Tag Archives: half marathon

The saga continues…

So remember how I was going to keep you posted on those new adventures in Fredericton?

Kind of failed miserably on that one.

In a nutshell:

I trained solo for the Army Run Half Marathon. Did well with another sub-2 hour finish, but not as well as I wanted. Made the rookie mistake of starting too fast and running out of gas.

I learned a few lessons from solo training this summer:

1. I can do it.

2 Running alone sucks.

3. Never eat corn the Saturday night before a long run.

I think those are self-explanatory.

Started training for the Bluenose Marathon. Went old school and did the Running Room clinic here in Fredericton. Whether it was those tumbles last year in the Hypothermic Half catching up to me or just plain wear and tear, I ended up with a Baker’s cyst under my patella and doctor’s orders to lay off the training. Oh well, next year.

Still keeping active, but laying off the high impact cardio. I’ve been hitting the swimming pool at the YMCA most mornings before work.

My promo photo

How’s that for an “after” photo?

On the professional side, work is going very well. I spent the summer studying for my life licence exams. Passed those and then waited months for the province to approve my application. Now approved, I’ve been going gangbusters on expanding my firms employee benefits division as well as working with individual clients.

I’ve also been teaching some political science courses at my alma mater, St. Thomas University.  The teaching was an unexpected opportunity, but a welcome one. Given the academic job market, I’m pretty lucky to be in a position to even use my PhD. Since both courses I taught were as a replacement for a previously hired professor, the timetable was not of my choosing (like most part-time instructors) and finding the balance between the primary and secondary employers was difficult. With training for a marathon on top of two jobs, it’s a good thing Kalin and I were long distance as we would have seen each other just as much.

That’s right, I wrote “were” long distance. Our long distance relationship is no more. It’s now a no distance relationship.  We’re engaged to be married and will be tying the knot next year.

IMG_0917

We have many adventures ahead, one of which is a new blog we’ll be co-writing, In Omnia Paratus: An Adventure in Literature, and Life.

As for this blog, it’s time to put it to bed. I’ve enjoyed sharing my story. Sharing it helped keep me accountable and contributed to my success. As fitness has become my routine, however, I’ve found I’ve had less new experiences to write about. Two jobs involving a lot of after-hours work hasn’t helped, either.

It’s time to start a new adventure.

Allons-y!

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New Adventure …. but first

I’ve been a rather negligent blogger. My excuse for the first couple weeks of the year is pretty simple:

I was lazy.

For those that actually remember my post about the odyssey that was mine and Kalin’s return to Ottawa, I was coming back to a rather uncertain future. I started 2013 like I started 2012, without a job and no irons in the fire, either. Out of nowhere, though, my old job called and asked me to come back. After some negotiation, I returned to the Office of the Speaker of the Senate on February 4th. At the same time, I began training for the next big challenge: the Ottawa Marathon.

Between Parliament Hill hours and the time suck that is marathon training, the blogging fell to the back burner.

Training for the marathon was gruelling. For those outside the Ottawa area, it was a really long winter this year. We didn’t get consistent spring weather until the beginning of May. There would be a Sunday here or there where I could break out the shorts, but most runs involved three layers into late April and some of those that didn’t were only because I was an idiot when I packed my bag in the morning.

Many of the evening runs were in inclement weather. Snow, freezing rain, normal rain, high winds. Everything but calm. Some runs had us jumping over snow drifts and puddles. We’d call these runs “character builders”. By the end, I was hoping the character I was building was Destro so I could build a weather machine. Needless to say, I’m cured of any desire of doing a Spartan Race or a Tough Mudder. Getting to the start line of this year’s marathon had enough physical obstacles to scratch that itch.

For 16 weeks, I managed to stay mostly healthy (had a bout of the flu which sidelined me for a weekend when we started to taper down) and injury free. I paced the 4:15 finish group. Most nights it was just a half dozen, much smaller group than my 2 hr half marathon groups. Some nights it was so small, I’d run with the 4 hr group.

I probably stayed in my Brooks Pure Cadence shoes too long before I replaced them with the latest version. My ankles were killing me the morning after my runs. Luckily, Adidas Boost had a launch event at the Slater St. Running Room. I got to take a pair on a full run, it was hills night and we were doing 8 that evening. The next morning, for the first time in two months, I felt relatively well. I tried them again that evening on an 8K steady run. Friday morning, felt great. Friday afternoon, bought a pair. The last pair of men’s 10.5s of the promotional inventory, meaning the last of the size until the shoes officially launched in June.

Race day came and you couldn’t have asked for better weather for a first time race. It was overcast and in the high teens for most of the morning. It was so cool, many of the runners who had done the previous year’s Army Run wore the thin white jackets they gave the finishers instead of solar blankets. They were pretty handy as throw away starter jackets on a cool morning. Wish I had thought of that. I didn’t bother bringing anything that I couldn’t bring on the course. The post race plan was to meet Kalin, who at the last minute decided to run the half marathon (and did a personal best … my girlfriend is awesome), at the aboriginal veterans statue and get back to my place. Downtown on race day is a bonkers sea of humanity with a combined 16,000 runners in along with all the volunteers and the people there to cheer us on.

Any worries I had a about Boston scaring off spectators were quickly abated. If anything, there were more. Even the desolate stretch of the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway where there was literally no one cheering during my last two half marathons had people cheering us on.

Like my last race, I had my playlist ready. This time, I intentionally put it on shuffle. The race was going to take as long as it was going to take and there was no point in using songs as benchmarks. I hadn’t actually run a full 42.2 k before. The furthest the Running Room’s training program takes you is 32k. You do it once, taper a bit, and then go back up to 32k before tapering down for race day. Since it was my first run that long, I just filled up my playlist with 4 hours, 20 mins of music and hoped I wouldn’t hear a song twice.

