half marathon

Race Report: Milton Half Marathon

Milton Half Marathon 2013 finish

copright Kevin Vagg 2013

This was a good one! Not because I PB’ed – in fact, I was about 4 minutes off my PB, set at the Sarasota Half Marathon earlier this year. I did place first in my age group (male, 65-69) – but it turns out I was the only one in that category. No, this one was good because:

1/ I’m at a new place re my diet, weight, and nutrition;
2/ I made a new discovery about my running technique;
3/ I shared good times with running friends before, during, and after the race.

Let me unpack that for you…

Diet/Weight/Nutrition

I started on a ketogenic diet at the end of June. In a nutshell, that means no grains and no sugars at all. It’s about eating a diet that’s high fat (a lot of whole-fat dairy), adequate protein (grass-fed and pasture-raised meats) and low carbs (lots of vegetables, very few fruits). In late June, I weighed 147 lbs (66.7 kgs) and was carrying about 14.5% body fat. On race morning, I weighed in at 135 lbs (61.2 kgs) and was at 8% body fat. Eating keto has resulted in having more energy and better mental focus and enjoying stronger runs. I now run fasted, don’t take any fueling supplements, and eat better than I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Running Technique

At about the 16K mark, I found that my hips opened up dramatically. I felt as if I were striding and floating, all at the same time. I think it happened because I’d briefly increased hip flexion and extension. It wasn’t about increasing my stride length, but about letting my knees swing more easily and fluidly. Only lasted a while, unfortunately, so I’ll have to experiment more with this. This adjustment came as a result of reading Brian Martin’s excellent ebook Running Technique. I’m learning a lot from this book, and recommend it highly!

Running Friends

Met some good dailymile friends at the start, got cheered by a few more – at both the 2K and 16K marks – and got together again at the finish. That was simply icing on the cake of a very good morning. Can’t say better than that!

The Race! The Race!

A fairly low-key start. About 240 runners set off. No gun, no airhorn, just the announcer’s voice counting down to zero. A short straight, a turn, a longer straight, another couple of turns, and the we head of on a long southerly straight. I’ve decided to shadow/stalk the 1:55 pacer for a while. If I stay with him for the whole race, it’ll be a new PB, but I’m not married to doing that. My original plan for this race, after all, was to run this one for a 2 hour finish, since it’s really just a training race for next moth’s Vulture Bait 50K.

The Milton course is basically a big rectangle around the town, with a couple of little loops thrown in to make up the distance.

Milton Half Marathon course map

So it’s south and then west and then north again. Along the way, there are a couple of nasty bits of sidewalk and road construction, which means I have to dance a bit or move either to the road or the sidewalk, depending on where the lumpy stuff is. That slows me down a bit. More importantly, it breaks the rhythm of my running. Part of what I like about this course is the long straight stretches, where I can fall into a groove and stay there. I’m following my planned fueling strategy, which is to only take a sip of water at every second or third aid station and a couple of organic raw cocoa beans every 6K or so. I soon discover that it helps a lot to take the cocoa beans just before an aid station, as they’re a little dry. Good to chew on, though, and a nice taste.

As time goes on, by the 12K mark or so, I let the 1:55 pacer and the couple of guys who are with him pull away slowly. I’m doing OK, and I’m not really keen on pushing my pace. I run with another fellow for a while, then in front of or behind a couple of women. Then, from about 14K on, I’m running on my own, and liking the feeling.

At about 15K, I discover the hip flexion/extension thing, and get kind of lost in it. It just feels so good that I can’t quite believe it’s happening. Then, I have to pay attention because I have to cross a major intersection, and I get distracted. Can’t get back to the new discovery, so I let it go, knowing that I’ll get back to it another time.

At the 16.5K mark, some good dailymile friends waiting, cheering, taking photos…

Milton Half Marathon 2013 16.5K

(thanks to Amy D.)

Another couple of turns after that, a slight and short uphill, another corner, and the home stretch. I pick up the pace just a wee bit, adjust my form, and do my best to look respectable as I cross the finish line. And get the photo you see at the top of the post.

