Friday, March 28, 2014

Race preview: 2014 Around the Bay 30k

It's finally here. After all the days and nights of running through the dark, snow, ice, temperatures and windchills that no human should be expected to tolerate, less than 48 hours remains before the starting gun of the 120th anniversary Around the Bay Road Race.

I've done the work, even when it damn near killed me - with 224km already logged in March I'm set to break my prior best monthly mileage total of 236km by a fair bit, and with long runs of 26.2km, 29.4km and 32.3km I've certainly prepared for the distance. I've carved myself down to something approaching a decent race weight - I'm within 1lb of where I'd hoped to be, and about 9lbs lighter than my last attempt in 2012. I've tapered reasonably well, throwing down a snappy, hilly 10 miler last Saturday and then slashing mileage rather mercilessly this week. I took Wednesday night off completely, and have altered my morning strength workouts to focus more on mobility and stretching. Last night's easy 4k felt pretty good, and I've only got a little wee 3k trot left tomorrow to keep the legs loose. Tonight is, of course, the sacred No-Training Friday.

I have even restrained myself from stretching the definition of "carbo loading" to include "stuffing face full of cookies", though I will admit that toaster pastries have had some involvement. C'mon, they're like apple pie from the toaster. I'm not made of steel. I am, however, mostly sticking with slightly more nutritionally sound practices.

There is a new route for this year, which may or may not have an impact on times. I have no idea, as I'm not sufficiently familiar with Hamilton to judge.

There also seems to be some confusion as to whether we're running up Bay or James.
This map disagrees with the above.

Weather for Sunday is actually looking decently favourable - low just under the freezing mark, but sunny and climbing to 7c/45f by the afternoon. Not so cold that I'll have to wear a jacket, but not so warm that I'll start to melt into a puddle by the end, either. I know I'll probably dress on the lighter side so I start out cold, but I'll have to hope the temperature doesn't "under perform" or I may just freeze to death.

Then again, I made it through Horror Hill last fall in a skirt, so odds are my remaining winter insulation (ok, fat-assery) should keep me plenty warm. In any case, I'm bringing options so I can make a last-minute decision just before race time.

On the downside, it appears that I'm going to have to forego my traditional pre-race beverage. Having had great digestive success with eliminating all dairy from my intake, a quick look this morning at Tim Hortons' allergen chart shattered my dream of continuing to enjoy my pre-race Café Mocha.


It appears that I'll be ordering black coffee, possibly with an espresso shot. Fortunately, I've recently found this at a local grocery store, so I can make myself something a little tastier and higher-calorie on race morning:

It's just as delicious as it sounds.
Thanks Pacific Foods!

So, I've leaned out a bit, trained, and hopefully eliminated the need to...eliminate...while on course. While completely freaking out (because what else is taper for? I'm actually somewhat proud that three out of the top 35 Google image search results for "taper crazies" are pics from my blog), I'm probably more prepared for this race than I have been for most of the others I've ever done.

I didn't even break a toe last night at the pool, so I'm in better shape than I was for the only other race of 2014 so far. Hell, I've even scoped out maps and stuff to get us to the same parking lot we used the last time, because it was free and a nice walk through a park away from Copps Coliseum (now inexplicably named FirstOntario Centre) coupled with leaving a bit earlier, we shouldn't even have the same panic and nearly-missing-the-race-start as 2012.

Basically what I'm saying is that I really don't have any excuses for not making sub-3 hours on Sunday.

Well, other than the fact I kinda suck at this endurance stuff.

See you on the other side of the finish line!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pushing onward

I think the toughest training run I've ever done happened last Saturday.

32.33km/20.09 miles in snow squalls and 40kph/25mph winds that gusted much, much higher. My hands were frozen within the first 15mins by the bitter blast of Arctic air and my cheeks felt the sting of its assault. I was nearing the 13km mark and cresting a hill - having run the last 8k directly into the teeth of the gale - when a gust swooped down and brought me to a standstill as I leaned my entire bodyweight forward into it.

I howled in frustration, my voice lost in the rush of wind and flurry of snow.

Maybe it only felt that steep.

I very nearly called for a bailout.

I almost decided to cut the route short by running straight home from there.

I pressed onward.

Three more times, as I dragged my battered body around Woolwich Township, I had to overpower urges to pull out my phone and call my knight in shining armour to deliver me from this hell of a run. I trudged up hills and winced as my frozen quads protested the inevitable descent, leading to yet another climb.

I persevered, drinking from my leaky hydration pack and slurping sustenance from a flask of expired gel.

I turned into the wind again in the last 7km and hurled verbal abuse at its relentless force.

Finally, at long last, the end - my own street!

And sunshine!

And having survived that, there was no longer any reason to put off the inevitable. Such a run was completely unnecessary to an Around the Bay campaign. It would help, but there's really no call for doing an over-distance training run for a 30k. No; there was but one reason to endure such abuse.

Registration: complete.

So it's official. I'll be running the Waterloo Marathon for the second time, and hopefully this attempt will have a happier outcome than the last. 

