Gettin’ into the groove

I’ve had another two weeks of solid training. My body is recovering from the workouts and I generally feel well.  It will hopefully not be until late October that I test the limits of my training capacity.

I decided to run the Dino Dash 10k on Saturday. I’m a bit heavy and I haven’t raced since the Calgary 10k in May so I wasn’t expecting much. My goals were to get some race experience and see where my fitness is. When coming back from a break in racing I prefer to set myself up for a fast finish rather than go all out from the gun. It was a very windy day so I went out at an honest but conservative pace.  After 2k I was in 3rd place and it was clear that I was going to finish in either 2nd or 3rd, with zero chance of 1st. I slowly closed the gap on 2nd place and in the 7th km I made my move. There was no response from the guy I passed, but I knew he wasn’t falling apart so I did actually have to race the last 1/3, which was fun. I finished 20 seconds ahead of 3rd, and almost 2 minutes behind some young punk who was in a different time zone. Overall I’m pleased with my fitness. My effort was reasonable but not stellar. I like the Dino Dash because it supports the U of C track team and it’s fun to finish on the track. What I don’t like is that it doesn’t attract a lot of fast runners. I would much rather be in 50th place running in an aggressive pack, than by myself doing a time trial. On the other hand, I did win $75 of gift cards!

Week ending September 4th

Monday was a rest day.

Tuesday was 6k at lunch with 8×10 seconds hill sprints. I did 11k easy in the evening.

Wednesday was 25 minute split tempo. This workout was insanity on account of the huge storm that came through Calgary. I thought I may get my workout in just before the sky opened up, but boy was I wrong. Only one minute into the workout I got hit with a gale headwind. Then the rain. Then the hail. I was 20 seconds/k over pace, but it’s the effort that counts. I didn’t quit so I give myself extra points for mental toughness. I split the tempo after 13 minutes (it should have only taken 12 minutes!), and took a minute jogging break. On the way back the storm died down and the second half was much more pleasant.

Thursday was about 10k easy with drills.

Friday was nice fast one. 3 sets of  3x(600 meters fast, 30 seconds jogging), with about 3 minutes jog recovery between sets. 13k in total.

Saturday was an easy 8k after a 15k hike at Moose Mountain with Stephanie.

On Sunday I cut down the distance a lot, and did 22k, with the last 7k at target marathon pace.

Total distance: 85km

Weight: 125 pounds

Week ending September 11th

Monday was a rest day.

Tuesday was 17k easy.

Wednesday was 7 x 75 second hills. This was a very challenging workout.

Thursday was 13k easy.

Friday 10k easy with strides.

On Saturday I raced the Dino Dash 10k, and put in 18k overall.

On Sunday I ran 31k, which would have been more difficult had I actually race all out on Saturday.

Total distance: 101 km

Weight: 124 pounds

That’s all she wrote!

Here we go, again

“You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can’t know what’s coming.” – Frank Shorter

I joke that my last marathon was the best 22 miles I’ve ever run. That last effort was almost three years ago in Sacramento at the California International Marathon (CIM). In the 23rd mile of that race I hit the wall pretty hard, but I did manage to drag my battered carcass to the finish line in a time of 2:58:51. A sufficient amount of time has passed since that debacle and I can’t quite recall the depth of misery I endured on that cold day in December.So….I’m going to take another crack at the CIM. A few of us from Calgary are going down so it should be fun.

I intend to use this blog to log and share my thoughts on training. I hope to post weekly going forward. For those who are interested, my training is inspired by Steve Magness using his book “Science of Running”. I say inspired because I give him credit for what I have learned but accept responsibility for any misinterpretations of his work. If racing is something you want to get good at then you need to read this book. I look for every opportunity to train smarter and I have learned alot from Magness.

My current marathon PB is 2:51:28 (Hamilton, 2011). I’m quite a bit faster now and my training goal is to prepare for a sub 2:45:00. We’ll see how it goes.

Week ending August 14

Monday was an easy 7k to shakeout Sunday’s long run.

Tuesday I did a 11k steady run. A steady run is 5-10% slower than marathon pace, which turned out to be about 4:20/km. Total distance was 15k.

