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We were off to the races and I thought to myself hold tight

July 22, 2016

I have to admit, I was a little nervous the last two days before the Athletics Canada Olympic team announcement (July 11). Over the past few months I told myself I was going to be named as a strategy to avert stress and it worked like a charm… up until the last couple of days. So when I got an email from Peter Ericsson on July 11th saying that I was going to be named to the Rio team it was a big relief.

Over the last few weeks my training and recovery from injury has gone as well as expected. My paces in sessions are improving and I feel more normal each week. I knew the path to healthy running wouldn’t be a linear progression, there are always bumps along the way. However, those bumps have been relatively minor (so far). The week after I moved into my new house my back was tight (not a big surprise) and I cut a 70 minute tempo at 66 minutes, so yeah very minor setbacks.

The day before the team was announced I was in Utica, NY racing the Boilermaker 15km. Once again Marie and I made a little road trip out of it and stopped at Green Lakes State Park on the way. The trails right around the lake are perfect for a short pre-race run and nothing better than a quick dip on a hot day.

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Green Lake

 

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Boilermaker was a ‘good enough’ result for me, I finished 12th (top non-African again) in 45:23. Admittedly I wanted to be top 10 and under 45:00. The field was a little deeper this year because of a prize money bonus at the PRRO Circuit finale and the times a bit slower due to wind. Off the start the pace was slow because no one wanted to lead into the wind. Like last year I ran with the pack but we were 31 seconds slower over the first 3km compared to 2015!

This time around I lost the pack around 4km because of a nasty surge but I caught back up to them by 5km. I lost the pack halfway up the big hill and from 6km to the finish pressed the pace alone. I did have company for the final 4km but Girma (I had trained with him in Auburn years ago) simply sat on me until the final 300m. My split from 10 to 15km was slightly faster this year than last year.

In general my legs felt a little heavy but considering I was coming off three 190+km weeks in a row they felt pretty good, no complaints there. I wouldn’t have got the same effort in training so it was nice to step up the intensity a bit six weeks out from Rio.

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After the steep downhill

***

In the past 6 days I’ve been drug tested twice at home. This is typical heading into a major competition as most countries want to make sure they are sending a clean team. They up the tests heading into World Championships and Olympic Games.

On Saturday evening the testers came for urine and were in and out in about 20 minutes. On Wednesday the testers came around 8:15am for urine and blood. I had already peed that morning so I wasn’t sure what I had in the tank. I was able to pee right away but only produced about 70ml. They ask for 100ml but can get away with 90ml.

I drank three bottles of water and waited until I felt I could pee again. After a while I was pretty sure I could go, but I couldn’t squeeze out a drop. I tried the trick of putting the tap on to hear the sound of water, still nothing. Waited a little longer then tried again, still nothing. I knew why too, I had to take a #2 and my body wouldn’t relax my peeing mechanism knowing that I might crap my pants.

I explained the situation to the testers and they said this thing happens and the chaperone will have to watch you as you pee in the cup sitting on the toilet. I told them I could go #2 and hold my pee and then pee into the cup later. They seemed impressed with that skill, noting that most people have to do both at once. However, I still had to be under surveillance while I took a #2.

Taking a crap in front of someone is only slightly humbling. Wiping your butt in front of someone is when it gets weird (avoid eye contact helps). Anyways, I was able to pee right after and get that portion of the drug test done. After that I had blood drawn.

I really don’t mind the testing and the protocol the testers have to follow knowing that it helps keep the sport clean. I described the testing to give you guys an idea of what is involved and the funny stories that come out of it.

A little later I went on a 16km run and stopped about 5 times to take a pee.

***

Many people ask me what day I leave for Rio and are surprised to hear I’m not leaving until August 15th. It’s an overnight flight that will put Eric and I in the village on the 16th, five days before our competition. This is good for us as we can do our hard training without the interruption of travel and once we taper take the 10 hour flight. Also, we don’t want to be in the village too long before our race as it’s a little overwhelming being immersed into the village where the Olympics are in your face 24/7. It’s nice to have time away from the big event.

Another question that comes up on Strava when I do a hard session is if that particular run was the last big one. Our biggest session will actually come next week, about 3.5 weeks before the race. It will consist of 80-90 minutes of continuous running close to or at marathon pace. My taper won’t truly begin until the final 10 days. After this week I’ll cut my volume down each week a little but it will still be solid until the last 10 days.

***

New Balance Canada hooked up our little guy with some sweet kicks for when he arrives.

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Waterfront 10

June 26, 2016

Very busy lately and completely enjoying the journey. Getting married, moving into a new house, training and racing.

