Getting to the Start line. Running to the Finish line.
Originally published September 7th, 2015 on the Canada Running Series site.
Last weekend in Quebec City I finished my 21st marathon in exactly 6 years and one where I served as the 3:45 run/walk pace bunny. My next event is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, where I hope to achieve a new personal best (PB) with the help of the 3:10 pace bunny. However, my challenge is that I started a new job in early June that has seen me travel over 50% of the time. Eek ! I am writing this during a business trip to Dallas where I headed the day after the SSQ Quebec City Marathon.
I got my start in running the same way that many in this recent generation of runners have. On the cusp of turning 40, I decided that I needed to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle. I lost 35 pounds over the next 6 months and have since kept most of it off. Cycling has given me thighs and added some weight back.
Like many people, the years following high school and college were characterized by slowing down and putting on weight. In fact, I made the lifestyle switch the month following my 20th high school reunion. How Hollywood classic is that!
In November of 2014, I wrote an article describing my reasons for running, so I won’t repeat them here.
Here are some things that came to mind when I was asked to write an article as a Digital Champion for the 2015 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. They are a mix of lessons learned, mistakes made, things I am proud of, etc. Hopefully, you will find a few items that resonate with you.
What I learned about myself from running races
I can set and achieve goals. As I mentioned in my article from 2014, these goals are my goals and whether I achieve them, or not, is down to me and to me alone. They are objective in nature, and not subjective like so many other facets of life. That appeals to me. The first goal was to lose weight. The next was to qualify for Boston. And then to do it again. I have some other goals, which will discuss later in this article.
I can show discipline. Summer running. Winter running. Rainy weather, hot weather. I can and pretty much do run through them all. One thing that helps me is how sites such as Strava provide monthly challenges for distance covered or hours of activity. I am proud to say that Strava’s gamification effect on me is complete. I can lace up my shoes when feeling lousy on a day with lousy weather, all in the name of receiving a digital badge. The ability to share your race training and race goals with others running STWM is also pretty cool.
I can suffer. And then suffer some more. Long runs. Running 6 days a week. Running while jetlagged. Running marathons on 3-week break. If given the choice, I do prefer to suffer on a road bike, all things considered.
Mistakes I made
Too much cross-training. Cycling is a great compliment to running, but it is no substitute. It is important to get enough core training. Based on my experience, you can probably substitute 20–25% of your running with cycling; anything more than that and you will likely have a hard time achieving your goals. And missing goals is hard mentally, taking as long or longer to put right as actual physical training. A handy rule of thumb is that 30km of cycling equals 10km of running. If your training plan calls for 80km of running, than you could ride 60km and run 60km and all should be well.
Not enough training. My early marathons were characterized by as little as 30–35km of training per week. There is nothing wrong with only running 30–35km per week, however doing so in preparation for a marathon with an aggressive time goal in mind is a recipe for heartbreak or for injury. Effectively doubling my training volume, while following a plan, has seen me achieve new highs.
Hydration. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough. Both can land you in the first aid tent or even the hospital. Knowing what to drink and when during a race takes practice. And what worked for one race may not work for another.
Mixing sports drink with energy gels. A recipe for disaster if there ever was one. Too much sugar all at once leaves your muscles yearning for water, which means cramps — and why not some gastrointestinal distress — are not far behind either. (This video from Skratch Labs demonstrates very effectively just what happens in your stomach when you take in too much sugar at once.)
Other lessons I learned
Read the course map before the race. It is important to read the details of the course to understand where the hydration stops, first aid tents, and porta-potties are located. Also consider positioning friends and family at strategic spots to give you a needed emotional boost at critical times during the race. Agree in advance where you will meet up with family members or other supporters after the race to remove the drama.
Stop drinking an hour before the race starts. As someone who had a nasty habit of stopping mid-race to pee, I only learned this lesson after running about 15 marathons. During those first 15 races, I would very often stop to pee one or more times, with the obvious impact on my finishing time. When I didn’t have to pee, it was more a case of not drinking enough in hot weather, than any sort of proper race execution on my part. I only learned about 2 years ago that one should stop drinking about an hour before the race. That is enough for the body. Any further thirstiness up until the gun goes off is most likely nervousness.
The national anthem is a good time to pee in a crowd. This one applies to men only. Take an empty sport drink bottle with you to your race corral. While no one is looking down — all eyes are on the flag or the national anthem singer — slip the bottle under your shorts and get that last need to pee over and done with. Close the bottle, toss it over the crowd and call out, “Don’t drink that!” And if you hear someone else yell that out, well don’t drink it!
Vaseline is your friend. Apply liberally. And then some. Under your chest strap. Under your arms. Around and in between your thighs. Repeat. Especially for the thighs.
A pair of running shoes is a must when traveling. Other than cycling, running is hands down the best way to see a city.
What I am most proud of
There are a lot of ways to answer that question.
Qualifying for Boston in spite of horrible pacing. I qualified for Boston on my 4th marathon outing based on *average* pace; in this case, my average hid some pretty wild variations. I went out way too hard, in the range of 4:00/km, and finished much slower at around 5:30/km, stopping every kilometre or so to catch my breath and calculate how much more downtime I could afford. I qualified for Boston with 21 seconds to spare.
Running the 2014 Tokyo Marathon at a constant pace. My goal was simple. Run an average pace throughout the course. I aimed for an average of 4:51/km and I finished with an average of 4:49/km. That is less than a 1% difference.
Finishing the 2012 Berlin Marathon in a world of hurt. I started the race on a bad IT band. At the 17km I felt something give out. I spent the next 25km walking, jogging, limping, sitting, etc. But I finished it nonetheless.
Beating a 4-year old PB twice in the same year. From 3:20 to 3:15 with a pace bunny in Pittsburgh in May 2014 and then to 3:13 on a hilly and windy New York City course in November 2014.
Puking twice and still beating a PB by 7 minutes. That guy who was projectile vomiting water at the 2010 Valencia Marathon was me. Because I didn’t read the course map and details (see example of mistakes mentioned above), I missed the fact that there was no sport drink; only water. Hello hyponatremia! And hello to the nice people at that hospital in Valencia, Spain, who made me well. (I never did figure out how to ask for or find Pedialyte in Spanish.)
But the real thing I am proudest of is this: all of the people who have told me that I inspired them to start and to keep running. In doing my own thing; in setting, achieving and occasionally surpassing goals; and in sharing them on social media, I provided inspiration for others to get off the couch, slip on some shoes, and discover what is actually an amazing and accessible sport.
Where to go from here
Did I mention that I like to set goals? Here are the ones I am working towards now in the coming months and years:
Completing the World Marathon Majors. Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York City. They are the crème de la crème of marathons and I have completed 5 out of 6, running NYC and Chicago two times (with another kick at Boston on tap for April 2016). If and when the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon gets added to the club, I’ll have that one completed already.
60 marathons by the age of 60. After my 5th or 6th marathon, I set a goal of running 25 marathons by the age of 50, and 50 marathons by the age of 60. As someone in my early 40s at the time, that meant running between 2–3 marathons a year. A few marathons later, I upped my goal to running 30 marathons by the age 50, and 60 marathons by the age of 60.
Completing a full Ironman-distance triathlon. I have the running and the long bike rides down pat — 7 rides of 200km or more in a 7-week period in the summer of 2014 — but I can’t swim a pool length. And that is ignoring the fact that skinny men who run also tend to sink in water.
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