Monthly Archives: July, 2012

New opportunities, old challenges

Remember this momentous occasion? I’m still using the bag load of Irish Spring samples they gave me last year. It’s time once again for Moore’s Suit Drive. It’s actually been on for a couple of weeks. Not having needed businesswear for the first half of this year, I hadn’t been by the store in months and only noticed when I walked by the store between meetings a couple of weeks ago. I brought in a couple of my transitional suits. They were size 42. I’m now a 38 or 40 depending on the cut. The local charity which benefits from the drive is the John Howard Society, somewhat appropriate given my new gig.

Yes, I’m back in the swing of things on the job front. I started a new job last week. I’m working as a research assistant at the Parole Board of Canada.  It’s a four month contract and I’m still in the hunt for a permanent post, but I’m enjoying the work.

Now that I’m working again, it’s back to my old fitness routine. The Running Room clinic night on Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice club are late enough that I don’t have to rush out the door to get out there on time.  There won’t be any change on that front. (I have to admit that it’s a little weird to have a predictable schedule for the first time in my adult life.)

I have had to change my Greco routine. I go to the 7 am Lean and Fit classes now. There’s enough time that I can hit the shower and make it to the office for 8:30 without too much rush. It’s a little closer to 9 if I stop for coffee along the way. Frequent readers can probably guess … I start my day at 9. I did try to keep the Tuesday and Thursday Extreme Lean class in my routine. Since it’s a shorter class and ends at 8:30, I can still get to the office on time if I rush. This time of year, I’d rather not. There’s nothing worse in the summer than arriving at your air conditioned office a damp, sweaty, mess. Next thing you know, you’re freezing in your office when it’s damn near 50 degrees outside.

Making it to the gym for 7 means waking up at 5:30. Yes, that’s 5:30 in the morning. Remember, when I started this journey a year and a half ago, I was getting up that early, sometimes earlier. That was in January when it was pitch black and -20 out. This time of year, the sun is shining and it’s +20 out.  It’s a little easier to settle into a routine in those conditions. I’m also modifying a routine, not starting fresh.

So it’s going to be the 7 am class four times a week for the foreseeable future. When I started the year off unemployed, I kept going to the 7 am class for a while. I probably started going to the later class around late February or March. As I realized that the job situation was not going to be resolved as quickly as I originally anticipated, I started going to the later class. After all, I didn’t have anywhere to I needed to be at 9 am.

You may also noticed the blog entries are getting shorter. Sorry. Since I don’t have as much free time on my hands, the 2000+ word entries may be a little less frequent for bit. It’s about quality, not quantity. Right?


Now that we’re in the middle of July, it’s pretty much the peak of the tourist season in Ottawa. With the all the visitors to the downtown, we urbanites, especially the denizens of the Byward Market and surroundings, can feel like the animals at a petting zoo. It certainly makes for crowded sidewalks when running in the evening.

On Tuesday, I actually got to lead the half-marathon clinic in a mini-talk on running drills. It was fun taking the group up to Parliament Hill to do drills on the front lawn.  Since they’ve been watering the lawn nearly continuously throughout our drought, the lawn at Parliament Hill is probably the only green grass in all of Ottawa. Maya, the instructor for my 5K/10K clinic last year, would do the same. I tried to incorporate them into the my own clinics, but I found it just made the participants impatient. Since many of them were doing a 5K race for the first time in their lives, the importance of drills (to improve flexibility and improve speed) was utterly lost on them.  My 2 hour pace group can be quite large, but leading the entire clinic gave me an appreciation of just how large the group is. I lined up the group parallel with West Block and they took up the full width of the lawn. The Hill is teaming with tourists. I’m sure we made a bunch of Facebook albums in Japan and whatever highly censored version they have in China.

Wednesday was another hill night. Five repeats this time. We split them between Fleet St. and the Rideau Locks, with a nice tempo run in between. I enjoyed this in the last clinic, but I can’t help but think this is a mistake this time of year. In addition to the usual competition for space with pedestrians and cyclists, the Locks hill is full of tourists watching the locks in action or hanging out at the Bytown Museum waiting for their boat tour to come in. We easily add another 90 people to that equation. On my first run up the hill, I go caught behind a man in an electric wheelchair that I had a little difficulty passing. Since the hill is too steep for the electric motor of the chair, he had to criss-cross the width of the path. For giving one of my instructors a thumbs up as we passed each other on the hill, I almost lost an arm to a douchebag cyclist that thought the downward slope of the locks hill was the finish line of the Tour de France. Same asshole dinged Kalin further down the hill.

If we meet again, you’ll have one thing in common with Lance Armstrong. One thing. It won’t be the number of titles.

