Saturday, April 16, 2016

Race Report: MEC Ottawa 2016 series: Race #1 - The Spring Fling

I want to start off by stating that I had no business doing this race.  My training has been completely sporadic and inconsistent since my 100-day streak ended in February.  I have been concentrating more on step counting and getting out my desk chair than running.  That being sais, the runs I did over the past month or so, albeit few, have felt great.  I had no idea how much fitness I kept and how much I have lost, but I thought I'd give 10 miles a shot, and only barely.  I questioned the logic of sticking with the 10 miler and seriously considered dropping to the 10km, even at the point of receiving my bib from the race organizer the day before.  If I was going to do 10 miles, I was not going for anything close to a PR.  I decided to use the event to benchmark where I am at.

My Race Strategy:
Since the course was very flat, I didn't need a plan that was very sophisticated.  I somewhat arbitrarily chose 90 minutes as a goal time, which works out to approximately 5:35/km.  I keyed that in to the Virtual Partner applet on my Forerunner 610.  This would be the first time I would try this in training or a race.  I decided that I would lock on to a pace that was comfortable, ignore everyone around me and keep it steady for as long as I can.  I would bring one gel and just take water (no electrolyte drink) along the route.

Race "Preparations":
There are countless articles floating around the Web that give all kinds of advice on  how to prepare for race day.  I pretty much ignored every piece of advice and conventional wisdom offered therein.  The start time was 8:30AM and I figured that it would be prudent to be there by 7:45AM.  I woke up at 6:00AM, checked the forecast on the TV (5C and sunny by time the gun goes off)  and immediately got sucked into yesterday's sports highlights and then a show I PVR'd the night before.  By now, it's 7:00 and I run to grab a cap, Oakleys, long sleeve shirt, shorts and socks, plus my electronics (phone, earbuds, arm band, Forerunner and chest strap).  I then dug my number out of my bag and quickly pinned it on, not wanting a repeat of the previous race in the series.  Once I'm dressed it's already past the time when I need to leave.  Breakfast was a half empty water bottle I found in the car and a PowerBar Performance Energy Bar (Peanut Butter with an expiry date of sometime in late 2015) that I had shoved in my pocket on the way out the door.

Getting started:
I got to the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum parking lot around 8:00 and had to line up to pay for parking, which thankfully did not take long.  I went back to the car to put the parking slip in the windshield and get wired up.  The temperature may have been 4-5C, but the wind was cold, and all I brought was what I planned to wear in the race.  I didn't stand still for long until the gun went off.  Fortunately, the line-up for the bathroom was blissfully short when I got there.  Two minutes later, the line-up was huge.  Great timing on my part.  I selected the latest Zombies, Run! episode and set the episode duration for 90 minutes.  I also decided to try playing songs I had downloaded to my Google Play library.  I normally use Doubletwist for music, but Zombies, Run! doesn't work especially well with it.  I had a nice chat with friends Molly and Fred who were running the 10km and then headed to the start line.

The Race:
I seeded myself close to the rear of the pack.  The plan was to start slow and settle into my pace once I had some elbow room.  There are a lot of speedy folks who do the races in this series and I wouldn't want to get in their way.  The wind was still cold, so I tried to nestle myself in the crowd, using them as shelter.  This actually worked.

The gun went off and I hit start on every device I was wearing, shuffling along for the first few hundred metres until the crowd started to thin.  Google Play was giving me a hard time; the bright sun meant I could see the screen and I hadn't yet figured out how to shuffle my entire library of songs.  I ended up listening to them in alphabetical order starting in the B's - peculiar, but not a big deal.

I settled into a 5:50/km pace.  It was a little slower than planned, but it felt right.  I felt kinks in my quads, claves and feet sporadically for a few kilometres, but it didn't slow me down.  I felt that my body was working stuff out, which turned out to be true.  Water stops were positioned along the course every 3km or so (starting at 1.5km) and I planned to take a cup of water (only) at every stop and walk while drinking it.  I took water at every one except for the last one because I was starting to slosh by then.  I ate (drank?) the PowerGel® Energy Gel (Double Latte with an expiry date of sometime in late 2015) about 100m ahead of the 9km water stop so that I would have a glass of water to wash down.  (My supply of last year's gels and bars are nearly done.  I need to buy some stock for this year.  Sponsors welcome.)

After 4km I was starting to pass folks who went out too hard and a bunch of folks passed me.  I made a conscious effort to not get caught up with this, lose focus and speed up.  I managed to do just that.  The wind had dies down by now and I was starting to warm up (on the exterior).  I don't know if it has to do my age or what, but I don't feel truly warmed up (on the inside) until after 30-40 minutes.  True to form, at just over 30 minutes (over 5km by now) I started to lose that "Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz" feeling.