As if by fate, the song that shuffled on as the 32K marker came into sight …. a Shooter Jennings cover of Hank Williams Sr.’s “I’m so lonely I could die”. I have no clue how that even got on my iPhone, more or less my marathon playlist. Most. Depressing. Song. Ever. It’s also probably the worst possible song as you start to cross the distance threshold of your longest distance ever.

Needless to say, it took me out of my race mindset for a minute while I fiddled to skip it. I tripped to use Siri to skip it with a voice command, but this genius decided it might be a good idea to run with the iPhone in airplane mode and Siri is useless if she isn’t connected to the Internet. With a couple of button pushes and swipes, Shooter was shot and replaced by Eminem’s “Won’t back down”.

With that crisis solved, it was time to finish the race. Having passed the 32K mark, my brain reorientated itself to see the distance markers as a de facto countdown. 32K wasn’t 32K. It was 10K left.

As the last ten kilometres snaked through Rockcliffer, Beechwood, and New Edinburgh back to the downtown, the crowds got thicker. As we crossed Rideau St. onto Colonel By for the home stretch to the finish line, the cheers grew louder. The entrance to Colonel By reminded me of the the entrance to a stadium. It was time time to kick it into high gear.

After my last walk break, I gradually increased my pace. It was around 4min/k for the last couple hundred metres. I looked up at the finish line as I crossed. The clock read 4:14, already below my goal. My chip time: 4:11.

20x30-OTDA4025

A friend would later ask me what I thought as I crossed the finish line. Given the long journey from obesity to Marathon Man, was it emotional? Did I think back on all that I had accomplished? Did I feel triumphant? Nostalgic?

My response:  Thank God, it’s over.

I made it through the recovery area gauntlet, grabbing whatever freebies were on offer. Just after getting my finisher’s medal, I ran into Marina, Slater St. Running Room’s unofficial den mother, who was volunteering handing out medals. She gave me a huge, and well needed hug.  I made my way to the aboriginal veterans statue to wait for Kalin. Since the half marathon is a much, much larger event, they have a staggered start and send the runners out in waves. This year it was three waves. I have to admit to being a worried boyfriend. Kalin only decided to do this race a few days earlier. My worry soon turned to relief as she emerged from the recovery area with one of the biggest smile’s on her face that I had ever seen. As we held each other, I asked how she felt. “Great,” she replied. “I PB’d.” Despite not race training, she did, however, go to Greco as often as she could and had greatly improved her strength and endurance. It paid off. She would tell me that as she was hitting the 20K mark, she broke out in tears. The good ones, though. A year earlier, she ran her first post-cancer 5K. Now she was finishing a half marathon and feeling great. She realized this is what healthy felt like and was overcome with joy.

Like I said before, my girlfriend is awesome.

With that challenge done, it’s onto the new adventure. With my contract with the Speaker’s Office completed on June 28th, I’ve moved back to Fredericton to join my father’s firm. It’s the end of my first week here. In the coming weeks, I’ll have to find a new gym and get my half marathon training for the Army Run going in earnest. Going to miss the gang at Greco and Slater St., but seven months of no employment and living off savings and credit cards takes a while to recover from. It was time for a change from contract to contract living.

Don’t worry, Kalin and I are still together. I count myself lucky to have found a girl from my hometown, even if we met in Ottawa. We both want to eventually settle here, so we see my move as serving as the advance guard. We already have the visits planned up to the end of the end of the year.

I’ll keep you posted on how things are going from Freddy Beach, but in the meantime …

Allons-y!

Hello 2013. Prepare to be conquered.

So this happened on Thursday.

Globe and Mail, January 10, 2013, P. L6

Globe and Mail, January 10, 2013, P. L6

It’s been an interesting journey for my story. It started as a private journal to my friends and family and a way to keep myself accountable as I went on my journey. Now it’s a public tale on this blog that has been highlighted in the Running Room Magazine and now the Globe and Mail. It’s enough to give one a swelled head.

Nature keeps me humble, though. More accurately, nature keeps humbling me. It’s winter in Ottawa where most days just leaving my apartment seems like an act of defiance to spite the ancient gods. Even a mild day will make for a slippery morning as the thaw refreezes overnight. If I get a swelled head, it’s probably a concussion from slipping on that ice. In fact, after somehow managing to go fall free on a nice 6K run Wednesday night, I did a pretty epic assplant (or, as I like to call it, a “reverse burpee”) on Sparks St. on my walk to Greco the following morning. Not only did I not bang my head, miraculously, I somehow managed to not spill my coffee.

Winning.

Nature was particularly humbling the last few weeks. While I was home for Christmas, we had three snowstorms averaging 30-40 cm a dumping. I managed to get out with the Fredericton Running Room for a 14k LSD. It was supposed to be 16K that week, but windchill brought the perceived temperature down past -20 so the run leader planned a slightly shorter route. Despite having warm clothes to change into afterwards, plenty of hot liquids, and a bite to eat, I don’t think I got warm again until I wrapped myself up in bed that night.

Mother Nature also threw our New Year’s Eve plans in the scrap heap. The original plan was to fly back to Ottawa on the 30th so we could make it back in time for the Resolution Run on New Year’s Eve and attend the Hogmanay at City Hall after the run.

Neither was to be. We woke up that Sunday to a snowstorm. Our flight out of Fredericton was delayed and eventually cancelled. Since the delay already meant I would miss my Montreal connection, I attempted to rebook. As you can guess, Air Canada’s toll free number was busy. I selected the call back option and tried to do it online. The rebooking tools on the website were seemingly turned off when Kalin tried to use the website. Since my father bought my ticket using AMEX points, I had to go through them to make any changes.  That was fine by me. They could stay on hold with Air Canada.

