Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Apparently I can’t win at poker, but I can win races

In 2006 I found out that a lot of my friends had gotten into poker. I had just returned to Perth after living abroad in the UK for the first time, and I joined a bunch of my friends for a long weekend getaway to the main island off the coast. Beers, sun, and beaches are well known pastimes on that island.

But games of beer pong had been replaced by Texas Hold’em Poker. Booooooring!

After 1 day I got into it though. You see, I don’t like card games because I think that most of it is to do with luck. With poker, you do have that element of luck. But there are so many hands, that good strategy and patience eventually pays off to win.

I like anything with strategy. Over the next few years we got together once every few months to play poker. Usually there’d be 8-10 people playing, and 1-2 tables. Sometimes I would get as high as 2nd or 3rd, but I’d never win. At about $30-$50 per person (every win was submitted in tax returns of course), it was an expensive loss.

If you won though, it was a good return on investment.

On Saturday I won my first 10k trail race as overall male. A strange part of me drew a parallel to poker! I got a free Timex out of it.

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First run with the new Timex was pretty much…the next day.

So I had just spent $60 on a race, and got a return of about $350. Then it dawned on me…

Apparently I can’t win at poker, but I can win races.

That’s my thing. Racing. It has strategy, persistence, patience, and hard work all rolled into one. No matter the distance or format, this is pretty much the same for all races (only that the strategy changes).

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Accepting the prize. Photo credit to Alison.

Best of all, luck only plays a minor part of running! Everything else I try to be good at in life has too much luck attached to it (hello political office bullshit). I hate luck. Luck is pretty much cheating on steroids.

Running is the only thing that let’s me validate hard work without the bullshit.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Race Recap: Trail 10k #1

I ended this Easter long weekend with breaking my 44 day ban on chocolate for Lent, and started it with a win in a 10k trail race.

Wow, was it really 44 days? That’s longer than the winner is on Survivor for. I’ve unintentionally trained to be on Survivor. They basically go 39 days without chocolate. Weak! 

Enough about chocolate though, time to recap my first trail race of the season… I’ll just be recapping this while devouring the ears off chocolate bunnies (and the rest of the body).

I went into this run with the mindset that it was a low priority race. Reason? I had a hard race 2 weeks ago, I have another race next weekend (which I’ll also treat as low priority), and then in 2 weeks from now I have a high priority race in New York.

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Happily starting in the middle of the pack and waving to Alison. The overall winner is in the foreground dressed in blue, running powerhouse Heather.

The main intention of this race was to get the nerves used to racing trails before the big events, and get the body used to racing trails before the big events. I was adamant I didn’t want to start fast. I just wanted to get used to a race environment again.

By about 1km in I was happily settled into a rhythm and I had cleared a bit of traffic. Some of these early trails got icy leading up to the 3km mark though, so I had to pass a few more people in front of me who couldn’t handle the technical footing as well as I could. Not being arrogant here, it’s the Orienteering background ;-)

From about 3km in, we were out of the trails and on a tarmac path…which I thought was temporary. But it wasn’t. It continued like this with sharp twists and small rolling hills until we looped back to the start area to say hi to the crowd at the 6km mark.

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The scenery and paths in the 4-6km section were much like this.

I was very comfortable at this point, still felt like I was running in 3rd gear. But I was starting to get concerned at wearing my off-road Merrells rather than my road running Brooks. The problem was the downhills on hard surfaces. Too many aggressive downhills in low rise shoes shreds your leg muscles.

I still plan on running today, and the next day, and the next week. If I was running on softer ground with these shoes it wouldn’t have been a problem. So to remedy this, I’d encourage the organisers to promote this as a “cross country” event, not “trail running”. That’s all. I’m not going to complain about this event because it was fantastic, and it still gets 5 stars from me.

Back to the race…

So from 4-6km I had about 3 people spaced out 50 metres each in front of me. I couldn’t claw them in here, but I was just comfortable with keeping an eye on them and seeing how I felt. I knew that the race would take a different turn (literally a sharp 180 degree turn) once we reached the spectator point at the 6km mark. 

The race started for me at this point. As soon as we turned I paced up to the guy in front of me. As far as I could tell, he was 2nd overall male, and 1st overall male was an orange shirt runner 2 places in front of him. He was wearing a shirt with the words “Blackburn”.

