Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

What does it take to finally run a strong marathon and earn a shoe in the process!

Was it a perfect race, no. But yesterday at the Hamilton marathon I finally ran the marathon I’ve been trying to run since fall 2015. You can tell from the expression on my face it didn’t come without effort, but I’m very happy with the result.


HamiltonFinishPrevious marathons

I always liked 5 km and 10 km races. I blame my sister Judy and my friend Christopher for putting marathon ideas in my head, eventually I decided to give it a try.

  • Spring 2014, I ran 3:53:05 at my first marathon in Ottawa. I was thrilled because that got me into Boston 2015. I ran it in 4:05:43. I was happy. It’s a tough course, I didn’t push it, I wanted to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy the experience.
  • Philadelphia 2015 I tried for a sub 3:50 and ran 3:51:47. I was happy to have a PB but a little frustrated trying to learn how to run this marathon thing. I tried again at Grandma’s marathon 2016. It’s a fast course but unfortunately it was miserably hot and I finished in 4:07. No fall marathon in 2016 due to hamstring issues.
  • Spring 2017 I ran Boston 2 Big Sur, which mean two marathons in 2 weeks so suffice to say I did not try for a personal best, each race was over 4 hours. But, it gave me more confidence in my strength on the longer distances. New York City 2017 was my third attempt to break 3:50, trying to follow the pace bunny was a bit of a disaster, and I gave up on the pacer at km 26, I did hold on to run a PB 3:49:19 but it wasn’t pretty.

 

  • Spring 2018 I ran the Vancouver marathon with a goal of 3:45. I still don’t know what exactly went wrong, probably heat? I’ll never know for sure. Suffice to say I felt great at the start was on pace for my 3:45 and it all fell apart at 21 km. I finished in 4:05:30 bitterly disappointed. My fall race was Chicago, a fast course, In January I had visions of 3:45 in Vancouver and 3:40 in Chicago. but after the disaster that was Vancouver, I needed a morale boost. So I decided to just try and run a strong sub 4. I had a great race, felt strong the whole way, finished in 3:52:30 smiling.
  • Spring 2019 I was back in Boston, it was warm, first run in shorts since November. This is not the day to try and PB, so I set a simple goal of running my first sub 4 in Boston. It was close but I powered through the last km to finish in 3:59:25.

Working towards the goal

Through all four years, all my times on the track, and in shorter distances indicated I could run a marathon faster. I just couldn’t make it happen. People running with me on the track were posting sub 3:40 times. Why was I struggling so much just to break 3:50? The marathon is cruel that way 🙂 it teases you. You know you can do it faster, but you only get a couple of shots at that distance a year and I think that’s part of the appeal. It’s a challenge to run a marathon *well*.

I trained hard every season, I cross-trained, I did hills, I did speed work. 2019 things seemed to be coming together.

I was running well on the track, but I generally do run well on the track. That’s where I look the fastest compared to other distance runners. But, I was hitting some sub 7 minute 1600s. that was new.

canadaDayRandyI decided to take a serious shot at breaking 45 minutes on a 10 km. My current PB was 45:03.  I always had a mental block with the idea of running sub 4:30 kms for 10 km. I picked my race, I even did a ‘run your fastest 10 km’ 6 week training plan leading up to race day. I got my friend Randy to pace me. I jogged the route three days before the race to learn the hills and turns. Race day was not perfect. It was warm. But with some help from Randy, I left it all on the course and finished in 44:36. (as an added bonus I was 5th woman overall, I sneak in the occasional age group placing, but I’m not usually in the top overall).

So could I beat my 5 km PB? That requires a PB friendly race. There’s a 5 km in New Brunswick near my parents place, called the Joe McGuire race that is flat and fast! My dad drove me out while I was visiting, there was a little bit of wind, and it was a touch warm, but I managed to finish in 21:33 beating my previsou PB of 21:47.

armyPacerSo now I had the strength from my marathon training and my legs were remembering how to run fast. Could I put it all together? My fastest half marathon was a 1:46, which I *knew* I should be able to beat. I went out with the 1:45 pace bunny and posted 1:43:20 at the Ottawa Army Run in September and felt good the whole way. You can tell I am having a good race when I have the energy to goof around with the race photographers trying to give my pace bunny bunny ears.

Can I produce the results I want at a marathon?

The Hamilton marathon is advertised as a fast course. It has a downhill from 22 – 28 km. I struggle the most mentally from 21-32 km so this worked in my favour. The biggest issue with Hamilton is actually the long downhill. A lot of runners find it beats up their quads. One of the things I worked on after my first Boston marathon was my downhill running. I now take pride in begin a strong downhill runner. In fact I ran a leg at the Peak 2 Brew relay race which was 10 km continuous downhill with an average 6% decline this summer. I figured it would be good preparation for Hamilton. I trained for it and even  with the training, it took me 4 weeks to fully recover from that 10 km downhil run, but the training did 100% pay off! I pass a lot of runners on downhills now and it’s very satisfying.

ElevationProfileHamilton

I also knew that my best times always came at fall races. Training in winter and racing in spring does not lend itself to personal bests. It’s hard to run fast in winter on icy and snowy roads, and if you get a hot day for your spring race, you aren’t acclimatized and it can really mess you up. Whereas if you train through the heat in the summer, then you feel really fast when it cools off in the fall.  You do also learn from every marathon you run, even those where you are disappointed with your results. Even if a marathon does not go well the training you put it does build and make you stronger for the next one.

Okay so back to Hamilton… It’s a fall race, I’ve set PBs on 5km, 10km, 8 km, 15km, and 21 km already this year. It’s a fast course. It’s time to run that sub 3:45! I decide to follow a pace bunny since I know my Garmin runs a little fast (i.e. it will read 1.0 km when we are at .98 or .99 kms). I figure if I feel good maybe I’ll even try to pick it up at 37 km and get under 3:44.

zebrawarmupgearMy sister and I hit the thrift shop for our traditional keep warm at the start throwaway clothes (matching zebra outfits this year!)

But wait there is no 3:45 bunny in Hamilton. It’s a small race, there’s a 3:50 and a 3:40. Uh oh. Runnign with a 3:50 and then taking off to get under 3:45 sounds risky. Well, I guess it’s time to see what these legs can do. Let’s run with the 3:40 and see how long I can hold on!

The forecast is decent, not too hot, a little windy, but that’s okay, when you run with a pacer you can usually find someone to draft behind 🙂 I’m in the gynasium at the start line and I see someone holding the 3:40 sign. I walk over to ask his plan, will he walk water stops, will he run an even pace or negative split? He tells me he’s not the pace bunny, he was looking for the 3:40 pace bunny and they gave him the sign since the bunny forgot it. But he introduces himself to me, nice to meet you Julio and says “stay with him since I’ll get you there in 3:40”. We go to the start line. We can’t spot any 3:40 ears. He gets the announcer to ask the 3:40 bunny to come get their sign. At this point a half dozen other runners have come over to join us since he’s holding the 3:40 sign. Julio shrugs and says oh well, I guess I’ll be the 3:40 pacer.

Off we go, it turns out Julio has paced other races, including a recent 1:50 half marathon. He’s also run the Hamilton race before. He starts calling out to runners what to expect on the next stretch of the race and the planned pace. “we are 30 seconds ahead, we’ll lose time when we turn into the wind, but don’t worry we’ll get it back on the downhill at 22 km”.  He calls out the water stops. Since we had already chatted in the gym, I find myself running beside him chatting amiably.

An added bonus, one of my long run buddies Terry joins the pack! Terry has a goal of running 100 marathons before he turns 50! He will run 3 marathons in a month during peak race season. This is the first time we’ve been in the same race. Unfortuantely it’s end of race season, and 3:40 is too agressive given the strong race he ran at Petit Train du Nord and he drops off, but not before we get an official race picture together !

SusanTerryHighREs

At km 13 another runner says to me ‘ you can run faster than 3:40 if you are able to chat that much’. Julio and I laugh, One thing I have learned is that staying relaxed as long as you can really helps. If I can’t talk 15 km into a marathon I’m probably not going to hold that pace! I had the pleasure of doing track work with a guy named Jim who would hum and sing to himself doing speed work while my friend Henry and I panted along trying to keep up.  When I finally ran a race with Jim I discovered he does the same thing during the race, humming as he passes you. Whenever I find myself tightening up in a race, I try to channel my inner Jim, I won’t say I can sing and run a marathon at the same time, but I do try to smile, and relax.

Julio was wearing gloves and holding the sign, so I open his gel packs for him and we continue to chat, other runners occasionalyl come up to joiKanakoHappyRunnern us and chat as well.

I am feeling good and suddenly I see a spectator in a K2J shirt (there were very few spectators on this race) and it looks like… it is, it’s Kanako and her husband Face!!!  Kanako is another of my long run buddies. Neither she nor Face is racing this weekend, what are they doing here? I run over give her a hug and my spirits are buoyed. Kanako is another fast runner who is always smiling during races. She is constantly getting her race photos picked for race advertisements!

“Okay this next stretch will be windy, we will go a little slower here to conserve energy and we will make it up on the downhill” says Julio. I drop behind the shoulder of Julio or other runners for a good chunk of the 8 km stretch with the headwine. I move out front whenever we approach a water stop. They are short water stops. I am not carrying any water, and with the stops 3 km apart I want to make sure I take something at each stop.

