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!

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