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Christmas in Iten

December 27, 2014
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I arrived in Kenya on Dec 17th and spent a couple days in Nairobi. Marie and I did some tourist stuff before flying to Eldoret.

Elephant orphanage in Nairobi

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Giraffe Centre in Nairobi

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The plan was to take it easy for 5 days and I managed to get four easy days in before a fairly hard 18km run with the group I trained with last year. I didn’t stay up with the leaders, they were four minutes ahead of me at the end of 18.2km but I still went a little harder than planned.

On December 24th Shoe4Africa put on a women’s 5km in Iten. Entries were free, came with a t-shirt and limited to the first 800. Needless to say it filled up fast. Marie helped out with registration for quite a while before I showed up after my morning run and helped pin numbers to t-shirts. The course was not easy and because the prize money was good there were a bunch of impressive performances.

Before the start of the Shoe4Africa 5km.

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Handing out race shirts

 

 

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Christmas day fell on a Thursday and I decided to give the ‘big’ fartlek session a go. The Thursday fartlek sessions in Iten can see upwards of 300 runners. Because of Christmas the numbers were reduced. Many of the local runners come from nearby villages and spent Christmas day at home. On top of that it rained pretty hard the night before and the trails were still muddy in the morning, which may have reduced numbers as well.

I ran to the fartlek with a few other Wazungu from HATC and met up with 40-50 Kenyans. Someone decided on 20 times 2 minutes with 1 minute rest. Geoffrey Rono (59 minute half marathoner) was in the group. For the first 7 intervals or so I was able to get back with the lead group by running the one minute ‘rest’ a little harder (the guys around me were doing the same). At that point my average pace was 3:30/km. On one trail the mud was bad and my shoes were really heavy. At this point a second group formed and we slowed our rest down (~5:30/km) as we weren’t trying to re-group with the leaders anymore.

After 10 intervals or so a bunch of guys dropped and we got on a new path without any mud. I found my rhythm again and stayed with three other guys. After a while we could barely see the first group, which was down to three guys.

On the 17th interval I lost contact with the guys I was running with, but when I finished I realized they were stopping at 17. I continued on and one of the guys decided to keep me company. Towards the end of the 20th interval the two of us flew by the three leaders, who were walking. Afterwards we walked with them and they realized they miscounted because they thought they did 20. They had their watches on 1 minute timer whereas I had a running time (59 minutes, 16.3km, 3:38/km). In the end only 3 Kenyans out of about 50 were planning on completing the prescribed 20 x 2 min session.

Later Christmas day we visited some friends for a late lunch, although I only had chapati because I had already feasted at HATC. We also gave out a bunch of school supplies to local kids we saw walking around. For dinner the kitchen prepared a big cake that was really good. We finished off the night with a game of charades with our Irish friends.

Other than HATC, Club Iten and Kerio View there wasn’t much in terms of Christmas decorations but we did manage to buy a small tree for our room.

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Our room decorations

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And where do we go?

December 15, 2014

Earlier this week it was reported that five Track and Field events are under threat to be discontinued from the Olympic program. The events are the 200m, 10,000m, triple jump, shot put and one of the men’s walks (20km or 50km). My first reaction is that this is a shame and, it is. I imagine many casual TnF fans wouldn’t care too much if there were a few events taken off the table. The same thing is being considered for swimming and, as a casual fan, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to consolidate that sport.

If athletics was forced to downsize and become more relevant here is my take on the five events in question.

The 10,000m has seen some amazing championship races, Billy Mills, Lasse Viren’s fall, Geb vs Tergat, Mo Farah… It’s sad to think some of these fantastic races could never happen again. Except that there is talk of including a 10km road race in place of the 10,000m on the track. Perhaps that race could even finish on the track(?).  And, as the article points out, the 10,000m is rarely run these days anyways whereas 10km road races are ubiquitous.

If the 10km road race had big KM markers for splits that run off chips on the athletes and some neat features in the course, such as hills, it could be very entertaining. Perhaps more so than 25 laps around a 400m oval. Mind you, if it’s a numbers game then I doubt they would just switch the same bodies over to the roads.