We finally turn off the windy bit and to our shock the police directing traffic stop the runners to let the cars drive through. Frustrated we jog in place afraid of seizing up until he lets us through. I make the comment ‘hope no-one misses their target by 30 seconds because that would suck’ but I shake it off and try to relax, getting angry won’t help my race, and we have just arrived at the top of our 7 km downhill! I am in my happy place, we cruise down the hill and by the time we reach the bottom we have 20 seconds in the bank. I’m at km 28 and still on pace for a 3:40!

Of course the downhill is over now, but it’s flat. Lots of people told me the flat would feel really tough after that long downhill, but honestly I was okay, I think that downhill training paid off. I start thinking maybe I’ll actually pick it up at 37 km and run sub 3:40!

We started with about 20 runners in our 3:40 pack. Once we left the downhill it thinned out fast. By 31 km there were only four of us left. One guy said “I’m going to pick it up the last 10 km, anyone want to join?’ I said no thanks, I might go at 37, but not until then, a lot can happen in the last 10 km. (Foreshadowing?  or experience ?)

Km 32-36 were into the wind. I had dropped behind Julio’s shoulder, and the conversation had definitely dropped off. I was running out of steam. I used my strategy of dedicating each of the last 10 km to a different person who *cannot* run a marathon do to illness or injury and would love to trade places with me right now. Rita, James, Krissie, Jesse, Mel, Chris, Rosanna, Guy. At km 36 I gave Julio his last gel and he said okay that’s my last gel, take off, make your move. I replied weakly ‘I’m just trying to hold on’ . There were two of us still running with Julio and both of us were hurting. km 37-38 I thought of Randy helping me get through the last few km of that 10 km PB and how much that hurt  but I had held on. km 38-39 I thought of the friends I had who were diagnosed with cancer in the past month, what did I have to complain about.  (Side note: Cancer SUCKS!) The last water stop was at km 39, Julio was 100-200 meters ahead of me, The other guy had dropped off. I decided to walk about 20 steps at the water stop. First time I walked the entire race. I was struggling, but I was still passing people. Hey a few spectators – please cheer me on please!!!! What I would give for a familiar face to show up and run me through this last km right now! I’m counting off every 100 m in the last mile. We make the final turn toward the finish – 100 meters to go? and *F*K* it’s uphill into the wind, ” Seriously uphill and headwind” I said out loud completely miserable. “Yes but you can see the finish line” yelled the volunteer. I mustered what I could and I won’t say I sprinted to he finish but at least I didn’t slow down. 3:40:29! FYI Julio finished in 3:39:58 all alone, but I did find him in the finish tent to say thank you, he really helped me pass the miles, and I appreciated not only his pacing but his company!

JulioandSusanFinish

I feel like I finally ran a ‘good’ marathon. Could I have run faster? Not much! I certainly didn’t have anything left at the finish. I had run through the suck and held on to the end without completely falling apart. I didn’t just achieve my goal of 3:45 I had come within 30 seconds of my stretch goal (I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t been stopped at those traffic lights :))

A few years ago, I was congratulating Corey,  another K2J runner, on winning a race (yes 1st overall) with a PB and he said “well the pixies and fairy dust showed up’. I have always loved that phrase. You can train, you can prepare, you can do yoga or physio, you can eat right, but you also need the pixies and fairy dust to show up to get the performance you want on race day.

So thank you to all the running buddies who helped me learn to embrace the suck, to enjoy the good runs, to make sure you do a few races just for fun (Bay 2 Breakers anyone?)  to get through the crappy runs, to pick up the pace a little, to take a risk on race day, to appreciate every day you are not injured or sick because at least you *can* run, to run that optional 6th 1600m on the track, to drag yourself out there when you would rather stay in bed.  Thank you to all of you who kept telling me I could run a 3:40 and who will probably tell me I should now try for 3:35.  I’m good with the 3:40 for now thanks! Marathons are exhausting 🙂

Oh and with regards to the shoe… our running group K2J fitness has a K2J award, run a PB in a 5km, 10km, half and full in a 16 month period and you get to give them a shoe to have nailed to a piece of wood. It’s the highest award in our little running group. I love it because it’s all about achieving your *personal* best. It resets when you turn 50, 60, or 70 because at some point you have to accept you will slow down and you aren’t going to beat the PB you set at 25.  Setting lifetime PBs at the age of 49 feels pretty damn good, now if you will excuse me, it’s time go decide which expired running shoe to give the coach!pile of running shoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Army run 2019 – I love you BUT …

I am deviating a bit from my usual race report format, because this year the Army run made some big changes, and I wanted to touch on a few of them specifically while they are fresh in my mind.

This post is broken in two – WHAT I LOVED and WHAT YOU NEED TO FIX for next year.

What I loved

Partnering with OC Transpo

Having the ability to take OC Transpo to the start, instead of driving downtown and trying to figure out parking. I left my car at the Park N Ride in Fallowfield, hopped on a 95, got off at Pimisi and it worked great. On the way back, I took the O-Train to TUnneys Pasture (just so I could ride the O-Train), there were volunteers when I got on the O-train giving directions on where to baord, and volunteers when I got off the O-train letting us know which way to go to catch a bus or exit the station.

I ran the half marathon, so not having the LRT running until 8 AM really wasn’t a factor for me, and I just took the 95 all the way to the start. So it really didn’t bother me that OC transpo wasn’t in a position to open the LRT early. It was the first week of operations for the LRT after all.

The atmosphere of the race

Army run has a great atmosphere. Starting at the war museum and running through Beechwood cemetery all fit in well with that atmosphere. Personally, I don’t mind the extra hills on the route. This is not a good course to try and set a personal best (hilly, crowded, lots of turns), it’s a race to run and soak in the atmosphere. I still love the shirts. Cool hoodie style shirts for the Commanders challenge. Was nice to have the cannon back at the start line again this year. I adore the dog tag medals and all those touches that make the Army Run special.

The pacers

The pacers I met did a great job! Staying solidly on track for their predicted times. They even had their planned per km pace written on the signs, which was helpful for the 1:45 since the two pacers took different approaches, one did a 4:59/km pace, the other did a 4:55/km pace. So depending on whether you wanted to be aggressive or conservative you could pick your pacer.  Thank you, I met my race goal, and the pace bunnies helped with that.

Port-a-potty lines

For a race this size, I was impressed with how short the lines were! I just kept walking towards the back of the corrals until I found a shorter line. And my stops pre and psot race they still had toilet paper. Thank you.

WHAT YOU NEED TO FIX for next year

Okay, that’s all the good stuff, now I have to bring up some of the problems. There were some issues with the new location and route, that if not addressed will affect whether or not I recommend this race to others in the future.

Signage at the race expo and start area

I know that Friday noon is a madhouse to pick up bibs, so I specifically went at 2:30 PM Friday. It was nice and quiet. Due to construction traffic was a mess, but that’s not something the Army run can control. I found a parking spot on the street near the war museum and grabbed it, so I cannot comment on how parking worked if you drove into the actual museum grounds.

What I can say is once I got out fo the car, I had no idea where to go. There were tents and fences and people all over the place. But There were no signs outside saying Bib pick up this way – T-shirt pick up this way – Race Expo this way. Given that the bib expo was inside the museum, down the hallway, aroudn the corner, that would have been helpful. Then I was tol pick up your tshirt at the expo. Okay… so I figured out how to get to the expo and walked a loop around the expo but still could not find the t-shirt pick up, oh apparently I missed the little turn off 2/3rds of the way down the second tent which is a little tunnel that takes you to the t-shirt pickup. Again SIGNAGE PLEASE! Honestly, it took so long to figure out where everything was that I spent absolutely no time in the expo itself. I have been known to spend money in race expos buying shoes, sunglasses, shirts, gels, I didn’t even look around, I was so focused on trying to figure out where the heck to get my shirt. When I did get my shirt, I just wanted to get out of there before rush hour traffic set in.

Bag check

Signage on where to find bag check would have been nice as well. Once again I arrived with a bag, and no idea where to go. I did find a volunteer who told me it was where I picked up my t-shirt. So the volunteer was helpful, but really some basic signage would go such a long way!

It was a bit confusing when I dropped off the bag, do I ahve to drop it off a the booth with my race distance? OR can I drop it off with any of the volunteers?  It felt like you were supposed to go to the booth for your distance, but of course all the half marathon runners were dropping off bags aroudn the same time and the other volunteers had no-one coming up to them… you know what would be helpful? signage or a volunteer at the entrance letting you know the scoop.

I did not have a very long line for bag pick up or drop off, and the volunteers were great, but I did have friends doing Commanders Challenge and some of them were unable to get their bag between races. That’s not good! If you set the expectation that I can get my bag between races, and then I can’t get it… that’s a bigger problem than just telling me hey don’t expect to get your bag between races.

Hand cycles mid-race

I am 100% supportive of hand cycles and wheelchair racers! I also think it’s great to have people of all different levels of ability running the race, slow fast, doesn’t matter, you did it! good for you! You rock!

