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.

29 Mar 2018

Training Update: 5 Weeks to the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon

Time for an old fashioned training update. If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I completed my first half marathon back on February 11th at the Vancouver First Half Half Marathon 2018. It was an awakening for me - I loved every second of that grueling 1 hour and 52 minutes (read my race breakdown HERE).

Almost immediately after that event, I registered for my next half marathon: the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon (which most know for the full marathon) on May 6th, 2018. When I registered, it was 12 weeks away, so I came up with a 12 week training plan to get myself ready.

Now, I ran the Vancouver First Half in 1:51:58 (chip time), which I was really happy with for my first half marathon. My goal was to run it in under 2 hours. And I did. In fact, before the race I told a couple friends that I thought I could run it in 1:52, so my estimate was spot on!

For the BMO, my goal is to run it in 1:45. So in order to do that, I have to substantially improve my average pace from 5:18/km at the Vancouver First Half down to 5:00/km. That's a pretty substantial increase in a short period of time. But I think it is entirely doable.

My training plan is roughly as follows:
  • 3 runs per week (fitting in a 4th maintenance run whenever possible).
    • Tuesday/Wednesday - Speed Work: Run 1:00-2:00 intervals at fastest possible pace, 2:00-4:00 recovery pace. Total run time 30:00-40:00.
    • Thursday/Friday - Maintenance: Race pace run 30:00-35:00.
    • Sunday - Long Run: Starting with 10 km run at 10 weeks, and increasing by 1-2 km each week, up to 2 weeks before race. So this week (5 weeks to go), long run is 15 km.
The big challenge for me is that I have a number of work trips through March and April that I have had (and will have) to train through. It shouldn't set me back at all, but I do have to be diligent in fitting those runs in, even when I am out of town. So I have to bring my running gear and then fit in treadmill runs if I have to (I hate treadmills).

At this point (March 29th - 5 weeks until race day), my training is completely on track. I have been routinely fitting in all my runs (3 per week). I have been keeping my weekday runs short (close to or just over 30 minutes) and on point (one speed work and one maintenance) and allowing my weekend run to be the long one. I am trying to be more structured with my speed work run - something that is completely new for me. I have historically just gone out to run and focused on time and distance. But now I know that if I want to get faster over long distances, I have to run faster in short distances first.

I have had two big challenges over the past 2-3 weeks though. First one is that my legs have simply been tired. Every run of the last couple of weeks has been exhausting. I have had to change up my diet a bit to get more natural foods in me, including increasing my consumption of fruits and vegetables. That has made a noticeable improvement. And the last couple of runs have started to feel much better - back to my normal energy levels.

The other challenge is that I've had some problems with my back. I tweaked it somehow, and the problems were compounding for a few weeks. I suspect that both of these issues were connected too - I was adjusting my gait to compensate for either my back or lack of energy, which was compounding the other issue. 

In order to combat my back issues, I have been focusing about 20 minutes per day on core strength exercises. Combined with a few visits to the chiropractor, this has made a huge difference. I also eliminated stretches that put pressure on my lower back. I learned that some of my post-run stretches were actually straining my back. So I have had to make a few adjustments there. I am not back to 100% yet, but getting very close and feeling much better.

So here I am. 5 weeks to go until I run my second half marathon. I am pumped. Now I just need to incorporate some hill training.

27 Mar 2018

Gear: Two Wheel Gear Convertible Bike Briefcase

My good friends at Two Wheel Gear recently launched and now right in the middle of their latest Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their latest creation: a Convertible Bike Briefcase. Similar to their other bags, the Pannier Backpack Convertible (see my review HERE) and their Garment Pannier (see my review HERE), this bag is designed for on and off bike usage, especially for those commuting by bicycle to and from the office.

I was able to get my hands on one of the first production versions of this bag. And my initial impressions? Amazing. This bag is right on par with their past products in terms of innovation, usefulness, and quality construction. In fact, this may become my new favourite bag for all around daily use. 

I'll get right into some of the things I like about it.

It looks great! I'm a big fan of the graphite colour option, which is a dark brushed grey look and red zipper tags for a pop of colour. The overall look has that same Two Wheel Gear feel to it - professional but slightly rugged. Polished enough for the office but tough enough for a rainy west coast bicycle commute. 

Also, because it's a shoulder/laptop/briefcase style bag, it simply looks more professional than a backpack. For me, carrying this in and out of the office, it simply feels more appropriate.

It is very comfortable to carry. The shoulder strap has precisely the right amount of padding. This bag is comfortable either on one shoulder or across the body on opposite shoulder. One thing to note is that because of the pannier mounting system, it is a rigid shape. It is padded, so it's comfortable to carry against your hip - I cannot feel the mounting brackets at all. But this bag will not conform and shape around your hip like a plain canvas bag might.

This is the best pannier mounting system I have used yet. It is extremely simple and durable. Similar to the Pannier Backpack Convertible, the hooks are hidden behind a zippered flap. Simply unzip, tuck in the flap, and the pannier is ready to attach to your bicycle. Slide the hooks over the bike rack frame, flick the hooks down to lock them in, and you're set. Converting from briefcase to pannier takes mere seconds. There is a strap to fully secure the bottom of the bag against the bike rack as well, which I use for longer commutes/rides but not for shorter/quick trips.

