Learning From My Mistakes

I’m back at it. After taking June off of training, I jumped right back into things in July, ramping up my training for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. I learned a lot from my training earlier this year for the Ottawa Marathon. I learned about running in the winter. About how to push yourself without overdoing it. How marathon training is about much more than running - cross training, strength training, hydration, diet and recovery. I made my mistakes, and I’ve learned from them.

I’m now 4 weeks into my training, and I’m already noticing the improvements from the small tweaks I’ve made. My running schedule itself hasn’t changed much. I try to get out there 3-4 days a week, ensuring that I always do my long run and hills, mixing in some speed, tempo and fartleks where I can. 

There’s something different this time around. I’m finding my training easier. Easier probably isn’t the right word, because there is nothing easy about marathon training. It is still a mental and physical battle. Getting up at 6AM to run hills is always tough. Going out for a 20km long run after a long weekend at the cottage is exhausting. But I’m finding myself more confident in my running. I feel stronger. My mental state is rock solid. A 20km run doesn’t feel daunting. It is no longer the unknown. I know I can run 20+km. I’ve now done it dozens of times. That is not something I thought I would ever say.

Marathon training is like life. Sometimes it’s scary. There are a lot of unknowns. It challenges you and beats you down at times, but rewards you for your hard work. You have good days, and bad days. You make mistakes, and you learn from them. As I get into the heart of my training for my third marathon, here is what I have learned.

Don’t Overdo It
Training for a marathon is extremely taxing on your body. With all of the hours and kilometres of training that you put your body through, you need to give it a chance to rest and recover. This isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s patience and smarts. Even elite runners like Rob Watson will tell you to chill out, and kick back to give your body the rest it needs, when it needs it. Get yourself to yoga to stretch out. Buy a foam roller and use it religiously. And sleep. Lots of sleep.

I’ve made the mistake too many times of pushing myself too hard in a week, wanting to squeeze in an extra 10km run when all my body needed was a day off, only to end up more banged up and even hurt to the point where I was sidelined for a few weeks. Do yourself a favour and take a day off if you have to. Heal up those aches and pains, throw that guilt out the window and do something else if you have to, like riding a bike or some strength training. That one run you missed 2 months before the marathon won’t matter.

Stay Hydrated

Too many runners only hydrate after their runs. They go out and run 20 km, and then come home and drink a glass of water. Sorry to break it to you, but by that point you’re already screwed. People ask me “When do you hydrate?” I say “all the time”. Literally. I’m never more than a few feet away from a cold glass of water, day and night, and I probably drink anywhere from 5-10 litres a day. You should be hydrating as much as possible - and don’t forget to hydrate during your run. It doesn’t matter if it is hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, raining and snowing. Your body needs to stay hydrated. It’s not a weakness, it’s a necessity. 

In the winter, I carried a water belt with me. Yeah, it was clunky and uncomfortable, but I needed it. In the summer, I leave the belt behind and plan my runs based on the availability of public water fountains. I also use DripDrop, a medical grade powdered hydration solution, that when added to water provides up to three times the hydration as regular water and 2-3 times the electrolytes as sports drinks, with far less sugar. It’s a really effective solution that tastes great - check them out.

Cross Training & Strength Training

When I was training for the Ottawa Marathon, my focus was almost purely on running. Over time I learned that it is important to mix it up. Yes, you need to run a lot - but it shouldn’t be the only thing you do. I’ve made a bigger effort to incorporate cross training and strength training into my training routine, and have seen a huge impact.

Cross training activities for runners typically include cycling, swimming and cross country skiing. Basically, any kind of exercise to compliment your running that will help build your flexibility and strength. Cross training often works different muscles and helps keep you lean, fit and injury free. I’ve been cycling to and from work 4 days a week, a 20km ride each day - about 80km a week. I find it helps my legs recover from my running, but it also works very different muscle groups, which has helped improve my overall lower body strength.

I also built strength training into my program. Strength training, similar to cross training, helps you build muscles in complimentary areas, balancing you out and ensuring that you are in top shape. Those who know me, know that I despise going to the gym to lift weights. Never been my thing. But after missing my goal in Ottawa, and struggling with a few injuries, I decided it was time for me to bite the bullet and start strength training. After hours of research and planning, I built a strength training routine into my training program that I’m actually enjoying quite a bit. In addition to help strengthen my lower half, it also focuses on a variety of muscle groups including back, shoulders and core. I’ll write about it more and share the actual plan a little later on.

