Friday, November 27, 2009

2009 Reflection and 2010 Goals

Year in Review
I make this blog post as this is really the end of the season for me. In December, the season starts up again, where I will be ramping up my mileage and distance in preparation for races early in the New Year. 2009 was an emotional year. The year started off with me being depressed with my knee injury and my running future was very uncertain. However, by the end of 2009, I was racing faster than ever and setting PBs all over the place.
What a year.
2009 would be a year where two things would become my staple: the Sunday long runs and the Tuesday Night Workouts (TNW). Early Sunday mornings - without fail - became the standard time to do the long run, and if I had to, I was dedicated enough to wake up extremely early to get it done. One Sunday in the Summer I did my 3 hour run from 4am to 7am. Not because I wanted to, but because that was the only time I could fit it in. With having a family and a job, finding time for running is difficult, and you have to know that getting in the mileage will not be on any set routine. I was proud of my Sunday mornings this year, and hope that this established trend continues into 2010.
The TNWs also became routined. I was a genuine Prairie Inn Harrier this year, and committed to 90% of the workouts. I went whenever I could, and feel that my speed and my fitness really benefited from these. From now on, I bleed red and black. I loved the TNW and loved what benefits it brought to me. Thank you to my training partners Shane, Gary, Garth, Buddy, Andrew for pushing me to new heights this year.
2009 was also a year of accomplishment. No, I still have not found that elusive 1st place podium that I desire, but I did finish in 2nd...and on more than one occasion. I know that my time will eventually come. However, 2009 would be the year that the 40k Nootka Trail was completed. This would be the final coastal Vancouver Island Trail completion for me. Now I can officially say that Bob Wall and I were the first people ever to have run the 4 major coastal trails of Vancover Island - and that, cannot ever be taken away from us.
2009 would also end up being a year that I would "break out". I didn't know it was happening at the time, but all of a sudden in late August/early September, I was suddenly faster. I don't know how and I don't know why, but the change was noticeable. And not just by me, but also by my training partners. Now, some people out there will certainly ask me "what exactly did you do to get faster?", and for this, I don't have a clear cut answers, but I do have some theories.
See my earlier blog posting on these ideas.
The fall of 2009 was especially impressive for me. The performances went as follows:
Aug. 22nd - 47k JdF Trail Run - Time: 6:01 (24 minute improvement from 2008). 4th place. Sept. 19th - 56k GLW Race - Time: 4:47:55 (24 minute improvement from 2008). 2nd place.
Nov. 1st - Shawnigan 1/2 Marathon - Time: 1:24:17 (Personal Best). 3rd place.
Nov. 11th - 20k Thetis Relay - Time: 1:15:55. 2nd place solo runner.

2010 Goals
I have some lofty goals for the upcoming season. I am running well right now, so my expectations of what I can accomplish has also increased. I am also hoping to complete a few standard 50k ultras, and also one 2010 epic trail run. I have signed up for some events already next year and here are my goals:

5k - sub 18
8k - sub 29:30
10k - sub 38
Half - sub 1:24
Full - sub 3 hours
50k - sub 4 hours

Now, off-season training continues for another 2 weeks, and then I start ramping things up for the racing season in January.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Off-Season Training - Nov. 20, 2009

So, I am taking 5 weeks off right now to focus on strength and rehab. My achilles is my main focus for this off-season, as I need to get it back to 100% before January arrives. It hasn't been killing me over the past few months, but it has been nagging.
I also can help but think of where I was last year at this time, and I was injured with my knee. It has been so great to finish the year off so strong...and I want to remain that way, running fast and enjoying the sport.
Therefore, I thought that over this off-season period, I would do lots of core and strengthening exercises, as I kinda did last year. I still am committing myself to running 2 times per week: the TNW interval training and a Sunday morning 20-26k long slow run.
With the mileage drop, and doing some achilles-rehab specific movements I am hopeful that things will get better in the short term.
The idea is to take this off-season program to about mid-December, and then ramp everything back up to my usual 4 days of training, in preparation for the Orcas Island 50k, in early February.

This is the way my off-season program has gone thus far:

Sunday - 13k - Goose Loop (set training PB time)
Tuesday - TNW
Thursday - 30 min Spin Class
Friday - 35 min Spin Class
Sunday (planned) - 20k easy run.

