Robbie Burns 8K and Chilly Half 2018

I guess it’s been a while—two months—since my last post. This leisurely pace of releasing blog posts kind of mirrors the more relaxed approach to training I’ve been adopting over the last year. I’m trying not to sweat the small stuff too much (at least until a race is right around the corner) and to instead focus on getting in the miles with a few workouts each week, trusting that the consistency over weeks and months will lead to the results I’m eager for.

Since January, I’ve raced twice. And did a race really happen if you don’t post it to Strava, Instagram/Facebook, and write a blog about it? I guess not because here I am…

Blair Morgan out front in the Robbie Burns 8K. I'm tucked in with Jeff Costen and Tim Heubsch.

The first race was the Robbie Burns 8K at the end of January. I knew ahead of time there were a bunch of guys I wanted to race to see how I stacked up. (At the Chilly Half last year, Blair Morgan beat me by a minute, Paul Rochus and I ran together for most of it, and Rejean Chiasson blew by me on the back half.) I was also just excited to get out for a rip after grinding through the winter months.

This wasn’t a goal race so I wasn’t too strict in the days leading up. I ate more than my fill of tourtiere and cookies at a party the day before and enjoyed catching up with old friends over a few imperial stouts. I ran a race I was happy with, getting in a good effort over a shorter distance that I don’t race often, running 24:53 for 3rd place behind Blair and Tim Heubsch.

The second race was the Chilly half marathon just this past weekend. This race seems to have exploded in popularity in recent years and has been attracting awesome fields of runners. This year had Reid Coolsaet, Robert Winslow, Tristan Woodfine, Trevor Zimak, Josh Bolton, and many others I was excited to race with.

The week before the race, I was feeling depleted, tired, and was struggling in my workouts. I started off the week planning to continue holding my mileage steady at 150-160 km/week but I had to evaluate my priorities as pain appeared in my lower leg a few days before the race. Was this a stress fracture? If it was, my shot at a marathon later this spring was already ruined so I figured I better make the best of the race to get something for all the training I’ve been put in. I’d been indecisive about choosing a marathon up to this point and I wasn’t feeling particularly excited about either Toledo or Ottawa. In the end, I wanted too badly to race against this field and give it my best effort so I took an unplanned rest day, then cut my mileage for the remaining two days by more than half in a last ditch effort to kick the fatigue that had been plaguing me for almost two weeks and to give my leg a chance to heal. Fortunately, it seems I was able to work out the pain in my lower leg as some sort of calf tightness that massaging, heat packs, and foam rolling loosened up. I got myself amped up for the race, willing to accept the possibility that it might be the end of my spring racing season. I was hopeful that I was in shape to maintain 3:09-10/km for a time between 1:06:30 and 1:07:00.

Conditions were pretty good on race day with cold temperatures and clear skies. The only catch was that there was a decent wind for the first half or so of the race which would turn into a tailwind for the final 8 km (out-and-back course). I broke the race up in parts in my mind:

1) The first 2 km with tailwind and slightly downhill. I needed to take this easy and not get caught up in the excitement of the race. Roll comfortably. And we did. Josh, Trevor, Lucas and I rolled as a group, passing by Tristan (unexpectedly) before the turnaround around 2.5 km.

2) The next 2 km were almost directly into the north wind and would probably be the hardest of the race. Josh and I decided to switch the lead for a bit. I lead that 3rd km in something like 3:15 which was slower than my 3:09-10/km goal and I was really working for it. Josh lead for the next km and we were still hovering around that pace and that’s when I decided I couldn’t afford many more km like this and made a push to get back on pace, putting a little space between me and the group.

3) From kms 5-13, we were running NE into a slight headwind. Thankfully, the wind seemed inconsistent so it wasn’t as bad as the previous section. There were a couple mild hills and each time the wind gusted, I put my head down and just grinded it out. I came through 10 km in 31:51-ish, about 20 seconds slower than I wanted. This was the hardest part of the race and it seemed to take forever for that 13 km marker and the turnaround to appear. I urged myself to keep the pace going so that I could set myself up well for the final 8km with the tailwind. One of the biggest motivators mentally was knowing that I had decided to pull away from the group I was working with at the start of the race and there was no way I was going to let them catch me.

4) Finally, the last stretch home from 13km to 21km. I still only managed to run around my goal pace, not able to make up much time because my legs were cooked… there was no extra gear. The nice thing about this part of the race was that there was a sea of runners still on their way out who shouted cheers and encouragements as our paths crossed. This was a big boost for me and I used it to keep motivated. When I crossed the 19 km mark, my watch said something around 1:00:37 which meant I had 6:23 to cover the last 2.1km if I wanted a 1:06:xx time. I was working too hard to think about it too hard and just committed to hammering as hard as I could to the finish so that I couldn’t have any regrets if I wasn’t able to get that goal. I would’ve had to run significantly faster in order to actually hit that goal, but the mindgame worked in so much as it provided motivation to finish as best I could. In the end, I made the final turn and could see that I wasn’t going to make it as the clock counted up from 1:06:50 with a couple hundred metres to go. I crossed the line around 1:07:10, happy with my effort and a 30-second PB from the fall, and a second place finish to Reid Coolsaet!

I didn’t get that 1:06-high time I was hoping for but in talking with Reid after the race, he seemed to think that without the wind 1:06 seemed very likely for me. That’s a big confidence boost but I still want to run it before I bank on it.

Now that this race is behind me, I’m trying to find motivation for my next goal. While I figure that out, I’m back to the training routine and looking forward to seeing the spring marathon results pouring in.

Good luck to everyone running NYC half, Around the Bay, Boston, and Mississauga!


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.