Post-race had its own goodness. I met with the friends I’d chatted with pre-race, checked out the notice board to get my official time and placing, and wandered over to the car to get ready for the trip home. On the way, I had the pleasure of congratulating local legend Ed Whitlock on setting yet another age-group world record (1:38:11 for males 80 years and older). Then I sat in my car, savoured all the good feelings, and had my post-race snack – two coconut flour/cocoa powder cupcakes, two low-carb high-fat egg cups (eggs, whole fat cream, spinach, mushrooms, and onions), and a couple of dried beef jerky strips.

Next Steps

In contrast to the photo at the top of this post (which I like very much) I give you the following video of me crossing the finishing line. (My thanks to dailymile friend Shawna G. for providing it.) In it, I’m not graceful looking at all. I’ll grant you, this is nominally good barefoot form – short strides, high cadence, upright body. I just wish I could look less prissy and delicate. I think that improving my hip flexion and extension will resolve that.

Next up (on Saturday, September 21) is the Tom Marchese Trail Run 6.6K. It’ll be my first barefoot trail race. As a much younger person would say, I’m stoked!

Two Weeks, Two Races

I usually space my races out over the season, so they all fit into an overall training pattern. On the theory that change is good, though, I’m going to do, over the next two weeks, two races. They’re as different as night and day – except, of course, that I’ll be doing both of them barefoot.

Milton Half Marathon

The first is the Milton Half Marathon, which I’ll do on Sunday (only three days away). I did the inaugural Milton Half last year, and liked it so much that I’m going back. It’s a classic (flat, fast, and scenic), it’s local (or as good as; it’s only 30K from my home), and it’s friendly (about 180 runners last year, and what looks to be about 240 this year). I got a PB (1:55:55) at Milton last year, and may pull off another one on Sunday. No promises, though, right?

V

Then, on Saturday, September 21, I’ll run my first barefoot trail race, the Tom Marchese Trail Run 6.6K. It benefits a local food bank, and is simplicity itself – a combination of hard packed dirt, some root sections, a couple stretches of grass, and a few wooden footbridges at the Cold Creek Conservation Area, about 50K from here. This one may turn out to be a small jewel – no t-shirt, no medal, and probably a small number of entrants. It sounds ideal as my first barefoot trailer, and I’m really looking forward it.

Stay tuned for race reports and photos!

Race Report: Mississauga Half Marathon 2013

Barefoot, Kilted, and Shirtless for the Mississauga Half!

Not a great finishing time (1:57.46.2), but not a bad one either. I went out too quickly at the start (when will I learn?), and pushed the hill at the 10K mark a little too hard. Not surprisingly, I paid for both of those mistakes later, with my pace dropping significantly post-18K. Still, it was a good race and I was reasonably happy with my finish.

A big highlight was a dailymile meetup before the start. I chatted with another good friend while waiting in the start line, ran with another for a short distance in the first few kilometers, and chatted with two more at the finish. That made the race much more of a social event than my races usually are. For an Aspie like me, this sort of stuff is a big deal.

And the weather was pretty much race-perfect: 10C at race start and 19C at the finish, sunny, with a 10 km/h wind, and 42% humidity.

The Meetup

dailymile meetup

The dailymile crew

Dailymile meetups are fun. Interesting, too, as they involve re-connecting with folks I already know, meeting face-to-face with people I’d only connected with online, and meeting new friends. This one was a large group, involving runners who were doing the half and full marathon distances.

The Numbers

My official stats for the half were as follows:

Chip time: 1:57.46.2
Average pace: 5:30
Overall placing: 816/2363
Category placing (male 60-69): 14/48
Gender placing: 525/1058

Interestingly, those numbers suggest that I may finally have broken out of my “mid-pack runner status” in terms of overall and category placing (though not in gender placing). That makes me feel much better about my slow finishing time.

Some Analysis

More numbers. The following kilometer-by-kilometer breakdown, generated by my Garmin Forerunner 210 and filtered through the SportTracks application, tell the story far better than any photo could. Look down the list, and then read on while I unpack the numbers a bit.