I then started wondering if I should pick up the pace a bit.  Virtual Partner says that I am going to finish in over 95 minutes.  I picked it up a little (probably 0:10/km) and kept going, checking in with myself every once in a while to see how things are going.  I put in a couple of kilometers under 5:40/km and then for some reason I slowed down in the kilometer leading up to and after the turn around.  This was the only "hill" in the race, so maybe that was it.  In any case, I picked up the pace again at around 12km and averaged around 5:34/km right to the finish.  Virtual Partner was telling me that my finishing time was coming down  I think only one person passed me after the 7km mark, but I passed a bunch.

The Finish:
I got to the finish in 92:56 and I felt great.  I wasn't wrecked, I was still hydrated, and I came away with no injuries.  I managed to negative split a 10 miler that, as I said earlier, I felt I had no business doing.  Frankly, I still had gas in the tank at the finish.  Maybe I could have gone a couple of minutes faster, but I like how I came away from this feeling like I hadn't lost as much fitness as I had imagined.  It is better to finish like this than finishing feeling like you barely avoided disaster.  I especially like how the race plan worked and how I could listen to my body and make adjustments.  Perhaps my laissez-faire attitude before the race kept me from over-thinking everything and getting stressed out.  There were many good lessons learned from this race.  I'm glad there are 5 more races in this series.

A note about MEC races:  These races are no frills, but they have what is truly needed and they are extremely well organized.  I don't need another race shirt or finishing medal.  A chip timed event that runs smoothly with regular water stops and enough bananas at the finish line is perfect, and that is want these races offer.  The unpretentious, non-corporate and friendly atmosphere remind me of road races I did in the 1980's and local club races.  I would much rather run one of these with a few hundred fellow runners than a huge corporate event with thousands.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Six Weeks Of Trying New Stuff

I'm back.  Time slipped away from me and I just realized that I hadn't written anything in quite a while. I have not bee completely inactive, but I have not bee terribly consistent either.  After the 100-day run streak, I intended to take a couple of days off to regroup, to take stock of the things I did not do during the streak, and to think about what I wanted to do next.  I ended up: 1) getting really busy with work, 2) getting sick, and 3) avoiding terrible weather.  In all I lost a few weeks in there, but I'm back on track now.  Excuses aside, here is what I have been doing...

Using My Bike Trainer
I set up my road bike on my then new-to-me Tacx Fortius/I-Magic bike trainer in January 2015 and barely used it.  In fact, my road bike stayed on the trainer all last year and is still there.  (I have other bikes to use.)  After the streak, I would hop on the trainer in the morning for 20-30 minutes at a time.  I still need to figure out how to get the software working*, but as a fluid trainer, it is quiet and does exactly what I need.  I have a book with dozens of indoor trainer programs and workouts that I can use if I want to take the analog route.

* The head unit on the trainer I bought is only compatible with software that runs on Windows XP.  I pulled an older laptop out of the closet to use with the trainer.  Once I get everything working, I should make it the subject of a future blog post.  If you have one and have any tips, please leave a comment or send me a message.

Watching My Fitness Tracker
I picked up a new-in-box Garmin Vivofit with four extra bands for $15 on eBay, and I have been using it to motivate me to un-stick myself from my desk chair and to focus on sleep.  The Garmin Connect app on Android is excellent.  I have even been getting off the bus one stop early and taking the stairs at work so that I can increase my step count.  The automatic enrolment in step challenges, coupled with my competitive personality, helps keep my focus.

Another new habit I am developing is to walk on the treadmill when reading.  I voraciously devour books, which in the past has been an activity I pursue while glued to my couch or laying in bed.  Last night I needed to finish an ebook* that I had borrowed from the library, which would expire at midnight.  I figured that I could either forego a workout and sit on the couch to finish the book, or I could set up my Kobo on the treadmill's book stand and walk while reading.  I chose the latter option and set the treadmill to 4mph and an incline of 1.5%.  It was easy to focus on the book at this speed.  Two hours later the book was done.  Before I started, I needed another 2500+ steps to hit my daily goal of 9,800.  Two hours of continuous walking equates to eight miles and roughly 10,000 steps.  I will definitely do this again.

* Missoula, by Jon Krakauer.  Yet another great book by Mr. Krakauer, but definitely not for the faint of heart.  Like all of his others, it was extremely well researched and well written, but the subject matter is graphic.  I definitely recommend reading it, but you have been warned.

