23 Nov 2018

Race Report: Fall Classic Half Marathon

The Fall Classic has been the main focus of my  running training since running the BMO Vancouver half marathon back in May. Literally every run was focused on this day.

I had added a couple other races in, such as the Under Armour Eastside 10k (see my race report HERE) and the GoodLife Fitness Victoria half marathon, which I ended up downgrading to the 8k (see my race report HERE), but both of those were intended to slot into my training for the Fall Classic.

My training and build-up to the Fall Classic were somewhat disrupted by the Achilles issue I had throughout the fall. It started in September, just before the Eastside 10k, and has continued through to this day. It is improving, but it is most definitely lingering. I discussed some of the impacts of this on my training HERE in my post about downgrading Victoria from the half to the 8k.

The main impact is that for the past couple months, I have had to limit my long runs and haven't really done any speed work. I've maintained my minimum of three runs per week, but haven't been able to push and test my speed or distance. While I felt really good leading up to race day, I wasn't as prepared as I would have liked to be.

So now that all that context is out of the way, let's talk about race day.

I had a solid sleep the night before the race, made it to bed at a reasonable time. But I woke up with some really uncomfortable stomach issues. So on my way out to the race start, I had to swing into a pharmacy to pick up something to settle my stomach. So, I popped a couple pills and made my way to start my warm up. Parking was relatively easy to find, and I parked in the main lot indicated on the race day instruction card included with my race kit. The lot itself had one entrance and one exit, so it was quite the stop-and-go experience to get in there. But there were plenty of spaces available once we snaked our way up through the parkade.

Once parked, I walked over to the race start/finish area. It was fairly cold out, so I definitely appreciated the indoor space provided for some of the pre-race festivities. After a final washroom trip, I did checked my bag and did my warm-up, about 10 minutes of light running, followed by about 15 minutes of stretching. I have not spent much time at all around the UBC campus, so I actually quite enjoyed the area.

I felt really strong at the start of the race. Probably a little too aggressive and over-confident though. The first 8 km or so are all downhill. Not an intense decline, but definitely enough that it feels easier than it actually is. Once you hit the turnaround, the momentum shifts and you're going back along that slight incline. At about 9.5 km, there is a fairly intense hill up University Blvd. Luckily, it's pretty short, but it's a knacker. After that, there's a fairly nice out and back along the Main Mall. Only challenge is that it puts you deceivingly farther from the finish line than you think you are.

From there, you cross back across, alongside the finish line, past the start line, and do the whole thing over again. This was my first time running a race that repeats a route. In truth, this should have made the distance easier to calculate. However, my head kept messing with me so I was really surprised how much longer the second lap felt than the first lap.

The other aggravating factor for me was that my GPS, somewhere along the way, was putting me about 1 km ahead of where I actually was. I was passing signs that read the distance and my GPS would say that I was significantly farther ahead. I had heard about a potential course change at the last minute due to some construction, so I thought perhaps my GPS was right and the course markings were off.

Whatever the cause, at about 16 km, at the turnaround on SW Marine Dr on my second lap, I paced myself, according to my GPS, at close to the 1:40:00 finish time. I was ecstatic. I was aiming for 1:45:00, and I had been consistently under 5:00/km, so I was pretty sure my math was right.

As I got closer to University Blvd, I checked with another runner on the distance, and his read the same as the signs, meaning my GPS was about 1.3 km ahead. Man, was that defeating. I realized I'd be lucky to hit my 1:45:00 target now. Without obsessing over the math, because I was losing steam, I just kept running. That hill up University Blvd absolutely destroyed me the second time. I lost a  lot of momentum on that sucker.

I struggled to keep moving along the final out and back on Main Mall. It was flat, but like I mentioned above, it felt surprisingly longer the second time around. Luckily, I had a friend meet me at about the 20 km marker. He ran with me about 100 metres and cheered me on. I have to say, I might not have kept running without that encouragement. I was completely defeated and needed that encouragement desperately. So I kept running and finished at 1:46:51.

New half marathon PB (beat my previous PB by 0:01:19)! While I was aiming for 1:45:00, any PB is an achievement that needs to be celebrated!

Overall, I had a great experience. The race itself was fantastic. While the route wasn't as scenic as say the Victoria Marathon, BMO Vancouver, or the First Half, it was definitely a lot of fun. It reminded me of the importance of training though and getting those long runs in. And, as a runner from Richmond, the importance of finding some hills to train on.

I will definitely be back to tackle this one again. As for breaking my 1:45:00, I'm going to look to the fast, flat First Half on February 10, 2019.

Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Victoria - 8k

This write-up is long overdue. Time has actually run away on me these last couple of months. So without further adieu...

As I mentioned in my previous post HERE, where I discussed having to downgrade my registration from the half marathon to the 8k, this was a difficult race for me. Because of a nagging issue with my Achilles, I did not feel comfortable going for the full half marathon. So I felt a lot of disappointment having to settle for the 8k. I know that sounds ridiculous. But that context is important because that was my mindset heading into the weekend.

This was my first destination race. So I was really looking forward to it. Because it was Thanksgiving weekend as well, we had some family come with us to make the trip over to Victoria. And we turned it into a family weekend.

We went over on Saturday morning and caught the 7:00am ferry to the big island (Vancouver Island for those of you unfamiliar with the area). We booked our two nights at the Royal Scot Hotel & Suites which, incidentally, I would highly recommend for a stay in Victoria. First, it was less than a block away from the parliament buildings and the Start/Finish lines for the races. Second, the rates were completely reasonable, especially considering we had a one bedroom suite which gave us plenty of room for my wife and I and our two kids. We had a kitchen, dining room, living room, and separate bedroom to put the kids to bed in.

Once we got to the island and checked into our hotel, we walked over to the race expo to pickup our kits. While I was signed-up for the 8k, my son was also registered for the Kids run (1.25 km). We actually had a great time walking through the expo, sampling the treats and bars (energy and protein) and drinks, and picking up our shirts.

We had the entire rest of the day to explore and walk around the city. One of the best parts of going to Victoria on race weekend (and staying right in the heart of city), is that the road closures were already taking effect. So the entire downtown area was nearly void of cars for the majority of the time we were there. Race organizers were already setting up for much of Saturday. So there was a completely unique vibe to the city. I loved every second of it!!

We had a nice, relaxing family dinner and actually made it to bed early (I always try to be in bed by 10:00 before any race).

On race morning, I got up ahead of everyone else. Because I was running the 8k instead of the half marathon though, my start time was quite a bit later. That gave me a little more time to get ready and go explore. I did my warm-up around the Victoria harbour, which was absolutely gorgeous. The rain was teasing a little bit though so I was also trying to stay dry.

The race itself was fantastic. I enjoyed every second of it. I felt really good on race day. And my Achilles was feeling nearly 100%. So, I set out for an 8k PB. Now, I had never actually raced an 8k before so I didn't really have an official PB marked down. But I knew it was probably close to 37:00.

The 8k route is awesome and has many of the same highlights as the half marathon route. So while I was trying to keep an aggressive (for me) pace, I was also absorbing the scenery around me. Around the mid-point of the 8k route, we join the half marathon and marathon runners (who started about an hour ahead of the 8k). So for those last few KMs, there is a mix of runners from all distances.

Coming through to the finish, it is quite the spectacle. I was truly impressed with the number of people out cheering on the runners along the entire route, and not just near the finish. But there is definitely a substantial crowd at the finish, which is truly the most picturesque of any race I've run: Victoria harbour on the left, parliament buildings on the right. Truly spectacular.

I finished with a time of 35:37, setting my 8k PB. I was incredibly happy with that result, even though my family suggested that they thought I'd be running a lot faster as I passed them about 100 metres from the finish line. I had trouble explaining that I didn't save anything for a sprint at the finish.

I took a few minutes to grab my medal and snacks at the finish corral before heading over to join my son for the Kids Run.

As we were getting ready, my 4 year old daughter decided she would like to run the Kids Run as well. She had never run a race before, so we were a bit unprepared with her in her rain coat and gum boots. But we got her signed up as well.

The Kids Run was also a fantastic event for both kids. My son ran on his own and finished in the top 10 of all kids (which goes up to 12 years old - he's 7). I ran with my daughter, who ran the entire 1.25 km in gum boots without stopping once. We all had a blast. And I was incredibly proud that both my kids are starting to enjoying running for their own benefit and not just to support me.

After the races, we all went back to change and warm up (we had gotten quite wet throughout the morning). And we had the rest of the day to ourselves. We walked around, exploring the city a little bit more. We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner. Spent some quality time with our visiting family members. Enjoy our last night in Victoria.

Monday we packed up and headed out towards the ferry. We spent a quick two hours at the Butchart Gardens (which were spectacular) before heading to catch our ferry back to the mainland.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience. I would definitely plan to go back and run in Victoria again. Hopefully though, next time I'll be able to run the half marathon.

