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Keeping the flame

October 15, 2017

It’s been a while since my last post. I kept putting this one off until I knew how my foot was holding up and what my race plans are. Spoiler alert; foot is still problematic and plans are still up in the air.

Beyond not having a good read on my foot and not knowing if it’s going to crap out on me any day (I just tell myself I’m healthy) and not knowing what races I want to do I figure it’s easy to get tabs on my running through social media. Between Twitter, Instagram and  Strava it’s easy to get a snapshot if I’m back running/racing/travelling.

Here’s a quick recap of my 2017 running timeline: 4 months off, 7 weeks running, 8 weeks off, 7 weeks running. That brings me to today where I’ve just capped off my highest week of the year (152km) and yesterday my first 30km run of 2017.

My fourth metatarsal and toe have been the problem all year. In January I was told I had no blood flow in the metatarsal. In May an MRI showed that blood flow had returned even though there was still some pain. We hoped that running would make it feel better but of course, that was wishful thinking. After another 8 weeks off my foot felt much better when I started back up running in late-August. After 8 runs I had another MRI in September and I was confident the MRI was going to be the green light I was looking for.

The MRI was more of a red light. I was really surprised to hear the MRI showed that some of the swelling and plantar plate were worse. But my foot doesn’t feel too bad running so at this point I’m going to keep on running. There was no mention of fractures, loss of blood flow or flattening of the met head (the main things that would concern me). I’m still going to seek out another opinion and I’m just waiting to hear when my appointment is.

Last weekend I ran the Victoria Half Marathon (great trip and race btw) where I surprised myself by running 67:28. Two months before that I agreed to come out and talk at the expo and pasta dinner and perhaps jog the half marathon. Things came around in the two weeks leading up to Victoria so I decided to run it as a tempo. Every few days my goal would get a little quicker. By race day I wanted to try and run 3:15/km and off the bat I settled into 3:12/km and it felt sustainable. I ended up holding that pace throughout the entire race.

In my last 8 weeks off I really got into road cycling. Marie, Louis and I went to Halifax to visit Marie’s side of the family and when I was there I took her old road bike out for a ride with her dad. By this point I was so sick of the elliptical and pool I decided to take the bike back to Hamilton and use it as my main (turned out the only) cross-training tool.

I’ve been a fan of professional cycling for the past 10 years but I’ve never trained on a road bike before. Right away I just started riding about 100km a day. It was a nice change to be outside and discovering new roads and places I haven’t seen.

Now that I had a road bike I was going to try the climbs around Hamilton and see how I stack up on Strava segments. Turns out riding takes a lot more power than running does as I would do a 4 minute climb and think I did alright only to find myself outside the top 50 on that segment and 1 minute off the leader. Over the weeks I got more used to riding and figured out how to hurt on a climb. At first my heart rate was only in the 140-150’s on climbs (similar as to what I would get on the elliptical during intervals) but then I was more in the 150-160’s (similar to running efforts) and improved a lot on the Strava segments.

Strava definitely gave me some goals to shoot for and push a little harder. Basically I would try to get into the top 10 on any significant climb (longer than 2.5 minutes) within about 30km of my house. Riding with Jeremy Rae opened my eyes to real climbing and seeing him pull away from me helped me dig deeper too.

When I started back up running it didn’t feel as though I had gotten any shape from cycling as my stride didn’t feel comfortable. That probably has to do with sitting on the saddle all the time and never extending my hips on the bike. HR indicated that I had worked hard on the bike and sure enough once I had a couple of weeks of running I felt decently fit for not having run much.

My only race plans in 2017 were to mix it up in the Shanghai marathon for a little bit (I’ll write a blog on that after the Nov 12 race) and help out the Speed River team at Cross Country Nationals in Kingston. After Victoria I felt I was fit enough to help out some guys at STWM so I’ll pace a pack there next weekend. Also, now I feel as though I’m closer to real racing than I thought one month ago.