12 more weeks

With the Toronto Waterfront Marathon only 12 weeks away, I’m more motivated than ever. I feel confident, calm and strong. I’m taking my time, but sticking to my routine. The long runs don’t feel so long and the hills not as steep. I just have to stick with it and be patient. One day at a time.

Supporting the Asthma Society of Canada

As most of you know, I’m on a mission to qualify for the Boston Marathon. After narrowly missing my qualifying time by only a few seconds at the Ottawa Marathon in May, I took a month off of running to let my body rest up. But now I’m back at it, training for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 19, 2014. This race is also a qualifying race for Boston, and I am determined to meet my goal this time around!

Attempting to qualify for Boston wasn’t my only goal when training for the Ottawa Marathon. I decided to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society, and was overwhelmed by the support I received from my family, friends, colleagues and even people I’ve never met. Together we raised almost $2600 for cancer research.

The Asthma Society of Canada

This time around I wanted to support a new cause. Something that I don’t know much about.I was approached by an old friend of mine from university who recruited me to raise funds and awareness for The Asthma Society of Canada. Please support this amazing organization and great cause by sponsoring me during my training. The ultimate goal is to is to empower every child and adult in Canada with asthma to live an active and symptom-free life.

Please visit my donation page and learn more about this cause at www.asthma.ca. Thank you all for your continued support with my running goals, and for your generous donations.

My experience running a Spartan Race

I’m officially a Spartan. This past weekend I ran my third race of the year, and my first Spartan Race.

On Saturday, we made the trip up to Edelweiss Ski Hill in Gatineau Park for my first ever Spartan Race. Now, for a guy that is used to road races - marathons and half marathons - the Spartan was quite different. It was a good experience, but I’m not sure I would do it again. I get why people love them, but it’s just not for me, I guess.

The Spartan Race is a 5km “race” that brings you through the mountains and trees, leading you through a series of obstacles and challenges. As you arrive at the obstacles, you have one chance to complete it. If you fail, you must complete 30 burpees before advancing. My advice: do your best to complete the obstacle, because 30 burpees in 30 degree heat sucks. The kicker here is that the race organizers don’t tell you in advance what the obstacles are going to be, leaving a bit of intrigue for race day.

The race kicked off in the mid-afternoon heat, with a few hundred anxious racers lined up, not quite sure what to expect from the next hour or two. As we took off through the gate, we went straight uphill. Literally. After a few hundred metres, it got steeper. And muddier. Many people slowed to a walk, while others did their best to run up hill.

As we reached to top of the first big climb, we were faced with our first obstacle. After trudging through knee-to-waist deep muddy water, we needed to army crawl under some barbed wire before reaching a series of wall climbs.

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Success. Down the next hill we found ourselves at a series obstacles, starting with the infamous rope climb that we all remember from middle school gym class. Wet and muddy hands lead to my first failed obstacle. 30 burpees. Immediately after the rope climb failure was another rope obstacle know as the Herculean Hoist, which requires you to hoist a heavy object such as a bucket or propane tank off the ground using a pulley system. Success.

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Next up was the lateral rock wall climb, which required you to scale across a makeshift rock wall. Wet and muddy hands lead to my demise again. More burpees.

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A missed spear throw lead to another round of burpees. That’s 90 so far. Okay, no more of those please.

After a sand bag carry up a hill and around a set of trees, we moved on to some more upper body obstacles with the monkey bar traverse. Thanks to my long arms I was able to cross this obstacle successfully, going 5 or 6 bars at a time. Right after the monkey bars was a similar obstacle that required you to transition from a series of rings, to some ropes, finishing on some more monkey bars. Done. Moving on.

As we continued into another stretch of running up hill, the heat was getting to us and we had yet to see a water station. After another kilometre running up to the top of the ski hill, we finally found the water that we so badly needed. Hydrated, we carried on to another series of wall climbs, following by intense water and mud pits that were accompanied by the ski hill’s snow making machines blasting you with a heavy mist.