Kilometer 1: 5:24 min/km
Kilometer 2: 5:16 min/km
Kilometer 3: 5:18 min/km
Kilometer 4: 5:15 min/km
Kilometer 5: 5:19 min/km
Kilometer 6: 5:26 min/km
Kilometer 7: 5:26 min/km
Kilometer 8: 5:16 min/km
Kilometer 9: 5:18 min/km
Kilometer 10: 5:21 min/km
Kilometer 11: 5:46 min/km
Kilometer 12: 5:33 min/km
Kilometer 13: 5:35 min/km
Kilometer 14: 5:30 min/km
Kilometer 15: 5:35 min/km
Kilometer 16: 5:28 min/km
Kilometer 17: 5:29 min/km
Kilometer 18: 5:34 min/km
Kilometer 19: 5:36 min/km
Kilometer 20: 5:43 min/km
Kilometer 21: 5:31 min/km

My target finish time for this half was 1:53. I’d planned carefully for that. In theory, it was all very simple. I could pull off that finishing time (and therefore a new PB) if I kept an average pace of 5:21 min/km. Simple, right?

Concept was good, execution was rubbish.

Studies of runners at half and full marathon distances suggest that a pace only 2 seconds quicker than the runner’s targeted training pace means diminished performance later in the race. As you can see from the above numbers, I blew things completely. For kilometers 2 through 5, I was doing as much as 6 seconds faster than my target pace. And I did it again for kilometers 8 and 9. In fact, the only kilometer for which I held my target pace was kilometer 10. I slowed down a lot going up the hill at kilometer 11, and then dragged myself along for the second half of the race distance.

That was just lame. There’s no other word for it.

The Finish

Mississauga Half 2013 Strong old animal (more…)

Mississauga Half Stats

Official stats for this morning’s Missisauga Half Marathon

Chip time: 1:57.46.2
Average pace: 5:30
Overall placing: 816/2363
Category placing (male 60-69): 14/48
Gender placing: 525/1058

Interestingly, I broke out of my “mid-pack runner status” with this one in terms of overall and category placing (though not in gender placing). That makes me feel better about my slow finishing time.

The other good news is that I’ll turn 65 next month. That means that, in many races (but not this one), I’ll move to another age category (65 to 69). I’ll be at the younger edge of that one. Woo hoo!

Full race report to follow soon.

Mississauga Half: Strategy

Mississauga Marathon logo

The Mississauga Half Marathon is only 11 days away. That means it’s time to put down in writing what I’ve thinking about for weeks – how to run the race.

If possible, I’d like to better my current PB for the half which is 1:54:58 (set at the Sarasota Half in mid-March). If I were to aim at a finishing time of 1:53, that would mean an average pace of 5:21 min/km. My pace at Sarasota was 5:27, which means upping the pace for Mississauga considerably. Training’s gone well, though, the Mississauga course is a (slight) net downhill and, more importantly, doesn’t have the nasty stretch of rough asphalt that Sarasota did. So far, so good. I’ll put 1:53 down as a Target.

Next comes a Desirable. That would mean a finishing time of 1:54, which would still give me a PB, just not by as respectable a margin. A 1:54 finish would require an average pace of 5:24, which, given my training, is doable. I’d be quite happy with that.

Any runner worthy of the name knows, though, that races always bring surprises. Given that, I’ll put in an Acceptable here, which would would be anything under a 2:00 hour finish. To pull that off, I’d simply need to run at a 5:41 pace. These days, that’s pretty much cruising speed for me, even over a couple of hours.

So I’ve got all these positives: my home course, net downhill, good training, and a promising weather forecast (low of 10C, high of 17C, and a 40% chance of light showers). As if that weren’t enough, I’m going to a meetup just prior to the race start with some of my dailymile buddies. And I’m going to be barefoot, kilted, and wearing blue and yellow for Boston.

All those ducks, all in a row. Let’s hope it goes as planned.

Race Report: Sarasota Half Marathon 2013

Working hard at the 7K mark

This was a good one. My finishing time of 1:54:58 was a new personal best (by about a minute), and I ran the course four minutes faster than I did last year. That finishing time put me 13th out of 46 runners in my age group (male, 60-64). If I’d been one age group up (65-69), my time would have made me 8th out of 31. I turn 65 in June. So there’s hope for me yet.

The race started, as it did last year, at 7 AM, about half an hour before dawn. That meant starting in darkness, which always feels a little odd to me. Not bad, not good, just odd. The great thing about it was that the sun came up as I was heading back across the John Ringling Bridge, at about the 6.5K mark. That was quite a sight. About half a kilometer later, I saw, hovering over the big pack of runners on the bridge, an octocopter with a camera mounted on it, exactly like this one.