The weather has much improved in Ottawa. We had a wicked afternoon and evening  of thunderstorms Monday that broke the back of the humidity. It’s still a littly muggy here, but the highest humidex it reached post-storm was 36 degrees. Even that night there was a breeze which pretty much cancelled it out.

For the first Sunday in a few weeks, I’m looking forward to Sunday’s long run, 14K. It’s a nice route that takes us through Old Ottawa South, through Carleton Univeristy and the experimental farm. It’s supposed to be a nice sunny day. Fingers crossed.



New Mistakes

Sometimes, I just can’t miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

This Sunday’s long run was a case in point. Remember how last time I ran this route, I missed a turn and added almost 2K to the run?

Well, I didn’t make that mistake again.

In fact, I didn’t get the chance to make that mistake again. I missed the turn before that one. There was roadwork on Mariposa and the street sign was down. My friend, Keith, alerted me to this fact. The GPS app on his cellphone was showing the unmarked road as Mariposa. For some reason, I thought it was further up, one the other side of the US Ambassador’s residence. Besides, those GPS apps on cellphones aren’t “true” GPS … right? One of my runners, who runs in the area agreed.

Now I could have checked my own phone. I had MapMyRun going and could have just as easily checked our location and corroborated or refuted Keith. I didn’t though. I just wanted to get the run back on track and didn’t think it through.

I realized how bad the situation was when we made it back to the Rockcliffe Parkway.


Thankfully, we could turn back to the store early on Laurier and not continue all the way to Somerset to mitigate some of the extra distance. While they’ll have to run in excess of that distance anyway, unlike last time when we ran that route when it was foggy and cold this time it was in the forties with the humidex. The only thing that kept it bearable for the run was the cloud cover.

At least I didn’t miss Charlotte St. this time.


If any of my runners are reading this, not to worry. Karma duly punished me for my sins.

Guess who forgot to put some Body Glide on his floppy bits last Sunday?

This guy!

Guess who didn’t have his planned post-run swim in his salt water swimming pool?

This guy!

You’d think I would have learned from my lady friends that it’s a terrible idea to wear white without anything underneath while doing something athletic.

As Red Green says, “I’m a man. I can change. If I must. I guess.”

Remember, just because one is educated doesn’t meant they’re actually smart.

The rest of week was quite the doozy. The heat finally broke Tuesday night. We had a couple of thunderstorms and a cold front moved in so it’s now back to seasonal norms. We could feel the breeze moving in during the run, but between gusts the sun was still quite hot.

Despite a couple of heavy showers, we still haven’t had a substantial rainfall since June 8th and we’re in a level-2 drought here in the Ottawa area.

Just in time for another week of hills. My previous instructor came out for his first run since Race Weekend. It was also the 20 Minute Challenge, so the enticement of a free hat brought out some people I hadn’t seen since last summer.

The other challenge this week was adapting another big change. I have a job.

I’m working on a research project for the Parole Board of Canada. It’s a four month contract, so it will definitely keep me in Ottawa for the remainder of the year or until I find something permanent.

Having somewhere to be at 9 am has meant some modifications to my routine. I’ve been going to the 7 am Lean and Fit class at Greco instead of the 8. I did the shorter Extreme Lean class on Tuesday and still made it to the office for 9, but just on time. Regular readers know I like to lollygag at the gym. It’s actually important this time of year to take my time. I don’t want to show up at work a sweaty mess.

Looks like it’s waking up an hour early for the foreseeable future.

It’s a good problem to have because as I’ve learned these last few months, the only thing worse than being busy is being not busy.


The hills are alive…

… with the sounds of runners.

What? You were expecting this:

While that might may be one of my mother’s favourite songs (seriously, she would break out into that song almost randomly growing up), it’s not on my iPod.

It’s been a crazy busy week.

Probably going to have some positive news on the job front soon. Don’t want to jinx anything, so I’m going to exercise custody of the tonque or, in this case, keyboard for now.

Whatever may come in the weeks ahead, I will be adapting my exercise routine to compensate for certain things … like the fact I’ll have somewhere to be at 9 o’clock, so no more lollygagging at Greco. Probably going to have to go to the earlier 7 am classes. I will probably still be able to go to the extreme lean and fit classes, but will play it by ear.

It’s always good to change up the routine, but the running routine will stay the same for now. We’re into week 7 of my half marathon clinic. That means hill training has begun and will continue for six weeks. We started with three repeats and will work up to 8.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about this part of the training. On the one hand, it’s great strength training on the legs. There’s a few hills on the typical race course even here in Ottawa and it helps to be over prepared than under prepared. The intensity of the workout also gives you a bit more of a rush than the average tempo run.

On the other hand, it gets rather mind-numbing as the repeats increase. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.

I also like to take my pace group for a 2 km cool down after the repeats are done. It helps to work out the lactic acid that can build it in the limbs during strength training.

