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The Shanghai Experiment

November 17, 2019

I went to Shanghai to run under 2:13 or faster and I only made it 25km on pace. Here’s the story on this wacky attempt.

The week after STWM I didn’t run at all and ate lots of desserts. My plan was a long recovery period followed by a long base and then build towards a Spring marathon. Pretty simple and typical.

And then Oct 25th I got an offer to start Nanjing marathon on Nov 10th. They wanted international athletes to start the race. I got an idea in my head that I would start the race and see how long I could last at 2:12:00 pace, nothing to lose if I couldn’t finish. 

I started running one week after STWM with the possibility of a marathon two weeks later. However, a week later Nanjing organizers realized they didn’t need me after-all and that plan fell through.

Because I got this plan in my head and had already started training I asked to see if I could run Shanghai marathon on Nov 17th (1 month after STWM).

The past two years I’ve run (not raced) Shanghai marathon because they needed me to fill their Gold Label athlete quota for their IAAF Gold Label status. I knew the course (it’s flat) and the weather had been nice and cool. The organizers would cover expenses, that sounded just fine to me. Game on!

STWM wasn’t fast enough to help me with my world ranking in terms of qualifying for the Olympics. I need two races around 2:12 and I have none.

[Edit: 70 men already have auto-standard (2:11:30). It seems as though you’ll need auto to go to Olympics. Thanks to @KittyJohne from Twitter for this link http://bluecattechnical.uk/RoadToTokyo/ ]

I toyed around with the idea of doing a January marathon and then an April marathon. But having 3 build-ups and 3 marathons over the course of 9 months seemed very daunting. Holding on for one more month and having another crack from the same build-up seemed like a better plan.

I have never tried to race another marathon one month, heck even 2 months, after a marathon. In the three weeks of running before Shanghai I had to find a balance between recovery from STWM and maintaining fitness. My workouts weren’t great but they weren’t bad. I didn’t press the pace like I normally would. If I usually operate at 80-90% in workouts I was going at about 70-80% for these sessions. I didn’t feel fully recovered but I also knew things could come around any day.

I didn’t announce that I was coming to Shanghai because I didn’t want any undue pressure. This was an experiment and I knew the likelihood of dropping out was higher than normal. I told some friends and the response was positive. Why not roll the dice, try something new. 

On Wednesday (Nov 13) I did an easy 10km run in the morning, it was -9C. A few hours later I was on a 14hr 45min flight and landed in Shanghai Thursday afternoon. I did a slow 4km jog when I arrived and then went to sleep. The following night I only got 2.5 hours of sleep. It’s normal for me to get interrupted sleep after travelling to Asia, but I was having a harder time than usual. Despite the lack of sleep by Saturday I felt pretty good on my run and I was excited about giving it a go on Sunday.

At the technical meeting I found out (to no surprise) that there would only be 1 pace group, going for the course record of 2:07:14, (3:00/km). There were a lot of Chinese athletes in attendance and I was hoping that some of them would be going for 2:11:30 to 2:13 and I could key off of them.

As per normal I was looking at the weather a few days out from the race. The race day forecast called for 18C in the morning and a high of 26C. On Monday (the day after the race) the forecast called for a high of 13C. I kept trying to will the cold front to come in earlier but day after day that forecast was not budging.

Race morning felt cooler than 18C and as I did my warmup run I didn’t feel hot, mainly because the sun was barely up. Maybe I was trying to trick myself that it was cooler knowing that there was only one way I was going to pace myself. (I since read the IAAF race report that said it was 15C at 7am start and almost 20C by 8am).

Normally in such conditions I should have tried to pace myself for 2:15-2:16. But I had already run 2:15 last month with a Canadian Championship fourth place bonus (that makes my 2:15:23 equivalent to 2:13:58 in the world rankings). I was going to go out at 2:12 pace, I didn’t see the point in running 2:15 again.

