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Fukuoka Marathon Post Mortem

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I went to Japan for a marathon. I dropped out. I’m disappointed. That’s the short version of this update. You can move on with your day now, or read below for the sad tale of events and my reflections on them.

The race itself was a great event; well organized, great course, nice weather. You couldn’t ask for a lot more to be setup to run fast, besides maybe a personal pacer. I managed to run my desired pace for all of 12k or so, and then things quickly unraveled. It was a weird feeling to have to really keep on it to maintain pace that early in the race. Usually I can go into autopilot and click off marathon pace for a long time. Today, after about 8k, any time I tried to relax and find a groove I was at least 5s/km slower than the pace I was hoping to hit. By 18k I knew it would take a small miracle to achieve the Olympic standard (2:12:50). By 21k my leg was sore, I was slowing rapidly, I was defeated and packed it in. Thats how small the margin for error is in this for me and how quickly things can change. 2 or 3 seconds per kilometre slower than planned and all can be lost.

The journey to Japan started as far back as June, when after months of inconsistent training I spent a few more weeks on the sidelines and realized that my initial ambitions of running the Berlin marathon in September (or even Toronto marathon in October) were unlikely. By late September, after 6 weeks of decent training and my first decent race in months, all sights were set on Fukuoka.

Training went well in the lead up to the race. Nothing spectacular, but good enough. The training was more conservative than in the past, with lower mileage and more recovery days between hard workouts. I knew it wasn’t my strongest buildup to a marathon, but it was close to what I’d done for previous races where my times were close to 2:12:50. I really tried to enjoy the process this time around and not get too stressed out about specific workouts. (That’s made a lot easier when I get to hang out at the park with my wife and daughter between training runs!) A few weeks out from the race I hit a good workout and was really able to start telling myself hitting the Olympic standard in Fukuoka would be a real possibility.

What went wrong for me out there, I’m not exactly sure. I have been dealing with a pesky post tib tendon the past few weeks. It interrupted training a little bit and definitely messed with my head in the week or so leading up to the race, even though on race day it felt the best it had in two weeks. Jet lag was likely a bigger contributor to my problems out there. I’ve raced very well in the past off of a poor sleep the night before the race. But, I had 3-4 pretty terrible sleeps upon arriving in Japan. I felt a bit like a zombie on race morning. I didn’t have a particular plan to adjust to the time difference. Maybe that was something I should have been more diligent about.

Some would ask why go so far away to race when it adds that unpredictable variable of travel/jetlag. The easy answer is the timing of this race just fit the best with my training. But, regardless of the timing, there aren’t many races that would give me the opportunity (in terms of appropriate course and competition) to run fast that wouldn’t require similar travel. Besides maybe Chicago and Toronto in October there aren’t any races I can think of in Canada or the USA at anytime of the year that fit the bill. That’s just the reality of the event and what I’m trying to accomplish. It would have been much easier to go to Sacramento (on the same day as Fukuoka), but it’s not a certified course, so any performance their would not be counted towards Olympic qualification. I don’t regret coming to Japan and taking the opportunity. I just wish I’d been able to get more out of it.

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I’ve dropped out of races before and I know inevitably I’ll pick up the pieces and move on to the next one. But right now this one stings, both literally and figuratively. That pesky post tib tendon I mentioned before is not happy with me now. If I’m honest with myself, it probably would’ve slowed me down a lot after 30-35k, even if all else was going smooth. That is really frustrating, especially after finally stringing together 4 months of consistent and quality training. I’ve tried to think back to what I did wrong to let this creep up. Seemingly overnight it went from an underlying issue for several weeks that I was managing (with treatment and exercises) to a crippling injury that forced me to take several days off the week of the race.

Lots of sacrifices were made in preparation for this race, including living in Flagstaff, AZ for 5 months. I know that sounds like a pretty sweet thing to do, and I know how lucky I am to be able to do it. But, it was a lot of work and sacrifice, especially on Francine’s part, to make that happen. I’m not making nearly enough money as a runner to move the family to Flagstaff for 5 months and simply put life on hold back in Vancouver. And I’m not willing to leave my ladies behind for weeks or months on end to go away to a training camp on my own. We had to make a lot of changes and spend a lot of time, energy, and money to have things go smoothly in Arizona. So, right now all of that time and energy and sacrifice feels like a waste and a huge burden that didn’t need to be thrust on a lot of people. (Many thanks to running community in Canada for their support especially Peter Butler in Vancouver and the fundraising efforts of Al Cantlay and the running community in Kingston. Without their help in the years following the London Olympics we likely couldn’t have afforded the short-term move to Flagstaff)

For now, it’s back to Vancouver to see my two girls, catch up with friends and make sure I’m 100% healthy. If I can get back training in the next few weeks I will have another opportunity to try for the Olympic standard in the spring, likely somewhere in Europe. We are not at the end of the road yet!

Hello From Flagstaff

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My wife told me this blog lacked some zip. I decided I was going to drink a beer to help with my wit, but I took some Benadryl instead – because I have some nasty poison ivy like rash all over my body.

I got the rash because I’ve been out running in nature. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been running! Not something I’ve been able to do as much of as I would have wanted over the past year or so. I have had lots of injuries, some more serious than others. Perhaps inevitably when so much of my life is focused on performance and because so much of my identity is shaped by my running, the injuries are followed by emotional ups and downs. I came across this article/blog written by British distance runner Andy Baddeley about his struggles with injury and depression. I was shocked at the many many parallels I was able to draw to my own experience over the past few years. Especially the part about having a new baby and that being so joyous, but then at the same time being so down about running. It was actually really good for me to read that article, it helped me deal with some of my ‘issues’ and reframe others.