I don’t remember this problem before, but maybe it just happened to be around me, but I caught up to a couple of hand cycles around Beechwood cemetery. They were slower than me going up the hill. They were faster than me going down the hill. Faster than me and everyone else around me. This meant cries of “cycle on your left, cycle on your left” were a regular occurrence for about 8 km as we would pass him on the uphill, and he would pass us on the downhill. Of course the hand cycle was near the curb and lots of runners were running along the edge of the road (it’s a popular place to run for cutting corners, or just to find space on the road). Some runners heard us when we yelled out cycle on the left, some did not. We would yell over and over, and sometimes we had to jog over and tap a runner on the shoulder because they were in the zone, or just wearing headphones. Frustrating as it was for us, it must have been even worse for the hand cyclist who must have been constantly adjusting speed to avoid hitting someone.

The 5 km finish

A friend of mine had 2 kids running the 5km, he went to the finish to watch them run in and what he saw was a solid wall of people. You could not actually run to the finish line. I quickly did the math and wondered what happens when the fast 10 km runners start coming in to that mess? I gather things cleared up engouh or they made a path to the side for the 10 km finsihers zooming in which is good, but wow that 5 km finish was a mess!

The water stops

Okay I’m torn about mentioning this one. The volunteers at the water stops were great! They made sure you knew if they had Nuun or water. There were a good number of water stops on the course, and there was a sponge station and misters. ALL OF THIS I APPRECIATED THANK YOU! It was hot, and it all helped.

It was a little tricky to get water at some of the stops, and I wasn’t in the thickest pack of runners. There were a few water stations that were only on one side of the road, and the number of tables and how spread out they were seemed to vary. SO if it’s possiblew to have water stops on both sides of the road for all water stops and spread the tables out a bit more so we have a little mroe space to grab a cup that woudl be great. But this isn’t a MUST fix, this is a “if you want suggestions on how to improve this is somethign that could be even better.” I’ve seen WAY worse at other races.

Summary

So hey Army Run – I am sure you are getting feedback from other runners. There were some issues with the new location, but I think you can fix a lot of it with a little planning. These types of issues can really discourage someone who was doing their first race, or will make them look to other races instead. I hope we hear in the news about ‘improvements’ for 2020.

Sincerely – a 5 time Army run 1 time Commanders Challenge runner who has frequently convinced others they should run the race and wants to continue doing that in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trekz Air Aftershokz Headphones review

Air AfterShokz bluetooth bone conduction headphonesIn this post I will review Trekz Air AfterShokz Headphones. These are bluetooth, bone conduction headphones.

When I started training for half and full marathons I wanted to run with music and podcasts for those long runs. But no matter what earbuds I tried they fell out, or my arm would catch on the cord and pull them out of my ears.  Eventually I gave up.  Then Garmin announced watches that could store Spotify playlists.  Music without carrying a phone! Now that’s tempting, but that requires Bluetooth headphones. I picked up the Garmin 645 (follow link for my review of the Garmin) and some Aftershokz Air – Bluetooth Bone Conduction headphones. Here’s my thoughts:

Running is safer with bone conduction headphones

Shows headphone position as above not in earBone conduction headphones vibrate against your cheekbones instead of broadcasting the music into your ear. This makes them fantastic for running outdoors because they do not go in your ears. That means you can hear ambient noise and your music at the same time.  I can hear the birds chirping and my feet against the pavement. Most important I can hear a car coming.  Occasionally I have worn them on long runs with a friend, because sometimes at the end of the run we start to get spread out and I might end up running solo. Sometimes they don’t realize I am listening to music because I can still carry on a conversation at a normal volume level.

The importance of hearing ambient noise was reinforced for me this weekend at the 2019 Ottawa Army Run. There were a lot of hills and some of the wheelchair competitors would get passed on the uphills and then pass the runners on the downhills. It was a crowded race and we kept yelling out “wheelchair on the left” and there was inevitably one runner with in ear headphones who did not hear the other 10 runners yelling to them, finally someone would have to run over to them and tap them on the shoulder to get them to step aside. If you think that was frustrating for us when we wanted to focus on our race, I can only imagine what is was like for the wheelchair athlete who must have spent most of the race yelling out ‘on your left’.

Comfort

The headphones are nice and light, and it’s great not dealing with any cords.

Summer running – I run wearing a visor and sunglasses. On longer runs I do start to feel mild discomfort from the pressure on the back of my ears caused by the combination of pressure from my visor, my headphones and sunglasses (Love my Smith parallel Max 2 sunglasses with the rose coloured polarized lenses though I swap to the clear lenses for occasional night runs).

Winter running – Depending on how cold it is I wear anything from headband, to winter running hat, to neck warmer pulled up over my ears and hat on top. Headband and hat is not a problem, but when I pull the neck warmer up over my ears the band of the headphones sticking out the back is a little awkward.

Shows headphone band sticking out behind neckSitting around – I love them for the occasional conference call, washing dishes, or just walking around. If you are in a recliner or a train seat and have your head resting against the back of the seat you will find the back band of the headphone means you have to adjust the position of the headphones a bit to rest your head back comfortably.

Eating – because the bone conduction relies on contact with the bones, if you are chewing on something while listening to the headphones you will notice a variation in the sound while chewing as your jaw bone shifts.

Weather tested & durability

I have run in weather ranging from -20C to + 30C. I have run in rain and snow. Never had an issue. The newer version which I have is supposed to be more water resistant than the older versions (i.e. better when sweaty or raining). They do come with a warranty as well ( I was told if a pet dog decides to chew them up, they would still replace them, never tested that promise because I have cats, so I don’t know if the sales person was exaggerating :)) I do frequently jam the headphones into a pocket of my backpack or purse, so they don’t require careful care or attention. My son has an uncanny ability to destroy Bluetooth headphones with impressive speed so I bought him a pair of the older Aftershokz for his birthday, 20 months later they are still going strong. He likes the older ones because they come in nice bright colours: yellow, and bright blue. The newer ones are muted colours like navy blue and earth green.

Battery life

When I am going for a long run, I make sure to charge the headphones.  They last just fine through a 20 mile run. I have actually started wearing them more and more around the house, on travel days, while working.  According to the web site the batteries recharge fully in 2 hours and will play for 6 hours of continuous music.

They have a microphone too

Yes these headphones do have a microphone. So, one day, I decided to try and take all my conference calls with the headphones sitting at my desk. I did find that when I was sitting still the vibration of the bone conduction started to bug me after a couple of hours.  I never noticed it at all when running, only when sitting at my laptop and wearing the headphones for multiple hours. They are very useful when I am travelling and need to take a quick call from my phone or laptop and I have not had any complaints about the microphone quality from the people on the other side of the calls.

Sound Quality and Volume level

The sound quality is great, I can listen to them at a low volume in a quiet area with no problems at all. If you are in a noisy environment such as a train or public space it is much harder to hear anything in your headphones because of course since they do not go in your ears they do not muffle any ambient sound.

What feature is missing?

They have a volume control on the headphones, and I discovered the pause button by accident one day, but there are no controls for skipping a song. I have several running playlists, and sometimes a song comes on that isn’t quite what I want for that moment in my run.  I can skip a song by using the Garmin, but not with controls on the headphones themselves. I guess there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality. I do find these easy to use and easy to pair to my device. I pair them with my phone, my Garmin 645, and my laptop.

Summary

Well since I am sitting here listening to music with my headphones as I put the finishing touches on this post and have convinced two other runners to try them and they are both happy I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked. But I have listed the pros and cons as best as I can for you so you can make your own decision. Happy running!

 

 

Runner disaster stories: Wardrobe malfunction

Woman running in a race with two small kidsIf you run long enough, you will do something stupid or encounter some sort of running mishap. In this series, I’ll try to make you feel better about your own mistakes and occasional bouts of misery by sharing others tales of woe! Such as the previous post ‘The unfortunate incident of the improvised gel pouch

Today’s tale comes from Sheila and will remind female runners of the benefits of modern running gear!

The wardrobe malfunction

It was a very hot day and I was getting ready for a 10km race. I was picking out my race outfit. This was in the late 80s before Lululemon and general availability of sports bras. My old cotton bra was more breathable and also had a few holes to let the breezes so it seemed a better idea than the nylon one. I selected shorts and a suitable cotton race T shirt and headed out for the race.

At first, it seemed I had made the right decision. Unfortunately, as I ran, gradually the fastener at the back seemed to be getting looser and looser. The course was 5 km out and 5 km back. Shortly after the turnaround the fastener broke completely. The straps started to slip down my arms, poking out of the shirt sleeves, so I pushed them back up onto my shoulders.  Eventually the chest strap and cups themselves slipped far enough that everything under the shirt was loose and bouncing. The kilometers passed as the shoulder straps and I continued our endless game of slide down the shoulders and push them back up again. With great relief, I spotted the finish line. What better way to ensure I didn’t cross the finish with bra straps around my elbows: I crossed the finish line with my arms triumphantly raised above my head.

Runner crossing finish line with arms up

Who is Sheila?

Well among other things she’s my mom and she was quite the trailblazer in women’s road running. While these days there will often be multiple women competing for the podium in the 60+, 70, and 80+ age groups. When she was running, more than once race organizers had to add an age group because they did not expect any women her age in the race. She qualified for and ran her first Boston marathon the year she turned 65. In her own words:

I started racing when I turned 40, after three years of competitive orienteering convinced me I could run, though not as fast as eldest daughter Judy or my six-foot husband Tim. I have always liked exercise and the outdoors.