I love the layout of these pockets. Initially I was concerned that the two larger compartments should have been combined into one larger one (to save material and all that), but the more I use this bag, the more I like the two large compartment setup. Mainly, this allows me to separate two distinct groups of items: (1) office items like laptop and accessories and (2) commuting items like a change of clothes, lunch, umbrella, etc. 

The large pocket at the back has a padded laptop sleeve and a mesh pocket for accessories. It is designed to fit a laptop up to 17". Both of my laptops (14" and 15") fit easily. With the Pannier Backpack, because the laptops went it lengthwise, it was sometimes difficult to angle them in (they fit once in, it was just about getting them in and out, especially when the bag was full). However, with this bag, my laptop is always easy to get in and out. This pocket opens the entire length of the bag along the top.

The next large pocket is perfect for commuting items. I often throw my lunch or a change of clothes in there. There are a couple mesh pockets in here as well to sort items. The bag is long enough for a compact umbrella so, living in rainy Vancouver, I usually have my umbrella and sunglasses (yes, in Vancouver, some days we need both of those things) stuffed in there as well. Perfect for some small toiletries or other items. This pocket zips open along three sides of the bag so you can open it right up to organize before closing it up.

The first of the outer pockets is a pretty standard office/school style setup - a couple of pen slots, two notebook slots, and a key loop. I use this to keep my notebook in one, passport in the other, a spare pen, and a pack a mints. I also like that this pocket opens along three sides of the bag so you can open it right up as well to view items.

Finally, the small front pocket. This pocket comes with the bright yellow rain cover in it, but is also perfect for my Kobo.  I leave my rain cover at home most days and only bring it when I am (a) riding my bike and (b) it is raining.

For overall size, this is similar to the Pannier Backpack in that it is difficult to fit both my lunch and a full change of clothes. So when I am packing larger loads, I will still and forever use my Garment Pannier. This bag is perfect for everything else.

I really enjoy this layout overall and do not really have any criticisms. As well all new bags, the zippers are still quite stiff around the corners for me, but that is something that will ease over time as the fabric settles a bit after some more use.

One other feature I love about this bag is that it is designed to fit a rolling suitcase. As a frequent business traveler, this will be a huge convenience for me. The hand straps and the lower strap to secure the bottom of the bag against the bike rack easily fit over the suitcase handle. I have fit this over my suitcase to confirm it fits but haven't field tested this one through an airport yet - I will update this post in mid-April when I return from my next trip.

Two Wheel Gear is right in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for this bag (click HERE). They need $20,000 and, at the time of writing this, are just over half way there with 10 days to go. Supporters are also entered to win a commuter setup from Brodie and Two Wheel Gear! Please consider supporting them! They are a great local Vancouver company that continues to deliver innovative products designed for the bike commuting professional!

Overall, I am very impressed with this bag. It is the same high quality design and construction that I have come to expect from Two Wheel Gear. I definitely recommend this bag to anyone looking for that professional looking bag that can double as a pannier.

UPDATE (May 15, 2018): I have been using this bag as my daily bag for nearly two months now and I absolutely love it. I have been using it on my work travel, as well as to and from work, mostly even without my bike. Still love it!

21 Feb 2018

Richmond Olympic parkrun

I have recently discovered and fallen in love with a fantastic, free running event that happens to be right near where I live! It's called parkrun. It's free. It's every week. And from what I can tell, many people have never heard of it. So let me tell you a bit about it and how I came to be know of it.

Richmond Olympic parkrun start/finish banner
A few months ago, I came across some tweets from Jeremy Hopwood, a fellow Richmondite and runner, advocating for parkrun. I wasn't sure what it was entirely, but it sounded like a regular running event in Richmond, so I started looking into it more.

And I discovered something awesome! parkrun is a free, timed, weekly 5 km run that is put on entirely by volunteers. My local run, the Richmond Olympic parkrun, takes place each and every Saturday at 9:00 am. It starts on the dyke along River Road (Middle Arm Trail), slightly west of the Cambie intersection.

Over this past Christmas break, I tried it out and ran my first parkrun. I have run it about 5 times now. And, for most of them, my 7-year old son has joined me.

The route is typically a straight out-and-back run (with a turnaround at 2.5 km), which is quite straight forward. However, due to some construction at the No 2 Road pump station, it is currently a 500 m east out-and-back, then a 1.5 km west out-and-back, and a final 500 m east out-and-back to the finish. It is a bit more confusing, but it is well marked and there are marshals positioned at each of the turnarounds. Also, unless you plan to run 5 km under 19:00, you can probably just follow those in front of you.

View from the start/finish line
The route runs along the middle arm of the mighty Fraser River, that flows between the City of Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The trail is a mixed-use trail, so you have to be considerate of other trail users. The route is mostly paved although there are some gravel sections. And on a clear day, you can clearly see the north shore mountains. Spectacular scenery! Overall, this is a fantastic place for this event. And living in Richmond, it is one of my favourite places to run anyway.

