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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Give Your Best

What are the odds of having practically the same finish time in two different marathons two years apart? My time in Toronto last Sunday was only one second slower than a race in New York a couple of years ago. Is it a sign that these two races are somehow related? This linkage seems intriguing, almost inviting me to seek and uncover a deeper meaning between these two events. Maybe a brief retrospection will present me with a lesson-learned and will help me improve as a runner? 

Memories of racing NYCM in November 2011 are still vivid. It was a "do-or-die" race: run as fast as possible for as long as possible, was my strategy. After clocking 1:25 for at half-point, my quads were shot at 18-mile from running up and down on a hilly course. Limping to the finish line in Central Park my last 8 miles were slow and agonizing, ultimately giving me 3:01:35 finish time. My tank was empty. Gave it all. Played to win and lost: went for the "gold" and ended up forth, giving up a strong chance for silver or bronze.

STWM on October 20 this year was a "play-it-safe" race with my rational voice controlling my excitement and telling me to slow down at the beginning of the race. Keeping a reasonable pace I was on target with 1:30 at half-point, only to find myself losing precious time in the unexpected curvy and hilly last 4 miles ultimately finishing with 3:01:36 in pretty good form. Had this disappointing feeling that there was still some untapped energy in a tank. My run should have been more aggressive. Played cautious defense to maintain a one-goal hockey lead only to lose a goal in the last minute of the third to an opponent not afraid to take their chances.

My attempts at breaking 3-hour mark were unsuccessful in both races, resulting in a bitter/sweet memories and a sense of dissatisfaction from missing a goal. Comparing both races with their quite contrasting running strategies, I couldn't help but ponder a question: which "dissatisfaction" was more "satisfying"? Was a risky running strategy in New York more satisfying than much safer approach in Toronto?

Searching my soul in the last few days I had to admit that my running philosophy was strongly influenced by Steve Prefontaine who said:  "To give anything than your best is to sacrifice the gift"

Run Strong  ... and give your best!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Race performance predictor

You probably experienced a little bit of self-doubt in your own abilities before a race, especially if you aim for a PB and have never run 26.2 miles at a new goal pace. Fortunately there are methods we can use to predict performance in upcoming race. Some are simple, some are more sophisticated.

Skinny method is a simple one. When your family and friends start expressing their concerns  about your diet and say you look skinny it’s a good sign you’re fit and ready.

Magic Mile is a tough one. Running one mile as fast as you can (without puking) is quite unpleasant cardio extravaganza, but according to Jeff Galloway, it is a good predictor of your performance at various distances.

5K Race is slightly more sophisticated method. You need to race 5K as part of your training.  According to Gerry Purdy, an author of Computerized Running Training Program, a 5K time is a good predictor of performance in a full-marathon. For example, to run 3-hour marathon, one needs to be able to sprint 5K distance in approximately 18 minutes.

16 Miler is a painful one. Another well-known coach, Hal Higdon believes that you should be able to comfortably run 16 miles at the race pace 3 weeks before the event. 

Half-marathon is a common method to assess readiness for a full-marathon. Multiply your half-marathon time by 2 and add 10 minutes to have a pretty good approximation of your potential time running 26.2.

Yasso-800 is probably the most popular performance assessment method. According to Bart Yasso, if you aim to run a 3-hour marathon you should be able to sprint 800 meters in 3 minutes and rest by walking or jogging for 250 meters. To run a marathon at 4 hours you should be able to run 800 meters in 4 minutes and so on. If you can do 10 of those “Yasso-800”, you’re ready!

Runner's World Race Predictor is a calculator based on the formula that uses time result of one race to compute predicted time of another race. 

However, all these methods are only “predictors” that will never give you full assurance of success come the race day.  I have been pondering if my goal to break 3-hour mark running Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon next week is realistic. Have done Yasso-800, check.  Guys at work tell me I look "skinny”, check. Survived 5-minute mile, check. Squeezed 16 miles at a race pace recently, check.  Did Ottawa hilly and windy 13.1 Army Run at 1 hour 26 min, check.  