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Muddy, soaking wet, off balance and a bit disoriented, we arrived at the “ball carry” station, which required us to pick up a large, slippery, heavy bowling-type ball and carry it about 20 yards and back without dropping it.

We began our decent down the mountain where we went through yet another obstacle that required you to traverse an area using you upper body strength and bars. We met a few more mud ponds and a great downhill trail run before reaching an obstacle that required us to step in an out of a series of large tires before leaping over 3 sets of large hay bails. Next we had to climb up a large rope net that rested at a 45 degree angle, and then down the other side.

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Down the final hill to the famous fire jump, which was actually pretty fun.

The final obstacle was a steep incline wall with a rope to pull your self up with, completed with a rope to climb straight down the other side.

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Finish line. Medal. Water. Hi fives.

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I’m not going to lie, I had more fun that I thought I would. If you’re thinking about doing one, I would definitely encourage it. Here are a few of my takeaways:

  • Get muddy - right away. Don’t avoid the inevitable. The faster you embrace the dirtiness of this race, the more fun you will have. Also, bring a change of clothes for afterwards.
  • Run with a partner. Katie and I did the race together. It’s good team building, and it’s fun to help your partner out by cheering them on, and boosting them over those wall climbs.
  • Don’t treat it like a race. I know it’s the Spartan “Race”, but unless you are in the elite class, there isn’t much racing. The paths are super narrow, so you don’t have much opportunity to pass people. Every obstacle acts as a bottle neck and you will will wait in line for your turn.
  • Enjoy the experience. You’re out there on a nice summer’s day, on a mountain, with hundreds of other people getting outside their comfort zone. It’s kinda cool.

I’m happy I did it. I can now cross that one off my bucket list. If nothing else, the Spartan race reaffirmed my love of trail running. Now it’s time to refocus on my true passion - half and full marathons. With that said, my training for the Army Run Half Marathon in September and the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October has officially begun. Here we go!

*The images in this post are not my own and are simply to demonstrate examples of what to expect in a Spartan Race.

How I Fell In Love With Trail Running

I love road running. There are few things I love more in this world than getting up with the sun and hitting the road for a morning run. The feeling and sound of pavement beneath my feet is just incredible. Ottawa is an amazing city for “road running” because we are blessed with dozens of kilometres of maintained paved pathways all over the downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods, helping you stay off the actual road and avoid the crowds on city sidewalks.

Earlier this year I was introduced to trail running. Armed with a new pair of Merrell ALLOUT Fuse trail runners, I hit my local trails to see what all the buzz was about. I immediately fell in love.

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Here’s what makes trail running amazing and different.

Be at one with nature
Trail running had allowed me to explore the wilderness in a new way, combining my passion for running with my love for the mountains, woods and nature. To me, it is the perfect way to discover and experience the great outdoors.

Less injuries, better workout
Road running is hard on the body, mostly your knees. Trail running often offers softer surfaces to run on, such as firmly packed dirt. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of ways to hurt yourself on a trail, but the impact on your legs is more forgiving on the trail. Also, the ever changing terrain of a trail makes you work on different muscles, improving your balance and agility which is essential for injury prevention. In fact, some studies show that trail running can help you burn up to 10% more calories than road running. Not bad. If you’re training for a full or half marathon, add trail running into your program as cross-training or for your hill training.

An exhilarating rush
Road running can be predictable. Most people I talk to who don’t like running say that they find it “boring.” Often times, you’re able to get into a flow with your pace and kind of zone out. No zoning out in trail running, that’s for sure. With trail running, you never know what’s next. Mud, puddles, branches, rocks, hills, ditches, grass, dirt. You’re fully engaged in every moment of your run, from pushing up that brutal hill, to jumping over that mud puddle and ducking to avoid a broken branch. It’s really a lot of fun. I recently ran a half marathon trail run in Gatineau Park. The race day excitement combined with the exhilarating rush of a trail run was truly something else. I highly recommend it.

Have I convinced you yet? Okay, here’s how you get started.