Everyday throughout, 20 minutes of core/strengthening work. The main exercise is the slow double leg calf raise, e-drop to an achilles bounce x 30.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thetis Lake 20k Relay - Nov. 11, 2009

Something can be learned from every race, and today was an example of just that. Since the Shawnigan 1/2, I hadn't done a whole pile of mileage leading up to this race. With only 10 days inbetween the two events, I figured just to cool it off a bit and to rely on my base training to get me through this run.
I felt pretty good on the day, but as was the case before, I arrive to the race only 10 minutes before the race start. There are advantages and disadvantages of carpooling!
I quickly ran up to the tent and did the official 'check-in'. I then said a quick hello to a couple fellow running club members, and began the truncated warm-up. Rumours were swirling that the lake loop was not 5k, as advertised, and people had been saying that it was more like 4.5k in distance. In any event, the distance is fairly irrelevant, as in cross-country racing, it is more about placement rather that time. I had chose to run the full 20k solo this year. Most runners were teamed up in 4's and were doing the usual 4 x 5k relay. I did know of a couple of fast guys who were also doing the solo mission, so it was up to me now to run a consistent race.
The race began and I was close to the front of the pack, heading up the paved hill. A few slim tri guys hammered out ahead, and I found my position nicely behind two running partners, Shane Ruljancich and Chris Callendar. The pace was comfortable along the mucky trails. It was easy to get caught up going way too fast when most of the guys are doing only 5k, but I felt good in the early going. At the 1k point, I observed Shane's coach, Paul O'Callahan, warning him not to go too fast. I was there too, so I heard it as well. Shortly thereafter, my shoe lace came undone. I thought to myself ,"I am such an idiot". Shane joked with me and said that some day he would show me how to tie my shoes the right way. Chris told me to stop and tie my shoe. So against much resistance, I stopped and tied my shoe up. A couple of young guys passed me, but I just wanted to get my shoe done up, and done well. The only thing worse that having your shoe lace come undone after 1k in a race, is to have it come undone a second time.
The pit stop was quick, and I think it only was about a 20 second stop. I then found my pace again and carried on. I noticed a short while on that Chris and Shane were not that far ahead. I maintained things and eventually got back to the rear of Chris once again. The trails were still mucky, and the hills were undulating. It was near perfect cross-country conditions.
As I passed Chris at the 3k mark, he applauded my early effort and commented that I looked strong. He was right, I did feel strong. Shane now was still within eyeshot, but I had no intention of catching him. He is quite the speedster, and in another league to me.
At this point in the course, I was surprised to find quite so many nasty hills. I had run the course, but years and years ago. In total, I think I have run at Thetis Lake Park only 4 times, and never in this particular area. So three nasty uphills hit me unexpectedly, and it took quite alot outta me to finish them without walking. I did not anticipate needing such determination so early in the race. "Only 3 more times up these hills," I told my myself. :)
The good news was that I survived the hills quite well the first round, and now I opened up the legs on the downhill and caught a runner infront of me. Now rounding the final corner, I could hear the eager crowd cheering for the leaders way out in front. Along the final straight section, which was sandy beach, I could see Shane only about 10 seconds infront. I checked my watch and it was just above 17 minutes.
My goal time for the 5k loop was 20 minutes (and this 4 min/km pace was very ambitious over 20k of hill/trail distance). Since this was 4.5k, I figured 18 minutes would be fast. So, 17 minutes was actually too fast, and as I rounded lap #1, my heartrate was crazy high. This would have been an excellent 5k loop for me...only problem: 3 laps to go.
My time so far was nothing short of phenomenal. But things could not have been a whole lot worse at this point. Crappy warm-up, started way too fast, shoe lace undone, unexpected hills and now a heart rate and breathing rate that was through the roof. The only way I was going to finish this thing, let alone do well, was to now use my brain.
So I consciously decided to slow down and calm myself down. I figured even if I could do a 20 minute loop here on lap #2, that I could still set myself up for a decent time and placement. I really needed to recover here. And that is exactly what I did.
I spent the next 3k (the easier half of the course) basically recovering into a comfortable pace. My heart rate was down and I was now relaxed for the very first time. I took the hills in stride and survived them quite well actually. Lap #2 would elapse in 20 minutes, a much slower time than the first loop, but the difference was that I was relaxed and felt that I had at least another 2 loops in me.
Lap #3 began the way the last lap did, with a few relay runners hammering by me initially, only to have me catch them again by the 3k point. I was side-by-side with a relay runner who wore a "Westwood Lake Team" shirt, but I eventually caught him just before the hills. The hills once again were difficult, but again, they were not going to stop me. I passed a couple people who were now walking up the hills - these people must be people who I was now lapping.
I picked up the pace again for the final stretch and hit the beach section on stride. To my pleasant surprise, my wife, Janelle, and my son, Griffin, were there cheering me on enthusiastically. I rounded the finishing bend and headed out for my final loop. Loop #3 was also close to 20 minutes.
With only 1 loop to go, I picked up the pace slightly for the first stretch. The first bit was easier, so I figured I had to make my pace count on the easier section. I knew Shane was miles ahead of me (and he was doing the solo), but I didn't know if any other solo guys were infront. The nature of this particular event (and all the divisions within it) is that it is incredibly difficult to know where everyone is at any given point. I did figure however, that I was in 2nd or 3rd, and that there could have easily been a person or two fairly close behind.
I had a pretty good energy for the final loop and once again, the hills would not beat me. I got to the top of them and now I knew that nobody was going to pass me from here on the final 1k. I could hear the cheering of the finish well ahead, and I picked up my pace to be a part of the celebration. Up ahead I saw a young guy going with a fairly good pace, and I made it my goal to beat him. So I dropped the hammer. Not known for a finishing kick, I kicked it as best as I could and took the guy by surprise. He responded with a sprint of his own and now it was all out for the finish line. I didn't know if this guy was running solo or not, but I wasn't gonna take any chances. We equalled stride for stride now and both crossed the finish line at the exact same time: 1:15:55.
The finishing time was well below my goal time of 1:20. However, the course was also shorter by about 2k. I would end up finishing in 2nd place in the solo division (5 minutes behind Shane), and I am very satisfied with that placing. In fact, there were no solo runners behind me by minutes. Overall it was a tie for 14th place out of 149 teams.
Full results are here.
I had many things go wrong for me initially, but as always, I battled on and did not give up, and I am pleased with my final lap time of 19 minutes. I used my running smarts to adjust to things that occurred at the end of the first lap and I benefited from that.
However, I have learned not to start too fast (yes, I have said that before so maybe I haven't learned!) and also not to be caught up by the relay nature of things.
This is my final event of 2009, and now begins the much anticipated off-season training schedule and Achilles recovery plan. Details to follow in the weeks ahead.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shawnigan Lake 1/2 Marathon - Nov. 1, 2009

