Sunday, October 30, 2011

Three in four done

Marine Corps Marathon, yes, my favourite, but yes it's a toughy, especially when it comes at the end of three marathons in four weeks.

Would I advise that you try it? Sure, I did it last year, but you have to put aside some ambitions for speed in favour of making it out to the next race.

This 36th MCM was my 18th, and man it was just as tough as the first. Targetted a 3:45 but the day handed me a 3:50, which I'm not complaining about, seeing as I hobbled in the last few miles. More on that later when I write up a race report. But first, I usher in the off season with a beer, a nap and a few more off days.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Marathon's snow day

As I prep for the last 24 hours before the Marine Corps Marathon, snow is in the forecast. I've heard of marathons being cancelled over snow, but this ain't no other marathon.

And yes, you heard me right. Snow. In DC. In October, or #snowtober, as others would call it.

Tomorrow's marathon?

Says Rick Nealis, MCM's Director:

"Marines don't cancel. If it snows, the Marines might be out there at two in the morning with our shovels and our brooms sweeping the course so it's spotless for those runners."


Marines don't cancel. At yesterday's expo, I found myself in line with an older man and his wife. He pointed at my jacket and asked me about that race. I saw his Marine jacket covered in patches and asked how many he had done and he told me 19.

"You didn't show off your jacket," his wife said so he turned and showed me the back, big bold letters MARINES covered with his five-year emblems stitched into the lower back. I get to earn mine real soon.

"It'll be my fifth," I said as we traded information on how to enter the MCM club, and as others in line started to turn to listen in, we both agreed.

"This is the best marathon," and his wife answered, "people really love it." We said good luck with the race.

Marines don't cancel.


They do so because they're prepared, and I'm woefully at this point. I dashed out to the nearest running store to pick up some leg sleeves. Now I'm thinking about it, I'm planning to go get some full-on tights. I picked up an 'emergency' poncho that should give me added warmth with the pre-race wait. And I'm hoping the heat therapy patches will double up as hand warmers as no store had actually stocked up on hand warmers.

And this snow, I think I can deal with it.

Typical snowy day on my Toronto trail.

I've actually raced (and paced) in this weather.

My pace bunny sign for the Chilly Half.

Ooh-rah, bring it on. Lets just hope that the Metro has the same point of view than that of the Marines.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Race report: Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2011

My last warmup runs a few days before Toronto Marathon left me feeling slightly confident. The soreness after Chicago was going away. My legs, which a week ago cramped up in the heat, felt a little sore, but I was more occupied by the wind. It was blowing strong, in an easterly direction. Not a pretty one given the out-and-back nature of the course.

My pre race movie was Running the Sahara and it gave me some perspective. In it, the three runners do an average of two marathons a day for 100. Perspective like this, and memory of feats like those of Dean Karnazes or Terry Fox made my back to back seem almost easy.

Easy to run, sure. To race was another thing, which is why I was shaking my head when I lined up behind the 3:30 pacers with a 3:40 band on my wrist. My legs were recovered but I wasn't feeling fresh. Yes, it felt like I'd just run a marathon a week before.

I started off trying to run easy. Almost immediately, started to baby my right heel, which is in far better shape it had been a month or so earlier, but still on the mend. Enough of a tingling to tell me to run easy. No worries, because my legs were in no move to go fast.

But being part of a stream of runners, you tend to just go with the flow. During this point, a friend of mine, Peter, gained on me and we chatted for a few minutes before I told him to go ahead. My mantra of any marathon is that the first half should feel effortless.

1 5:14.7
2 5:08.4
3 5:06.2
4 5:03.7
5 5:10.3

We were running on to the highway and past the SkyDome, and I had the first of several pangs of worry that I should not or could not keep up this pace. But I just tried to put away the thoughts as we were running into the wind. Focused on running behind runners, drafting off of them. A few kilometres later, I took my first gel and started to go on the lookout for the leaders on their way back. Amazingly, Reid was running with the lead pack and we all cheered out. Later on, saw my buddy Lee, who ended up with a rocking 1:21 half.

6 5:00.5
7 5:08.4
8 5:08.8
9 5:10.8
10 5:05.1

It was a few more kilometres until the turnaround when the wind would be at our backs. Around this point, the 3:35s came by and passed me, which struck me as fast, so I decided to let them go and made the mental note not to have the 3:40s come behind me. Not yet anyways. The wind pushing us back felt great, and I was pulling in pretty good splits, at or around the speeds I was running last week in Chicago. At this point, I noted that the crowds were extra great this year at some of the cheering sections. Very good omen for the rest of course.

11 4:57.2
12 5:05.2
13 5:04.5
14 5:06.0
15 5:04.5

By this time, I decided to take out my headphones. LETS MARK THIS MOMENT, SHALL WE? The first time ever in a road race I have put on headphones. I knew that the last half of the marathon would be a little lonely, or so I thought, so I busted them out and put on my marathon playlist that I quickly put together the morning of. It only had 16 songs (too lazy to hunt for others in my Nano). I was noticing that a lot of the half marathoners were running out of steam, so I just kept up the pace and enjoyed the tailwind. Started to pass runners.