This is what we woke up to in the Fredericton area on the 30th. When I went to bed the night before, the pile of snow on the table was half that size.

This is what we woke up to in the Fredericton area on the 30th. When I went to bed the night before, the pile of snow on the table was half that size.

After a couple of hours, we managed to get re-booked on the same flights to Montreal and on to Ottawa the next day. Unfortunately, it meant we would not be on the ground in Ottawa until 11:30 … pm. Yep, no Resolution Run. No Hogmanay. I called the Bank St. store to let them know and get them to set aside our kits so we could pick them up when we got home. Even if we couldn’t run the race, we’d collect the swag (in this case, jackets).

The evening after ... digging out.

The evening after … digging out.

On the plus side, an extra day in Fredericton meant I got to spend more time with my nephews and play their favourite game: beat the crap out of Uncle Michael.

Don't let the cuteness fool you.  They're ruthless little animals.

Don’t let the cuteness fool you. They’re ruthless little animals.

They usually lose, but this Christmas was more challenging. My sister enrolled her kids in Tae Kwon Do. When they got super excited, they had to be reminded to keep the kicks and punches stay in the dojo or Santa would repossess their gifts. Some day they may actually land a hit, until then we’ll just keep playing.

See, I told you so.

See, I told you so.

Kalin and I made it to Montreal to have a New Year’s Eve dinner at Moe’s, home of the most expensive Creemore beer ever, $11.

$11 for friggin' Creemore? And I thought Labatt's selling Keith's as "premium" beer west of New Brunswick was a joke.

$11 for friggin’ Creemore? And I thought Labatt’s selling Keith’s as “premium” beer west of New Brunswick was a joke.

Pretty much everything in the airport closed early because of New Year’s Eve. The worst was that both Starbucks and Tim’s closed at 8:30. We even watched them pour perfectly sellable coffee out as they informed us they wouldn’t sell us said product.  The Air Canada-run cafe by our gate was open until 9, and I managed to get a cup of coffee for $3. That’s $3 for regular drip coffee, not some fancy drink ending with the syllable “-cinno”. Regular coffee. We hunkered down by our gate and watched some Netflix over the airport WiFi.

Our plane to Ottawa arrived and everyone was overjoyed to hear our pilot say to the gate agent, “I want to be ready to board in three minutes!” as he went for a quick trip to the men’s room.

We made it back to town around 11:30. We rang in the new year in the back of our cab on our way to the downtown. We even saw a lone firework as we drove down Greenfields Dr. It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with. So long as I with Kalin, that evening would be special.

The next morning, I finally unpacked to make sure the spoils of a trip to New Brunswick arrived intact.

Maritimes, you'll never be far from my heart, or my liver.

Maritimes, you’ll never be far from my heart, or my liver.

Lest you think all that was for me, the Sussex was for a friend of ours, Liesa, the waitress at Mello’s who is also from Fredericton; and half the beer was for Christian. He came to pick it up the following Sunday and joined us for the run club that morning, which for the half marathon clinic was supposed to be an 18K LSD run.

It had snowed overnight and was still snowing that morning. With the usual pace leaders not available that morning, I was asked to co-lead the  2 hr pace group. Oh, I led them. I led them barely cleared trails and roads. I led them up slippery hills. It was a herculean effort to keep at slower end of the pace range for a 2 hr pace group, but we made it. It pretty much wiped me out for the day, though.

Winter here is a no-win situation. If it’s mild, it’s either snowing or thawing during the day only to freeze again at night. If there’s wind, a little cold becomes freeze your face off cold.

Yet, somehow, we endure. Nature may humble us, but it doesn’t destroy us. Winter comes every year and we endure its three months of ritual humiliation. Such is life. We train in whatever life throws at us so we can race in whatever life throws at us. The year starts off trying to conquer us, but, in the end, we conquer it.

Allons-y!

The Big Picture

A couple of weeks ago, I ran the Santa Shuffle 5K out at Tunney’s Pasture with Kalin and my clinic. It was a nice race in support of the Salvation Army. Given the recent news here in Ottawa and in Toronto they could certainly use the help this year (not that they can’t use it year round).

In terms of my own performance, I ran a personal best. The course was a little short of 5K, 4.8K, but I ran it in 22 min 44 sec. Another 200 m and I still would have PB’d in the  23 min range.

That’s not the story I want to tell with this post.

For ten weeks ending with that race, Kalin and I taught our first 5K clinic together. It was really fun having a co-instructor. The one problem I had with 5K clinics is that the paces the participants want to run are so varied that it becomes impossible to adequately supervise the group as the runners spread further apart as distance and pace increase. With a second instructor, we can place ourselves strategically amongst the pack to supervise the participants better than one alone could.

We had a pretty good group. It was definitely my favourite clinic to date.

Our before picture. It was only -12 degrees that morning.

Our before picture. It was only -12 degrees that morning.

We had pretty consistent attendance despite the onset of winter’s cold. Most of them were doing a clinic for the second time or coming back to running after a few years away. There were even two girls from my original Learn to Run clinic last year. It took a couple of classes before they recognized me.

It was Karine we all fell in love with, though.

Karine is a middle school special needs teacher. She ran a fun with her school some time ago. It was a disaster. She finished so poorly, students teased her. Middle-schoolers are notoriously awful creatures. They’re hitting puberty, dealing with hormones and still behave like self-entitled bitches and bastards that haven’t been slapped down by reality yet. At some point in high school, usually when they start asking the folks for the car keys, they regain their humanity.