The training since the Great Lake Walk has been going great. My Tuesday Night Training sessions have been noticeably faster over the past few months, and I am now close to the top of my training group. I was also reassured a couple weeks ago in training when I was able to complete my usual Oak Bay 13k loop 2-3 minutes faster than my PB, and also another time when I was able to hold a 4 min/km pace for a 28 k training run. To sum it up, I am faster.
So the big question is why and how did I get faster? And to this, I haven't got a firm answer, but I have a few insights.
#1 - Intensity. I put 110% into my training sessions and have been doing so for quite some time. I think my training partners can tell that I am an "all-business" type of athlete.
#2 - Physiology. I firmly believe that finally my body is changing into a runners build, both inside and out. It takes some time to develop physiologically and in time, benefits can be seen. I think I am seeing some of those benefits now.
#3 - Forefoot strike. I have been trying to get away from heel-striking my way through runs, and changing it more to a forefoot strike. I have had a few shorter training runs, where I am strictly focusing on the strike.
So, all these factors led me to believe that this would be a good race for me. However, as good as my training had been up to the race week, the final week was downright awful. With coaching so much in the past couple of weeks and with my family members (1 by 1) getting sick, I simply haven't had the time to get my runs in. Last weekend, I did a 2 hour treadmill run instead of my usual long-slow Sunday run. The week leading up to Sunday's race, I was working on 7k of mileage for the week. However, I still felt confident that the base training was all in there.