As we neared the point where the half and fulls split, I was feeling a lot better. And as we turned into a smaller crowd, I suddenly realized I was running very close to the 3:35 pacer group. So I joined and with my pace taken care of for my by the group, I just started to pound out the miles with this group. Was happy to have that distraction.

16 5:05.7
17 4:59.3
18 5:00.1
19 4:57.3
20 5:07.0

We run right in front of my condo, and I had a split second of putting it in for the day (it was an actual thought, but not serious) and noted that I had a freaking long way to go. I thought about the fresh looking fellow runners and how they'd had no idea one of them just ran a marathon a week ago. I worried slightly about what would happen if I should run out of steam and suddenly stopped. Then I just kept on going.

21 5:01.1
HALF: 1:47:48 (On pace for 3:35:36)

We had the first of three out and backs, and I started looking out for other runners that I knew. I saw the 3:30s and Marlene running a little bit behind. I thought about her going for 3:30 and was very proud as I pointed at her and we waved. I saw Sam a little behind that and hoped we didn't catch up to her.

I was impressed that there seemed to be a good showing of runners (in all, more than 3,500 did the marathon) and it showed a little later when a woman tripped and fell and we almost ran over her, it was that tight. Meanwhile, the pace bunny was doing his job and we kept up the pace. I didn't feel hard, but I tried to shut off that it was only barely past the half.

22 5:04.4
23 5:08.3
24 5:03.4
25 5:04.9

My next job was to make it to the 'wall', down Leslie and up again. The pacer had a friend who joined him (someone who looked fresh) and they chatted away. I'll have to admit, it was a little annoying to have random chatter from this 'hey, i'm running only 10k with this group' runner while our pacer got distracted. We were starting to make ground on other runners who had either slowed.

I've run enough marathons now to know to expect the march zone, when you start to encounter runners who start to walk. When you're with a pace group or if you're running at a good clip solo, it's invigorating to run past them at the same time that it is a little difficult to start weaving through the crowd. If you're on the receiving end, it's even more devastating. I do not like reaching this point no earlier than kilometre 35.

26 4:59.7
27 5:02.0
28 4:59.0
29 5:02.2
30 4:58.4

A final push to the most easterly portion of the course at the Beach. I had not run Scotia full since it added this portion, and I was really impressed by the crowd support. It was pretty amazing for a Toronto race. As we were running it, we encountered some rollers, not tough, but enough to remind me that I was indeed embarking on another marathon. If a taper period gives you that added spurt of energy to run hard the last 10K, then I was discovering this now.

31 5:00.6
32 5:02.8
33 5:05.9
34 5:08.8
35 5:04.6

We were on our way back. The pace group was running strong, but we were also running into that wind. I told myself to keep up the pace as much as possible... 36 5:02.5
37 5:08.6

Until one moment, I just stopped into a walk. It was somewhere into the 38th kilometre, and I felt just spent. No cramps, just a little bit of an exhaustion combined with no will to fight the end of the course. I began to take walk breaks until I felt okay enough to break into a ruin. When I hit this point at some marathons, I don't turn into a jog as that would turn into too painful of a long stretch, plus it doesn't feel natural to go that slow. So I would walk for a bit, then run at some sort of pace, the break again. This continued for a bit before we hit the bridge over Don Valley Parkway. 38 5:20.1
39 5:53.5
40 6:15.3

I spotted my buddy Sam in the distance, and I knew that by catching her, I probably caught her on a tough day. We were both going at slow speeds, and I finally caught up to her about 2 kilometres from the finish.

Me: Vague wave with a 'hey'
Sam: Hey Kenny
Me: Tough day, huh?
Sam: That's the marathon..

We ran for a little bit, and a chipper friend of hers came and said something along the lines of 'lets run!' Don't say that, people, to clearly suffering runners. Just stay silent, and run with them at their speed.

I soon got separated at a water stop, and not wanting to lose momentum, I started to run again. The crowds at the last bit helped me get my pace back up, especially since I knew I was less than two miles from the end.

41 5:52.9

The final kilometre felt like it went by in slow motion. Of course, I was not running at marathon pace, but my watch checks surprisingly said to me that I had plenty of time banked under 3:40. A final few turns, and I found myself running toward the finish. I won't lie, it felt great to see the finish line.

Truth is, I very rarely get the 'emotional' reaction to the finish line. I just had the hunger of knowing that the end was almost near.

42 5:30.0
.2 1:37.4

Final time: 3:38:40

You've read about the bag-check fiasco that almost led me to forget this race.

A very decent result, faster than Chicago and my legs were put in a good place that I can probably end my October marathon month with a decent MCM.