My confidence was boosted recently when some of Ottawa's hard-core endurance runners started giving me this subtle recognition “nod” when running along the canal. Is this a sign? Am I ready?

Run Strong!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Unbreakable Father's 5K

We spent Father’s Day weekend with Helen’s parents in Port Credit, Mississauga. It is a charming small town that has a feel of summer resort, a popular get-away for Torontonians. Like Forerunners in Vancouver, Runner’s Mark is a local running store thriving due to its expertise, quality of service and commitment to the community of Port Credit. Working with high-schools and local charities for youth mental-health, the store organizes a 5K Father’s Day race attracting about 500 participants each year.
Helen’s dad and I registered and showed up on a very wet Sunday morning. Despite pouring rain, the enthusiasm, cheerfulness and enjoyment from runners, organizers and volunteers were contagious and uplifting. It was so nice to see many high-school students participating and having fun.
I could not help but enjoy the simplicity and authenticity of this event so different from big city marathons I have done recently: Boston, Chicago, New York, Berlin, or even Ottawa with its 25,000 runners. Running the scenic course along the lake, I was thinking about my dad who passed away 13 years ago, about responsibilities and rewards of being a parent, about my son Robert who was doing so well living on his own in Montreal and just finished the first year of university, and about my little baby Jasper who was giving us so much joy and happiness.

Twenty two minutes later I crossed the finish line. It stopped raining. Sunshine was peeking through the clouds. It was time to change in the nearby Starbucks and walk a couple of blocks to the Royal Legion building where volunteers served breakfast.
Proudly wearing my finisher’s medal it occurred to me that I just received the biggest medal for the shortest and the smallest race I did so far.  This one is special. Unbreakable!

Run Strong!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Desire to Run

Can't coach desire. Coaches know it. It’s a different experience when coaching a player who is late for every practice and coaching a player who leaves the gym only when a custodian turns off the lights. Business leaders know it. Hire for attitude and provide necessary training later, is the recent HR policy. Positive outlook on life, good attitude, empathy towards customers are not easily trainable.  Parents know it. It’s a different type of frustration when routinely cajoling a child to practice piano and when persuading a child to get off the ice and come home for supper.

As a parent, I tried to encourage my older son to make his own decisions within parental boundaries. “Pick any sport you like (his choice), but you need to be active and stay fit (parental boundary)” was my philosophy. Robert played baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball in elementary school, joined rowing and wrestling in high school. Only occasionally I heard about his running: “Dad, we did 2 km around VanDusen Garden today, I ended up second in my class”. This boy has talent, I thought, his class was stacked with boys who played on various teams often winning provincial championships. But I never pressed my son to join the cross-country running program in his school.

Running is awesome. Running can transform body and mind. Running is also hard. You need to have your own strong reasons to cope with pain and fatigue. You need to like being exhausted. You need to like the soreness that follows a long run. You need to like the solitude when it’s only you and the road. You need to be willing to make difficult trade-offs.  It’s a choice of a lifestyle that each of us has to make individually.

Having lunch with Robert in Montreal last May, I was nicely surprised to learn he wanted to start training for the Sun Run next year. Recently he text-ed me about his visit to Forerunners and a brand new pair of Brooks. He went for his first run. Has my son found his own desire to run? He’s on his way to discover. I can’t wait to join him for a run one day. Hope I will be able to keep up.

Run Strong!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Zbyszek, in memory of

My cousin text-ed me he was still searching for parking. He would park few blocks from Poznan’s Old Town and then walk to meet us. We hadn't seen each other for over 10 years. Waiting in anticipation I had time to recall some of many moments we spent growing up together:  birthdays, holidays, first communions, weddings, funerals, graduations, family celebrations, vacations. 