One of my favourite running memories is the Boston marathon. The hills did not seem alarming to a woman trained in Fredericton (note from Susan: Fredericton is a river valley and has no shortage of long, steep hills). The cheering students could have been my own (note from Susan: she taught at St Thomas University for over 20 years). Another favorite memory was having almost the whole family running a 10km in Montreal to celebrate my 70th birthday in 2008, finishing in the Olympic Stadium . Alas, Tim’s knee problems meant he could only meet us at the finish.

If you run or jog you may enjoy my other running related posts which include everything from a fun runners quiz, to practical tips, gear reviews, and race reports.

Runner disaster stories: The unfortunate incident of the improvised gel pouch

SusanRacingArmyIf you run long enough, you will do something stupid or encounter some sort of running mishap. In this series, I’ll try to make you feel better about your own mistakes and occasional bouts of misery by sharing others tales of woe!

Today’s story comes from yours truly, and involves my first race using gel/chews.

I started as a 5 km runner. 10 km races felt long. But, eventually, I decided to run a half. I trained. I ran the Toronto Goodlife half marathon, missing my time goal by 2 seconds! My running buddy suggested gels or chomps might give me that little bit of extra energy to hit my goal.

chewsI tried gels, but just couldn’t swallow the viscous liquid while running, so I tried the chewy gummy bear type energy chews. I particularly liked the berry flavored ones that I reminded me of Swedish Berries.

Every 8 km, I would take two or three chews. The chews provided an additional distraction as I spent the next 10 minutes of my run using my tongue to gradually remove the bits stubbornly stuck to my teeth. With these longer training runs, and hot summer weather, I also purchased my first water belt, complete with a pouch suitable for gels or chews.

Race day arrived. I picked up my bib, and was preparing to check my bag. I had my water belt around my waist loaded and ready to go. But, this was a major race (Ottawa Army Run) and there were plenty of water stops along the route. Did I really want to wear this big bulky belt the entire race as I chased my goal time and personal best?

Running Water belt

I could manage without the water, but I needed a way to carry the chews. No pockets in my running shorts, that would be too convenient, but well, as a female runner I did have an option not available to gentleman runners. Yup, I decided to toss the packet of chews into my running bra and threw the water belt into my gear check bag.

Off to my corral, wait for the cannon (they still used a cannon to signal the start at Army Run back then) and off I went. I was holding steady, and I have to say my improvised solution seemed to work just fine! I was able to get the water I needed at the aid stations, and aside from a few startled looks from other runners when I reached into my bra to pull out the package of chews, eveything was going to plan! I missed my time goal, but I now had two half marathons under my belt (if I can still use that expression given I left the water belt in my gear check). Surely the experience would get me there eventually.

I hobbled home and hopped into a much needed shower.

Side note: Some of you more experienced runners, likely anticipated what comes next, but remember I was new to distance running and to the sensation I would shortly experience.

As soon as the hot water hit my upper body I must have leapt 18 inches straight up into the air! Oh how it burns! It seems the edges of the package bouncing around against my chest caused a bit of chafing! I managed to move out of the spray zone, turn the temperatures down, and position myself to minimize the contact between shower water and two spectacular chafe marks on my chest.

Sketch of shower curtain and shower running and scream of Yikes from behind curtain

Ouch!

So – apparently chafing when running is a thing! Now, as an older and wiser runner, I have my go-to race belt which has a small pouch, elastic loops to hold gels, and bib clips. I also have considerably more experience with the burning sensation that tells me I need to up my anti-chafing regime.

Running belt with bib clips and pouch

Have you got a ‘not my brightest moment’ running story to share? Pass it along!

Happy running, and next time you have a ‘Doh!’ moment, remember, you are not alone!

Check out my other running related posts.

 

 

 

 

 

What to pack for Ragnar / Peak to Brew relay races

So you are headed out for a running relay race! Ragnar, Peak 2 Brew, regardless get ready for a race of a different type!

Ragnar  and Peak to Brew logos

To help you prepare, here’s a suggested packing list for you and your van mates

Before you pack anything, keep in mind, that when you have as many as 6 runners in a van and a driver that does not leave much space for luggage. Don’t use a suitcase, use smaller sports bags which can be packed more creatively in the van

Running gear

For each leg of the race you want:

  • 20180811_094029Running socks
  • Shirt or tank top
  • Running bra
  • Running shorts

It’s helpful to put your running clothes for each leg into it’s own bundle or Ziploc bag, so you can quickly find what you need when you need it. The Ziploc bag can also be used to store the sweaty running clothes after you finish a leg.

For running in general you want:

  • Running shoes
  • GPS Watch
  • Visor or hat
  • Hair elastic?
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Belt to carry cell phone and/or water
  • Water bottle (to carry or to drink in the van)
  • Headlamp for night run
  • Rear light for night run
  • Reflective vest for night run (most races require an actual reflective vest, a light up LED vest may not qualify)
  • Rain gear
  • Something to keep you warm if it cools off (overnight legs it may get colder)
  • Anti-chafing supplies?
  • Gels?

Don’t forget to charge or get fresh batteries before you leave

  • Headlamp
  • GPS Watch
  • Cell Phone (if running in another country do you want to ppre-purchase a local SIM or roaming plan?)
  • Any light up accessories

Van supplies for you

  • Towel to sit on when you hop in the van after a leg
  • Sandals or other shoes to change into after your leg (if you bring sneakers, you probably want clean socks as well)
  • Phone
  • Phone charger
  • Snacks to keep you going (it’s hard to have fun if you are hungry, what is easy to pack, won’t go bad in the heat, and will keep you going if you are hungry and there is no meal in sight)
  • Your preferred electrolyte drink
  • Cash – you may end up eating group meals and splitting costs, it’s easier if you have some cash on hand
  • Jacket you can wear if it cools off

Sleeping suppliesp2bnap

  • Mat (if there is room for it in the van)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Eye mask (the places you try to sleep will have people coming and going with light appearing and disappearing)
  • Ear plugs (even the cheap foam ones are better than nothing) – the places you try to sleep will have people chatting, runners coming and going rustling sleeping bags, etc…
  • Look up how to use vibrate on your GPS or watch to use as an alarm clock
  • In a perfect world, everyone would bring a nice comfy pillow, but realistically there is not going to be enough room in the van for everyone to bring a pillow, so bring a travel pillow or use your sports bag packed with clothing as a substitute

Van supplies for the team

Co-ordinate with teammates to make sure the van is stocked for the team:

  • 20180810_144139Garbage bags
  • Window markers suitable for writing on van
  • Any other supplies for van decorating – flags, ways to attach flags, etc…
  • Baby wipes to clean off the writing on the van when the race finishes and for wiping down the occasional runner as needed
  • Noise makers to cheer on your team mates
  • Foam roller or stick to loosen up between runs
  • Basic first aid kit (Band aids, blister band aids, Benadryl (for allergic reactions), Tylenol, antibiotic cream, gauze pads, tape, tensor bandage, Tylenol or equivalent)
  • Nail clippers
  • Kleenex
  • Toilet paper (in case of unstocked port-a-potty)
  • Water container to carry water for the team
  • Febreeze to get rid of that lovely sweaty runner smell?
  • Cooler
  • Cups (useful if you are going to do water stops for your teammates)
  • GPS with maps pre-downloaded

Making the most of storage space in the van

  • If anyone on your team has a roof carrier, that may provide extra storage space. Some mini vans have roof racks built in which can take a roof carrier
  • If you rent a mini-van check to see if there is any storage in the floors

Race specific documentation

Each race has specific maps and information you need during the race. Make sure each van has their own copy!

  • Clipboard & Pen
  • Maps (DO NOT assume you will have cell coverage throughout the course!)
  • Race book
  • Safety flags?
  • Paper maps
  • Spreadsheet of predicted finish times for each leg of the race

Clean up supplies

Some of the exchanges may have shower facilities, a little clean up can make you feel more human

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Towel for after shower

Non-Race related supplies

Are you staying in a hotel the night before or after the race? Do you want a change of clothes for the post-race celebration?

  • Change of clothes
  • Toiletries
  • PJs or whatever is appropriate depending on your sleeping arrangements (i.e. do you have a roommate?)
  • Sanitary napkins/tampons if you are unlucky with timing

Attitude

  • Have fun! Yes you will get tired, yes something will go wrong, someone might get a little grumpy at some point – write it off as hunger and move on. Take pictures, chat with other teams, enjoy a shared experience, eat some junk food, celebrate with a club soda, beer or wine at the finish!

 

Joe McGuire Race Report

The Joe McGuire race is a 5 km, 10 km race and 5 km walk in Woodstock, New Brunswick. It’s advertised as a flat, fast course. It does not disappoint.

Joe McGuire race swag

Who is Joe McGuire anyway?

Joe McGuire was inducted to the NB Sports Hall of fame in November 2009. As of 2019, he holds the record for New Brunswick’s fastest marathon at 2:27:51, which he set at the Halifax marathon in 1984. He also won the master’s division at the Boston marathon in 1985.  Not bad for a guy who says when he first started running to lose weight in 1977 could not run a mile and ran at night in the evening because he felt self conscious about having others see him run.