A good quote that I’ll steal from Francine’s old coach Pete Grinbergs; ‘It means everything, but it means nothing’. Running is a sport in which you often have to be pretty selfish and we tend to get caught up in ourselves and how to achieve our goals. Having a family has helped put that in perspective. Sure my running is really important and when I’m in the moment I want to be my best and get the most out of myself. But when I walk in the door from a hard training session and my 10 month old daughter, Sasha, gives me a big smile and crawls my way, that training session I just completed – whether great or terrible – seems to mean a lot less. I think that little shift in mentality really helps me in both my athletic pursuits and the rest of my life. 

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That brings me back to the nasty rash that has required the dose of Benadryl. I have spent the past 2 months navigating the endless dirt roads and trails of Flagstaff, AZ and somewhere along the way I came in to contact with a bit more of nature than my sensitive city boy skin can handle. But I’ll deal with it if it means I’m out there training everyday, which I have been now for at least a few weeks in a row. 

Getting over the injury hump this time around was a bit different than my past experiences. Many of my past injuries were pretty cut and dry in terms of diagnosis and prognosis; you have a stress fracture, rest for 6 weeks, start back slowly. But since January I’ve had a bunch of different things including a tear in the tendon that attaches to the top of the hamstring – a real pain in the butt that one was. Many of these injuries would come and go, allowing me to train for a few weeks before they crept up again and sidelined me for a few more weeks. This was tough to deal with as I had so much self doubt about my fitness, my bodies ability to recover, my motivation to continue, etc. Without any distinct deadline or light at the end of the tunnel I was becoming more and more frustrated and despondent about this whole running thing. Luckily I have some great people around me including my family and my sponsors Mizuno Canada and Forerunners, that support me no matter what happens. Knowing I had that support kept me going. But, before I knew it July had rolled around, I hadn’t really had any consistent training and was about to embark on this grandiose training camp to Flagstaff, AZ with my wife and baby daughter.

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This grand adventure to Arizona started as a part the of process in my pipe dream to break the Canadian marathon record at the 2015 Berlin Marathon. (Spoiler alert, that’s not going to happen, at least I won’t be the one breaking the record, because I won’t be on the start line!) I have a lot of pipe dreams when it comes to running. A lot of them are ridiculous, too over the top to tell readers about. But, that is one of the things that keeps me motivated and dedicated through all the ups and downs. Most of the time the dreams don’t come to fruition, but once in a while they do. Anyways, The whole point in being here is because Flagstaff is at 7,000ft above sea level. The air is more rarefied the higher you go in elevation and to adapt to this the body increases the blood volume or something like that. Whatever the mechanism is, there is performance benefit to training here especially for endurance athletes. I like to tell people it just makes you tougher – because you bloody well suffer in the thin air. 

One of the other advantages of being here is that I have worked closely with Dr. John Ball in Phoenix, AZ. When I arrived in July my body was still a mess and I wasn’t really able to train much at all. But, working with John has really helped me to sort things out. I probably spent as much time in his clinic as I did actually running in the first few weeks here. It certainly hasn’t been an overnight fix. That is something both my coach, Richard Lee, and John have continually tried to drill into me. So, now I putter away at a some ridiculous looking exercises John has given me, both before and after running each day. But along the way he’s taught me more about how my body functions now and how it should function optimally than I ever really cared to think about previously.

I can now say that I am really enjoying running again and am trying to enjoy the entire process. For so long my running has been about the end result. But with so many injuries I’ve found myself really far behind where I wanted to be and throwing myself against a wall to try to catch up. I’ve been able to be a bit more patient this time around, in part because the altitude here has prevented me from going out and hammering workouts before I’m really prepared to do so. And in part because I think I’m slowly learning that if I take small steps I can actually still make progress, not huge leaps, but still…progress.

Otherwise, life up here is pretty good. Francine works harder at her PhD and some new research at NAU than I can fathom and Sasha continues to be a little spark plug. She has been getting in some good training since we’ve been here too. She passed her swimming lessons with flying colours and has been crawling around like a maniac!

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In other news the sport of track & field has had it’s ups and downs this summer. There have been huge allegations of systematic doping in Russia and the coverup of doping across the world by the international federation that oversees the sport. In more positive news Canada had a fantastic World Championships, bringing home 8 medals (its best ever). The NCAA Athletics Canada’s new athlete development program is really working! Lastly, I’m really looking forward to the fall marathon season. I have a lot of athletes I coach running various marathons across the globe. Many of Canada’s top marathoners will also be toeing the line at big city marathons this fall; Reid Coolsaet (who has already provisionally qualified for the Olympics) will be running the Berlin Marathon. A few weeks later Robbie Watson will be toeing the line in Chicago looking for a sub 2:12:50. And a week after that Eric Gillis, Matt Loiselle, Sammy Jibril and Lanni Marchant will race in Toronto with high hopes of running times that will qualify them for next summer’s Olympics in Rio. Hopefully a few other ladies like Rachel Hannah and Kim Doerksen, who are tackling the marathon will also have a go!

I have hopes of being on the starting line for some races this fall too – with low expectations, all as part of the process. Maybe my next update will even be race report! Thanks for reading.