Ultra marathons have always been on my mind and a few weeks ago I was certain that I was going to start working towards my first ultra in early 2018. Now that 67:28 came quicker than I thought I’d like to keep more options open. I’ll train for 10km XC and see what kind of shape I get in and then decide in what direction I want to go. If I think there is a chance of a marathon performance that will excite me I could see myself training for that. But if I feel I’m going to be off of my best then it might be a good time to experiment with ultras. Of course both options depend on my body holding up.

 

Louis turned 1 two weeks ago and Marie is back at work a few times a week. It’s been a smooth transition for Marie at work and Louis at daycare (9am-12pm most days) and myself finding time to stretch again.

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Marie pulled Louis in the bike chariot and gave me company for a 25km run the other week. Louis is earning his allowance as a waterboy (Maurten and Endurance Tap).

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The pandas are skating. On very thin ice.

July 8, 2017

So far this year I’ve only run about 8 weeks and amassed less kilometres than I often run in one week. The running I missed was eating at me for a long time but I’m past that point now. I can’t be concerned with lost running time, my main concern is getting my foot better to run.

It’s been 10 days since my last run. I was ordered to take another six weeks off because I was still feeling pain and my injury was not getting better while I continued to run. The swelling at my toe joint went down after a few days off and the pain is subsiding. However, the discomfort I get when I flex my 4th toe is still there. That is the problem that aggravates my foot and beats up my metatarsal head.

Six weeks of no running should help heal the damage but I’m not convinced it will fix the mechanical problem. I’ve had a few doctors tell me to take time off running and cross-train and see where I am in six weeks. I took four months off already this year and although that yielded the healing I needed it didn’t address the underlying problem.

Taking a big chunk of time-off and avoiding any surgery or injections was the best case scenario for me. I have no regrets going that route but now that I realize the problem isn’t going away with rest I’d like to delve deeper into other options.

On Tuesday I have an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon and I’ll discuss possible paths I can take. This is a weird injury that has experts stumped and it’s hard to say what will get me back to normal. There are things that are helping but at the end of the day the injury is too profound and the pain comes back.

Throughout the last four weeks of running I always felt I was teetering on the edge of good fitness or injury. While my workouts continued to trend in the right direction there were times when my foot felt as though it was going to really flare up. It never got too bad (like how it felt in January) but it wasn’t improving.

My main goal was to get ready for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct 22. I had everything plotted out and wanted to start marathon specific training by the beginning of August. Even though I was making progress I could tell that my foot wasn’t ready for marathon training and it didn’t seem as though I was going to turn that corner if I continued to run 110-140km/week. That is why I reached out to my medical team to see if anything could be done to get over the injury. Better to take care of things sooner than later now that I know my foot isn’t ready for running.

On June 17th I raced the Waterfront 10k and ran about as well as expected. I ran 31:51, about 2.5 minutes slower than last year on the same course. Going into the race I figured if I was within 2 minutes it would have been a great result and outside of 3 minutes would have been a little discouraging. Even though I only got in less than 8 weeks of running it was enough to give me that feeling of being in decent running shape again.

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The past year I’ve had my fair share of injuries and sometimes I think that there are enough signs that point towards taking a step back and stop chasing big goals in the marathon. I know I’ve said this before but if it wasn’t for running 2:10:55 at Fukuoka seven months ago I’m sure the self-doubt would be much, much higher. That result lets me know that I’m still capable of achieving my goals, as long as I can, you know, actually run.

Other than this damn toe joint injury and mind-numbing cross-training life is good. Watching Le Tour, Canadian Nationals this weekend and enjoying the summer with the family.

 

 

Pick it up and throw it into shape

May 21, 2017

This update has been a long time coming. I’ve been busy putting together fields for the Speed River Inferno on June 14th. If you’re in the Guelph area you should come out and watch the action on the track. There will be a bunch of Olympians across many events representing about 10 countries.

I got my MRI results back on May 5th and it showed revascularization in my 4th metatarsal (yes!!). That was the main thing I was concerned about. It also showed that there is tendinosis of the fourth flexor tendon at the toe joint and MTP joint effusion. Basically my bone is healed but the other stuff causing pain and problems is still present.

