Monday 31 August 2009

Guest Posting-- Dylan W's Berlin Log

This week, World Cup marathoner and P-K member Dylan Wykes offers a first hand account of his 33rd place performance at the Championships last week in Berlin. Those familiar with Dylan's previous race blogs (Rotterdam and Toronto) can look forward to another entertaining and insightful bit of blogging, and aspiring elite marathoners will be able to get a valuable glimpse into the process involved in taking on the world's best in a championship setting. Enjoy!

But before we get to Dylan, I'd like to recognize the solid racing efforts of group members at the Chris Thater Memorial 5k-- an elite regional race in Binghamton NY-- this past weekend. The group was led by the age-group winning performance of Cleo Boyd (entering grade 11 this year). Cleo won the 14-16 category with a strong early season P.B. of 19:05. Finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively in the same category among the boys were Cam Levac and Kyle McKellar, who recorded P.B.s of 17:08 and 17:17. Finishing 4th in this category was Adrian Noble (still in his first year of training, and a year younger than Cam and Kyle) in a very promising 17:30. Rookie master runner Myra McDonald (who happens to be Cam's mom) finished 2nd in the 50-55 category in a near P.B. of 20:24 performance. Look for Myra to break 20mins this fall-- and in her first year of serious running! Finishing 3rd in their age categories were yours truly in the open master's division (15:36) and "member at large" Paula Wiltsie in the same division among the women (17:45). In the boys 17-19 category, Rob Asselstine (entering grade 12 this fall) finished just out of the prizes in 4th (16:40). Also finishing just out of the money-- this time in the overall master's category-- was Jeff Brison, who nevertheless ran his best time in 3 visits to the Thater, with a very solid 17:15 performance. Complete results are available at:

Chris Thater Memorial 5k

Dylan's Berlin Log:

It’s been just over a week since the World Champs marathon, and I’ve finally taken some time to reflect on my 2:18:00, 33rd place, for my 3rd attempt at the marathon and my first (and hopefully not last) attempt at the world championships marathon. Here’s a little (lengthy!) report of what I was thinking and feeling during the 42.2km through the streets of Berlin.

The race was due to start at 11:45am, which is an odd time to start a marathon (we later found out that the start time was such so that the race would be on during prime time Television viewing in the marathon crazy Japan) and made the weather a potentially huge factor. As late as Thursday it hit a high of 32 C. But some rain on Friday meant that they were only expecting it to be 20-22C on Saturday (race day). Certainly not ideal marathoning temps, but not horrible.

The one good thing about the start time of the race was that we didn’t have to get up terribly early to eat. I woke around 7.30 and at 4 pieces of toast with PB and banana and some coffee and sports drink. After that I just relaxed and got into my running gear and made sure I had everything I needed for the race. We boarded a bus from the hotel headed to the start area just after 10am. It’s hard to get nervous and uptight before a marathon, because it is such a long race and so much can happen, that wasting your energy getting pumped up for the race will likely just make you go out to hard in the beginning. But, I have to admit I got a bit nervous when our bus driver drove around in all sorts of weird directions for about 20 minutes before admitting he didn’t know the route to get us to the start line because of all the road closures. Luckily where he ended up dropping us off was only a 400-500m walk from the start area. We warmed up along a 250m stretch of road behind the start line that was blocked off for the marathoners. It was interesting to see all the different countries and the different things they did to warm up. Mostly it was just a lot of slow jogging. After a slow 8-10minutes of jogging and some light stretching we stripped down to our competition gear and went through the final check-in. From there we escorted to the start area 10 minutes prior to the start. The crowds at the start/finish area were huge and I got a little rush of emotion when we first made our way out and the spectators were cheering loudly. After a few minutes of light strides and standing around we lined up. Myself and the other Canadians stayed in the back row (about 3-4 rows back from the front) of the 100 odd man field. At 11:45 the gun went off, everyone started their watches, and it was time to for the end result of months of grinding out long runs and hard workouts to unfold.

After running the first km in 3:03 (what would end up my fastest km of the day), I grouped up with my Canadian teammates: Reid Colosaet, Andrew Smith, and Giitah Macharia and we started clicking off 3:10/km. The pace felt very easy in the early stages and after about 3km we decided to slowly bridge the gap to a large pack of runners about 20m in front of us. We passed 5km in 15:45 at the back of a pack of about 25 guys that was now consistently clicking off 3:10/km.

There was a little excitement at the first water station as people tried to get in position to pick up there bottles. Each country has a table every 5km with the personal water bottles for each athlete on it. The tables are lined up along one side of the road side by side in alphabetical order. There isn’t much room between each countries table so sometimes it can be difficult to see and pick up your bottle. Reid realized after a sip of the honey and salt concoction that he had accidentally picked up Giitah’s water bottle. We were all running together at that point so he gave Giitah his bottle and Andrew and I ended up giving Reid a few sips from of your bottles. If there were ever team work in such an individual sport as marathoning that was it right there.

