Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cross training + speedwork

Running only about 30-35 kms per week, I find myself with some extra energy and free time over what my marathon training schedule was requiring so I decided to start cross training again. When I was in the Caribbean, I swam a lot and when I came back I started to miss it so I got a membership at my local pool and started swimming twice a week.
I'm also looking forward to summer and biking outdoors so I started getting ready for it and dusted the stationary bike and started using it once or twice a week when the weather outside is not appealing enough for a run. Hopefully with a late fall marathon in mind, I will be able to enjoy a bit more physical exercise for fun this summer, last summer's intense marathon training left me too tired and time stretched to do any biking or hiking for leisure.

I know where you think this is going :) There is no triathlon planned in my immediate future but I'll keep all options open...

I've also started assessing my speed and where the bronchitis and training hiatus has left me. The bad news is that I have lost some speed. The good news is that I am still fairly fast by everyone's standards. My intervals sessions that were challenging me at 4:15m/km with 5:00m/km rest for 6 sets in October are now challenging me at 4:30m/km with 5:30m/km rest for 3 sets. I can't wait for the snow to melt at the track so I can really get at it and get my speed back.

I think I am better off than I was at this time last year. I'm not expecting to get back to my previous speeds in time for Montreal in April even if I aim at a new PR there. There is plenty of time to gear up for my A goal race in May where I hope to break 1h35 for the half in Ottawa.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Boston Getting Faster still

The blogosphere has been very actively discussing the new changes for the Boston Qualifying times and registration process. While the 5 minutes and 59 seconds cut in 2013 is the most obvious change, the one most likely to impact runners is the progressive opening of registrations for runners 20, 10 and 5 minutes under the official BQ times. For an in depth look at the likely consequences of this move, read Ray's very insightful analysis on his blog, the DC Rainmaker.

I share Marlene's concerns that this will make it more difficult to qualify and run Boston. I also, like Yumke, realize that just qualifying won't be enough. My new target to guarantee a Boston slot is 2:50 for 2012 and 2:45 beyond. I already gained lots of time last year, I think I can achieve this eventually. At last resort, I can just get older. The upside of this new goal is that 2:45 will be a golden ticket almost everywhere guaranteeing me entry into other coveted races such as New York and London marathons.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Perth Kilt Run 2011

Long time readers will remember last year's Kilt Run in Perth. This event was a lot of fun last year and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a small yet fully supported / cheered race. The 5 miles go by so quick you don't even realize you are racing and the crowd support was awesome. Running in a kilt was a lot more comfortable than I had expected and seeing everyone sporting theirs was quite a hoot.

The race organizers somehow found my blog entry last year and commented on it. They came back this year a few weeks ago before I left for the Caribbean to announce their plans for this year. The date has changed a little bit to coincide with the long weekend in July when Perth is hosting Lord Provost of Perth Scotland.

If you still have your kilt from last year (or own a kilt for other reasons), you will get a 30$ rebate on your registration but hurry up, registration prices increase on March 6th and closes on April 2nd. More details about the Perth Kilt Run on their website.
I'm not sure if this will fit in my race calendar but it's definitively a race I would like to do again!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Running on a cruise ship

Right after the Miami half marathon, I quickly showered and boarded my cruise ship for a week long journey through the Caribbean. There were a lot of runners on the ship that also had visited Miami for the race and then rewarded themselves with a cruise. I wanted to keep my fitness on the ship, especially given the amount of good food that is available, I didn't want to come home and have lost speed and gained weight. Some of the people chose to run on the islands we visited but I felt our time on the islands was already pretty short so I felt it was better to exercise while we were at sea. My ship, the Carnival Glory, came with a fully equipped gym with half a dozen treadmills, but I dread the treadmills. I was fortunate that it also came with a running track at the top deck.
It was my first experience running on a cruise ship and I didn't expect the running track to have such tight turns
Or to actually be so short. According to the sign, it was 181 meters so about 6 laps to a Kilometer or in my case 30 laps for a 5k or 45 laps for a 7.5k. I didn't manage a 10k on the boat...
The turning and twisting quickly became boresome. I waited until sunset on all counts to go for a variety of reasons. Usually, sunset would be the time when we sail off so I had time to come back from the Island and start getting ready for my run. It also was a time where it was a bit cooler, the Caribbean sun can be quite hot! Sundown was also a time where people retreated to their cabins or the restaurant, leaving the running track less crowded. I didn't check it out at sunrise but I was told that there were a lot of walkers crowding the track at that time and during most of the day I could see people taking their time. Sunset also gave me some inspiring sights to take my mind away from the number of laps remaining. I saw one other runner using it during the day and two more that were using it at the same time I was.