Wednesday was 10k easy with some strides to finish. I’ve also learned from Magness that running slow reduces muscle tension, and running fast increases muscle tension. Of course it makes sense based on my past experience, but it’s nice to know that strides are a tool I can deliberately use to my advantage. You generally want high muscle tension (but not too high) going into a race or a hard workout.

Thursday at lunch I did 7k with 6×8 second hill sprints. The purpose of hill sprints is to recruit as much muscle fibre as possible, so that more muscle is available near the end of the race. Hill sprints are generally very safe to do because it’s quite a bit less stress on legs muscles, especially the hamstrings. It’s almost impossible to have bad form sprinting up hill, but distance runners tend to have horrific form for flat sprinting. In the evening I did 5k easy with Stephanie.

Friday was a day off.

Saturday was 10k easy with strides.

Sunday was a 26k very hilly long run, finishing with 7 x 45 second surges. The purpose of the surges are to prepare the body for more strenuous long run efforts that will involve a lot of marathon pace.

Total distance: 80km

Weight: 126 pounds, which is about 8 pounds above my target weight for December. I have a near insatiable sweet tooth, and cutting out the sweets is the hardest part of training for me.

Week ending August 21

Monday was a rest day.

Tuesday was 11k easy with the last 5 minutes pickup at marathon pace.

Wednesday was general speed training: 12×45 seconds (at around 3k to 1mile race pace), with 1 minute recovery. 12k total.

Thursday was 12k easy with strides.

Friday was a 20 minute tempo session in the neighbourhood of 10 mile to half marathon effort. This workout demonstrated there is a lot of work to do. Nevertheless,tempos are my favourite type of workout.

Saturday: easy run finishing with 8×8 seconds uphill sprinting.

On Sunday there was an epic run up at Lake O’Hara. Overall the distance was about 35k which was mostly running, but also a lot of hiking (especially the sharp ascent up Wiwaxy). But there were rest spots for enjoying the view and taking pictures. I rate this the most beautiful run in my life to date.

Total distance: 94km

Weight: 126 pounds

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Week ending August 28

Monday was a rest day which was much needed due to the battering at Lake O’Hara.

Tuesday was 12k easy with some strides. I was definitely not recovered from the Lake O’Hara run.

Wednesday: Alternate pace workout of 6 x (400 meters at slightly faster than lactate threshold, 1200 meters steady). This was a fairly easy workout, and I absolutely love alternating pace runs. I will build on this style of run throughout training. They will get much longer and eventually dial in towards marathon pace.

Thursday. At lunch I did about 5km warmup and then did some running form and strength drills. In the evening I did an 11k run. Total 16km

Friday. At lunch I did a session of 8 x (400 meters fast, 200 meters easy). Good extension of my previous general speed workout. I also did 5km in the evening. 19km total for the day.

Saturday: Stephanie and I hiked at Galatea Lake, so no running today. Beautiful hike as you can see by the pictures.

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On Sunday I did a 32k run with Steve and his dog, Rocky. I came in third place. I did this run in a fasted state: no breakfast, and no fuel during the run. Just water. I often run without breakfast if the pace is going to be easy, but 32k is testing the limits of my fasted endurance. At 30k my energy supply was exhausted and my legs turned to lead and my brain to mush. It was a hard struggle home the last 2k. Steve pumped me full of food allowing me to regain enough IQ points to drive home. Although bonking is extremely unpleasant it is a valuable because it teaches the body to burn more fuel from fat. So I’m told.

Total distance: 95km

Weight: 126 pounds.

Weeks 6/7 in Kenya

I’m safely back in Cowtown.

I concluded my Kenyan adventure with a safari in the Maasai Mara game reserve. I saw 5 lions, 6 cheetahs and 50,000 wildebeest. Oh, and a bunch of elephants, buffalo, hippos, warthogs, giraffes, antelope, gazelles, zebras, jackals, and so many other creatures I cannot name.  The coolest thing I saw was the Great Migration where over one million wildebeest negotiate the crocodile-invested Mara river over the course of a few months. We didn’t see any chase/kill scenes, but lot’s of action nonetheless. I guess the crocs and lions were well fed by then and all the dentists had gone home.

We were going to stop for a bathroom break until I spotted this cheetah hiding near a pond. He/she was nice enough to come up for some pictures.