After that I settled into the back of the pack led by Russians, Germans, and Australians and completely checked out mentally. I didn’t bother checking my splits or thinking about much of anything until we came around to 10km, which we passed in 31:33 (15:47 for the 5km from 5-10km).

The course was 4x a 10km loop, with a 2.2km add on during the final loop. So the 10km mark was at the start/finish line. The start of the second lap was pretty uneventful as I tried to remain calm and relaxed. My calves started to tighten up a little bit around 12km. This made me a little nervous as that is way too early to start having anything tighten up. I consciously changed my stride a little, trying to do a bit more of a ‘marathon shuffle’; taking shorter strides with less time spent floating through the air and hopefully less force on impact. This seemed to help as by 20km I was feeling really good. We passed 20km in 63:30, which meant we ran the second 10km loop in just under 32 minutes. Although this was a little slower than I was hoping and planning for, I didn’t really care. I was comfortably in a big pack of about 15-20 guys and I felt comfortable doing it and figured I could compete right to the finish against that group of guys. Strangely my mindset changed drastically in the next 1km. Just before the 1/2way mark (21.1km) I decided to move to the front of the group. I did so initially just to get out of the pack and change up the stimulus a bit. I guess I was getting a bit bored (or maybe a bit impatient) sitting in the back of the pack. And I was sick of getting cut off by other guys in the group when we went around corners. I thought it would be fun to get in the front of the group for a while and see how that went. I realized after about 400m at the front of the group that no one was actually following me. At that point I decided (without a lot of thought going into it) that I was just going to keep going at the pace and not worry about if the group followed me. The pace, which apparently I had made faster than the group behind me felt really easy and I didn’t see any point in slowing down to rejoin them. Over the next few minutes I didn’t look back, but could tell by the way the crowds were cheering that I was quickly putting space between myself and the big pack of guys. Oddly I was not nervous about this at all. I felt really good and at that point in the race wanted to keep up the 3:10/km that we had been running earlier on and naively figured I could do it just as easily on my own as in a pack of 15 guys.

At about 23km my group of 1 became a group of two when Hamilton, ON native Reid Coolsaet also broke away from the group and joined me to share the pace. I was really excited about this. We switched off leading each other for the next 3-4km and we were able to maintain 3:10-3:11/km. This made me really excited as I was feeling really good at this point and we were constantly catching guys who had gone out at a faster pace and were already paying the price. I had no idea what place we were in at that point but my confidence was growing with each struggling runner we passed. I had never felt so fresh and confident at 30km in my previous marathons. So when I passed through the start finish area in 1:35:29 (just under 32 minutes for previous 10km) I was confident that I could keep up that pace and finish right around 2:15 – which I would have been happy with, given the conditions.

My next kilometer (from 30-31km) was 3:18, the slowest of the race, and I panicked a bit when I saw that on my watch. I tried to tell myself that it was just slow because that kilometer including the personal water bottle station, where I slowed down a bit to make sure I drank every ounce of my sports drink. But the reality was I was starting to slow down a bit. At that point Reid started to do a lot more of the leading (whereas on the 3d lap I had done most and even put a little gap on Reid at one point) and I was starting to tire a bit. No single part of my body was hurting more than others at that point, I was starting to feel the effects of running such a long way, and probably of the escalating heat (apparently temps reached mid 20’s during the race). I tried not to panic and just stared at Reids back and told myself I was just going through a bad patch and would feel good again in a few minutes.

My confidence really started to waiver when one of the runners from the pack I had broken away from just after half way came running by. I tried to tuck in behind him and go his speed. But I couldn’t manage it. It felt like he was sprinting. At 35km my 5km split from 30-35km was 16:35. So I was slowing down, which I was well aware of. But, that was terribly slow and I thought if I could maintain that pace I was still going to be able to run a great race. But, over the next few kilometers Reid started to inch away from me and a few other runners from the group behind started passing me at paces that seemed ridiculously fast to me.

By about 37km I had been passed by 3-4 guys and was not making gains on anyone ahead of me. My confidence, energy levels, and muscles fatigue all seemed to take a big knock at the same time. I stopped looking at my splits and thinking about time and basically went into survival mode. Those last 5km were probably the worse of any my 3 three marathons to date (my previous two being a 2:15:15 in Rotterdam in April 2008 and 2:16:20 in Toronto in Sept 2008).

Despite the amazing crowd support, including cheers from my mom and brother, I was barely moving out there the last 5km. The hardest part was at about 38km when we went off our usual 10km loop to do the 2.2km add on. This part of the course was unfamiliar to me and when I took a few turns that took me in the opposite direction that I wanted to go (towards the finish line) I just put my head down and tried to survive. I was in a constant battle with myself both mentally and physically those last few kilometers. I would get mad at myself for going so slowly and losing ground on the guys who had passed me. Every so often I would lift my head and concentrate on my form and try to pick up the pace. I would be able to a little bit and I’d be encouraged, but then after about 20 seconds of running a bit faster I couldn’t fight the pain and I’d have to slow down a bit because I feared if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. At the last water station at 40km I stopped for a second to grab my last water bottle and make sure I got in as much of as I could as quickly as I could, because at that point I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make it to the finish line without it.