Learned About Running On A Cruise Ship
Running on a large surface that is moving is very much different that running on a surface that is not.  (Thanks, Captain Obvious.)  Little did I know how different it would be, like the day when I ran on a treadmill and had to run in a circle on the belt because the boat was pitching up and down and from side to side.

The track is a single lane 400m oval painted on the top deck of the ship, ant the direction was counter-clockwise.  I had to politely dodge walkers and slower runners.  Wind was a huge factor, as was water when running in the morning.  There were massive headwinds over starboard bow and equally massive tailwinds running on the straight stretch towards the stern.  It was great, albeit accidental, interval training because my HR would increase in the headwind and recover with the tail wind.  Water collects on the deck overnight.  It is not a big deal on the straight stretches, but one needs to be careful in the corners.  My feet got wet, but that was not a big deal.

Using GPS is dicey while running on a moving object.  Not surprisingly, DC Rainmaker's article was the best and most descriptive.  As directed, I set my Garmin Foreurnner 610, which coincidentally was the device that DC Rainmaker was wearing for his article, to take speed off of my footpod, as opposed to GPS, and I achieved the same results as he did.  Fortunately, I had downloaded the workouts to my Forerunner and they are all time- and HR-based, which means that distance and pace are pretty-much irrelevant.  I ended up with some very wacky measurements, e.g. my new half marathon of 30 minutes, or 1:43/km.  The maps generated when I was back on dry land showed my at-sea routes as a straight lines across stretches of ocean.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Running Streak - Day 100

My Experience Over the Past 100 Days

I made it!  When I started this on November 2, I aimed for January 1 - a streak of 61 days - and secretly hoped that I would make it past the first two weeks.  I was 182lbs and running without stopping 20 minutes (at any pace) was hard.  My legs were constantly sore.  My running clothes, and normal clothes, didn't fit.  I was stiff and uncomfortable all of the time.  I made it past the two weeks and after four weeks things started to feel better.  Running for 30 minutes was a stretch and my clothes still didn't fit, but my legs were not as sore and were not sore all the time.  Fortunately, the weather in Ottawa was blessedly warm and I could run in shorts nearly every day until Christmas.  I say "fortunately" about running in shorts because my running pants didn't fit.  Don't even talk to me about tights.  I popped a button on a pair of suit pants.

By Christmas, the number on the scale had not moved, but running for 30 minutes was starting to feel normal.  My average pace was not increasing dramatically, but my perceived exertion and my measured average heart rate was dropping.  Then Winter finally came.  I knew I had a good inventory of foul weather gear and I was sure that none of it fit, but I had no choice.  It was like slithering into sausage casing, but I got the stuff on and didn't let the cold, snow, freezing rain or bad footing stop me.  The treadmill was there when life got busy and the weather especially lousy.  Just after New Year I could button my suit jacket with my wallet in one breast pocket and my phone in the other, and it didn't pull around the middle.

By the end of January, I ran a 10km race at a pace that was around 1:00/km faster than I could run for 20 minutes in November, and at an average heart rate that was just shy of 20bpm lower.  The scale reads 175lbs.  (The number didn't budge until mid-January.)  My running clothes are not as tight.  My suit pants are getting easier to do up, and I didn't move the button when I sewed it back on.

Today, I am thinking about races and giving my body some shape - not just losing weight, although the scale reads 173lbs today and I plan to eat better.  No one has approached me (yet) to model athletic wear, but I feel much more comfortable in my running stuff.  My suits are starting to hang right.  My energy levels are higher and my mood is brighter.  Running is fun again.  My mind drifts to outdoor activities, not food or "inactivies" (i.e. television and the like).  The streak changed my body, but it also changed my mind, and I think that is the greater accomplishment.

Day 100

Day 100 arrived with more a whimper than a bang. I seriously wanted to get out at noon, but [insert same old song here] I had a deadline to get something complete and needed to work through and well past lunch to wrap everything up.  The weather was perfect.  I had everything packed and ready to go.  The schedule did not cooperate, and the optics of heading out for a run at 2:00PM are pretty bad.

How's this for celebrating Day 100?  I ended up on the treadmill for a 20 minute hill/speed interval session at 11:30PM.  It wasn't what I was hoping for, but hey, it counts.  In a way, it typifies the streak because I had to do things like this many times over the past 100 days to keep it alive.

