STWM 2017

I improved my marathon personal best from 2:28:12 to 2:24:39 in Toronto last weekend after failing to survive training for a fall marathon the last three years. I’ve been wanting to run the Toronto Waterfront Marathon for a while because it attracts such a strong field of competitive runners, many of whom are vying for the annual Canadian Marathon Championship title. This year didn’t disappoint even with the absence of our two best marathoners of recent years–Reid Coolsaet and Eric Gillis. In fact, I think it made it a little more interesting as the next group of distance runners got to contend for the national title. It featured Trevor Hofbauer’s much-anticipated debut, Sami Jibril’s second attempt at the distance, and shots at redemption for Kevin Coffey, Rob Winslow, John Mason, and several others after the unusually warm and humid conditions of last year’s race. As a fan of road running, I was almost as excited to see how everyone else did as I was to race it myself!

What does that 2:24:39 mean to me? That’s what I’m trying to decipher now that the race is over. If you look at my splits for the race (1:11:30 first half, 1:13:09 second half), you can tell that 2:24:39 wasn’t the time I was shooting for so there’s some disappointment there. In fact, if you look at the two previous marathons I ran (splitting Ottawa 2016 in 1:12:29 and Ottawa 2015 in 1:12:11), this 2:24:39 is slower than what I thought I’d be able to run 2 years ago. Yikes. And days before the race, I was thinking of going out at 1:11:00 flat and considering that a ‘conservative’ target so that I’d be able to speed up the second half, dipping into the 2:21s… Didn’t exactly go to plan.

Running 1:07:38 with Josh Bolton at the Springbank Half earlier in October

I felt reasonably confident after proving myself over the half marathon distance twice this year at Chilly (1:07:47) and Springbank (1:07:38) after recovering from a stress fracture in May. That 1:07:47 was a breakthrough performance for me and it felt like everything went perfectly – weather was cool, I had people to run with and race, the course is straight and pretty flat – and I achieved my A goal of 1:07:xx. I expected a faster time at Springbank but it is a much more challenging course with more twists and turns and it came at a point in my STWM training cycle where I had been at peak mileage for 4 weeks (no taper). I didn’t hit my time goal at Springbank, but I did run a small PB that at least confirmed my performance at Chilly wasn’t a fluke. As an extra vote of confidence, Josh Bolton, who has a similar half marathon PB was going to be running STWM and had similar goals to me which made me feel like it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to expect a 2:21-22. 

Punch those 1:07-high half marathon times into an equivalency calculator and you’ll get something like 2:21:30-2:22 in the marathon. That’s really what I wanted to achieve at STWM this year – a time equivalent to my half marathon PB.

That’s been a real challenge for me in the six marathons I’ve now run. The closest I’ve gotten was running 2:41 in Waterloo after a 1:16 half (roughly equivalent to 2:40). The 2:31 I ran in Ottawa 2015 came after a 1:11:15 in Springbank (~2:29) and a 1:09:30 in Burlington (~2:26). The 2:28 I ran in Ottawa 2016 still didn’t equalize my year-old (at that point) 1:09:30 half PB. The 2:24:39 I ran this year is just a bit better than that half marathon time I ran 2.5 years ago and obviously lagging behind the 1:07:38 (~2:21:30) half I ran this year. I’m not sure why that is… The marathon sure is hard to predict and I don’t feel like I’ve cracked it yet. I am envious of guys like Eric Bang who have had success converting their shorter races into equivalent marathon performances. I might have to do some deeper review of Eric’s training – he’s freakishly consistent!

Where’s Waldo? #STWM mass start.

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One thing I am very happy to takeaway from Toronto is a more evenly-paced race than my last two outings. I thought I was being conservative with a 1:11 half goal (2:22) but I decided to slow my plan a bit more when I learned that the pace group for the lead women was targeting 1:11:30 (2:23). It seemed to make sense to go with them but when the race started, they seemed to be way ahead of target so I stuck to the plan of 1:11:30 and split just a couple seconds slower than that after the women went through half around 1:11 flat. Although it would’ve been nice to have some company out there (I ran the race solo from ~18 km after Josh started to fall off pace), it helped to have people in front to chase. I was able to chase that pack down and overtake the lead woman just after the 30 km mark.

I did slow a bit over the second half (by a minute and thirty-six seconds) but that pales in comparison to my last two marathons in Ottawa where I slowed by 3:15 last year and 7:23 the previous year. More than the even-ness of my race, I’m happier still with my performance relative to the rest of the elite field. Excluding pacers who would later drop out, at 10K I was 29th. By halfway, I was passed by one person, I caught two people, and one person had dropped out leaving me in 27th. By 30K, three more had dropped out and I had passed seven people (including the guy who passed me before halfway), leaving me in 17th position. Over the final 12.2K, one more person ahead of me dropped out and I caught three more people for a final placing of 13th overall.