Shot put doesn’t look that impressive, if only fans could pick up a shot and see how heavy those things are then people could really appreciate a 20m throw put. But in reality a 22m huck doesn’t look that exciting and there are more sports competing for attention these days than ever before.

Triple jump seems like a random event and I can imagine casual fans have a hard time relating to it. Long jump and high jump are straight forward and as kids many of us tried to jump over something in length or height. But did you ever try and hop, skip, jump anything in the playground?

If they took out one men’s race walk then there would be an even amount of men’s and women’s Athletics medals at championship events. To me, one of the men’s race walks seems the most obvious to cut for equality reasons. Not to mention 50km around a 2km loop!

If you cut out the 200m I bet the vast majority of 200m runners could gravitate towards the 100m or 400m and have equal performances after specific training. Perhaps cutting out the 200m doesn’t even cut out that many athletes seeing as many might compete in the 100, 400 and 4x100m anyways.

As much as its disappointing that Track and Field, as we know it, could be cut down maybe it’s what the sport needs to appeal to more people and stay relevant.  There are meets being discontinued around the world due to lack of money (sponsorship and fans), something needs to change and perhaps that means a streamlined event line-up? I’m sure there are many other ways to make athletics more appealing but this could be one direction to entertain.

In the end there are many more sports/events that should be cut before any athletics event if they need to make room at the Olympics. Athletics is rich in history and should have a permanent place in the Olympics.

***

Many people get lapped in the 1964 Olympic 10,000m final. No one has to get lapped in a 10km road race.

At the Sydney Olympics the winning margin in the 10,000m was closer than the winning margin in the 100m.

My personal favourite, 2009 Berlin WC 10,000m

 

 

A little update:

Over the past 5 weeks I’ve averaged over 140km/week and have been improving my workouts. Lately I’ve incorporated some shorter intervals (such as 500m, 1000m) and some strides. Every time I touch faster paces it’s a clear reminder that I still have a lot of work ahead of me. At the same time it’s encouraging because I see improvements from session to session. It’s been tempting to jack up my overall volume or jump into track workouts with the group but I believe it’s important to be smart with my progression, especially at this point in my build-up.

I head to Kenya tomorrow for five weeks. Kwaheri!

Olympic Trials?

November 16, 2014

A year ago I was in the best shape of my life and hoping to run a personal best at the Fukuoka marathon. In 2013 I had a handful of good results and was very pleased with the year. This year has been frustrating in terms of results and missed training. However, I can’t dwell on what I missed but instead focus on what is going right.  The way I feel running right now is awesome, I haven’t felt this smooth for years. I’m still lacking fitness, but I’m happy with the progression and I’m seeing gains every week. Right now I’m still planning on a Spring 2015 marathon.

This past week I had two workouts with the group, a solid long-run, totalled 140km running and 300 minutes in the pool. This is pretty much what I’ll do for the next month before heading to Kenya. Yep, heading back to Kenya this year for about six weeks.

Going to Kenya mid-December through most of January will ensure that I’m able to run on soft surfaces for a little longer. It’s been snowing here already, luckily no accumulation yet and we’re still running on the trails.

***

On a run this week a few of us were talking about the idea of a Canadian Olympic marathon trial race and how that could play out. It would have to be a race in the fall of 2015 or early 2016. However, 2015 works better so runners could potentially chase a standard at a fast marathon if they need it.

Basically the first three Canadian men and women across the line at the trials would stamp their ticket if they have standard or could get it before the qualifying period is over. If someone finishes fourth Canadian and has standard and one of the top three doesn’t have standard by the end of the qualifying period then the 4th place runner would go.

The good thing about a trials race is that it puts everyone on the same course to come up with a straight forward ranking. When you go simply by time one runner could run a marathon with perfect weather and another could catch a really hot or windy day. If the runner who ran in horrible conditions was only a few seconds slower than the runner who had perfect conditions then the better runner might not be the one selected.

Another good thing about running a trials is that if an athlete finishes in the top three and they already achieved the Olympic standard then they know they are going and can prepare for the Olympic marathon. Otherwise that athlete might have to run a last-ditch marathon if someone else beat their mark.

