Rollerblading, Dogs, and Flying

Men are wired to see reward before risk. This phenomenon has been proven by our stupid stunts, bar fighting, STDing, and even investing. I made my own contribution to the list this week. The following is the internal dialogue immediately preceding my decision to go inline skating on Friday:

Rational Jason: “Maybe this is a bad idea, you could break your arm right before Kenya.”

Idiot Jason: “Man, don’t be such a dink, you’ve done this 500 times before.”

Rational Jason: “Yeah, but only once in the last five years. But maybe it’s ok, if we go slow, and we wear a helmet and pads.”

Idiot Jason: “Man, you’re one of those bubble-wrapped jerks we make fun of. Just buckle up and go.”

Rational Jason: “Yeah, I see your point. Let’s effin’ give’r”

Idiot Jason: “Sweet. You’ll thank me later.”

As you can tell, Rational Jason is just a figment of Idiot Jason’s imagination.

The first 15k of my skate was actually really good. On my way home, however, a dog bolted from its owner, sprinting at full speed toward me and barking like mad. Thoroughly terrified, I neutralized the threat by slamming myself into the ground, hip and elbow first. Claiming victory, the dog returned dutifully to its owner. Phew. Dazed and confused I slowly got up and scanned for injuries. My right hip was really sore and my elbow was bloodied. But I was able to do an easy 12k immediately afterward so all is good.

The next time I do “airplane pose” will hopefully be in a jet. My journey to Kenya on Sunday starts with a 9 hour flight to Amsterdam, a 3 hour layover, and then an 8 hour flight to Nairobi. Tuesday morning I take a short flight to Eldoret. Finally, I take a short bus ride to Iten: Home of Champions. Then I run 1,000 kilometers.

I hope future entries will have some good photos, but it will depend on the speed of the internet connection at the HATC. Stay tuned!

Running for the week ending June 7 (total = 76k):

  1. Monday: 10k
  2. Tuesday: 11k easy
  3. Wednesday: 13k trail running with Alan (Moose Mountain)
  4. Thursday: 18k with lots of hills (4:20-4:25 pace on the flat parts)
  5. Friday:12k easy
  6. Saturday: 12k
  7. Sunday: None

Race weekend and Vagabonding

The Calgary Marathon events were held this past weekend. I was at the Marathon Expo on Saturday and helped out at the MitoCanada booth for a few hours. I was also lucky to catch the elite panel Q&A.


There were some great results out there, but I would like to especially acknowledge Trevor Hofbauer for lining up with Canada’s best and posting a huge PB of 1:07:22 in the Half Marathon. Trevor is young, his performances seem to be improving by quantum leaps with each race, and so I believe Trevor’s impressive results are but a glimpse of what is coming. It’s fun to rally around the home town hero and cheer him towards his dreams. Go Trevor!

Today marks the four week anniversary of unemployment and quite frankly I have been more productive in the last month than in the previous six. In “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel”, Rolf Potts describes the ritual of the “walkabout”:

“Culturally, the walkabout ritual is when Aborigines leave their work for a time and return to their native lifestyle in the outback. On a broader and more mythical level, however, walkabout acts as a kind of remedy when the duties and obligations of life cause one to lose track of his or her true self. To correct this, one merely leaves behind all possessions (except for survival essentials) and starts walking.”

Although I won’t be leaving all the luxuries of home, the next seven weeks will serve as a walkabout of sorts. Most people have expressed fascination about my upcoming travel travel plans. Some have also revealed their own deep fears about money and financial security. I can relate to their fears. No matter how it happens, going from a good income to no income is a big shock to the system. That loss triggered a primal fear in me so intense that I was paralyzed with panic and regret for at least a week. It turns out those awful feelings were really just the symptoms of shedding the false believe that money has the ability to sustain me. It just ain’t true. I like this quote attributed to Helen Keller:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Running for the week ending May 31 (total = 69k):

  1. Monday: 11k easy
  2. Tuesday: 12k workout
    • Started with a 3:55k, 3:40k to try out some faster running
    • 7 x 1 minute Curling Club hill
  3. Wednesday: 12k trail running with Alan Lam et al. (Moose Mountain)
  4. Thursday: 10.5k easy
  5. Friday: 13.5k workout (7 x 830 metre Centre Street hill)
  6. Saturday: 10k easy
  7. Sunday:  Hike Wasootch Ridge with Pierre

Access granted

The Kenya High Commission approved my visa application! And with that important detail sorted out I purchased my flight from Nairobi to Eldoret. My mind is now focused on the adventure that awaits me. I have planned just enough to get to Iten. The rest will happen when I get there.