Also worth noting that today, Oct. 22, is the fifth anniversary of my first marathon. Five years and 17 marathons later.. Two down in October, one to go:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The utter fiasco that was the Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon

 Image by daynamjones
This is a running account of the 2011 Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon baggage-check fiasco. Scroll down for reverse chronological ordered updates.

Update 11: Nov 16

A month after the marathon, Alan wrote this recap of the bag check meltdown.
I think our #1 pledge to you is to “get it right”, to get it solved so it doesn’t happen again. Just as Chicago did when they had to cancel their marathon in mid race in 2007.
Read the rest here.

Update 10: Sunday, 8:20 p.m.:
Alan Brookes wrote this post reflecting on the race. From a personal perspective, I'm glad he has come out to talk clearly about it and I'm satisfied they're listening. Make no mistake, the running community has been behind CRS for all these years, and though we've felt we've been let down on that afternoon, we know that runners stick together. Good luck, Alan and team, in prepping for the future. Here's an excerpt from Alan's blog post:
The second tragic event was the total meltdown at the BAGGAGE reclaim area at the Finish line. More than a few of you have rightly given me SERIOUS stick over this. One finisher was kind enough to put it in the context of a serious “downer” that spoiled an otherwise outstanding event. Whatever your take, as I’ve replied individually to a bunch of you, we apologise profusely, we will be doing a complete debrief this coming Wednesday. (we are doing debriefs all this week — Baggage is on Wednesday), and you have my assurance that we will take every measure possible to make sure is does not happen again. We are in the process of getting all the written reports from the Area Managers [some 250], and then we will begin our systematic and thorough review of all areas, concluding with the resolution to change the things that need to be changed for next time. I’ll be Blogging on this towards the end of the week, to share not just an apology, but some insight into what actually imploded, and recommendations for moving forward [including some GREAT recommendations from you].

I think, I hope you all know that we are all runners ourselves, and we care deeply about YOU, our fellow runners. This has been at the core of whatever success CRS has achieved. We take some hard-earned pride from the usual, high-quality of CRS events. Dylan Wykes coach was kind enough to say that we’ve “revolutionized road running in Canada,” and in a good way! I can honestly say that in 29 years, this is the second baggage-area meltdown we’ve had. With your input, careful review, and corrective planning, we hope it will be the last! I also appeal to you to work with us on this. I’ve been reflecting back on Chicago 2007. I’ve worked the Start/Finish in Chicago the past 7 years, and Chicago General Manager, Mike Nishi, actually came to work with me for STWM Race Weekend this year. The excessive heat at their race in 2007 caused the cancellation of the whole event, mid-race, as they ran short of water and ambulances, and the situation spiralled out of control. How could this happen? It was traumatic for one of the best-organized marathons in the world, for the city, and for the entire North American running community. But they pulled together, micro-reviewed, and put in place some outstanding new plans so this is never likely to happen again, no matter what the conditions.

So rest assured I [and all of the CRS team who worked themsleves to exhaustion for the event last weekend] feel as gutted about this as you are upset. It really spoiled our day too!

Update 9: Friday, 7 p.m.
The organizers acknowledge the 'disaster' and sent out this as part of an email message today.

Update 8: Thursday, 6 a.m.

Alan Brookes, race director, replies to one of my tweets, promising a full breakdown.

Update 7: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Brenden Williams from the CRS responded to my request to confirm the earlier email Mac sent to me (See Update 5 below). Thank you Brenden for getting back to me. I've passed back to him feedback that Alan's communication with runners is even more important.

I can confirm that was my response. We are happy to hear our participant’s feedback and comments to better our event year after year. I can ensure you and all the participants that were waiting for an unacceptable amount of time, we will make vast improvements with our baggage check for next year.

Another blogger, Storytelling_T, relates her experience after running her very first half marathon (congrats!). A few excerpts

Where were the emergency or back-up plans on race day? Where was the official on a megaphone (or multiple volunteers) stationed at the finish line? Individuals who could have informed participants that due to a glitch or oversight, there was a major backlog at the bag check in and would people kindly like to make their way to a nearby heated tent for coffee and warmth to wait it out? Where was the apology or announcements informing people what their options were or what was happening? Unlike a music festival or outdoor concert, where people are left to fend for themselves and know more or less what they are getting into and prepare accordingly- we are athletes expecting the events in which we enroll to be considerate and cater to our basic health and human needs.

She continues...

I am appalled and saddened that this debacle has put a damper on an otherwise monumental day. I paid $100 to participate in a race, which I also vigorously fundraised for, only to be treated like cattle and forced into an unfortunate post-race situation without any explanation or consideration for my health and wellbeing. I still don’t have an official explanation on what the problem was today. I know this is an annual event and a world-class one. How on Earth did organizers allow this to happen? But more importantly, how did no one manage to act quickly and offer an alternative to all those racers?

Read the rest of it here.