For me, this race has some personal meaning as well. My mum and dad were racing in New Brunswick at the same time as Joe. I often came along to run the occasional 5 or 10 km. I remember hearing Joe’s name when awards were presented at the end of the race. My father confirms that he was often bumped down a spot on the podium by Joe. When my dad was catching up with Joe at the race, they were reminiscing about exchanging greetings with Joe before he reached the turnaround of his first marathon, Joe had reached the turnaround and was running back. My dad wore his 1987 Joe McGuire race shirt to accompany me to the race today only just outdoing another gentleman in a 1988 Joe McGuire race shirt! If I got the math right since 2019 was the 33rd running of the race, the race only started in 1986!

The route

Joe McGuire Race routeYou start at the Woodstock fire station , run to the bridge, cross the river, run along the river on the north side, turn around and come back. The finish is NOT the same as the start line. The finish is on the far side of the bridge, which saves you running up the hill over the bridge at the end of the race. But it does mean you need to either take the shuttle back to the fire station, walk back to the start, or if you have a cheering team old enough to drive, they can drive the car to the parking lot at the finish. The 10 km route goes further down the river before turning around.

There was one water stop at the 5 km turnaround and another water stop at the 10km turnaround.

The hills

Because you don’t cross the bridge on the way back, this course is a net downhill. The last mile or so is uphill, but not too steep. The downhills are a nice incline, gentle and long enough they help your pace. I’ve shared the elevation chart  from my Garmin below:

Joe McGuire Race elevation chart

Fun for runners of all levels

This race brings out a mix of serious runners and community runners which is kind of awesome. This is evident when you look at the wide range of paces in the age group winners. In the 50-59 women of the 10 km, first place time was 40:04, 2nd place was 43:12, and 3rd place was 1:05:34. The women’s 40-49 first place time was 57:52. Curious if you would have placed in your age group in 2019, take a look at the 2019 results.  Everyone crossing the line receives a finisher medal, but no matter what your finish time, you should stick around until they post the age results, just in case! FYI – They present the awards after the last runner finishes.

Fast runners are likely coming out to run the race because it is a good course to set a Personal best (I set a 5 km PB here), and because the 10 km is part of the Run Trackie Superseries. and you can accumulate points towards the provincial standings.

What’s unique about the race

The medals are handed out by the race’s namesake: Joe McGuire himself.

DSCF5143

It’s a community race, so that means prizes, swag bag goodies, and post race snacks are often donates by local businesses. It’s wonderful how the local businesses support the race. In 2019 instead of a t-shirt you got a really nice coffee mug (pictured in the photo at the top of this post). First place male and female overall in each race got an embroidered race towel. 

There were draw prizes too. They draw the names ahead of time, so all you have to do is stop by the table to see if there is a prize with your name on it.

There were old-school engraved medals with the race name, year, age group, and finishing place for 1st through 3rd in every age group. I don’t see many medals engraved like that these days. The age groups were 10 years, but they had an under 14 age group and a 15-19 age group in the 5 km this year. (Kudos to the talented 12 year old who was first female in the 5 km race finishing in 20:11!)

Post race food

There were bagels, watermelon, oranges, and coffee. There were also Timbits and chocolate milk which made me happy.  Covered bridge Potato Chips also provided full size bags of chips at the finish line as well 🙂

Covered Bridge Potato Chips

 

Port-a-potties

There were 2 port-a-potties beside the start line and one port-a-potty in the finish area.

Parking

At the start line, you can park behind the fire station. Don’t park at the guest house across the street. There were guests whose cars were blocked in by runners.

At the finish line, there is a parking lot next to the finish area.

How did my race go?

If you are curious about my personal race, like several others at the race, I arrived hoping to run a personal best. I made sure to line up at the start line, since 4-5 seconds caught behind a slow runner can make a difference when trying to best your 5 km time.  At the last minute I realized there was no timing mat at the start, another reason to line up at the front if you have a time goal!  The race is chip timed but all times are gun time.

Thanks to adrenalin and downhill my first km was solidly sub 4 minutes. Suffice to say that did not last, but I was able to maintain a decent pace, until the turnaround point. Fortunately the slight headwind on the downhill was a tailwind on the uphill. I managed to finish wheezing with an 11 second PB. Mission accomplished, as an added bonus I won my age group, but it was the personal best I really wanted 🙂

If you enjoyed this post check out other race reports and running related posts

 

 

 

 

 

Training for your first marathon: practical tips to get you to the start line

raceexpoSo you registered for a marathon! Scary and exciting! In this post I’ll share some practical tips and tricks to get you through your training. After all, there is nothing a marathon runner likes to do more, than share advice with others running their first marathon (something you will soon find out, if you have not already).

1. Find a training plan that works for you

TrainingPlanA quick Google search will return a number of different marathon training plans. Hal Higdon, Hanson, etc… You can train for a marathon using any of these plans. Here’s a few things to consider when picking a plan.

  • How many weeks do I need to train? Most marathon training plans are 16 weeks long, if you have a good running base (can you go out the door tomorrow and run 15 km/10miles without being completely dead?) you can manage with a 12 week plan. For your first marathon I would recommend a 16 week plan so you can build up the mileage more gradually, but if you are reading this and your marathon ins 13 weeks away, then go find a 12 week plan and get going!
  • How many days a week will you realistically run? I’d recommend trying to run at least 4X a week if training for a marathon. You can train for a marathon with a 3x week plan, but it’ll be easier race day if you can manage 4 days a week. If you are looking to have a strong race you might have a 5X or 6X a week plan. The pros sometimes follow 9 day plans and run 8 days out of 9!
  • Is your marathon hilly? If so you probably want a training plan that includes hill training once a week. That said, I know there are many marathon runners who do not do any hill training because they have hills on their long runs and mid-week runs.
  • Do you want to finish strong? or just finish? If you don’t care if you end up walking for part of the race, then you are fine using a ‘beginner’ training plan. If you are going out for a Boston Qualifying time in your first marathon, then you want a training plan labelled ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’.

2. Respect the long run

Of course how long should your longest run be? There are many schools of thought on this. The default is 20 miles/32 km. There are training plans that take you up to 22 miles or 34/36 km. The Hanson plan peaks at 16 miles for the long run, but has you running more mileage on your mid-week runs so the total weekly mileage is similar.

I know runners who had great marathon races with each of the above.

The theory is you never run the full distance before race day because it takes so long to recover. Well given the world of ultra running, and people like Yuki Kawauchi even that is debatable. But for your first marathon, suffice to say you do NOT need to run the full 42 km/26 miles before race day.

Running a 20-22 mile (30-34 km) run does help build your confidence, it helps you believe you can complete the marathon distance.  Even so, most marathon runners are exhausted at the end of their first 20 mile run and can’t help but wonder “how on earth will I run an additional 6 miles/10km on race day!”  Answer: You will be rested and ready, trust in your training!!! I know you don’t believe it when you are dragging yourself through that last mile, but this is how 98% of marathoners train, and pretty much all of us felt like that after our first 20 miler. I know I did!

slowdownAnother common mistake runners make is to run too fast on the long runs. The goal on your long run is to train your body to run for a longer period of time. If you run your long runs at your goal marathon pace you are missing part of the goal. You need to train your body to run for a certain amount of time in addition to a certain amount of distance. Your long runs should be 1 to 1 and a half minutes per mile slower or 45 seconds to 60 seconds slower per km than your planned pace on race day.

If you are one of those lucky people who feels really good on your long runs, and find yourself wanting to run them faster,  try running your marathon pace for the last 3 miles/5 km of a long run. Just to teach your legs how to run at race pace when they are tired.

3. Respect the rest day

Cat nappingHey I’m going to try and get a Boston Qualifier on this marathon, I don’t need a rest day. Yes you do! When you do a hard workout you are tearing your muscles and they are rebuilding stronger! But they need rest to rebuild. Talk to any serious body builder about their workout schedule, they always give the muscles time to rebuild. Give yourself one day a week, or if you are that gung ho follow a 9 day plan and rest once every 9 days instead of once every 7. But that rest day is a REST day, no cross training, no hopping on the bike, or just hitting the gym for a little cross-fit. I know many of you are reading this and going, who in their right mind would trade a rest day for another workout.  Trust me those people are out there, you know who you are!

For the rest of us, enjoy your rest day! A guilt free day (or 2 depending on your plan)  to look forward to with no run, no cross training, nothing, put your feet up, sit on the patio and enjoy!

4. Practice your race day nutrition

You can run a half marathon with nothing but water. Heck some people can run a half marathon without water ( not recommended mind you). Marathon runners typically take some sort of nutrition during their race. You should consider including BOTH of the following in your running nutrition plan:

Electrolyte drinks

nuun tabletsGatorade/Nuun type drinks provide you with electrolytes during your run. When you sweat you lose more than just water. These drinks are designed to help replace what you lose in sweat. They usually come in a tablet or powder form. You mix them with water and bring them with you to drink on the run. If you aren’t sure which brand to try, consider looking up the brand that is provided on the race course for your marathon. It would be great if you could didn’t need to carry your own with you on race day. Gatorade tends to be more syrupy than Nuun. Nuun tends to be more fizzy.  Some flavours contain caffeine (there’s a theory that caffeine can help you on race day) If your stomach reacts to caffeine, a particular brand or flavour you want to know that BEFORE race day! There’s a decent article here on Electrolyte replacement for Marathon training.

