One week ago I raced the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington. The race was, in fact, chilly at -6C but quite balmy compared to -18C last year on race day. Luckily the roads were clear, the wind was calm and the course is flat.
Leading up to the race I didn’t have a time goal, I figured I would wait until race morning to see what the conditions would be like. In the past I’ve run 63:11, 63:15, 63:16 (3:00/km) before marathons. I ended up with 63:36 (3:01/km) and was pleased with the effort considering the extra clothes and solo effort. This is a positive result heading into Rotterdam Marathon (Yep, running Rotterdam).
In the 5 weeks leading up to the Chilly Half I wasn’t able to hit marathon pace outdoors on long efforts due to the wintry conditions. Only on the treadmill did I hit the specific paces. The race confirmed I was in the shape I believed I was in despite not having my GPS agree with my effort.
A few days before the race I decided to head back to Kenya for the final 5.5 weeks leading up to Rotterdam. I can be more sure of the weather in Kenya and there are a few athletes here I know training for marathons on April 12 (Rotterdam, Paris and Brighton). Speed River will be sending a crew to Rotterdam, John Mason, Robert Winslow, Nick Sunseri, Tristan Woodfine and I will all be racing. Unfortunately Eric missed a couple weeks of running and decided not to race Rotterdam on compromised training.
I got to Iten on Wednesday night and so far it’s just been easy running and strides. It seems a lot of the guys I was training with in January are hitting the track hard these days. There are some local guys who will follow my program and I’ll also mix in group fartleks and long-runs. I felt great coming off my last stint in Iten and have to make sure I don’t overdo it here.
I’ve never raced a marathon directly from altitude. The downside is that I won’t be able to hit race pace on tempo runs here but after hitting the right rhythm at the Chilly Half gives me confidence that it’s the effort that is most important. The other challenge up here will be making sure I get enough running on paved roads as there aren’t many and the dirt paths are much nicer.
At first I thought I was going to have a 2hr time difference between Iten and Rotterdam but they don’t have daylight savings time here so it looks like it will only be a one hour time difference.
I really just came back for the barber shop.
John Mason appreciation picture.
Future champions enjoying a care package from Canada.
These roads will do.
It’s been a while, I had to wait for my fingers to thaw in order to type a blog, somehow -6C feels ‘warm’ now. Actually I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about, and I still don’t, but thought I’d throw a training update out there and let y’all know I’m racing a half marathon next weekend.
Earlier in the week I had an over-distance run of 44km with an 11km pickup from 28 to 39km. It was -13C, almost no snow on the roads, little wind and sunny so it was actually quite nice out, relatively speaking. We had to put our bottles in a insulated bag (with a hot water bottle in there) in order to keep our drinks in a liquid state. With all the gear one typically wears in frigid temps I know I’m not going to see the exact paces I would like and I just have to trust I’m getting in the appropriate effort.
I’ve contemplated going somewhere else to train but I’m actually dealing with the cold weather fine. As long as it doesn’t snow much in the next 7 weeks it will be alright in Guelph. It’s good to be running with the Speed River guys as a bunch of us are focused on the same mid-April marathon. Since returning to low altitude in late January I’ve upped my weekly volume, hitting a high of 220km this week.
Yesterday four of us did a 32km run on snowy roads. The footing wasn’t too bad in the beginning and we were chatting a lot. The whole time it was snowing quite a bit and the footing got worse as the snow piled up. In the final third of the run our legs got heavy and the chatter died down. With less than 2km to go a snowplow came by and cleared the road. It was crazy how different, and good, it felt to run normally again. Those are the runs that we tell ourselves are making us tough, anything to justify slogging along for that long.
Tomorrow it’s supposed to plunge back below -20C, which means another treadmill session.
Next Sunday, March 1, I’m going to race the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, ON. This is going to be a fitness test and a chance to get on closed roads in a race atmosphere. Right now the weather looks like it will warm up a bit, maybe I’ll be able to actually run marathon race pace outside.
On March 15th a bunch of us from Speed River are going to High Park for a Harry’s Spring Run-off free training run put on by the fine people at Canada Running Series. There are 8km and 5km group runs planned for all levels.
Here are some random pics I took on my flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam a month ago.
Lake Turkana (Kenya) in the distance
Nile through outskirts of Khartoum, Sudan
Nile, just North of Khartoum
Lake Nasser is a man made lake on the nile, close to Abu Simbel, Egypt.
Crop circles in the middle of Sahara Desert
Nile in the distance, close to Luxor, Egypt
Mediterranean Sea, about 125km East of Alexandria, Egypt
It had been a long time since I’ve raced and I got quite a re-introduction with a XC meet in Belgium. I chose to race the Hannut Lotto Cross Cup on my way home from Kenya. I previously raced here in 2011 after training in Kenya and had a great experience, finishing 5th.