The first time I ran on the ship, I brought my trusty Garmin out and waited for a GPS lock. I found out that the ship was moving at a pretty high speed of 37 km/h so I was doing an amazing time of 1:30m/km just standing around! Couple that with the 10-20 km/h winds out at sea and you have a deadly combination for runners.
I didn't even seem to make a serious dent in the speed of the ship on the way back either.
It was a really interesting workout to say the least. Going towards the aft (back) of the boat felt like flying. All I had to do is jump and let the wind carry me and the boat slip from under me. On the way back to fwd (front) of the boat, I had to fight heavy winds and the motion of the boat. This was very much like an interval training but with strength instead of speed. Difficult workouts are the best for results, right? For added complexity, factor in the rocking of the boat on the waters and you get uneven footing and balancing issues. This was especially noticeable at the turns. Still overall, I would rate this workout more enjoyable than a dreadmill run. Anything is better than a dreadmill, right?

On the first run, I was able to stick in there for 30 laps (5km). On my second one, I achieve 45 laps (7.5km). My third workout had a goal of 10km but the heavy winds took the better of me and I stopped after 30 laps (or maybe it was that free rum punch they gave me at happy hour that killed my determination?!?).

Having the Garmin was very useful to count the laps and see how I was doing speed-wise with the lap timer but the GPS was pretty useless while I was running. It is neat once I am back to see where the boat was at these times when I was running.
I would definitively run on a cruise ship again. I'm happy that next time I'll know what to expect :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ING Miami half marathon

Wow. What an exciting week this has been :) Now that I am back home I can take some time to report on my trip to Miami for the ING Half Marathon. The first thing I noticed when we got to Miami was that it wasn't as warm as I had feared. I think Miami was in the middle of a cold spell which worked fine for me, coming from -30 weather, I can catch any break I can to stay somewhat cool during the race.

I did a quick systems check run on Saturday morning to make sure I had everything I needed and to see where the start line would be. I immediately found that even if the weather was quite comfortable and breezy for walking it, it got quite hot when running especially in the sun... I found out that the start line was just a short walk from my hotel, great! I then headed to the expo in the Afternoon in South Beach (thank you to the organizers for the free shuttles to South Beach!) and I must say I was very impressed. This is by far the biggest race expo I have ever been to. All the companies were there and the swag was huge. There were also lots of really good deals to be had. I just wish I didn't have all my equipment already, I would have spent like a drunken sailor. What I got was a new pair of sunglasses (forgot mine at home), a new bright orange windbreaker that transforms into a vest (cool design!), a ING Miami Marathon hat (souvenir) and a PowerBalance band. I had seen the PowerBalance bands before and I was a bit skeptic but Alex insisted on getting it for me to help me through the race. I'm not sure if it makes that much of a difference but I know that if I believe it works, it will work, so I will try to believe in it ;) I'll wear it for a while and then report on it :)

After checking out all the latest innovations in shoes, nutrition and checking out all the cool races (anyone up for a race in Brazil? they had a huge presence) we went walking around South Beach. Not necessarily the best thing to do before a race but I like being a tourist :) The water was too cold to swim in but we dipped our feet and then lounged on the beach for a while.
It was cool to see all the runners carrying the orange ING bags that were walking everywhere at South Beach. It definitively adds a community feeling to the race when you realize that the town is overtaken by a horde of runners for the weekend. We met runners from different states and countries far away. Quite a few were from Canada as well. I even met some of them that were going to the same cruise as me after the race! Judging by the amounts of runners on the boat and the race shirts that I saw, I'd say there was at least 2 dozen runners that went for a post-run cruise :)

We caught a movie at a local theater and then headed back to downtown with the last race shuttle. I found a nice restaurant to get spaghetti and meatballs and realized that I was not the only runner that homed in on this Italian eatery. There was about an hour wait to get the pasta but once it was delivered it was very delicious and the portion decent enough for a half marathon. We then hurried back to the room to get everything ready for the race and a bit of sleep before waking up at 4:30am.