Gels/Chomps

Tap Endurance GelElectrolytes replace your sweat, but how do you replenish some of the energy you burn off during the run. You need to keep your muscles fueled! This is where the Gels/Chews/Chomps/etc… fit in. There are gels which come in little packets coming in every flavour imaginable! (Fruit Smoothie, ChocolateMaple syrup, French toast?). Different brands will have a different texture. Chomps/Bloks tend to be more like a gummy bear in texture. Like the gels they come in a variety of flavours. Some runners find it easier to use the chewy nutrition options, swallowing gels mid-run takes a little getting used to. Though I will say if you use the chewy ones on a cold winter run they take forever to soften up and you can spend two miles trying to get all the gummy stuff off your teeth 😉

You really have to try them to find something that works for you. DO NOT try something new on race day. That is not the time to find out that the new lime margarita chews in your race kit give you stomach cramps.

What about Salt tablets?

Salt-ShakerThis is a fairly controversial question, most of my marathon friends do not take salt, but there are some arguments for taking it in moderation. There is a Runner’s world article “Pass the Salt” that discusses it.  The theory is if you get a lot of cramping (multiple muscles not just one cramp in your side, or one cramp in your calf) that can be caused by lack of salt. I only had one marathon where I think I would have benefitted from a salt tablet and that was my 2016 Grandma’s marathon which was unusually hot. I definitely crave salt after a marathon, but Grandma’s was the first race where I think it might have helped mid-race, and I was actually fighting cramps for about 6 miles despite taking gels and Gatorade.

5. So chafing is a thing

body-gllideHaven’t experienced chafing yet?  Well as those long runs get longer, that will likely change. One day you will hop in the shower after a run and yowsa once that water hits you, you’ll know!  Consider it a rite of passage 😉

If you are a guy you want

If you are a girl you want

A good fitting running bra! Okay a few notes on this if you haven’t done a serious shop for your running bra yet.  What is a good fit is different for everyone, so you have to try on several to find what works for you. A few things to consider. Go to a running or fitness store. Ask for help with the fitting. Trying on sports brass is a bit like jeans shopping or swimsuit shopping, it’s going to take a while to figure out what fits you properly, so be prepared to spend a solid hour trying things on. It’s worth it to find something that fits well.

  • For marathon training, you want a bra designed for maximum support (i.e. minimum bounce)
  • I prefer the bras that have a clip on the back because they are easier to remove when I am tired and sweaty at the end of a run.
  • How do I put this, well I guess I just say it, if you wear a light tank top or shirt and you get sweaty or rained on during your run, there will be nipple bumps showing through your shirt. Some bras have firmer or more padded fabric in the front so you don’t have to worry about what shows up in your race photos.
  • If you will spend a decent amount of time training in heat and humidity, you may want to purchase a running bra you feel comfortable wearing without a shirt. Even if you will never run without a shirt, it’s nice to have a bra that you don’t feel is too revealing if you want to change into a dry shirt at the end of a run. Not usually a problem since most swimsuits are more revealing than a running bra.

Other chafing considerations for female runners

  • You may need something extra under the bra strap across the chest, a well placed blister band-aid can apparently help (I have had chafing issues there at EVERY marathon no matter what I try, but I haven’t tried the blister band aid yet, off to buy some this week)
  • As far as undies go… well honestly, many female runners go commando to reduce chafing, but you can buy running undies for women as well.

Regardless of gender you want some Body Glide, or equivalent (fyi no difference at all between the Body Glide for her in the pink container vs the blue container, so buy whichever is cheaper or comes in the bigger container).  Put it wherever you need it! Anywhere that gets red after a long run, or is getting blisters. I put it on my feet, on my toes, on my upper arms where they rub against a tank top, and anywhere else I have noticed friction after a run. I don’t do this for every run, just for my long runs and race day. Hot weather runs cause more chafing than cold weather runs.

Some shorts chafe more than others, you might want to switch to better running socks to wick away the sweat and moisture more as well (SmartWool, Feetures).

Figure out what clothing is best for you on your training runs. DO NOT try out new gear on race day! That is not the day to find out those new shorts or new socks cause chafing or blisters.

6. Cross-training?

You can complete a marathon without doing any cross-training at all. You can follow a marathon training plan, and finish your marathon. *IF* you get addicted to the marathon distance and plan to train for more marathons, you should definitely do some cross-training.

Common Running Injuries

Marathon running is tough on the body, you work out the same muscles over and over again. If you have any weak points in your body, you will find out on marathon day. Some people finish the race bent over because their core muscles are their weak point. I used to have trouble lifting my leg after a marathon because my adductor muscles were a weak point. Weak glutes can result in your hamstrings overcompensating when you run pulling on your lower back giving you back pain and stiffness. Weak hips can cause IT Band issues around your knees.  Shall I go on? I’m not trying to scare you, it’s simply a reality that when you do one activity (in this case running) a lot you build the same muscles, a lot. Over time this creates an imbalance and causes stiffness and injuries.

If you don’t do cross-training you will end up in physio sooner rather than later. You simply cannot keep working the same muscle groups over and over as much as you do when training and running marathons without finding a weak spot or reaching an imbalance that causes an injury.  There is an expression in marathons, half the battle is won if you reach the start line healthy!  Many, many a marathon runner, has had to give up their bib because they did not take care of the rest of their body during marathon training. Youc an likely get through your first without an injury, but if you decide to keep going, figure out a plan for cross-training!  Since I started consistently cross-training (strength and mobility) I have run 5 marathons without a single trip to physio or massage therapy.  Before that I used to go to my physio once a month to tackle knee and/or hamstring issues and/or achilles pain and/or plantar fasciitis.

What sort of cross-training is best for marathon runners?

There are basically two approaches to cross-training.

Strength

Activities that stkettle bellsrengthen your muscles, don’t just focus on the glutes and hamstrings, make sure you work out other muscles groups as well: core, glutes & hips are three of the biggies too often ignored by runners and can cause issues. Over the years I have done everything from kick-boxing, to Tae Kwon Do, kettle bells, to power yoga, to weight training, to HIIT/Tabata classes. Honestly at this point I just do whatever is convenient for me at a local gym, give me a good cardio or strength workout and keeps me motivated.

Mobility/flexibility

yoga for runners bookActivities that help you loosen up those tight muscles such as a martial arts, yoga, or just going for a massage. When I did kick boxing and Tae Kwon Do I found that helped (in particular those both involve a lot of kicking which was great for loosening up my hips and legs). These days I do yoga and yoga tune-up. Yoga tune-up, sometimes called mobility or myofascial yoga, is totally different from normal yoga, it’s basically a guided rolling class, where you roll out your muscles on balls and foam rollers. Again, its a question of finding something that fits into your schedule and your routine.

7. Don’t freak out over a missed run

oops signLife happens, even when you are training for a marathon. Generally speaking if you miss a run because you are sick or travelling, let it go, pick up with the next run on your training plan. If you are travelling and can get your long run in a day earlier or day later that’s better than missing a run.  Some runs are more significant than others. The long run on the weekend and the longest weekday runs are probably the most important because those are the runs that build up your strength and mileage for race day.

All that said, I almost never get all my longs runs in when training for a marathon. Inevitably something messes up my training and I miss a run or two. If you miss multiple runs multiple weels, well, you may need adjust your expectations on race day.

DO NOT move your training plan back a week to make up for a week vacation. One thing you will notice: All training plans taper to lower mileage the last two weeks before the race. That taper is very important. Once your marathon is two weeks away, there is nothing you can do to run that marathon faster or stronger except take it easy and rest. If you try to add extra runs, extra speed or extra hills in those last two weeks the only thing you can do is potentially hurt yourself or tire yourself out. You want to feel restless, you want to find yourself at the start line with legs saying, oh good finally a run, let’s do this!

8 Accept that some training days are better than others

snailSome days you get out there and the training goes great, you feel good, you may have a target pace and you keep that pace. Other days you get out there and you are slogging from the first step and it doesn’t get easier. There are weeks where you find yourself really struggling to get in the miles and you are running slower than ever! This is normal! You have been pushing your body for weeks on end, at some point your body says, hey this is hard! Run slower if you have to, walk a bit if you have to, just know that even though the runs are slow you are improving. You will find your speed and energy again for the race.

9. Embrace the suck

Tired runner on a hillAt some point in one of your training runs, it will suck. You will be tired, or hot, or cold, or wet, or your legs will hurt, or you will reach a hill and be exhausted.  This is a chance to mentally practice for race day. There will come a point on race day which will suck, and you will be tired and you will want to walk or stop. So every time you hit a moment like that in your training and you manage to get through it, give yourself a gold star! Ask yourself if this happened at Mile 24 /km 38 on race day would I still finish! Yes I would! I can do this! This is my chance to practice working through the tough parts. Find a mantra, a thought, a tune to listen to, that gets you through those moments. Training is a chance to practice building mental strength as well as physical strength.

