Full Tilt Training

It has been less than a week since I ran the Ottawa marathon and I have two months ahead of my second Canadian Death Race (CDR).  My goal for the CDR is to run the race in less than 18 hours.  I’m thinking I can do it.  A result of the intense training that I have been subjecting myself to.  I say that I am subjecting myself to it, as if it were a negative thing, but I actually like it.

So what is the intense training?  Once a week I head to the gym and do intervals on the treadmill.  It really isn’t the ideal way of training considering that this is supposed to be hill training.  Given the terrain in south-western Ontario (where I live), it is my only option.  I progressively made it up to 8 minute intervals.  8 minutes of running with the incline at 15% (the highest setting) with the objective of keeping my heart rate at or above 95% max. This is followed by an 8 minutes recovery where I let my heart rate drop to 60% max. Repeat.

With all of the racing I have been involved with over the last two months, I have been in a race/recovery cycle.  As such I have been on a hill training hiatus, until today.  I was looking forward to it.  I had swapped my NB MR00 for my Nike Free 5.0’s for the last two runs and decided to continue the week with them.  On the advice of my coach since my calf muscles had been tightening up.  I got on the treadmill and the mental struggle began.

First rep down and I wasn’t feeling all that confident about my effort.  I felt like I was kicked in the gonads.  I wanted to quit.  It seems that there is a theme developing here (see all previous race reflections).  I start and I want to quit.  But for some reason the feeling of regret would be more painful than just doing it.  So I try to ignore the negativity and find my way through the negative thoughts.

The second rep is done, but I am not feeling that much better about my effort.  My quads were feeling sore and they seemed to be giving out on me faster than normal.  I needed to hit and hold 181 bpm for 8 minute intervals.  While I seemed to be able to hold it, I didn’t feel like I could do this another 6 times.

180 bpm is where the red block starts

180 bpm is where the red block starts

Rep 3 and 4 were brutal and demoralizing.  The silver lining was that by the end of the 4 rep I was half way done.  The last four reps were a struggle to get to 181 bpm.  I started trying self coaching devices like repeating a mantra.  “Push through it”  I’d repeat.  Push the up button to speed up.  When I couldn’t hold it any more down a couple.  I’d realize that I still hadn’t hit 181 bpm, so speed up a bit more.  Slowly creeping up to 181 bpm.  The strange thing here is that after the demoralizing 3rd and 4th rep, each one seemed to get easier.

I relate this progressive ease to life in general.  As a teen, life beyond high school seemed impossible.  High school was enough of an adjustment for me.  I looked forward to moving on, but it seemed that all the responsibility would be monumental.  Early twenties, life still felt like a bit of a mountain to climb.  What with all the bills and stuff.  Having to pay for everything and figuring out how to budget and follow then actually follow through.  Yup, intimidating but certainly something that you feel good about once you notice that you are adapting to it.  Present day, not easy, but more or less figured out and feeling good.

Today’s workout brought me back to the realization I had about how amazing our bodies are.  With each rep, I found I had to push harder.  Sometimes finding that I really needed to dig deeper.  I had to find the inner beast to help me through it.  As the workout progressed, my body went from hating me, to punishing me, adapting to the situation, then loving me. Strange.

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Home for a rest? – Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon 2014

Ottawa is the epicenter for my endurance running.  The May weekend marathon has become a little bit of a tradition for me.  This year the weekend started on the Friday with a busy afternoon drive up the 401.  As we drove to my mums in Ottawa I remember thinking (arrogantly I might add) that the race was going to be easy.  After all, unlike the first three events I ran earlier this year, elevation wasn’t going to be a challenge, nor was mud.  Suffice it to say I wasn’t really anxious about the race and that I was extremely confident that I would be able to achieve my goal, 3:30:00.

I never appreciated the beauty of the city.  Having lived there for 26 years of my life I always lamented that Ottawa wasn’t a fun city.  I always compared Ottawa to Toronto, or Montreal, or even Halifax.  Now that I have lived in Halifax and now live in Waterloo I miss all of those things I had taken for granted.  The bike pathways, the greenspace, the smallness and bigness of the city.  All reasons why the marathon is a so nice.  It starts on Elgin street by City Hall and it is a tour of only some of the beauty that is Ottawa.  You get the Rideau Canal, the renewal of the West end the parkways along the Ottawa river, New Edinburgh, Sussex.