And journalist and fellow runner @vaughanreporter wrote her account, at one point describing the scene while she waited for two hours:

As each person came out with their bag, a loud raucous cheer went up from the crowd. It was like scoring a goal every time someone was seen clutching a bag.

One man was so happy he screamed "Miracle on Bay Street!" to loud applause and cheers.

I finally got to the front, handed my bib to one of the young beleagured volunteers and waited.

Read the rest of her well-argued post here.

Update 6: Tuesday, 9 p.m. This post has taken a lot of my time the past three days, but time worth it to talk about the bag-check fiasco at this past weekend's marathon in Toronto. Just about everyone in private or in email or messages have echoed what I have said and felt. They are pissed, disappointed and shocked that this was allowed to happen. One summed it well last night on Twitter: "I'd be furious beyond belief. Two hours defies belief."

There are those who are wondering what's the big deal with the wait. The first issue is public safety. You can not come to a full stop after doing such an event, Keith being a real example of that. The second is the fact that this is supposed to be a top-notch event, so organizers much run the finish like one. Also acknowledge that the race experience doesn't end with the medal. You have to take care of your runners who dish out $100 to run your course. You left a lot of us on what should have been a celebratory day with an intensely sour taste in our mouths, not to mention shivering and cramping up bodies.

Can I reiterate that thousands of us ran 42.2 kilometres and 21.1 kilometres?

One should ask how long the lineups were an issue. My estimation is that the lineups started to be unmanageable as early as 10:45 a.m. because Fran, who was the pace bunny for the 1:45s, said he had a 50 minute wait. I finished my full marathon a whole two hours later, at 12:45 p.m., and got my bag after 2:15 p.m.. So by the time I started to wonder how long it would take, the lineup issue had been going on for a few hours. Not one hour, as the race organizer said in his email to a reader.

On the issue that runners were eventually allowed to go in one by one, escorted. In fact, there was a brief point at 2 p.m. when a whole whack of us were allowed in. I spent almost 10 minutes aimlessly searching. Others were too. I was the one who fetched my own bag, as did others.

Constructive feedback:

The organizer who suggests that they go with buses is right, but should note that if a school bus could hold 500 bags each, they're going to need 45 plus buses. This is not a new development. Boston uses the school-bus method, which works quite well, especially since they use a fleet of buses to truck everyone up to Hopkinton. So if they can do it next year, all the power to them.

MCM, as I noted, does a similar system, with 30+ trucks.

Here's a picture I took last year just outside my truck where I picked up my bag at the MCM finish. Notice there is not much of a crowd.

What would work for Scotia? Whatever it is, it should with a tent/area/bus for each 1000 bags. They need to collect the bags in order. They need to separate half marathon bags from full marathon bags. And they need to space out the entire pickup area.

Some have asked what I was looking for. Uncomfortable as it is, I responded that I wanted a real apology proportionate to the level of service we got and an explanation of why they allowed it to happen. What was as jarring was the lack of communication from the race and its race director. (And I'm not putting a damper on the event's highlights: I am in the camp that celebrates Reid's accomplishment, Ed's blazing run and Fauja's epic run.)

There's a saying in the tech world, eat your own dogfood, which is to say that to express confidence in your product, you have to use your own. I think this applies for any company that produces anything: a race, a widget, a burger, dogfood. If Scotiabank is indeed silver, then it should be held to a highest level. And if the race organizers are willing to run a full marathon and stand in line for 2 hours -- clearly they did not -- then clearly they did not eat their own dogfood. What it did eat was their voice. So my final feedback? Engage and communicate with your racers. As this fiasco demonstrated, social media has turned the tide. We're not silently limping home from our poorly organized race. We're tweeting, commenting, writing and sharing our experiences. Not easy for any company to deal with, but you gotta deal with it.

Update 5: Tuesday, 5:50 p.m.

Reader Mac Fenwick said he got the following email after complaining through the website. It was not as detailed as the apology that went with the chip results. A lot of detail that many of us were seeking for. The email, Mac says, is from Brenden Williams, the Registration Coordinator & Packet Pickup Manager. I can't confirm this so if CRS wants to confirm this, please feel free.

Thank you for the e-mail. CRS would like to truly apologize for the poor execution of baggage check on race day. There were a few factors of why baggage went out of sorts. We had 4 weeks to move our baggage check area with little available space to work with. We unfortunately found out that morning we were short volunteers and supervisors to work baggage. Our supervisors informed us of the problem an hour into the long lines and we quickly had to problem solve to move the lines quicker. As I'm sure you noticed, we eventually had to have each volunteer escort a runner into the baggage area to find their own bag. The idea was the runner could spot their own bag much faster than the volunteers. We are working on solutions for next year as we are aware of the problematic baggage check on Sunday.

We may go with several school buses with no more than 500 bags on a bus. We can have each window of the bus numbered. The participant can drop off their baggage at their appropriate bib range. This means that each volunteer will have no more than 30 bags each and will be very quick at returning the participant's bag. The bags will not move and the buses will than drive to the finish line. We would really appreciate your suggestions as we now plan to have a CRS staff member manage the baggage check area for next year.