10. Figure out what will get you out the door

At some point during your marathon training, life will give you convenient excuses to skip your run. For example, as I type this, there is an extreme heat warning, yet I am supposed to do hills today. I did my long run yesterday and I did a 5 km race Saturday, I could skip this ‘one’ hill run right? I could, but I also missed two runs last weekend because I was travelling for a wedding. As my friend Christopher once told me “There is always an excuse to not run.” The challenge is to know when to use that excuse (e.g. you have the flu!), and when to tell yourself, “well that just means it’s a bigger achievement to get the run done today!”

What will get you out the door on those days when you have a convenient excuse to skip the run? Do you need to bribe yourself? Do you have a favorite podcast or playlist? Do you have a training partner? Is there a local running group you can join?  If you are running a local marathon there may be a running group that has a clinic specifically for people running your marathon! Would it help if you tracked each run completed and each run missed? You may need to experiment to figure out what gets you out the door.

When I first got back into running, my friend, Christopher and I had a bet. if either of us did not get in at least x runs a week we owed the other person dinner. We were  competitive enough that got us out the door on days we felt like skipping. I do maintain  a spreadsheet with my running schedule and I mark each run as green (completed), red (missed), or yellow (altered to be shorter or easier).  When I see a week with a lot of red, the next week I am motivated to get back to green!  I joined a running group that does speed work together.  The friendly peer pressure gets me through the full workout, if everyone else is tired and they are doing that last mile repeat, why am I quitting early? Having company on long runs can be a blessing as well. My first two marathons I did my long runs alone, but now I have a have a group of runners I meet for long runs. Those runners have become friends. I look forward to catching up with my long run buddies and swapping stories on everything, and I do mean everything! When you run 14-22 miles week after week with the same group of people you have lots of time to catch up.

It may take a while to find the right running group, or within your running group and community people who are compatible running partners for your long runs. Things to consider include

  • What pace do they run? If they are slower than you, you could always run their pace for the first part of the run, and then pick up the pace and run alone for the last x miles. Nothing wrong with practicing a negative split. If they are faster than you, do you know the route well enough to make sure that if you can’t keep up you won’t get lost running on your own?
  • How far are they running? If they are running less than you do you want to go out early and get the extra miles in ahead of time and finish your run with them or do you want to add on miles at the end? If you have a shorter run is it an out and back route so you can just turnaround earlier or are they running a loop which will require you to find a creative shortcut to reduce the mileage.
  • Do they do a walk/run or a continuous run? It is very hard to walk run with a running group, or run continuous with a walk/run group. The two styles are not really compatible
  • Do they stop for water breaks and bathroom breaks? When I ran alone I took my gels and water without stopping. My current long run partners stops every 5 miles /8 km or so for water and gels. This took a slight adjustment for me, but it does not affect how I race. They will also stop and wait or detour as needed for anyone who needs a bathroom break! As fellow runners we are all sympathetic to that particular need!
  • How do you know where and when to meet? Some running groups post the long run plans to Facebook. The Seattle Green Lake Runners use Meetup to post the long run routes and start times. The Ottawa K2J runners don’t have a formal long run, so various runners within the group just use email: one person emails a suggested time and departure point, the others respond with their distances and by the weekend we know who is coming when. That works well, but sometimes a new runner joins and we accidentally forget to include them on the email thread, so it’s not a perfect system.

11. Get the right shoes

pile of running shoesGo to a good running store and find out which shoes are right for you… neutral?  mild stability? moderate stability? Which brand fits your foot best? some have a larger toe box than others, some are better for a narrower foot or higher arch. You can run a 10 km or a half marathon on a shoe that isn’t quite right, but as the miles build up the wrong shoe is more likely to cause injury. Do you need orthotics?

Some running stores will do a gait analysis in store and have treadmills so you can try out the shoes then and there, or allow you to take home shoes to try on your treadmill so you can see which feel best. I actually went to a local foot clinic to get a professional gait analysis and recommendations for shoes.  It cost about $150 but if that saves me buying the wrong pair of running shoes or one visit to physio it’s pretty much paid for itself!  At least now if I do get an injury I am confident it’s not because of my shoes.

FYI – A pair of running shoes will typically last for about 500 km of running before they should replaced.

DO NOT try a brand new pair of running shoes on race day!

Are you noticing a trend here about NOT trying new things on race day 🙂 Yeah that’s not an accident 😉

12. Find inspiration in others

Spirit of the marathon movie posterOkay I guess I have 11 tips. The marathon is part physical and part mental. You will get bored on race day, you will reach a point on race day where you think to yourself, why am I doing this, this sucks. But you can get through it!

There are lots of running podcasts, movies, and books you can read to get yourself motivated. My friend Christopher introduced me to the movie Spirit of the Marathon, a great way to get motivated the day or week before your race (I am getting all choked up just watching the trailer just now). Deena Kastor’s “Let your Mind Run” is a great read on the power of positive thinking to get you through training and race day. Meb Keflezighi’s 26 marathons reminds us that even the best marathon runners have setbacks, make mistakes, and have good and bad days. Or you can watch  Where Dreams Go To Die and suddenly a marathon doesn’t seem quite so insane in comparison, however much you are hurting race day, it’s nothing compared to what the Barkley runners go through!  That doesn’t make finish our marathon any less of an achievement. Take pride in knowing that the moment you cross that finish line on race day you get to say:

I AM A MARATHONER!

If you found this post helpful, check out the rest of my running related posts including marathon race reports

 

 

 

 

 

Cross Country racing – what a road runner needs to know

In this post, I will share what it is like to compete in the Canadian cross country championships from the perspective of a road runner.

Last week I competed in my second Canadian Cross country championships. For the past 4 years the meet was in Kingston, Ontario. The race moves to Abbotsford, BC for 2019-2020.

Is Cross country the same as trail running?

No.  There’s a good description on the Athletics Canada website:

XCountryMidRaceSusaTrevorCross country is a race run on outdoor courses over varied terrain. Distances vary but can range from four to twelve kilometers. It is both an individual and a team sport; runners are judged on individual times and teams by a points-scoring method.

Races, for both teams and individuals, are run on either grass or woodland courses and might also include stretches of gravel paths, road and hills. Races usually take place in the winter months, outside the usual track and field season.

The IAAF recommend for international competitions that there is a main course loop of between 1750m and 2000m with natural obstacles used where possible, and the likes of deep ditches, dangerous ascents and descents as well as thick undergrowth should be avoided.

Can anyone enter the nationals?

There is a community race anyone can enter, but if you wish to enter the U18, U20, Seniors, or Masters you need a competitive Athletics Canada membership.  You don’t have to do any sort of qualification to enter.

In all honesty, the only reason I have a competitive membership was because some of my fellow K2J runners entered this race in 2016 and a bunch of us decided, sounds like fun next year I want to try it.

What’s different from a road race?

The start line and timing

The first thing you will notice is that the start line is a big long line of runners. There is no timing mat at the start line, it’s a mass start and only your gun time is recorded.  Of course with the wide start area the difference between your gun and chip time would only be 1-3 seconds even for runners like me who are hanging out in the back.

The really serious teams will group together to protect their top runner and ensure they have a nice clear lane to get out in front.

The terrain

The biggest difference in cross country is the terrain. You will be running across a field.  The first year I ran this race it was very muddy and wet. The second year, it was colder and there were icy patches on the course. You can expect at least one good up hill and down hill on the course as well.

Personally, I love running on grass instead of pavement. It’s easier on the shins and knees, you can really let go on the downhill and let gravity carry you.  Of course that does mean the ground will not be perfectly even, but this isn’t trail running, you aren’t leaping over logs and boulders. When I trail run I am constantly looking ahead thinking about where to place my foot next to avoid tripping or twisting an ankle. Cross country terrain isn’t like that, I could run the way I do on pavement, it was just softer underfoot and more slippery.

The conditions change between throughout the race and throughout the day. Because you have a pack of runners in spikes running on the course tearing up the ground, expect the course to get muddier and muddier. We were lucky because the masters course was at 9:30 AM. It was windy and cold, but mostly dry, the conditions were very different for the senior men’s race at 3:30 PM. It was raining and the course was mostly mud!

The shoes

XCountrySpikesDid I mention it was slippery? My sister Judy ran this race in 2016 in regular running shoes. She said she had to slow down a lot on the course because she was slipping in the mud.

The first year I ran, there was a guy running it barefoot (much to the surprise and amusement of the announcers), he wiped out completely more than once. (Side note: no barefoot runners in 2018)

Myself and the rest of the K2J runners who competed in 2017 benefited from my sisters experience. We bought cross country shoes and spikes for the race.

I’d like to mention here that although I did run cross country in high school (over 20 years ago), I had NEVER run with cross country shoes and spikes before. The same was true for most of my friends. My teammate Randy discovered that if you don’t tighten the spikes enough when you screw them in they can actually fall out during your run. Luckily he found that out on a practice run, not on race day.  I went out with my sister Judy, and my friend Jim for exactly one 5 km run in my spikes before the race. I just wanted to see what they felt like when running.

spikesThere are multiple lengths of spikes you can purchase. Real cross country runners apparently change their spikes depending on the conditions, sort of like a skier trying to select the perfect wax

Cross country shoes are light, with a very flexible sole. The moment you step in a puddle your feet will be wet. If you step on a rock you will feel it, but those spikes are AWESOME for traction. In 2017, since none of us had any experience racing in spikes, we decided to go with very short spikes (1/4 inch), technically they would be considered track spikes. The course was very muddy and I only slipped a bit on a couple of the corners (there are some tight U turns on the course). In 2018, we bought slightly longer spikes (3/8 inch, apparently a common cross-country spike length). In 2018, the course was more icy than muddy. The spikes did their job beautifully and I was able to race without worrying about traction.