The final 2km of the race was a straight shot down the main street in Berlin. It was the longest 2km ever. I continued to try to compete but knew I was barely running at that point. My 5km from 35-40km was a disastrous 17:45! I fought through a tough wind down that last straight and managed to throw in a little bit of burst when I saw the finishing clock clicking of 2:17:45,46,47, etc hoping that I could get under 2:18. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough as my final time was 2:18:00.

When I crossed the line I was completely spent. I could barely stand up and wished I could just be magically transported to a massive and comfy bed. Straight afterwards I was pretty disappointed with how I did. But more than anything I was shocked about how ugly things ended up out there. I was dazed and confused. I found out 5 or 10 minutes after the race that I was finish 33rd. That was the first time I had any idea what place I was in at any point in the race. I didn’t really know how to react to the placing. I wasn’t happy, but I wasn’t completely disappointed. I went into the race ranked about 80th (based on personal bests for the marathon). To finish 33rd therefore seemed ok.

Now one week and a few beers later I am still not sure how to feel about the race. The marathon is such a cruel event. There is so much time and energy and hard work poured into that unless the result is something magnificent (which it rarely if ever is) it is hard to be satisfied. I am general just dissatisfied and know I could have done better. I think if I was a bit smarter and a bit more patient and didn’t move ahead of the group so early that I could have placed quite a bit higher. Looking at the results now, and the splits of other athletes it paid to be more patient. Guys from the group I was running in finished as high as 18th place. And they did so by running slower than I did from 20-30km, but remaining consistent from 30-40km. By charging ahead at 21km I only got 30 seconds ahead of the pack I was previously running in. But by slowing down so much in the in the end other guys from that packed ended up as much as 2.5 minutes ahead of me by the finish! Being more conservative from 20-30km wasn’t going to mean I would have finished 2.5minutes faster. But, I think I would have been able to hold things together better if I had been more patient at that stage of the race. Live and learn I guess.

I am definitely hungry for more and it was definitely the most exciting and unforgettable race experience of my life. The spectators were unlike anything I have experienced before. They were lining the entire course, 4-5 people deep in some places and they were really loud especially when I was running the pack with three German runners during the first half of the race. I read report that estimated there were 700,000 spectators out cheering (which seems somehow impossible, but then again I have no idea how to estimate the size of a big crowd). Reid and I had a little fun with the crowd during the third lap, when I was still feeling good and confident! We realized that the crowd wasn’t quite as loud as when we running in the big group with the Germans. When we went past a large group of spectators first Reid, then I, raised our arms motioning for the crowd to cheer louder, and they responded in unison like someone just scored the winning goal in the NHL playoffs. It was very, very cool-- likely something I will never experience again. So, I’ll try and spend the next few days reliving the positives of the race and putting the negatives behind me.

For some photos and video (which I am not in very much at all) check out the links below:



Tuesday 25 August 2009

Dylan in Berlin

With Dylan incommunicado somewhere in Bohemia at the moment, doing some well deserved sightseeing, I thought I'd offer my own reaction to his Berlin performance in temporary lieu of his own report, which I hope to have sometime soon. If the following article in our local paper is any indication, it should offer some very interesting insights into his first (of many, we hope) full-scale international meet experience:

Whig Standard article

In my view, Dylan's 33rd place/2:18 performance was solid, and certainly consistent both with his training going in and his previous two marathon performances. He finished much closer than the rest of the field to his seed time, meaning that he finished much higher than the simple statistics would have predicted, and he ran an intelligent race in doing so, moving through the middle of the field in the final 12.2kms. In hindsight, his decision to push the pace-- along with team mate Reid Coolsaet-- after the 30k mark may have been something of a mistake; however, calculated risks of this kind are the essence of championship competition, and Dylan and Reid should be lauded for their audacity and courage. Moreover, the lessons they learned from this experiment will add to their arsenal of experience for next time. While we would both obviously have preferred a major breakthrough-- a top 20 finish, for instance-- such one-time leaps are very difficult to summon on-demand, and doubly so in a championship race setting. The next best thing to a big breakthrough-- particularly in marathoning, where the average success rate tends to be much lower than for other events-- is a consistent performance, which is what Dylan produced in Berlin. When I was preparing for the marathon myself back in the '90s, I was told by several informed observers that almost every marathoner experiences a flame-out in at least one of his first 2 attempts (e.g. even the legendary "Boston" Billy Rodgers, who knew that course like the back of his hand, dropped out in his first attempt there.) For Dylan to have produced solid results in each of his first 3 attempts at the distance is testament to the soundness of his preparation and execution. Further improvement would seem to depend simply on continued consistency in training (in addition to careful increases in his training load) and a consequent deepening of his basic conditioning for the event. He will not attempt another marathon this year, but will return to the event-- this time with the main goal of improving in his time down to 2:13-14-- in the spring of 2010.

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, 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.