Monday 25 May 2009

Guest Blog #2-- Emily Tallen on her Ottawa Experience

Thanks to Emily T. for this account of her thoughts and feelings going into and coming out of what would end up being an abortive first marathon attempt. We're still not sure why (perhaps we'll never know), but the body Emily woke up with on race morning was not the one that got her so brilliantly through her build-up. She had a mild virus early in the week and reported feeling a little tired and sluggish in the days leading up to the race, but much of this is normal for marathoners late in their taper phase. The weather conditions (windy and slightly warmer than expected) also conspired against fast times on Sunday, with runners at all levels either abandoning their pre-race pace plans after a few kilometers or, like Emily and several others, persisting through 21k only to fall apart shortly thereafter. The performances of the lead runners, always an accurate gauge of basic course speed and atmospheric conditions, were 3-5 minutes slower than expected, with most of the damage coming in the second half of race. This is significant because the lead runners can receive double or more of their finish-place prize money in time bonuses, which are graded by the minute; thus, if these well prepared and "incentivized" professionals are falling well short of their time goals, the chances are that slower runners will land even further adrift of expectations.

Other Ottawa Notes:

-Dylan Wykes will be selected to represent Canada at the World Championships marathon in Berlin on August 22nd.

-After suffering from the acute onset of allergy season last week, yours truly broke the Canadian 45-49 record in winning the master's division of the 10k on Saturday evening (my time was 31:11 and the old record is 31:31). And this time there can be no doubt about the course! (Credit, BTW, is owed to the makers of the allergy/asthma drug Singulair, which seems to have done the trick for me).

-P-K athlete Troy Cox overcame the conditions and a very dicey achilles tendon (the decision to even start the race was put off till the final few days) with a solid 2:42 to grab 4th in the master's division of the marathon.

-Rookie Matt Pieterson ran a very solid road personal best of 30:50 in the 10k. Already an accomplished duathlete, Matt looks to have many of the tools for great success as a distance runner. With the support of his fellow Ottawa-based training partners-- veteran Canadian marathoner Matt McInnis and Rejean Chiasson-- look for Matt to make some big gains between now and the national X-C meet in Guelph this December. Matt P. and Rejean are up next at the national 10,000m track championships in Toronto at the end of June.

Emily T.--Ottawa Marathon:“A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head..”

The song “A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head” by Andrew Bird precisely sums up my feelings when it comes to racing Sunday. I’m pretty sure the song is about drug addiction but running is my crack so this song works for me. My addiction gets me out the door everyday without the thought of even considering day off, numerous friendships, a sponsorship from Mizuno and a chance to chase my dreams. To say I’m nervous would be an understatement, making it to the World Championships is something I’ve thought about since Athletics Canada released a statement stating that they would send five women to the 2009 World Championships in Berlin that finish in a time of 2:43 or less. I know I’m capable of achieving my goal, all of my marathon pace runs have indicated that I’m in 2:38 shape. But it is a marathon and there are plenty of variables so needless to say I’ll be walking around with a “Nervous Tic Motion of the Head” until the completion of the race.

Reflecting on this build up I feel both extremely thankful and relieved. Thankful because I’ve received incredible support and relieved because I’ve been able to get through the training without any setbacks. I wouldn’t have a clue how to put the intricate pieces of marathon training together let alone get through the workouts without the help and advice from Pat and Steve. Steve is always eager to share his experience and is one of the most motivating people I’ve ever met; ask him to share some running stories with you sometime- I promise you won’t be disappointed! I’ve learned a lot from this marathon build up and to say I’ve made sacrifices along the way would be far from accurate, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and therefore feel as though the sacrifices are more of a blessing as it’s given me the opportunity to do something that I feel extremely passionate about.