The 6am start I guess is designed to take advantage of the lower temperatures in the early morning and to minimize the amount of disruption to traffic. We still heard lots of complaints from the taxi drivers about the race whenever we told them that is why we were in town :) While it was a bit chilly, I still wore my sleeveless shirt because I knew it would get warmer. I showcased my new jacket until I had to leave for the corral where I handed it to Alex, I didn't want to lost it on the course...
Met some interesting people as usual while lining up for the port-o-potties and when I got in to my corral. What I noticed right away as I was waiting in my corral is that runners in Miami really like their headphones. I'd say over 50% of runners around me were wired up. That's much higher than the usual 20% I see at races here in Canada. I really don't blame them for using music to help propel them to the finish, I do it all the time when I train, but for me a race is a communal experience and having everyone in their own bubbles takes a little bit of the excitement away from me. The start area was huge and they had giant screens and an American flag they claimed came from the twin towers in NYC. I don't know if it is the darkness with all the lights or the giant screen display but the start line felt like a rock concert... Pretty cool!
The start for the wheelchairs was sounded and everyone started getting really excited. Then the elites started and about 10 minutes later my corral finally crossed the start line. It was slow running at first while everyone got into their comfortable paces. I wasn't sure how fast I would race this event yet because my training had been very uneven after the recovery from bronchitis. I was pretty comfortable with the 2h30m bunny for a bit but then I decided I could do better so I started kicking up a notch. The spectators where pretty plentiful along the course and the atmosphere was very positive and party-like among the runners around me. I remember when I passed my cruise ship just as it was docking and started telling everyone around me that this was my destination, not the finish line :)
We quickly crossed the bridge into south beach and we were rewarded by a beautiful sunrise.
I know you guys have commented about my pictures before while I run and you have to know that I take over 200 of them. Most of them end up blurry or of my feets and armpits. I still usually get a few good ones that are usable. This next one has me smiling like a lunatic. I wasn't sure if I should use it but I think it's hilarious so here you go:
Here's another one that I wasn't sure I should keep :)
Running on Ocean drive in South Beach was pretty cool. The palmtrees, the ocean and the sun made a very magical combination:
I wish the whole race was beside the ocean. As we turned away from Ocean drive, one of my favorite song was playing at a spectating area: The Time by Black Eyed Peas, another boost to make my race even more enjoyable. Before I knew it, I saw this Mile 7 sign.... We passed by the convention center where we picked up our packets the day before. I've been here before!
What do you mean, halfway already !?!
This is where I heard two runners beside me talking very excitedly about how far from the Publix we were. Not having Publix in Canada, I didn't quite know what they were talking about so they informed me that it is a supermarket chain. I'm still not quite sure why that would be exciting to run by but they were pretty happy about it so I left them alone. Turns out that Publix has an entire mile devoted to them.
With all kinds of funny turtles and rabbits cartoons and lots of cheerful spectators. That is probably what the two guys were excited about :)

I knew that I had the race locked in. I still felt strong and I knew I was having a good day so I stopped worrying about my speed and let myself go. I sped up significantly and caught up quite a bit of time. I even stopped for a bathroom break but still managed to stay on track with my fellow runners. I realized that finishing in under 2 hour was attainable if I gave myself a bit of a boost so I continued pushing.

It was getting pretty hot with the sun out there but I knew the race was almost over. I kept drinking the sports drink at the stations and I kept going.
The last few stretches were downtown and a bit twisty but it felt great. I totally floored it for the last miles with a pace around 4:30m/km (7:15m/m) and a sprint like I've never done before for the last 500 meters.
I was very impressed when I looked at my watch and saw that I finished under two hours. The official time: 1:58:00 even! Great stuff. Some nice lady offered to take a picture of me when she saw me wrestling with my camera. I wanted to be sure to catch that endorphin induced smile for everyone to see:
Overall this was a great race. I took a picture of my medal at the hotel room:
And quickly showered and changed to get to my boat that was leaving for the Caribbean in the afternoon. YAY!

I'm really happy that I was able to run Miami despite my bronchitis. I definitively made the right choice in playing it safe and not doing a full. Even if I did a negative split with a huge speed boost at the end, I do not think I would have had a good time on the full course if I had attempted the Marathon.
The shirt from the race is actually not that bad. They had a glitch and gave full marathon shirts to a lot of halfers, myself included, but the lineup to get that rectified seemed daunting so I decided to keep the full shirt.
The medal is pretty cool. It's colorful, it rotates, has a fake diamond in the palm tree and has a beautiful ribbons with palm trees and Miami Famous inscription.
I would totally run Miami again in the future. I probably will try lots of other races before but the organization, course and crowd were all fantastic. Definitively a top race in my experience.