I was so concerned about the bone over those four months I wasn’t being proactive enough to sort out the other problems. I thought if the bone was healed everything else would heal during all that time off too. I probably needed to be getting more treatment on the tendons and joint in the past couple of months.

It’s so good to be back running! I’ve been running for three weeks now. 3km the first week, 26km the second week and 63km this past week. My foot hasn’t felt great yet but it hasn’t gotten too painful. Because I took 4 months off running my tendons didn’t get stretched much and hopefully running is working things out more than it’s doing damage . To fix things I’m getting physio once a week (@ Speed River Physiotherapy and Wishbone Athletics), shockwave therapy (@ Dundas Elite Health) and orthotics from DKOS.

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So good to be back on trails.

Four months off running is a lot and the return to form is taking it’s sweet time. When I started running again I planned 3 weeks of easy running to simply start feeling like a runner again. I don’t count the 3km week as week 1 so I hope I feel good by the end of next week. After that I’ll transition to a couple weeks of low-grade workouts to transition into real workouts.

Ideally I’d like to get back to racing this summer and see where my fitness is with an eye on a fall marathon. Gotta keep the balance between not getting ahead of myself and keeping myself motivated. That means having my eye on some races while being flexible with my comeback timeline.

Just thought I’d throw this out there: I’m sick of cross-training. I’m still doing it 6-7 times a week but most of the time it’s fairly pedestrian, listening to podcasts.

The fam is good and Louis is doing really well.

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Those who run seem to have all the fun

March 26, 2017

It’s been 12 weeks since my last run and it looks like I’m not about to start back up anytime soon, (soon as in the next few weeks).

There is plenty of good news though.

The injury is finally starting to feel significantly better. For the first 9 weeks I was barely noticing a difference and at times I felt as though I was just telling people (and telling myself) that it was getting better. Now I can confidently say it’s improving.

The last set of X-rays showed that my metatarsal head is healing and that the architecture of the bone looks good.

In the past few weeks I’ve been able to cross-train and I feel like an athlete again. There was a four week period where I amassed a scant 3 hours of cross-training, total. On Saturday I got in as much biking as I did in one whole month.

My next MRI is schedule for early May and should be a good indicator if there is revascularization in the bone. My 4th metatarsal is still a little tender when I prod or squeeze my foot with my hand. That pain is decreasing as well as the discomfort I get when I get up on my toes (which I try and only test about once every 10 days or so).

I’ll have a lot of work to do once I’m back running but I can be patient when I’m running. I’ve been through this before and know that the extra weight comes off, the fitness comes back and the splits improve in due time. In 2014 I took off 3.5 months due to injury (with no cross-training) and was able to come back stronger than before.

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Cross-training for me consists of pool running 5 times per week and spin bike 6-7 times per week. Right now I’m just focused on volume and doing small fartlek workouts here and there. Eventually I’ll add in elliptical and increase my quality.

It’s probably best that I wasn’t cross-training this whole time because I think I only have the head space for about 6-8 weeks of proper cross-training. If all goes well I’ll start running again as I get sick of cross-training.

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Every week that goes by the more I count my blessings that I had a good race in Fukuoka 4 months ago. If I was dealing with this injury and the last marathon that I was happy with was one and half years ago it would be much harder to believe I could still run a good one. Even though Fukuoka seems like ages ago, four months isn’t really that long ago. It definitely helps keep my motivation up.

The other thing that keeps me motivated in the pool and on the bike is the prospect of racing a good marathon. The marathon is still my driving force to train hard and at this point preparing properly for a fall marathon is very much within the realm of possibility.

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Louis continues to grow, and grow, and grow… It’s quite amazing to see him develop day to day and take in new experiences. Marie and I took him to the Around the Bay race today. We were too afraid of the forecasted rain to watch the suffering on the hill so we opted for the indoor finish (in the end the rain held off). The good part is the finish area is a better place to catch up with friends.

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I’ve been testing Maurten drink on the bike and I really like it. I’m really interested to see how it will go down when I’m running, which is the real test. I like that it doesn’t have artificial flavour or colour and packs in a ton of carbs even though it doesn’t seem like it. Between Maurten and Endurance Tap I like my line-up of simple and effective fuelling.