  1. Find your trail
    It can be anything - a national park or a mountain, or simply a dirt path in your neighbourhood. Just get yourself out there and enjoy the challenge. When I’m in Ottawa, I find dirt paths throughout the city that give me my fix, or I make my way up to Gatineau Park. If you’re going on vacation, bring your shoes with you. I’ve experienced some incredible trail running onb my vacations, including this phenomenal experience on my latest trip to San Francisco.

  2. Get the right gear
    One thing I have learned over the past few years is that not all running shoes are made equal. I have different shoes for road running, trail running and ever for court volleyball. Get something breathable, flexible and with some solid treads. My suggestion is to check out Merrell - they are the trail blazers (sorry for the pun) in this space. Trail running is what they do. There’s nothing better.

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    Also, get yourself a fuel belt or water bottle. It gets hot in those woods, and water fountains tend not to exist out in nature. If you have a weak ankle like I do, invest in a good brace - the last thing you want to do is roll it out there. Lastly, bring a phone. if you end up getting hurt or lost, you’ll want to be abel to call a friend or access Google Maps.

  3. Take it easy
    Expect your pace to be a lot slower on the trails. The uneven, sometimes forgiving ground, hills and natural obstacles with slow you down. My pace during the trail half marathon was almost 30 seconds/kilometre slower than my full road marathon a few weeks later. Don’t push it too hard and hurt yourself. Forget about your pace and your time. Don’t get discouraged. Trail running is really hard. Just get out there and enjoy the challenge.

  4. Take it all in
    Feel free to stop during your run to take in the views, or to observe wildlife. You’re not out there to break any records, you’re out there to experience nature. So experience it. Take a breath, have a drink, and take it all in. You’ll be happy you did.

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  5. Bring your dog
    I love running with my dog, but he’s not so great on leash, meaning that when I run in the city I often have to leave him at home. But once we’re out on the trails, I can let him loose and we have a blast. It doesn’t matter if he gets a bit ahead of me, or falls back a bit. He knows when to wait for me, or to catch up if he needs to. I swear he enjoys those runs more than I do.

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  6. Get Dirty
    You’re out in the woods, don’t be afraid to get a little mud on you. My Merrell ALLOUT Fuse’s used to be bright blue, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at them now. There’s just something about being covered in dirt and mud after a good, long, tough run that makes you feel that much more accomplished.

What are you waiting for? Get yourself some gear, find a trail, and get out there. You’ll be happy you did. 

Running the Toronto Waterfront Marathon

After running the Ottawa Marathon last weekend, I said that I was going to take a little break from marathons. Well, it turns out that was half true. In reality, I’m taking one month off and then getting right back into the mix, training for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in October.

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This is my chance to make up those 8 seconds. Heck, to break 3 hours. I know I can run this race fast and qualify for Boston. The last 5 months taught me so much about marathons. Most importantly, they are brutally tough - no matter how much you train. They beat you down, both physically and mentally. But it’s how you deal with that beating that makes a difference.

Those 8 seconds in Ottawa didn’t bother me, they really didn’t. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again. I left everything out on that course. I am extremely proud and satisfied with that run. On that day, 3:05:07 was my absolute best. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want Boston anymore, because I do.

Instead of waiting 12 long months to give it another shot, I’ve decided to run another qualifying race this fall - the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. My aerobic levels will still be pretty high, I’ll have a month to recover before training starts up again, and training in the summer will be a nice change from the cold, dark January mornings. Unfortunately, since this race is late in the season, it would act as a qualifier for Boston 2016, not 2015. But hey, Boston is Boston.

For now my focus shifts to resting and letting my body recover. At the end of June, I’ll get back into it and start building on that success I had in Ottawa and on the strength and endurance I’ve gained over the past few months. I know what I need to do to crush it in Toronto. I know what areas need improvements and where to make adjustments. Every race you run leaves you with little nuggets of race wisdom that you take to make the next one that much better.

Okay Toronto, let’s do this. It’s on.

Running a Personal Best Marathon in 3:05:07

Well, it’s done. I did it.

I finished the Ottawa Marathon on Sunday with a time of 3:05:07, a personal best and over 28 minutes faster than last time.

It was a good, tough run. I pushed my body and mind to the absolute limit, giving everything I had. I ended up placing 248th out of 7055 runners overall, and 35th out of 331 racers in my age category.

