Monday, 13 April 2009

Guest Blog # 1: D. Wykes, Reporting From Flagstaff

The following is my first of what I hope will become a regular series of "guest blog" contributions. This one is courtesy of Dylan Wykes, who is currently in Flagstaff AZ, doing his first stint of altitude training. As he details in the post, he is living and training with a group of fellow canucks in pursuit of fast track times at a series of meets in California beginning at the end of this month. Next week, I plan to send a report from the Vancouver Sun Run, where Dylan, Rejean Chiasson and I will be running next Sunday. Enjoy the blog, including the photos at the end, which show the canuck house in Flagstaff and a couple of shots of said canucks at work and repose.


The trip started with a 10,000m track race in California at Stanford University. Stanford is notorious for hosting tracking meets that provide elite distance runners with well paced races under ideal weather conditions. Both of these factors were both as ideal as I had heard and expected when i toed the line of Friday March 28th for 25 laps around the track. Unfortunately my performance was not quite what I was hoping for. I was able to get in the middle of a pack of 20 guys running at 2:50/km pace. I only lasted til around 6-6.5km before I started to feel the effects of maybe going out a bit too hard. It was a long way home from there. I managed to rally a bit over the final 1km for a time of 28:58, about 20 seconds slower than I was hoping for. But, it was a great experience. It made me realize how important mental tenacity is when racing on the track. Running so many laps can be very challenging mentally, no matter what the speed. But, I think I learned a lot and will be able to improve with the experience I gained in this race.

After some great authentic Mexican food, a quick sightseeing trip to San Francisco, and one missed flight, I eventually made it to Flagstaff, Arizona (only 4-5 hours after I originally planned) where I would be joining 5 other Canadian distance runners to training for the next 4-5 weeks, before taking another shot at the 10,000m on the track.

I was greeted at the tiny Flagstaff airport by my former college teammate and roommate Martin Fagan -- an Irish marathon runner who recently ran an amazing 60:57 for the half marathon (2:53/km for 21km!). Martin has lived and trained full-time in Flagstaff for the past 1.5 years and would prove to be a valuable asset in showing us the ropes a round the town and telling me about the do's and dont's of training at altitude.

Martin drove me out to the house where I would be staying with five other Canadians: Olympian - Eric Gillis, his Speed River (Guelph) club mate John Corbit, New Foundlander's Colin Fewer and Grant Hendrigan, and last but not least west coaster Richard Mosely. Prior to this trip I'd spent very little time outside of competitions with this group of guys. But, as many distance runners are of the same breed, I had no doubt we'd all get along. To help matters our house is a massive spot with no shortage of activities to keep us busy between training sessions including 3 flat screen TV's, a golf arcade game, a pool table, and a ping-pong table.

Flagstaff, which is at 7,000 feet above sea level has become a hot-bed for altitude training camps for distance runners. After just two days of running up here it was easy to understand why. From the center of town there is an "urban trail" system which stretches in three different directions for a nearly endless number of miles. The trails are well groomed red-dirt/gravel. From our house - 5 miles outside of town - you can connect to the urban trail system or run on a variety of quite dirt roads, or single track trails which also seem to go endlessly.

The training here for me thus far has been great. I've tried to be fairly conservative in my approach. Easy day runs are run very easy up here in the thin air. I am used to running at a fairly good clip in my "easy" days back home, so this took a bit of an adjustment. But, I knew it would be important not to try and run to hard, especially during the first 3-4 days "up" here. My first taste of the thin air came on a hilly run the first afternoon here. You go into oxygen debt so much quicker up here, and I almost maxed out going up a short steep climb at about 9min/mile pace! But generally when running easy you don't really sense that you are running at 7,000 ft altitude (as long as you really do run easy). Workouts on the other hand are a much more difficult task. During our first workout I sort of felt like I was running in slow motion, but I was clearly working hard because I was breathing heavily from the get go. It was an odd sensation. Workouts have also been difficult because I am used to reading into times and paces and distances covered as a measure of my performance in workouts. That is very hard to do up here as there is no real golden rule for how to convert the times and paces you are running. But with the help of Eric Gillis (who training up here for one month last year before running his Olympic qualifying time of 28:07 for the 10,000m) and the other guys at the house I've been able to get through the workouts thus far without killing myself and feeling pretty confident about the efforts. In general, the environment of living and training daily with 5 other guys with similar mindsets and goals has given a great boost to my training. It's been a refreshing change from the long, cold, lonely miles logged in the brutal winter that was served up in Kingston this year.

In between runs I have had quite a bit of school work to do to keep me preoccupied. But, when I have found a few hours of spare time we've enjoyed a few trips into the town of flagstaff, for the occasional meal and pint of beer. One place that offered a unique experience was the "pay-N-take". It's hard to describe exactly what this establishment is. It's part bar, part convenience store, part beer and wine store, bar espresso bar. You walk in and one half of the place is a wall of bridge fridges with an amazing selection of micro-brewed beers from all over the states. You can grab the beer of your choice and choose to either pay for the beers and take them away, or have the bar tender open them up for you and relax in the other ha lf of the establishment which has a few chairs and tables and a typical bar. It's a pretty chilled out setting and they were playing some good tunes (radiohead and new order came on the short time we were there). Apparently the owner is really into cycling and the place has been a gathering spot for endurance athletes to enjoy a little break from intense training camps in the thin air.

Other activities have included a billiards tournament (which I won), a few poker tournaments (which I did miserably in), and a lot of time spent surfing the inter-web.

There has also been one failed attempt at a trip to the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately we probably picked the worst day of the first two weeks up here to make the 80 mile drive to the South Rim. The unsuccessful trip started with unsuccessfully getting the two newfie's (Colin and Grant) out the door with any sense of urgency. Although they won't take the blame for any delays, we ended up arriving at the car rental place 10 minutes after it had closed. But, in hindsight, this was probably a blessing in disguise as the snow was pelting down and the visibility was terrible. Hopefully I will be able to make it there in the next few weeks and send some photos.

On April 19th I am going to head up (north), but down (to sea level) to Vancouver for the Sun Run 10km road race test out any gains I have made in the first 3 weeks here in Flagstaff. Should be fun to meet up with fellow PK'ers making the trip - Steve and Rejean.


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