When I saw Zbyszek walking towards us smiling and waving his hand, somehow I knew. My heart sank. Always full, strong and dark, his hair was grey and falling. Sign of a dreadful chemo. Later in the restaurant, we learned he had been fighting stomach cancer for the last 6 months. He had to quit his job as a business consultant to dedicate all his energy to the treatment. His wife Kasia resumed full-time job as a pediatrician. His daughter had to change high-school to be close to home. Listening to my cousin I couldn't help but be inspired by his mental strength, faith, optimism and positive outlook on life. There was no bitterness in his voice. No complaining. No “wishing” things were different. He was at peace accepting this challenge. 

Back home I would email and text him every couple of weeks. In his last message he said the results were like a “draw” in a soccer game, no improvement, but also no deterioration. Soon after, he became too weak to type. He passed away in December last year. I was unable to attend his funeral. It was on a day Helen went to labor to give birth to our baby boy.

Running marathon in Ottawa last Sunday I was thinking about my late cousin. About pain he had to endure. About his family he left behind. About how much he is missed. Zbyszek Gorwa (1964-2012).

Run Strong!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Marathon Training with a Baby

Marathon training demands time. Lots of time! You need to find time to do your weekly mileage. You need time for speed work, tempo runs, cross-training, stretching and a large block of time on Sunday for a long-run. And you need also time to rest and recover. Your life changes pretty quickly when you have a new addition to your family.  This little bundle of joy quickly imposes a non-negotiable constrain on your discretionary time. You simply don’t have any. Your nights are interrupted. You go to bed in the evening hoping for six hours of sleep. You might get it, but in two three-hour blocks. You get up and go through your morning ritual making an extra-strong coffee for yourself and your partner who is even more tired and more sleep deprived. So, is it possible, or rather, how is it possible to reconcile this systemic fatigue and lack of time with the demands of marathon training? I pondered this quandary after Jasper was born in January. 

My solution: running to and from work! We live a block from a paved path along the canal that takes me to my office downtown. It’s a 5K run one way and by Friday evening this “commuting” contributes 50 kilometers to my weekly mileage. It’s a pretty decent volume. Once a week I drop by my gym after work and do a quick 10K interval workout on a treadmill. Saturday is my day off. It’s a day when Helen goes for her run and I look after Jasper. After five consecutive days of running my legs need to rest and get ready for a long run on Sunday. Long-run is a bread-and-butter of marathon training. You simply have to incorporate it into your schedule.  And it takes time because it’s “long”. Very often your significant other may have different plans for Sunday morning. Cuddling in bed. Going to church. Family walk in a park. All these are reasonable requests for spending quality time together. And you would love to partake, but deep down you know you should join your buddies at the local running club and be on the road.  It helps if your partner is a runner. A runner gets it. No need to have a “serious talk” explaining why subjecting yourself to exhaustion for several hours often in the freezing temperatures or pouring rain makes you a happier person. In either case, do something nice for your partner during the week to earn a pass. 

Sunday run takes me along the canal to the gym downtown. I do 75% of my planned long-run mileage at the race pace on a treadmill, sort of incorporating a tempo run into my long run routine. It's another solution to work around the scarcity of time. Running back home I often reflect on my training progress and how fortunate I am to get this time off from my parental duties. It is such a generous gift from Helen. Thanks Honey! Couldn't to it without your support.

Run Strong ... and if necessary incorporate running to work as part of your training!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Orange persuasion?