My cavalier attitude towards the race got the best of me.  Instead of my regular routine of packing my bag making sure that I stuffed everything I would need into the bag, then unpacking it and double checking.  I took a much more “la de da” approach.  It wasn’t until I was half sleeping on my mums couch that it dawned on my that I forgot my heart rate monitor – boo.

The morning of the race I decided to do something I never had done before.  I trotted around for about 15 minutes hoping that bringing my heart rate up a little and activating my legs would help prevent any muscle tightness challenges.  About 5 minutes before the race started I got into the crowded corral along with the 7000 or so other runners.   Then we were off.

Everything felt great.  I was running 20 seconds per minutes faster than I needed to hit my goal, but it felt great.  I couldn’t help but think that I was going to smash my goal, perhaps even qualify for Boston.  Almost a dozen kilometres in I realized another error, a result of being indifferent about the race.  I forgot to spice things up for the girls.  Ha, no – taping of nipples doesn’t really do anything for getting *that* kind of attention from the girls.  I was concerned though, chaffing of the nipples is a very bad thing.  Nice thing about the Ottawa race is that they have aid stations with Vasoline on a stick.  Slap that shtuff on and crisis averted.

At KM 23, I started to realize that I may have been holding on to a pace that was a tad too fast.  I wasn’t really my legs, nor a weakness in my cardio prep that led me to consider slowing the pace.  It was my feet.  They were not happy with me.  Made me consider why I was running this race.  Made me want to stop.  Although stop I could not.  I started to do the math.  I rationalized how much I could slow down and still meet my target.  After some simple calculations I settled on 5:00 minutes per K.  It was a pace I felt I could hold and it would still get me to the finish line under my goal.

So there I was, running, trying to keep my focus on at least a 5:00 minute pace and absorbing the experience.  The fog that covered the city had cleared and the temperature was rising quickly.  The heat was getting intense.  I though about the trails, the solitude, the peace, and self reflection.  In moments when you feel at your worst, you can be your worst enemy or your most ardent supporter.  Contrast that with streets lined with people cheering you on with hilarious signs.  The crowds are supportive. When you are running through sprinklers that people put out for you too cool off, that is just awesome.  The spirit of the people of Ottawa is great.  Having said that, I still was dreaming of the trails: happier feet, a more spiritual run.

As I ran the final stretch of the marathon which takes you down Colonel By Drive towards and across the Pretoria bridge, then back up Queen Elizabeth Drive towards Confederation Park.  With only 4 km I was slowing down, it didn’t matter, soon it would be over.  I kept on trying to hold on to my pace, though it was challenging.  My feet were pounding the pavement and I felt each step.  The finish line couldn’t have come sooner.  I took some time to stretch and relax.  Trying to rest my body on the “lush” grass was slow and very painful since my body felt like it needed a spray of WD-40.  After a good long stretch I got up to walk around and realized I made another critical mistake, I forgot the lube.  So the lessons continue… be humble.

It’s a mental game – Seaton Soaker 2014

Ultra running is like a staring contest.  The successful contestant is capable of tuning out the noise and distraction.  It is this kind of mental focus keeps a runner keeping on.  If no other experience before the Seaton Soaker 2014 proved this to me, then the Soaker makes the assertion undeniable.

After a year in hiatus, the Seaton Soaker 2014 was a new course that had us track across the Seaton hiking trail.  It is an out and back.  You start at 73 m elevation and gradually make your way to 153 m over 12.5 km.  There are 2 noteworthy climbs and three steep pitches.  The return is a little faster since the back is a net elevation loss.  The final 3 km of the back have the runner tracking down an alternate trail to the start and brings the runners through a river; hence Seaton Soaker.

Glorious morning for a run.

Glorious morning for a run.

