. But nothing can take the place of hands on learning. You are an  individual and your training will have to be individual.

Once you have an idea what works and what does't it becomes easier to plan. A plan has to have an achievable, realistic and measurable goal. This is goal setting 101. Once you have your goal and plan you have to fill the plan with process.  Goals are useless and irrelevant without a good process. In fact to be more precise, poor processes are better than no process at all.

I consider any long run completed a success. I do believe some runs are more successful than others. And to date my most successful run was the Bluenose Half Marathon. To run successfully again like this I have to look at what I did and didn't do prior to the race. And this is where I find data invaluable. I use Smashrun Pro to collect and slice and dice my running data. I have no affiliation with Smashrun Pro but I higly recommend it.  Two things jump out at me from the period prior to the race. One is the percentage of time I spent running in the aerobic heart rate zone. The second and most telling metric is the sheer amount of mileage. The race was in May. My mileage for April is the second highest month ever. The only other month that surpasses it is August. And that was during full marathon training. It was only about 10 k more than April.

It's clear to me the two things that work best for me is mileage and spending time in the aerobic heart rate zone. I can compare these numbers with my recent marathon. The amount of mileage was more than previous, but not relatively more. And  spent more time in the recovery zone than I did previously. And this makes sense. I haven't been running long. I have to build on my fitness level. My training now will involve more mileage and more of it aerobically.

Two inescapable facts of training. You have to find what works for you .You can't run beyond your level of fitness. Intertwined and inseparable facts.

The most important lesson is simply finding what works and doesn't work for you.

Monday, 20 October 2014

It Takes A Community For One Person to Cross a Finish Line.

I'm laying on the Hotel bed typing this. I'm almost afraid to move off of it. Ouch. But that's not a complaint. I'm proud of my pain. I've earned it. And in case I forget it, the three meter walk to the bathroom reminds me. Even during the race I joked about the pain. Well the pain that isn't the race ending type of pain. That pain isn't funny. There's no reason to complain about the pain when you are running. It's not going to help. And there truly is only one option to stop the pain. And we won't speak of that option.

I expected physical pain. Not in my wildest dreams did I expect this much pain. Ya, I know I'm really selling running a full marathon with that sentence. I expected mental challenges. Surprisingly this went well. I had a picture of my two boys with me. I didn't have to look at it.  I knew it was there. And they knew Dad was running a full marathon. Quitting wasn't an option.

There were things though that I didn't expect. Fear. The pain in my quads was relentless from about 26k on. But whatever. Suck it up Princess. But that cramp in the foot. It taunted me from 30k on. It would come unannounced, just linger like an uninvited guest then awkwardly leave when it wanted to. It wouldn't take a hint. And this is the kind of pain I'm not sure I could physically run with. Not with a full blown cramp. No salt tablet. But some recovery juice in the back pockets. I started to woof them down. Seem to do the trick. Then my calves got in on the fun. And from past experience I know that is a race ending injury. Unless you're stupid and want the injury to be permanent. Thankfully if just teased me. I have done some stupid things. Running on torn or cramped calves isn't on of them.  The cramping seem to go away. The burning pain of sore muscles stayed with me. I suspect it will be with me for a few days.

The other thing I didn't expect was the emotional roller coaster. After a few jitters at the beginning things seemed to fall well into place. It was a beautiful morning. We were bang on pace.  it was euphoric. Running into the sun along the ocean. Perfect running weather. The early adrenalin.  Hard to believe it would get harder. And when it got harder my running buddies Laura and Colleen did a fantastic job of keeping things fun and interesting for the most part.

The middle part of the race was emotionally deadening at times. Not depressing. Just dead. Almost indifference. Maybe that's what happens when you're heart is too busy trying to meet the demand of major muscle groups and forgets to send some oxygen to the brain. Those moments were rare.

The elation at the end was also unexpected. I expected happiness. What I experienced was complete elation. From about the 39k mark it finally became real. For something There was no pain during the final sprint. There were no doubts. Three amazing friends came out to run us in. John, Sharon and Colleen made the last few hundred meters effortless.

Before the celebrations, before the half way point, before the starting gun, it's important no to lose track of the fact this wasn't accomplished alone. My celebration is and will be a celebration of community and bonding.

I believe no single person person can cross a finishing line without a community. They're the ones that pick you up after a bad run. They're the ones that push you on tempo night. They're the ones that run you in. They're the ones at the finish line that scream and cheer for you when you need it most. They're the ones that keep you company and keep you going on those long runs. And sometimes it's the camaraderie and story telling on run night. Or the laughter over a good post run coffee.

I can never express in words my gratitude to my running family.

One more unexpected emotion. A bit of sadness. It's hard to say good bye. My life has revolved around marathon training for months. And now she's gone. The celebration begins. The training is over. It's going to take an adjustment. The training was challenging. It was also fun. She left without a whisper in the dark of the night. Last night when we didn't need each other any more.  I knew the day would come. I didn't think I would miss her. Oh well, training for the hypo half starts soon. More adventures. More stories. And more time with my running family. I can't wait.  Well, that's not entirely true. I can wait until the fire in my quads go out.

I'm keeping my promise to my boys.

I've realized a life long dream.


Friday, 17 October 2014

When Willingness Marries Ability

It takes two things to accomplish a goal. The first one is willingness, the other is ability. Conceptually simple. One of those ideas that is made more genius by it's simplicity.

But when you start to apply the idea in practice it quickly becomes complicated. First off, which is more important in determining success? Can you overcome a lack of ability with sheer willingness? Physics would argue no. People who have witnessed or performed extraordinary feats against the odds would argue yes. And if someone very capable decides they don't have a lot of interest can the task get completed?