Last weekend Marie and I got married in Hamilton. We had a small ceremony of family and a some great meals. Seeing that Marie can’t drink right now and I’m pretty serious about training a simple wedding weekend suited us perfectly. The weekend went smoothly and because it was low-key I was able to run 33km Saturday morning and catch a nap before the ceremony began.

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Bride, groom and baby with family in the background. Photo: Aaron Offord

Yesterday I raced the Waterfront 10k in Downtown Toronto. Once again Alan Brookes and his team at Canadian Running Series put on a top notch event and delivered on entertainment and organization.

The course starts with 1km down University and then goes out and back along Lakeshore. With a 7:30am start I figured we would dodge the heat. We definitely missed the killer heat but it was enough of a scorcher on Saturday that after a few km we were feeling the hot conditions.

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Gillis and I led the first 5km (14:44) with many guys in tow. Sometimes I would try and tuck in but guys weren’t running the tangents so I would lead the shortest route. No point in running further than 10km when I’m shooting for a time. Once it was just Gillis and I in the second half of the race he was doing more leading. When I felt the pace slow I would pull up and that would usually get him going again.

We weren’t quite hitting the pace I initially wanted (2:54/km) but given the heat it felt hard enough. With just over 1km to go I kept pushing the pace and Eric kept responding. With about 400m to go he pulled ahead of me and beat me by two seconds. 29:23 to 29:25. Our training partner, Tristan Woodfine, made it a Speed River sweep finishing third in 29:54.

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Photo: Michael Lin

My body felt better racing than it did one month ago in Ottawa where my injury was more present. Even though I could feel some discomfort yesterday it wasn’t too bad at all and some of the stuff I’m experiencing is my glute firing better than it was a couple of weeks ago so it’s getting sore. This is a good sign.

I was more tired racing Waterfront than Ottawa as I ran 200km last week and 190km this week (compared to 135km). Even though it would have been beneficial to back off my volume to be sharp for this 10km and appease my “competitive readiness” standard I didn’t want to take away from marathon training. I’m still holding strong to train properly for August 21st even though I haven’t officially achieved “competitive readiness.”

The Canadian Olympic team for Athletics will be announced on July 11th, the day after the Olympic Track and Field Trials in Edmonton. In order to stay sane and focus on my training without distractions I tell myself they will select me to the team. I believe this because despite my times being a tad slow due to heat I am racing well. I haven’t talked to Peter Ericsson since Waterfront 10 (I’ll wait until after the weekend) and perhaps this race does demonstrate “competitive readiness.”

I also have one more race lined up, The Boilermaker 15km, on July 10th. Although I haven’t been told one way or another if the 15km race will count towards “competitive readiness” (maybe they didn’t anticipate it would come down to this race) I’m going to go ahead and assume it is. It makes sense to me that a 15km is just as, if not more, relevant than a 10km when looking at marathon fitness.

This Thursday Marie and I will be moving into our house in Hamilton. Once were settled in our house I’m going to have much less on my plate heading into August. I’ll be busy enough with training.

 

                    Toronto Waterfront 10 Awards - Overall Male

Place Time      Bib #  Name                          Sex Age City                         
===== ========= ====== ============================= === === ========================= 
    1   29:22.6      2 Gillis, Eric                  M    36 Guelph                    
    2   29:24.4      1 Coolsaet, Reid                M    36 Guelph                    
    3   29:53.8      6 Woodfine, Tristan             M    23 Guelph                    
    4   30:20.7     19 Tola, Hajin                   M    33 Toronto                   
    5   30:27.7   1462 Ejigu, Ebisa Merga            M    27 Toronto                   
    6   30:32.9      5 Toth, Thomas                  M    24 Plaistow                  
    7   30:49.3     18 Assefa, Girma                 M    30 Toronto                   
    8   30:56.5      3 Jibril, Sami                  M    26 Toronto                   
    9   31:21.5     11 Cooper, Aaron                 M    30 Camlachie                 
   10   31:24.9     24 Marcaccio, Seth               M    21 London

 

 

 

Back in the tall grass

June 2, 2016

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the Ottawa 10km with only a few workouts under my belt. I knew my fitness was good from cross-training and I was running enough (100-135km/week the previous four weeks) but it still left me thinking I could run anywhere from 29:15 to 30:50 (in ideal conditions). Usually that window would be much narrower having completed many more sessions.

Running faster than 29:30 would have really surprised me and anything slower than 30:50, in normal conditions, would have left me pretty dejected.

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At the press conference I rambled on when asked to predict my performance.