Reasons it should work out better:

  1. I've actually been doing long runs instead of tossing off and going cross-country skiing instead.
  2. By race day, I'll have been running for 5.5 years instead of 2.5 years.
  3. I've been consistently running 6 days per week for the last 3 years, instead of the 3 x per week I was back in 2011. Actually, what with skipping long runs, it was more like twice per week leading up to the marathon.
  4. The 20 miler above took me over 26mins less time than the 20 miler I ran prior to Waterloo in 2011.
  5. I've done 3 more 6-hour races and my first 50k since my last marathon.
  6. I should be able to get one more 20 miler in between Around the Bay and race day.
Now we just have to keep fingers crossed that I can stay healthy through all of this.

Um, was that a twinge from my ankle?


Friday, March 14, 2014

What a difference a day makes

It was finally nice out on Monday and Tuesday. There was less ice and snow, and the mercury tentatively crept above the freezing mark for the first time in way too damn long. Tempting fate, I ventured out of the house without a jacket for my evening runs, reveling in the lingering daylight that nearly made up for the disappearance of a precious hour of sleep.

Exposed skin! I've clearly lost my head.

Knicks again, and finally getting some of my Vanderkitten kit outdoors!

So refreshing to be able to run without my face covered or having to don pound after pound of insulation against the bitter cold this winter has brought. It reached a high of 9c/48f on Tuesday, and was still 4c/39f when I finished a snappy 10k that began as the sun was setting. The streets were mostly clear with just a few lingering bits of ice (thanks to the inconsiderate souls in my neighbourhood who take the Calgarian approach of "God put it there - God will take it away" to the snow on their sidewalks), and I was able to stretch out my stride a bit while dodging the puddles of meltwater.

Then, 24 hours later:


Wednesday brought 16cm/6" of snow as winter came howling in upon us once more. Temperature for my evening run was a frosty -11c/12f - with the sidewalks un-plowed and the wind gusting to 50kph/31mph, Tanker implored me not to go out as he feared for my safety. Stubborn as usual, I compromised with him; I still ran, but only around our block.

16 bloody times.

If this looks like the soft option, let me assure you it wasn't. Apart from the tediousness of doing endless laps while amused neighbours chortle over their shovels at your sheer idiocy, our block is a bit unique in its structure.

Imagine a standard running track. Now instead of 400m, make it 420m (by our best reckoning). Not so bad, right?

Now make one end of it approximately 9m/29.5' higher than the other. Ok, so you run up a bit of a hill on each loop.

Now cover than uphill in snow and make it directly into the stinkin' wind.

I've never been so ready for spring in my entire life. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Take me away from all this

..pavement and cement, that is.

If you read last week's post (in which I indulged in the worst kind of navel-gazing, allowing my dorkside to take over to the extent I even included a bloody spreadsheet! Yes, I have flagellated myself appropriately using a pair of sweaty running tights dotted with bits of snot and half-chewed Clif Bloks. Ok, just kidding - I haven't had a Blok in the house in years), I am both very sorry and fairly sure you've picked up on the idea that I'm trying to get a lot of running done.

Ok, a lot for me. My last weeks' totals have been 52.6km, 56.3km and 58.7km - I've got this week and next week left as build weeks before I taper for Around the Bay, and I'd like both of those to be over 60km. This shouldn't be a big deal - I've run up to about 65km/week in the past and survived, but lately it seems to be beating me up quite a bit.

Even when it's not freezing raining during a 26km run.

Psychologically, I'm sick and tired of winter. A report released last weekend indicated that February was even colder than January, and at an average of -11c/12f was the chilliest the second month of the year has been since 1979 - coincidentally, the year I was born. Add in the fact that at least 4 out of my 6 weekly runs are done after dark, and it becomes doubly difficult to kick my arse out the door day after day.

I swear I actually used to enjoy running.

While I'm pretty good at getting myself to do something to which my brain is strongly objecting, I'm still at the mercy of my physical weaknesses, and the conditions under which I'm having to run these days are certainly not being kind in that area.

Y'see, cement and pavement are two of the worst bloody surfaces you could possibly choose for running. They're unforgivingly hard, causing minute damage with every single impact; that is, each and every step you take. Every other time I've had a really long race to train for - assuming I actually did the work - I've tried to alternate long runs from week to week between the road (assuming it was a road race and I needed to toughen myself up to take the long-term pounding, like for Midsummer Night's 30k last year) and the softer surface of the local trails. We've got bunches of them, some of which are really beautiful, and all of which are easier on the body than running over 2 hours on substances designed for cars instead of people.

Definitely more inspiring than stoplights.

The problem is that the same weather that has just about broken my spirit has been threatening to snap my ankles if I were to venture out on the trails...or even on the sidewalks, in some cases. 

We've had a lot of snow, most of which has stuck around. Despite the blisteringly cold temperatures, though, the sun has done a lovely job of melting the snow on the sidewalks and trails into a gloopy mess while I'm at work. People walk through it, leaving footprints in the semi-liquid mass that then freeze in place by the time I get outdoors in the evenings. As a matter of fact, it tends to stay that way for days - if not weeks - on end, as more snow piles in on top of this ankle-destroying ice. It's exactly the sort of thing I dealt with for the three hours of Frosty Trail this year, which ended up with one wrenched ankle and some damage (which I've been unwilling to dignify with proper identification) to the junction of the ball of my right foot and my big toe. The same stuff that contrived to launch me into a snowbank on the side of the trail, simply because my foot landed partway into an icy footprint under the snow.