My 1:13:06 second half was the 11th fastest in the race and my final 12.2K split was the 10th fastest in the field so even though I would’ve preferred a faster time and a more even split, I think all things considered I made out pretty good in the later stages of the race. I am happy not only with my patience, trusting that people would come back to me, but also with the effort I somehow pulled out of myself over the final few kilometres. At the final switchback turn around the 32 km mark, I had counted three Canadians ahead of me – Trevor Hofbauer, Sami Jibril, and John Mason – and I could see John up the road from me. At halfway, John was 2:30 ahead of me and he increased that lead to 2:50 by 25K. That’s where the momentum started shifting my way and I made up a minute on him by 35K. I gained another 1:22 by 40K and then finally caught him at 41K, putting 1:30 into him over the final 1.2K. I was telling myself that if I wanted that third Canadian spot, it could be mine but I had to hammer those last 5K.

Jeff Costen who finished 4th Canadian ran a very consistent race too, equaling or bettering a bunch of my splits. I was a little nervous seeing him looking strong and only 40 seconds behind me at 35K and 40K. He came within 3 seconds of catching John, too, making up two-and-a-half minutes over the final 7.2K! Matt Suda also ran well over the final 10K, splitting the 35-40K segment faster than me and then running the final 2.2K faster than Sami, John, and Jeff. John looked pretty rough when he crossed the line so I was happy to hear he was alright… definitely don’t like seeing people suffer through dehydration or things like that at the end of a marathon. It was toasty out there when we were crossing the finish line.

Less than a km to go!

With two of the top Canadian contenders out of the race (Rob and Kevin) and catching John with a kilometre to go, I walked away with the third Canadian spot at our national championship race. That was a nice bonus and something I was definitely not expecting, knowing things would have to go poorly for not just one guy but a handful of them if I were to get one of those medal positions.

Funny story: After I crossed the line and congratulated a few guys, I made my way to the bag check area to get changed and head to BeerBistro for a celebratory beverage. After navigating the maze of people in the finish area and painfully staggering 2 km to the bar, I got an email from Reid Coolsaet letting me know they were looking for me to show up at the awards ceremony which started in 4 minutes. There was no way I could possibly get back in time so I missed what could have been a pretty cool moment. Priorities though, am I right? Celebrations were in order after months of dedicated training. Maybe next year STWM will have a beer tent in the finish area… (or maybe they’ll try to communicate with people they want to stick around…)

I had a lot of fun following the training of all those guys – Trevor, John, Rob, Kevin, and Jeff – on Strava heading into STWM. They are all a huge source of inspiration and motivation for me.

A special thanks to Eric Bang for finding me a place to stay on short notice after I had planned to stay in Kitchener and drive into Toronto the morning of the race but then was notified the week before the race that I had to be in Toronto on Saturday for the technical meeting… It was great having a chance to chat with Eric the night before the race after his killer 2:23:54 in Chicago and then have his support out on the race course. Thanks Eric!

Post-race IPAs at BeerBistro

Thanks also to my wife and parents for enduring Toronto’s traffic (arrgghh) and crowds to cheer me on. I literally wouldn’t be able to do the training required without their help and support every single day leading up to this race (and every race before it). I try my best to minimize the impact my training has on other aspects of our lives but sometimes long runs need to happen at the same time that children need tending to and so I appreciate being able to slip out for an hour and a half each day to run.

While on the topic of marathon running, do yourself a favour and check out these other post-race blogs (although, truthfully, if you made it through all that boring ‘running talk’, you’ve probably already read these blogs or you’re my wife and I’ve already talked your ear off about them 😜😘):

What’s up next? Three weeks off is the plan (I can hear you laughing, Lindsay)… After that, I’m going to take advantage of the fact that there are no big races on the horizon and try a long, slow build towards a spring marathon. It’s been a few years of battling injuries and always having to cram a training cycle into a condensed period of time. I’ve made it through marathon training healthy this time and it affords me more flexibility than I’m used to. After the stress fracture at the beginning of May, I had 8 weeks of no running and lots of cross-training, followed by three short weeks of easy running before getting into 13 weeks of training for STWM. Things came together well considering but this time I’ve got almost 26 weeks to work with so there’s lots of time to build some base mileage before I get into the specific marathon training. That’s the plan anyway… we’ll see how it actually plays out in the coming months.

Thanks for following along!


The hamstring injury that wouldn’t quit

Following the Chilly Half, I made it through one run before my hamstring seized up out of nowhere during an easy run. That injury, which I suspect was some kind of strain, took about two weeks to heal. I got back into a training groove for a week before running Around the Bay 30K (since I was already registered), knowing my legs were feeling heavy and that I probably wouldn’t be in prime condition. I didn’t expect any miracles but hoped to get in a good long run effort at marathon pace or if things didn’t feel great, I’d slow up and just check out the course for future racing opportunities. Fortunately, my hamstring had been feeling 100% all week and had no issues during the race.