Off the line I instinctively went out with the leaders but I quickly realized this was a bad plan seeing as they were aiming for a sub 28:00 10km. Once I settled in I was all alone and I went through the first km in 2:54 (29:00 pace). Although the early pace felt more comfortable than I would have thought I knew to settle down.

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Early in the race I gapped the other Canadians. Laflamme (in the darker blue) was running really good in late 2014. I didn’t see results from him in 2015 so didn’t know what kind of shape he was in. He ended up 3rd Canadian! Photo: Richard Hachem

I didn’t want to run alone but it was also encouraging that the Canadians I was up against for the Canadian Championships were behind me. Before the race I thought Kevin Tree (29:22 in 2016), Kevin Friesen (29:35 in 2016), Tristan Woodfine (28:56), Rob Winslow and myself would challenge for the top 3 spots. After a couple of kilometres Kevin Friesen caught up to me and we ran together until the final push.

2016 Ottawa Race Weekend

The rain came down hard for a while. That’s half of Kevin Friesen.  www.photorun.NET

 

I kept pushing the pace here and there for the first 7km and then decided to sit behind Kevin for a bit. It felt easier to sit so I did for a bit longer and then he started to pull away before 9km. I thought the move was too strong for me and he created a decent gap. At 9km I started to eat into the gap and caught him 200m later. At that point I put in a little surge to try and put a gap into him. A few hundred metres later I was hurting and praying he wasn’t too close. Luckily he was back a little ways and I took the pedal off the gas a bit. When I came around a bend I saw Lanni (the women started 3:15 ahead of the men) and started to kick again. I came up short and finished a handful of seconds behind Lanni.

 

I ended up 8th in 30:19 (RESULTS). The top 7 guys (all from Africa) went out hard in a pack and I never saw them after 4km or so.

A good sign is that my injury symptoms were less apparent after the 10km race than they were the weekend before after a 3 x 3km workout on soft surface. On top of that I was able to have a decent 30km run on Tuesday. My symptoms are still present but to a lesser degree each week.

Competitive Readiness

Many months ago I was planning on Ottawa 10km to be a peak race where I could focus on 10km for the month of May and then transition to marathon training the following week. Given my injury I never properly trained for 10km and going into this race I would have been thrilled with a sub 30:00.

Seeing as that it was 28C and humid on race day I’m very happy with 30:19. Lanni and Natasha (who are going to Rio in the 10km) were 1:37 and 2:08 slower than they were last year on the same course. Kevin Friesen and Kevin Tree were both over a minute slower than they have run earlier this spring. The conditions were far from ideal to say the least. Even the winner, Ziani, who ran 28:36 in Ottawa ran 27:28 earlier this year.

At the end of the day I have a 30:19 beside my name which doesn’t say much on it’s own. I think I demonstrated that I’m in better shape than 30:19 in Ottawa given the conditions. In my biased opinion I think I’m well on my way to hitting my goals in Rio.

My next race is the Toronto Waterfront 10k on June 25th. My plan to peak for Rio includes lots of volume in the next two months. If I want to run fast in Toronto I would be better off running less volume and training for a 10km. Peaking for a 10km might look better to show competitive readiness but in reality it would be a detrimental plan in order to peak for a marathon on August 21.

If I’m going to train for Rio I’m going to try and be the best I can be for August 21st, even if that means racing in June and July with tired legs. I can only hope that the selectors see my predicament.

2016 Ottawa Race Weekend

I was really happy to pick up my 14th Canadian title.  www.photorun.NET

 

A full video from the Ottawa 10km Canadian Champs can be found HERE 

 

 

My back is broad but it’s a hurting

May 17, 2016

Once again I postponed writing a blog until I could deliver some upbeat news. Week after week went by with only slight improvement to my injury. In the past five days I’ve seen decent improvement, so here I am writing an update and hoping the upward momentum continues.

On April 27th I got an MRI that showed I have a disc protrusion (L5/S1) which is abutting the L5 nerve root. Up until I got the news I didn’t know why my body wasn’t cooperating and I was really frustrated. Getting information on my injury was a big relief and the first step to a specific rehab plan.

Let’s rewind a bit here…

On March 1st I had a solid track workout with some heavy hitters in Iten, Kenya. Two days later I had a great fartlek workout and even overtook Richard Mengich (59:58 Berlin Half this year). The next day I got on a 17 hour flight back to Toronto and when I got off the plane my back was messed up. Over the next two days a couple easy runs completely injured my hamstring. I went from hero to zero within a handful of days. I didn’t really know what had caused such a downward turn and I didn’t anticipate a lasting injury.