And there's the things that shape and form how willing or capable we are. Probably one of the most important and easiest to understand is DNA. My dreams to be in the NHL died when I turned 17. All of a sudden I was playing with kids who were much taller and heavier and faster than me. A body check just wasn't an annoyance any more. They were starting to hurt. The willingness was there. But the writing was on the wall. Without the correct DNA I wasn't going any further.

The military is an interesting place to observe where willingness is often pushed up to and sometimes past ability. I particularly remember my diving course. We did all kinds of crazy exercise before our day even started. And like the movies you've undoubtedly seen they screamed and pushed and pushed. One morning around 6:30 we running up a long steep hill. Something to this day I struggle with. Not being a strong runner I started to lag behind. But it gets worse. We were ordered to turn around and start running the hill backwards. I immediately slowed to a crawl. I struggled and started walking. Within seconds an instructor was two inches from my face. He very calmly told me I could run or I could quit. Walking wasn't an option. I was a young man full of ego and machismo on a tough military course. I couldn't quit. I already worked too hard to get to this point. I wanted the bragging rights that comes along with wearing the dolphins on your uniform. And I started to run. Lungs burning for air. Calves cramping with intense pain. The instructor kept taunting me as I struggled. "C'mon Larose just quit. Go have a nice hot shower. Be done with this." I would have screamed 'NO Master Seaman' but that required energy I didn't have. I made it to the top of the hill. I turned around and kept going. Obviously I had the ability. As slow as it was. But it took willingness fuelled by ego, machismo and the desire to join an elite group. I passed the course. It was a very proud day when I pinned the dolphins to my chest. I had the ability to be trained to a diver capable of diving in very adverse conditions. The willingness was also there. Two people didn't have the willingness. They quit. We will never know if they had the ability.

And here I am today. 48 hours from now I should be sitting somewhere relaxing and celebrating. First I'll have to answer the willingness and ability conundrum.

I'm not a young man any more. My ego has been tempered by experience and and the wisdom from failures you tend to accumulate over the years. And although am thankful to be as good as shape as I am this point in life there's no escaping physics.

When things go bad can I manage willingness on my own? With no one taunting me to quit will I be able to reach deep down and keep going? What about ability? I've done all the training. I've improved. My resting heart rate has fallen through the proverbial floor. I am much faster. I put in the long hours and long kilometres every Sunday for almost half a year. What about the DNA though? What will my body do past 32k? And will the goal of completing outweigh the urge to just go have a hot shower.

Rationally I expect to finish. Emotionally it's a little tougher. I've had bad long runs before. I know what they feel like. And I remember in those moments you start to wonder what ever possessed you to put yourself through so much pain. Do balance that I have had great runs. I finished the Bluenose half marathon with energy to spare. I've tried to reproduce everything I did in that training cycle. Shortly after that I did the Johnny Miles half marathon. That one didn't go so well. I've tried to avoid the mistakes I made there.

Do I have the right marriage of ability and willingness? Hopefully I can answer at the finish line. But please don't ask me at the 37 km marker. I'll be busy fighting the dragons of pain and doubt.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Passing Through the Running Event Horizon

I've been watching a lot of science stuff lately on Netflix. I've become enthralled with black holes. The idea of mass so concentrated its gravity can consume anything that gets close to it, and crush it into something infinitesimally small. Not just matter, but light. Science isn't really sure what is in the centre of a black hole. It can't be observed. Light can't escape its gravity. Nom nom nom, hmmmmm light.

I've watched a few documentaries where they explain what they believe would happen if you got sucked into a black hole. Of the many fascinating facts that swirl around black holes is the concept of the event horizon. That point where there is no turning back. This is the point at which nothing can escape. Prior to this point things can theoretically turn around and escape. But once you reach this point it's game over. You're going to experience spaghettification and just end up squished with all that other mass. And this is where even scientists will engage in speculation and fantasy. Is there another universe in there? A worm hole to another dimension? Or just some unbelievable amount of mass squished into something the size of a pinhead.

I think when it comes to running my first marathon I've passed the event horizon. That period in my training where there is no turning back. I'm in free fall. No longer able to escape. Hurling toward a great unknown. This body has never been beyond 32k. And it's frightening. Last post I was talking about walking a tightrope between excitement and fear. Well I've fallen off and am clearly headed toward fear. Oddly afraid I can't stop, even though I started this process. I ran toward this voluntarily. Not just voluntarily, but with enthusiasm. Yet lately when someone or something reminds me it's only x days away I feel the anxiety hit. It's not overwhelming. But it is unpleasant. And it's not needed and it must be addressed. If I have passed the event horizon I want to be excited. I want to celebrate the final moments up until the gun goes off at the start line. I want to enjoy this. That's one of the reasons I write this blog. Focus, focus, focus. Concentrate.

A fair amount of relief came at our clinic talk tonight. The speaker was Stacy Chestnut. She was an incredible inspiration. She has run over 40 marathons. She is a Boston qualifier and a bona fide Ironman competitor. But it wasn't her impressive running resume. It was her spirit. Her passion. And she hit all the right notes with perfection. She impressed upon me the importance of just finishing. Being proud of just finishing. No one is going to care or remember your time. They are going to remember you ran a marathon. Genius in its simplicity. She talked about staying positive. And then she reiterated staying positive. Suffice to say her talk had a very positive effect.

I left the clinic calm. Relaxed. Grounded. Ready to be excited again. Confident. Looking forward to the final journey to the start line. It would be futile to try and stop light from passing the event horizon, and would be futile to stop me from making it to the start line at PEI.