Monday, 24 October 2016

Blog #21: The Move to Iowa and Twin Cities Marathon

There have been a lot of changes in the last few months, so I will go through chronologically starting from June. The first big change: I got married! For the first half of 2016, Anne and I were living in Abbotsford, B.C. After running in the Canadian Half Marathon championships in late May, I took a few easy weeks of recovery and low mileage. This was much needed, as I was busy finishing up the school year tutoring and getting in some work as a substitute teacher at Abbotsford Christian School, along with the wedding planning. Anne was finishing up her last few shifts as a casual position as a dietician at the hospital, as we eagerly awaited getting married and heading to the small town of Sioux Center Iowa, where I was offered a position as an instructor of statistics at Dordt college! We went back to Ontario about a week before our wedding on June 25th in Markham, enjoyed a wonderful honeymoon in Punta Cana for one week, and then spent a few weeks back in Ontario meeting with friends and family before making the move to Northwest Iowa for my new faculty orientation beginning at the start of August. I also convinced Anne during this time to register for her first marathon, the Twin Cities Marathon! We began our training build up together that July. Well… we don’t actually do any running together. I suggested arranging our schedule so that my recovery days I can run with her on her tempo runs, but she didn’t want that pressure! I made sure that in July and August before classes started I prepared slides for all my classes up to the marathon date, in order to free up time so that I would be able focus more on training in the weeks leading up to the marathon.
For July and August, I began the build-up keeping it fairly simple. One long run on the weekend at a quick pace, and one fartlek style workout in the mid-week run where I ran about 50-70 minutes alternating between half marathon pace and long run pace. Long run pace was 6:00/mile or so early on in the build- up, but working down to 5:45/mile as I got in better shape. Going from Abbotsford B.C. to Sioux Center in Iowa is a bit of change of scenery. Trade in those mountains for corn fields, and it’s pretty much the same…well, actually, B.C. was a lot nicer scenery, but Sioux Center Iowa does have on advantage for runners. There are a lot of dirt roads to run on, and they are all nicely organized into 1 mile x 1 mile squares. This makes it convenient for calculating paces for those long runs and tempo runs. You might not think it, but Iowa is deceptively hilly for a state that is at such low elevation. Looking back on it, I think those hills were very beneficial to both Anne and I for our training. If we are able to get within 30 seconds of our goal marathon pace during a high mileage week on gravel roads on a hilly route in hot temperatures, and feel steady and in control the whole run, that is a pretty good sign. For the weekly long runs in the July/August phase of my training I can say that was for the most part quite true for me. I was a little bit concerned with my mid-week fartlek runs, as I did not feel as smooth as I would like. Despite this, I still felt as though going under 2h20 for the marathon was within my reach. As for Anne, her original goals was 3hrs30 (A few minutes under Boston qualifying), and she was actually able to manage close to this pace for most of her long runs. Based on this, and her workouts, I felt that a time under 3h20 would be a more challenging goal. She was a bit nervous about this pace, but she noticed that there was pace bunny for 3:25, so the plan for her would be to go with that pace for the first half, then pick it up in the second half if things feel good.
                At the end of August, I got to start teaching! For this semester I am teaching several sections of introductory statistics. This course is typical for people who don’t have strong mathematics background, but are required by their major to take statistics. Dordt College also has a quantitative reasoning requirement, in which statistics is one course that they can fulfill that. What this means for me is I am teaching students a subject that they don’t really want to take, so I really have to sell it to them that statistics can be fun and interesting. The curriculum I am using is a relatively new approach to statistics, in which there are a lot more hands-on simulations and engaging activities, as opposed to emphasizing derivation of formulas and focusing on theory. Luckily for a lot of the students in my class, there is not a whole lot of math. There still are a lot of concepts that require understanding, logical thinking, effort, and practice to understand well, but for those who are willing to put in an honest effort I believe it is much more accessible than a traditional stats course. In fact, one of my colleagues is a co-author to the textbook being used, and there is already research showing that the methods used in this curriculum are improving conceptual understanding. The approach used in his textbook align well with my teaching philosophy, I really feel as if God’s providence that led me to this job at this point in my life!
                Once September arrived, so did the students, and that meant I had some people to run with. I talked with the XC coach and he was happy to have me show up and help pace them in their workouts. I would still do my weekend long run on my own, and that would serve as my primary workout. Typically my long run at this phase of the build-up consisted of 20 miles, with a significant portion of it at goal marathon pace. Starting September, on Wednesdays, I did a workout with them, and followed that up with a few miles of tempo running on my own. Dordt competes in the NAIA, so the level of competition isn’t near what there is in Division 1 or at Guelph, but they are ranked quite respectably within NAIA. Their top runner is a transfer student name Caleb Drake who is doing a Master’s program at Dordt, and has a year of eligibility left. He was close to breaking 25 minutes in the 8k last year. For NAIA that is enough to be competitive at the national meet. They also have a very strong 800m runner and a few other guys capable of around 26 minutes in 8k XC. Obviously, a school at D1 running these teams wouldn’t dream of making D1 Nationals, but for the NAIA division, they do have a chance to make the national meet and potential to be quite competitive there. It’s nice to have a group of guys to run with, it makes my workout more enjoyable, and hopefully I can help them achieve their goal of making NAIA nationals in November.