Octocopter

Someone was having some serious – and very expensive – fun!

After the bridge, the route turned north, along Tamiami Way (Route 41), a nice stretch of barefoot-friendly road where I settled down to my target pace. North along that flat, straight stretch, then left towards the Ringling Museum of Art, then left again and into the Neighbourhood of Rough Asphalt. OK, that’s not entirely fair – it’s actually an upscale community, called Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores, of lovely 1940s and 1950s Gulf Coast-style homes.

Sapphire Shores

It’s very pretty (I wouldn’t mind living there), but the road surface isn’t comfortable on bare feet, especially ones that are trying to go quickly. The problem, you see, is that, back in the day, pavement here was made with crushed coral as part of the asphalt mix. It was probably inexpensive, and it seems to have lasted well, but it’s hell on the soles of the feet. It slowed me down, just as it did last year (but not quite as much, because I was expecting it this time).

After about 5K of that challenging nonsense, the route got back onto Tamiami Trail, and we were on our way to the finish. More spectators and more comments (“Omigod, he doesn’t have any shoes!”, “Badass!”, “Awesome, dude!”, “Yay Canada!” and the like). I tweaked my pace just a little bit in order to finish well and in style.

After crossing the finish line and accepting the humungous medal, I happily consumed a cup of yogurt, granola, and fruit, drank a bottle of water, and waited for my amigos Chris G. and Marcus C. to pull in. Here we are, in front of the beer truck after the race finish. They’re still wearing their medals. I’m wearing pink stains from chafed nipples.

Three amigos

Did I mention the nipple chafing? No? Well, I made a bad rookie mistake, and forgot to BodyGlide the nips. Didn’t notice it at all while running, but someone pointed out the telltale pink stains after the finish. Argh.

I also finished with a blister on each heel, and my feet were pretty tingly. Otherwise, I was in good nick. The weather was near perfect for this traveler from the frozen north: 10C at race start, 21C at the finish, sunny, 17 km/h wind, 56% humidity.

What worked well for this one? Well, my heart rate-based training program paid off big time. Because of it, I was able to manage my pace well, even through the gnarly bits. I adapted to the Florida heat quickly and well. My fueling protocol was spot on. (Whey protein isolate drink 2 hours before race start; two electrolyte tabs 1 hour before; 1 Hammer gel 5 minutes before; Hammer HEED throughout race; 1 Hammer gel at halfway mark; Hammer Recoverite immediately after the finish.) And my running kilt was absolutely the right choice. It was far more comfortable than any shorts I’ve ever worn, and will be my drug of choice for all future races.

I think I’m finally becoming a runner! Or, more correctly, I’m discovering a joy in racing that I hadn’t thought possible. And, if I keep to a similar pace and finishing time next year, I may even be able to break out of my long-standing “I’m just a mid-pack runner” habit. Turning 65 and moving up an age category might just do the trick. Older and quicker would be perfectly alright with me.

By the way, this is the only race I’ve ever run where I was paced by pelicans. This pic was taken by one of the official race photographers at about the 16K point of the race, right in the midst of the “Bad asphalt, go to your room!” section of the route. We don’t get pelicans back home in southern Ontario, so I was delighted to see them.

Pelicans along the race route

I want to do Sarasota again next year. Bad asphalt and all, it’s still a good course, and a great race. Maybe I’ll be even quicker. Old dog, new tricks, that sort of thing. :)

A Good One!

Sarasota Half 2013 medal

On Sunday, I ran my second Sarasota Half Marathon. It was a good one!

My finishing time was 1:54:58 (5:26 average pace for the distance), which means I set a new PB, and ran the course 4 minutes faster than I did last year. I placed 13th out of 46 in my age group (male 60-64). I’m very pleased with that result.

I’ll post a full race report as soon as I get some photos pulled together. Stay tuned!

Palm Trees, Sunshine, and Bare Feet

Sarasota

Exactly 14 days from today, I’ll fly from my home near Toronto, Ontario to Sarasota, Florida. Two days after that, I’ll run the Sarasota Half Marathon. It’ll be palm trees, sunshine, and bare feet for me. And not too soon, either. It’s been a rough winter.