My training starts today, which really just means I’m cutting out the sweets and eating less in general. Becoming recently unemployed messed with my head and eating was something that comforted me. Those who know me can testify to my enormous capacity for junk food. Some people report physical discomfort from too much of a good thing, but I don’t! I will continue my running build up with lots of hills. I’ll also work on my new running gait at faster speeds.

My initial plan in Iten is to continue building a base, and then start a 12-14 week marathon build up. I will likely run the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon on October 18th (my 40th birthday!). There are many people for me to train with in Calgary, which makes the challenging long runs easier to complete. But my current fitness puts me on par with Kenyan children and their grandparents. However, I am encouraged that Adharanand Finn was able to find a training group. I also have a phone number of a local runner who will take me on long runs for a small fee.

I’m already working on my packing list as I don’t imagine Iten is a great place to purchase any items I left behind. Top of the list: sun screen! At 8,000 feet elevation I will burn very quickly. Other than that, I really just need running shoes, shorts, shirts, and socks. I’ll also bring my computer so that I can keep this blog rolling along.

Running for the week ending May 24:

  • Monday: —
  • Tuesday: — (14k of hiking, with 4800 feet of vertical)
  • Wednesday: 8.5k
  • Thursday: 9.0k (6 x Curling Club hill)
  • Friday: 10.0k easy
  • Saturday: 10.5k easy
  • Sunday: AM – 12k (6 x 800 metre Centre Street hill); PM – 8k. 20k total.
  • Total: 58k

The process is working

My eating habits have taken a bit of a turn for the worst. I think it is just part of an awkward transition from structured to unstructured days. I’ll hit the weigh scale tomorrow to see how much energy I have pre-boarded over the past week 🙂 I know I’m not going to be fit when I get to Kenya but I would at least like to look the part of a distance runner.

I increased my mileage from 5.5k on Tuesday to 8k on Saturday, while also performing form and strength drills. The weather was cool and/or wet from Wednesday on so I decided to wear my Saucony racing flats. These flats feel approximately barefoot so I think I’ll continue running this way. I may drop in a few barefoot sessions here and there.

On Saturday I did my 8k up and down Centre Street, which is 800 meter hill of low/medium grade. Hill running naturally lends itself to proper technique which is therefore ideal for my rebuilding phase. This run also permitted me to get my heart rate up for 4 x 3 minute repeats, hopefully producing a mild training effect.

On Tuesday the Kenya High Commission in Ottawa called me to say my visa application was incomplete. Missing was my passport and a letter from the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) outlining my itinerary. Having never applied for a visa before I didn’t realize they needed my passport and I guess I didn’t read the instructions well enough. The passport issue was easily sorted out care of Canada Post. Getting a letter from the HATC, however, has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated. I did my best to get the wheels in motion, but I became frustrated because I didn’t think HATC was working quick enough to accommodate my error!

The obvious lesson is not procrastinating with important things like visa applications. Less obviously, I learned the path of least stress is to do my best and then let the universe sort it out. After all, what else can you do after you’ve done everything you can?

Running for the week =

  • Monday: 5.5k barefoot
  • Tuesday: 5.5k barefoot
  • Wednesday: 6.0k flats
  • Thursday: 6.5k flats
  • Friday: 7.0k flats
  • Saturday: 8.0k flats
  • Sunday: 8.0k flats
  • TOTAL: 46.5k

I feel good about the progress I’m making on several fronts. I’m excited for the week to come, and I hope yours is full of fun and adventure.

The process is the goal

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point running fast became important to me. Preparing for a race started with a specific time goal and a plan to achieve it. My approach to life isn’t that much different. What is deeply unsettling with my goal-based approach is that success is always in the future, and never now. Goals and their outcomes tend to become part of my identity. In this framework, failure is existential rather than just a learning experience.

