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.

Run Ottawa Run Streak - Days 29 and 30

Busyness pushed me to the treadmill again.  My schedule called for a fartlek on Friday and a "long" run today.  (A 45 minute long run is not much longer than a normal easy run for me.)  The fartlek and easy run would have been a good tune up for the race tomorrow.  I chose a reasonable facsimile of a fartlek for last night's treadmill session and a short 20 minute run tonight because it's late and I should get some decent sleep before the gun goes off tomorrow.

The "Race 'Below ZERO'" tomorrow is the first race of the MEC Ottawa 2016 series, and my first competition since last April's Run for Reach half-marathon fiasco, where I was severely under-trained and had my first DNF of the modern era.  I am treating tomorrow's race like a "C" race - no special attention to food or sleep, no peak, no taper.  I have no idea what to expect, nor do I have any expectations, except to have a good time and enjoy the race atmosphere.  I just need to make sure that I show up on time and don't forget my bib.

That being said, I will empty the tank because I want to use the race as a baseline for structuring future training.  After nearly 3 months of steady state running, I have no idea where I am at fitness- or speed-wise.  I have been running slow and steady in order to develop consistency and avoid injury, and as a result, I have trained myself to run slow and steady.  That has to change if I want to do well in the two trail races this summer and the marathon/half-marathon in Gatineau Park in October.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Run Ottawa Running Streak - Day 28

It was a snowy day in Ottawa, but from my office window, I could make out a runner making his or her way along the path that runs along the Ottawa River on the Quebec side.  For years I figured that, because the paths are not ploughed in Winter, the pathways would be impassable.  I just never bothered to check it out.  Since I had nothing in the training schedule for today (a rest day, actually), I declared that today would be the day where I run The Bridges in the middle of Winter.

I always start in front of West Block at Wellington and O'Connor and head west on Wellington, doing a clockwise loop.  The sidewalks were in great shape - a little wet, but not sloppy.  Once I crossed the Portage Bridge, I had trouble finding the entrance to the path on the Quebec side, so I just followed the footprints.  "Follow the footprints" would be a theme for a later part of this run.  As expected, the path was definitely snow covered and very uneven.  I kept to a narrow single track that was more heavily trodden and less uneven than the snow on either side of it.  I had to jump off the track once to give the right-of-way to a couple who were out for a walk and it was like running over slippery rocks.  When I got close to the Museum of Civilization, the path had been cleared and it was smooth sailing up to and over the Alexandra Bridge.  Once I left the sidewalk and started making my way down to the locks, it became very slippery and was pockmarked with frozen footprints, all under about 10cm of snow.  Normally I blast down the hill, but not this time.  I simply focused on keeping the rubber side down.

In late Autumn, Parks Canada opens all of the locks except for the highest one.  I had to make my way uphill to this lock so that I could cross the Rideau Canal, and there was no single worn path for me to follow.  The snow was deep-ish and wet and where there was no snow, there was ice.  Again, I chose to follow the footprints.  Within 10 metres up from the base of the hill, my feet were soaked and my ankles were covered in snow, and I was faced with a decision: I could choose to make my way up the ice-covered stairs beside the locks, or try to run up the snow-covered slope beside the stairs.  I ended up doing a bit of both - two flights of stairs, two slopes.  I nearly slid backwards when I ran up the slopes and I had to pull myself up by the railings on the stairs.  Picture someone climbing the side of a mountain with ropes; that was me with the railings.  By the time I made my way to the uppermost lock, I decided to just cross, head over to the NAC, and return to the office.  I considered continuing along the river behind the Library of Parliament, following the same route as Monday, but I was starting to get concerned that I would be late for an afternoon meeting.

I will definitely do this again soon, especially now that I know what to expect.  If any of you are considering trying this, I highly recommend doing so.  I find in Winter that I run the same few tracks all of the time.  It's good to get off the beaten path every once in a while.