Once again I planned a race on the way home from Kenya to offset the two long flights (Nairobi to Europe 8 hours, Europe to Toronto 7 hours) and test my fitness.
After rain and snow in the days prior to the race the Hannut course was really muddy and I had to borrow some 12mm pins before the race (which were still on the short side). I was confident in my fitness going into the race, although not so much in my ability in sloppy conditions.
When the gun went off I couldn’t keep up with the leaders even though my plan was to go out hard. It felt like I was just spinning in the mud. I didn’t even make it into the top 20 as the course turned right into a bottleneck. At that point I had to slow down because of the traffic. Right off the bat I made it a lot harder to hit my goal of top 3.
At first it was hard to pass guys because there were a lot of bodies fighting for these positions but I knew if I could just pass 10 guys then I would be clear of the masses.
I was making decent headway until about 1500m into the race when I went down on a corner. A few guys went past me and I lost precious ground to the leaders. When I got back up to my feet my gloves were caked in mud and heavy so I chucked them.
By 3 km into the race I was in the top 10, not too far behind a pack. The top 2 were pulling away from everyone else. When I was able to run on areas with less slop I would gain on the pack. Other times I would stay constant, or lose ground through muddy patches.
During the race my breathing and energy felt controlled but I still had trouble closing the gap to the guys in front of me. As the race progressed to the last few km I could tell other guys ahead were struggling and I was gaining. From 8km to 9km I went from 8th to 4th with my sights set on the Kenyan in 3rd. I was making ground on 3rd place but with 200m left to the finish and in some heavy slop I knew I wouldn’t catch him. Perhaps I let up a little thinking I could do no better than fourth and all of a sudden I was in a race for the fourth spot.
The Kenyan-born Belgian whipped past me with only meters to go and then let up ever so slightly before the line and I tried to out-lean him to no avail. Four years on and I finished 5th, once again, in Hannut.
Although the conditions didn’t suit my strengths it was a lot of fun as I’ve never raced in mud like that before. The inside of my legs are bruised just from my feet flailing into my calfs and knees from the unpredictable terrain.
On one hand I think it may have been better for me to choose a race that’s more similar to racing a marathon on the roads. But this race ended up challenging me in other ways, which may also be beneficial to the marathon. One challenge was that I had to be mentally engaged the whole race. Any little lapse and I was slipping or losing ground, there was no cruise control. Every step had to be deliberate.
After the race I stayed with my friends, JP and Steph, and we watched the broadcast of the race. They only used stationary cameras but it was perfect, much better than one camera on the leader(s). You could see the whole race play out and caught most of the top 15 during each race.
On the course there were three little hurdles, which we encountered six times. The hurdles make the race more interesting for spectators and athletes. Now that I was a spectator, watching the recoded broadcast, I could catch all the action. In the beginning my arms were flailing up in the air while seasoned veterans were not even breaking stride over the hurdles. By the end my technique improved a lot.
Here are the first and second finishers going over the hurdles
The Kenyan training camp was one of my best in terms of developing fitness. I started off with less fitness than most years but I came out feeling the best I ever have after a stint in Iten. I think I found the right amount of volume for me when training at a hilly 2400m (8000 feet). In the previous two years I was running too much and although not feeling too beat up because of the soft running surface I think I was digging a hole. This time around I was executing the tough sessions a little better.
With Vincent Rousseau after the race (PB’s of 13:10, 27:23, 2:07:20)
1 26 TASAMA DAME 87 ETH sen NA 32:52
2 25 BIRHANU YEMATAW BALEW BRN sen NA 32:54
3 39 BETT BERNARD 93 KEN sen NA 33:30
4 2 KIMELI ISAAC 94 BEL sen OEH 25 33:33
5 24 COOLSAET REID 79 CAN sen NA 33:34
6 7 DE BOCK THOMAS 91 BEL sen OEH 20 33:39
7 27 TAYLOR JONATHAN 87 GBR sen NA 33:45
8 4 BASEMANS DRIES 92 BEL sen DCLA 17 34:07
9 8 STROOBANTS JESSE 80 BEL sen DCLA 34:15
10 29 LACY DEAN GBR sen NA 34:17
11 6 RUELL KIM 87 BEL sen RESC 13 34:19
12 1 EL HACHIMI ABDELHADI 74 BEL sen RFCL 34:25
This week Gord Dickson, a legendary Canadian runner, passed away at the age of 83. Obituary.
1960 Olympic Marathon (Rome)
1959 Boston Marathon, 3rd
5-time winner of Around the Bay 30km
6-time Canadian marathon Champ
3-time Canadian XC Champ
1959 Pan-Am Games Marathon, 3rd
2:21:51 marathon PB – 1958 (when Gord set his PB the WR for the marathon was 2:17:39)
I first met Gord Dickson at a road race in Fergus, ON over 10 years ago. He had driven a couple of Kenyans from Hamilton to the race. I suspected he was once a runner himself but I had no idea of his accomplishments, he wasn’t one to boast.