I woke up this morning at 4:30am had some coffee, paced the halls and got ready to go, it always amazes me how quickly time passes before a race. Pete Quinn was kind enough to pace me today, the plan was to go out in 1:20 as the first half of the course was fairly challenging. I felt a bit “off” right from the start and really started to get into trouble around 15km, my legs felt heavy and had a similar feeling that I usually experience in the final 2km of a 5km. I assumed I was just hitting a rough patch and I just had to push through it. Over the next 7km, things didn’t turn around and my pace was slowing by 30 seconds a kilometer. Making the choice to drop out of the race was not an easy one, a rush of emotion hit me as I thought about all of the early nights, long marathon pace runs that Steve had been so kind to help time me with, my family who was waiting for me to run past and the realization that my dream of going to Berlin was not going to happen. The reason for dropping out is an attempt at salvaging a track season, had I finished I would’ve been far off goal pace and totally depleted therefore a longer recovery would be needed.

Over the years if I’ve learned anything it’s that running is not tough due to the burning in your legs you experience in that final stretch to the finish line or miles logged in training; the hardest part is developing persistence and patience when dealing with disappointment. I don’t plan on quitting in this lifetime so I’ll be relying on persistence and patience to get me through this disappointing time as I look ahead to racing on the roads and track this summer.

Monday 18 May 2009

Coaching in the Fun House: Working with the Teenage Athlete

With the Ontario high school track season* now approaching its characteristic fever pitch, I thought it might be timely to offer some reflections on my limited but fast-growing experience with coaching teenage athletes.

Coaching teenage athletes, I have learned, is a bit like taking a trip through a carnival fun house-- full of novelty and surprises, both pleasant and unwelcome. And, as with the fun house, appearances are often distorted when it comes to teenage runners. The athlete you see one week, or one season, may look and perform completely differently the next. This is true of coaching in general, but is far more dramatic in the case of younger athletes.

But, before I elaborate, a little background on my approach to working with younger athletes. As anyone who has ever inquired about this will know, I have a strict policy about not allowing athletes under the age of 12 to run in the P-K group. I do work with younger athletes, but only seasonally, and very casually, through the primary school where I have been coaching for the past 7 years (which also happens to be next door to my house). My policy to this point has been to allow athletes to join the club group in the spring of their final year of primary school (grade 8 here in Ontario). I take this approach because, in short, I don't think distance running is really a children's sport. While it may be fine for athletes younger than 12 to try their hand at the occasional distance race, the sport of distance running in the full sense is one that is fundamentally rooted in year-round, intense and systematic training. As all adults runners know, such training is, as a matter of course, highly physically, psychologically and emotionally demanding (the word "work" is not a part of the lexicon of this sport for nothing); and, just as with intense labour in general, younger children gain little from the experience of serious distance training, and risk much in terms of their all-sided physical and psycho-social development, when they take up the sport seriously (i.e. intensely and year-round) before about the age of 15. As someone with an interest in promoting lifetime, serious, but balanced approach to the sport of distance running, my concern is to avoid that which is liable to jeopardize an athlete's long term participation or reduce his/her odds of realizing his/her full performance potential. My 30 year experience of watching wave after wave of obviously talented but intensely trained and heavily raced age-class athletes abandon the sport at the age of 14 or 15-- the very age when their enthusiasm for the training and racing process should be taking off-- while their later-starting competitors replace them at the front of the pack, has convinced me of the wisdom of later starting. I am backed, furthermore, by the Athletics Canada sponsored Long Term Athlete Development Guidelines (LTAD), which strongly recommend a careful, stage-based approach to youth development, in which serious specialization, intense year-round training, and high level racing are delayed until the youth the junior age groups (16 to 19). When we know that later starting is more likely to produce both future champions and young adults whose early experiences with the sport have been generally positive, there is no excuse for exposing very young athletes to the full rigours of the sport. When we do see very young athletes training seriously and racing long and frequently, there is invariably an adult instigator (however well meaning) not far in the background. It would rarely occur to, or appeal to, a child under 13 to train and race seriously independently of adult encouragement and/or facilitation. The onus, therefore, is squarely on the parents and coaches of young athletes to get things right in the early years.

But, even when teenage distance runners have managed to avoid the pitfalls of intense early involvement, their path through these years is rarely smooth and predictable. And, as I say, this unpredictability can produce some very demanding coaching puzzles. In my scant 2 years of working closely with high school track and cross country runners, I have already encountered as many, or perhaps more, complex conundrums as in the 20+ years I've spent observing and working with mature athletes, including, for example:

-an athlete who gained 12 pounds (without an increase in height) during the 6 weeks of her highest mileage and most intense workout sessions and who, for no reason discoverable by the most advanced medical science, passed copious blood in her urine for 3 months following every hard workout or run of over 1 hour (and at no other time, and with no other symptoms, save subsequent iron deficiency).