The Richmond Olympic parkrun seems to average around 50 runners, even in the rainy winter events that I have attended - evidence of a strong running community in Richmond, which I had no idea existed. I also assume that this number increases quite a bit in the summer months.

parkrun is suitable for all ages and abilities. You can even walk the 5 km in under an hour if you choose. As I mentioned above, my 7-year old son has run a few parkruns with me. He can knock out a sub 30:00 run no problem and is working on beating his personal best (PB) of just under 26:00. It has become a great bonding experience for the two of us.

parkrun barcode, printed and laminted
To record race results, parkrun uses a relatively simple system. Once you register online (which you only have to do once before you run your first event), you receive a barcode that you need to print and bring with you. I have cut mine out into the wallet-sized card and had mine laminated to preserve it in wet-weather runs. When you cross the finish line, you are given a token. You simply take the token, then find the volunteer scanning the tokens. The volunteer will scan your token (which assigns your finish position) and then scans your barcode to link your profile to your finish position. Then, usally a couple hours later, once another volunteer has had a chance to upload the finish times, you can view your official result online.

I also mentioned that each and every parkrun is run entirely by volunteers. But it's more than that. Each event/location is established by a volunteer who has basically taken it upon themselves to coordinate volunteers and even get agreement from the city to use the route. Each week, volunteers come forward to take care of a number of roles: time keeper, token distributor, race result scanner, cone setter upper, photographer, route marshals, etc. So it is important to thank the volunteers and acknowledge that their generosity is what enables the rest of us to run and enjoy the event in the first place. While I have not volunteered myself yet, I will be starting in March (along with my 7-year old son). Our goal for the year is to volunteer once for every 5 times we run. Important to give back and I think a great example to set for my kids.

parkrun itself started in the UK and has spread globally. In Canada, there are 12 different parkrun locations, including the one in Richmond. The Richmond Olympic parkrun is the only one in Metro Vancouver - the next closest are Whistler, Penticton, and Kelowna. Next time I'm in any of those places over the weekend, I hope to join their parkruns.

So if you have never been to a parkrun, check them out. Hopefully there is one near you. If you're in Metro Vancouver area, check out the Richmond Olympic parkrun it starts a about a block from the Aberdeen Canada Line station.

And if you volunteer and support parkrun in any way, I sincerely thank you for your contribution! You make an amazing, free, community running event possible!

Note: credit for race photos goes to parkrun and the volunteers that took those pictures. After each race, pictures are shared with participants via a the Richmond Olympic parkrun group on Facebook.

13 Feb 2018

Race Report: Vancouver First Half Half Marathon

I finished my first half marathon! This past weekend, on Sunday, February 11th, 2018, I finished the Vancouver First Half Half Marathon! And holy smokes did it feel good!

Start line at the 2018 Vancouver First Half Half Marathon
I had anticipated finishing around 1 hour and 52 minutes. And I finished the race precisely at 1:51:58 (chip time), with an average pace 5:18/km. Overall, I am extremely happy with that result! First and foremost, I finished the race. Second, I beat both my goals: keep pace right where I wanted (under 5:30/km) and finish under 2 hours. Click HERE to view the full results.

To top it all off, it was an amazing day. Cold, but clear sky and dry (no rain). We have been having an incredibly wet winter so far, so the sunshine was a welcome change and it made for an absolutely perfect race day.

Finish at the 2018 Vancouver First Half Half Marathon
And now, my race appetite has been whet! I loved the whole experience.: the anticipation before the start pistol, running in a large group, pacing myself against the runners around me, the little battles for position, and the continuous encouragement from course marshals (all volunteers) and spectators.

Long runs alone can get quite boring (thus I usually listen to podcasts during my longer runs). But the race atmosphere was arousing. My mind was focused the entire time and I relished the experience from start to finish.

Coming closer to the finish, I was almost overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment. When I passed my family about 30 metres from the finish, I felt an enormous sense of pride and I realized that, in addition to accomplishing one of my own goals  I was also setting a tremendous example to my kids that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to (incidentally, one of my son's favourite songs at the moment is Lose Yourself by Eminem, the radio edit version of course, because it is an intensely passionate song about accomplishing your goals).

Me approaching the finish line at the
2018 Vancouver First Half Half Marathon
When I started thinking about entering a half marathon last fall, a friend of mine recommended the Vancouver First Half because it's flat (I am a Richmondite after all) - suggesting that because it was a fast, flat route, it'd perfect for a first timer. And she was right! The only challenge, of course, is training through the rainiest and coldest part of the year (December, January, February). I wrote a post in September starting to think about running a half (click HERE) and another one in November when I committed to the Vancouver First Half (click HERE).

And now, it is time to set my sites to the future and what comes next. I am hoping to do another one or two half marathons this year in addition to a few other shorter races. Possibilities include: the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon in May, the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon in June, or the SeaWheeze Half Marathon in August.

At this point, I also want to thank all of the race organizers, Pacific Road Runners, Forerunners Vancouver, and all of the volunteers that made this event possible. Thanks for putting this amazing event together. The experience was incredible! And I definitely hope to do this one again in the coming years.