It’ll be a shorter visit this year than last, when I ran Sarasota for the first time. Just the common story of too many responsibilities and too little time, I’m afraid. I’ll fly down on Friday, enjoy the warmth, the company of friends, and (hopefully) the beach on Saturday, race on Sunday morning, then fly home again late Sunday afternoon. I won’t exactly spend more time flying to and from Sarasota than being there – but I expect it’s going to feel that way.

Seems a bit of a rush, you might be saying. Why all the bother, you ask. Well, I’m going to tell you.

There are the obvious reasons, of course. First of all, on March 17, when the race happens, it’ll be cold here and warm there. Second, I’ll get to run with my friends Chris G. and Marcus C. Third, it’s a nice event at my favourite race distance. On the other hand, I’ll have to endure the minor discomforts of flying, something I’m not keen on. I’m not particularly keen on hotels, either. And I’ll be away from home, which is never a preference.

So why do it at all?

You know, sometimes I wonder that myself. And wondering about it brought the realization that there’s one reason why I’ll make the effort. Let’s call it the “Long Journey” concept. If I wanted to be fancier, I’d throw out words like microcycle, mesocycle, and macrocycle – in other words, periodization. Good words all, because, deconstructed, they tell the tale, and tell it very well indeed.

Cycles

The microcycle in the above graphic corresponds to my winter training. I started that on November 26, and will finish the day before the race, with a short, easy shakedown run. The mesocycle is made up of my spring races (Sarasota, Harry’s Spring Run Off 8K, and the Mississauga Half). The macrocycle is my whole 2013 training and race calendar. After the Mississauga Half (May 6), I’ll do some unstructured running until August 5, when I’ll begin training for my fall races (the Milton Half and the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon). The transitions between the parts of the long cycle are short periods when I rest a bit (sometimes only a day or so) and change gears. They’re sometimes smooth and sometimes tricky. Usually, I just have to let them happen.

So, you see, I’m going to Sarasota for the rhythm! To finish the short cycle, start the mid-cycle, and move into the long cycle. I’ll move through time and space and meaning. I’ll simply be continuing my barefoot journey. It’s all good.

Ah yes, and we mustn’t forget the palm trees. I’m partly going for the palm trees. Technically, they’re known as Arecaceae, a botanical family of perennial lianas and trees. They’re flowering plants, the only family in the monocot order Arecales. Roughly 202 genera with around 2600 species are currently known, most of them restricted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) They’re one of my favourite things in the whole world. I think, when I get to Sarasota, I’m going to hug a palm tree.

Palm trees

Update: Heart Rate-Based Training

Heart rate

Yesterday’s 90 minute barefoot treadmill run marked the end of week 12 of my 16 week training program for the Sarasota Half Marathon, which takes place on March 17.. The training’s gone well, so I’d like to offer an update. First, though, a little backstory of why I’m following a heart rate-based program.

The logic, as outlined in Benson and Connolly’s book Heart Rate Training, which I’ve mentioned previously, is, once you think about it, blindingly simple. HR training is the most user-specific training available to the ordinary (and elite, for that matter) athlete. It relies on your cardio-vascular system, which means that it reflects your overall state of stress 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. More to the point for training purposes, it offers immediate and consistent feedback about your stress level, intensity level, and your rate of adaptation to the training process. That means that, rather than relying on a pre-determined set of data for my training, it’s all been done on the basis on ongoing, daily, and very personal data. It’s all about me, and nobody else.

Before I started the program, I did a treadmill-based test to determine my maximum heart rate, which turned out to be 163 bpm. Every morning of the program I’ve determined my resting heart rate, which is between 43 and 46 bpm, depending on the day. (To do the latter, I use a nifty little program on my Android smartphone called Instant Heart Rate.) I track all of my workout, and the associated data re resting heart rate, weight, blood pressure, and length and quality of sleep with SportTracks. That gives me a comprehensive and easily-accessed reference library of how the training’s going. Of course, my trusty Garmin 210 is the backbone of the whole system, as it’s what shows me what my heart rate is.

Buikding endurance – and speed – following a heart rate-based program takes time. Not just weeks, but sometimes months. I’m fortunate in that I’ve built a strong aerobic base over the past year. I’ve also worked on speed in my previous training programs for various races and distances. But this HR-based program has made an enormous difference. It’s different from the others.

