Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Running In The Right Direction

Let me be the first to say that I'm not in the pay of the Bluenose International Marathon (BNIM). Nor, must it be said, am I a great friend of the race. I placed 2nd overall in the full marathon in 2005 and didn't get anything for that, no medal, no cheque, not so much as a free entry for next year. This "so long and thanks for all the fish" attitude I experienced in '05 gives my dislike of the race some legitimacy, or so I like to think.  A victim of Race Director Gerry Walsh's great democratisation of running; don't give prizes to the winners so everyone feels like a winner.

Certainly this build-it-and-they-will-come attitude has worked. The event has grown three-fold over the last eight years to about 12k runners, if you include the kids' run on Saturday, even if the actual marathon component has remained constant at ca. 300 runners. What's not to love about an event that is mobilising an extra >5000 people a year to do something? Even if your actual marathoners occasionally get pissed off by the ignorance of local media labelling all 12 000 runners as marathoners when actually only 3% of us are,and jealously guard the designation.

Yet I digress.

In my opinion, and yes it is an opinion (not Holy Writ) this was one of the best run BNIM in recent years. Which likely goes against what some are saying.  I can say this despite my ambivalence towards the event. I like to think I have some perspective on the matter; I've run most of the BNIM, to date six full marathons and one half-marathon. I've been there for the crappy weather, the confusing courses that even local runners couldn't keep straight in their heads, the mass DSQs, the cross-overs, I've nearly hit oncoming runners, a friend of mine was hit by a car and I believe la belle was once stopped en route by police and course-marshalls to let vehicular traffic have priority.

Not this year.

Incoming director Gerri Wallace took the race by the scruff of the neck and shook it up. The confusing courses were gone. I'm partial to the old, original course that took in oxford, Jubilee, Connaught, Almon and Young, but I can see how the city doesn't like that course.  This year it was quite intuitive for a change, no more two and a half loops of the North End and an "optional" loop of the Citadel! Dartmouth then Halifax means a lot more cheering in the final stages of the marathon. The timings were different and they helped to cut down on course congestion. It wasn't totally alleviated, but until the city allows them to run the 5 and 10K on Saturday, a la Run Ottawa, they'll never fully solve this. If the event continues to grow the way it has however, then the city might soon be amenable to this. One hopes.

Runners have always complained about not having a closed course. I don't think this town will ever give us 26 miles of roads all to ourselves but this year had more road closures and parking bans than previous years. This goes in the category of things unseen. Your average runner won't even have noticed there was less vehicular traffic on the course this year and is likely not even be aware of this. So consider yourself told!

Kudos to organisers, but the far end of the Dartmouth side of the marathon route, a part of the course visited by only 300 or ca. 3% of the participants, had the same look & feel and attention to detail as, say, the Five Corners intersection, visited by all 12000 runners, sometimes more than once.

There were some problems on the Halifax side, I won't deny it, but remember, this was, essentially the first time this course had been used, there were bound to be some mishaps.

They also had some great green initiatives, like the Hydropouch and using HRM tap-water, reducing the bottle and cup count considerably. Like the course, these initiatives were somewhat imperfectly done, but this can only be a learning experience, both for HRM, the LOC and the runners.

One of my favourite expressions about racing is adapted from a saying attributed to the Duke Of Wellington, that one might as well tell the history of a ball as a battle. He meant, of course, in either situation, the experience of one or two people may not be representative of the whole. The same applies to racing. My experience of BNIM , from the vantage-point of the 3:30 pace bunny may be, and is, slightly different from that of la belle, as the 4:00 pace-bunny, which again are different perspectives  from those of any of the other 12 000 runners.  Ditto the spectators. So, all I ca say is that for my time and place on the course, it looked pretty good. Not perfect by any means, but pretty good. In fact, at the risk of repeating myself, the best for a few years.

Finally, before you say anything about this apparent BNIM love-in; Gerry - I'm still waiting for my 2nd place overall gong from the 2005 event. Just sayin'


Monday, May 21, 2012

Run Rabbit Run

So, marathon#18 in the bag, and my second time pace-bunnying a full.  In fact my last two marathons have been as a pace-bunny for the 3:30 group.

Bunnying a marathon seems to have piqued many peoples' interest, so how is it really?

I think the trick is to pick your pace-group carefully.  Some people have asked me "isn't it difficult to run at 5 minute per kilometer (5:00/km) pace?".  I would answer, for myself, "no".  If I were to go for a nice, relaxed run I tend to average out between 4:30 and 4:45/km,  So running at 4:45 and 5:00 is really quite natural.  Any slower and I'm constantly pulling away from the group.  I'm not being an arsehole, I just find it very difficult to run that slowly.   Conversely, for the faster paces it's running at 4:15 for three hours that is decidedly unnatural!