Karine enrolled in her first clinic to get ready for the Army Run 5K, which she finished in 49 minutes. Now she wanted to do better.

She showed up for almost every run. Only the occasional parent-teacher conference kept her away. Over the course of the clinic, she would tell Kalin that she also took up swimming. She lost a few pounds. Her relationship with her boyfriend was improving. Her anxiety issues were improving.

Kalin was especially encouraging and even offered to run with her during the race.

Since I made it to the finish ahead of the clinic, I quickly collected the bling and made it through the thankfully short gauntlet to get in a position along the route to cheer my clinic on as they made their final push. Kalin and I call this “pulling a Lawrence” after our friend Lawrence Wright. Of course, who do I run into during this, but Lawrence himself.

As they came into the finish, one by one I cheered them on. For Karine and Kalin, though, I had something special planned. I would hop out from the sidelines and run with them to the finish.

Kalin pretty much had the same idea. She just didn’t tell me. As they rounded the last turn and approached my position, I could hear Kalin shout, “Okay, Karine, we’re going to sprint to the finish!” They would start where I was. I ran with them those last 250m to the finish. As she crossed the finish line, I could see the tears well up and freeze as they rolled down her cheeks.

On the other side of the finish line, the rest of our clinic was waiting for her, too. Hugs all around.

She had done it. It was only a matter of what her time was. Kalin looked at her Garmin (the race wasn’t chip timed) and tried to do her best Jeremy Clarkson impression, but her giddiness got the best of her. “Karine, you did it in 38 minutes, forty-four seconds.”

Wow. We were all so proud of her. The cold chased us inside, though, and we gathered for one more group photo.

You know how your told as a kid to not touch cold metal with bare skin? We totally ignored that.

You know how your told as a kid to not touch cold metal with bare skin? We totally ignored that.

Proud of my crew. They reminded me these clinics aren’t about the instructors, but the participants. When I agreed to teach this clinic, it was only on a temporary basis. I was up for a few jobs that would have limited my evening availability. I even asked Kalin to help, figuring between the two of us,  one would be able to make it most nights. As those fell through, it became obvious Kalin and I would see this group through to race day. In the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now on to the next one.

Allons-y!

Who’s going to run this town tonight?

Another race. Another Jay-Z lyric as a blog title.

When it comes to the Army Run, just like the song goes, the answer, of course, is:

We are.

A wet Friday and Saturday thankfully gave way to a cool, sunny Sunday. I got pretty soaked during a downpour in the middle of the friendship run on Sunday. Kalin came with me but decided to skip the run. She had just returned from a work trip abroad the night before and thought it best not to goof things up for the sake of a warm-up. The rotten weather gave us an excuse to have a pre-race carb meal of brunch at Mello’s in the market. Actually, we don’t need an excuse. We’ve been regulars there for a months. One of the cheapest and best breakfasts in the Market.

Sunday morning, it was probably 4 degrees and sunny when Kalin and I left for the race. It might have warmed up during the run, but not by much. We arrived at city hall with plenty of time to check my bag and make a run to the bathroom before we hopped into our coral and wait for gun time.

At the Army Run, gun time is actually cannon time.

The run started off with some technical difficulties. Like the last race, I decided to run with music. Unfortunately, my damn earphones wouldn’t stay in my ears. The only difference between this race and the last one was the fact I was both a hat and sunglasses. Those extra millimetres seemed to keep the earphones from resting in place. It was annoying enough that by my second walk break, I had given up the ghost and yanked the earphones from the iPhone and stuffed them in a pouch.

It may have made a difference. I kept my concentration on the run and listened to my body. I was also more aware of my surroundings and the people around me.

With the massive crowd at the start line, it took a while to get into my pace. The 2 hour finish pace when you’re doing 10 and 1 run/walk intervals is 5 min 27 secs per km. I wanted to go a little faster than that so I would at least match, maybe best, my previous time.

I went a lost faster. Here’s what the Garmin recorded.

Instead of that pace, I was averaging a little more than 5 min/km by the time I hit my third interval. I managed to keep it up until about the 13K mark. I hit the 10K mark, which was mid-way through the incline of the Alexandria St. Bridge, at a little past the 53 minute mark on the Garmin, 4 minutes faster than my 10K split.

One goal I had set for myself for motivation: catch Laurence Wright. Laurence, you’ll remember from the post on the Kilt Run, is the manager of the new Running Room in Westboro and was the pace bunny for the 1:55 continuous pace group. I set catching up to him as my goal for the race. If I could catch up to him, and maybe even pass him, I knew I would break my own personal best. I would also have the thrill of beating one of my mentors.

Lord knows, the only time I’ll ever have a chance of beating him is when he’s holding back as pace bunny.

It was not to be. I started too far back, a full four minutes between gun time and when I crossed the start line, but I came pretty close. He was the first person I saw congratulating everyone as they emerged from the recovery area.

While I didn’t catch up to Laurence, I did better than him. My final chip time was 1:53:17, over 4 and a half minutes better than my personal best.

The Army Run is truly an inspirational event. Running with members of our armed forces is truly an extraordinary experience. As I rounded the corner on Sussex Dr. before Guiges heading back toward Rideau, I ended up taking a walk break along side an amputee runner from Army. I quickly grabbed a drink, popped a gel and as the break ended, I turned to him and said, “Thank you.”

“For what?” he asked.

“For doing what I couldn’t.” My break ended and I went on my way.

I even got a high five from the Governor General. After running the 5K race and seeing us off at the start of the half marathon, he returned to Rideau Hall to cheer on the runners from the front gates of his home. As I ran by, I raised my hand just on the lark that he might give me a high five. Not only did he, he shouted “Keep going, Michael!”.