On September 11, I ran a half marathon race in Sioux Falls. I heard about this race a few weeks earlier from a runner I met at church who mentioned she was running it. Looking at past results, it looked to attract a few competitive runners in past years, but it was also very winnable. I figured it would be a good measuring stick race for 4 weeks before the marathon. My goal for this race was not to shoot for a fast time, but to be able to run consistently, go for the win, and feel relatively comfortable (like I could run a few more miles if I had to). After about 3 miles or so, it was just me and one other runner. I let him dictate the pace for the most part, since it felt pretty comfortable and on pace for what I wanted. There was one point at mile 10 that he put a bit of a gap on me, but he faded a bit in the last few miles, and I was able to maintain the pace to the finish. I won the race in 1:09, feeling not too exhausted. I’m not sure if I could have run a whole lot faster, but I felt I may be able to maintain that for a bit longer. That was the idea for this race, so it provided some deal of confidence heading in to Twin Cities marathon in the next month. I did a 22k tempo at marathon pace the next week, and then a 16 mile progression run from 5:50  down to 5:20/mile  2 weeks before the marathon. After that is was time to start lowering the mileage. One week before the marathon, I did an interval workout of 10 times 800 with equal recovery. There is a theory that the average time of this workout in minutes and seconds is a fairly good predictor of how you can race a marathon, in hours and minutes. A guy by the name of Bart Yasso came up with it. I read about this a few years ago and I was curious on how it would work for me. It is considered a good predictor workout, under the assumption that you have done all the other important aspects of marathon training such as long runs and tempos. The statistically ignorant may be tempted to confuse correlation with causation, and train specifically to get their ‘Yasso 800’s’ down to a certain time, thinking that somehow this will cause them to run that time in the marathon. Doing a bit of speed work is helpful in marathon training, but not if it comes at the price of sacrificing those important long runs and marathon pace workouts. In my case, I would typically do a speed workout like this one week before a big race anyways, so I figure why not test the theory out. I was able to average about 2:19.  That was a good sign, in addition to the half marathon, that I had a chance to break 2:20, or at least run a PB. I also did a 7k tempo five days out from the marathon, in 22:30, and felt very smooth. My legs felt fresh and tapered heading into marathon weekend!
As my goal was to break 2:20 and my wife’s goal was to break 3:20, my challenge to her was to come within 1 hour of me. Based on her training, I was confident in her ability to get under 3:20, but as this was her first marathon, she was a bit nervous, and wanted to be very conservative at the start. She started out as a triple jumper in college, but I have since converted her into a distance runner. It seems like every race she has run she has surprised me, exceeding by far the time I expected her to run!
At the start line, I was quite nervous, but also very excited, as I felt tapered and injury free. The elite start list consisted of many runners with similar PB’s and goal times as me, as well as several Kenyans, and Zach Hine, the 10th place finisher at Boston this year. For the first half of the race, I was fortunate to have a solid group of 3 other guys and we were consistent clicking of 5:15-5:17 per mile. The first 32k of this course is a net downhill, with a few rolling hills but nothing too significant. The one thing to be careful about in the Twin Cities course is that there is a long uphill stretch at a bad time in the race – from mile 20 to mile 23. It would be very important for me to keep enough fuel in the tank so that I can still think straight at that section of the course. I felt in control with the pace we were going at, and we crossed the half-way point at almost exactly what I had done four weeks earlier in Sioux Falls. We were just slightly over 1:09, so I was able to bank about a minute under my goal time, but in terms of effort, this is right on pace, because you have to figure that mile 20-23 will be about 20 seconds slower per mile. It was around the 17 mile mark or so that things started to spread out between our pack of four. Two of the guys started to gap me a bit, while one of them faded back. My pace slowed slightly, but it was more out of precaution than out of necessity, as I wanted to still have something left during the hill and after it. At this point I was starting to have a bit of doubts, all though I was pretty confident that I would at the very least run a PB, even if I really struggled through the last part of the course. I made it to mile 20 still feeling fairly decent, and prepared enough to take on the toughest section of the course. The hill is nothing too steep, but as it lasts for 3 miles, it is quite long. I figured if I was able to manage sub 5:40/mile during this section, I had a decent shot at a sub 2:20.  I was able to cover that 3 mile section in 16:50, and I reached mile 24 at 2:08. A sub 12 minute 2.2 mile finish certainly felt doable as I felt better than I ever did in any previous marathons at this point in the race. I also was able to see two other runners ahead of me were slowing down, which is a good source of extra motivation at this stage in the race. I was able to pace 2 runners in the late stage of the race, and made it to mile 26 in about 2:18:40… at this point I was pretty sure I could run .2 mile in under 80 seconds and reach my goal! 2:19:49 was my official time, praise the Lord! This was good enough for 6th place, not as high as I was expecting to finish based on the credentials of the other runners in the field. I think part of the reason for the success was that I was smarter about getting in carbs during the race. In past marathons, I relied only on fluids to get in carbs, but for this one I tried taking in a few gels as well, and that seemed to work. Interestingly enough, Yasso 800m workout predicted my time exactly!
I was pretty excited about my result, but as any competitive runner, I also think ahead to the potential of improving for the next race, and how to tweak my training in order to accomplish that. If I would compare my fitness level to other times when I ran really well (i.e. the Around the Bay races of 2012&2013) I would say that I was in better shape for those races than I was for this past marathon. I am hopeful that if I can get into that kind of shape again, I can quite realistically knock off a few more minutes, and hit something in the 2:15-2:17 range.  As it stands right now, I am about 7 minutes away from what the 2016 Olympic marathon standard was. That might not seem like much, but think of it this way – it’s 1 second faster per every 100m – that’s like 4 seconds for every lap around a track. That’s a pretty big leap! It’s possible, but it will take a major break-through. My aim for the next marathon will be to cut that margin in half. I think this is attainable if I can equal or better the best shape I have been in my life. Of course, when making goals like this, it is fun, but it should never be a burden. I have come to learn that there are a lot of ups and downs in the sport, and you have to be willing to adjust goals on the fly and be very patient. This can be very hard, but it makes it feel all the much sweeter when the hard work pays of, like getting under 2:20 in the marathon, or when I won Around the Bay 30k in 2013. 
As for that challenge I made for my wife, she would need to run under 3:19:49. She ended up with 3h17 minutes! She did this by running with the 3:25 pace bunny for half the race and she passed hundreds of people in the late stages of the race. There is a pass/passed-by statistic for various stages of the race on the results website, and her stats are very impressive! I think it is realistic that she can get close to a sub 3 hour marathon for her next one. After the race, my wife and I met up with a former teammate of mine from Campbell, Tara Allaire. She hadn’t run a whole lot since college, but was motivated to sign up for a marathon after being inspired by our Olympians. It was cool catching up with her and chatting after the race.
Speaking of the Olympics, our Canadian marathoners Eric, Reid, Krista, and Lanni represented Canada very well! I had a feeling that Eric Gillis had potential to get top 10, considering he is a very smart and even paced runner. I heard he won two 10k races in one day as a workout leading up to Rio! My high school training partner Mo Ahmed also had an incredible 5k race, coming in 4th place!