I paced myself up to Blackburn to test my legs. I was fine. So I held onto him to see how he’d respond. In a section where I thought he was slumping I surged past him. But I wanted to put some distance on him, so I surged all the way to the female runner 50 metres in front of Blackburn. When I saw that she was struggling, I surged past her straight away. I didn’t want Blackburn to think that was a temporary surge, I wanted to put out any flame of hope he had. 

It was at this point that I saw Alison spectating. I love having her support out there, and this was at a point where it mattered.

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Alison chased me down to take this photo, and I was about to chase down the 2nd guy in orange, which as far as I could tell was the leading male.

It was here that I was thinking that winning this, was actually a possibility. I still had a few hills and I didn’t want my energy to die. So I still had to tread patiently and wait for the right moment to catch up to the orange guy. 

That moment came just after the 8km turnaround point at the top of the hill. I saw exactly how far in front he was from me, and how far behind my next challengers were. I used the downhill to really pace myself into orange guy, and held my position there for a bit. It was here that I saw that there was another guy in front of us who was 1st! 

I did exactly the same thing with orange guy as I did with Blackburn. I waited until I could see some sign of weakness, then I surged until I put some distance between us.

At about 9km I was halfway in between orange guy and the 1st place male. I surged up to the 1st place just before a hill, held back for 10 seconds, then surged past him up the hill. I then pushed it on the flat and around the corner until I was out of sight. 

From there I held a good pace to keep my lead until the finishing hill. At the top of the hill there was about 100 metres to go, and I saw Alison here.

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Waving to Alison at the top of the final hill. Credit to her for all photos taken.

Somehow, orange shirt guy had almost caught me up. Also, I didn’t know that the finish was so soon (my GPS came up 400 metres short) and I was still holding back for a final kick that never came lol. So as soon as I crossed the finish, orange shirt guy crossed just after me! I thought I was 30 seconds in front of him at this point so I was a little shocked. I dropped my guard coming into the finish, but I still finished 6 seconds in front of him. Here are my splits:

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So I just scraped in a win for 1st male overall, and I expected to get a medal but not a prize as good as a Timex watch! I was shocked.

Great event by the people of Uxbridge! I’ll definitely be keeping this race on my calendar. 

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 18, 2014 Thursday, April 17, 2014

We be streaking: 10 days of running

Isn’t it strange how we’re quick to jump to the worst barrels of despair when we’re injured? Then we play down any good aspects with our training, as if it’s going to trigger some kind of injury curse. 

So I’m going to say it. Training is going well at the moment. 

I’m sure as heck am guilty of rolling in despair when injured, so I should balance that out by celebrating in better times. No need to feel guilty about it. I know that it can be taken away at any moment, another injury will come at some time. I just don’t know when. So why not celebrate in the mean time? :)

Here’s a small celebration - I hit a 10 day running streak on this morning’s recovery run!

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Moon and sunrise in 1 run, I’m enjoying 6am runs.

Last night I did a tempo session with my new coach and the Black Toe group - 3 x 2km loops and 2 x 500 metres. 

As recent as a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt of going for even a recovery run after such a hard workout, with such a small turnaround (10 hours) too. The main thing is that I’m running my hard sessions at 80%, and my recovery sessions at about 30-50% running intensity.

A couple of years ago I was running my hard sessions at 100%, and umm, not really doing any recovery sessions at all. 

This is why I can streak, and I’m not even sore right now. It’s a little scary, I still have a long way to go though. I’m still not going to place a huge emphasis on the streak, I’m certainly not going to run through an injury just to keep up a streak. I’ll be lucky if this goes for another 5 days without rest.

I used to be skeptical of people who advocated frequent running as the best way to develop your leg muscles used for running. Recovery runs were a waste of time, if it wasn’t quality I wasn’t interested. But there’s something in frequent running, there’s something in the juice.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Training recap: swinging into the sixties

I last blogged a summary on my training 3 weeks ago. Golly. I feel like I need to be consistent about this and talk about it on a weekly basis. Thankfully my training has been a lot more consistent.

Embracing the slog, recovery, the boring miles, has been the difference from previous years. Since about 2009 I’ve been in this mindset of quality over quantity. But while I’m still a big believer of that, what was happening was that I was sacrificing a lot of quantity runs for quality only.

I still needed the quantity, and I wasn’t getting it. Like an endurance athlete missing out on their quantity of carbohydrates for a spoonful of quality quinoa.