That was truly the hardest thing I have ever done.

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While I narrowly missed my time goal of sub 3:05 by only 8 seconds, a time I needed to be eligible to qualify for the Boston Marathon in 2015, I’m very happy and proud of my run. I know I left it all out there on the course, and that’s what matters most to me.

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Don’t get me wrong, I wanted Boston. Really badly. And I missed my chance by only 8 seconds. But those 8 seconds don’t really matter. What matters is the other stuff. The important stuff. Making new friendships, and becoming closer with those around me. Learning about myself, both physically and mentally, and pushing myself every day for the last 5 months. Raising almost $2,600 for cancer research. Working with some really awesome people from Merrell, the Ottawa Marathon, and of course Rob Watson, who was my mentor and virtual coach.

At the end of the day, I’m feeling an enormous sense of accomplishment. 3:05:07. Yeah, I think I can live with that.

Some Thanks

Thanks again to everyone for all of your support through my training and during my run. I’m so fortunate to have so many people behind me. There are too many people to name, but here are some folks that really made a big difference.

Katie - My rock, best friend, and biggest fan. From encouraging my to get out there on early winter mornings to prepping my ice baths to keeping a flexible schedule to allow for all of my running, Katie has supported me through it all. You always believe in me and encourage me to push harder to reach my potential. You’re the best.

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Chelsea & Brad - These guys were the ones who encouraged me to go after Boston, and have been the most supportive friends over the last 6 months. From helping me build my training program, to doing hill and speed training with me, to meeting me at 6 AM on race day for motivation, these guys exemplify what friendship really is.

Family - Both the Fabers and the Flemings have been incredible supporters of me since day one. Not to mention the extended families on both sides that always asked how my training was going, cheered me on and supported my fundraising efforts. Thank you all.

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Rob Watson - Rob provided me with so much more than tips and tricks the last few months. He was my mentor and my coach. He motivated and encouraged me to take my running to the next level. The best part is that he is just an awesome human being. Just a regular down-to-earth dude who just happens to be an insanely great runner. Thanks for always making time for me Rob, and being a genuinely great guy.

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Ottawa Marathon - Not only did they put on another world-class event in our beautiful city, but the folks at the Ottawa Marathon were gracious enough to include me in their “Le Team Du Rob” program, which lead to work with Rob Watson. Thank you.

Merrell - The great folks at Merrell have been amazing supporters of me and my training, supplying me with some incredible equipment and gear along the way. Not only are they really awesome people, but their gear is top notch as well. Check them out.

Friends - So much love from so many people. From people who are amongst my best friends, to people that I haven’t seen in years, to people who I don’t even know, the support was amazing. My Twitter, Email, Instagram and Facebook feeds were jammed with messages of encouragement and congratulations. Just amazing guys, thanks.

What’s Next?

A few people asked me this yesterday. I haven’t thought to much about it to be honest. I’m going to take a little break from marathons, that’s for sure. I want to focus on staying active and spending more time with Katie, like playing volleyball, hiking and cycling. I have a Spartan race coming up in June and am planning on running the Ottawa Army Half Marathon and the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon in the fall

Thanks for reading, it’s been fun! I’ll continue to write about running and training on the blog, so be sure to come back!

The Final Stretch

Less than a week to go until the big day. I’m trying to keep myself calm, but my excitement level is through the roof right now. Tapering has been going well, but it’s tough to not go out there and run as hard as I can every day.

With a long weekend on the horizon, I planned out my training and tapering schedule. I ran my final speed training run with Chelsea. It was the toughest one yet - five 1.6 km intervals at 3:40/km pace. It was also a very humid morning, which made things even tougher. Sore from my speed training, I found my way to a much needed yoga session on Friday night which helped stretch me out and give my body a much needed refresh.

For the weekend, I had three runs planned. The first was a 16 km race pace run on Saturday, designed to give my body and legs one final look at running a long-ish distance at a consistent, strong pace. My target pace for race day is about a 4:20, but on Saturday I was feeling pretty good. I finished in a tidy 1:06:49, with a 4:10 pace.