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My last two weeks of training went well. I did a 20 x (1 minute on, 1 minute off) fartlek with the big group that meets on Thursday mornings. It was a very tough session as it is speed and hills all in one workout. The top guys do 30 repeats. The top guys also run sub-2:10 for the marathon!

I wrapped up teaching just as the students were going into the interim exam period. The students sit for the national tests (the ones that really matter) in November. I really enjoyed the teaching experience and I think the students enjoyed a different perspective. I certainly enjoyed spending time with them. I was so impressed with the politeness and attentiveness of the kids at St. Patrick’s. Canada should go back to the Kenyan way. It is good.

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Since being back in Calgary I have noticed how much more impact there is running on the pavement. It is no wonder we get injured so much. I’m going to try to do more mileage on the soft stuff even though that means driving around to find it.

I will close with a few cool pictures:

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Jason Reed (2:51), Wilson Kipsang (2:03)

Jason Reed (2:51), Wilson Kipsang (2:03)

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Weeks 4/5 from Kenya

The days keep rolling by here in Iten. Run, eat, sleep, eat, run, eat, sleep is my daily routine. It is really that simple. Last week I ran eleven times, which means four doubles. I have only taken two days off and one of them was on day 3 due to a slight achilles strain. My weekly mileage progression is: 77, 69 (travel week, achilles), 94, 95, 104, 126 (in km’s). I would have liked to have run more in Iten, but injury in April forced me to come back very slowly. Also, 126k in Iten is much more difficiult than 126k in Calgary. All of my running is at 7,500-8,000 feet elevation and on very hilly terrain. On Sunday I ran 25k at an average pace of 4:42/km, with net drop of 500 feet during the first half, all gained in the second half. I finished with 6 x 45 second surges. Not a very difficult workout, but taxing nonetheless. I have been getting two massages per week which I feel are helping with recovery, thus permitting more volume.

A combination of increased training volume, altitude, poor sleep, and who knows what else, left me exhausted for most of last week. It is only the last three days that I have recovered. Several of the regular guys in camp take supplements with B vitamins and iron. I purchased a “blood booster” from the chemist in town which will hopefully top up any deficiencies. No, it is not EPO, although I have been told there is plenty available for those who want it! All of my EPO production has been organic.

Teaching at St. Patrick’s continues to be a load of fun. At the end of each class I like to take to give the students an opportunity to ask questions about Canada, what I do, etc. In the last class I invited them to ask my anything, which is a risky invitation to a bunch of 16-18 year olds! The top three questions were: How old are you? Are you married? Do you have a sister? Lol. I responded to the kid who asked me the last question: do you have a sister? how old is she? The class erupted in laughter. I think the students like their mzungu teacher because I treat them like my equals, and of course they are. If you can’t laugh in math class why bother showing up?

After one class I returned to the principal’s office for a debrief, and who do I find him talking to? The one and only Brother Colm O’Connell. If you don’t know who he is, just google him. Briefly, Brother Colm established the St. Patrick’s youth running camp which has allowed him to identify and train gifted athletes. Many have gone on to become world champions and olympic medalists. I chatted with Brother Colm for about 10 minutes in the principal’s office and he invited me to watch a few of his runners do diagonals on a field inside the St. Patrick’s compound. After waiting around for about 20 minutes I noticed a group of athletes making their way to the field. I watched them do their warm up around the perimeter. And then I spotted him: David Rudisha! Brother Colm and I chatted while watching the workout. We talked a lot about Rudisha’s build up to London 2012, perhaps the best track race in history (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKEOjWEzVGs). I found it really interesting that Brother Colm didn’t say a word before, during, or after the workout. He just observed and then left. Although to be fair, there isn’t much to do this late in the track season.

A few of us also had the opportunity to watch Rudisha’s workout the next day. We met at Brother Colm’s house and then loaded up in his car. The four athletes would do a 2 minute on, 2 minute off fartlek session. Brother Colm would signal the on/off with his car’s horn! Brother Colm talked about how well Kenyans are able to turn everything off and truly rest: no distractions. He lamented that in west we are always busy doing something and lack the ability to truly turn off. He left us all with a great quote: “It is only an average man who feels he always has to be at his best”. What a day, and what a man.