I am thinking that my next marathon will be Grandma’s marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in June. This is a race with a lot of competition and a potential to run a fast time. There will probably be a few smaller races in between there, but as for now, I will take it easy, and run low mileage for a month or so. I still pace the XC team for their Wednesday interval workout, but that is the main workout I  will do for the next few week, and no intense long runs or 90-100 mile weeks for a while. I have realized that when I recover from a marathon, it has to be active recovery. I have found that I should not take more than a few days completely off, or else it gets difficult to get back into things. It’s certainly nice to ease back on the training, as my teaching gets a little busier in the middle of the semester. In other news, my wife has found work as a dietician here in Iowa, and we also have a vehicle! God has blessed us so much and answered our prayers!

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Blog #20 Running in B.C.

It’s time for my end of season spring racing season blog!  There has been a lot going on in my life both in running and outside of running. There have been several new developments, so this will end up being a bit of a long blog.

I will start by recapping from January, where I moved to Abbotsford to be close to my fiancé, since she landed a casual position as a dietitian at the hospital. Since arriving in Abbotsford, I have split my time as a math tutor at Sylvan, an online math/stats tutor (as I did previously). Since my hours are in the afternoon, and the online tutoring is flexible, this gives me plenty of time to get some good training runs in. The weather and scenery is also very much an improvement from Ontario. It rains almost every day in January and February, but that is much better than running in -20 degree weather.  I have been doing the majority of my training on my own, but I did meet up on weekends with David Jackson, a 39 year old Gr.8 teacher from one of the Christian Schools in Abbotsford. He nearly broke 30 minutes in the 10k at the Vancouver Sun Run a few years ago, and has run 1:07 for the half marathon.  We were able to work together for some early season tempo runs in February and March. We were both getting in quite good shape, but unfortunately he had an injury in early April that prevented him from racing the half marathon we were both training for.  Being on the west coast, I used the opportunity to run some races that I never done before. I started with an 8k at the end of March.  This was called Modo8k and is part of the Canada Running Series. The course is a loop around Stanley Park. The lead pack in this race consisted of Rob Watson and Trevor Hofbauer, both who are much more accomplished and better shape than me. I tested out the pace for about 3k, but then dialed it back, opting to run my own pace and hopefully catch a few of the runners later on. I was able to reel in Kevin Coffey and Ryan Brockerville in the last few km, but Kevin passed me on the tough uphill before the finish line. I ran about 24:40, which was a decent start to the season.

 I took a few weeks after that to turn my focus to a very prestigious run, the Vancouver Sun Run 10k. This is the biggest run in Canada, and very competitive, so it is a great opportunity to see where I stack up against elite competition. The field included marathon specialists like Eric Gillis, several Kenyans, some shorter 1500m/3000steeple/5000m track specialists, as well as triathletes.  The first kilometer was downhill, but I went with the lead pack and we started with a 2:45. In terms of effort , it’s hard to say what that is equivalent to, but a few kilometers later and I was already starting to hurt. The nice thing is about shorter races, you can afford to gamble a bit at the beginning of the race, because if things go bad, at least you only have single digit amount of kilometers left in the race. I was able to maintain about 3:05 pace for the remaining distance, with the exception of the slow kilometer up Burrard Street Bridge. At 5k, I was around 15:05, and at that point, I was running with Kevin Coffey, and Russell Pennock – an Olympic hopeful in the triathlon. In the last half of the race, I was not able to keep up with them, and was also passed by a very strong steeplechase runner, Ryan Brockerville.  I ended up in 15th place with a 30:40 time. All though I was hopeful of running in the low 30’s or even dipping under, if I’m honest with my training, I have to say that this result is consistent with what my workouts said I can do. There is always that hope that you might surprise yourself when given an opportunity to race against quality competition though. I was a bit disappointed, but when I look at the credentials of some of the runners finishing just a little bit ahead of me – an 8:30’s steeplechaser and a likely Olympic candidate in the triathlon. Also, two Kevin’s had breakthrough races, Kevin Coffey and Kevin Friesen. Eric Gillis won the race, a very impressive win in a strong field that should give him a good boost of confidence heading into the Olympic marathon this summer.  For me, this race was the start of a triple-header. 