I’d like to think it was because he recognized me from this photo:

December 2010 – Royal Assent Reception with Rt. Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Let’s face it, most people who know me today don’t believe that’s me in that photo. He knew my name because it was printed on my bib. More than one stranger saw it and called me by name. Thank you. It helped get me to the start line.

Thanks to everyone who helped get me to the start line and the friends and strangers along the course who came to cheer me on. You helped me make it to the finish line.

I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the line and the gun clock said 1:57:13, 40 seconds better than my last chip time. I knew I smashed my last result. The question was now how much. I waited for Sportstats to update my Facebook status and gave me my chip time. As my body realized the race was over, I could feel my grandfathers patting me on the back. I knew I had done good.

I received my finishers medal, modelled after the CF’s dogtags, thanking the soldier who placed it on me and made it through the recovery area. Instead of thermal blankets, they gave out white zip up hoodies that resembles the coveralls Walter White wears in Breaking Bad. There was also a box of snacks instead of the usual collection of fruit and stale bagels. Good call on both. A lot of the goodies had nuts so Kalin and I would trade nuts for non-nut products. I got more out of that than she did.

Speaking of Kalin, her race went well, too. I managed to get back to the course from the recovery area in time to see her finish. She finished her first half marathon at 2:40. She would have liked to have finished sooner, but there were a lot of obstacles in her way. The ankle is still bothering her from the accident. A couple of weeks before the race she got sick with a cold. Days before, she spent 9 hours in economy class flying back from Europe. The summer humidity was murder on her lungs, still recovering from her cancer treatments. Not the best situation to run her first half marathon in. Just a year and a half after was declared cancer free, however, she made it to the start line and then the finish line and is happy with the result. Everything else is details.

We made a quick swing by Booster Juice for post race smoothies and then went home to change. Steve, the 1:50 pace leader had organized a post-race get together at St. Louis on Elgin. It served as a graduation of sorts for the clinic. Instead of robes, the dress code was race shirts and bling.

I got to chat with a lot of the people in my pace group. Seems like everyone enjoyed the race and made their goal times. Roger even gave me a bottle of wine as a thank you. I’m glad I played a part in their success. So many played a part in mine.

Now it’s on to the next one.

 

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Allons-y!

Once more unto the breach

Best rally speech ever. If plays were rap battles, Henry V is the one where Shakespeare drops the mike afterwards.

Speaking of Shakespeare and rap battles:

It’s time for the Army Run. I really enjoyed the 5K last year. It’s a great event for a great cause, our wounded troops. Proceeds go to Soldier On and the Military Families Fund. If you would like to donate, you can click here.

I’ve always admired our soldiers. My grandfathers had both served in World War II. I didn’t know Tom Read Sr.; he succumbed to cancer when I was just a couple of months old. He served in the home guard and remained on base in Sydney. My mother’s father, Donald MacEachern, was a combat engineer and served in Europe. I’ve mentioned before that he didn’t talk much about the war. None of his generation did. At least in front of the kids and, later, grandkids. Their wives forbade it. Fittingly, the only story he ever told us was the day he was wounded. That story he even saved until years after Grammie Ellen had passed away. He would carry a physical reminder of the war for the rest of his life.

Growing up minutes from CFB Gagetown, you get to know a lot of people in the Canadian Forces.   When I volunteered with St. John Ambulance, I got to work with many of the base’s medics. I always admired their dedication to their brothers-in-arms and their community. My cousin, Read Coleman, also served in the CF and did a tour in Afghanistan. I’ve had a number of friends who did tours in Afghanistan. I thank God on a routine basis that they made it back alive and unharmed. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for that for their brothers-in-arms.

It’s for them I’ll be running.

I decided years ago that I couldn’t do what they do. Part of that was my size and overall lack of fitness. My public service would be through politics.

Before you can run the race, though, you have to train. It was the last week of our clinic which means the runs were at race pace.  Race pace runs can be a real confidence booster the week before the run. They can also provide a moment of reckoning. Thankfully, my runs were more confidence boosting than reckoning.

Sunday was nice and cool for a quick 6 km up and down the canal. The group was a little fast. With the faster short runs, it’s tough to keep the group together. The clinic gathered for an end of clinic brunch afterwards. It was nice to chill out and relax with the gang. It was even better when the clock struck 11 and we could order beer. It gave me a chance to buy one of my runners a beer to pay him back for one he paid for at Mill St. back in August.

Tuesday went long. The clinic topic was race day preparation. There’s always a lot of questions from people who are running the race for the first time. A lot could be answered by simply going to the website, but it was pretty obvious that there were a lot of nervous runners in the room. Just wait until they have to jump over the pit of starving velociraptors! We didn’t get out for the run until 7:15 pm. This time of year, it’s dark rather early and we had 10k to run. We banged it out like champs, but it made for a long-ass day.

Wednesday was another 6K at race pace and our last run night before race day. It was a larger group than usual. I even got to run with a friend from NB who was in town for business. Like Sunday, it was fast. Most of my group kept up. The few that fell behind were well within the normal range for a 2H finish. I know they’ll well on race day.

As we ramp up for race day, I got a lesson in the need for proper nutrition. One of my runners told me she wasn’t feeling well since we hit the 20K mark in distance two Sundays earlier. She was feeling sluggish and tired like she was running out of gas. I asked what she was eating and it seemed like okay food. Then I asked how much and how often. That’s when we hit the target. Her portions seemed rather small (I can never really tell though when it comes to vegetarian meals how many legumes equals a proper protein serving) and she was only eating three times day. On run nights, her last meal might be at lunch. I suggested she eat five times, with little mini-meals as snacks. Hopefully we caught that in time she can enjoy the race and get a result she trained for.