-an athlete who develops a side stitch at the 9 minute mark of every race or workout.

-a formerly highly successful sprinter with all the symptoms of clinical iron deficiency, including performance decline, with a completely clean bill of health.

-a successful and highly motivated athlete who developed debilitating muscle heaviness and soreness that persisted in spite of several weeks of complete inactivity due to an unrelated injury.

These and other less dramatic problems, such as athletes who choose to abandon or take a prolonged break from the sport not when things are going poorly but precisely when they are going very well, seem to be entirely the province of the teenage athlete. Adult runners have their share of problems too, of course; but, on the whole, their difficulties are far more standard, their bodies more predictable, and their performances thus much more straightforwardly the product of successful, consistent training.

Coaching the teenage athlete is also, however, uniquely rewarding-- and often precisely because of unpredictability of the process. Managing to help an athlete solve or work through the above sorts of difficulties is in itself very gratifying. And there is very little in the realm of adult coaching to match the wonder and excitement of an athlete going from the very back of the pack one season to the victory stand in the next-- a frequent occurrence in the world of high school track and cross country running. Then there is, very simply, the thrill of watching young athletes compete-- which they often do with a fearlessness and abandon rare among more mature competitors-- with the knowledge that you have had some part to play in their preparation. At their best, teenage athletes are highly coachable, and it is both thrilling and daunting to consider that, as often their first coach, you are uniquely responsible for determining the quality of their formative experience in the sport-- a very significant determinant of their likelihood of becoming lifelong runners.

In the relatively short time I've spent working with younger athletes-- both primary school and more recently high school-age runners-- I've determined that my underlying goal should simply be to prepare them for a lifetime of running, regardless of the level at which their talent and inclination may ultimately deposit them. This preparation should entail, first of all, instruction in the rudiments of being a distance runner, including basic knowledge of how to execute a standard training program. These rudiments include: knowledge of the meaning and purpose of different training paces, from warm-up to the tempo run, and everything in between; an understanding that progress comes from attention to detail and long term commitment; and, that distance training is very difficult, yet also very rewarding because it is so difficult to do. Equipped with such a grounding, the teenage athletes with whom I work will be, I hope, capable of adapting and thriving in the sport wherever they happen to find themselves, from their college programs to their busy adult lives. Many will also, no doubt, go on to become coaches themselves, passing the best of what they they have learned from me through the lens of their own experience and on to another generation of young athletes, just as I have from those influences that have shaped my perspective.

*Note: Ontario, Canada's most populous and urbanized province, is famous (or, as some in Canada would suggest, infamous) for its massive and slickly organized single division high school track and field championships (OFSAA), which are the culmination of a series of three increasingly competitive regional qualifying rounds starting in early May. So absorbing does the OFSAA quest become for Ontario athletes that many end up setting personal bests in the finals that ultimately hold up through 4 years of intense, NCAA division one training and racing. I have even heard of one former top Ontario athlete describing her NCAA championship experience as "a bit of a let-down compared with OFSAA"! As a former participant in the OFSAA system myself, and as a long-time observer of its effects, my feelings about it are highly ambivalent. From the point of view of long term athlete development, it is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it provides a virtually free and wide-open system of talent recruitment and an intensely exciting focus for youth involvement. On the other hand, so intense is this focus that the system threatens to undermine long term sport development. Many athletes (or rather their parents and coaches) are driven to accelerate their training far beyond what is reasonable for their age, oftentimes starting as early as grade 7 and 8 in anticipation of OFSAA stardom. Meanwhile, slower developing athletes are at risk of being discouraged by the often overwhelmingly high and intense level of competition in this system, with many no doubt leaving the sport never to return. My own approach to the system has been to accept it as a fun and exciting focus of the sport in this province, but to discourage athletes from reading too much significance one way or another into their results when it comes to assessing their longer term (i.e. at least post-high school)potential . My graduated system for working with teenage athletes-- a system in which their total training volume and seasonal involvement are quite modest in grades 9 and 10 before becoming moderately high and intense in grades 11 and 12-- in any case tends to work against OFSAA success in at least the early grades. Typically, my younger teenage athletes run only 5-6 days per week, 30-40mins per day, including only two faster sessions per week, and for only 7-9 months in total during the year. Athletes 16 and up will typically run 6 days per week, 10-12 months per year and 50-60mins per day on average, with 2 harder sessions and a longer run per week during most weeks.