We have the added challenge doing this doing a heatwave. It’s been so long without any rain in this city that a class 2 drought has been declared. The dirt and dust kicked up by the roadwork being done on Rideau St. Is not helping my lungs at all.

While we may have a target race and goal times in mind, training, in general, and running, in particular, is something we want to do for life after and between races. If you never run another race after our clinic, will you want to and be prepared to run on your own or even come to the Wednesday and Sunday practice clubs? Seems like the answer is yes. I’ve been running into quite a few of my previous clinic’s pace group in the last couple of weeks, as well as alumni of my 5K clinics, and some have come back to the Running Room and are taking other clinics (Andrew at the Slater St. Running Room is experimenting with an advanced 10K program if anyone is interested). Some are running on their own.

They’re all still running.

So am I.


Beware the rabbit

No, I’m not talking about the killer rabbits from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. 

I’m writing about the person who runs ahead of your pace group, but isn’t the actual pace leader. They may want a slightly faster run, or just want to be in the front of the group because they don’t like running in crowds. The thing is, they’re first but they have no responsibility to the group. Some are good about this and check to make sure they’re  still on course. Others are just plain careless.

The reason I call them rabbits comes partly from why we call the pacers on race day “pace bunnies”. It goes back to dog races. The dogs follow a fake rabbit on a mechanical arm that moves around the track to the finish line. Runners in a group have a tendency to follow whoever is first. It can be a little tricky in the first couple of weeks as people move up and down pace groups looking for the right one from them. Between adrenaline and lack of blood to the brain, they may not recognize  they’ve started following someone other than their pace leader.

I’ve had to deal with this a few times as a pace leader. Each instance required a different strategy. In my last clinic, I had a married couple that wanted to do continuous pace for long runs on Sunday. I just let them go off and do their thing. As far as I was concerned, once the first walk break started and they kept running, they left the group. If they were within shouting distance and had missed a turn, I would let them know but keep the rest of the group from replicating the mistake. I had another short distance hero that thought we should run faster on our LSD runs. Despite her terrible form and awful breathing, she kept insisting she and therefore we should be faster. I remember the 7K run from hell last winter where she spent the last 2 kilometers talking about her 45 minute 10K finish from five years ago.

Earlier in this clinic, I knowingly let a rabbit make a wrong turn to make an example of him. He crossed Wellington St. when he didn’t have to and half a dozen members of the group went with him. It was the difference between having a run from MacKenzie to Bank St. uninterrupted by traffic lights and having to stop for lights three times and cross back to our side of Wellington because the stretch from O’Connor to Bank was closed.  That same run, I had already told one wannabe rabbit who said we should cross on don’t walk light that we don’t do that in my pace group. It was that long light by the National Art Gallery that’s fed by three different roads. Long and short of it is, I told her my group obeys traffic signals and makes it home alive.

Tuesday, I had a what could have been a Darwin Awards worthy moment on my hands. Several of my runners have this habit during tempo runs of running faster for the last 500 meters or so to the store (it happened last time early in the clinic, but waned as people moved to higher pace groups, distance increased, etc). Since this is usually on city streets with traffic lights, I think this is probably the stupidest thing a runner can do on any given night. I also don’t like the interruption of traffic lights, so when I run the group along the canal I always go far enough down before turning around we will get our distance in by the time we make it back to Elgin St and reserve those two blocks back to the store for a cool down walk. With this 5K route, it’s difficult. I would normally have my group just keep going to Bank to finish off the distance without having to stop for lights. Unfortunately, four of my group had already turned down O’Connor so I led the rest down that way, too. Given what would happen next, I’m glad I did. I witnessed two of my group running towards a crosswalk despite the orange hand of a don’t walk light. I shouted for them to stop. I could see three buses heading in their direction. They entered the intersection without hearing me.  Thankfully, they cleared the intersection before the traffic reached them. Neither of them even turned their heads to see what was coming their way or why they were being shouted at.

I spoke to them individually when I got back to the store. One was very apologetic. She didn’t realize it. She was following the one in front of her. Rabbit syndrome. The other was defiant, denying the don’t walk light was even lit. She got a lecture on how the “bon homme” (I’ve only learned recently that this is what francophones call a walk light) isn’t a force field. Neither of them could hear me because they were both listening to music. Noticing that both of them were listening to music in both ears, I suggested that they only use one earbud. The apologetic one agreed. The defiant one then told me something earth-shatteringly stupid:

“I can’t run with one ear phone because only one ear works.”

Huh? Say again.

“I’m deaf in one ear. I have to use my good for my iPod.”

So you’re using your good ear for music instead of paying attention to your surroundings on city streets?

“It’s okay, I won’t sue.”

I’ll believe that when I see it … in writing … witnessed … and notarized.