I ran beside Josh Bolton for nearly the entire race and having him to work with made the kilometres pass quickly. Thanks for the help out there, Josh!

We started off around 12th place and began picking off guys who were falling off the lead pace. Eventually, we ended up in 7th and 8th positions without being overtaken by anyone behind us.

I was happy to make it through that hard effort without any hint of the hamstring issue, but four days after it struck again during a short marathon-paced tempo. I immediately pulled the plug and began the slow jog home. Last time I tried heat packs, ice packs, massage, and stretching and I think that maybe aggravated the injury a bit. This time I’m resting immediately and trying compression.

I could've sworn it felt like summer a few days ago…

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The timing of this second round of hamstring issues means I probably can’t get anymore quality workouts in before Toledo (3 weeks away) as I expect I’ll have another week or so letting the hamstring heal before just getting back into running regularly as the taper would begin. If I’m going to run Toledo, it will be on whatever fitness I’ll have managed to hang onto since Chilly 4 weeks ago. That’s not how I wanted to head into this race…

I can’t help but look ahead to the Ottawa 10K which is 5 weeks after Toledo. As the Canadian 10K road championship race, I really wanted to run a good one there and see how I stack up against that field. Part of me wonders (and was wondering a few weeks ago when this hamstring issue first came up) if pushing through with my plans to run Toledo will result in two mediocre race results instead of resting now, forgoing Toledo, and possibly running a better race in Ottawa. Hard to know. I’ll have to think on that this week as I nurse this hamstring back to health.

Ottawa Marathon 2016 Recap

The short version…

I ran 2:28:12 at the Ottawa marathon yesterday. That’s three minutes faster than I’ve run a marathon in the past but several minutes slower than I thought I’d be capable of. In fact, 2:28 was my target in the fall of 2014 so I’m a little disillusioned with this result (and my result from last year). But the positives are that I made it through a training cycle healthy and I’m improving.

The longer version…

Two weeks out from the race, I ran a 34.5 km workout with 26.2 km at marathon pace (3:26/km) and it felt great so that became the goal pace (roughly a 2:25 marathon). I felt confident that I had done all I could reasonably accomplish in the 10 weeks I had to rebuild mileage and get workouts in before I had to taper for the race. All my workouts during the cycle had gone well. I felt fitter than I have been in the past. Would I have liked more weeks of training and more time to build mileage? Yes, but there wasn’t time unless I wanted to start creeping into the summer and stealing weeks from my fall training cycle. This was a last ditch effort to run a marathon for real first time in a year. But like I said, I felt I had done all I could to get ready.

After that 26 km race simulation workout, I only had a couple easy goal-pace runs to remind my legs of the pace and make sure it felt comfortable over the final two weeks. Things went off without a hitch except the weather turned from snow one week to record-breaking highs the next. The long-term forecast for southwestern Ontario was looking brutal leading up to the race; highs of 30+°C and lows in the high teens (the ideal temperature for running a marathon is closer to 5-8°C). A couple days before Ottawa (the day before I was to leave for the drive), I evaluated my options for other races. I didn’t want to bail on Ottawa but I definitely didn’t want to suffer through a scorching hot marathon for a time I wouldn’t be satisfied with. After all, the hard work in training had already taken place and that’s more important to my long-term plans than cashing in on that fitness at a race. I’ve always maintained that the only race more important than the current one is the next race. Every race is a stepping stone to the next. The fitness gained in training should be carried forward into the next cycle.

So I found a race in South Bend, Indiana the first weekend in June and the forecast was 10° cooler than Ottawa so that was really tempting. I talked it out with my wife and some friends and decided to go through with Ottawa. As we got closer to race day, the temperatures were coming down a bit and it didn’t look as terrible. My ‘hopeful’ race plan was to go through half in 1:12 and then magically find another gear to run the second half in 1:10 (2:22 at the finish). With the temperature where it was, I had to bail on that plan and wondered if I’d even be able to run sub-2:30. I decided to go for 2:25 or broke as there was significant prize money for the top three Canadians but you had to run 2:25. I figured the conditions weren’t ideal for my “A” goal so I might as well go for it.

The day before the marathon, I probably spent a bit too much time on foot getting to the technical meeting to hear about pacers and water bottle locations, and exploring the city, so I decided to skip my last shakeout jog. In hindsight, I probably should have tried to stay off my feet the day before the race.

Another factor leading up to the race was some poison ivy/oak that I had picked up the weekend before the race while helping my dad cut down dead trees. I had a couple sleepless nights battling the itchiness and fighting a sore throat as a result. The throat cleared up by Thursday but my arms and right leg were swollen and covered in painful blisters even as I stood on the starting line. I doubt this had any impact on my race, beyond affecting my sleep. Next time though, I’ll be more careful about avoiding strenuous activities the week before a goal race as I could have hurt my back hauling logs around just as easily.