So 3 weeks ago I marvelled at how I was all of a sudden out of my February injury slump, and doing a 40 km week again. Now I’ve worked up to a 60+ km week…

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Nothing too crazy, but it’s progress. I know how easily it can be taken away, so I’ll hold off the celebration party and just have my one beer a night. Having just 1 month of consistent 10% distance gains is still a very short blip in time. 

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Now that I’m embracing the quantity - or more to the point, the frequency - I’ve been gradually introducing some quality sessions again. On Friday I did my first hill session for the year.

Yesterday I paced Alison to a triumphant 10k PR, and added some warm up miles to make it a long run.

Missing from this is a 50 minute spin session for recovery I did on Monday the 7th. I’m curbing off my cross training anyway. 

This week I don’t think I’ll be on the bike at all, it’s going to be a solid week of running. Culminating in a 10k low priority trail race in Uxbridge. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

This is the hill that destroyed me in last week’s race

This is the hill that destroyed me in last week’s Harry’s Spring Run Off 8k race. High Park in Toronto.

On the left is looking up, on the right is down.

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Today I did 8 x 450 metre repeats up this to re conquer it. Times ranged between 2:28 to 2:39 mins. First hill session in months too! 😼

This comes at the end of a particularly hard and emotionally taxing week for my wife and I. Personal things, career things, and some dirty sleazy business things that make me sick. Some of these issues I can’t expand on yet.

Some of these issues I wouldn’t be dealing with if I wasn’t in a marriage, and likewise for my wife. But now that I’m married, I’m realizing that her issues are my issues, and my issues are her issues. I wouldn’t have it any other way, we’re in everything together.

I carved up that hill, like I wanted to carve through any injustice that gets in my way in life! Nothing gives you belief like a good run. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Race Recap: 5 Mile #1

My whole purpose of running is to race. I started to expand on this, but it was getting too long so I extracted it out into another blog post. Another time.

But yes, in short, racing is primarily what motivates me to run. I love it!

This year I’ve tried something different. I’ve controlled my urge to race, and I’ve opted in favour of more boring but frequent easy low mileage runs. Instead of short and aggressive training cycles that ramp up the fitness enough to get me minorly competitive, but leave me injured.

The goal now is not to hit a time.

The goal now is not to hit a distance. 

The goal now is to stay uninjured, and progress slowly rather than in huge chunks. With this in mind, I’m taking racing cautiously. My other 3 races so far this year I’ve still raced hard, but not at 100% intensity. 

That changed for the Harry’s Spring Run-Off 8k (or 5 miler) in High Park. I wanted to reach the pain barrier here, but still with enough energy to finish!

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Deciding on how many layers to wear. I settled for 3.

That made me nervous before the race, knowing that it was going to be such a hard effort. Alison wasn’t running but came to spectate and support me, taking some great photos along the way. “I’ve never really seen you this nervous”, she said in Cafe Novo an hour before the start.

I opted for no caffeine, something I haven’t done pre-race in years. I also opted for no beer for breakfast, so that pre-race strategy was still going strong. Pre race thoughts were this:

It’s snowing outside as I’m eating breakfast. Is this really happening or am I seeing an illusion from being really hungry? Rethink clothing.

My quads are bizarrely sore. I have no idea what I did. The last intense session I did was on Wednesday. I did climb 9 flights of stairs a few times on Thursday because the elevator was broken. But isn’t that late for any soreness from that?

Why am I so nervous when I’m no where near an elite runner status? I’m not racing to win! 

Why am I thinking these thoughts in my head? Am I Zach Braff from Scrubs? Is that what racing turns me into? Stop it!

I’ve recently been training with Black Toe Running, and I knew that my teammate Kenny would be racing too. Kenny is a 10 time veteran of this race, but this year he ended up smashing his PR.

Factoring in the reputably feared hills of this course, I was aiming for a time of anywhere between 33-35 minutes. Kenny was planning on running it on the faster end of this, so my strategy was to start with him at a 4:10 mins/km pace, see if I could hold that on average for 5k, then push to 4:05 if I was feeling good.

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Before the race on the left, and me at 4k trying to claw back to Kenny just after he shredded up the first big hill.