One thing these sub-2 hours projects are focusing on is maxing-out fuelling. For most people (me included) properly fuelling takes practice to get good at. My stomach couldn’t handle many carbs when I first started out and now I’m better at taking in drinks while running marathon pace. Getting the right products that work for you is a big part of the puzzle and makes such a big difference in the marathon.

 

Quick foot update

February 1, 2017

Good news, it doesn’t look as though I need surgery (no surprise really). The plan is to rest and off-load weight to the area. That means I’ll be wearing an aircast for a while and taking a little break from x-training. To make sure I don’t come back too soon we’re going to take more images (CT scan and X-rays). Unfortunately this doesn’t look like it will be a quick six week recovery and probably take twice that long.

It’s still a bit of a mystery why this particular injury (osteonecrosis and flattening of the metatarsal head) occurred in my 4th metatarsal. We can deduce that overuse had a hand in this but why the 4th metatarsal? My theory is that my toe was jammed in the socket which made it rub the met head and prevented blood flow somehow. The reason I think this is because one day in January I pulled on my toe and it had a big release (different sensation than the other toes when they ‘pop’ upon tugging). Since then when I pull on that toe it feels funny when it comes out of the socket and when I stand up I can feel it pop back in.

After my last blog I was pool running quite a bit and also tried getting out on the bike. The bike ride wasn’t great for my foot. Plus, I ended up taking one crash which was close to being bad and my feet froze into solid blocks.

In the coming weeks I’ll get back to pool running. In the meantime going to the pool looks more like this:

 

It’s February now and that means I have already served one month of this injury sentence. Fukuoka Marathon (Dec 4) feels much longer than two months ago! When I’m not running because of injury time goes by at a different pace. It’s hard not to dwell on the missed training and unfortunately Strava reminds me everyday that I’ve only run 10km this year (and it was on Jan 1). If I wasn’t coaching a few people I’d probably avoid Strava instead of checking it daily.

The mental aspect of injuries is complex. You need to learn how to deal with it. It’s much easier when you’re able to cross-train and when you have a solid timeline. Six weeks of cross-training isn’t a big deal for me anymore when I’m able to adjust my race schedule. (Being able to pick another meaningful race is a big difference than training for a fixed race when you’re injured).

Now I’m taking full rest and don’t know for sure when I’ll be back running. To stay sane I tell myself this is a good break for my body and it will allow me to return healthy and rejuvenated. Perhaps extending my competitive career?

 

Of all thats come and going

January 17, 2017

The plan for Spring 2017 was to run the NYC half and the Boston marathon. Those plans have been cancelled because of a foot injury that flared up on January 1.

Going into Fukuoka I had a little bit of pain in my 4th metatarsal (left foot) close to my toe. I was a little worried that running 42km in racing flats was going to be problematic but it turned out ok. Surprisingly it didn’t even hurt much after the race.

That’s why I’m not too bummed right now. I’m counting my blessings that this didn’t flare-up before (or during) Fukuoka. Had I got into good shape and missed the race it would have been a tough pill to swallow at the end of a frustrating racing year. Instead I had one of my best races ever. There’s never a good time to have an injury but it could have been much worse.

I planned on taking 2-3 weeks off after the Fukuoka and I ended up resting for 15 days. My first run back was 5km, then another day off, and then I slowly increased my volume over the next 10 days. I started to feel pretty good again and was planning on doing some workouts in early January.

Unfortunately on Dec 31st my foot started to feel uncomfortably sore at the end of my run. The next day I was cautious and ran around the park close to my house (soft surface and never getting more than 1km from my house). After 9km I had to head home because the pain was overwhelming.

I was hoping it was a stress fracture because the pain was severe enough to know I had a significant injury and I didn’t want it to be something more complicated. A straight-forward stress fracture would normally requite about six weeks of no running. I have a history of getting complicated injuries.

Yesterday I had a follow-up with my doctor to discuss my MRI and it turns out I have osteonecrosis and collapsing of the 4th metacarpal head. The end of the bone has been taking a beating and there isn’t enough blood flow in the area for the healing process to keep up with the micro-trauma of running.