The morning was perfect.  With such a beautiful morning you’d have thought that nothing could go wrong.  And…  your thoughts would have deceived you.  It all started right at the beginning of the race.  I finished my first kilometre and my calf muscles (especially my right calf) were so tight that running was laboured and forced; not fun at all.  As if that wasn’t enough, my right foot decides that it’s tired and falls asleep.  I tried to regain feeling in my foot by kicking my foot out and shake’n it about.  I must have looked like I was doing some kind of strange chicken dance or… the Hokey-Pokey.  After dancing around for far too long, I thought maybe loosening my shoe lace may help.  The situation did not get any better.  I was frustrated and close to the aid station at KM 7.  I stopped, removed my right shoe and sock and walked barefoot for a minute.  My foot was back in business so I put the shoe back on.  Though that was short lived.  With no other option, I ran with my shoes in my hands instead of on my feet.

By the time I got to the turn around (12.5 km), I had my shoes back on my feet since my city feet don’t have much in the way of calluses.  At any rate, I don’t think I really anticipated running the whole race without shoes.  That said, I was still able to keep an average running pace of around 6:00 minutes per kilometre.  Thankfully that was it for my foot trouble and I was able to maintain my pace much more comfortably.

On my way back to the start (to mark 25 km) there was a point when I was running with a group of 50k’rs.  As I noted earlier, there is a river crossing and at this point all crossings have been over bridges. Since it was an out and back and I had not seen the course map I was disappointed that it appeared there was no “Soaker”.  The running banter of the group made it apparent that they knew the course.  So I asked “Where is this epic river crossing?”  I was assured that we would cross the river twice.

I got to the race track, timed in for my 25 km split time and continued back to the trail.  It seemed like there was a little mix up as someone had picked up the flags that marked the trail that would originally ran on the way out.  Some runners headed back to the river.  One of the volunteers politely let me know the correct direction and so I was off.

I didn’t notice at first, my heart rate monitor (HRM) battery must of hit its end of life.  2 minutes before the split my HRM was reading two dashes, not helpful.  Panic started to set in.  How am I supposed to moderate on hill climbs?  How will I know if I have an even higher heart rate that previously thought (see Pick Your Poison 2014).  A flurry of doubt set in.  This is where the mental game is important.  It is just a piece of equipment that quantifies your body’s feedback.  Since I had run the race with the HRM I started to have confidence that I could moderate based on feel and experience instead of pure numerical data.

As I was tracking towards the turnaround point, I really started to notice that I was loosing my spunk.  I was following my nutrition routine and taking salt to make sure my muscles were in tip top shape.  Still I felt like I was fading.  From that point I was think about what they had to offer at the aid stations.  I needed a plan B and I needed it fast.  They had Heed, candy, chips, pretzels, and Coke!  I remember reading in the book, Lore of Running, that Coke serves as a great pick me up.  At the aid station at the turnaround, I pounded two cups of Coke.  And we are back.  From that point I stopped my Perpetuem diet and pounded a swig of good old Coca Cola Classic at each of the aid stations.

Not far from the turnaround point I peaked at my watch, 5:25 m/km, good.  Further along I looked down at my watch and I was impressed.  It seemed that for the last 2 km I was holding a 5:25 m/km pace.  I thought that was unbelievable.  Of course, it was unbelievable.  My watch froze, probably where I was on a flat or a slight decent.  My first thoughts were not kind.  I had some practice with equipment failure twice already so before panic set in, with colourful language I took the watch off and tossed it into my pack.  Now I was running au naturel.

As I turned to the river crossing I noticed I caught up to the first place female.  I was so happy to get to the river that I got down on all fours so that I could cool down my legs.  After my impromtu bath we ran together for the last 2 km.  Since it was a race, I figured that one of us should make an effort to pull in front of the other, so I managed to get 26 seconds in front of her.

Soaking at the Seaton Soaker 2014

Soaking at the Seaton Soaker 2014

I crossed the finish line 5th and I was the 1st place under male under 40.  I don’t think I could have done it if I let the obstacles get in my way.  Each time some trouble cropped up, I felt slight anxiety about it.  I never let that be the final thought or an easy out.  It really doesn’t matter where you place, so long as you keep keeping on.  Like a staring contest, focus on the objective and don’t let anything distract you.

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