We started off fast, hitting the 1st k at 3:58 mins. It still felt easy though, but I was aware that I also had this problem at the Frosty 5k. So I wanted to slow down, but the first downhill at around the 2k mark, makes it hard to gauge an average pace for this course.

I paced myself up to Kenny after the downhill and we sat at about 4:00. At this stage I was still comfortable but I also knew I couldn’t hold this pace. I didn’t want to push it up the first hill at 3k, so I was happy to drop back from Kenny so I could continue some more consistency on the flat. 

After that I was tussling with a guy in an orange shirt and a guy in a dark blue shirt on the flat loop, until the next major downhill at km 5. I was in front of them at this stage, but by km 6 they overtook me and I was feeling it for the first real time of the race. 

I was sitting at an average of 4:10 here, running alone and hurting. I thought I’d fade badly if I didn’t back off the pace a little. Either fade a little now, or fade a lot later. So I liked being alone here as I didn’t get caught up in any ego tussles. 

By km 7 I had fallen to an average of 4:15 already, but still hurting. I knew I had to claw back up - the final hill was about 600 metres away too, and that is a real shit-fight! A woman in a yellow shirt had just overtaken me, so I used her to work my pace up. We sat together until the bottom of the hill, she upped the pace even more when a red shirted guy overtook us.

I let them go for about 50 metres, then kicked in the fight! I overtook them when some of their friends/family were cheering. That was unfortunate timing, I felt like a jerk but I needed to go…

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Alison and Black Toe with their signs. Their awesome work gave me a light to the endless finish hill. 

I could feel my face making all kinds of crazy expressions up that hill, and my vision was all blurry. But I’ve got to say it made a huge difference to see the black & gold signs from Alison and the Black Toe cheering squad - I could see this from about 100 metres away at a time when I couldn’t make anything else out!

This gave me the extra kick I needed for sure, even though I felt like I was crawling. I was firmly in the pain barrier here, but I didn’t want it any other way, I wanted nothing left in the tank. I was fighting for under 34 minutes at this stage, and I crossed the line to get 33:47 minutes chip time! That left me with an average of 4:14 min/km’s, and an indication of how much hill training I need to do :P

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Here’s a nice little collage that race organizer Canada Running Series put together showing the dynamic of racers that this event attracts. That’s me in the top right, and Kenny in center left.

I was happy with my run having done hardly any speed work. The main takeaway was to show me how much hill work I have to do if I want to be competitive in the trails this summer. The answer is a lot. I’m determined not to rush into it like every other year though!

Next week I have another tune-up race, the Yonge St 10k. But I’m not going to race this, I’m going to keep it low priority. After that I have back-to-back trail races, 10k each. These are going to be mid-priority, before my next high priority (and high intensity) race in New York on May 4th.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Stop being abused by your unhealthy workplace

Yesterday I had an urge to think out loud (actually, I get this urge a lot lol. I can’t just contain it to a Thursday link up). I tweeted a bunch of thoughts on how we need to change things in the workplace to be compatible with fitness & healthy lifestyles.

Currently, almost everything in the workplace is designed to punish health and fitness! 

I grouped this bunch of tweets into a Storify page. I like Storify’s ability to group a bunch of related tweets as a story, it seems it was made for tweetstorming. 

Unfortunately I can’t embed Storify into Tumblr (c’mon Tumblr, what’s the deal here?!). Below are a couple of snapshots, but it’s best read here on Storify.

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What are your thoughts on the subject? Is this something that has bothered you before, either at a previous or current employer? 

The fact is, once you factor in the time of working out, it takes between 3-4 hours every day to train consistently, eat well, and do enough injury prevention work to stay fit. A workout isn’t a workout. It’s broken down into so much more:

  1. The actual workout
  2. Strength training
  3. Stretching
  4. Foam rolling / massaging
  5. Icing
  6. Food prep

This becomes a big deal when employers have ingrained a culture of overtime into their environments, and at that, unpaid overtime!

This is not just some gripe from an exercise fanatic. Add in the fact that people like me need daily exercise as the best way to combat out social anxiety disorders / stress related anxiety / depression / addiction / or other mental health problems. Even though the majority of the population are affected by mental health, only a minority have embraced health & fitness over medicine.

We shouldn’t be penalized for this just because we’re a minority.

This isn’t just a lifestyle - it actually is therapy. I know this is popularized on a running meme, but it’s true.