Leading up to Cardiff (March 26) I skipped a couple of workouts, cut others short and struggled mechanically to get through the ones I completed.

After Cardiff I completely rested for eight days. When I tried to run again it was apparent I was injured worse than I thought. I took another two weeks off running (other than a few 30 min runs to test it out) and started cross-training.

A return to running…

Over the past three weeks I’ve run between 100-121km per week plus a bunch of time on the elliptical, the bike and in the pool. My training volume is good and I’m happy with my base fitness. I know I’m at a point where I can ramp up my training really quickly once my symptoms disappear. But that’s the problem, my hamstring has gotten overworked and sore every time I’ve tested out marathon pace.

A few days ago I set off on a run and decided to run quicker than I normally do. My plan was to average between 3:40-3:45/km for a 20km run, test the fitness without going too fast. After 10km my average pace was 3:43/km and by the end I averaged 3:35/km for 20km. It was by far my most promising run in the past two months. Recovery from that run was good and my hamstring and glute were only mildly sore.

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Feels good to run comfortably (at easy pace) again. Guelph Lake.

 

Going back to 2008…

In 2008 I also had a disc protrusion, that time on my left side at L4/L5. In mid-April my back was really sore and a few days later I did some 200’s that inexplicably beat up my calf in a really bad way. By June ’08 I was able to run easy but once I tried to run fast it would fatigue really quickly. And because my calf couldn’t fire quick enough I wasn’t even able to run a 32 second 200m (5000m race pace).

Hindsight is 20/20 but it baffles me that I didn’t piece together my current injury sooner given how similar it is to 2008. I can’t concern myself with that now though. At least I know what I’m dealing with and have a sense on how to treat this and am familiar with the recovery timeline.

Fulfilling AC’s competitive readiness…

Talks with Peter Eriksson (head coach at Athletics Canada) have been promising as he understands my predicament. Given my injury it wouldn’t be in my best interest to race a half marathon anytime soon. In an ideal world he’d like to see me run a half to show there is no doubt about my fitness. However, he is willing to work around my initial race schedule as in all likelihood that is what will produce my best build-up to Rio.

Racing Ottawa in 11 days doesn’t seem likely unless I can get in two sessions over the next week that show I’m not going to damage myself over 10km. If I do race Ottawa a fast time is unrealistic at this point. Ottawa would hopefully be an opportunity to turn things around with a change of pace and some adrenaline.

Ottawa race weekend is 12 weeks from the Rio marathon and if I could get in 10km a little faster than marathon pace I would be happy given how much I’ve run over the last eight weeks. It would tell me that I’m on pace for August 21st.

If I’m not able to fully train for Rio by mid-June then I will have to consider forgoing the Olympics. If my training keeps on progressing from now through the end of June then I’ll race Waterfront 10 (June 25) and Boilermaker 15km (July 10).

I will have to prove fitness at a race in order to satisfy AC and I’m fine with that. If I’m in the shape I want to be in heading to Rio then showing fitness for AC will be a formality (as long as I don’t run into severe weather).

In other life news…

Marie and I bought a house in Hamilton! We move in July 1st which means I’ll put off all home renovations until late-August. Or, in worst case scenario (no Olympics) I’ll have all the time I need for home renovations.

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Hopefully no home renovations until late Ausgust, just dandelion picking (without too much low back stress).

 

Competitive Readiness

April 14, 2016

An article came out today about how the Canadian marathoners who achieved Olympic standards in 2015 have to show “competitive readiness” in order to be selected to the Olympic games this summer.

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I thought I’d write a little more on the subject and let you know how I feel about all of this.

First of all my goal this Olympics is to finish in the top 15. If by July I don’t feel that I’m on track to finish in the top 20 I would rather forgo the Olympics and run a marathon this fall with proper training. At this point in my career I’m not looking for experience (like I may have in past Olympics) as this is likely my last Olympics.

I completely understand Athletic Canada’s position to make sure that they are sending fit athletes. If I was running a federation I would want to make sure that athletes who hit standard in 2015 are on track for at least that same level of performance come the Olympics.

My “competitive readiness” contract with AC was to run a half marathon in the same range in which I have done before my 5 marathons which fell in the 2:10:28-2:11:24 range. My average time for a half going into those races was 63:36. I felt this was a fair target for me.

Unfortunately I came up with an injury in the final weeks before Cardiff and knew my race would likely be compromised. I felt I was in 62:xx shape and figured my injury would likely slow me down to a 63 mid. My plan was to get the standard out of the way and then have a couple of recovery weeks before ramping up the training again.