One drawback of having a trials race is that if the trials aren’t held on a fast course that limits the chances of achieving standard. In reality we only have 3 attempts to achieve standard (the standard hasn’t been announced yet, hopefully we know sometime in January).

Another drawback is if there is a runner who is head and shoulders above the rest but they are unable to run trials then they could be left off the team. The argument to that is an athlete needs to be ready to compete at a specific time, just like the Olympics, if you’re not ready that day you don’t get re-do.

If the trials were to be held within another marathon then there would be a lot of things to figure out. Would people be allowed to have pacers? If the race provides pacers for one runner would they be required to provide pacers for everyone vying for an Olympic spot? Would a race like STWM want guys who would normally chase the Canadian record playing it safe to finish in the top three Canadians?

It would be cleaner to have a separate race but then you might be hosting a race for only a handful of runners.  That would be a lot of work if it turns out to be a moot point, (fewer than four runners achieving standard).

In my opinion if the Olympic standard is going to be similar to 2012 (2:11:29) I would rather just have us all chase the standard and take the top three times.

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Hangzhou,

November 5, 2014

This past week was out of the ordinary and a lot of fun…

On Wednesday I flew to Banff to speak at the SportChek conference on behalf of New Balance. I got to Banff at 2:30pm and ran 95 minutes and hit some serious hills. My talk was at night and afterwards there was a social at the bar in the hotel.  At the bar a couple approached me and informed me I was subject to an out-of-competition doping test.

Testing me in Banff shows that CCES is paying attention. You see, I was only in Banff for 17 hours before I headed to Hangzhou, China where I was entered in a marathon. On paper that looks a little suspicious. Why would anyone go somewhere for such a short period of time in the days leading up to a race. Of course I wasn’t really racing this marathon (I’ll get to that later).  It makes me feel good that they’re testing in this capacity.

View from my hotel room.

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Thursday morning I started my trip to Hangzhou, China via Calgary, Vancouver and Shanghai. John Mason arrived in Shanghai (from Toronto) Friday evening 15 minutes ahead of me. We met up at the baggage carrousel and then met our hosts outside, jumped in a van with other athletes then drove the 200km to Hangzhou.

I had never heard of Hangzhou before a few months ago when they asked if I wanted to race. At the time I told them I hadn’t run for three months and wasn’t in shape to run a marathon. They told me it was OK if I came and just made an appearance and ran 10km. Why not.

6.2 million people live in the greater Hangzhou area, it’s bigger than Toronto. However, it’s not a tourist destination, such as Shanghai or Beijing, so it has a pretty different feel. On Saturday John and I went on an 11km run and saw thousands and thousands of people and not a single person who looked like a foreigner. The buildings there are big, impressive and a lot of them!

A river in Hangzhou.

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There’s a few things I don’t care for in China. The first is the cigarette smoke everywhere, even in places with no-smoking signs, restaurants, bathrooms etc. Apparently a “non-smoking floor” in a hotel is just a suggestion. Also, when eating lunch and dinner there is a lazy susan on the table with all the different dishes, which is a convenient way to serve except there are NO serving utensils. Everyone just uses their own fork or chop sticks to serve the food. Most of the time there were 10 of us at a table and some people would just eat straight from the serving dishes. The other thing is the amount of oil they use in the cooking, way too much.

This guy must be picking up some cooking oil for the day.

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On race day my plan was to run 10km at a decent pace and then keep running to 24km at a normal run pace. I passed through 10km somewhere around 33:30 and then proceeded to run around 4:00/km. John Mason was pacing the women and caught me around 22km. I ran and chatted with him for a bit. I mislead him to believe that he was close to 8th place (in the money). I seriously thought there weren’t many guys up ahead.

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At 24km I stopped running and stretched. It didn’t seem as though I was going to get picked up by a vehicle anytime soon so I started to jog 5:00/km. I would stop at aid stations, eat bananas and drink the sports drink and water. During these pauses I would assess how my body was feeling. If anything was getting too tight I would be able feel it after a little rest. My tibialis muscles were tight, probably from the all the downhill running in Banff, but other than that I was ok. When I would stop people would try and cheer me on to keep running. When I would finally resume running they would get really loud as though they spurred me to keep pushing. I just kept on jogging and taking breaks until I reached the line in 3:07.