I’m also tapering this week which means cutting out the cross training. Translation: no Greco this week. I’m also taking next week off to recover. I’ll be hitting my anniversary during my recovery period. Not sure what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll catch a movie … on cheap night. Haven’t had a Tuesday night free since February.

Looks like it’s going to be mostly sunny with slight chance of showers for race day. All I can say now is: bring it. I’m going to have a good run on Sunday and hope the folks I trained with these last few do so as well.

Allons-y!

Never Alone

One week before showtime!

We finished speed training this week, which marks the second-to-last phase of the half marathon clinic. Twitter followers already know of my Garmin fail at the end of the workout so no link to the activity report. Lesson learned: the seven day period you’re doing a combined 38K  (20K LSD, 6K Tempo, 12K speed training) is probably the week you should not rely on a single battery charge.

D’oh!

It’s probably for the best. I can’t remember if I had remembered to pause it when I had to go … umm … err… “find a golf ball” in the woods after the first 1 mile repeat. I thought I left my “golf balls” back at the “pro shop”, but it was pretty apparent my “golf bag” was full and wasn’t going to wait until we were finished “our round”.

Wow, that’s more about golf than I ever want to write about.

I tend to wax nostalgic towards the end of clinics. You don’t spend training with the same people three times a week for 17 weeks (or longer for the repeat offenders) without building a few bonds. Every pace group is different and they’re usually quite fun. There’s always a few rabbits, but that usually works itself out. With just a few practice runs left, looks like everyone in my group is going to make it to the start line (knock on wood).

It’s important to remember while we are on our own on race day, the race is not a solitary experience. Among the thousands running with us are the friends we’ve trained with. During race weekend, I probably spotted and managed to say a quick hello to most of my pace group from that clinic. There’s also the friends cheering along the sidelines as well as the ones at home checking Facebook and Twitter for that ever important finish result.

There’s also the people we do our “other” training with. Like most runners, I cross train. Regular readers will know that I currently do my cross training at the Greco on Sparks St. I certainly wouldn’t have made it this far without them. Going to the early morning classes gave me an excuse to drag my ass out of bed in the morning four days a week while I was unemployed. Now waking up at 7 for the 8 pm class seems like sleeping in. There’s a pretty good crew of regulars there for the morning workouts. Sometimes we’ll tell the folks coming in for the 8 am class what they’re in for, especially the bonus rounds, only to have the trainers change it up a bit. We’ll never embellish, though. If anything, we undersell the workout to lull them into a false sense of security (I think they know better by now).

Unfortunately, one of the guys is leaving to go backpacking for a few months through Asia. Since this morning was my last workout for a couple of weeks (usually take two weeks off to taper then recover for the race), he’ll be gone by the time I get back. Wish him the best and hope to see him in the new year when he’s back.

This run will also be special in another way. It’s the week of my one year anniversary of reaching my goal weight. Who would have thought when I posted my first note about my weightloss in January of last year that I would have made it to my goal, exceeded it and maintained a healthy lifestyle?

I didn’t.

Truthfully, there was a lot of upfront trepadation and it took a few weeks of settling into my new routine of morning workouts and following the nutrition plan before I had the confidence in myself to know I could do it.

I’ve said it before, I wouldn’t have made it without my support system, my friends and family.

Whether it was lifting the weights at the gym or running a race, I was never alone.

Surround yourself with your friends on your journey and neither will you. 

Allons-y!

Motivation

Hey, remember me?

I’m back.

Yeah, it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote anything substantial. While Lance Armstrong’s cop-out did throw me for a creative loop a couple weeks ago, I was just plain busy the last couple of weeks. While I haven’t had an actual vacation this year (no, unemployment doesn’t count as vacation), it seemed like a good time to take a little vacay from the blog.

There’s quite a bit coming up for me. The Army Run is fast approaching. The following week will be the one year anniversary of reaching my weight loss goal. I have to admit that I have not stepped on the scale in what seems like forever. The clothes I bought last year still fit. If anything, they’ve gotten looser.

With the Army Run coming up, training is ramping up. We’re on the second week of speed work. As before, we run to the track at Immaculata High School and do 1-mile repeats on their outdoor track. It makes for a bit more than 11 km in total distance for the night. My legs don’t seem as sore the next morning as when we do hills. It’s probably because it’s easier on the legs to run 5:15 on a flat track than whatever pace we ran (I was a little faster than tempo) up the hills.

As usual, the long runs are getting longer. I actually like it when we get into the double-digits on LSD runs. It seems like the longer the runs, the more we use the trails instead of the city streets. That means less waiting for traffic lights, the bane of the runner.

Thankfully, the heatwave that hit Ontario this summer has broken. Two Sundays ago we did a  great 18K run that again took us through the conservation area and around McKay Lake. Unfortunately, the humidity made a return appearance that morning. Most of my runners made it through, but I noticed it was bad enough that some of the marathon runners were ending their runs early (they were doing 28k).

Last Sunday, we had a nice and cool run along the Rideau River until it met the canal, where we headed up to Little Italy (my old neighbourhood) and through town until we were back on the trail, this time along the Ottawa River.

As we ran back to the store, the trail took us past the hill at Fleet St., the scene of most of our hill training. As we approached, I shouted, “Okay, ten hill repeats!”

No one gets my sense of humour.

One of the questions I’ve been getting lately is what keeps me motivated? It’s been almost a year and as time and distance pass, it’s easy to slack off and regress. Many do. So what keeps me going?