It is, of course, personal.  La belle's likes to bunny the 4:00hr group or about 5:40/km. It's all about preference.

The second thing is a marathon is not a distance to be run with alacrity.  You need to prepare to bunny a marathon in the same way that you would prepare to race one.  I stopped cramming the miles in a couple of weeks ago and cut down from 100kms to 50km to 30kms during the taper.  I still had the huge pasta dinner on Saturday night, I still went to bed early, got up early and my race-day ritual contained all the usual little personal tics it would have had for a "real" race.  

Except this is a real race; I might not be racing for absolute performance but instead I'll be expected to lay down a time not too far removed from an all out effort (only 19% slower from my current best pace).  Remember, a marathon isn't a race you can be guaranteed a finish; it's so long, too much can go wrong, or many things have to go right - some of them out of your control. I won't deny, I had butterflies in my stomach standing on the start.

One thing I noticed in Moncton and confirmed here was that bunnying a marathon feels just like running one for yourself only less-so.  So I still felt that slight tightness in my hamstrings and ITB at 15 miles, those little niggles that remind you you've been running for a while and which may yet develop into a disabling attack of cramp.  I still got that slight sense of ennui about the whole thing around 31 kms ("aren't we done yet, I've been running all day") and a slight sense of bonk-i-ness at about 34 kms, the "sod it I'm going to pack it all in and crawl under the nearest bush and sleep before I do myself some real harm" feeling.  Except, like I said, less so.  So the feelings tend to pass relatively quickly instead of sitting on your head and growing into a big black dog that's constantly dragging you down.

Some of that is to do with your group.  As pace-bunny you are part pace-setter, part drill-sargeant, part agony-aunt and part cheer-leader.  So you encourage, threaten and cajole your charges to the finish-line.  This can be quite fun and it is certainly rewarding to get people to personal best times.  

Interestingly, and perhaps intuitively, I ended up running with three distinct groups.  Most people positive-split a marathon, that is run the first half faster than the second.  Pace-bunnies are expected to run an even split; the same time for both halves.  In Moncton and Halifax I ran an even(ish) split; 1hr 44 min for both halves. So, there's always a big group for the first half; if you're shooting for 3:30 then a 1:45 half is eminently do-able.  I had a fluid group of at least five for both events, but as there are always people who don't want to run with you but just want to keep you in sight, I don't know how many people were keying off me in the first half.  

After the half, the first group starts to melt away and is replaced by a second group of people who started just a tad fast, are starting to fade and are coming backwards to you.  How long this group stays depends on how quickly they're fading.  Yesterday, I had completely swapped my group between 21 and 25kms.  At one point I felt like a mother duck with a loose line of nearly ten people stretched out behind me.  

This group eventually implodes too as the distance mounts.  At Moncton I ended up with one guy by about 21 miles and we came to an agreement; no walk-breaks, just 5:00/km and walk the aid-stations.  Same here at Bluenose; I was all alone by about 31 kms, so I just kept to pace.  At 35 kms I picked up a marathoner who was kinda walking and he said he wanted to try and run in with me.  So we hooked up and I got him through a very tough 4 kms around the park. There was a touch of the blind leading the blind here however as I was having my own moments of self-doubt in the park and having to shepherd someone else through their own helped me to dwell less on my own inner demons.  Coming out of the park I still had a couple of minutes in hand and at 40kms it was clear we were going to come in around 3hrs 25 minutes so instead of keeping the pace down I let it creep up a little and then we booted it for the last kilometer,

Job done.

Here are my kilometer splits from Garmin.  A fairly even pace throughout and even though I felt like I was slowing down, clearly I didn't.  

Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy that graph.

Yup, geek!

Unfortunately, no HR data as the Polar I was wearing died half-way through.  What are the odds; it performed yeomans' service all the way through training and the battery dies 1/3 through my first race of the year!  Johnny Miles maybe.

After I finished I turned around and went back down the course to bunny in the people who had dropped off the pace. Big props to them all.  That's Brett Glover below, a trackie and x-country guy from SMU.  His Dad was running the half and Brett did a couple of training runs with him.  Brett took this race on with one 20K long-run under his belt and did it in Vibram five-fingers.  He ran through the first half with me, 1:44, bang on schedule.  He even put the boots to me on Maple Street!  He dropped off on Agricola and I didn't see him again until I picked him up again at Cogswell and Brunswick and ran the last three-hundred metres with him to see him home for a stonking 3:44 marathon debut.  