Much of the last part of the course was through West Lake, a popular tourist spot for Chinese. At many of the bridges I would stop and take in the scenery. The air seemed really clean in the park and even the other parts of the marathon weren’t bad at all. Nothing like what they experienced at the Beijing Marathon a few weeks ago.

After the finish I saw John being interviewed by Runner’s World China. He led the women’s race (got a lot of camera time) until the final few hundred metres (was only supposed to go 35km) and finished in 2:32 (right behind the first woman, the men’s race was won in 2:12). He finished in 10th place and I had to apologize for leading him to believe he was in the top 8 (ie. $). However, the amount of autographs, pictures and general Mason-mania that ensued may have been worth finishing after all. The people couldn’t get enough of this guy with a massive beard!

Beard.

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After the race John and I headed to Shanghai for one extra day. The place is absolutely massive and has some of the tallest buildings in the world. The Shanghai Tower is the second tallest building in the world (and the one that looks like a bottle opener is the seventh). The Shanghai Tower is higher than the CN Tower and twice as high as the tallest skyscraper in Canada (CN Tower is considered a structure).

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(They don’t curve like the bottom picture depicts. The Shanghai Tower does have a twist though.)

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Shanghai skyline.

 

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Walking around Shanghai was good because I wasn’t going to run for a couple of days after that long of a run and my muscles were quite stiff. (I went running today and felt fine).

We also checked out Old Shanghai and the fake markets so we could bargain hard with the vendors.

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I think you guys put the N on…. never mind.

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Close.

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Not to code.

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Guys climbing Shanghai Tower

STWM 2014

October 21, 2014

For the past week I’ve been in Toronto helping Canada Running Series with the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM).  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was mainly picking up athletes and agents from the airport and driving them to the hotel in downtown Toronto.  Saturday was making sure all the pacers knew their jobs, matching the pacers with runners and getting the runners set to go. At the race on Sunday I helped at the start and finish line.  Sunday afternoon and Monday there were a bunch more trips to the airport making sure everyone caught their flight.  Seeing all the work that goes into the elite part of the marathon was eye-opening and I had a good time working with Clif, Alan and the rest of the CRS crew.

Race day seemed really cold standing around but overall the conditions were good for a marathon. I was particularly excited about Eric Gillis and Robert Winslow who were both in shape to break 2:10 and 2:20 respectively. They both had good pacers and other runner(s) to key off of. Eric was lucky to have two good Kenyan pacers plus the Ukranian, Vitaliy Shafar.

Eric went through halfway in 64:47 (2:09:34 pace) with the other three guys. He looked very strong and I was excited about the record but knew to wait until the 30km and 35km splits before getting too excited. Shafar had a 5 second gap by 30km and he went on to break 2:10:10. Eric stayed behind one of his pacers through 32km and was still on pace, but slowing down at 35km. In the end he was able to come away with a 2:11:21 PB for 9th place. I thought it was a great run and shows how consistent Eric is, he’s run under 2:12:08 four times at STWM in four goes!  Gillis’ thoughts after the race.

I’ll admit that part of me would have been jealous if Eric broke the record while I watched from the sidelines. But more than anything I would like to see that record fall by my teammate and friend. It would also give me more confidence in our marathon training and motivate the heck out of me for 2015.

Robert Winslow finished in 2:20:11 (PB by ~2 minutes), good for 11th overall and 3rd Canadian (Kip Kangogo was 2nd Canadian).  Winslow was so close to sub 2:20 after opening in 69:33 through halfway.  I took particular satisfaction in Winslow’s PB as I helped estimate his paces for many workouts.

Taking the Ethiopians back to the airport on Monday was another adventure all together. Many of the athletes come with only two very small bags but leave with two enormous bags plus more than allowable carry-on.  The Ethiopian community in Toronto sends a ton of stuff back with them. One guy had a big box containing a new baby car seat on top of his luggage. Ten Ethiopians and two minivans should have been an easy fit. But with all the luggage we had to stack bags floor to ceiling, have the athletes sit and put bags on their laps and every other possible space. I have a feeling when the airline mentions extra baggage fees their english becomes much worse.