Next up was the Times Colonist 10k in Victoria, and the BMO half marathon in Vancouver. It’s not an easy task to race three weekends in a row, so I knew I would have to be wise about the way I approached the second 10k, so that I can still run a quality half marathon in Vancouver. I did feel a bit beat up and lacking in energy the week after the Sun Run, so I decided to hold off on a mid-week work out, in exchange for a light tempo followed by short speed session two days before the Victoria 10k. It’s been a while since I tried to click of sub 30 second 200’s. I thought it’d be nice to get the legs going a bit, but it ended up being a bit costly, as I experienced some hamstring soreness. It was nothing major, but enough that I decided to do more of a conservative effort. Racing during these three weeks was just as much about spending a weekend travelling adventure with my fiancé and enjoying the B.C. racing seen. I had never been in Victoria before nor been on a ferry, so it was a fun experience. There was several of the same fast Kenyans from the Sun Run at this race, but the depth of the Canadian content was much weaker at this race. I didn’t really look up the prize structure for the race, but apparently there was  a $1000 prize for top Canadian, (second place gets nothing). I was so far away from the leaders, that I figured I would not be even close to getting this. As it turned out, there was a runner from Victoria, Shoayb Bascal, who I was battling out the top Canadian with, and he pulled away from me in the last few kilometers. Seeing how I was more concerned about running a strong half marathon in the next week, I didn’t make much of an effort to respond. I ended up running 31:30, which I would consider a good workout---but a rather weak time for a race. It’s questionable whether I would have been able to take top Canadian if I hadn’t dealt with the minor hamstring issue or if I knew there was $1000 on the line.  In the end, it’s just money, and when I’m out there racing, I don’t think of that too much. I just run the race to the best of my ability, and in this case, also being wise about future races. Looking at Shoayb’s previous results, he was 11th at Canadian University XC championships and has PB of 14:34 and 30:36, so he was beatable based on my fitness level, but certainly no shame in losing to him, considering I was using this race as more of a workout.

 So I had to put that loss behind me quickly and turn my focus to the BMO half marathon for the next week, which turned out to be BC championships as well. Luckily, there was a Canadian prize purse with second and third place still going home with something, but I was hungry to take home top Canadian this time, to make up for the previous week. If you look at the elevation profile you think it’s going to be a big PB opportunity, because of the net downhill. The problem is, this downhill happens in the first 5k – at a time where you don’t really need it yet. The back half of the course has several twists and turns and rolling hills, so any time that you gain in that first 5k can quickly disappear. I decided to try to mix it in with a  group of 5 or 6 Kenyan runners for the downhill section. Time to bank some time—the last half of a marathon is going to hurt anyways, right? Well, I have no regrets with that strategy, albeit a very risky strategy. My closest competitor for top Canadian would be Kevin Coffey, who beat me in the previous two times I had raced him this season, but those are shorter distances, and I am better at the half marathon. Kevin is originally from Kingston but spent the winter and spring training and racing in B.C. and he was in very good shape. I had put a gap on him after running with the front group for a while, but after they dropped me, I had to stay focused, and confident in my ability to knock off between 3:10 and 3:15km  for the remainder of the race, as a solo effort. I train by myself a lot, so this is something I am used to doing in training. One of the guys from the lead pack started to fade, so it always helps when you are reeling somebody in. I went with him for a kilometer or so, but that turned out to be 3:20 – to slow! So I went ahead of him, since I figure I would need to keep the pace a bit quicker to hold on to top Canadian. Aside from the downhill beginning, my splits were quite consistent in this race, and I was able to hold on to a 1:07 and change, good enough for top Canadian! The time was not near a personal best, but I was pleased with the way I ran the race. Many of the runners ahead of me had PB’s in the 1:02 to 1:04 range, and I was actually closing in on a few of them in the last few km’s , so that is promising.  

Most recently, this past weekend, I finished my spring racing schedule with the Canadian national championships in Calgary. The Calgary Marathon has a very interesting elite program where they look for willing host families to host elite runners in their homes for the weekend. I was hosted by a very nice and hospital couple from Calgary, Jim and Pam Parker. They hosted myself and one other runner, Nick Hastie. I was very thankful for their food and hospitality! I think this is great that Calgary Marathon does this, and it would be awesome if more marathons and half marathons would consider this option. Many major marathons provide hotel and travel accommodations for the top level athletes, but not to sub-elite athletes. I’m one of those border line guys, some race directors are gracious enough to offer travel assistance and accommodations based on my credentials, while others will say that I qualify just for complimentary entry. For those sub-elite runners that elite coordinators don’t have the budget to provide hotel assistance for, I see this as a great alternative. It is a way to save costs, while building up the depth of the elite field and encourage growth of the sport. I know I am more likely to travel to a race if I will have accommodations taken care of.