The race went out as fast as expected and everyone in the elite field went out at 3:00/km. By 2km there was at least a 10 second gap from the back of a massive pack to me. And it looked like an even bigger gap behind me.

But the carnage started really early and I was picking off guys before 3km. These guys put up a fight and usually stayed with me for a while. I stopped looking at my watch after 2km once I settled into a pace however, I would see the big clocks every 5km. At 5km I was 15:34 and then at 10km I was 30:58. Passing athletes was helping me run a quick pace. I caught a few Chinese guys around 11km who stayed with me and then a couple of Kenyans around 13km, one stayed with me. We had a nice pack of five rolling together and we switched up leads, which was especially helpful into the wind.

We went through halfway in 65:58 and the Kenyan dropped out right then. I was running with three Chinese athletes who seemed motivated to stay on pace. One dropped off and then we caught another Chinese athlete who latched on. I was starting to yo-yo off the back of the group around 24km and feeling the heat (it was 20C by this point). The sun was out and after 8am it was beating down pretty strong. I fell off the pack at 25km (1:19:02) and didn’t think a 2:13 was in the cards by how quickly I was melting.

I continued to run an honest pace and caught 2 of the guys who fell off the pack that had dropped me and I could tell the last one ahead of me was also slowing down. By 28km I knew I was done but decided to keep going until 30km, I guess I like round numbers.

If I drop out by 30km then I can recover pretty fast without much damage (less than 24 hours after the race my body seems fine other than my hips). If I race 42km then my recovery afterwards takes much longer.

At 30km on the course the 34km mark is on the other side of the road. So I took off my numbers and started to walk back to the finish.

Beyond the 40km mark I noticed it was going to be very tricky to get to the finish area because of all the barricades. So I pinned my number back on and jumped into the race with runners finishing around the 3-hour mark. I ran all the way to the stadium but instead of entering the stadium I scooted by some barricade. The course volunteers were urging me to continue to the finish, (which was less than 400m away). With the language barrier it was a challenge to explain to them that I had dropped out earlier and I just needed to get my bag. They gave up when I kept walking away.

***

I know the plan seemed ludicrous from the get-go. How was I going to run faster than I did at STWM where the conditions were perfect, there was a pacer and guys to run with? And yes, I didn’t have a 14-hour flight and 13-hour time change to contend with. On top of that I had three solid months of training that peaked for STWM. Surely running a 2:15 marathon, taking a week off, then two weeks of mediocre workouts and 1 week taper was not going to net me a better result.

But something went wrong at STWM and I really felt as though that day could have been a 2:13. I needed to take another shot.

Had the weather been 10C today who knows what would have happened. I felt just as good coming through halfway in 65:58 as I did in Toronto coming through half 50 seconds slower in 66:48. But I faded hard at STWM after 38km and that very well could have been the outcome again.

I am stoked that I ran 65:58 thinking that I still had 21.1km to run, that alone is a confidence boost moving forward.

Given the outcome I’m still happy I put myself out there and gave it a go. As long as my recovery goes well there wasn’t much drawback to this plan. I still have plenty of time to build a base and then get ready for a Spring marathon.

***

Next blog coming from Kenya! The whole family is going for December.

Sometimes you kick, sometimes you get kicked

October 29, 2019

Well 6/7ths of Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon went as planned. Until 36km I was on pace to run 2:13 high. My aim was to run under 2:14 and place in the top 3 Canadians. After 36km I started to slow down and then my last 4 kilometres were really rough and I lost about 1 minute in those last 4km and ran 2:15:23 to finish as 4th Canadian.

Although I didn’t run 2:13, or even 2:14 I’m not disappointed with 2:15:23 for various reasons I’ll get into after the race-recap.

I was right when I thought a sub-2:14 would place second or third amongst Canadians. A sub-2:14 clocking along with the 35 or 30 placing points for 2nd or 3rd Canadian would be a good result to help with Olympic selection via world ranking. A 2:15:23 and 4th Canadian (25 placing points) doesn’t help enough in regards to Olympic selection. To off-set that result and have a good average of two results I’d have to run under 2:11:30, which would be an auto-standard anyways.