Run Day
I got up at the usual time and got my gear all ready and walked 2k to the carpool rendezvous point. I carpooled up to the race with fellow run club members Gary Duncan, Claire Morgan, Julie Van Veelan, John Catterall, and 2 other new faces. Time was tight and we got to the race with only 15 minutes to spare. I jogged up to the registration desk and pinned my number on as quickly as possible, then headed down to the start line (which was another 600m away). As I got in a last minute warm-up, I scoped out who was in the race. Looked like a few fastees, but mostly a recreational field.
The race then started abruptly, with no apparent count down. I pulled out ahead and stuck to the right side of the pavement. For the next 7k, the course followed W. Shawnigan Road, which is known for its undulating hills. In a span of seconds, Hugh Trenchard sped ahead and took his pace. He was not to be denied this day, as he was the lone elite in the race. However, I was in second and another runner (Frontrunners guy by the name of James Sandquist) was right behind me. This would be the placings for the first 5k. And in those first 5k, I ran well. I seemed to gain a bit of distance on James going up the hills, but would lose the distance back on the downhills. I also didn't see any kilometre markers until the 5k sign, so I had no idea of exactly what my early pace was, but I did know it was a fairly strong pace. At the 5k sign, I was reassured of my gut-feeling when I saw my watch hit 19:00. At about that point, the course went downhill for a while and that is when James went ahead. I had no intention of going with him, as I was comfortable where my pace was. I joked in my head and told myself that 3rd place is pretty awesome anyways. I could head nobody behind me and it seemed that by the 7k mark, Hugh Trenchard was minutes out in front and James was now barely in sight.
At 7k, the course then headed right onto trail. The trail would be similar to the gravel parts of the Galloping Goose Trail, and I welcomed the change in terrain. However, just as I was thinking how nice it was to be on the gravel, it also occurred to me that the same kind of pace would be hard to hold on a softer surface. It was a little wet out as well, and there was a little 'slip-back' factor with the toe push part of the stride.
Hugh Trenchard then came running towards me. I guess this was an out-and-back part of the trail and I was supposed to stick to the side. So I did. James was not all that far behind Hugh, and it surprised me how much ground James had opened up on me. I finally hit the 8k turn-around and sped back the other way to follow the leaders. At that time, I was completely surprised to see Gary Duncan who was only about 20 seconds behind me. My focus had been on the two guys infront of me and I totally forgot that there were others in pursuit on my tail. I did my best to find a comfortable pace on the trail, and at the same time, not let the pursuers catch me.
At the 10k mark, I was bang on 39:00. My pace on the trail was right on a 4 min/km pace, which is where I wanted it to be. However, as good as this was for me, I figured Gary was probably slightly faster than that, and I did expect him to be passing me soon.
At the half-way mark, I was at 41:20. I knew at this point that posting a wicked time was definitely possible, just provided I could hold the tempo down. At this pace, a 2 minute PB would be in the cards.
Until km 15, I maintained a 4 min/km pace on the trail and with each step, I was becoming less of a fan of the trail. I felt that my energy was sagging somewhat and I just told myself that 6k was not really that far to go (less that 1/2 an hour of more running). At km 16, there is another turn-around spot and once again, I saw both Hugh and James, who were still well ahead in the 1-2 position (Hugh was exactly 1km ahead of me when I hit the 16k mark).
At this point, I know I slowed down somewhat. I was tired of the trail, and was fully expecting someone to be right on my tail. However, as I completed the next turn-around, Gary was behind me, but was no more closer than he was before. I knew that if I could put in a good kilometre here, I would be hard to catch on the final stretch. Gary too, was quite a ways up on 5th place. I thought to myself, the worst I will do today is 4th.
I finally made it to the 17k mark and got back onto the pavement. Thank God. The pavement felt so good on my feet, and I then put my road shoes to good use. I felt awesome now and put in a couple solid 3:50 kilometres. Tangenting was good in this stretch and I pissed off a car or two by cutting across the road. I checked out my watch and estimated my final time now as being low 1:23's. But, apparently things would not be quite so easy...
At the 19k mark, I was not surprised to see the course go uphill. I knew that the finish line was at the back of Shawnigan Lake School, and this meant that it was at the top of a hill. What I didn't know however, it exactly at what elevation I was right now at the 19k marker.
Well, the course went up for quite a ways. It went up and then rounded a corner and went ever more up. Wow. What a crazy finish to a race I thought. While I was dreading the uphill that I was on, I figured that Gary, nor anyone else would be able to catch me going uphill. (I know I am a pretty decent climber).
At the 20k mark, the course flattened out a bit, but only for about 100m before the uphills came again. Again, I could not believe who designed this nasty finish for a race. I rounded a couple more corners and hammered into the finish at 1:24:17.
Well, I did do it. I set a PB (by over 1/2 a minute) on a pretty nasty course. I finished in 3rd place overall, 1st in my age-division and finally beat Gary Duncan on a road race. All good things.
I am definitely running fast these days and this was a breakthrough performance for me.

Next up for me is to solo the Thetis Relay. 20k of muddy trails with a million runners all over it. I think if all goes well I could do it in 1:20. Hopefully I will stay healthy and strong until then.
After that race, it will be some time off to recover my Achilles which has been bothering me significantly over the last little while. I want to start 2010 off on the same note as this last race.