I have yet to see an orthopedic surgeon to go over the severity of my injury and figure out what route I need to take for recovery. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this is similar to a stress fracture and 6 weeks or so of rest will let it heal. The other option is surgery and that doesn’t sound appealing.

I’ve been in the pool here and there. I’m torn between taking full rest and maintaining fitness so I basically go to the pool when it’s convenient. That will probably mean 4 days in the pool this week. As this heals I’ll up my cross-training volume and introduce bike, elliptical and hopefully XC skiing.

 

On January 2 when I knew I had a significant injury and would need to take many weeks off I quickly started to plot out a path to still run the Boston marathon. The dialogue in my head went something like this:

“OK, I’ll take 6 weeks off running which will give me 9 week of running before Boston. I’ll spend the first two weeks in the pool, then add in bike weeks 3-4 and then add in elliptical weeks 5-6. The first week of running will be low volume so I’ll keep up with cross-training. The second week of running I’ll still do workouts on elliptical. That will give me 6 weeks of running workouts before I have to taper. I can make this work…”

And then I remembered how frustrating it was to rush my Rio training last year and I came to my senses and decided to clear my race schedule.

I don’t want to run the Boston marathon just to do it (well at least not at this point in my career), I want to go there and run my best. I don’t need the stress of rushing through a marathon build-up, especially having done it last year. I mean, I’m glad I did it last year as the Olympics only come around every four years but I also saw the result of compromised training and it missed the mark in terms of my potential.

I can’t really comment on what my next steps are until I consult with an orthopedic surgeon. Hopefully this will be a similar timeline to a stress fracture and I’ll be running in the second half of February. So hard to say at this point.

Good thing Louis is a great distraction.

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I’ve got to make it on my own

December 5, 2016

I’ve got a little time here in the Tokyo airport before I board and figured I should write a blog about Fukuoka marathon. Usually I’d wait until I got home but home is much busier now.

I’ll recap my training in November… At he start of the month I raced the Road2Hope 10km in 29:40. It was a decent race but didn’t give me a feeling as though I was on a path to PB in the marathon 5 weeks later. However, I think that race sparked something and afterwards things started to click a little better.

I was dealing with nagging pain but nothing that stopped me from training, just enough to knock my confidence out of place. One particular workout I ran 26km at 3:08/km that led me to believe my endurance was coming around. Not long afterwards I ran a session of 5 x 1500m where I averaged 4:06, the last one in 4:00. Going into the workout I felt if I could average 4:15 it would be a step in the right direction. I knew after that session I was fit but I still wasn’t confident my body would hold up over 42.2km.

Enter the taper. Once I brought down my volume in the last 2 weeks I started to feel much better and felt as though I could manage a good marathon without breaking down too much.

Ever since I paced Eric at STWM I’ve been grinding on my own. It’s harder to stay on pace running solo but knowing the pace Fukuoka sets at the front I figured it would be good practice to push solo.

Travel to Japan went smooth and I was getting 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night this week (something that has alluded me the past 2 months). I was walking around a lot during the day and getting in my small runs which felt better each day removed from the 13 hour flight.

There was mention of a 65:00 (through halfway) pacer from a translator at an interview I did. This was an interesting development as there is usually only one paced group at Fukuoka marathon. When I went to confirm with the elite athlete coordinator it turned out to be a 64:30 group, targetting 2:09:00 (which would set up the fastest Japanese time this year).

I contemplated using the 64:30 group (the lead group was supposed to be 63:30). My plan was to feel it out and if it felt fine I’d tag along. I would be more inclined to run with that second group if it was windy.

Race day was wet and felt much colder than the 16C weather they were calling for. When I went to warm up it was raining hard so I made the decision to wear half tights because I don’t like sopping wet shorts. During my warm up the rain let up to a drizzle and the wind died down. All of a sudden the weather was looking much more promising.