What I was wrong with however was who and how fast the top Canadian men would go. Most of what I based estimates off of was half marathon results in the previous two months. Cam dropped out of Philly and didn’t look great. I had a feeling he would turn things around in the 5 weeks before STWM but just enough to squeeze under 2:12:00 for top Canadian.

The other three guys who were going with the 2:11:30 group were Tristan Woodfine (no half marathon), Evan Essalink (65:07 Edmonton Half) and Trevor Hofbauer (66:29 Edmonton Half). A 65:30 opening half split seemed ambitious given those results from mid-August. (As a comparison I ran 64:09 at Edmonton Half 5 weeks before I ran 2:10:28 in Berlin).

Chris Balestrini and Kevin Coffey, who ran 65:42 and 65:55 at Edmonton Half weren’t even going with the 66:30 group that Dylan Wykes, Thomas Toth, Enoch Nadler, Josh Griffiths, Nick Earl and I were going with. Tristan ended up going with our pack because his stomach didn’t feel good at the start, he wasn’t that confident he’d even finish the race but thought he might as well give it a go.

Rory Linkletter decided to go out alone in 66:00. That’s a tough way to go into your first marathon. Heck, that’s a hard way to run your 10th marathon!

Our pack had a pacer and a few half marathoners and we clicked off the first 15km according to plan. After that our pacer looked as though he was hurting and the pace began to slip. Enoch was on him the most to get back on pace. We went through halfway in 66:48.

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Our pacer dropped out around 22km and Enoch did most of the pace making after that with myself and Tristan sharing some leading. By that point we could tell we were catching Rory and Evan had fallen off his pack. Trevor and Cam were still with their pacer and Trevor was feeling so good he was trying to “high 5” Rory on the switchback.

The pace from 20km to 30km was honest, I covered that 10km stretch in 31:22 (2:12 marathon pace). We passed Rory and then Evan in that stretch. At 30km Enoch was 3 seconds ahead of me and Tristan was 3 seconds behind me. Tristan caught me before the 32km turnaround where we saw that Cam had fallen off of Trevor. Tristan and I ran together for a couple km and then I slowly started to fade off of him. I was 4 seconds back of Tristan by 35km.

Enoch and Tristan went on to run 2:13:04 and 2:13:16. They picked up the pace a bit but I lost about 2 minutes to Tristan in the final 7km!

By 39km people were telling me that Cam was dying but I couldn’t see him for the longest time. When I did there wasn’t much I could do about it, my legs were not moving. I covered my final 2.2km in 7:56 (about 1 minute slower than what I was closing in 2015 marathons). Cam was about 1 minute slower than I was in the final 2.2km (8:54), and hence why people were urging me to chase him.

When Josh Griffiths passed me in the final 100m it was as if I was standing still. For reference, he closed his last 2.2km in 7:02.

When I crossed the line I saw Hof getting interviewed. I could tell he finished as first Canadian and figured he got the 2:11:30 standard. But when he told me he ran 2:09:51 I was speechless. It seemed so far ahead of any result he’s ever had (that’s not a knock, he describes that himself in his blog). I felt strongly he was due for a PB because I knew he had been sick leading up to his 2:16:48 in Hamburg but I thought a 2:12-14 would have been a big leap.

On the women’s side I wasn’t as surprised by the big PB’s that Dayna Pidhoresky and Emily Setlack ran to break 2:30. When Emily ran 72 minutes at Philly I told a few people that day that she would run under 2:30 this fall. Dayna ran 71 back in 2011, the biggest surprise with her was that she hasn’t run 2:32-2:34 a couple times already.

I can’t really explain why my legs shut down as much as they did. I got all my bottles and estimate that I got over 40g/cho/hr, maybe even 50g/cho/hr. Going that far into a marathon at a pace that would make me really happy is motivating. That is one reason I’m happy with my result.