As for the race, I knew coming in that I had a very good chance to be at least top 5, but based on the personal best of the top 3 runners in the field, I would have to have a good one to get in the top 3. On the other hand, the race favourite, Thomas Toth, had a personal best only one minute better than me. It would be conceivable to win the race, if I ran exceptionally well. I had reason to be hopeful, as I was able to do a 10x1000m workout  ten days earlier, where I started at 3:00 and cut down to 2:56, on only one minutes rest. As expected for the beginning of the race,  it was Thomas, Sami Jibril, Willy Komosop, and myself , along with a few of the marathon runners during the first 5k or so. Thomas put a gap on us at about 5k, and Sami pulled away from me shortly after. I was running with Willy Komosop, which is not a bad idea, considering he had beaten me by about 10 seconds in each of the last 3 races this year. This day, he was not feeling too sharp, so I broke away from him at about the 12k mark, and had my eye on trying to close the gap on Sami Jibril for second place. I was able to close the gap to about 15-20 second or so with about 5k to go, but that is about as close as it got. My hopes for catching second place faded as I reached a few kilometers to go, but I managed to hold on for third place, which I am quite happy about.  1:08:42 is a fairly solid time at the altitude of Calgary. If I enter this into an altitude adjustment calculator I found online, this equates to 1:06:50 at sea level. I am assuming the accuracy of this calculator, since it is consistent with my previous performances this year.  My personal best was 4th best in the field, and I ended up 3rd place, which I certainly can’t hang my head about. It’s not like I was racing any personal bests or having a break through year or anything, but that is not going to happen every year. I was quite happy with how I raced the last two half marathons this year, and with the consistency of my training. It’s certainly possible I can build on this to run a solid marathon in the fall, but at the moment my racing plans in the future are uncertain. I am going to take some time running just easy runs, and using the extra time I am spending not running for wedding planning with my fiancé Anne Szeto! Also, with the prize money earned in Calgary, we can plan a nice honeymoon! The big day is on June 25th – it’s an excited nervousness similar to that I would have before a race. Essentially it is the beginning of a ‘race’. A race that will last til death do us part. There will be good times, but also times where perseverance is needed, just like a race. My hope and prayer is that the qualities I have developed as a distance runner will be beneficial and transferable to a successful marriage.

I also have had a very crazy last few months seeking out job possibilities and where to end up in the fall. Mostly, I have been seeking out teaching positions, at Christian high schools. I actually got an interview to my home high school, SDCH, for a math position opening up. This would have been pretty cool, but in the end, they decided to go with a candidate who had a few more teachable subjects in areas that they needed besides math. I was a bit disappointed, but I prayed and remained hopeful that God had something else in store. As it turns out, I got an e-mail from a Dordt College professor who had interviewed me two years ago for a Math/Stat position. He informed me that they are in the process of hiring again for an instructor to teach mainly introductory statistics courses, and encouraged me to apply. Dordt College is a small, private Christian Reformed College in Sioux Center, Iowa. Graduating from teachers college, my focus has been landing a high school teaching position, so I never would have sought this opportunity out if I had not been informed! It really is interesting how God can provide an opportunity where you do not expect. Teaching an introductory statistics class would not be too different than teaching high school -- much of the teaching strategies I was taught at teacher’s college are just as applicable for teaching intro university courses.  The job description fit very well with my skill set, and the teaching methods that are being used in the course are more hands on and simulation based, as opposed to traditional boring lecture style. This suits my teaching method, as I want to make class fun and applicable to the students. I’ll have to ‘sell’ statistics to the students by making it interesting, since most of the students will be taking it as a required class. So, long story short, they invited me for an in-person interview last month, decided to give me a one year contract, and Anne and I will now be headed to Iowa after the wedding! It all happened so fast, but I am so thankful to God for the opportunity and pray that I will be able to do this at the best of my ability. I’ll see if I can fit marathon training in for a fall marathon, however, running is really secondary at this point. For once I will actually have a full time job, rather than balancing several part time jobs!

Exciting times are ahead for sure! Big changes are ahead—but then again, I’ve been accustomed to changes, with Sioux City Iowa being the 5th place I will be living at in the past 25 months (Guelph, Windsor, Markham, Abbotsford). We’re still looking to find a place to rent out there, but we continue to trust God to provide for us during this transition, and give thanks to Him for the opportunities ahead!

Well, I am assuming that the time of my next blog post will be a normal random variable with mean of about 6 months from now and standard deviation of 1.5 months, so stay tuned! Yea… I prefer to be a person that blogs a very large post only a few times a year, rather than several small blog posts on more frequent intervals. Usually I devote a paragraph or two at the end of my blog on my opinion on something in the world of sports or politics. As it turns out, this blog post is already long enough as it is, so my thoughts on Donald Trump will have to wait until the next post. Heck, by that time he will probably already be president.  