A shout out goes to Jennie Orr, Michael Gaudet, Rachael House, Andrea Moritz, Cyrus John, Chad Smith and Steve Elliot, all people I spoke to and ran with en route.  I know there were more, and I"m sorry if I can't remember your names.

Kudos one and all, it was a great experience to run with each and every one of you.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

An open letter to the Chronicle Herald about the Bluenose

This one goes out to the sports staff at the Chronically Horrible and Monty Mosher, a man who always either mispells my name in the results or faced with a seemingly impossible unScottish series of vowels just gives in and omits it all together.

We marathoners are a sensitive lot. It's a Sisyphean task. We toil all year under the most outrageous conditions; sleet, hail, rain, snow - the USPS has nothing on us. Many of us are family people so we often do our miles in the dark at antisocial hours before the kids get up or after they go to bed. We don't want medals (well, a nice, understated finishers' one perhpas), we don't want glory nor we want too much attention.

All we want is some Goddamn respect.

I don't call myself a marathoner, I'm just a guy who runs marathons and yes, I'm running the full at the Bluenose International Marathon (BNIM). I shouldn't have to even qualify that as 'full' marathon as a marathon is, by definition, a set distance, but I digress.

This isn't somthing I do on a whim.  Oh, I think I'll do a marathon next week. This takes planning.

Let me tell you what it means to be a guy who 'just' runs marathons. The last time I checked my training log I had just shy of 1600 km run since January 1. That's 1000 miles. I've been thinking about this event since Christmas last year. Every run and every missed donut is connected with this goal even if only tangentially or as a mere whisper at the back of my mind.

I am not alone. The mileage may vary but every man Jack (and woman Jill) who lines up on Sackville Street at five-to-eight on Sunday has a similar story. Everyone from the grizzled veteran to the excited-yet-scared first-timer has a tale of dark and cold and ice and unfriendly dogs and impossible, self-supported training runs that took them to the far corners of HRM, sometimes all on the same day!

So Monty, please do us all the favour of refraining from the tautology of the "5km marathoner". Such a thing doesn't exist.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no marathon snob. I appreciate, understand and laud the effort and achievement of all 10 000 runners this weekend. It's not "only" the 5 K.  If that's all you have in you then all power's to you and you have my respect. Five kilometers or forty-two, neither are distances to be undertaken with alacrity, one is not worth more or less than the other and congratulations on both taking up and beating the challenge.

However Monty, just don't let your quest for inclusiveness get away from yourself. We guys and gals who do marathons run all year in the metaphorical and literal dark and this weekend is our only chance to come out into the light at home. So please, no medals, no glory. No NBC-style video of us running through the park in slo-mo cut to inspiring instrumental music. Just a little nomenclaturial respect.

On behalf of the 350 registered marathon participants on Sunday, I thank both for your time and your attention to this matter.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Underuse injury

So here we are, ten days into the speed-taper for the Blue Nose International Marathon (BNIM). What a fuck-up. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not speed-tapering because I'm being an arrogant bastard, oh this is marathon #18, I'm too good to taper like a newbie. I'm speed-tapering because I was a fuckwit unable to use a calendar. 

The exchange went something like this

(la belle) "So, a 100 km week? You know it's Bluenose in two weeks?"

(me) "Don't be daft lass, it's only May 5th. BNIM is at the end of May, always has been. I've got three weeks"

"It's on the 20th this year numbnuts, that's two weeks tomorrow"

"No it's not"

"Yes it is"

"Calice de ciboire d'hostie de tabernak"

"You missed the accent in 'câlice'"

"Double fuck"


So I've been on an enforced diet of not running for ten days and does it ever feel wierd. I'm constantly tired; I slept for 12 hours and was nearly late for work the other day, and I start at 10 in the morning, now that's tired. My body aches all over and my ITB is niggling again. Also, despite not burning the equivilent of an extra three days worth of food on the road every week, it seems like I still have an appetite like I am.

Some of this is catastrophizing; every little twinge is a stress-fracture. This is quite normal before a big event and I believe it has even been scientifically documented.

Some of this may be due to what Stacy Juckett-Chesnutt calls under-use injuries. I think that when we're training hard our mind doesn't let our body think too hard about what it's doing, it just does. Even if you don't want to go out, your body still makes you. It's a machine, albiet one with no imagination and a disturbingly single-minded focus. When we taper our mind gives our body permission to relax, and when it does, all the aches and pains and niggles come out in a rush with a vengence. 