4 Oct 2018

Race Report: Under Armour Eastside 10k

On a rainy Saturday, September 15th, I ran the Under Armour Eastside 10k (#UAeastside10k). And before I get into any details, I want to say I had a blast running this race. The whole vibe of this race was amazing.

This was my first time running the Eastside 10k. A number of running friends have run it in past years and spoke very highly of it. So this summer, when I was planning out my races for the fall (see my blog post on that topic HERE), I signed up for it.

The whole vibe of the Eastside 10k is awesome. It is a smaller crowd (especially compared to the First Half, BMO Vancouver, and Scotiabank Vancouver events), so it felt more focused as a fun event for runners, rather than just a massive event. There was also a lot less pressure because it was only a 10k (rather than a half marathon - for me, that meant I could just work it into my regular running routine). And I think that mentally was true for the vast majority of the runners. Or maybe I just put more pressure on myself in half marathons because I haven't run as many of them. Either way, this 10k was a blast to run.

In both the pre- and post-race festivities, I ran into many other running friends, both people I knew personally and people I knew from social media and was meeting in person for the first time. I got to meet Ryan Chilibeck (Race Director for Canada Running Series West). Truly, this event draws a great crowd, and mostly dedicated runners too - less of the fringe crowd (very, very, very unlike the Vancouver Sun Run).

One of the other features is the elite field that this race draws. As a running geek, I like to keep up to date on Canada's elite long distance runners. And the elite field was deep at the Eastside 10k. Both the men and the women. My theory on this is that a 10k is easier to slip into a regular training routine. So more of them can attend a fun event like this one. Whereas a half or full marathon takes a lot more planning, so they have to be more selective about which races they choose. Whatever the reason, the elite fields were deep at the Eastside 10k.

In this regard, because of the out and back aspect of the course, especially along the 3-5 km section, many of the elite runners are heading back the other way. It was a great opportunity to see them, cheer them on, and have an idea on how they are doing.

The route itself is really cool. It winds through the most historic area of Vancouver. Starting in Gastown and winding through the Downtown Eastside (#DTES). The buildings in this area are amazing. The scenery fantastic. And the location is not a coincidence - this race is dedicated to raising money for a small group of charities benefiting the less fortunate DTES residents (click HERE for more info). 

For me personally, leading up to the Eastside 10k, I had been struggling with a strained Achilles tendon. It started about a week before the race. I had been really trying to work on my speed in the preceding weeks, so I had a few runs there really pushing my pace. I was also increasing my mileage to prepare for the half marathon at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. So, I likely just put a bit too much pressure on my tendon there. As a result, I really had to hold back during the race.

I managed a finish time of 46:37, which I am incredibly pleased with and is an official 10k PB! I have run faster 10k on my own, but never in a race (mostly because I haven't run very many 10k races). But I still know that I had another level in the tank.
I took a week off running after the Eastside 10k to let my body heal. 

Overall, a fantastic event. I can't wait to run it again next year! Now looking forward to Victoria (October 7th) and the Fall Classic (November 4th).

Downgrading Race Registration

This week I am faced with a tough decision. In the grand scheme of life, it is pretty minor. But for me, it feels significant.

On Sunday (October 7th), I am registered to run the half marathon at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. I signed up for this one back in June with the plan of training up over the summer, running the half at Victoria, maintaining that half marathon distance, and running another half at the Fall Classic on November 4th.

And, to make best use of the trip over to Victoria, we made a family weekend out of it. My wife and I are bringing our two kids, accompanied by my mother-in-law and aunt, to spend the weekend in Victoria - it is Thanksgiving after all. Perfect little getaway weekend with a half marathon thrown in.

However, over the past month or so, I have been struggling with a strained Achilles tendon. It started in early September, I think. Not sure why the exact cause was - most likely excessive mileage. I was preparing for the Under Armour Eastside 10k (September 15th) and started to really push my pace. Must have just pushed it a little too hard.

I ran the Eastside 10k, but had to hold back a lot because of my Achilles. I was hoping to blow my 10k PB to shreds, but alas.

I took a week off after that to let my body rest and heal. I saw my family doctor and got his advice. I was worried at that point that it could have been a stress fracture. So I was relieved to hear it was only my Achilles. Only.

The good news? I could keep running. The bad news? I had to ease off on my pace and take it easy.

So for the last couple of weeks, I've been keeping my runs to a light, relaxed pace. I have held my weekday runs to 6-7 km and my Sunday long run to 10-12 km. I spend a lot of time stretching my Achilles out during the day. I ice it every evening. I can run on it with minimal discomfort.