The route

Unlike road races, most cross country races involve multiple loops. This course had a 2 km loop and a 2.5 km loop. You repeat your loop as often as needed for your distance. I was in the Masters 8 km race. We ran the 2 km loop 4 times. Running a multiple loop race has an interesting effect on the brain. On the first loop you feel out the course, on the second loop all I can think is wow do I really have to do this two more times including that long uphill with the headwind! On the third loop I got lapped by the top male runners. On the final lap I had an exact plan on where to make my move to catch up with and pass the two runner in front of me. (Side Note: I passed them 100 meters before the finish line as planned, but then one of them kicked and passed me as if I was standing still… great finishing kick Rita!)

Check out some of Canada’s best runners

Nationals is a qualifying race for the Canadian national cross country team, so it’s a great opportunity to see some of Canada’s top running talent. The *big* race to watch is the senior men/women, but it’s amazing to see the up and coming talent in the U18 and U20 as well.

In 2017 the senior men’s race was won by Lucas Bruchet in 30:20, with Eric Gillis in 2nd place at 30:42 (Eric represented Canada at the 2008, 2012, & 2016 Olympics. The 10 km senior women’s race was won by Claire Sumner in 34:49.

In 2018 Lucas Bruchet repeated as senior men’s champion finishing in 29:55. The 10 km senior women’s race was won by Genevieve Lalonde in 33:47. Genevieve represented Canada at the 2016 Olympics.

How is the cheering/spectating?

Cross country is usually more spectator friendly than road races.

If you usually cheer on road runners you know that typically you pick a street corner and stand with your sign trying to spot your runner. After they go by, depending on the route and distance you might be able to hop on your bike, car, or subway to go find another spot. The race course in Kingston had a number of switchbacks which makes it fantastic for spectators.

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Many cross country routes are designed so you can see someone multiple times in a single loop. On the first couple of loops the runners are so close together you can even dash across the course after the pack goes by to see them on the second half of the loop. You don’t have to choose between watching the lead runners and watching your runner. As they complete the loops you can watch the race progress, see the lead change positions or see the lead runner pulling away. This also means if you are a runner with friends cheering you on, you will see them multiple times and they will have lots of opportunities to see you and snap pictures.

For nationals, you should just plan on spending the day. Run your race, then check out some of Canada’s top runners in the Senior Men & Women’s races, watch the U18 and U20 races and check out the next generation, one of those runners may well be in the Olympics down the road. You can’t ask for a better view!

I’m an average runner, if I enter a competitive race, will I be last?

The first year I ran, I had a simple goal, not to finish last. We have some strong runners in our club. Some of them regularly win their age group and have been known to finish 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall in local road races.  in 2017, 3 of them earned a top 3 finish in their age group at nationals. In 2018 none of them placed in their age group.

I met my goal of not finishing last both years, but both years, I was lapped by the faster runners. I finished the masters 8 km in 37:09 in 2017 and in 38:29 in 2018. For comparison, the last 10 km road race I entered, I finished in 47:51. (Huh, I hadn’t realized until now how much faster I was in 2017… I wonder if it was the footing, the headwind or the fact I had done less hill training for my fall marathon, looking back I did set a personal best on my 2017 fall marathon despite the fact it was NYC which is a tough course). I was 178th out of 220 runners. The last runner finished in 59:03. That’s about a 7:20/km or 11:45/mile pace. Masters for this race is 30 +. Nationals is more competitive than your average road race, but it’s still fun!

Been there, done that got the hoodie! If the Canadian X-Country Championships come to a town near you and you enjoy new race experiences, check it out!

Beat Beethoven Race Report

Race bib and medalThe Beat Beethoven Race is a theme race in Kingston, Ontario. Runners are challenged to complete 8 km before the Kingston Symphony orchestra finishes playing 50 minutes of Beethoven’s best. I love a well organized community race, and this one was a lot of fun.

If you don’t keep an eye on the time, you could find yourself sprinting to beat the finish unnecessarily. I remember my mum telling me Beethoven pieces always sound like they are about to finish but then keep going.

Here’s the scoop on what to expect if you decide to take on the challenge.

The races

They had a kids 1 km race, a 4 km fun run, and the 8 km ‘main event’. Only the 8 km race has timing chips. The distance was a bit short this year for the 4 km, but since it’s not timed and the prizes are given out ot top 3 male and female based on gun time, it wasn’t that big a deal. The race organizer offered to add extra distance to the race next year so it averages out to 4 km both years 🙂  There are no finisher medals, only age group winners receive medals, so if you bring the kids you might have to go for ice cream post race as reward (or stick around for the draw prizes)

Logistics

With a race start time of 10:30 AM, and the option of race day registration and race day pick-up, this race is quite do-able from nearby towns like Ottawa, Cornwall, Brockville, and Belleville. Street parking is free in Kingston on Sundays, and it was not difficult to find parking an easy walk from the start line. This proved especially helpful as I could not find any sort of bag check. My car trunk made a convenient bag check.

Port-a-potties

There are no port-a-potties, but there are washrooms in the back of the tourist information building. I did the standard 20 minutes pre-race stop and was only in line behind 3 women waiting. The gentlemen did not have a line at all.

The shirts

I registered late so did not get a t-shirt. They had some wonderfully bright orange shirts, which the race organized blatantly admitted make for great advertising when you wear them around town. I have plenty of t-shirts, and I have no issues with races not printing a bunch of extra shirts for late registrations just in case. Like I said, most runners have plenty of t-shirts anyway.

The competition

I initially thought this might be a good race to place in my age group or maybe sneak in a podium finish. At smaller races I have placed in my age group, and at *really*small races I have managed a top 3 women overall (by really small I mean < 50 runners in the whole race). The website had a link to the 2018 results.

The top male runners in 2018 finished in 24, 25 and 26 minutes. The top women finished in 30, 31, and 32 minutes. Okay zero chance of a podium finish, how about the 40–49 age group? 32, 32, and 34 minutes! It appears this race brings out some very fast runners. I did not expect times that fast in a race with under 400 people unless they had prize money like Emilie’s Run (https://hockeygeekgirl.com/2019/05/01/emiles-run-race-report/).

The Kingston Symphony Orchestra

Unfortunately it was raining and the orchestra was hidden away inside a tent. We could hear but not see the orchestra as the tent walls had to be kept up to protect the musicians and their instruments.

The 8 km race

The town crier with a fine rainbow umbrella welcomed us all to the race, the gun went off, and off we went. The light rain was actually perfect for running. The route has a few odd little turns, no doubt to ensure you do the correct mileage, and it had a few decent uphill climbs. Since the race is a loop, all the uphill is rewarded with downhill later in the race. There were two water stops along the route, I think the first was around 4 km and the second was around 6.5 km.

The volunteers as always were much appreciated and cheered us on. Thank you volunteers!

I finished well under 50 minutes, but like many other runners I stayed around, intrigued to see how close to 50 minutes the orchestra would finish playing. There is only one pace bunny on this course: the 50 minute pace bunny! We saw him coming toward the finish line and we could hear the closing bars of Beethove emanating from the tent. The pace bunny’s foot hit the timing mat, the last note came from the tent and the clock turned to 50:00 at exactly the same time. I’m impressed!

Race results

Sportstats had results up almost instantly after you crossed the finish line. I was pleasantly surprised to see myself listed in 3rd place in my age group. The website did not mention whether there were age group awards but as I strolled over to the food table to grab a clementine and a roll (no bagels just rolls), I saw them laying out medals and envelopes. There were no finisher medals for the race, but the medals for the age group winners were really nice!

So, I waited around for the award ceremony. It was cold, and it was a bit of a wait. I think they started just after noon. Not unreasonable, I just wish I had known I had time to go put on warmer clothes, all I had done was grab a warm jacket.

Draw prizes and age group awards

Awards were given out for the 4 km first, and then a few draw prizes, then they worked their way through the 8 km awards, interspersing draw prizes in between age groups. draw prizes were awarded by bib number. It took me a couple of rounds to realize they were looking out into the crowd and calling out bibs they could see. He did tell everyone after giving out some draw prizes that everyone with jackets zipped up might want to unzip them 😉 Hey, I think that’s a great way to do it, I don’t want to sit there while they call out bib numbers for people who have left, and that way if there is a kid who ran a race lookign really excited about the draw prizes, or a runner wants to blatantly walk up and stand in front of the stage with their bib prominently displayed to try and win a draw prize, go for it! The prizes were a mix of shirts, water bottles, and race entries. Most of the medal winners had the opportunity to grab one of the prizes as well.

Summary

This is a fun but quite competitive community race. Race registration can be done right up to the day of the race so it’s great for those of us looking for a couple of fun runs to do after our big spring races. There are plenty of little shops and restaurants around the finish area if you want to make it into a day trip. If you stick around until awards I’d say there’s a good chance you can win a ‘draw’ prize just by standing in front of the stage with your bib clearly visible 😉

If you are interested check out my other running related posts and race reports.