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.  

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