Here’s one graphic example of how that difference manifests itself. It’s not my data, but an image I downloaded via a Google search, and include here because illustrates very nicely a couple of points I want to make.

HR versus speed

The top graph shows the runner’s heart rate for a certain distance, in which she kept to a pre-determined heart rate. The lower graph shows the same distance and time, but with the runner following a pre-determined pace. Going for pace resulted in peaks and valleys of heart rate, which resulted, as one would expect, in feelings of fatigue. That inevitably affected her endurance, and would, in the longer run, mean less endurance and a lower running economy. Running to heart rate, on the other hand, mean that she adjusted her pace to keep at the pre-determined heart rate, and so conserved her energy levels, her power, and her strength.

Endurance isn’t everything, of course. That’s why, as part of my training program, I’ve included interval and tempo runs as well as the endurance-focused sessions. Such an ongoing heart rate-based program increases the size of the body’s capillaries and develops mitochondria, so that strength, endurance, and speed are all enhanced.

It’s all been good.

What’s the bottom line? Following this heart rate-based training program has 1/ built up my endurance, 2/ lessened my fatigue levels, and 3/ made me quicker. As an instance of the latter, consider the following: my current PB for the 16K distance (1:35:18, a pace of 5:57) was set in June 2008, at the Toronto 10 Miler. Yesterday, I ran 15.8K in 1:30, for a pace of 5:41. Yesterday, I was cruising, not racing. I wasn’t pushing hard, and I had plenty in the tank at the end of the run. Is it any wonder I’ve become a fan of heart rate-based training?

Training for Sarasota

John Ringling Bridge, Sarasota

Above is a photo of the John Ringling Bridge, in Sarasota, Florida. In exactly 38 days, I’ll run across that bridge. It’s part of the course of the Sarasota Half Marathon, my first spring race of 2013. It’ll be the second time I’ve run Sarasota, having done it last year in the company of my barefoot amigos Chris G. and Marcus C.

I’m now nearing the end of week 11 of my 16-week training program for this race. It’s been an easy week. With a couple of weeks of interval and tempo runs behind me, and a week of interval sets coming up, I’m OK with that. The speedwork is balanced by longer runs on Sundays. I’m looking at a 75 minute run this Sunday, with 90 and 105 minute runs on the following two Sundays. (All on my trusty treadmill, unless there’s a remarkable break in the current wintry weather.)

The time structure (rather than the distance regime I’ve followed in the past), is part of this particular training program. It’s one I’ve selected from Roy Benson and Declan Connolly’s book Heart Rate Training, which I’ve mentioned previously. The authors’ thesis, based on their experience as coaches and exercise scientists, is that heart rate training’s reliance on an individual’s cardio-vascular system provides immediate and ongoing feedback about stress levels, intensity levels, and rates of adaptation as they relate tooverall fitness. Therefore, they argue, it’s the best way for an athlete, whether recreational or elite, to increase endurance, raise lactate threshold, and boost power. The book first looks at the science behind the theory, then offers training plans based on the science.

It’s working well. Rather than simply increasing distance week by week, I’ve run easy, moderate, interval, and tempo runs at one of my heart rate zone levels. (Before beginning the program, I had determined my maximum heart rate with a treadmill test suggested in the book.) As I’ve progressed through the weeks, I’ve been able to see my pace (and therefore distance) increasing for the heart rate zone I’m in. It’s pushed me beyond what I’ve been able to do before, while giving me the confidence to keep going and to feel stronger with each passing week. In fact, one of the unexpected outcomes of this training program has been what I can only describe as an increase in my mental toughness – I can follow through on runs in a way I’ve not been able to do before.

So I’m looking for a good results at Sarasota on March 17. Not necessarily a PB, because I’ll be dealing with the consequences of travel, unfamiliar high temperatures, and some particularly gnarly asphalt on part of the route. But I do anticipate being quick, strong, and happy in the race.

And that’s not all. I’ll get to run again with Chris and Marcus. There’ll be palm trees. There’ll be sunshine. And, if I can squeeze it in, there’ll be some time spent on beautiful Siesta Key Beach.

Siesta Key Beach