And, so, here we are. This week. 4 days until race day. And I have been wrestling with this decision for weeks. My Achilles feels better. Much better. But it is no where near 100%. It is still quite tight.

I know I could finish the half marathon. But it would definitely not be a PB time. I would be running just to complete it. And, I run a huge risk of re-aggravating it and not being able to run the Fall Classic in another month.

The alternative is I can downgrade to the 8k at Victoria and then begin the build up to, hopefully, be 100% for the Fall Classic.

I have never downgraded before. But this is also my first destination race (is race-cation at word?). So part of me feels that I am cheating and not getting value from the weekend if I downgrade from the half marathon. I could run an 8k anywhere. And, I really had my hopes up to run the half.

So all things considered, and putting my pride aside, I will be running the 8k instead. Playing it safe. It is still an amazing route around the heart of downtown Victoria. And I am looking forward to it immensely. This also means I can finish in time to watch my 7 year-old son race in the 1.25 km kids run.

So this race is for all the runners that have to face that tough decision to downgrade or even pull out of a race altogether.

16 May 2018

Upcoming Races: Planning the Rest of 2018

After completing the half marathon at the BMO Vancouver (read my race report HERE), I've started to think about what comes next. I am still coming down from the high after completing something as big as a half marathon, especially at an event as spectacular as the BMO Vancouver.

Ultimately, I want to complete at least one more half marathon in 2018 - that will be three in total for the year. I have my eye set on the Fall Classic on November 4th.

In the interim, I need to decide what to do. I love the race atmosphere and want to keep it up. Having a hard commitment like a race also gives me something to work towards. I have always done better with deadlines, and so when it comes to training or maintaining any type of cadence in my running, having a race in the months ahead logged firmly into my calendar keeps me accountable.

My general plan for the summer is to absolutely destroy my legs, every day. I say this a bit tongue in cheek but also a little bit serious. If I'm not running another half until November, then I don't need to hammer out a rigid training plan until mid-August or even September. If I plan a few 5 km and 10 km races between now and then, I should be able to knock them out as part of my regular training. So my high-level plan for the next 3.5 months is to simply run or ride every single day. No excuses.

I will definitely be completing as many Saturday morning parkruns as my schedule allows (click HERE for my review of the Richmond Olympic parkrun).

And if you have followed this blog, you'll know that my 7-year-old son likes to run with me on occasion. After greeting me at the finish line of my two half marathons this year, he wants to sign up and do a couple races with me. He runs the parkrun with me as often as he can. But he wants the big race experience - a finish line with a big crowd and a medal.

So I started researching 5 km races during the summer that would be ideal for the two of us to do together. He can run a 5 km comfortably and between track and field at school and his soccer team through the spring, his legs are in good shape.

So we are going to race the following races together:
Both should be a ton of fun. The former being a really big event and the latter being a smaller community event. But both include finisher medals and a crowd cheering us on.

Then, I am going to run the Eastside 10k myself on September 15th. I think this just looks like another awesome event, and I am excited to give it a go. From there, I will settle into a more dedicated build up to the Fall Classic half marathon on November 4th.

15 May 2018

Race Report: Half Marathon at the BMO Vancouver

On Sunday, May 6th, 2018, I completed my second half marathon - the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon. And I finished in 1:48:10, which works out to 5:07/km. Overall, it was an amazing experience. I set a new PB (personal best) and had a blast in the process. It was an amazing, sunny day and the event was well organized. By far, the biggest running event I have ever attended (a record setting 17,000 participants).

My previous PB at the half marathon was 1:51:57, which I set at the Vancouver First Half on February 11th, 2018 (my race report HERE) - an average pace of 5:18/km. So I improved on my PB by nearly 4 minutes. Definitely a solid improvement in a relatively short amount of time.

I had originally set a target of 1:45:00 in my head, which is a 5:00/km pace, so my time was a bit slower than I had hoped for, but still very satisfied with the result.

I posted an update on my training five weeks ahead of the BMO (click HERE to read that post). And I was able to maintain that training plan right up to race day. Overall, I think my training plan was solid but it could use a couple small changes. The one thing I may change for future races is simply putting more energy into my speed work runs. I think I should be able to push the pace on my shorter runs (i.e. 7 km and shorter) closer to 4:00/km (currently averaging around to 4:30-4:45/km). That will help me establish a quicker pace. The other thing I might change is a couple more 20 km runs a few weeks ahead of race day. I have been building up to one 20+ km run two weeks ahead. But maybe I need to bump all my training up a couple weeks to fit a couple 20 km runs in at three and four weeks ahead as well.