Alan Brookes (CRS Race Director) put this on our website: "Canada Running Series would like to congratulate all our finishers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. We apologise for the significant delay at the new baggage pick up area. We take great pride in our events and the implementation of all operational procedures, we are committed to making continual improvements that ensure your experience is always positive both pre and post-race." We hope to see you again next year with a much improved baggage area.

Brenden's email is if you care to follow up.

Update 4: Monday, 11 p.m.:

Did we mention we paid $2?

As reader Ola says in the comments "watching that still makes me mad 2hrs to get my bag". Also sent this link to a video showing the madness.

CRS, I guess you can 'apologise', but you really can't run away from this one. Well documented, no way to sweep this one away with the end of the racing season. Apology? Check. Explanation? Not there yet.

Also plenty of comments on the race's Facebook page.

A taste of the Facebook comments, one from Sherry Meehan:

We also found it a big fiasco. One and a half hours sweaty and freezing. Today I can't stop sneezing. Does no one in the organization know how to count. 22,000 bags is a lot of bags. Once you got to the front of the bag pick up line and got your bag there was no way out but to fight through the people standing in line. There was no food, drinks, bathrooms,medical people, warm clothing, garbage cans etc. How stupid are you people??? I have run many CRS races in the past but NO MORE.

Update 3: Monday, 6:40 p.m.: Fellow runner Kerry pointed out that on the results page, a box has appeared with this 'statement'

Baggage Reclaim Statement:

Canada Running Series would like to congratulate all our finishers of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. We apologise for the significant delay at the new baggage pick up area. We take great pride in our events and the implementation of all operational procedures, we are committed to making continual improvements that ensure your experience is always positive both pre and post race.

My two cents: what are continual improvements and implementation of 'operational procedures'?

What you guys think? No comments on their site, so might as well tell us here

Update 2: Monday, 6 p.m.: More than 24 hours later, we see a Tweet from the race director Alan Brookes, replying to a racer with 10 followers.

@sprout1962 hi Lisa; our apologies! We WILL be on it! Promise! Hope u enjoyed rest of the experience...

See Tweet.

Hear the crickets?

Also wanted to relay a race report from an ex-colleague of mine, Keith, who ended up in the medical tent after being forced to stand still in line.

Writes Keith:

The finish line was very poorly organized. Instead of being able to cool down and loosen up, runners were forced to stand still for up to an hour and a half while they waited to claim their race bags. Standing in line for more than half an hour, on top of my light-headedness, led me to pass out and fall down hard. When I came through, I was surrounded by runners offering me water or bananas or Gatorade. I said I was ok and stood back up. Then I passed out and fell down again. When I came through the second time, I heard someone screaming for a medic.

Read the rest of Keith's report here

By the way, Canada Running Series? This is pretty much the most-read post I've had since launching this blog in 2005, save for Obama's inauguration or Boston race report. Get on it. Apologize, tell us you'll fix it, tell us what went wrong.

Update 1: I'm not alone, just look at the comments/tweets that have accumulated below.

Original Post

I just got home after a frustrating race. No, not the course. The baggage check. Un-fucking-believable. We waited 1.5 hours in line. They forced runners to be crammed in there after running a full marathon. They crammed half, 5K and fulls into the same area. And when it just got untenable, they just opened the back, letting runners fend for themselves at the bag check.

Let me repeat.

One hour. Thirty minutes.

Volunteers? They are awesome.

I don't have many kind words for the organizers.

Let me put this in perspective.

I ran Chicago last week. Within 10 minutes, I had my medal, beer, water and no lineup at the tent. 36,000 finishers.

I ran MCM for four straight years. They have baggage trucks at the end one truck per thousand bags. That's 30 some odd trucks, spaced out. The marines? Efficient as hell.

These guys? There I was, tramping around in the baggage area, limping around, seeking my bag (which wasn't with the others in my bib range). At least one other (see below) lost their bag. Incredible.

Okay, ice bath, and i'll stew over the race that was, which was actually pretty amazing: 3:38:41.

Tweets I found this afternoon

Monday, October 17, 2011

Road wars: Sporting Life 10K and the battle over Yonge Street

Do not worry, I will go back very shortly to blogging about races, training and running, but here's something we've all been following. Believe me, I'm not writing this because of the Canada Running Series and their Scotiabank Waterfront Toronto Marathon bag check fiasco, as I'm calling it.

But speaking of CRS, you may have read about the road race wars going on.

Before I get to the point: There are three major spring races in the Toronto area: the Mississauga Marathon, the Toronto Marathon (not CRS run and moved to spring, long story) and the Sporting Life 10K (CRS).