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I haven’t thought too much about work, but when I do, I always arrive at the same conclusion. I will never work for a large corporation again, unless on contract. But my preference is to work with a small group where each individual is a significant member of the team. No room for bullshit. There is an outfit in Calgary I really like and I think the feeling is mutual. So I will look into that opportunity when I get back. If it doesn’t work out I will consider more travel.

Week 3 from Kenya

The Kenyan Experience group departed on Thursday leaving a pretty small group of us remaining at Lornah’s. It was great fun spending time with the group, including meeting the host Adharanand Finn, author of “Running with the Kenyans”. They packed in a lot of running and excitement into two weeks. A few of the guys ran the Lewa marathon on Saturday, which is a pretty tough event as you have to contend with warm weather and elevation. I’m told that if you’re lucky the helicopters keep the lions a safe distance away.

A fellow guest of Lornah’s, Emmett, helped me plan out a training schedule through July. I’ve learned so much about training in such a short time it’s hard to keep it altogether. One thing I’ve learned is that most of us recreational runners run way too fast, particularly on LT sessions. Emmett, who is also a professional coach, tested my lactate level immediately after my tempo session, and it read 3.3 mmol, within the prescribed 3-4 mmol range for a tempo session. Once up to speed, my heart rate sat between 155-160 bpm during each of the 5 repeats of 5 minutes. If asked to, I could have done another two repeats without too much difficulty. A lot of my prior tempo sessions felt like racing near the end. No good. It will be nice to do less and get more in return. Work smarter, not harder!

Another big takeaway is to do as much training as possible on dirt or grass. Aside from about 2k on Sunday, all of my mileage has been on the amazing dirt trails throughout Iten. I have noticed significantly less impact on my body. When I get back to Calgary I will explore options for long runs that include more trails. Fish Creek, Bragg Creek, others?

I’ve noticed a huge increase in altitude adaptation this week. For example, my long run today was ~20km at an average pace of 4:52/km, with a corresponding average heart rate of 142bpm. Furthermore, there was at least 200 meters of climbing on the return of my out-and-back towards Eldoret. While still a tough place to run, the hills of Iten are looking a little bit smaller.

The regional races were run Saturday, again at Kamariny track. It was really wet on Thursday and Friday and the track was a mess. The best excitement was in the steeple chase which featured a real bang up at the first barrier. I shared a video on Facebook. The most comical race was the 110m hurdles, also posted to Facebook.

Running for the week ending June 28 (total = 94km):

  1. Monday: 9k easy; core class
  2. Tuesday:
    • 14k: 4 sets of (5 x 200 at vo2 max, about 42 seconds each)
    • 7k recovery PM
  3. Wednesday: 14k easy; core class
  4. Thursday: 5k easy
  5. Friday: 13k of 5 x 5 minutes at Lactate Threshold (155-160 bpm HR). Paces were 3:51, 4:01, 3:57, 3:55, 3:56/km; core class
  6. Saturday: 6k easy AM, 6k easy PM
  7. Sunday: 20k (139 bpm out to Eldoret, 144 bpm back), 99 minutes total

Week 2 from Kenya

I wanted to post this on Sunday, but it wasn’t until Tuesday that I could get decent Wifi. Oh, the struggles in small-town Kenya 🙂

There was a track meet on Saturday at the famous Kamariny track to establish the Iten team for the district races next weekend. The 10,000 men’s race was won in 29:34, on a long (408m) and wet track. The eventual winners at the national level will compete in the World Championships in Beijing. Here is a picture of the first of two heats of the men’s 5,000. The first lap was run in 60 seconds!

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I taught the Principal’s math class last Wednesday. The plan was to show up to his office 15 minutes before class to get the day’s topic. He wasn’t around so I just went the classroom and asked the students where they left off. I think I did a pretty good job as I had studied the entire book the preceding week. I will use the upcoming lessons on probability theory and sequences/series to explain to them what an actuary does for a living.

A few of us visited a running camp nearby last week. There are many such camps around Iten with a variety of sponsors and managers. The camp was nothing more than a few shacks for male/female dorms and a kitchen. It was pretty cool to see the monastic lifestyle of a full-time runner: run, eat, sleep. No distractions. The camps here are a far cry from the luxury of Lornah’s HATC. Few westerners could tolerate the true Kenyan running experience.