Another reason why I’m happy with the race is that I fought the whole way. There have been a few races in the past couple years where it was evident that I wasn’t going to have a great day and I didn’t dig that deep. Like in Philly, whats the difference between 65:15 and 65:47? I’m not going to be thrilled with either, why kill myself.

I’m also happy I set the Canadian Masters  Marathon record that was held by Derek Fernie at 2:19. In the past 8 weeks I’ve set the Canadian Master’s 10km (30:09), 10 Mile (49:13), Half marathon (65:47) and marathon (2:15:23) records.

 

Heading for the light

September 29, 2019

Today I ran the New Balance Waterfront 15km in Ajax and, I have to say, I felt great. I ran it as a workout, 12 x 1km hard with 250m “float” where I averaged 2:56 for the 1km repeats and around 3:30/km for the 250m float. That netted me 46:15 for 15km. Cool weather today was a relief after having a couple of my big efforts in September done in hot and humid conditions. Not Doha hot, not even close, but still hot enough to affect pace.

Rock ‘n Roll Philly Half on September 15th was a good effort and I have to be pleased with running 65:47 in hot conditions. The course is fast and I can see how one would run fast there under the right conditions. I felt really good that morning and found a nice pack early on and just focused on running with the pack and not looking at my watch.

As we approached 10km my pack had recently split apart and I saw my 10km split on the clock. I was expecting to see 31:00 so when I saw 30:32 I got excited and thought today was going to be alright in the heat. After that I was paying attention to my splits (to stay honest whilst running alone) and after 12km I kept getting slower and slower. I was catching up to a few athletes so it felt as though I was still moving ok but my pace kept suffering.

Seeing 65 on the clock was disappointing but once I saw the full results and talked to other athletes who thought they were going to run much faster it put things in perspective.

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Approaching finish line of Philly Half

On Wednesday I got a knock on the door at 6:30am after having just gone to the bathroom. That meant I had to drink a couple bottles of water and a couple cups of tea to produce a urine sample for the drug testers. After blood and urine samples completed I drove to Guelph for a my longest session of the build, (5km warm up, 26.2km marathon effort, 4km cool down).

During the 26km marathon effort my stomach didn’t feel great and I blamed it on the extra fluid I drank that morning. However when I got done my cool down I found out my son had puked up his breakfast that morning. Perhaps I had a little bug too? But I really didn’t feel that bad and still averaged 3:11/km for the 26km. I was hoping to average 3:09/km for that session so I really wasn’t that far off and it was a little warm.

That’s why it was sweet to run 46:15 for 15km today when I had expected to run about 47:00.

STWM should be an interesting race for the spectators. There are a lot more quality Canadian men than usual because of the trials nature of the race. I could see a big pack going out faster than 2:14 pace. Whereas usually there are only 1-4 athletes going out at that pace or faster.

Cam Levins, Tristan Woodfine, Trevor Hofbauer, Thomas Toth, Aaron Cooper, Rory Linkletter, Evan Esselink, Kevin Coffey, Sami Jibril, Chris Balestrini and Dylan Wykes. I might be forgetting someone right now but that is a lot of guys who have potential to run a fast marathon.

STWM OCT 20, three weeks to go!

Coming around

August 29, 2019

On August 3rd I ran the Beach to Beacon 10km in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The race is fantastic and I highly recommend it, I had a great time. In fact, I was enjoying it so much I thought I’d take more of it in and stay out on the course a little longer (that’s a joke). I ran 30:45 for 10km and truthfully that was about 45 seconds slower than I thought I was going to run. I was rattled by my performance because I just couldn’t get it going that day. In the big picture I wasn’t too worried because I really felt I was just flat from upping my volume plus, I had another race in 3 weeks to turn the tables.

Right before the finish at Beach to Beacon. (I threw a few cups of water on myself during the race).