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Blog#19: World 50k Championships

This past week I had a pretty cool experience to run the 1st ever World 50km championships in Doha, Qatar. This was an opportunity that I found out about in early October, and I decided to jump on board instead of doing Philadelphia marathon. The accommodations and meals would be paid for, but the flight I would have to pay for. So I was able to find a flight for under $1000, which I can justify spending based on the prize money I earn in races. Being the cheap person that I am, I found that I could save several hundred dollars flying Saudia Airlines and having a long stopover in a Saudi Arabian city. Sure! I may be a bit of a minority on that flight, but I don't mind. All though I disagree with the ideology of Islam, I don't have anything against Muslim people, because there are both good Muslims and bad Muslims, good Christians and bad Christians. (The bad Muslims are all over the news, but slightly lesser known are the supposed 'Christians' from Westboro Baptist Church that picket funerals and celebrate it as God's judgment whenever those ISIS wackos do anything). The fact remains that for the two largest religions in the world, these morons make up a tiny minority, and let's pray to God it stays that way! For the flight, I will just have to do without pork or beer on the flights, and on the announcements I will respectfully listen to the supplication that the Prophet used to say before traveling.  
I arrived in Qatar on the Tuesday, three days before the race. The hotel is called the Torch Hotel, and it is stunning. Let's just say I am glad it is paid for, because I would not be able to afford it! The food was amazing, and the rooms came complete with a complimentary mini-bar with pop, water, and non-alcoholic beer (which I tried but it was disgusting). The room came with an Ipad that pretty much controlled the entire room – the color of the lights, the curtains, the TV, the music. For the men's side, it would be Cleve Thorson and myself on the team. The women consisted of Kimberley Doerksen, Catrin Jones, Alissa St. Laurent.  
The race was on Friday at 6pm, and consisted of about 50 men and 30 women. It is considered their winter, but it is still pretty hot, with a race temperature of about 25C at start time. This is not deathly hot, but it is enough to significantly affect you in the later stages in the race, especially if you are not used to training in a hot climate. The 50k is a bit of an odd distance, as it is only 7.8km more than a marathon, but do not let that fool you! A lot can happen in those last 7.8km, especially when it is hot and you are running on an unusual surface. The race was run in 5km loops, and there were several hairpin turns as well as some running on cobblestone surface. My race plan was to just go out with the lead pack and see how long I could handle it. I know the American runners have personal bests a little bit better than me, and similar to my would be goal marathon time of 2:18. The race went out quite conservatively for the first half of the race, we were cruising at around 3:30 per km. At this point I was in 7th place, with a couple of Americans and Kenyans and one Zimbabwe runner ahead of me. I did not feel to bad at this point, but after I hit the halfway mark, the heat started to take its toll. At the 35k mark, my legs started to cramp. On the last lap, I was reduced to a humiliating shuffle. It was bad! How bad was it? I lapped several girls on the 8th and 9th lap, but on the last lap, they were able to 'unlap' me!  I wanted to quit. What is the point of finishing when I am running a pace so much slower than I would, even on an easy recovery run? Well, at that point I have to remind myself that friends and family are watching to see how I do, and it just wouldn't look good for me to quit. Besides, many of them wouldn't know the difference if I ran 2:30  or 4:00, to them, the fact that I place high at a world championships is impressive enough. They don't really care that it is an inaugural event composed mostly of sub-elite runners. I managed to suffer across the line in 3:09, good for 13th place. For me of course, I realize that if I ran this race smarter in terms of pacing and fueling, I realize that top 10 would have been easy, and possibly top 5 if things went well. Some of the race favorites had an even worse time than me, so I guess I can't feel too down on myself. Both two time Detroit Marathon champion Zach Ornelas and last years defending champion Shingirai Badza were behind me.  Nevertheless, I learned from this experience, and God willing, I will be back next year! As I said, the 50k is a strange distance. There were sub 2:18 guys behind me, and there were 2:25 marathoners with 50k experience than finished top 10. A good marathon time may predict  your expected time in a 50k, but there is a lot of variance, especially when you add in variables such as temperature and an unorthodox running surface 
For the rest of the month, I plan to take some time off to recover, as I start to plan for many changes in my life over the next year. For one thing, I am getting married in June! Also, my fiance landed a job in Abbotsford B.C. as a dietician, so I will join her there and will work part time as a tutor in Abbotsford, while I also seek full time employment as a teacher. Life is like running a road race, and God is the course marshal. I don't have the course memorized, but I trust God to lead me on the twists and turns as I press on towards the goal! Right now, I am in Markham, still working part time as a tutor, but my hours are pitiful, and the few hours I do get are during weekends. I am not even tutoring the subject that I want, and I found the company to be disorganized and their communication with me was lacking. So despite the fact that I enjoyed working with the kids (A group of Muslim students who are pulled out of regular school to study the Koran, and I teach them Math and English on weekends to get them ready for high school) it seems like an obvious decision for me to quit that job, and find something better out in Abbotsford, and join my fiance. God knows that he created me as a person of logic, so I often pray that he use that fact about me to show me in a way that I will understand, the direction he wants me to go, and that the right doors will be opened for me. I have faith of this, and I pray that God will provide for me an opportunity to start a new chapter out in B.C.  where my gifts and talents will have opportunity for growth, and to be used to serve God and others.  
Last time I said I would talk about my opinion of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, so for those of you who don't care about that, feel free to not read any further about my short rant.  
I remember when I was a young kid, and my favorite farm cat would get hit by a car, and it put me to tears. Of course, when I got older, I realized that this was a common occurrence, and future cat deaths did not bother me so much. You may wonder what this has to do with Maple Leafs hockey... but let me explain. I remember the first time I watched the Leafs when I was young, they made it all the way to the semi-finals against Buffalo, and lost. I was so upset, I cried. But of course, in future years, I realize that this is a regular occurrence... and I pretty much come to expect them to let me down. Fast forward to 2013, when I thought I would introduce my now fiance to the extremely rare occurrence of Toronto maple leaf Playoff hockey. When we went out to watch game 7 with a bunch of friends, of all people, SHE was the most upset when they blew a 4-1 lead. Experience veteran fans new better. Despite the unfortunate result, this was the only playoff berth for the inept franchise in the last 10 years or so. You'd think the players who were most responsible for this accomplishment would be respected among both leafs management and their passionate fan base. THINK AGAIN. In that playoff year, the Leafs got quality elite goaltending from James Reimer, something that you need to be competitive in the NHL, and something that the Leafs have lacked for quite some time.  A breakout year for him. Hmmm what should we do next year. I KNOW! Let's look to acquire another goaltender in order to replace him next year, and continue to go with him, even though Reimer has proven himself as a young and up and coming star last year. THAT will be great for his confidence and development! With all due respect to Bernier, this was an idiotic move by the Leafs. But again... idiotic moves are what we come to expect from a team that trades several picks to get an elite player like Phil Kessel, only to trade that player for next to nothing despite several years of consistent top-tier scoring production...I can only guess that the reason is so they can finally get those top 3 draft picks that they should have got several years ago when they traded for Kessel in the first place. And don't get me started on some of the idiotic fans we have. So when Reimer gets shafted from his starting job for no apparent reason, not only does he not get much playing time, but when he does get the opportunity to come in, and has a sub-optimal performance, he is subject to idiotic fans who somehow feel the need to verbally attack his wife! (This happened a few years ago I think) WHAT? I guess some fans (with very low IQ) seem to forget that professional athletes are human beings too.  I guess its no surprise that these same fans also forget that this was the same goalie that had a breakthrough year which was a main reason for ending the long playoff drought of the franchise. I guess as a semi-elite distance runner, I can sympathize more with the amount of discipline and hard work it takes to compete at an elite level of a sport  than the typical average Joe... but C'mon MAN , learn to draw the line somewhere, and refrain from attacking the player's wives!  It's great to see James Reimer stealing a few wins for the Leafs this year, he is my favorite player on the team, however it would probably be best for them to tank, so that they can collect that high draft pick that they should have got several years ago but traded away to a player that they...traded away last year.  