In 2008 I moved back to Hamilton and started running with a few Kenyans (Thomas Omwenga, Josephat Ongeri and David Karanja). Since I was the only Speed River athlete training for the marathon in 2009 I decided to stay in Hamilton longer than the three months I had initially planned for. Over the next few years I would run into Gord many times.
The Kenyans referred to Gord as ‘coach’ but he was much more than just a coach for these guys. He would also act as their agent to get them into races, drive them to races and help them out with many of life’s challenges for a Kenyan immigrating to Canada.
Gord also coached many other runners and you could usually find him at the McMaster track in the evenings with a stopwatch. I would do my easy runs and pass by there to chat for a bit. It was during these conversations where I was privy to great running stories of the 50’s and 60’s as well as encouraging words about my own running.
A few stories that stick out…
There used to be a 30 mile race from Guelph to Hamilton that Gord won (perhaps more than once). This intrigued me as I’ve made that drive countless times and biked it a few times as well. It was common for Olympic level marathoners to dabble in road races longer than 42km back in the day. It’s fascinating to hear about the racing schedules runners did back then.
Within half a year of moving back to Hamilton I broke my foot and didn’t run for 3 months. Gord was relieved that I didn’t have a plaster cast and had a removable air cast. When he was in a cast he got in the pool for exercise and, naturally, some water seeped in. When he finally got the cast removed he said his foot looked like a “dead fish”. It had been waterlogged for weeks and, on top of that, atrophied. To strengthen his foot and test it out Gord walked the 30km from Hamilton to Brantford. After that he was ready to resume training.
I can’t remember the length of the loop (about 120m) and the exact distances (LONG) but when the snow or ice piled too high he would run in the underground parking lot at these apartments in Hamilton. He had training partners to accompany him for these long runs.
Gord had many stories about hot races where everyone would run much slower than what they were capable of. This is because these guys rarely took in more than water, if even water. There wasn’t much out on the courses in the 50’s and if they were lucky enough to get some refreshments it was rarely enough. Since then much more is known about hydration and fuelling. The way these guys had to slog it to the finish line would make for good TV these days.
Gord was always very supportive and encouraging about my running and would often give advice, but never in a “I know what’s right” kind of way. It was more learning from his career and how I could use that info to further mine.
In late November Gord emailed me about Kenya. We talked on the phone for a while about him and his wife taking a trip to Kenya this winter. He said he always wanted to go and in the past few years his health wasn’t good enough but he was feeling better and saw a window for overseas travel. We talked about staying in Nairobi for a couple of days to rest from the travel and see the Giraffe Centre and other sights. Then travel to Iten to check out a Kenyan running hub and watch some track and fartlek sessions. Once in Kenya I emailed him some information about Nairobi and his wife, Sheilah, responded that Gord was in the hospital with very aggressive pancreatic cancer. One week later Gord passed away. He will be missed, RIP.
Here are portraits of Gord Dickson taken decades apart. (courtesy of George Aitkin)
Gord winning the 1964 Around the Bay 30km
This was a tough week of training and a little chaotic.
Evans Zakaria Ruto left for Mumbai Marathon and since he is the leader of the group guys splintered off to other groups as the next guys in line aren’t that fit right now (apparently you need to be fit for runners to listen). That meant on Tuesday when I was warming up for a fartlek session I saw many guys I normally run with cooling down. Luckily 5 other guys didn’t get the memo and I had some company for 25 x 1 min / 1 minute rest.
On Wednesday I got wind of one group doing 7 x 5 min and another doing 17 x 2 min on Thursday morning. I wanted to do the 7 x 5 min session but wasn’t sure which group was doing what. I was able to meet up with Gilbert Kirwa’s group at 8:35 and realized they were doing 17 x 2 min so myself and a couple other Kenyans ran 4km down the road to meet up with “Mwisho Wa Lami” (“End Of Tarmac”) group for 9:00 start. This particular morning there were at least 150 runners lined up for the session.
The 7 x 5 minutes with 2 minutes rest session went really well. I was typically 50-80m back of the leader but got right up to the front for the last two, which were uphill. In order to catch the leaders for the first few intervals I had to run about 3:50/km, and guys were catching up and passing me on these ‘rests’. By the end there were about 20 of us in the front group and since we were running uphill the last 2 minute rest was a real ‘pole pole’ rest at 6:53/km.
Face post fartlek vs. post rinse.
Friday morning I did 18km with 60 other runners. The last 6km were uphill and guys started to push the pace. There were a few of us who were tired from the fartlek the day before but we stubbornly followed the 3:30/km for the last 4km. This was probably due to the lady in the pack and not wanting to get dropped by her. The lady ended up being Florence Kiplagat who has run 65:12 for a half marathon (the WR). After the run a few guys were complaining that the guys pushing the pace hadn’t done a fartlek the day before but there’s no one forcing us to stay with the pack.