I started training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon towards the end of July. Right before I started the build I took a few days off and went fishing with friends in Northern Ontario. As usual I crave some downtime, eating whatever and drinking beer. And then, as usual, I’m craving the hard training even more.

My second race in August was the Crim 10 Miler in Flint, Michigan. Also a very fun race, great atmosphere although not as scenic as Maine. My goal at Crim was to run a faster pace than Beach to Beacon. Luckily I found a good pack to run with so I never looked at my watch. Well, not until after 9 miles. I rolled with this chase pack, faded off from them up the hills around mile 5 and then caught back up with them. And then faded again around 8 miles to finish 14th.

I averaged 3:03/km (faster than Beach to Beacon) and ran my last two km at 3:01/km. Needless to say I was pretty happy with the way Crim went and was pleased to get the Canadian Masters record 49:13 (as long as I get the paperwork done). The nice weather at Crim certainly helped with the fast pace but more than that I was able to push into a gear that wasn’t available at Beach to Beacon. Simply getting used to 180km weeks made the biggest difference.

Right before the finish line at Crim

 

Next up is the Rock & Roll Philly Half on Sept 15th.

 

On the line Paul boasted that he once led the Crim.

 

He didn’t lead this year but he did get out hard and got in front of me. I think I passed him 100m into the race.

 

 

 

Worst blog ever

July 31, 2019

Whoa, July just zipped by! It was only after 8pm on July 31st that I realized I hadn’t wrote a blog this month. I thought about writing one earlier this month after I raced Edmonton but decided to put it off in hopes I’d have more to share by now… Should have written a blog a couple weeks ago.

Canada Running Series once again put on a stellar event at the LuluLemon 10km in Edmonton (July 7). My expectations going into the race weren’t high as it was only 6 weeks after the Ottawa marathon. I took a full week off running and then a very easy week after the marathon. I won the race in Edmonton the year before but I had a lot more time after my Spring marathon.

Early on during the 10km I felt as though I was holding onto the chase pack (Levins, Watson, Ballestrini, Coffey, Rawlings) and wasn’t even concerned about Essalink and Chesoo a few seconds up the road. Sometime before the halfway mark I put myself into the mix and started to feel better. My previous 3 races I had talked myself out of it for one reason or another and this time I started to tell myself “it’s just an early season race.” But I pushed those thoughts out of my head and found the fire to compete.

At 9km there was still Levins, Balestrini, Coffey and myself shooting for the last place on the podium. I started to push the pace hoping to drop anyone, or everyone. As we rounded the corner with less than 50m to go Levins went by me pretty quickly and I looked back, saw Balestrini and knew I had to keep on the gas or get passed. I held onto 4th place and was very pleased with the result. It had been quite a while since I surprised (a good surprise) myself in a race.

Since then my training has progressed well and I’m starting to raise my volume ahead of a fall marathon. In the meantime I have a couple races that I’m really looking forward to:

August 3rd – TD Beach to Beacon 10k

August 24th – Crim 10 Miler

Beach to Beacon will be my first race as a master. Although I like the idea of competing for an added prize money pool my ambitions to do well in the overall race are still my goal.

Ok, time to pack for my flight to Portland, ME tomorrow.

Like some cheese-eating high school boy

June 30, 2019

I re-watched the Ottawa marathon broadcast. I can’t believe how annoying it is to see myself always flicking sweat off my face.

On a hot run earlier this month I started to sweat and, consequently, flick sweat off my face. Then I tried to not touch my face. When a big drop of sweat is sitting on my face it’s like an itch and I automatically swipe it. It took all my mental fortitude to not touch my face and the instant something distracted me, (such as looking for traffic) I would wipe the sweat away. I think when I’m focused during a race that if I tried not to touch my face I’d lose focus on trying to go fast.

Anyways, recovery from Ottawa went well and I resumed running after a full week off. My first week was easy and then I started to ease into workouts. I still feel sluggish 5 weeks after the marathon (one week out from Edmonton Lululemon 10km) but each week I see improvement.