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Sunday, my planned run was a short one meant to keep my legs loose. I took the dog out to Uplands, a great piece of land just outside the city where he can run around through the fields and woods. We did a great 5km trail run together first thing in the morning. He then slept the rest of the weekend.

My third and final run was a 12km race pace on Monday. Another excellent run to cap off yet another beautiful weekend in Ottawa. Finished my 12km in about 50 minutes, keeping consistent with my 4:10 pace.

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Other than running, I dedicated most of my weekend to grocery shopping and prepping food, ensuring that I had all the right stuff in the house to fuel me the right way in the week leading up to the race.

This is it, the final stretch. As my 4 months of training comes to a close, I focus on preparing myself physically and mentally for Sunday. This is going to be fun.

Let the Tapering Begin

12 days. That’s all I have left until the Ottawa Marathon. I cannot believe how fast it has come. It seems like just yesterday I was strapping on my shoes for my first sub-zero training run of the season.

As I began week 18 of my training last Monday, it was time to start tapering while I finish up my speed workouts. Think of marathon training like building a house. During the last 18 weeks I have worked on building the foundation with my long runs, and putting up the frame with my hill training. Endurance and strength. In the final few weeks, you focus on your speed training, getting your body used to managing pace and exploding when you need to, but holding back at times too. This is the roof. Finally, before you move into the house, you need to clean everything up, sweep the floors, wash the windows, and make sure it is liveable. This is where tapering comes in.

Tapering: When, How and Why?

Tapering is one of the most important yet often overlooked aspects of marathon training. During the last 2-3 weeks of your training, it is suggested that you taper, meaning that you run less and rest more. Most marathoners find this very difficult, because they are competitive people, motivated to run harder, faster and longer. Starting to cut back and ease off a few weeks before the race seems wrong. Many runners get anxious and stir-crazy. But it is important to follow your plan and taper appropriately.

Two good weeks of tapering will do a few things. First, it will allow your body to rest for race day. Your muscles, joints, lungs and brain will be fresh and ready to go. If you’ve trained properly over the last few months, you will already have done the majority of the running to get you to where you need to be. You won’t lose any fitness during these weeks, so don’t worry. Relax, and enjoy a bit of rest before you give your everything on race day. With your long, hard strenuous workouts behind you, you can focus on stuff like planning our your race day strategy, preparing yourself mentally, doing some runs at your race pace, and beginning to think about what you will eat the week and days leading up to the race.

Last year, I only ran 275km of training before race day. So far this year, I’ve ran over 750km. I learned from my training mistakes in 2013, and adjusted to ensure I am better prepared. Since I was injured all of April last year, when I got back on the road in May, I made a desperate attempt to ramp back up my distances, which had me running my first and only 30km run the weekend before the marathon. 7 days. That is crazy. Not only had I not prepared properly with long runs, I didn’t taper - at all. I had run my hardest, longest, most strenuous run a week before the race. It’s no surprise I struggled on race day, hitting the wall at kilometre 34.

This year I ran six 30 or more km runs, and began my taper three weeks out. That’s the difference. Plan, train, prepare, and be patient.

Week 18

With speed and tapering on my mind, here were my workouts from week 18.

On Monday, I ran yet another 10km personal best, finally cracking 40 minutes, something I’ve had my mind set on all season. 10km, 39:37. I was really pumped.

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Thursday was another instalment of speed interval training. This week I had to do four 1.6km intervals at a target pace of 3:47/km, but Chelsea challenged me to run every interval in under 3:40/km. It was tough, but I did it. My interval paces were 3:38, 3:36, 3:35 and 3:38. 11km total. Exhausted, but feeling good.

After a light run with the dog on Friday morning, and a 6km jog with Katie on Saturday, Sunday was my final “long-run” of my training. I use quotes because technically, 23km is a long run. That’s far. But to me, at this point, it doesn’t seem that way. I’ve done twelve 20+km runs since February, half of which were over 30km. The physical and mental improvements that you see over a few short months when training for a marathon is amazing.

Sunday was gorgeous. We had our first true summer weekend. With nice weather and the Tulip Festival kicking off in Ottawa, the city was packed with tourists, families and a ton of runners. I went down the Canal to Dow’s Lake, through the Arboretum to Mooney’s Bay (where I did a couple of hill repeats jut for fun), and then back up the East side of the Rideau River towards home. A beautiful, scenic 23km run.