For the first 15km of Cardiff I was running on pace for 63-mid, the effort felt relatively easy aerobically. Then the injury started to show itself and the weather really picked up after 15km and I slowed. The article says how Lanni ran close to her PB and I did not. Lanni did run really well, however as weird as it sounds, the weather didn’t get really nasty until our last 3-4km. By then the women were already done as they started before us.

(Video of the end of Cardiff once things got nasty)

 

While it’s true I did pick my target and the race in which I was to achieve it I think it’s unfair to say I chose the weather. The day prior to race day in Cardiff the weather was near perfect. When it comes to showing “competitive readiness” or “proving fitness” I think weather has to be factored in. This is not about hitting the Olympic standard to be eligible, this is about showing that you’re on your way to perform your best come August.

In March 2011 I ran 62:42 at the NYC half marathon (slight downhill). After that race my workouts got better and I felt I was in better shape going into Montreal half one month later. It ended up being windy in Montreal and I ran 64:55. I was in no worse shape one month later but windy conditions and running alone will net very different results.

I looked at the results from Cardiff knowing that many guys were slower than their PB’s. I took the top 60 finishers and looked at the difference between their times and PB’s. I didn’t take into consideration runners beyond 60 as there was some major blow-ups (one guy 13 minutes off PB) and thought it would be unfair. On average, guys who finished in the top 60 were 1:54 slower than their PB with 9 guys posting PB’s. I was 1:40 off of my legal PB. Relatively I didn’t do so bad in that race, even though, personally, it was a disappointment.

It’s not as if we can race half marathons all the time, and there are two good reasons for that. First of all it’s hard on the body to race many of them. Secondly, there aren’t many available at certain times of the year, just like marathons you really only see halfs held in the Spring and Fall (cooler temperatures).

In 2014 at the World Half Marathon championships under nice conditions 38th place (my place at 2016 World Half) was 1:02:27. Not that that stat carries any weight, but still interesting to note.

Also good to note that my 2:10:28 that I ran in September is 2 minutes and 22 seconds under the Canadian Olympic standard. It’s not as though I just barely got under. The other marathon I ran in the qualifying period (2:11:24) is 1 minute 26 seconds under the standard.

So where does this leave me?

Let me preface my plans with this: The last two weeks were supposed to be recovery weeks, I would normally have been running lower volume and lower intensity. Because this injury is lingering I have been cross-training. That is to say I’m not about to run a fast half anytime soon, not that a half marathon in April was ever in the plan.

Looking at the calendar we have just over 18 weeks until the Olympic marathon and I’ve primarily been on the bike and in the pool since Cardiff (similar timeline as before I ran Fukuoka in 2013 after having fractured my clavicle). Hopefully this injury clears up soon and I can get back on track for Ottawa 10km at the end of May, then Toronto Waterfront 10km in June and Boilermaker 15km in July (that’s my original race plan).

Now AC wants me to run another half marathon to show “competitive readiness.” If there was a good half marathon in North America available 6 weeks before the Olympics (on July 10th) then I would happily run there as that is what I normally do anyways (run a half 5-6 weeks out).

The Utica Boilermaker 15km is July 10th (6 weeks out) and I would be more than happy to run that to show fitness. It would also be a great race for me to peak on August 21st. Hence why I included it in my original plan.

There are a couple of good half marathons in Europe (Hamburg and Olomouc) on June 25th. This would be 8 weeks out from Rio marathon. That is usually when I would run 43-45km with 10-12km at race pace. If I need to prove fitness that week obviously I would need to cut that big run out of my program and have a lower volume week (especially once you factor in travelling overseas). Also, June 25th could come with hot temperatures in Hamburg or Olomouc and if AC isn’t going to factor in weather then I could get screwed again. Not that a slower time in heat would be a reflection of my fitness but a reflection of the conditions.

My current injury got bad from a long flight, so if it seems as though I’m not excited about travelling overseas 8 weeks before Rio… you’re right. At least in Rio when I land (if I go) I’ll have physiotherapy right away to fix any kinks.

First and foremost I need to get healthy and back running. Then get fit and start the real training.

Hopefully I can show competitive readiness at the Boilermaker 15km. If AC insists that I need to run that extra 6.1km to show “competitive readiness” then I guess I will have to hop on a plane and sacrifice my marathon build-up. That’s why I don’t want to call it “competitive readiness” because what they’re asking would actually take away from my “competitive readiness.”

The funny part in all of this is that both myself and AC have the same view: Neither of us wants me to run the Olympic marathon if I’m not ready to go.