Above, Yonge Street during Toronto Marathon years ago.
Last year, the Big Three looked like this

May 1: Sporting Life (CRS)
May 15: Toronto Marathon (from its fall date)
May 15: Mississauga Marathon

Okay, aside from Toronto Marathon nudging into Mississauga's traditional date (bad form new guys, bad form), the new spring Toronto Marathon played major mojo games with Sporting life, because they both are run in parts on Yonge Street.

Yes, enough to draw the wrath of commuters.

So here are the road wars, detailed by The Star.

1. CRS and Sporting Life 10K part ways
2. CRS decides to look for April 22nd date, seeks city hall approval
3. Sporting Life 10K partners with the Toronto Marathon organizers

And then today, while searching in Google, I come across this little nugget. Looks like Toronto Marathon guys may be going ahead with May 13 and about to announce it. (Lesson learned about publishing to a site that's being crawled by Google.)

Cached version of a page on Toronto Marathon site (no longer available)
So lets play with this scenario.

April 22: This new (unapproved) Toronto Yonge Street 10K runs down Yonge Street (CRS).
May 6: Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon runs down Yonge Street.
May 6: Mississauga Marathon takes place
May 13: Sporting Life 10K runs down Yonge Street.

The obvious wildcard is whether city council will go with CRS or the Toronto Marathon guys. Or both. Geez, here we go again.

No matter what, I'm having a feeling this is going to happen all over again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Race report: Chicago Marathon 2011

Is there really beer at the finish? It's a question we all asked ourselves as we were trying to remember what it was like in 2006. The group of us, knowing that it would take a measure of luck, physicality and will to move 26.2 miles really wanted to know. Beer tent or just past the finish line, which is what I recalled.

We were walking around the expo on Friday afternoon when we came across a booth with pace band buckets. I looked, and snapped up two. Goal A, Goal B.

For the days leading up to the race, I was doing rush treatment for my heel issues. I resorted to also using an ibuprofen cream that I bought a while ago at another race expo. The last six weeks dealing with the issues left me a little on the undertrained side. I wasn't confident I could do what in the past I could pull off.

But this was Chicago, a big city marathon, and I couldn't at least give it a shot. I had two reasonably good spring marathons (both sub 3:30) and thought even an injured self could strive for something ambitious.

Race morning began like all others and I went through the motions. Breakfast, more sleep, washroom visits and slowly dressing. R. came down for a surprise visit so it was nice to have her support. The hotel was right across from the Start/Finish, so I left my hotel at 6:40 a.m., 50 minutes to the start.

Forgot the craziness that is the start. People everywhere. Made my way past the gear check (why need one) and into my corral where I hung out, chatted with a guy who was running his fifth Chicago. I had shed my throwaway shirt, feeling too warm. From ground level, you can't really get a sense of how big the race is, but I knew it was huge. Still, at the start, and within range, might as well be any race. Just you, your pace, your race.

If my first thoughts in 2006 at this race was 'oh my god I am running a marathon', the 16th marathon start was a whole lot different. I was thinking, almost in an endless loop 'how is that heel doing,' 'man it's getting warm' and 'I gotta pee.'.

We wound through the streets, I did also take a few meagre seconds to marvel at the massive crowd, but I digress. Had to pee, was worried about the warm weather and the heel. So much so that I eyed every alleyway (most were taped off to have us not use it as a public toilet) and thought about dashing to the side of the building. Meanwhile, I found myself running a reasonably level of effort. I could have gone out faster, but I told myself to hold back. Always good to be cautious at the beginning, I thought. It's a long-ass race.

05K 00:25:39 (25:39 5K split) 08:16 pace

The first 5K was pretty much where I wanted it. I had grabbed a 3:40 and 3:45 pace band, thinking i'd come in at between the pace. That's 8:23 miles for the 3:40. At some mile intervals, I saw I was making pretty good time and the pace was exactly where I needed to be.

As we made our way north, I was begging Lincoln Park to come by. This is where lots of runners abandon modesty for a pee break and I was ready to join them.

That done it was back to the business of marathoning, and the other two worries were left. Heel and heat. I had gotten into the habit of bringing my fuel belt with me on big races just as a buffer. Water stations are great, but it's also nice to have a bottle to lean on when you really need a slip of water to boost your spirits (and to take a gel with).

10K 00:51:16 (25:37 5K split) 08:15 pace

Hit the 10K at the same consistent splits. Because there are so many runners, early on it's easy to keep the pace. It's also amazing that during big races you can actually start recognizing people the that you see on the course. Either someone you saw in the corral or someone a few miles ago. I used a few as markers to make sure I was found out okay.

15K 01:17:45 (26:29 5K split) 08:32 pace

From the Park to the half is probably one of my favourite parts of all race courses I've ever done. Past by the Elvis impersonator or the gaytown brigade or just the massive crowds cheering wildly. I was enjoying it even while deciding I should find the next portapotty stall in case my stomach was complaining. Lost about 1 minute to that but I find a minute in a portpotty is better than paying for it down the road when you can't find one.