After the run Gilbert told me he was planning on 30km, not too fast but hilly. That sounded prefect.
I met at 6:00 sharp for the run. 1km into the run I realized this was going to be a very hilly run as we were heading down the Great Rift Valley. After 5 years in Iten I’ve never run down the Valley.
We ended up descending for 9km until we started to climb up to a hilly forest. From km 15-16 we ascended 80m and then from 16-17 we ascended 97m (318 feet). During those 2 km the group of 30 exploded and there were only 5 guys at the front with me 10m in tow, and a line of guys making their way out of the Valley in my wake. Once it got flatter the group swelled back to 10 or 11 guys and I was dropped towards the end.
It was one of my most memorable runs ever, and the hilliest. Over 31.5km I ascended 630m (2066 feet) in total. We started out descending into the Great Rift Valley to a beautiful sunrise in front of us. The villages along the dirt road were really interesting showcasing quintessential mud houses with thatched roofs. The temperature changes were drastic as we descended down and then came back up through Bugar (Singore) forrest. On top of that, struggling hard for breath while running 4:33/km was a new experience.
Here you can see the elevation chart with pace (blue line). The pace was very slow at the start, which is smart because you can’t see anything for the first 5 minutes until the sun starts to show…
I’m halfway through my training stint here in Iten, Kenya. So far it’s gone well and I feel my fitness improving.
I’ve been training with a marathon group most days, which includes Gilbert Kirwa (2:06), Evans Ruto (2:07), Josephat (2:09), Silas Kipruto (59 half). There are about 20 core guys and the group swells to about 50 on some runs.
Here is their typical week:
6:00AM – 8-10km easy (~5:00/km)
9:30AM – 18.2km hard (3:22-3:32/km average)*
6:00AM – 8-10km easy (~5:00/km)
9:45AM – Fartlek (something such as 13 x 3 min / 1 min jog)**
6:15AM – 19km (~4:00/km)
PM – some guys run easy
6:00AM – 8-10km easy (~5:00/km)
9:45AM – Fartlek (something such as 20 x 1min / 1min jog)
6:15AM – 20km (~4:00/km)
PM – I suspect some guys run easy (?)
6:15AM – 24-38km ***
Day off for most (or easy run)
*On Monday for the 18.2km loop the group can be as large as 50 runners and when they average 3:22/km there’s only about 8 left by the end. Most will finish within 6 minutes but there are also many who fall off and jog home. The loop mainly descends for the first 6km and finishes at a higher point than the start. It has 200+ meters of climbing and at 2390m it’s quite tough.
**On Tuesday fartlek they’ll say they’re only going to run “60%” or “75%” “speed” depending on how hard Monday was. However, there are always a few guys who didn’t have a good one the day before to push the pace. On the cool-down walk sometimes arguments ensue about who pushed the intervals, or rests, too fast.
Tuesday will change to a track session come February, and if I remember correctly the Monday run isn’t as fast before a track session.
***The long run usually gets down to 4:00/km after a few km and either stays around there or gets down to 3:20/km if it’s supposed to be a hard one that week.
I usually place myself at the back of the pack as many Kenyans shuffle in front of me because they don’t like being behind a mzungu. I wait for the uphills to pass the Kenyans as they can’t do anything about it if they aren’t fit enough. Today, Arne Gabius (German 13:12, 2:09:30) ran in the pack and towards the end of the run he was funneled out the back with me.
The problem with the back of the pack is there is a lot of dust. The other option is staying tight to the runner in front but that comes with the risk of twisted ankles on the rough roads. Every once in a while I’ll just meet with a couple other guys (or solo) so I don’t have to inhale so much dust.
Only the core group meets for the fartlek sessions and they know me, which means I can stay in the pack without being passed and funneled out the back, if I can manage hang on. So far I’ve barely hung on to the back of the fartlek sessions, which means I need to pick up the pace to re-group after the interval. There are a bunch in the same boat as me.
I didn’t bother showing up for the Tuesday fartlek yesterday after running hard for over an hour on Monday. After talking to some of the guys I wasn’t the only one to skip it.
This week is going to be a bit different because Evans and Silas are running Mumbai marathon on Jan 18 and they are tweaking the training to peak in 11 days. Some of the group will do one last long run on Thursday and the rest of us will do a fartlek session (supposedly 2 min/1 min).
I’ll post this now and then hopefully add photos if internet is good enough…
Asbel Kiprop doing some 800’s at the track.
Cheploch Gorges are a 50 minute drive from Iten.
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
Giraffe Centre in Nairobi
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.
Handing out race shirts
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.
Our room decorations