Monday 11 May 2009

Down to Earth on the Barefoot/Minimalist Vogue

Over the last few weeks, I've noticed a sudden increase in the volume of on-going buzz on the topic of barefoot running and "minimalist" footwear. Although I have some strong opinions on this topic, I've resisted joining the debate as it has been percolating on the running message boards and listservs-- until today, when the topic found its way into the mainstream, or at least my mainstream, in the form of an extended segment on the CBC current affairs program The Current. (

In the segment, host Anna Maria Tremonti interviews guests-- including Chris McDougall,minimalist advocate and author of the book Born to Run, and John Stanton, business man and self-proclaimed expert on running-- on the question of whether the advent of modern running footwear circa the 1970s has been a bane or a boon to runners' overall biomechanical health. McDougall fulminated against the modern shoe, with its array of Madison Avenue inspired "motion control" and cushioning technologies, citing the high injury rate among participants in the post-1970s running boom (somewhere around 80% per year) as compared with the remarkable example of the indigenous Terra Humara people of the Southwestern U.S., who reportedly run distances of over 100 miles in simple rubber-soled sandals, and who do so well into their advanced years, with very low rates of "overuse" injuries. He also cited his own example-- that of a heavy (200+ pounds), middle-aged, formerly injury-plagued urban runner who has been able to leave his woes behind by eschewing modern footwear in favour of the Terra Humara's footwear of choice. Stanton, meanwhile, offered the view that modern footwear has actually enabled more people to run by offering an array of different shoes to meet the needs of a greatly expanded and highly biomechanically varied running public. My own view is closer to that of McDougall, although I think he and many other minimalist advocates base their actual claims on some questionable epidemiology, suspect biomechanics, and dubious anthropology. As for Stanton, his claim that the big shoe companies, with their endless variety of new, technologically enhanced models and styles of shoes, have enabled more people with unconventional and/or sub-optimal biomechanics to enjoy the sport is a disingenuous half-truth typical of someone who poses, strictly for marketing purposes, as a simple running enthusiast and "coach", but whose real and abiding interest is increased sales and outdoing the retail competition by any legal means necessary. (Were Stanton's purported ideals as a runner and coach ever to come into conflict with his interests as a business man, there is little doubt which set would emerge victorious!)

I'm an advocate of "minimalism", and even barefoot running; but, I think the claims of minimalist and barefoot evangelists like McDougall need to be brought down to earth.

I'll start with the epidemiology that purportedly connects the advent of more padded and "stabilizing" running shoes with the reported 80% yearly rate of injuries among runners. This is, first of all, a simple correlation of the most general sort. One might equally blame the current rate of injuries on the advent of super light- weight running clothing, which has been just as big a feature of the running scene since the 1970s as more padded shoes. More to the point, however, the running boom has been rooted in the growth of the sport among non-traditional sporting populations, and populations whose average age, weight, and number of hours worked per week have all increased during the period in question; in short, running has grown among a population one could reasonably have expected to incur higher rates of injury no matter what their choice of footwear-- as compared, that is, with the old 1960s demographic of men in their 20s and 30s with university and high school racing experience. The other simple problem is that, with the comparative paucity of rehab services in pre-boom days, we have little way of assessing the real rate of injury during those years. It is quite likely that large numbers of would-be life-long runners "back in the day" packed it in completely after one or two bad injuries, and without registering the fact through, say, a visit to the Dr. or physio. It's therefore hard to meaningfully compare the rate of injury among runners of these different eras, let alone assess the contribution of changes in running footwear to any trend in either direction.