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So now, I continue to taper. It’s weird, but I know it’s the right thing to do.

12 days. I still can’t believe it.

The final stretch. Bring it on.

The Wakefield Half Marathon Trail Run

Week 17

After spending a week in San Francisco, I was back in Ottawa for week 17 of my training. With my first race of the season coming up on Saturday, I went out Monday after work to run a half marathon test run, just to prove to myself where I was at. I felt a bit guilty that I had slacked a little bit in San Francisco, so I had something to prove to myself. The result: a personal best half marathon, 1:31:22, over 3 minutes faster than my previous best. Confidence restored.

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Speed Training

As I enter my last few weeks of training, I start to do speed interval training. This is different from my tempo and fartlek runs. These runs consist of a 2-3 km warm up followed by three 1.6km bursts of speed, with rests in between.

Chelsea, fresh off running the Boston Marathon, joined me on Thursday morning in the pouring rain to coach and push me on her bike. My target speed pace for these 1.6km bursts was 3:45. That’s fast.

1.6km isn’t all that far - but when you’re running it that fast, it can seem like 5km. As we started the first speed interval, I asked Chels to tell me stories of Boston. This both preoccupied my mind as I ran hard, but also acted as inspiration. Her stories were incredible and pushed me to run harder towards my ultimate goal of qualifying for Boston. My pace for the three speed splits today would be 3:42, 3:42 and 3:37. Feeling strong. And soaking wet.

The Wakefield Half Marathon Trail Run

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Saturday was the big one - my first race of the season. Wakefield, a small quaint town about 40 minutes north of Ottawa in Quebec, is nestled on the edge of the Gatineau River, right alongside Gatineau Park. It also happens to be Chelsea’s hometown. In its 4th year, the “Wakefield Covered Bridge Run” has grown significantly, and now includes 5 events - 3km, 5km, 10km, 21.1 km half marathon trail run and a duathalon. Funds raised by the race go towards the Wakefield Recreation Association, and primarily served to helping preserve the picturesque and historical Wakefield Covered Bridge.

While the 3k, 5k and 10k racers run across the bridge, the half marathon runners take a slightly different course: straight uphill. That’s right. The race starts at the base of Vorlage Ski Hill, with the first 1/2 km going straight up the hill, a section appropriately dubbed “The Quad Buster”. With on and off rain all week, the course was pretty wet and muddy. As the group of 68 of us shuffled out of the start gate, we hit the quad buster hard. Rocks, loose mud, an burning quads.

As we finished the first hill, I noticed that I was near the front of the pack, with two guys right ahead of me. After the quad buster, we cut across the long grassy field and towards the Wakefield Mill and into Gatineau Park on trail 53. From there, the course consisted of loose, sloppy mud coated trails, grassy farmers fields, and rocky hills in the forrest.

Unlike most road runs where you can kind of zone out and focus on things like your timing and pace, a trail run forces you to be completely engaged. You’re constantly figuring out where your next step will be - side step around that rock, avoid this branch, leap over that puddle. It was treacherous. It wasn’t long before my feet and legs were completed soaked and covered in mud. Some sections of the course had makeshift wooden planks to help runners get through overly wet and muddy sections. On top of all of that, the hills were brutal. One after the next. Some long and never-ending, others steep and seemingly straight up hill. It was killer.

The soft ground made it difficult to keep your footing, and I found myself slipping and sliding around quite a bit. I used my new Merrell ALLOUT Fuse’s for the run, a shoe that was designed exactly for a course like this, and they were great. Merrell knows their trail running, that’s for sure.

From the top of the quad buster 1km in, there was a guy right on my heels pretty much the entire race. I never really saw him, but I could hear his footsteps and I knew he was right there. We chatted and joked occasionally about the conditions of the course as we were sinking into mud holes and ducking under branches. His presence kept me loose, but also drove me to run harder. I didn’t want him to pass me - I wouldn’t let it happen. I couple of times he came into my peripheral vision, but I always pushed ahead. I found him after the race, gave him a high five and thanked him for pushing me.