On race day (May 6th), everything went right according to plan. With the exception that I completed miscalculated the race start time. For some reason, I thought the half marathon started at 7:30. I caught the 6:00 Canada Line train from Bridgeport Station, arrived at King Edward station around 6:30, and walked to the race start. Had time to check my bag into the bag check, then a quick run through the washroom. Then at 6:50 was informed that the race started in 10 minutes - totally thought I had another 40 minutes to warm up and stretch yet.

We made our way to the start line corrals, had a solid 10 minutes to stretch and warm up (because I was in starting corral 2 and, therefore, had an extra 5 minutes before my group started), and then the race was off.

At the outset, the course was very crowded. Maybe I started too far back in my group, but for the first 1.5-2 km, I struggled to find space on the road and was constantly weaving around folks to find enough space to hit my target pace. I think for next time, I'll push forward a bit in the corrals to try to get closer to the eager runners. But after about 2 km, once we were down the Cambie hill and heading over the Cambie Bridge, the course opened up and I started to really settle in.

Through Chinatown and Yaletown, I kept a steady pace, keeping my average slightly under 5:00/km. But around the 10 km mark, I started to drop down to around 5:10/km. Partly from simple distance but also from the hills.

Heading into Stanley Park, around kilometre 13, I dropped my pace again. Now, through Stanley Park, it was a continuous alternating uphill and downhill. I was a bit surprised by how dramatic that felt. I had run most of this route before, but always on shorter runs (i.e. never after 15+ km into a run). From the 13 km marker to the 19 km marker, I bounced from 5:08/km down to 5:26/km. Some of these hills, particularly through 14.5 km area, just destroyed my legs. If I had stopped, I wouldn't have got going again. So I had to push through. The other factor is I run a lot on the seawall, which is all flat near the sea level. This course follows the road, which is much hillier. Definitely need to incorporate some more hills into my training.

For the last 1.5 kilometres of the race, it was a smooth incline up to the finish line. As much as I wanted to sprint and finish with some gusto, it was all I could do to maintain my pace.

At the finish line, runners are greeted with medals  and snacks. I got my finisher medal with pride. But then I was a bit anxious to go meet my wife and kids so I feel I rushed through the hydration and snack booths through the finish corral and missed some opportunity there. Once I got out of the finish corral and down Thurlow, I met my family and spent some time visiting the street festival along Hastings.

Overall, I had a blast. Similar to my last experience, I thoroughly enjoyed the race atmosphere and the sense of accomplishment from completing such an event.

Now to plan out the rest of the summer and fall of 2018. I will definitely be aiming for a couple other races and at least one more half marathon in 2018.

6 Apr 2018

There's No Such Thing as Junk Miles

I've read a fair number of comments recently about junk miles. And that really got me thinking: is there really such thing as junk miles?

Part of the problem is, from what I read anyway, that there isn't a consistent definition of junk miles. I initially thought junk miles were basically any run that didn't have a purpose (or, basically, were outside of a formal training plan).

THIS article from Canadian Running magazine (which helped me understand what junk miles are) implies that all runs should have a purpose. And the author defines junk miles as "easy mileage run too fast." In essence, a recovery run that the runner pushes too hard, thus negating the body's ability to recover.

So under strict training standards, say in the case of professional athletes or elite runners, I think I can understand that - that actually makes some sense to me.

Personally, I incorporate three types of runs into my training: 1. long run (10 km - 20 km depending on what I'm training for), 2. speed work (fast-paced intervals, interlaced with slow-paced recovery periods), and 3. maintenance runs (slow-paced recovery runs). And I can definitely appreciate the value that each of those runs brings to my training. The first increases distance and endurance, the second increases speed, and the third allows my body to rest while still adding mileage.

But part of me, the part of me that wants to run for the pure enjoyment of running, resists when my running becomes too regimented. Or when the "training" aspect of running takes over.

Now, I have set some fairly lofty goals for myself to improve my speed and distance this year, so I am not suggesting abandoning any part of a formal training plan. A training plan is critical to achieving running goals.

But, there is also nothing wrong with simply going for a run. Every once in a while, it is incredibly refreshing to abandon the training plan, ignore the GPS, and run for the pure enjoyment of running outside. For me, whether it's long or short, that enjoyment is what got me started running in the first place. And that mental break gives me the clarity I need to refocus on my next run.