This crap.

Knowing that I'd be in for a horrible - and possibly dangerous, if I were to injure myself in a place not easily accessed while only dressed for running - time if I tried to run trail, I avoided them for some time. The sunset photo above was taken on the only trail run I've ventured since Frosty Trail; a mere 6km back on February 16th, made as terrifying as it was beautiful by the lumpy, packed ice and snow that threatened at every moment to throw me off my feet. I made it through, but it was enough to convince me that I shouldn't be out on the trails until the incessant ice and snow have dissipated. The damn things aren't even any good for cross-country skiing with the shape they're in, though we did get a nice snowshoe in on them one frosty night. 

Usually this would have a bright side - when running on pavement and cement, you're typically dealing with a uniform surface that doesn't carry many surprises for your feet. One of the best arguments for running trails is that road running does very little to strengthen the smaller supporting muscle groups that will shield your knees and ankles from injury - it's typically all in the boring old saggital plane, with very little instability or side-to-side movement. This has not proven the case this winter.

Smooth. Predictable. Sure.
The choppy, ankle-endangering ice has not been limited to the trails - nor has the snow. The above photo was taken on my street after it had been plowed. If the weather warmed up in the slightest (i.e.: above -10c/14f), the snow would turn into a substance best described as mashed potatoes. Each step forward is accompanied by a slip backward as your foot simply digs through the mess. If the weather stayed cold, the snow would be compacted by the passage of cars and feet into a rock-hard, lumpy mass that is almost as challenging to run on as the footprinted ice. Now, as the sun gets stronger during the day, I encounter sheets of ice in the evening so smooth and slick they'd make the most anal-retentive zamboni driver weep with joy - really, they just make me scramble around like a newborn fawn in an attempt to stay upright. While a decent dose of uncertain footing is good training, the constant struggle for equilibrium each and every day is just too damn much. It took a week after the last major melt-and-refreeze before I could actually venture onto the sidewalks again, instead having to dodge traffic as I ran on the roads themselves.

This actually led to a different kind of injury - one caused by the structure of the road itself. 


For the purposes of drainage, most roads are crowned to a greater or lesser extent - that is, the highest point of the surface is at the centre line, with a gentle slope down toward the curb on each side. Motorcyclists sometimes notice this as uneven wear on their tires, but most of us don't really give it a second thought; we just expect that rain and meltwater will flow off into the catch basins rather than pooling on the streets and impairing traction in wet conditions. However, if you do something weird like go run on the side of the road for a couple of hours, you're again giving a monstrous workout to some comparatively small supporting muscles that are subject to over-use.

For me, this manifested itself in the form of pain at the outside of my right foot after a 23km run, just in front of my ankle bone. I'd previously broken my 5th metatarsal on that side (doing something dumb while drunk as a teenager), and desperately hoped I wasn't experiencing a stress reaction or fracture. I hobbled a lot and refused to entertain the idea that I was really injured, especially since sometimes it would feel fine. Fortunately, it seems that I'd just managed to anger the dorsal calcaneocuboid ligament (say that 5 times fast!), and after rolling the sole of my foot quite rigorously with a golf ball I managed to get it resolved while still building mileage. I do, however, need to be a bit careful about how I plant my right foot when running on steeply crowned roads - they're not usually as dramatic as my graphic above would suggest, but there are a few sections I see regularly that are at least that bad.

That bugger, there.

While I could give myself a break by running on the opposite side of the road (or at least even up the damage), I really don't feel safe doing so unless there's a bike lane available - I run facing traffic, because even if drivers do see me, that's no guarantee they'll actually do anything to avoid hitting me. Hell, I actually had a lady in an SUV casually sip her Starbucks beverage as she steered her multi-ton box of steel and glass directly at me on the wide shoulder of the road toward the end of one of my recent long runs. I have no idea how bad your life has to be inside your head to make mowing down an innocent runner who is not impeding you in any way and attractive prospect. Not the sort of thing that inspires confidence in turning my back toward traffic, so the repetitive stress just keeps on repeating.

Even apart from actual quantifiable damage, I have noticed my legs feel heavier and take much longer to snap back after long runs on the road than on softer surfaces. I'm really just feeling beat up in ways that I never have before on this sort of (admittedly, quite high compared to usual) mileage. I miss my trails for so many reasons, and can't wait until I can be reunited with the ever-changing dappled gold of sunshine through the breeze-blown trees, the gurgle of the river running ever onward beside me, and the twitter and cheep of birds and woodland creatures drowning out the soft crunch of gravel or dirt beneath my feet. 

In the meantime, though, I'll keep plugging away on the roads and sidewalks, trying with all my might to build my strength and stay healthy until taper time. After all, the only thing worse than not being able to run trail is not being able to run at all.

Twenty three days left to Around the Bay - only 13 until the first official day of spring!