But what of the actual hypothesis that more padded and "stabilized" running shoe mid-soles could cause wearers to incur more injuries than the older, simpler and far less supportive models of the 1960s and early 70s? The bases of this claim concern the biomechanics of the running foot: specifically, the suggestion is that an an over-supported foot will lose its strength, flexibility, and thereby its natural shock-absorbing characteristics; and, that the extra padding and support of the modern shoe will tend to encourage runners to adopt a more "biomechanically inefficient", and therefore more injury-inducing, gait-- a "heal-striking" gait that sends impact forces willy-nilly through the body, reducing forward motion to boot. I'm inclined to agree that modern "motion-control" and heel-elevated footwear could have the effect, over time, of reducing foot strength and flexibility in the lower leg and foot. I'm not convinced, however, that the solution for today's average runner is to opt for minimally supportive shoes, or no shoes at all. The average runner today, after all, has many other things with which to contend when it comes to avoiding injury. Along with the above mentioned fact that the average runner today is a little older, heavier and busier in general, is the fact that he or she has grown up wearing shoes and must by necessity do the majority of his/her running on hard surfaces. For this reason a strict minimalism when it comes to footwear has very little to offer today's middle- of-the-pack runner. To the extent that minimalism has become like a kind of anti-modernist religion or ideology-- and it clearly has in some quarters-- I think it needs to be reacquainted with the concrete (no pun intended) reality of running today. It's probably far more useful to instruct the average runner today about proper nutrition and training than it is to harp about how their shoes may be injuring them.

As for theories about the bad biomechanics of shod versus un- or lightly-shod running, I'm not at all convinced by claims about so-called "heel-striking", mainly because I'm not convinced that there is any such thing as heal striking, defined as catching the majority of one's weight on one's heel while running. If it were really possible to land on one's heel as suggested in this phrase, it's not clear to me how any forward motion at all could be maintained, such would be the extent of the breaking action on each footfall. While it is clear that the heel contacts the ground while running in shoes and normally does not while running barefoot, it's never been shown that making contact with the heel actually slows one down, particularly on harder surfaces. In fact, African athletes, many of whom spent their youth barefoot, and who did many of their early races sans shoes, almost universally opt for shoes when racing and training when given the opportunity(and this includes those without shoe contracts-- the vast majority of African runners). In all my travels, I've met only a few athletes who did not ever make heel contact with the ground (one being a very long time friend, who has had bilateral surgery on his achilles tendons). Even runners who appear to be keeping their heel off the ground on landing have, if one cares to check, at least some wear on the lateral heels of their shoes. (I, for instance, have always been described as a biomechanically efficient mid-foot striker, yet I have extensive wear on the outer heel area of both my shoes, trainers, racers, and even spikes). I think that almost all runners tend to make initial ground contact with their heel area, but bear maximum weight during the "stance" phase of their stride-- the point where the centre of gravity is directly over the foot, and the knee is at full flex. In fact, I think this is where maximum weight bearing occurs even when running barefoot. It stands to reason that this would be the case; if it were not, if would be very difficult to sustain any forward momentum, shod or un-shod.

To clarify my position in this debate, I would say that elements of the minimalist message have great merit. It is generally true, for instance, that shoe companies really don't care much as much about large scale injury rates from using their product as they do about providing a soft and secure-feeling ride for the average runner. If you are an athlete with a light frame and strong, flexible feet, you may well be much better off opting for as little shoe as possible. But, if you fit this description, you are not representative of the average runner today-- who, let's remember, did not grow up barefoot, is probably older and above optimal running weight, and who is compelled to run on pavement every day. Minimalists make much of the fact that the human body was evolved for running; however, it was not evolved for running on hard surfaces, and it was probably not even evolved specifically for running at modern racing speeds over very long distances (primitive hunts probably having been very drawn-out affairs, involving moderate speeds over great distances, in addition to the occasional sprint for cover to avoid predation oneself). The average runner today is a long way from this "state of nature", and the sport of running is likewise far removed from anything like the primitive hunt on the grassland for which our bare foot was evolved. So, while the average shoe has undoubtedly become more padded and supportive than it needs to be, shoes in general, and even shoes with more than a minimal mid-sole, represent both an inevitable accommodation to modern living conditions and a technical advance that has enabled us to run faster and probably further than ever before-- which is why even the world's fastest runners tend to opt for them, even when their sponsors are not looking.