Heading to the half, I started looking for R. knowing she was wearing a pink sweater. Man, it was crowded and I had no luck spotting her.

20K 01:43:22 (25:37 5K split) 08:15 pace

Back into the loop, I was realizing that in my mind, the miles were chugging by, and also the heel was no longer a major issue. For some reason, a combination of rest, stretching, icing and the cream had largely made those issues go away. The heat, though, I was treasuring the fact that the buildings in the loop were providing us with plenty of shade. Until after the half.

Half: 1:49:07

My half split gave me at least some solace that I didn't just pull a 3:40 as a random number. Felt natural, somewhere between long slow distance and marathon race pace.

If the first half of the race was a big-city marathon dream, the second half is by comparison a let down. I was chatted with a friend and we both agreed that if Chicago reversed its course, it'd probably be a more enjoyable race. Miles 13 to 20 features two out and backs that are similar in that you run out west in the sun, and return in the sun, with only some shade and a little less crowd support.

25K 02:09:15 (25:53 5K split) 08:20 pace

There's not much to say about miles 13 - 20 other that I was hoping to a) survive the heel b) not let the heat have me hit the wall too soon c) avoid cramps.

I was taking water and Gatorade at all stops, loved the sponges that they gave out and ran under the sprinklers they had on the course. I knew I was putting the heat at bay by doing so, but the best call was slowing down to this pace.

30K 02:34:56 (25:41 5K split) 08:16 pace

Ran strongly past the 30K mark (18.6 miles) and felt I was in a good place. Sure, the course was pretty monotonous but I was really zeroed in on my running, paying attention to those around me. I couldn't really look at the crowd or take in the sights. The effort was needed to keep focus.

35K 03:00:46 (25:50 5K split) 08:19 pace

Somewhere after the 22 mile mark, I started to curse myself. The heat was in full swing but I was fine from a cardio standpoint. Cramps. Crap. Left calf. Right and left lower quadriceps. They were starting to make pains.

So by the 22nd mile, I stopped to stretch just as my left calf almost seized. Seizing/clenching muscles is not a good thing during a marathon. So I stopped to stretch it out, then resumed running right away, just at a slower pace.

It didn't get better. Much of the rest of the race had me running slower so I didn't spark off another cramping session, which in theory was going fine, until one runner in front of me decides to STOP mid run, having me collide into him.

Try stopping on a dime while you are cramping and see what happens to your legs. I had to stretch, resume running, then did my best to avoid running behind other marathoners.

40K 03:28:46 (28:00 5K split) 09:01 pace

The good news is that my pace didn't fall off dramatically. I went from 8:16 miles down to 9:22 at my slowest. Up the final few miles, it felt like it was going forever, but I resolved not to walk for too long. A few runners urged me on to run, which I did do, shuffling along.

At the final stretch, before the final two turns, I started to look for R., who said she'd try to be at the end. Amazingly, I was able to spot her from afar and broke away from the crowd to run to her.

Me running toward R.

The crowd went wild when I stopped. I smiled at her, chatted for a bit and gave her a big kiss while she and everyone else was shouting, 'run, run!'.

So off to enjoy the final 800 metres when the 3:40 pacers, three of them, came on by, hamming it up for the crowd. I shadowed them and -- after a slight break up the hell -- made my way to the final stretch.

Finish lines are a relief. I didn't struggle. I didn't really feel elated, but just satisfied to reach the end. Just like I didn't want to empty the tank, my job was to arrive at the finish to have the heel survive for the next race, and for these legs to take me to the next start line. Worth raising your hands for a photo opp.

A few metres past the finish, I did a fist pump, and as the volunteer cheerfully draped the medal around my neck, the biggest smile emerged. Fucken eh, Chicago. What a nice homecoming. And a few metres later, beer in hand, cooling station secured, I sat down and savoured my first drink of beer…

That's a post-race reward worth treasuring.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Frank Shorter said...

"You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming."

Well, have to hand it to Frank Shorter, he has a good point.

Forget that you'll spend 3/4/5 hours of running joy that turns into sustained pain -- the mental kind too. Forget that gels, even the nice flavoured ones, aren't fun to chew. And that Gatorade in large amounts get you burping. Forget using a sensible washroom in favour of a portajohn/potty. Or even a tree in a park with thousands of people to your back. Forget the wall. Forget what it feels like after the wall. Forget that 22 miles is still 4 miles or 6.4 kilometres to the end.. Forget that the last .2 hurts too. Forget the limp past the finish, the medal you collect, the post-run beer, the ice/epson salt the war stories and the proud hobble the day after. No time to forget, gotta roll them legs...

Five more days till the next one...

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Chicago Marathon is done!

The temperature was a little warmer than we'd all like. I adjusted my pace a few days ago, taking out a 3:40 pace band. The heel, it held up. The calfs didn't, due to cramping. I took in my five gels, the Gatorade but it still did me in. Had to walk and stretch a few times.