What's next for me?  I’m looking forward to mixing things up more now: getting on the bike trainer (after figuring our how the Tacx software works), body weight exercises, “speed” skating at lunch (speedy for me anyway), and now that ice is giving way to snow, x-country skiing.  My yoga membership, which has fallen into disuse over the past couple of months, expires in April and I want to start practicing again.  I also have this half marathon training plan on Garmin Connect that I am using to train for a 10 miler in April.  That should give me a good base for the Summer when I have a road half-marathon in June and trail races of 9km and 30km in July and August, respectively.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Running Streak - Day 99

After three days on the treadmill, it was great to get outside again.  I know it was only three days, but it felt longer and running outside is just so much better than moving your legs with everything else staying in place.  The one tough thing was that it was cold.  It wasn't the coldest weather that I've run in this year, but is certainly felt like it.  The sun was great, but the wind was biting and seemingly coming from all directions.

It was one of those "wear everything you brought with you" runs.  Because Ottawa weather is, well, Ottawa weather, I always bring extra stuff with me so that I have options.  When I checked the forecast in the morning, it called for -4C and light wind.  By the time lunch rolled around, it was -18C with the wind chill.  I just dumped everything in my bag on the floor and put it all on (full base layer top-to-bottom, tech shirt, Brooks Storm jacket, nylon pants, toque and gloves).  It was a good call on my part.

The schedule called for 30 minutes easy with my HR in zone 2.  I chose my new go-to 5.5km route that loops over the Pretoria Bridge, and for some reason I had a hard time keeping my HR down.  It was nothing crazy, just slightly into zone 3.  I will chalk it up to a string of late nights and the wind.  I'm not looking for excuses - I think they are probable reasons - and apart from niggling over the HR, the run was fantastic.  The paths were mainly clear; I finished another episode of Zombies, Run!; and, sensation-wise, I felt terrific.  Day 100 is tomorrow.

A note on heart rate monitors...
I used the Garmin Forerunner 610 for this run, and it captured my HR perfectly.  For the last three runs on the treadmill, I was using my TomTom Runner with the HR transmitter pod on the strap that came with it and a Polar premium strap, which is the best strap on the market and works with pods from Garmin and TomTom, and maybe others.  If you look at the treadmill runs over the weekend, the HR curve is a mess, with my HR apparently getting into the 200s.  I think I can safely conclude that HR recording on the TomTom is really poor.  I don't know whether it is the chest strap, transmitter or wrist unit, or some combination of the above.  Maybe it is better with the newer units that use optical technology and no strap.  The web is full of folks griping about problems with straps.  For the most part, I have been able to overcome my problems, but I'm at the point where I think I am going to cry uncle with the TomTom.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Running Streak - Days 95 to 98

One of my favourite bands of all time is The 77s and in 1994 they released Drowning With Land In Sight.  That title sums up where I have been for the past few days.  I know that 100 days is around the corner, but my motivation is in rapid decline.  Much of it has to do with busyness, and consequently, tiredness.  From much personal experience I know that some of my best runs ever have come when I have felt least like doing them - hungry, busy, tired, and other semi-lame reasons.  I'm back to the late-night treadmill sessions and I don't like it.  If I want to maintain consistency in working out after I don't have a streak to maintain, I will need to make sure I get it in earlier in the day.

On Thursday I had a rest day in the schedule, but a rest day was not in my plan.  I struggled to break away from my work to get out in some rather spectacular weather to run for the sake of running.  Just hit the start button and go, and get back in time for the afternoon meetings.  To be honest, it was one of the best feeling runs I have had in a long time.  The run felt smooth and easy.  When I looked at the data afterwards, I was surprised to find that I ran the 5.5km faster than the first 5.5km of Sunday's 10km race at a lower average heart rate - probably 10bpm lower.

The next three days were very reluctant treadmill runs. I wasn't reluctant because I was bored or just wanted to throw in the towel.  I was just really tired and had trouble hitting the treadmill around or well after 11:00PM.  I felt better once I got my stuff on and hit Start, although I wanted to quit at 20 minutes on Saturday night; the last 10 minutes was on guts alone.  I chose the hilliest pre-sets and felt I did some really good work.  I will get outside for the last two runs.  Hopefully the weather cooperates.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Running Streak - Days 92, 93 and 94

As my 100 day running streak draws to a close, I have been thinking of what I want to do next.  Because I bought the MEC 2016 Race Series entry and have an entire year of racing already laid out for me, I decided to simply jump into the Garmin Connect plan I selected to prepare for Race #1 of the series, a 10 miler in April.  (Sunday's race was technically Race #0.  The organizers must have an IT background.) 

Since there was no 10 mile training plan available, I chose a half marathon plan.  A little bit of over-distance training in the first part of the year can't hurt, especially since the training is time- and heart rate-based and I will be running in the snow for most of the lead up.   Just yesterday the race organizers moved up the race by one week, but I am not going to adjust the schedule in GC.  I believe that there is a one- or two-week taper built into the plan, and I don't think I will bother with a taper at all, not for this race.  I think my "A Races" (with a proper peak and taper) this year will be the 30km trail run in the Summer and the HM or marathon in Gatineau Park on Halloween.  The rest will be run like "B Races" - hard training runs for benchmarking performance and draw prizes.