[*Note, if anyone knows of a competitive (63:30-ish) half marathon on a legal (can’t be point-to-point or, greater than 21m net downhill) flat course in June in North America which has guaranteed good weather please let me know. Thanks.]

 

 

 

The sun can’t shine everyday

March 28, 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog (I’ve been busy with a couple other writing projects) so I’ll try and write a quick update leading up to the Cardiff World Half Champs. Basically this is where I lay the ground work for excuses.

Kenya was very productive for me in terms of training. I wasn’t all that fit when I went there and had a slow adjustment period but after two weeks things really clicked. The sessions got better and I started to feel really good. My aspirations for Cardiff were sky-high and I was confident I would run a PB, hopefully challenging for a top-20 finish.

My last track session in Kenya on March 3rd I ran 7 x 1000m with ~2:15 rest (2:55 average), 8 x 600m with ~3:25 rest (1:43 average) with a select group of runners. These guys were doing 15 x 1000m and I hoped to do 10 with them. I started to lose the pack on #7 and decided it was better to run with them instead of getting gapped so I switched to 600m intervals. I was able to handle 600m well and they asked me to lead the last two intervals. I finished that workout feeling really good about my fitness.

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Leading out the last 2 intervals for the guys. The last day I felt good, perhaps the workout that started the back tightness?

Two days later I ran a fartlek of 25 x 1 min hard/1 min easy. During that workout my right low-back was tight, it felt as though my right SI joint was stuck. I didn’t think much of it and got a massage that afternoon.

The next day I flew home. 45 minute flight to Nairobi. 2 hour flight to Addis Ababa. And then 17 hours from Addis to Toronto with a fuel stop in Dublin. The crappy part about the fuel stop is you don’t get off the plane.

That 17 hour flight did me in. My back felt really locked up on Saturday morning when I landed in Toronto. I had an easy run that afternoon which didn’t feel great, especially my right hamstring. On Sunday I ran 30km and by the end of the run I felt pretty wrecked, right hip, right hammy and right low-back all a big mess. On Monday I got physio and chiro and put off my workout two days to let things settle. This was also the day I declared for the World Half team, fully thinking that this tightness and would be gone by the end of the week.

I was hoping to make some gains at sea-level between Kenya and Cardiff but all I could do was try and maintain fitness. Every run was uncomfortable but I did seem to be getting better and I thought once I tapered I could be fine. My sessions weren’t that bad either. I had to hold back a little but I still hit good paces.

My confidence in that time period eroded. I went from ambitious goals to that of proving fitness for Athletics Canada towards Olympic selection. From my last week in Kenya until race week my time-goal slowed by two full minutes.

Finally on race day, less than 10 minutes before the start, I had a couple of strides that didn’t feel all that bad. Adrenaline was working it’s magic. There was still hope!

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Minutes before the race I didn’t feel too bad.

On the start line I went right to the back because accelerating off the line has felt horrible lately. When the gun went off a few guys from the mass participation field passed me but by 500m I was moving up through the championship field.

By 3km I was in a solid pack and starting to feel better than I have in a few weeks. I was very optimistic that I could have a decent day given how I was feeling. In a windy stretch around 4km I was doing some of the leading into the wind as, aerobically, I felt quite comfortable at that pace. I was tempted to try and bridge the gap to the next pack but I also knew I should not push too hard too early.

Our pack came apart by 7 or 8km and I was trailing a bunch of the guys but still feeling OK. I passed 10km around 29:53 and knew that my fitness was good enough to sustain this pace and probably pick it up off the back end.

As I was running, unbeknownst to me, my timing chip was not working at all and people tracking the race were getting zero splits for me. I told a few people before the race that if I felt as though I was doing bad damage that I would stop running. The team staff all assumed, and rightly so, that I had dropped before the 5km mark as chips rarely malfunction.

Around 15km I started to feel uncomfortable, mainly my hip and low-back. My hamstring never felt great but it didn’t get too much worse. I kept trying positive self-talk knowing it wasn’t that far to the finish. Each passing kilometre things got significantly worse, both in terms of weather (rain and wind picked up) and my body.

By 18km I wanted to stop but I knew I would fight to finish. The three main reasons why I was determined to stay in the race were: 1) I hate dropping out (I’ve only done it twice). 2) Knowing my 15km split I thought I was still 0n pace to prove fitness for Olympic selection. And 3) this was a national team event with 3 to count for team scoring.