With the obligatory pre-race kit photo out of the way, time to sleep!

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In any case, race day finally came after one last sleepless night and I was up at 4:45 to eat a bagel, get dressed, and make my way to the start area. Mercifully, it was cooler than it had been all week as I jogged a short warm-up. The first 15-20 km of the race were mostly uneventful as I ran primarily with a pack that formed around the lead Ethiopian women. In that pack were fellow Canadians John Parrot running his debut and Nicholas Berrouard (who passed me in the final stages of the race last year). The only hiccup was that I had the water bottle table locations mixed up and I missed my first bottle at 5 km. I knew I had to be sure to get my next bottle at 10 km but I still was unsure of the location. All of a sudden, we were at 10 km and I saw my bottle out of the corner of my eye as I ran past it (I recognized it because of the bag of sour jujubes taped to the side). I had to stop, run back, grab it, and then spent the next km or two catching back up to the pack. I made sure to finish that whole bottle to make it worth it.

There were hundreds or maybe thousands of volunteers across the length of the race handing out water and sponges for cooling, food and gels, and even spraying misters/sprinklers. I took two or three cups of water at every stop, dumping them on my head to help evaporate heat and grabbed sponges every chance I got. I was doing my best to stay cool and comfortable.

As we got closer to the halfway mark and crossing into Gatineau, the hills started appearing. I’m sure they weren’t too horrendous but I get very little practice. They felt fine at the beginning but they slowly took their toll on my legs. I even remember feeling fine crossing the Alexandra bridge back into Ottawa (around 26 km?) when last year that part of the race was torturous so I was in a good place this time, feeling comfortable.

Thanks for the photo, Sean

As we crossed back into Ottawa, the pack exploded, the two lead women split apart, and I found myself running with John Parrott (another Canadian) and Mok from Singapore who I had met the day before. We ran together roughly from 25 km to 35 km or thereabouts, doing a decent job of keeping the pace on target until I started falling off. Not drastically, but I was losing contact and eventually they were both out of my sight. Legs were getting tired and heavy. My stomach was starting to feel nauseated and I started to feel the rumblings of an impending bathroom break. The crowds cheering at this point in the race were awesome and, although my face certainly didn’t show it, it was very much appreciated! So many people were lining the streets out to support the runners!

Suffering through the last couple km. Thanks for the photo, Richard!

I started to slow down and was overtaken by the lead woman somewhere around 40 km after I had pulled away from her somewhere around 28-30 km. I was really trying hard to not crap myself maintain composure in front of all the people cheering and the live TV camera that was following the lead woman! The last km went by and I crossed in 2:28:12 (a 3 minute improvement from last year), 14th overall (an improvement from 23rd last year), and third Canadian behind Kip Kangogo (who ran a conservative 2:21, taking home the $5000 payday for top Canadian!) and John Parrott (who clocked a debut marathon of 2:26:09!).

I’m happy with the PB but I wanted more, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gone out at 2:25 pace! I figured with the forecasted heat, it was a long shot, although the heat wasn’t as bad as anticipated. I can’t be too upset; I gave it my best. My legs are thoroughly thrashed.

This result leaves me feeling a little disillusioned. Do I have much better in me after only improving from 2:31 to 2:28 after a whole year? Admittedly it was a year of ups and downs with a couple tendon injuries but 2:28 is the time I thought I’d run back in the fall of 2014 (a year-and-a-half ago)! And even last year—a whole year ago—I thought I might run 2:23-2:25 in Ottawa. Yet, here I am, now just running 2:28. I’m happy because it’s an improvement from last time and I’m happy that after some injury trouble last year I was able to make it through a short training cycle and get on a starting line… But I have questions unanswered. What more do I need to do? More weights? More hills? More miles? More speed work? More core work? Why have I been thinking I’m capable of faster results but failing to make it happen on race day? Am I naturally better suited for running shorter races? Maybe the 26.2 km race simulation workout I ran should have been on a hilly route to more closely mimc Ottawa. Maybe the weather during my training runs was a few degrees cooler than race day. Should I have adjusted my expectations based on those variables? Maybe. Probably. But I felt like I could do better and I wanted to do better.

Anyway, I’ve got a few weeks to think on this as I give my body some time to rest before I get back to it. Not sure what’s next on the immediate horizon but the Toronto Waterfront marathon will probably be my next goal race in October.

Regardless of the outcome or how I feel about my race, I appreciate everyone who cheered along, gave me a hug or a high five, and supported me in one way or another as I work on this hobby; most especially my wife and my parents! And the insane number of volunteers who helped put on an awesome weekend of road running in Ottawa!