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Blog #18 Fall Races Recap

As I began building mileage during the summer months after Ottawa Marathon, I decided to focus my training for another fall marathon. Although my plan would change later on, my original plan was to run Philadelphia marathon, since it is a race in which the typical winning time is something similar to my goal time. The 'A' goal time would be 2:18, with a 'B' goal being any kind of improvement from my Ottawa time. (I think there is plenty of room for improvement from the 2:22 this spring) If I am going to put in the effort of traveling to a marathon, I want to be fairly confident in my ability to at least improve on my PB. As I progressed into July and August, I tried to pick up the intensity of my training, and get in some of those key hard paced long runs, fartleks, tempo sessions that are important for marathon training. Perhaps due to some lingering hip issues, I found it difficult to get into a rhythm. I was able to find a chiropractic college (CMCC)  nearby where I am living in Markham. A fellow runner, Garret DeJong, is an intern there, and he has been very helpful at dealing with some of my hip and lower back issues at an affordable cost. This seemed treatment really helped me out as I entered into the racing part of my schedule in the fall.  
 My first race was the Toronto ZooRun 10k. Unfortunately, this was probably one of my worst races in recent memory. I was unable to manage the conservative pace of the leaders for more than a few km's. By the end I was barely able to manage 3:20/km. I'm not sure what caused this, but I was quite disappointed the following week, and felt a lack of energy. I was quite disappointed, and even contemplated quitting running. For that week, I decided to just run easy workouts. Perhaps I was just fatigued and needed to take it easy for a bit.  It seemed to work, because my next long run, I was nearly running the same pace as I did for that race, for the last 5k, and that was without even pushing much of an effort. Things can really change in one week! Moral of the story... If you are in the middle of a marathon build-up and are feeling a lack of energy and unable to get in a rhythm of hitting your goal paces in workouts, try an easy week of base mileage to get some energy back. It might just save your season, and at the very least, it's not like you will lose a great deal of fitness by replacing a few workouts with easy mileage. Willingness to be flexible and read your body as opposed to be a strict and religious about following your training schedule is an important quality of long distance training.  
3 weeks later, I headed into Run for the Toad 25k, with a sense of confidence, because I knew my workouts of the past two weeks indicated that although my 5k/10k speed may not be there, I have the ability to do very well in a 25k trail race. My goal was to break the course record, set by Josephat Ongeri, a solid runner who I have raced many times, and beaten a few times, including edging him by 6 seconds in Around the Bay 2013. So the record would be achievable, but a difficult challenge. I was on pace for this record at the half-way mark, but unfortunately, there were some high winds, and the extra effort required to overcome this may have been what cost me some time in that second lap. I finished about 1 minute away from the record, but over-all it was a solid solo effort. I was happy with this. My former teammate from Campbell, Verrelle Wyatt, won the 50k for the second time in three years, so it was great to catch up with him at this event. 
2 weeks after the Run for the Toad, I offered to be a pacer for the Canadian women at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. This being a race where many Canadians are trying to hit Olympic qualifying times, I thought it would be a neat opportunity to try to help some Canadian women attempt a shot at the Olympic dream. Not to mention, it is a great training run for me. I was assigned to pace Natasha Lebaud (PB of 2:34) and Tara Korir, making her marathon debut, also went after the Olympic qualifying pace.  Natasha would need over 4 minute PB to qualify, and with Tara not having run one before, both were longshots to make the standard of 2:29:50,  but not out of the realm of possibility, so I admire their courage to get out and go for it, and I am glad to help them by running at 3:31-32 km a few strides ahead of them, in order to help them out. Natasha lasted about 17k, and Tara lasted about 20k at the goal pace, but after the halfway mark, I  had to slow down and pace whoever was leading between the two of them. I paced Tara for until about 25k, and at that time, she started to fade, which is understandable for the aggressive opening pace, this being her first marathon. Natasha passed Tara at 25k, so I would pace her through to the end of the race. I enjoyed pacing duty. Even though my assigned athletes didn't reach their goals, it was a good experience, and I'd love to do it again. It would be pretty cool to be a part in helping someone to achieve their Olympic dream.  
Around this same time, I also had a change in plans in my focus race of the season. Instead of running Philadelphia marathon, I found out from the elite coordinator of Run for the Toad, that I am qualified for 50k world championships, based on my result in the 50k last year. This takes place in Doha, Qatar! This is an experience that I cannot pass up on. I also feel as though based on how my training is going, a 50k is a better option for me. My hard long runs at 3:20-3:35/km efforts are feeling a lot smoother than my tempo run efforts at marathon goal pace. The elite field at 50k is not nearly the same caliber of talent as world championship events of marathon or lower. This is most likely due to lack of significant prize money that is offered in events longer than the marathon.  Most elite distance runners would rather focus their training for a marathon with an attractive prize purse and travel/accommodations provided than pursue a 50k world championship event that is relatively new and unknown event. That being said, I might just possibly have a shot at the podium for this thing!  
My most recent race was the Road2hope Marathon in Hamilton this past weekend. My plan was to run this one at 50k effort. It would be a solo effort from the start, with no other runners in my pace range entering the race.  km's 0-9 had a nice tail wind to help us out, but the stretch from 9-20km would be battling a tough headwind. The tailwind km's I cruised at 3:20's and it felt easy. The headwind km's were more in the 3:25ish range, and it started to get to me. Thankfully, km 20-30 is almost completely downhill, so during this stretch I was able to relax and get some energy back, while at the same time cruising at 3:20/km down the redhill valley parkway. As one might expect for a solo effort marathon those last 12k were a bit of a challenge, but seeing that this was not a full out effort, it wasn't like I was hurting as bad as I normally would in a full out effort. Regardless, I was still struggling about 3:30/km during the final flat portion of the race, which is fine with me. At 30k, the possibility of running a PB was still there, but the motivation to maintain my pace on a solo effort wasn't there. I am more concerned about getting a solid effort in, and being able to recover so that I can run my best race for the 50k on December 4.  I was not planning to go run a PB in this race, but I ended up pretty close, running just under 2:24, so I was pretty happy with that. My plan was to negative split and go 2:24 by doing 72:30/71:30. In reality I went closer to 71:30/72:30,  but hey, that's close enough. For the next few weeks, I'll probably try to get one or two key long progression run to teach my body to run fast on those last 10-15k that will be so tough in the 50k. Other than that, I feel as though my training has gone quite smoothly over the last month or so.  The race is coming up on Dec.4, so I have one month to go yet. It should be a cool experience! I am so thankful for God's provision and keeping me healthy so that I can have these opportunities. There are always going to be tough times when you feel like giving up (in running...and in life) but God is faithful and he does provide you with what you need, and some times, graciously more! 