I like beer. It makes me a jolly good fellow.  I like food, too. The greasy shit I used to eat pretty much churns my stomach now. I still like to eat. I know if I want to have beer or a meal out, I have to earn it. Since most of the meals I don’t make myself are post-run meals, I think I earn them. I also have healthier take out meals than I used to. I am still very capable of making very stupid choices when I’m coming home late and occassionally sin, but my morning workouts at Greco provides as good a penance for food sins as church does for the other ones.

I’m a pretty goal oriented person. I think spending most of your adult life in univeristy meeting assignment deadlines does that to a person. The Running Room’s programs, with their weekly schedule of runs, does a good job of setting up daily and weekly goals to get me through to my larger goals. Videogame makers created achievements/trophies/whatever Wii calls them to draw in goal whores like me. Since I pretty much use my XBox as a DVD player during the non-winter months and as a replacement for my paintball addiction during the frozen months, the whole affirmation junkie scene never drove my activity. In fact, I’ve never actually played any of my game’s online multiplayer modes.

Races provide me with the medium-term goals that I need to motivate me to lace up the runners every Sunday morning. My performance goal for Army Run is to simply repeat Ottawa Race Weekend with a sub 2 hour finish.

I can be a pretty competitive person when I want to be. Every hero needs a villian. Batman needs the Joker. The Doctor needs the Master. My Master is…

Fat Michael

I wasn’t unhappy when I was fat, but I wasn’t happy either. Like a pig that rolls around in his own excrement, I assumed I was happy from lack of knowledge of the alternative. Now that I know the difference, I’m not going back.

Remember, no Algernons here.

Just have to make sure I don’t become a total prick like Charley, too.

For that, I have my friends to help me on my way. They lift me up when I’m down and give me the swift kick in the arse I deserve when I get too high on my horse. I’ve said it often, but it bears repeating. Iwouldn’t be here without them and the friends I’ve made along the way.

Allons-y!

Responsibility

I was going to leave the Olympics behind and write about something else this week.

This morning, though, I read this article and had another idea.  It’s actually a recurring theme of mine: personal responsibility. For those that don’t want bother to click the link, it’s an interview with Jared Connaugthon, the Canadian Olympian who inadvertantly left his lane for a few steps in the 4×100 relay and turned a bronze medal finish into a disqualification.  My own thoughts watching that race was something akin to “Here we ago again. Another rule that was barely enforced in qualification heats is suddenly Gospel in the finals.”

Say what you will about that night, but you have to admire that Jared’s first instinct wasn’t to moan or bellyache about the uneven application of the rules but to man up and take ownershio and responsibility for his mistake. Perhaps it’s telling of our modern society without shame or guilt that the simple act of saying, “I made a mistake”, has become a testament to character.

Lord knows uneven judging seemed like it was going on like mad in London. I tried to re-find an article I read on some of the more egregrious facepalms in officiating over the last couple of weeks, but gave up when “london 2012 officiating mistakes” garnered 10,800 hits.  Who would have thought that boxing would be the new figure skating? Any large, global event is going to seem to have a disproportionate amount of lousy refs and officials. Whether they are actually worse than usual or not  is almost irrelevant. With the magnifying glass of the worldwide media at every event, one mistake will inevietably be blown up. That said, they probably should be. A lousy official on the world stage, is probably a lousy official back home. A sport is only as good as the fair application of its rules.  The more lousy officials exposed and sent home in disgrace, the better.

I doubt London was worse than any previous Olympics. The Salt Lake City games brought us the scandal of fixed figure skating competitions, something that was well known in the sport for years. Any sport that is based on subjective judging is a prime candidate for corruption. That same games, in the women’s hockey final with the US, our  team faced such a disproportionate amount of penalty calls from an American ref that even the Americans in the arena began booing. In a scored sport, there’s a simple, yet not necessarily easy, solution to overcome one-sided officiating: score more than the other team.

As we saw our athletes not make it to the podium, or in some cases even the finish line, we often saw them take to post-event interviews, social media, etc., and apologize. It’s not that they actually did something wrong, but their own sense of disappointment is magnified a thousand fold by the feeling they had let down the hopes of their country. At  the root of their apology is taking responsibilty.

One of the reasons I find the trolls so nauseating is that I know as bad as the insults the armchair quarterbacks are tossing out, the atheletes are beating themselves up even more.   Making fun of pro athletes one thing. They’re paid by very rich companies to win games. Don’t like them, they probably didn’t hear you over the sound of their bling. Trolling our Olympians, though, has about as much class as making fun of the disabled. They’ll spend the next four years replaying those moments in their head and figuring out what do next time to get that medal around their neck. Trolls hit “post” on their 140 characters of mental masturbation and move on. With blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become a society of theFat Comic Shop Owners from the Simpsons.

Brain to mouth filter? In the age of social media, it’s the brain to keyboard filter.

When I decided to take responsibilty for my own situation and start this journey last year, there were several times I missed a personal goal. Whenever a weigh-in didn’t go as hoped, the light at the end of the tunnel moved back just ever so much. When my ref, the scale at the gym, gave me a lousy call, I didn’t call it out. I doubled down. I worked harder, ran faster, ate better. It took longer than planned, but I got there.

I’m still there and staying there. I like it there. As I’ve pretty much gone all in with running and moved into half-marathons, I still can’t slack off on the food now that I’m at a healthy weight. It’s not like I won’t burn off the occasional junk food with my training schedule, but I won’t have the adequate fuel to get through it. At this part of the  schedule, it’s pretty typical for me to burn about 1200+ calories on a Sunday long run. My breakfast will be a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, almonds and some berries. I’ll have some electrolytes in my water and take some energy gels starting around the 8k mark.  If that bowl of oatmeal is going to get me to the 8k mark, I’m going to need to eat properly the night before, too. That’s not to say I’m not going to have fun on a Saturday night, but I’m not going to be an idiot, either. One of the reasons I took on pace leading in my Running Room clinics is the additional responsibility to show up because others are depending on me to help them reach their goals.

