Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Wykes in Berlin-- All Systems Go

My summer hiatus from the blog officially ends with the following short summary of Dylan Wykes preparations for his first championship marathon, the World Championships Marathon in Berlin this Sunday (the race, BTW, will be livestreamed on CBCsports.ca, starting Saturday morning at 5:35EDT).

As most of you know, Dylan secured his spot on Canada's marathon team (the World Championship marathon includes a national team competition-- the World Cup Marathon) through his performance at last fall's Toronto Waterfront Marathon, where he was first Canadian in 2:16:19-- a time well below the minimum qualifying standard of 2:18. He is joined on the team by many-time Canadian track champion Reid Coolsaet, Brooks Marathon Project member Andrew Smith, Congolese emigre and veteran Canadian road racer Gitah Macharia. (New Canadian Jon Brown, a former British International with two consecutive Olympic Marathon 4 places to his credit, was a late injury withdrawal from the team).

Dylan's build-up for this race was perhaps his best yet, in terms of both consistency and total volume. This is only his third marathon, but we have both learned much since he took up the event a scant 18 months ago. Our approach is to make only small, incremental changes to the program from one race to the the next; but, weekly volumes of 190-200kms (through the introduction of more double-run days) and frequent exposure to the demands of very long sessions-- up to 40k in total, with large percentages at race pace or faster every 10-14 days-- have increased Dylan's ability to stay relaxed and focused while skirting the outer periphery of glycogen depletion-- allowing him, we hope, to push a little further on this vital energy supply come race day.

With help from exercise and nutrition expert Dr. Trent Stellingwerf, Dylan has also refined his pre- and mid-race refueling and hydration regime (never an obvious problem area, but a low-risk adjustment, it seemed to us, particularly considering Dr. Stellinwerf's expertise in this area).

Typical of his acute attention to detail, Dylan performed almost all of his harder sessions, and many of his recovery runs, at the Berlin race time-- 11am. He has done this in previous build-ups, but the usual starting time has made this a greater priority this time. Syncing workout and race start times enables the athlete to optimize his pre-race nutrition consumption and metabolism (including the all-important waste excretion phase!).

Speaking of the race start time, an area of concern than remains beyond our or anyone's complete control is the race day weather. Always a concern in an event as long and taxing at the marathon, the late-summer 11am start time for Berlin creates the very real possibility for mid-race heat and humidity-related complications. A starting temperature of over 20C, or a even a much lower temperature, albeit accompanied by high humidity, forces the athlete to moderate his pace-- never an exact science for even the most disciplined and skilled runner, particularly in a championship race. We feel that Dylan has the basic conditioning to run under 2:14; but, a start-time temperature of over 20 C will force an adjustment of the first half pace to something closer to 2:16-- still ambitious running under what amounts to mid-summertime conditions. This being a championship race-- both individual and team-- Dylan and his team mates will be running with an eye to place as much as to time, however. Under adverse weather conditions, the highest placings often go the most intelligent and disciplined athletes on the course, rather than to the best conditioned. Dylan will be looking closely at his watch during the race, but he will also be listening for his place number, particularly in the later going. In warm weather championship races, it is not unusual to see intelligently-paced athletes make dramatic runs up the field, moving easily past the detritus of their over-ambitious competitors.

Finally, if you plan to watch the race, look for at least three of the Canadian team-- Dylan, Andrew Smith, and Reid Coolsaet-- to work together at goal pace for a good portion of the first half of the race. Since they appear reasonably evenly matched, and to make things more familiar and thereby comfortable in the early going, these three will keep each other company until one or more of them determines one way or another-- either by forging ahead or falling behind--that it's time to bid Auf Wiedersehen

Best of luck to all of Canada's marathoner this weekend (the lone Canadian woman-- Tara Quinn-Smith-- goes on Sunday morning)! And, as supporters, we need to understand that a successful marathon actually does require a degree of luck-- in the form of cooperation from very difficult to control variables, such as the apparent capriciousness of even the most carefully prepared body in its response to the metabolic demands of this most extreme of track and field events. In any championship marathon field, the vast majority of competitors will have prepared themselves to according the best of a vast accumulation of both self- and technical knowledge; and yet, a very high percentage will fail to perform according to reasonable expectations. Because the event is so extreme, and the variable so difficult to manage, the "failure rate" among marathoners is extremely high, and the consequences of that failure physically devastating and therefore relatively long term. All marathon competitors themselves toe the line in the full awareness of this daunting reality, which is why they must be considered perhaps the most courageous of all athletes. The unique challenge of the marathon, and the thing that makes failure so painful is, however, also that which makes success so uniquely sweet and abiding. Let's hope that at least one Canadian athlete, if not all of them, is able to savour a drop from this cup by week's end.

Whatever the result, look for Dylan's first-hand account of his Berlin experience sometime next week.

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