It was awesome working with the Kenyans, Ethiopians and other elite athletes over those six days. Being around so many talented, motivated individuals was energizing and I found myself cruising a 20km run on Monday morning when I should have been exhausted. Oh ya, I’m up to 20km of running now!

Four good articles that came out the past week:

Post STWM race article from The Star

Lure of the marathon COC website

Canadian Marathoner Reid Coolsaet in it for the long haul

Eric Gillis seeks to break 39 year-old Canadian record 

 

The whole STWM race is on youtube (feed starts at 1:05:05 and race starts at 1:35:10).

 

 

 

 

 

Command me to be well

September 30, 2014

Today I got back my latest MRI results and there are very positive signs of healing. I’m not sure I’m ready to go full out yet, but I’m well on my way. In the past 4 weeks I managed to go from 1km of running to 7km yesterday.  My body feels great, no pain and I’m moving more smoothly than I have in a long time. I suppose feeling smooth is to be expected when running less than 30km/week. To gain fitness I’ve been water running for 100 minutes six days a week. The pool is boring but I feel it’s the best way for me to get back in shape. I figure pool running will be my main activity through October while I build up my running. If all goes well I’ll get in 2-3 months of solid running before I make a decision to run a marathon next Spring (April or May). The Olympic qualifying window for the marathon should open up in early 2015. That would give the marathoners three decent shots at qualifying (Winter/Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Winter/Spring 2016). It would be great if I could maximize my attempts but there is no sense forcing a marathon and I’ll only run a marathon if I feel I can do a proper build-up. On Saturday we hosted the 3rd Kids for Kenya Toilet Run at Churchill Park in Hamilton. The event has continued to grow each year and I’m sure when the total gets added up we’ll be able to fund a couple more toilets for schools in Kenya. Here’s a video of the event from Get Out There magazine:

No sleep ’till …

September 2, 2014

In my last web log I still felt a sharp pain in my pubic bone when I tried to run. No surprise then when my Aug 1st MRI still had a fracture present. In the past few weeks I’ve been feeling better and more comfortable moving around. It’s small things such as running up a few stairs or picking it up a little when crossing a road when I notice that my injury has improved.

Yesterday was the first day that I tried running for any sort of distance. I ran 1km without any sharp pain, just a dull ache in my pubic bone, which is to be expected coming back from a fracture. The next month or so will be slow-going, I’m ready to be patient and focus on 2015. I’m going to see my doctor this week to go over the next phase. The main thing will be taking my time as I probably need to heal some more and I don’t want to run into other problems. That means it will take me at least one month to build up to a 10km easy run. After 14 weeks without running I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes me 14 weeks to get back to a good level of running fitness.

In the past few weeks I’ve been walking 1.5 – 2.5 hours a day. This gets me out of the house, walking on trails while listening to podcasts. It’s important to have some weight bearing activity in my legs before I start running again. This is also my second week of pool running. It’s been good getting in some exercise again, my brain is happier with movement.

Just out on a walk, phone in hand.

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Knowing in early August that I needed more rest I made plans for a road trip to Brooklyn to see Arcade Fire. I’ve been to NYC many times and I’ve only been to Brooklyn once and I’ve always wanted to check it out and figured there was no better time than the present.

My goal was to drive to Brooklyn and never leave the borough throughout the trip and fully explore the neighbourhoods. My girlfriend found a road race in Harlem on Saturday morning so we made an exception for a few hours so she could race a 5km.  We stayed in Park Slope and checked out Willamsburg, Downtown, Gowanus and Cobble Hill. Brooklyn is the hippest place to live, so many cool restaurants, pubs and shops. The Arcade Fire concert at Barclays was amazing, they put on a great show.

The next day we went to Harlem for the road race and I did a little Big L tour and made the quick walk over to 139th and Lennox. Later that day we saw Boyhood at a theatre at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, I highly recommend it. I would have liked to stay in Brooklyn longer but restaurants get expensive very quickly, especially on an injured runner’s salary.

 

Park Slope brownstones.

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Arcade Fire Friday (aug 22) night at Braclays Center.

 

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Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn.

 

 

 

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Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn.

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