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I moved rooms because the lady next to me has the odd habit of singing for about 20 minutes between 3 and 4 am. The third night she sang I shouted “hello, hello” towards our common wall. Perhaps the 3 am sing-song is normal in some parts of Kenya. The same lady also likes to walk randomly between lanes 1 and 2 on the track. My prayers for patience have so far been answered.

I did two tempo workouts last week. My paces were about 20 seconds/k slower at altitude for the same effort in Calgary. I feel sufficiently acclimatized to do more aggressive speedwork next week. In total, I ran eight times in the last seven days. I had intended to do a long run Saturday and rest on Sunday (the local tradition), but I decided to run in Sing’ore forest Sunday with the folks with Kenyan Experience.

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Running through Sing’ore Forest

After the forest run I joined two others for an afternoon at J.E.Kilgar Giraffe Park. The park has loads antelope, gazelles and fifteen giraffes. We were able to walk through the park on account there are no predatory animals around.

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Running for the week ending June 21 (total = 94km):

  1. Monday: 8 easy
  2. Tuesday:
    • 11k am (6k tempo @ 4:00/k average)
    • 8k pm
  3. Wednesday: 14k easy/moderate
  4. Thursday: 14k (32 minutes steady state @ 4:20/k average)
  5. Friday: 10k easy
  6. Saturday: 12k easy
  7. Sunday: 17k through Sing’ore forest

So you want to run in Iten?

After a long journey I arrived in Iten late Tuesday morning. HATC is the four star resort of Iten. The rooms, food and training facilities are very high quality. The staff at HATC are the most friendly people you could hope to meet.

The local children often greet me (and all “mzungus”) with an energetic: “how are you?”. High fives are not an unusual request while on a run. Today I even got tackled by four kids and had to drag them along for about 100 meters. I really don’t need to add any more resistance running uphill at 8,000 feet elevation. I am told by another guest at HATC that the attention gets irritating after a while. So far, it is a lot of fun. The kids are so cute.

Everyday is a hill session in Iten, so if you want to do a recovery run you really have to go slow. Even 2:10 marathoners run 6 minute k’s out here. On Tuesday I went for an easy 11k and I felt good. On Wednesday I joined two others for their “easy” afternoon run which was a mistake. It was 15k, hilly, and a bit too fast for me. I could feel the strain in my left achilles tendon.

On Thursday morning I joined another HATC guest, Alex, for his warm-up run to the famous Thursday morning fartlek session. About 200 or so runners assembled at the meeting area just outside of  town at 9 am. While Alex received instructions about the morning’s workout (13 x 3 minutes, 1 minute rest), I jogged another kilometre down the road to get pictures. I am told the first 3 minutes were done in a blistering 2:50/km pace! Apparently few people finish the entire session as they simply work too hard trying to stay with the leader.

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“Fartlek”

The jog back from the fartlek is about 3k straight up hill, followed by another 2k of varied terrain. Despite running slowly, I felt stabbing pains in my left achilles. Shit. I decided not to run Friday, and instead used the stationary bike, followed by a short swim. I ran slowly Saturday morning and there was mild discomfort at one point, but no pain. One of coaches here prescribed some exercises and assured me everything would be fine as long as I keep it slow for the next while. I ended up running 21k on Sunday with no discomfort.

I watched two Diamond League meets this week (Oslo, New York) at Lornah’s club. It was pretty cool watching the meets with people who know the athletes and even train with them.

One thing I really wanted to do while in Iten was volunteer at St. Patrick’s High School for boys, the famous home of Brother Colm O’Connell, coach of superstars such as David Rudisha. As luck would have it, Alex was teaching math on his rest days for the last four months and he is leaving State side tomorrow. Alex introduced me to the Principal, and then the Principal introduced me to the class as Alex’s replacement for the next 6 weeks! Obviously a bit nervous, I am really looking forward to the experience. Wish me luck.

Running for the week ending June 14 (total = 69k):

  1. Monday: None, travel
  2. Tuesday: 11k easy
  3. Wednesday: 15k (way too hard for what was to be an easy run)
  4. Thursday:11k easy
  5. Friday: None, 30 minute bike, swim, core session
  6. Saturday: 11k easy, bike 30 minutes
  7. Sunday: 21k, typical long run effort