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I got off the line well and found myself in the first few runners. We were running about 3:00/km so I started to let up a bit and by the time we left the track a few laps later there were at least 30 guys ahead of me and it felt as though they were running faster than their schedule. Too fast for my liking and I decided before 2km I was going to forge my own pace. (Looking at results later they were 15:02 for the first 5km, so fast that they joined the first group).

I was hoping someone else would have wanted to run 3:05/km. Nope, no one. In fact there was one guy with a 65:XX half PB who went out with the leaders in 64:24.

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Trailing the leaders.

I told myself I had prepared for a solo run so might as well get to business. I didn’t want to force an unsustainable pace so I was pleased when 3:05/km felt comfortable. It has to feel comfortable in the first 10km or else you’re screwed. I passed 10km in 30:50, bang on 2:10:05 pace. I just told myself to do that again.

30:47 for the next 10km and still feeling in control. I was passing runners by this point but I got no help whatsoever. Usually they would try to latch on and here and there some of them stayed in my wake for a few minutes. I went through the half in 1:05:03. Bang on 2:10:06 pace and outside the top 25 racers.

My next 10km was 30:47 (1:32:26 for 30km) and I was still feeling good. I was getting all my bottles and taking down all my fluids. In fact it was my best executed fueling race ever. Mentally I was in the zone. I have never had to be as “on” in a race as this marathon. Compare it to Berlin where I pretty much shut off my brain for the first 27km. Or STWM where I ran with guys until 37km. This time I couldn’t have even a slight mental lapse.

When I started passing more and more runners I had to remind myself these guys were going slow now. I couldn’t use them, I had to crush them. One by one they were coming back to me and struggling to keep a similar pace as they had been running for the first 25km.

After 30km my calves started to get really tight. By 34km it was a problem and I was having trouble staying on pace. At 35km I knew the record was slipping and I would need to dig deeper. Energy wise this was possible and within my abilities but my calves were not working and every time I went to pick up the pace I felt it in my calves, in a really bad way.

Somwehere around 38km I knew I was going to have to fight for a PB. Soon after I was fighting for my second fastest time. There were 3 guys up the road so I used them as targets. It worked in the sense that I cut the gap down and was catching them. But I never quite caught any of them and I ended up tying my second fastest time of 2:10:55.

After a year of lacklustre results I’m really happy to have a result I’m proud of in 2016. It wasn’t weighing me down as much as it would have in the past because my life has been blessed with a lovely wife and son. No matter what happens with running it’s nice to know that there is something more special to look forward to. Having said that I think my family helped push me through the marathon. I figure if I’m going to take off to Japan and leave my family I better make it worth it!

I honestly feel this was my best marathon performance ever. Having to run solo and stay that focused was something I wasn’t sure I could do. I have more confidence that I can run sub 2:10 with pacers and competitors than I do being able to solo a sub 2:11.

Now it’s time for a nice break, hopefully I have the patience to keep my feet up for a few weeks.

 

Splits:

5K: 15:21
10K: 30:51 (15:30)
15K: 46:13 (15:22)
20K: 1:01:38 (15:25)
21.1K (Half): 1:05:03
25K: 1:16:56 (15:18)
30K: 1:32:26 (15:30)
35K: 1:47:56 (15:30)
40K: 2:03:54 (15:58)
42.195K (Finish): 2:10:55 (7:01)

Strava data

Top Ten:

1 Yemane Tsegay (ETH) 2:08:48
2 Patrick Makau (KEN) 2:08:57
3 Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:09:11
4 Hayato Sonoda (JPN) 2:10:40
5 Amanuel Mesel (ERI) 2:10:48
6 Henryk Szost (POL) 2:10:53
7 Reid Coolsaet (CAN) 2:10:55
8 Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR) 2:11:39
9 Yared Asmerom (ERI) 2:11:57
10 Kazuhiro Maeda (JPN) 2:12:19

My 2:10:55 ranks me second in North America on time. This is the 4th time in the past six years I’ve been ranked second.

From the IAAF recap:

“Hindered by steady rains, high humidity and relatively strong winds which severely impacted the performances, Tsegay’s time was the slowest winning time since the 2004 edition. The conditions likely affected the pacemaking, with none of the pacesetters reaching 30 kilometres as anticipated.”