My body isn’t a temple. It’s supercar. I need the high test gas, not regular.

Allons-y!

The agony of victory and the thrill of defeat

When did cycling become the Thunderdome? I suppose given London’s notoriously wet weather some Olympic events that in previous games had been held outdoors were designed to be indoors this time around.

I was watching the women’s omnium finals when Canada’s Tara Whitten narrowly missed winning the bronze medal. The CTV announcer stated as the medals were awarded, “And Canada’s Tara Whitten failed to make the podium.” (Emphasis mine)

Failed? The fourth best woman in a sport I hadn’t heard of until Tuesday was just told by some faceless voice, that she had failed.

Really?

Between the sportscasters casually dropping the “fail” word and the usual collection of armchair coaches and haters on Twitter and Facebook, I was getting annoyed. I even posted on Twitter:

Let’s banish the word #fail when talking about Olympians. They failed to medal? Dude, you failed to get off the sofa.

It’s easy to criticize when you’ll never face the consequences of your words. You won’t do better because you’ll never be on that stage. You’ll never miss the podium because you never played the game.

Reminds me of this diddy by none other than the one true captain:

Paula Finley finished a triathlon injured. She came in last, but she finished. While some cartilage in her hip may have failed, her will, her instinct to finish the race did not. In recent months, I’ve become something of an expert on the subject of tough gingers. Paula, you’re up there with the toughest.

A high school classmate of mine, Jane Thorton (then Rumball), knows this subject far better than I ever will. She was on the women’s eights rowing team in the Beijing Olympics. I kind of boycotted those games because I thought the whole process of awarding those games was ginned by the IOC to pre-determine the outcome. Well, that and I’m a bit of an artifact from a previous generation that sometimes has to be reminded that the Cold War is over and, thankfully, we won (an effect of having spent a disproportionate amount of my adult life on the last enlaves of Marxism in the western world, university campuses).  I followed the rowing events because of Jane. It was the only event where I had a proverbial dog in the hunt. Due to the time zone differences, the events were almost always on while I was at work. Thankfully, my office had a television. I even went so far as to put the rounds and what channel they were on into my Outlook calendar so I wouldn’t miss them.

All my co-workers and pretty much every New Brunswicker working on Parliament Hill crowded into my office to watch Jane go for the gold in the final. When she came up just short of a medal, fourth place, I was pretty sad for her. Having worked so hard for so long, I could only imagine how she felt. She recently posted this article from another Olympian that pretty much summed it up for her.

As that afternoon went on, I thought to myself, “Someone you’ve known since a teenager is on the fourth best rowing team … in the world! Whow. That’s pretty awesome.” I was pretty proud of Jane that day. I still am.

We haven’t crossed paths in forever, so if you read this, Jane, I just wanted to tell you that your success was part of the inspiration I drew on when I decided to change my life last year.  Whenever I felt a case of the quits coming on, usually when the alarm was going off on a dark winter’s morning, I would think of the inievatable early morning rows that you probably did to get Beijing. If you could get to an Olympic final, I could at least my arse to the gym.

One of the armchair experts responding to my tweet mentioned that our athletes are paid to train. True for the ones in high profile sports that can get corporate sponsorships or some money from Own the Podium. Of course, the ones who aren’t so lucky, like discus or any of the events that involve guns, are part-time athletes. We don’t have the glorified  Spartan agoge that China seems to train all its athletes in. We let our athletes seek out the best available trainers. For many of my east coast friends, getting the quality trainers that can get an athlete to the games meant leaving the Atlantic provinces for Montreal, Toronto or even the United States. It’s not just jobs we leave home to find. Since there are so many more events in the summer games than the winter games, the vast majority of our athletes are part-timers. Since we concentrate our funds on the events that have the likeliest chance of medals, if they’re going to be able to train for an event we don’t traditionally do well in, they’re going to need to earn a living.

The pay to train model may in fact be exasperating things. Look back to Paula Findley. As Simon Whitfield pointed out, she was injured for the past year to the point she had not actually competed in the last year. Yet, her previous coaches trained her while injured. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication is if she took time off to have the injury treated properly, they wouldn’t get paid to train her.

I write this as someone whose pastime is training for races I have no hope in hell of actually winning. I’m not a 110 lbs Kenyan in my early twenties. I’m a 160 lbs Acadian-British-Scottish Canadian in my mid-thirties.  I may have exceeded even my own expectations Ottawa Race Weekend and every other race I ran, but I didn’t win. By the Ricky Bobby-ian logic of the haters, I failed.

Strange, it never felt like failure. It didn’t feel like the silly “participant” ribbon they give out on sports day in elementary school (I always found that rather condescending). It actually felt pretty damn good. Unlike the winners, who I would see being escorted off the track in wheel chairs, I actually get to leave the race grounds under my own power (at least until the adrenaline wears off). I wouldn’t even call the thousands of runners who finished after me failures, either. They crossed the start line and the finished line. In doing so, they did something very few people ever attempt. The failures are the thousands more who could do it, but never try.

Forget winning. I’m failing.

I’ll probably never make the Olympics. I’m the age when Olympians retire. I doubt I’ll ever win a half marathon. That’s not going to keep from either the start line or the finish line. Want to call me a failure? You’ll have to get to that finish line before I do to earn that. Unlike the Olympians who want to save their sponsorships, I’ll tell you what I think about you, too. You may have noticed, I have a gift for words.

Allons-y!