Wednesday 5 February 2014

Winter of Our Discontent; PK POY!

Where was I? Ah, yes. I was coming off that first-time-in-a-fews-years injury sustained during what now feels like a bygone era in my running life-- late last summer. Turns out I remain subject to the same basic laws of running motion as other, younger athletes. These laws stipulate that if you rush your comeback from one injury-- or you are in a rush at all to meet some deadline, usually in the form of some competition that has become the most important one you have ever done, or perhaps ever will do-- you will likely hurt something else, usually something directly related. To make a short story even shorter, I hurt my foot (same side as the calf) while trying to get into spikes in time for Nats X-C. And, said injury is still keeping me company, greeting me every morning (more faithfully than the dog), and seeing me to bed every night, the second my unprotected metatarsal hits the floor.

The persistence of the sore foot is a subplot in the larger drama, which is the subject of this installment of the blog: The Polar Hellscape in which I and all runners across the vast middle of the continent have found themselves lo these past many weeks. (And, no, I don't think this description is extreme, over-dramatic, or Lastman-esque. Just because some of you may routinely have it as bad or worse wherever you happen to live doesn't make it more tolerable for those of us not also living on the dark side of the moon! Besides, I'm betting that, if you do have it worse every year, that you rarely go outside in the winter anyway.) As I type this, the sun shines (very weakly-- hard to believe that just a few degrees of planetary tilt can turn the searing tractor beam that this very minute scorches Australia into dust into something that can't even melt the ice off the blacktop!), but reports of yet another snowfall issue from the radio, meaning that the two day honeymoon of clear roads (sort of) will be over and we'll be back inside, sucking stale, dry air, staring at (or trying NOT to stare at) electronic consoles, and, for those who must go to gyms, marveling at what some other people call physical exercise. I do not, however, come here primarily to complain about the weather, gyms, or the eccentricities of the newly exercised-resolved (I do, and will, complain about these things, but only secondarily). My point is to talk about what a winter like this one-- which I'm very close to declaring the worst ever for running, narrowly edging the winter of '93/'94 for all-around, multifaceted shittiness-- can do to our running fitness, and what we can expect when spring comes and our old running surfaces reappear.

How bad is it going to be, and how carefully will we need to proceed? "Pretty bad (potentially)" and "very".

Running inside, either on treadmills or indoors tracks (or, for the injured, ellipticals) is great for preserving aerobic fitness, and even running-specific muscular strength (thanks to the fact the the biomechanics of each are not really different from outdoor running). However, experience has taught me that the differences between running inside and hitting the pavement (which we'll all have to do for a few weeks while the snow disappears from the grass and trails) are great enough that 2-3 months of doing them almost exclusively is going to make an always dangerous adjustment process that much more tricky. In fact, that indoor running does such a great job of preserving-- and even increasing-- our overall fitness can actually increase the riskiness of the transition to running outside every day (and this risk is increased that much more when coming off of the elliptical, which does such a good job of increasing aerobic fitness, but not so great a job of preserving running-specific muscular adaptations, that the engine can completely overwhelm the frame during the transition to running, and running without the governance of a treadmill). The worst injury I have ever sustained (a badly torn achilles tendon)came in early March of the aforementioned winter of '93/94-- a season in which, at one point, I went 3 weeks without setting foot on the road, and a season in which I did not miss a single day of running. I still recall the very time and place I first felt felt the pain (climbing the ravine out of Sunnybrook Park in Toronto, the temperature a thrilling 10 degrees C, and thoughts of the first races of spring putting a jump in my stride). In spite of the pain of that first lesson in severe winter-spring transition, I have hurt myself several times (although never as badly) while crossing that danger zone, and the likelihood my doing turns out to be proportional to the amount of inside training I have been forced to do. What I have learned, and what I now impart to you, is to continue to do at least some of your faster running inside (keeping tempo and progression runs on the t-mill well into March is a great idea) while you build up your volume of easy running outside. In other words, as with all transitions-- the bane of runners in whatever form they take-- this one should be made as gradually as possible. And, even still, expect some additional soreness in the first couple of weeks. Also, I would caution runners to expect some loss of "outdoor-specific" running fitness in the early stages of the transition, and not to force faster training paces to their indoor levels. Remember: everyone who has gone through a winter like this one is in the same boat; you will not forfeit any competitive advantage by not taking risks in these early weeks (I've noticed for years now how early Canadian race results are weaker across the board following particularly bad winters, and I expect this one to produce the same pattern.)