Challenged on its faulty logic and stripped of it anti-modernist zeal then, the minimalist message is a useful but far from earth-shattering one. All runners should attempt to preserve and enhance their foot strength and flexibility in ways that do not expose them to greater risk of injury. For a very small minority of runners, this may involve some barefoot running. For others it may involve training exclusively in what are conventionally marketed as "racing" shoes. And, for the majority, it should involve attempting to wear the simplest and least supportive shoe they can manage. Before that, however, it may have to involve dropping excess body weight and doing exercises to help build foot strength and flexibility. It may even involve something as simple as spending more time walking around barefoot in and around the house. In the end, modern footwear is neither the savior it is marketed as, nor the devil it is purported to be in the minimalist fable of our fall from running grace.

Monday 4 May 2009

Stanford Post-Mortem, Secrets of My Recent "Old Man" Success

Dylan's second Stanford result is now in books (or rather, in the circuitry) and neither of us is particularly pleased with the verdict it delivers about our plan over the past 5 weeks-- and I say the plan rather than the execution, because everything we wanted to happen, apart from a better final result in the second meet over the first, happened.

The first 6 laps of the race began as neither of us had expected-- with Dylan leading a large amoeba of college boys seemingly unwilling to set a pace that would put them in range of making their NCAA qualifier (although a couple actually did anyway, thanks to furious final kilometers). In part due to some stomach cramping (a new thing for Dylan at a very inopportune moment), Dylan surrendered the lead, but stayed stuck in the mid-front of the pack for kms 3 to just past 7. It was at this point that things got strange for me. I watched the race the following morning, already knowing the result. When Dylan re-assumed the lead with about 6 laps to go, I began to think that there must have been another mistake in the published results (at the first Stanford meet, the results initially had Dylan at 29:47, when his time was actually 28:58). I have never seen him in the hunt at this stage of a race and not remain for a shot at the prize. When he has struggled it the past, it has been much earlier in the race. This time, however, his legs completely failed to respond when the real racing began. This was not a question of winning the race, but of being able to accelerate with the group and come in at close to his goal pace: he simply could not move off of a pace that we know should have been very manageable. Having watched the final 3k a couple of times, it is clear that he was mentally prepared to work hard over the final 5-6mins, as planned. The failure here was purely physical, which places the responsibility squarely in my lap.

There was something quite clearly wrong in the training mix over the past 2 weeks. My suspicion at this point is that he was not sufficiently recovered from his Sun Run week, which included two full workouts and a hard fought race. The plan certainly seemed reasonable-- based both on my own experience with managing 10k race recoveries, and on Dylan's own history-- but clearly something was slightly amiss. There is simply no reason why he should not have felt much stronger in this race than he did in both the first Stanford meet and the Sun Run. Of course, another explanation could be that he did not respond effectively to the altitude training. I'm inclined to reject such a theory, however, as his Sun Run performance clearly shows that he was responding, or at least that he was not struggling with the altitude.

In any case, Dylan's aim now shifts to his major seasonal focus--the World Championship marathon in Berlin on August 12. As Dylan typically begins to feel very strong in late July and early August (we're not entirely sure why, but we think he may suffer a little from early spring allergies), our hopes are high for a solid performance there.

Finally, a response to a request to shed some light on my own training leading up the Sun Run and Times-Colonist 10ks:

I actually think of my training these days not in terms of building, but of stemming fitness loss. I am one of those masters runners who enjoyed a long and physically stressful career as an open runner. I therefore did not enjoy any trend of improvement from my late 30 to early 40s, such as I've seen late starters, or re-starters, experience in response to systematic training. (This phenomenon, which I've seem many times among my own master-age athletes, occurs when an inexperienced runner, or talented "born-again" runner, who quite likely would have been a standout in his/her peak years, closes the gap between their current fitness level and where they would have been had they had a full career and begun to experience age-graded decline in their early 40s. These two lines-- that of the athlete's rate of improvement from current fitness to trained fitness, and that of his/her rate of decline from a hypothetical mid-career peak of fitness-- can sometimes take several years post-age 40 to intersect, allowing the master's athlete to experience a year-to-year trend of performance improvement typical of younger athletes in early to mid-career-- an experience denied those of us trained at peak capacity and never took a hiatus during or following our open careers.)I confess that it has actually taken far more emotional drive to train hard in my 40s than it ever took in my 20s and 30s, and that I have seriously considered giving up training to race on at least a couple of occasions since turning 40. So, as a consequence of both the psychological difficulty of training harder for less tangible reward, and of physical effects of having trained at close to my limit for all of those years-- effects which include scarred and tight hamstring attachments and a very stiff low-back-- I simply cannot, and have not even really attempted to, reproduce my erstwhile training intensity, volume or consistency these past 5 years. This is certainly not to say that I haven't enjoyed my master's training and racing immensely; in fact, these years have been some of my best, strictly from the point of view of pure enjoyment and appreciation of the sport. I would not be human, however, if I did not sometimes feel a little wistful about my measurably declining capacities, and wonder whether or not I can still muster the drive to continue towards the next frontier. During these moments, the answer-- or rather the question-- however, is always the same: What else would I do if I were not training to race?; What else is so relatively easy, healthy, and convenient to do, and yet also so intensely pleasurable and rewarding(in an "acquired taste" sort of way)?

In any case, these days my training is pretty simple, and this winter/spring has been no exception. Coming out of the X-C season, I spent 4 weeks dividing my time between the elliptical trainer and the road (45mins of the first and 20-30mins of the second). In January, I progressed to once a week "hill fartlek" session on the treadmill (i.e. running at easy run pace-- 10mph-- and raising the incline to 9% every other minute) and standard tempo runs (also once a week, and on the treadmill, building from 17 to 30mins over a period of 6 weeks). In early February, I began doing interval workouts on the indoor track-- bouts of 1:20 to 3:20 @ 3:00km pace with 30-120 sec jog recoveries. (This year, these sessions were made doubly difficult by a un-repaired heating malfunction in the field house, which kept the temperature at close to 25 degree C). I continued through February and March to do my tempo runs on the treadmill, due both to poor whether and a chronic hip/hamstring problem that made running on the snow and pavement even more painful. Starting in early February, I also added a longer run of 70mins, which I increased by 5mins/week up to 90mins. Immediately following the spring melt in March (a little earlier than usual in these parts this year), I moved my interval sessions outside, and increased both the average length of my repeats (from 2mins to around 3mins) and the total volume of my sessions (from around 5.5kms to 6.5-7kms, not including recovery jogs). I kept my tempo runs at 30mins, and continued doing them on the treadmill until just before the Sun Run in mid-April.

So, the secret of my "old man" success(I now consider the 40 year olds the "younger guys") this spring has simply been my ability to keep my training going consistently over the winter. My typical week would end-up being as follows:

Monday: 25-30mins @ Tempo pace (12mph on the mill with 1% grade), 15-20mins warm-up/down.

Tuesday: 45-50mins @ 3:45-4:00kms (P-K group workout day, which became my easy day). Core strength.

Wednesday: 70-90mins @ 3:45-4:00kms. Weights.

Thursday: 60mins @3:45-4:00kms

Friday: Hill Fartlek,Interval session (e.g. 8x700m in 2:03-05 with 200m in 60 secs recovery).

Saturday: 60mins @ 3:45-4:00kms. Core strength and weights.

Sunday: 60mins @ 3:45-4:00kms

I hope to perform a little better over the remainder of the season as I continue to work on eliminating the hamstring tedonopathy that has been causing me pain since the end of X-C season last year. It continues to improve, but in a frustrating 3- steps-forward-2-steps-backward pattern.

Next week, I'll offer another P-K profile, this time of the enigmatic Rejean Chiasson, who appears poised for a breakthrough season.

Saturday 2 May 2009

Belated West Coast Wrap, Wykes at Stanford

A rare Saturday entry here, as it took me a while to tidy up loose ends following my return from B.C.