I'm very happy with the performance. It was hard to enjoy a marathon when it was not cool, but I was able to tough it out, drawing on all those other marathons that have challenged me.

So am I running Toronto in a week? We'll see how the legs bounce back and I'll be paying very close attention to the weather.

I'll write up a race report in a few days.

Final chip time: 3:41:04

Here's the bling!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Chicago redux (2.0)

2006: Holy crap, first marathon
2011: Um, how much of this ibuprofen cream can I slather on my heel?

2006: Can't wait to hit the expo, gonna buy maybe a jacket
2011: Yes to jacket. Yes to hat. Yes to whatever you want me to buy.

2006: Deep Dish Pizza!
2011: Where can I find a bagel, banana and peanut butter.

2006: Packing a long sleeve in case it gets cold (it got cold)
2011: Unpacking my long sleeve cause it'll get warm

2006: My buddies Jelly, Frankie and I are all geared up, trained, ready to go!
2011: We've ran. A lot sometimes. Sometimes not. We'll line up

2006: 3:20 or bust! (Ended up with 3:35)
2011: Lets see how I feel marathon morning

2006: Excited!
2011: Still excited, though will stop short of putting a slammer at the end.

Marathon No. 16, here we come.

P.S.: Holy frak, it's the Chicago Marathon! This is gonna be insane(!) <- slammer

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Races and weddings

I rifled through my running DVD collection and pulled out Spirit of the Marathon. I eyed my pantry looking for dried pasta. The Nuun tube only had a few tablets, but just enough for the next few days. And the haircut, check. That's done.

Maybe it's good I have other things to occupy me while I obsess over my healing heel. Truth is, it's not 100%. Enough to run a marathon. Hm, I think so. Anyways, icing and running fewer miles while working on other prep will keep me focused on Chicago. Six years ago, before my first marathon in Chicago, I really had no established routine. I had plenty of races under my belt, but not the big race. Now, after 15, the routine is set.

So far, the usual routine includes:

  • Having a sudden craving for carbs. Then satisifying it. Again. And Again.
  • Feeling every ache on my feet/leg/knee and worry
  • Watching a few standby movies or documentaries on running
  • Consider dousing myself in hand sanitizer to avoid a cold
  • Checking the weather 10 times a day, then start looking at the hour-by-hour forecast
  • Pack shorts/singlet/tights/long T/extra socks/hat, then wonder if there's another type of weather I should prep for

Then there are a few race-week traditions. I pull out a lucky hat (a Canadian one if I'm running outside of Canada), I check out the splits that I want to run, I browse through random Runner's World forums to see what the chatter is about. 

Last Saturday, I ditched my long run for a short four miles. With time to burn, I headed to my barber, had a haircut. A few days later, I told my co-workers when I decide I need a trim.

"I get haircuts for weddings and races," I said. "Luckily, I do lots of races."

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The iPod Nano fitness and the Garmin killer

While everyone else was watching for news about the new iPhone, I checked Garmin's stock price. Up 5%. Huh. What got me interested was not the 4S, but the Nano and a focus on 'fitness'. Garmin has been the industry leader in GPS watches for a long time. I've made my way through three watches in the past seven years, starting with clunky versions and ending up three years ago with my 405. While I and other run geeks have been eyeing the 610, with its touch screen, you can not deny that Apple -- already slaying the tablet market, taking more of the general PC market -- has another product in its sights. The fitness device You can argue that Apple has been doing Nike fitness for awhile, and that even the iPhone, with apps like Runkeeper, have taken a sizable chuck of runners who don't need Garmins, something about today's product launch is different: It aims at all almost all the criticisms that geek runners like me have about the past iPod/iPhone products.
  • No more sensors needed for the Nano. You get the watch and it works. (It's another thing all together about accuracy). What serious runner wears Nike. Kidding. Seriously, what serious runner...
  • With the wristwear, you can now see how fast/far you've run. I hated armbands where you couldn't get a track of time/distance/pace and I never liked tucking my iPhone/Runkeeper into some random pouch that was out of the way.
  • Auto synching to a proprietary site (NikePlus) starts to put products like Garmin Connect, Sportracks and even Daily Mile at risk. Though it would be smarter to make the iPod compatible with the software out there.
  • Price point: $130. Yikes. And it plays music too.
Sure, Garmins have awesome extra features, like virtual racing partner and custom screens set on anything you want, but even many of us don't use those features. I'm a Garmin fanatic. The return on investment is just too massive, plus I love the battery power and knowing every single detail that I can get my hand on. Also, it's water resistant, which I can appreciate, having my four-year old Nano be knocked out by a rain storm while my Garmin kept on ticking. Plus the data geek in me loves how I can slice and dice a run right up to the 400 metre interval or elevation profiles. For that, I can absolutely justify the $300 or so price
and clunky synching that Garmin has made modest improvements on over the years. But for the masses, I'm not so sure that Garmin becomes an entry-level must have.