I’m not knocking long-term planning, and I’m certainly not against racing. What I am saying is that attitude and perspective are important when planning and training for a big goal. Bad outcomes happen no matter how much deliberation goes into avoiding them. Failure can therefore be a learning opportunity, or trigger harmful self-criticism.

Re-learning to run has reminded me to be more involved in the process, and less concerned with goals. The process is in the present, where there is no regret about the past, or anxiety about the future. I ran another 5.5k barefoot today and I was deeply involved in the process. I stepped on a pebble every time my mind drifted, which instantly transported me back to now.

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life, Commander Chris Hadfield eloquently discusses how enjoying the process is hugely important to him. Commander Hadfield had all these amazing experiences as a fighter pilot, test pilot and finally as an astronaut. But imagine if his only goal in life was to fly on a shuttle mission and that he didn’t make it? So when I feel it is time to race, I will be more involved in the day-to-day process and less concerned about the end goal. I think that’s also a good approach to life.

Here are a few links that helped me get more involved in the process of running.

1. I am using the 100-Up technique to train my body and brain to run differently.

2. Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis, two of Canada’s best marathoners put together this little training video. I like it because Eric and Reid clearly explain the purpose of each drill.




Learning to run on my midfoot

I have a confession to make: I’m a heel striker. Rather than landing gracefully on my midfoot, I crash into the ground heel first on every stride. Okay, not when running uphill. And it’s probably not that bad when I’m just out for a slow jog. But the faster I run, the more exaggerated my heel strike becomes.

Heel striking may have contributed to my injury in early April. I was in the best shape of my life and I figured I was capable of running a 1:17 half marathon in Vancouver. I did an amazing workout on a Thursday morning, and on Friday my left knee barely permitted walking. It is impossible to know exactly what caused my injury, but suffice to say it was the accumulated stress of not only the mileage I was doing, but how I was doing it. I ramped up my mileage two weeks before I got injured. Maybe that was a mistake. Perhaps I wasn’t doing enough stretching or strengthening?

After a few days of denial and torturous debate with myself, I decided to pull the plug on Vancouver and focus on recovery. Every runner knows how painful it is to make that choice. My decision was made easier on account of up coming travel plans. I will spend June and July at Lornah Kipligat’s High Altitude Training Centre in Iten, Kenya. And I don’t want to show up hurt!

In preparation for my trip I read Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn, a fantastic book documenting the author’s experience in Kenya. In his book, Adharanand describes how he transformed from a heel striker to running on his forefoot. His primary technique was running barefoot.

A week into my recovery I decided this is my opportunity to rebuild, rather than just recover. Like Adharanand, I too want to arrive in Iten with a proper running style. I hope my new technique will reduce injuries and improve my running efficiency. I am currently in the fourth week of my rebuild. I initially experimented on the treadmill running only a few minutes at a time. My calves screamed with the unfamiliar stress. My rebuild will take patience. Too much too soon and a torn calf muscle is surely the consequence.

Last week I got frustrated with not being able to run longer than 15/20 minutes at a time. So I laced up the old trainers and did a few 10/15 km runs. And that was a mistake. My pea brain can’t handle both running styles. So from now on, only barefoot running until I have built up the required lower leg musculature. Only then will I introduce racing flats, and then progress to heavier trainers.

Yesterday (Sunday), I did 5k in the local school yard and I had no residual calf soreness this morning. Since today is a school day I decided to relocate to a grass/dirt trail near my house. After 1.5k of running I landed on a sharp twig and it hurt like a sonofabitch. Fortunately no damage was done. Not wanting to risk acute injury, I decided to complete my run on the adjacent asphalt path. That got a bit uncomfortable on the soles of my feet which aren’t sufficiently calloused to handle the friction of pavement. So I put my socks on. And I think I have discovered what may be the best minimalist shoe on the planet: a $1 pair of sport socks. I managed 5.5k, and as expected, I finished with tight calves.

A strong head wind picked up near the end of my run today. Leaning into the wind, my legs turned over effortlessly. For the first time in a month I felt like a champion.

The experiment continues.