It is week 3 of the plan and the first three days of this week called for an easy run, intervals and another easy run.  Both easy runs were 30 minutes in Zone 2 and I managed get outside for both of them.  The temperature was around 2C/3C for both of them with little wind on wet or slushy pavement.  While the goals for the runs were identical, the runs themselves could not have been more different.  On Monday, I set out at lunch and had a really hard time keeping my HR down in Z2.  The Garmin was chirping at me constantly and I had to repeatedly force myself to slow down.  The average pace was 5:53 - not bad, but not great either.  The cool thing is that I got to run in shorts, which means my "run in shorts once every month streak" is intact for January and February.  Yesterday, I got out just before 4:00PM to run 30 minutes (15 out and 15 back), and I had no problem at all keeping the HR in Z2.  In fact, my HR dropped out of the bottom of the zone a few times, yet my average pace was 5:42/km.  I can't explain it, but it is nice to see me doing runs that weren't possible 3 months ago, where my average HR would have been 30bpm higher and my pace 0:40/km slower.  That's real progress.

For my interval work, I could not get away at lunch and hit the treadmill late in the evening.  Since the workout in the plan would have taken roughly 40 minutes, I selected the most challenging 40 minute workout on the treadmill.  It was a great workout: grades of up to 10% and speeds up to 6:11/mile (3:51/km).  I will definitely be doing that one again.  I used my footpod to measure the distance on the Garmin and it was way off from the treadmill.  I wish there was a good way to determine which one is accurate.  I'm inclined to use the readings on the treadmill.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Race Report: MEC Ottawa 2016 series #0 - Race "Below ZERO"

The race this morning was a great way to complete the Run Ottawa Run Streak - run every day for at least 1.5km during the month of January.  Now back to my regularly scheduled streak, which now stands at 91 days...

Here is how the race unfolded.  The event was held at the Rideau Carleton Raceway.  It owns a private access road, which was blissfully closed to vehicles for the duration of the run.  I arrived about 45 minutes early and there were already a number of people milling about.  I went inside to suss out where all of the important things were: bathrooms, snack table, prizes. registration (in order of importance).  After that I brought my bag in to start getting ready.  My number was missing.  Remember how I said yesterday that my only expectations are to show up on time and not forget my bib.  I'm getting a D (50%) on that.  Registration was gracious and issued me another one - a good reason to show up early.

I joined the throng that was milling about and headed to the start line about 5 minutes before start time.  The temperature was just below zero (probably -2C) and there was a light wind, but I opted to run in shorts, long sleeve tech shirt and a vest.  I also had gloves and a toque, but they came off about 4km into the race.  Out of 218 finishers, only one other person wore shorts - crazy, or maybe we were the crazy ones.  I felt great temperature-wise.  At the start I met up with my counterpart at another regulatory agency and her husband - uber fit, the two of them.  They graciously ran with me the entire race up to the last kilometer.

The horn sounded and we were off.  I landed into my planned pace straight away.  My A goal was to finish under 60 minutes and my B goal was to finish under 55 minutes.  I took off at a pace that felt good to me.  I figured that I could time check and adjust a few times over the next few kilometers.  I wore my nearly bald Adizero Mana's because it was warm-ish the day before and I heard the road was paved.  I assumed that paved meant ploughed and I was 100% wrong on that.  Despite the absence of any traction on a race course that was 80% covered in slippery soft snow, I maintained a steady gait and cadence.  The course was an L-shaped out-and-back that 10km runners had to complete twice.  The 180 degree corners at each end of the L were very slippery and I took them at a walking pace.  Not once did I feel like I was going to lose it.

Running with company really helped the time pass quickly.  It also kept my pace higher than I would have had I been running on my own.  Thanks, guys.  I started to feel like I was slowing at around 7-8 km, but I held my pace and even sped up over the last km.  My finishing time on my Garmin FR610 was 54:01, but I didn't start my watch until I crossed the start line; the official time (hand timed) was 54:16.75.  I was really, really surprised.  This will be a great baseline to use when planning for the next race, a 10-miler in April.

The post race food was simple: bananas, mini Clif Bars and NUUN drinks (two flavours, but I didn't bother to check what they were; mine tasted good.)  I chatted a little more with my two race companions and got skunked for the draw prizes. After pulling on some dry clothes I headed to the car, where I found my race bib on the dash.  Oh well.