It was supposed be a quick trip to the local running store on Bank Street. In and out. I phoned in advance and asked to put aside a pair of Saucony Kinvara. I finally was able to find my size 13. Being on the outer edges of the Bell curve is often problematic. Many stores don't bother ordering too many small or large pairs. Instead they stack up the most popular sizes to maximize their shelf-space. Running to the store after work on Thursday evening I had some time to retrospect on my loyalty to Saucony.  Introduced in 2009, Kinvara offered flexibility, lightness and minimalist feeling of 4-mm heel to toe drop. They became an instant hit with runners inspired by "Born to Run" and bare foot running trend.  I ran Chicago Marathon in 2010 wearing a pair of white-and-red Kinvaras, did Eugene in luminescent-green, and wore black-and-yellow in New York. Each pair served me for hundreds of miles in training eventually ending up with a worn-out upper often fixed by duct tape. My loyalty to Saucony was strong ... at least that's what I thought when I walked into Sports 4 running store on Thursday evening.

My intended five-minute visit lasted an hour spent mostly trying a new pair of Brooks PureFlow. For years Brooks had reputation as maker of low-end shoes sold at Zellers or Sears.  However, the new "Pure" line is high-end. Designed with a help from one of my favorite runners, an ultra-marathoner  Scott Jurek.  Lightweight, responsive, snug but comfortable, with 3.5-mm drop and wide toe-box, these running shoes, I had to admit, represented a perfect product. Designed for runners by runners. Appealing with its innovation as well as with its color.  These particular pair was bright orange!  I know quite well that colors for a long time have been a secret weapon in the marketing arsenal of any consumer product company. Colors have strong meaning and influence us, consumers at the subconscious level. White means "innovation" as defined by Apple. Red "romance" like on Valentine's day, and pink makes us happier. That's why one of the NFL teams had the visitor's locker painted in pink to reduce the aggression of their opponents. Why am I falling for this marketing trick? I know quite well that this orange was chosen to sway me to buy the product?

Well ... this orange seems special. Reminds me of Orange Princess shown in Ottawa Tulip Festival this week when 20,000 tulip bulbs are sent every year from Holland to Canada as gift for our generosity and hospitality to Dutch Royal Family during the World War II. Or maybe it brings memories of the famous orange that Dutch national soccer team usually wears and truly amazing squad Holland had when Johan Cruyff and his team battled Franz Beckenbauer and West Germany for the championship back in 1974 World Cup .

Back to the running store. My rational brain is telling me to stick with what has worked for so many years. There is always a risk in changing shoes two weeks before a race and even bigger risk trying a new brand of runners. However, my inner voice, now fully influenced by brilliant marketing machine, tells me that those orange shoes are perfect. This neural association with Scott Jurek, Tulip Festival, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer is simply too much to resist. It's time to "flow" with my new orange Brooks!

Run Strong ... and chose your colors wisely!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Any Given Sunday

It's Sunday morning. Helen and Jasper are upstairs still asleep. Bodum coffee in the kitchen is tasting great. Time to mentally get ready for a run. I can easily envision what's coming. Have done this routine many times in recent weeks. This is my last long run before tapering for Ottawa Marathon on May 26. Actually, it's a combination of a long and a tempo run done together due to limited time to train during the week. It involves running 3 miles along the canal to the gym. Then I take over one of the treadmills for a couple of hours. 1 mile warmup is followed by 5 miles at marathon race pace. Followed by a short break to re-hydrate.  My shirt is quickly soaked. Good time to change it. Flipping the channel from TSN to SportsNet also adds some variety. One third of the workout is done. Repeat. Repeat. Done. It's time to drink a jar of chocolate milk and slowly run back home carrying a backpack that feels heavy. I'm procrastinating this morning. Maybe it's because this is a lonely workout and I miss doing long runs with friends from Alma. I know my lower back will be protesting again. I can feel the weight and fatigue of several weeks of intensive trainig. A vision of "super" breakfast afterwards is somehow persuading my mind. A glass of wheat beer in the afternoon creates another positive association. I'm sold. Time to do it!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Why runners should drink orange juice for breakfast?

Vitamin C not only keeps colds at bay. You’ll absorb three times as much iron from your cereal and toast if you switch from coffee to orange juice with breakfast.