And now for my non-running portion of the blog,I thought I would voice my two cents on the recent happenings in the Toronto sports world. It was pretty exciting to see the Blue Jays have a playoff run this year. Bautista's bat-flip home run would end a long drought of over 11 years of Toronto sports teams winning as much as a single playoff series in the three major sports leagues they are a part of (mlb,nhlnba). Back when I was in Grade 9, the Leafs beat the Senators in the first round, only to lose in the second round (of course). So that Bautista home-run really represented a change in a losing culture for an entire city, pretty exciting stuff!  This team definitely had the talent to win the world series, however in the Kansas City series, game 6, Moustakas hits a ball that should have went off the wall for a double, but because a fan reached out and caught the ball, it was ruled a home-run. If this event had not happened, it is very possible that the Blue Jays could have won that game. It's pretty crazy how a fan can have an influence on determining a potential series clinching game for a team, but that's the way it goes sometimes. I do find it ironic that the Blue Jays lost this way... because, you see, they had a chance to wrap up home-field advantage in the last week of the regular season, however, as soon as they clinched the division title, they brought out the champagne bottles, and let their minor league team play the next couple of they would need to win if they would guarantee home advantage throughout the playoffs. They instead decided to party it up. Shameful for a professional sports organization!  It would be like celebrating winning a marathon at mile 23. There's still 3 crucial miles to go! Don't let up! But that's what they chose to do, and it cost them home advantage in the ALCS. If they had home advantage om game 6, perhaps a fan wouldn't have caused a critical run that could have cost them the game. Maybe they still would have lost... or maybe the Toronto version of Steve Bartman would've been in attendance (if you don't know who he is, ask a Chicago cubs fan) But the point is... not having home advantage COULD have cost them a world series. So UNTIL you win the whole thing, don't whip out the champagne and act like drunken idiots. Maybe after you win the world series, then you can do that. Partying before the race is over is something you may see in a Usain Bolt parody youtube video, but should not be for a professional sports organization. It's great they ended a 22 year playoff drought, but it could have been a lot more.  
Speaking about Toronto sports teams that  make poor decisions, let's talk about Toronto Maple Leafs hockey...just kidding... but perhaps for my next blog, stay tuned!