Around km 17, the course opened up a bit, allowing me to take off. From then on out I never heard his footsteps again. The final two kilometres were brutal. Kilometre 19 challenged us with one final, extremely steep hill up towards the cemetery and into the woods. This hill would have been difficult to hike on any given day, let alone the wet conditions and the fact that I’d already run nearly 20km.

As I came out of the woods, the course brought you onto a road where volunteers guided me towards the finish, yelling “the last stretch!” as I passed. I came around a corner onto the final 1/2 km straightaway where I saw two spectators in the distance. Before long I realized it was Katie and Chelsea, and I gave them a fist pump. They cheered me on and high fived me as I passed, really helping me push to the finish line.

Here’s a shot that Katie snapped of me approaching the finish line from a distance.

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1 hour, 36 minutes, and 20 seconds. 4th place overall, 2nd in my category (Men 20-29). 

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Not my fastest run, but definitely one of the toughest, most rewarding races I have ever been a part of. I was exhausted and muddy, but extremely proud with the result.

Since I was scheduled to run 30km this weekend as part of my training, Chelsea and I ran a 9km after the race. With an enormous hunger, and some jelly legs, Katie and I headed home, ate burritos, and had an epic nap.

The marathon is only 3 weeks away. As I continue to work on my speed during this time, my distances begin to taper. We’re in the final stretch here folks. Let’s finish strong.

If You’re Going to San Francisco, Bring Your Running Shoes

I may never come home.

I have fallen completely in love with the city of San Francisco. It’s got everything. Ocean and mountains, check. Dog and runner friendly, check. Amazing food and beer, check. Everyone here is so active. Since I’ve been here, I’ve walked everywhere, gone cycling, played golf twice, hiked along the Pacific, and run, of course.

Even though I was on vacation, I made plans to continue my marathon training while in this amazing city. Here’s how it went:

Trail Running

Day one we got up nice and early and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Sausalito to Muir Woods for a hike. It was breathtaking.

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I couldn’t help myself from turning the hike into a trail run. Lush green hills hanging above the Pacific Ocean. What an experience.

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Being My Own Tour Guide

With plans to head up to Napa Valley on Sunday afternoon, I got up early to get in a long run and tour the city. Our apartment was pretty central in the city. I started by running north, straight up Russian Hill, one of the many steep and intense hills in the city. As I got over the hill, I caught a spectacular view of Alcatraz out in the Bay.

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Once I got down to the water, I headed west along the bay passing through Fort Mason, Chrissy Field and towards the Presidio, a large park at the norther tip of the city and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The whole run offers amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Another intense hill brought me up through some gorgeous protected land and to the start of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The run across the bridge was just shy of 3km, but offered some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean off one side, and a stunning look at the San Francisco city skyline, Sausalito, and Alcatraz over the Bay on the other side.

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Once I crossed, I took a moment to let it all set it. I was there, running in one of the most beautiful cities in North America.

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I went back across the bridge and continued back along the San Francisco Bay Trail towards the city. Instead of cutting back into the city where I came out, I continued along the water through the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf which brought me to the Embarcadero, a waterfront roadway that hugs the eastern edge of the city along all of the major piers. I cut west back into the city, just before reaching the Bay Bridge, which brings you over to Oakland. The final few kms of my run through downtown was tough, going straight up Nob Hill.

All in all my run was about 28kms. What an experience.

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Hill Training

San Francisco is an extremely hilly city. You really can’t go a few blocks without having to go up or down a significant hill. Since we’ve been walking pretty much everywhere this week, we’ve gotten in our fair share of hills.

After a few days of golf and cycling, I got back into my running on Friday morning with a true running hill workout. My plan was to go up and down 3 of the 7 major hills in the city; Nob Hill, Russian Hill and Telegraph Hill. Up and down, over and over. Some hills were 3 or 4 blocks long, and much steeper than what I was used to. Some hills were so steep that instead of sidewalks, they have stairs. I even got to run up (and down) the famous section of Lombard Street.

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I ended up running about 11 km in total - definitely one of the toughest hill runs I’ve done so far.

Well, that’s it. Back to Ottawa. San Fran, it’s been a slice. I’ll be back soon, I promise.