As many endurance athletes I have been following typical high-carbs, low-fat runner’s diet that often includes little or no red meat. Only recently I learned that red meat contains type of iron that is better absorbed than iron from plant sources.  Women need about 15 milligrams and men require 10 milligrams of iron a day. Low iron intake may be responsible for iron-deficiency that can cause a reduction of a hemoglobin level.

What about these punishing intervals to increase VO2Max we do as part of marathon training? They increase blood volume that often can cause a decrease of hemoglobin concentration. Additionally, red blood cells break down as a result of impact when a foot hits the ground. "Foot-strike hemolysis" is potentially a problem for heavier marathoners who run high mileage on hard surface. Decrease in hemoglobin level impacts performance due to reduced ability of cardiovascular system to transport oxygen to the muscles.

My training log for New York Marathon in 2011 reminded me recently of my speed workouts at the pace I can't do today. My maximum heart rate is dropping only one beat per minute per year, but my ability to sustain speed has decreased disproportionately faster. Is it time to check the hemoglobin level, or maybe start eating red meat, or alternatively start drinking OJ for breakfast to shave off few precious minutes from the finish time?

Run strong ... and keep an eye on your iron!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Winter Running in Ottawa

My neighbor Steve has lived his whole life in Ottawa. He replaced winter tires on his SUV last week. He must know. It was an indisputable sign that the winter was over. Wow … we won’t get any more snow storms in late April. The whole city seems to be focused now on a big after-winter cleanup. Runners are coming out in large numbers to run along the canal. Everyone seems to be happy to finally be able to shed layers of winter running clothing and wear shorts and light technical shirts. Yes, spring is in the air. It almost feels like summer with +23C this weekend. Helen and I survived our first winter in Ottawa. It was a very long and cold one. There were several chilly, but gorgeous days with lots of sunshine and beautiful blue sky. There were also many cold, snowy, icy and windy days. I’m happy to report that nothing prevented me from running except for few very warm days when the snow started to melt and the path along the canal was flooded with 3 inches of water. Of course, a big freeze overnight turned the path into a “skating rink” the next morning. But runners adapt. I bought Yak-tracks to run on ice. Balaclava and goggles for windy days. Gortex running shoes, heat packs, smart wool socks and big warm mittens from MEC for freezing temperatures. My first half of a long run on Sunday often took me to the Museum of Civilization where I would change to a set of dry clothes carried in a backpack before running the second half back home. Most of my weekly mileage was accumulated by running 5K along the canal to and from the office. This “commute” allowed me to stay outside for no more than 30 minutes which is recommended in freezing temperatures. Running-generated heat also made those cold days easier to cope with. It was easier to run to work than wait for the bus in those low temperatures. After a couple of months, Helen and I would often say: “Hey honey, it is sunny and mild -15C today”. When you say “mild” and “-15C” in one sentence, it is a pretty good indication that somehow we have adapted. Now we can enjoy "adapting" to sunny and warm spring season in Ottawa. 

Run Strong!

Monday, April 22, 2013

The tragedy in Boston Marathon hits home

Racing in Boston will always have a very special meaning for both of us. Helen did Boston Marathon last year running an epic race in scorching heat. I did one back in 2010 and have many wonderful memories of the city and this classic event. Robert and I still remember one of those magic moments when we received free tickets to the Red Sox game from one of the fans when we visited Fenway Park. A simple act of kindness and generosity that stays in your thoughts for a long time.

The tragedy in Boston on April 15 left both of us and the whole running community in a state of shock, disbelief and deep sadness.  Two days later, the Running Room on Bank Street in Ottawa was packed with runners who came to their weekly Wednesday run with a purpose to show their support. Like many others, Helen and I were wearing Boston racing shirts hoping that this simple gesture of solidarity will somehow make a difference and send a message. A message that this act of senseless violence will not break our spirits, that there is more good than evil in the world, and that our running community is united and strong ... Boston-strong.

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