I’ve been around lawyers most of my life. When I said to one of my lawyer friends that I new many of his ilk, he joked back, “Yes, but do you know any good ones.”

My attitude towards music and running has evolved over the year and a half I’ve been at this. I’ve been doing my training runs and short races without it, but I did do my half-marathon with it. Since I was planning to run too fast to keep up a conversation, I figured a playlist would be in order to keep my mind focused. Everyone I’ve met since starting at the Running Room has told me one thing about long runs; they can be boring to the point of distraction to do alone. In fact, when I run alone I typically just do this almost 6K loop.

I just could’t believe how cavalier Defiant One’s attitude was. I honestly hope she never runs alone at night…or, for that matter, daytime. Even in nice cities like Ottawa, summer seems to bring out the pervs.

Thankfully, she wasn’t my problem on Wednesday. It was only 3k, so she tried the 1:50 group. When our groups passed each other after the turnaround, she was keeping up. Hopefully, she will find that pace more to her liking. With her attitude, she’s an accident waiting to happen at my pace level.

In some ways, the rabbits remind me of people who didn’t show up to class in university.     In most courses it was no bother. After all, life happens.  We all had that course, though, where, despite being fully enrolled, only about half the students show up to an average class. They enroll in the course/program for the credit of doing so, but really aren’t interested in doing much than getting credit for showing up on exam days. This frustrated me royally as both student and professor. On separate occasions, I was both a student in and instructor for university classes that were prerequisites for the program I was in. Everyone in the program wanted into these courses so they were required for their major. I remember during my brief stint as a political science/criminology double major and having to sit through the required class on deviance. Attendance for this class was about 55-60%. There were only two sections that year and it was a prerequisite to enter the third year courses in criminology, which was incredibly popular at St. Thomas. There was a huge wait list. We could all drop the course and it could be filled by the morning.

The professor’s frustration was obvious. She would use it as a teaching moment, “Let’s talk about the general versus specific deterrent effects of an attendance requirement on class.” It felt like she was punishing those who showed up for those that didn’t. We weren’t the ones who taking a space in the course away from someone who wanted to be there. I had many issues with the course and the material, but when that teachable moment became an essay question on her mid-term, the one time the classroom was full, I realized I didn’t want to be there. While it was too late in the term to vacate my spot for a student who would have liked to have been in the course (or to pick up an additional course to replace the one I was about to drop), I could at least be an example to my fellow students. I handed in my half-completed mid-term, which probably scared the shit out of the no-shows, and headed to the registrar’s office to drop the course mere minutes before the deadline to do so without penalty expired. I trudged through the snow, hoping the forecasted storm had not made the office close early. It was a move that solidified a decision made earlier in the week, to honor in political science.

When I returned to St. Thomas to work with then Senator Kinsella and teach in their human rights program, I used the experience of that deviance course to shape my own policies as an instructor. By the time I had returned, we had online registration and the wait lists were done away with. We also had requests from the registrar’s office to inform them of anyone who did not attend the first couple of classes so they could be dropped to make room for students wanting to get in. I had an Intro class of 75 and clearly articulated in the syllabus that anyone who missed three out of the first four classes without contacting me would be dropped. This would help make room for those that wanted to be there. I would also drop anyone who missed the majority of classes by the drop without penalty date. In my mind, this would be an act of mercy. Since it was a relatively new program, only the second full-time program in Canada, we were not sure what the text should be for the Intro course. I used human rights documents and supplemented them with my lectures, along with some journal articles. If you didn’t attend the lectures, you wouldn’t pass the exam. I figured seeing these items in print would scare off a few to make room for someone who wanted to be there. I had over 90% attendance. That didn’t prevent the real awkward conversation with one student who showed up for the exam having never attended a class other than the first.

I know it’s a rather limited comparison. For one thing, no one is taking space from someone who would like to be there but can’t because we’re oversubscribed. Running Room clinics don’t work that way.

Where the comparison is apt is these rabbits have enrolled in a program, but for whatever reason want to do something other than the program they paid for. Most of my rabbits just want a faster run. The simple solution for them is they should probably attempt to run with a faster pace group. My friend Christian found this to be the case when he ran with me one Sunday and ran with the 1:50 group subsequent weeks. I’m a big fan of training conservatively, but now is the time in our schedule to experiment with your abilities and try the faster pace. There’s nothing personal and I’m not offended if you want to run with a faster group. You can always come back to the slower pace group.

If you want to run at faster pace but can’t keep up with faster group, take responsibility and volunteer to lead a group between the already established groups. For example, start a 1:55 group. It may be a good way to work yourself up to the faster group. Just as an example, Joanne created a 2:10 pace group in the last clinic and within weeks they were all part of my 2h group.

The moral of this story is if you want to do your own thing, do your own thing. Don’t drag others with you.

Be a leader, not a rabbit.