What of me and my foot? I blame the bad winter for most of it (slipping around in the November snow is what drove the injury spike deeper in the first place, and going back and forth between road, treadmill, and indoor track is what's kept it there-- this and the combined depressions of relative physical inactivity and a hellish winter that probably kept me from staying off it as much as I probably should have in the early weeks). And now I'll be faced with the problem of coming back safely to everyday running and negotiating the transition to outdoor running. Good thing I'll be in the 50-55 age category for 5 years, because it may take me that long to get back into racing shape!

Final POMs and PK POY!


October's POM owner made things as easy as can be for me in these matters: He produced a run that would be nominated for POHD (Performance of the Half Decade), if I were honouring such a thing! Running for Queen's arch rival McMaster University, Blair Morgan turned all assembled heads by throwing himself into the top 10 at the Ontario Universities Championship and, almost unbelievably, staying there to the end, significantly fueling his team's history-making 2nd place finish! Blair's 7th place finish represented a personal improvement of 29 places from the year before, and an even bigger improvement from his rookie season in 2011, when he failed to make a weaker version of the Mac team. This is the way university careers are supposed to unfold, but so seldom do. Congrats to Blair, and apologies to the other October performers, whose results Blair's cast into such complete shade!


Blair Morgan was at it again two weeks later, with his very fine 11th place and second team all-Canadian performance at the university national championships in London. This performance, however, was only the near equivalent of his OUA performance, and the PK POM honours great leaps forward, or very good personal results under extraordinary competitive circumstances. As it happens, two other PK athletes-- both of them also collegians-- were busy stepping up in the final big X-C races of the 2013 season. Also running at the Canadian University Championships, new PK member, and Queen's athlete, Julie-Anne Staehli capped an outstanding season by facing down the pressure of entering as the favourite (this, in spite of being only in second year, and having finished just 12the in the same race the year before) and winning the race-- her first national title! Her commanding margin of 17 seconds, all of it run up in the final 4mins of the race, simply added the exclamation point. Meanwhile, one week later, Cleo Boyd, running for the Virginia Cavaliers in the cutthroat Division NCAA, managed a major improvement over her best result of the season so far, and over her best X-C performance ever-- a 9th place at the Canadian Junior championships two years earlier. Cleo's 14th place finish at the Southeast Region NCAA qualifier (a 40 place improvement over her result the year before at the Northeast Region qualifier while running for Stony Brook University) helped her team claim the title and move on to the national championships, where they would finish 9th.

And the November POM goes to... Julie-Anne Staehli! Congrats on your first PK POM, Julie-Anne!


Since November was such a busy month, and since the Canadian National X-C Championships (the non-university version) is often held in the first week of December, I'm awarding the December POM to a result that was actually not recorded in December-- the PK Junior girls' victory in the team competition at the aforementioned championships! The team of Clara Langely, Branna McDougall, Heather Jaros, and Nicole Armstrong negotiated the cross country travel, and the pressure associated with a national championship, with aplomb, and managed to bring home PK's first non-masters national team title (topping the 2009 PK junior boys team, which finished 2nd). This marks the first time a POM has been awarded to a team, and the honour is well deserved.


I'm afraid I may already have tipped my hand on this one. This year's POY nominees are: Heather Jaros' jaw-dropping and freakish-latent-talent-revealing performance at the Ontario school championships in June, and Blair Morgan's triple-take run at the OUA X-C Championships in October. Because it's always more challenging to produce massive improvements in performance beyond the junior ranks, the 2013 POY goes to... Blair Morgan's 7th place at the OUA X-C Championships!Congrats, Blair! You will be receiving the usual Mizuno shoes and kit that accompany this honour.