The western sojourn ended, in my case, with a mixed result: I was able to win the master's division of the Times-Colonist 10k, but in time significantly slower than my Sun Run clocking. I took some consolation from the fact that everyone up front slowed a little from their performances of the week before; but, I felt very flat during the race, and attribute most of my shortfall to that. I'm not quite sure why I drew the joker from the deck this time, when I fully expected a repeat of last year, when I felt better (in spite of a significant hangover-- long story) than I had at the Sun Run. At the Sun Run this year, I was suffering from a mild cold, whereas in Victoria I was 100% healthy. Being very experienced at managing successive-week races (in my open days, I would quite often race 2 out of 3 weekends over the entire season), the last thing I was concerned about was coming up flat. It just goes to show, I suppose, that body-knowledge, no matter how finely tuned, is never foolproof, particularly as we age. As I've been saying since turning 40, planning workouts and races for an aging body is very much like trying to hit a moving target; a taper that may have worked last year may be insufficient this year (or sometimes, paradoxically, vice-versa.)

As for Rejean, he ran a little slower than at the Sun Run, but competed well and reported feeling good, finishing 6th overall and 4th Canadian, for his second bit of $ in a week-- easily enough to cover his incidentals for the week. Rejean's performances out west represented a return to a trend of rapid progress that began for him the middle of last year, but which was interrupted by a couple of mid-winter glitches (caused probably by a combination of the Ottawa transit strike and some mild iron deficiency). In both races, he exhibited a toughness and a cool under fire that belied his relative lack of high-level experience. Now that his engine appears to be firing on all cylinders again, expect him to continue to improve throughout the remainder of the season. He is up next in Ottawa in three weeks, at the Nordion 10k-- part of the fantastic International Race Weekend (of which more in a future post).

Other items of note from last week:

Dylan Wykes completed the final two sessions of his 5 week altitude stint and began his taper into the 2nd of two Stanford 10ks-- this one at the Payton Jordan meet. Both sessions-- one longer track session and a tempo run-- went very much according to plan, leaving him feeling the imminence of a significant P.B. As I type, Dylan enters the final few hours before gun time. This morning, the last minute no-show of some top Japanese competitors (citing caution over the flu epidemic)opened up some space in the fast section of the event and caused a wrinkle in our plans. Dylan was offered one of the open spots, so we had the dilemma of whether to stay in the slower section, which would likely be won very close to Dylan's goal time, or opt for the faster section, where the back of the pack would likely be running 10 seconds faster than our planned pace at halfway. My advice was to stay put in the slower section, but I left the final decision up to him, as sometimes athletes have an ineffable sense when their bodies are poised for breakthrough performances; in this instance, I felt he might want to give himself the chance to do something remarkable by attempting to cling to the back of the pack in heat one. In any case, for all of you insomniac track fans, the Payton Jordan meet is being shown on Flotrack, starting at around 11pm Eastern time tonight, with Dylan's race going at about 1:15am. Of course, by the time most of you read this, the races will have been run. However, for those who like the gritty details along with their results, the races will be archived in their entirety for your future viewing pleasure.

And finally, P-Kers Agathe Nicholson (see P-K profiles #3) and Daun Lynch completed their Boston Marathon odyssey with solid (under the full circumstances) performances. In the end, both realized why sub-elite runners tend to run Boston not for the chance to run fast, but for the historical richness of the experience. Since they wanted to start together, and because Daun's qualifying time was far slower than her shape going in, they were forced to start several large corrals behind the those running at their pace. As a result, they had to dodge slower runners, including waiting in line behind them briefly at water stations, for 30k! The breaking and darting around that this necessitated, combined with the demands of Boston's infamous early downhill sections, had the effect of reducing their quads to hamburger (though painful, heavy hamburger!). They finished within 30 seconds of one another in 3:11 and change (with Agathe 6th in the 45-49 age division). Daun will return to New Brunswick for the summer before re-settling in Ottawa, where we wish her all the best. Agathe will lick her wounds for a few weeks before re-grouping for another mighty stab at sub 3:00, this time in Niagara Falls. With help of some more benign training weather and a familiar (and less crowded) course, she will have an excellent chance of establishing herself as one of the top 10 or 15 marathoners in her age group in North America.

On Monday, I will offer a postmortem of Dylan's 10k and, as promised to a reader, a little look at my own training at the moment.