Jared Ward from the U.S. passed me around 18km and as we were going up a hill I felt a little better and it was nice to have someone to key off of. Once we were on flatter ground he ran away from me. The wind started to thrash us and the two athletes up ahead of me were still coming back to me which gave me a little more fight. At the same time a pack of 5-6 guys working together came up behind me. In the final kilometre guys started to ramp it up and I felt too uncomfortable pick it up. The last 500m were quite painful on my body.

Finishing 38th in 64:56 was a bummer of a result but given how my body was feeling I couldn’t have asked for much more. In fact I held it together better than I thought I would for the first 15km. Considering that on Thursday I did 3 x 2 minutes and by the end of the second interval I was hurting I’m surprised how much better I felt on race day. That is partly due to the great job of team Canada physiotherapist and massage therapist Brenda and Casey.

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I started to lose serious time after 15km when my body said “no” and the conditions worsened.

At the finish line I was notified that I was selected for drug-testing. Seems as though they had selected me before the race started. The guy who found me probably wondered why they picked a guy who ended up 38th.

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Initially I wasn’t in the results. And I didn’t care.

What a frustrating race for me because it could have easily have been a much better experience for me. The course was really good and there were a lot of guys I would normally like to be competitive with. I like championship racing and a half marathon is a great distance for me. Had it not been a national team event a week or two before Cardiff I probably would have chosen to do different half marathon later in the Spring. Rob Watson and Brandon Lord also had rough days and we finished 12th as a team. The Canadian girls, on the other hand, all raced well and earned an impressive 6th place team result!!

RESULT LINK

What’s next?

My plan was to race the Sun Run 10km April 17th, a race I’ve been wanting to do for years. Instead I will take this week off, get some therapy and see where that leads me. The encouraging thing is that I would see improvement when I took one day off. I just didn’t have the luxury of taking more days off with Cardiff approaching. Now I’ll take the time and get healthy with a big year ahead of me.

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Japanese team measuring loops in Bute Park to make sure their pre-race sessions are accurate.

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The Cardiff Castle is impressive.

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Rob and I checking out the castle a couple of days before the race.

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Last morning in Kenya I got up early to catch the sun rise over the Great Rift Valley.

 

Look up at the mountain, I have to climb, oh yeah

February 15, 2016

Ever since my first trip to Kenya in 2011 I’ve wanted to tackle the infamous Fluorspar training route. It’s called Fluorspar because there is a fluorspar mine at the bottom of the road. The route goes up for 20.4km, climbing from 1367m to 2741m in elevation ending in Nyaru, the smallest of villages.

 

Fluorspar is about a 2 hour drive from Iten so it’s a bit of trek to go there for a single run. However there are athletes making this trip from Iten quite regularly.

 

Gilbert Kirwa (2:06 runner and 2nd place at 2015 STWM) and Silas Kipruto (sub 60 half) told me a couple of weeks ago they were making the trip pretty soon. I told them I wanted to come for sure. They would meet at the petrol station at 3:30am the following Saturday. As I confirmed closer to the day they changed the meeting time to 4:20am. 4:20 didn’t sound so bad compared to 3:30.

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Playing pool with Gilbert at Silas’ pool hall a few weeks ago

John Mason and I set out from camp at 4:10am on Saturday. When we got to the Petrol station there were about 40 Kenyans. Gilbert pulled up in his pickup truck and all of a sudden about 30 guys piled in the back. John and I looked at each other and noted “there’s no way we’re fitting in there.” And would we even want to drive for 2 hours in the bed of a pickup truck?

 

Gilbert came over to me and saw our predicament. He told us to wait for 5 minutes and took off. He ran home and drove back with his wife’s car and pulled up to the pumps.

 

With a quick little honk an attendant came out and started to fill up the car. It didn’t look like this gas station was open and I asked if it was open 24/7, “only if he recognizes the customer at these hours.” We gave him 2000 shillings ($27 CAD) as it was the least we could do for his troubles. Gilbert had to pick up Richard Mengich (sub 60 half) and two of his protégés on the way so at least the car wasn’t only for us.

 

We were finally on our way at 4:45am. We bypassed Eldoret by way of a 17km dirt road. Dirt roads in Kenya are really rough, if you can average 30km/h that’s very good. I was sitting shotgun eating granola bars and sucking back an Endurance Tap while guys in the back of the pickup were holding on for dear life. They all just held each other to form one unit instead of 30 individual guys.

 

We got back onto another paved road that kept climbing up and went past Kaptagat (a village with at least three elite training camps). We finally arrived at the top of Fluorspar hill. We only had one designated driver for 2 cars and one pickup truck. The two cars parked at the top and everyone piled into the pickup. Gilbert insisted I get into the cab. There were 4 guys in the cab and almost 40 in the bed.