Last year I won Edmonton 10km but it was 12 weeks after Boston. 12 weeks and 6 weeks is a massive difference. Thankfully my training has gone smoothly and I hope to have a decent race and a kickstart to the rest of the summer season.

***

On a run last week I passed a group of high-school boys walking on the rail trail. About 100m later one of them was running beside me. He was wearing his school uniform and did not look like a runner.

Me: “Only 26km left.”

High-school kid: “You got something on your hat.” And flicked the top of my hat.

Me: “Showing off for your buddies, eh?”

HSK: “Actually, I get five bucks if I run beside you until the top of the hill.”

Me: “Hmmm, I’ll have to decide if you get to keep the five dollars or not.”

And then I picked up the pace for a few strides. He cockily smiled as he kept up. Five seconds later he realized he was in big trouble and the smirk quickly disappeared. I slowed back down and let him regain his composure. At that point we started to go up the hill and I had to slow down.

Me: “Maybe I’ll let you get the five bucks.”

HSK: Out-of-breath.

Me: “We’re crawling now and this is getting boring, I’m going to put you out of your misery” I then took 3 fast steps and realized he had nothing left. I felt for him so slowed way down for the final 20m of the hill.

Me: “Let me know when you’ve earned the five bucks.”

We crested the hill side-by-side.

HSK: “That’s…good….thanks”

Ottawa 2019

May 30, 2019

Last minute blog to maintain posting once a month. Here we go.

Running 2:17:37 at the Ottawa marathon was about four minutes slower than I originally wanted but it wasn’t all that bad. Here are the pros and cons.

Pros:

Training went really well. It was my best build-up since 2016.

I felt comfortable running ~3:10/km early in the race. In the past I’ve been able to feel a pace and figure out if that pace was sustainable or not.

I got all my bottles and consumed more carbs than planned. I’ve never done that before.

Ottawa was a really fun race and the crowd support was amazing.

First Canadian came with a good payday. 8th overall paid as well and added some bonus points towards world ranking.

Recovery went well and I felt like going for a run on Wednesday (I didn’t, I’ll wait a few more days).

Cons:

I didn’t change my planned pace even though it was 17C at the start and got hotter when the sun came out. I was too stubborn.

The humidity made it a tough day and I struggled to push really hard in the final 7km.

It was a little lonely out there, I only passed 2 runners throughout the race and once I caught them I didn’t see another runner as they were too far up the road.

Even with the bonus points for finishing 8th my time was too slow to really help with Olympic qualification.

The morning before and after the race the temps were cool and it was calm. I know that doesn’t make a difference for the actual race, but it somehow makes it more frustrating to think of what could have been.

***

On the topic of Olympic qualification. (Edited June 1st after I crunched numbers on IAAF.org again) I feel that it will take about 1120 points to be ranked high enough to make the Olympics. [I still have to calculate how many runners not ranked in the top 80 (3 per country) have achieved an auto standard of top 10 at WWM, top 5 at GL…]. That’s just a guess and to be safe I’m aiming for 1125 points. A 2:12:05 gets you 1125 points. If I had run 2:13:48 (1095 points) and finished 8th at Ottawa, the extra 30 placing points would have given me one performance at 1125 points.

Or, just get the auto 2:11:30. Right! haha

Running 2:11:30 doesn’t seem likely for me (unless training really improves in the next few months). However, I do feel that sub 2:13 is within my capabilities and that might be good enough if I can get two in that range with some placing points.

My last three races have been my slowest marathons of my life (Boston 2018, STWM 2018, Ottawa 2019) which is starting to screw with my head more than it should. I know why each race was slower than it could have been but I’m still guessing as to where my top-end lies.

I’ll have to wait about 5 months to have another crack at the marathon. In the meantime I’ll get after some shorter races and chase the Speed River guys to find some turnover.

 

Weather in Ottawa on Sunday was not ideal.

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