Also, I got what I thought would be my BNIM shoes, the Mizuni Elixir. Mildly posted, I've run in these before. But their mild lateral post, usually OK for my gait, has made my ITB flare up again. That's the third time this year, all three times correlate to correctional footwear. Lesson learned I think.

At least this is making me rest up even more than I would. You see, at the end of the day, a marathon is not a distance to be run with alacrity. When you do, and when you allow your hubris to get the better of you, funny things happen. Not funny-ha-ha either, but funny-peculiar. Ask la belle. So even though I'm "only" bunnying and I'm "only" running to a 15 minutes personal worst, I'm taking this seriously. You see, those quotes around 'only'; these are sarcastic air-quotes, there's nothing "only" about running a marathon, at any speed. You must respect the distance, whether it's marathon#1 or marathon#101. if you don't, the marathon will turn around and bite you in the arse. Or the ITB.  Or maybe your hamstring. 

So any first-timers out there, don't worry if you're feeling simultaneously nervous, keyed up, on edge and excited. I'm feeling just as nervous, just as keyed up and on-edge and simultaneously excited as you are yet I should know better. I'd be worried if I wasn't! 


Sunday, May 6, 2012


Currently in recovery from a couple of mad weekends and anticipating a couple of more mad ones.  Plus, it's been busy at the shop and that takes it out of you.

A couple of weeks ago I did a one-two race gig over the weekend.  Not racing mind you, but all the other stuff. 

After a year's absence I was back to lead bike at the Lung Run, a wickedly fast, flat 5K down on the waterfront.  It was good fun to work at a running race again.  Sure, I timed the Moose Run 25K a month ago, but that was a cold, windy day and I had to scarper pretty much as the last runner finished so I could make the symphony.  Not conducive to hanging out with the runners and having a chat.  

At the Lung Run I was able to catch up with a bunch of people I hadn't seen all winter, which is always nice.  The sun was shining and afterwards they had beer, free beer at that, which made the hanging out even more fun.

I did 25 kms on the bike at the Lung Run, circling endlessly, leading the front-runners in (and trying not to let them run me down at the same time) then going back encourage the mid-pack and safely shepherd the back-markers home.

The next day, Sunday, I was at the Halifax Citadel for the first running of the MEC Citadel Run, a 5 or 10 km run up, down and around the Halifax Citadel, including a loop of the moat, sorry ditch.   It was  a unique experience being in the moat, sorry ditch, something usually denied (I think) to regular visitors.  Plus, access to the moat, sorry ditch, was more than the French ever managed.  

Oh yes, we may all be friends in one happy Europe now but still, don't mention the war! Any of them.

The races were started by a kilted Highlander firing a Brown Bess and the kids' run breifing was done by a senior NCO, both from the 78th.  Honestly, with the bagpipes, kilts, muskets, walls, ravelins ad moats (sorry ditch), I could have been in a Sharpe novel.  

As well as time the adult run I led out the kids run; a 1km sprint around the moat, sorry, ditch. The kids all had on kilts from the Citadel's interpretative centre.  I even put one of those kilts on, just to get in the spirit.  When RNS asked for voluntolds to time the Citadel Run I jumped at the opportunity; I mean how often do you get to hang around and, in part, take over an historic monument for the morning? How could I say no?

This weekend I got to go up to Pictou with La Belle for a work retreat of hers.  As well as the retreat-y stuff she had we managed to squeeze in a 2 hr ride and a little run.  I took the new Kona fixie.  I may be a bit of a saddle freak as I only have 100 kms on a brand-new Brooks Swallow and I'm finding it pretty comfortable, easily as comfy as the Fi'z:k Arione on the Chinese crabon frame.

I was at the retreat as Dr Mrs La Belle, a role I have danced a couple of times before.  Rather than go shopping with the other WAGS, I was able to read and read and read.  Not even on a computer screen, but proper, paper, bound books.  I did some damage to the stack of books I got at the book-sale two weeks ago between the really well catered and apportioned meal breaks, all of which were buffet style (clearly they didn't know I was coming).  In many ways, this was a little vacation for me, all 36 hours of it, and my GP and cholesterol be damned, 

I'm calling this weekend a speed-taper; 5 mile run, 35 mile bike-ride, tons of sandwiches and litres of coffee.  Somehow I haven't really been looking at a calendar and it just occurred to me that Bluenose is two weeks today, and I just knocked off a 100 km running week.  It scares me that  technically I should be in marathon shape; I don't feel it but then again I don't think I ever do.