 

We didn’t make it far before the guys were banging on the cab. No surprise, guys were going to fall out. It was decided that 15 guys would start to jog down the hill. The pickup would drive down until 5km from the bottom. Those in the truck would jog to the start and the truck would go back up and shuttle the rest down.

(Check my Instagram for video of the guys piling out of the truck)

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John in the back

The views down this dirt road were nothing but spectacular. It was amazing to see this road cut out of the side of, what looked like, a sheer cliff. There are over 20 switchbacks along the 20km climb. On the drive down we passed a handful of runners, including Mary Keitany (sub 2:20 marathon).

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Switchback

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The timing worked out well and we were finally all at the bottom of the run around 7:30am. They usually like to start at 6:30am to avoid the heat in the valley. But the late departure and the speed at which one could drive with 30 guys in the back of a pickup slowed things down.

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The run starts at the gate and ends at the tarmac. Some guys add on a little at the top to make 21km even.

 

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The troops getting ready.

 

 

Gilbert addressed the group and said the pace would start out at 4:25/km and shouldn’t get any faster than 4:10/km.

 

When the run started I was really curious to see how this was going to feel. The pace doesn’t sound that tough but I had been warned by other Kenyans that 4:10/km was a hard effort and the best guys in the world (who live at altitude and run this occasionally) run around 3:50/km.

 

We started off with a 4:25 km and then things progressed. The pack of about 40 guys slowly fell apart. I told myself to stay with the pack as long as I could. The same guys had absolutely crushed me the last two weeks during fartlek workouts. If I could make it past 10km with the front pack and not lose too much time in the second half I’d call it a successful run.

 

Somewhere around 6km we came upon a big dump truck that was struggling up the hill. It was spewing black exhaust and I was hoping it would speed up to give us a clear run. We ended up getting closer and closer. Just before we overtook it we could hardly see and the exhaust was nauseating. Even trucks struggle up Fluorspar.

 

You can see the detailed run on http://www.Strava.com but we were climbing between 37m and 109m each kilometre. It never let up. My legs were tired and I was breathing pretty hard for the given pace. Hiding in the back of the pack we would pass villagers on the way up and once the kids would see me they would cheer “mzungu.” I could tell by their level of excitement there aren’t many wazungu running up Fluorspar.

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I made it past 10km with the leaders. Around 11km the dirt road was under construction. It had been recently grated so the dirt was upturned and really soft. This lasted for about 2km. If the uphill and altitude wasn’t zapping enough energy out of your legs, the soft dirt sure would contribute.

 

Around 12km the pickup truck pulled up and I went over for my bottle. He handed me the wrong one and I asked for the other one that looked similar. He found it and I grabbed a couple of sips. After my drink I was trailing the pack of about 20 guys by 30 metres. It took a while to catch up but I finally did and felt confident that I could handle a slightly faster pace if they picked it up a bit. At times I felt as though I was on the edge, if these guys picked it up any more I was going to pop.

 

I told myself, “just get to 15km.”

 

Then, “just get to 18km.”

 

At 19.5km I was still with the front pack and the guys at the front (we were running 3 rows of 3) started talking about the Mzungu. I picked it up to the front row. They warned me not to push the pace, I told them not to worry I just wanted to hear what they were saying. They were just surprised I was still around.

 

I made it to the top in 1:27:01 (20.4km at 4:16/km) with the front group, which consisted of eight other guys. Richard Mengich was the only one I knew. The rest of the guys trickled in over the next 15 minutes or so.

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Putting warmup clothes back on post-run. (2 cars and 1 pickup for 40 guys)

 

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Getting back in the pickup for the trek home.

 

This tells me that my fitness is good (better than I thought) but my leg speed is my weakness right now. Not too surprising seeing that I haven’t done many fartleks or interval sessions since National XC champs. When I was injured I was x-training and only putting in volume, no intensity.

 

Fluorspar exceeded my expectations, both in terms of crazy travel to get there and the route itself. I pictured a more undulating route. This road climbs consistently the whole way, it never lets up until the very end (the 20th km only rises 15m).

 

It was a very unorthodox run for me, and I suspect for most runners. However most of the good marathoners in the Rift Valley region do this run at least once in a build-up. Some guys will do it a few times.

 

If it were closer to Iten I’d probably do it again but as it stands that will probably be it for me. Definitely one of the most memorable runs of my life.

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The kids at the top crowded around me as I sipped water. Many ran away when I pulled out my phone, these guys stuck around.

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