The best companies realize that employee happiness (and health is the best form of happiness to any of us runners or other fitness fanatics) directly translates to productivity, and profits.

Ok, but what about the rest of us who work for crappy companies who have no interest in being the best? Put simply, we need some kind of health alliance that protects us.

I’m not sure how we do that, or where to go from here. I’m not very political, and I don’t want it to be a political thing. But if you resonate with this, then let’s continue the conversation on Twitter, or reblog this post with some of your own thoughts and answers.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

New to Living With Running #2

There’s been some new entries recently submitted to the living with running collection on Medium:

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  • First up we have Mariam Guizani making the connection between running and being happy. Like a lot of people who are just starting to discover the value of running, she’s started off with the Nike+ app. So I’ll have to convince her to try FitFriend next *nervous chuckle* 
  • https://medium.com/living-with-running/da6537ebeac8

  • Running is a chore for some people! It exists only as a grinding task to lose or keep weight off (personally my love for running has come and gone in phases. This I’ve now accepted as normal). Jarvis Slacks talks about it from the perspective of not wanting to run:
  • https://medium.com/living-with-running/9f8145edf31

Everyone has a story. No 2 lives are the same, and I love hearing of running from each person’s perspective. Looking forward to some April contributions! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Around the world

You learn something about perspective when you move to a foreign country.

The first time I moved to another country it gave me a sense of context that I didn’t even know you could get. Until then I had never understood the meaning of the phrase context is everything.

I was in Hamilton yesterday to spectate a race that’s older than Boston, Around The Bay. That’s even their slogan, it’s been going since 1896. Back up a moment, what is Boston?

At least that’s what I was asking in 2010. I had moved from Australia to Canada, and it took me at least a year to learn that Boston was the end goal for a lot of people’s training here. The Olympics, the Tour de France, the Superbowl, of North American running. 

Well, duh. This might sound bizarre for anyone who was born and raised in the US or Canada. But it’s because we only know of what we’re aware of in our environment. Every environment is in its own bubble. 

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Around The Bay is serious business on the Canadian race calendar.

Getting back to Around The Bay it’s Ontario’s flagship even. What’s it like? I wouldn’t know, I’ve never run it.

Not even yesterday, it’s just never worked for my training schedule (the main thing being that the distance is 30k, and I’ve never been able to train for any race longer than 21k without serious injury. So I’m out by default). But I’m always told that the hills are a real challenge.

I ended up going for a 10 mile long run around the area and went to a few spectator vantage points. Sorry Ashley, I forgot to be obnoxious and run the course while stealing swag and taking selfies… 

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Seen on my run. The 25k mark of the course takes them across that stretch of land over the ice lake. Then up a hill to the right and across the bridge.

For someone who agrees with this mantra of embracing the hill, I’d love to be able to run this event someday. Plus it’s supposed to be scenic. But I’m not going to rush it, I’m not going to do it just because everybody else is doing it. I’ll do it when the time is right for me.

Until then I’m happy to spectate or volunteer. I love watching races, especially ones that everyone is buzzed about.

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Alison is learning how to race, here she is approaching the final km of the 5k!

A few years ago I was scoffed at in Toronto for asking questions about Boston. What’s that all about? I’m not sure, some people think that asking questions about a culture is not the way to learn about…a culture. Nobody moves across the other side of the world just to stay at home and read about their new culture in a book. 

Everywhere has its douches though. In Australia some people might scoff at you for not knowing about the City To Surf. What’s that?

The City To Surf is a major event held in Sydney and Perth. Each race attracts international names, but the Sydney race actually gets broadcast on national television, on a major network like NBC. Believe it, it’s a major annual sporting event. 

So getting back to that bubble thing, this race isn’t even a marathon. Or even a long distance event. At 12-14 km it’s more of a long middle distance event!

But it attracts more competitors than Around The Bay. It attracts more competitors than Boston. At 80,000 people in Sydney (even 40,000 in Perth) that’s more than twice the amount of Boston, and 8 times the amount of Around The Bay.

See what I’m getting at? I’m not saying that X race is better for Y reasons. I’m saying that each culture, each country, has its own bubble.

If a race doesn’t work for your training and fitness level, then you don’t have to do it. This sounds like pretty straight forward advice, but the bubble that you’re in might blind you from thinking straight. Likewise, bubbles aren’t always a bad thing - you get to experience the buzz and the unique atmosphere of a different culture!