Five Boroughs

I’ve had a month to come down from the high of running the NYC Marathon and I’m not quite sober yet. I’ve thought about the race a lot and talked with people about it, helping me relive some of the most special moments. I’m very grateful for that.

The final few weeks before the race were filled with anticipation, but also a certain degree of paranoia, making it unique from other races, even my first marathon. I mentioned before that I first applied to the lottery over three years ago and with such a long build-up I was worried that something would go wrong to prevent me from running. I never feel that way and I was trying to not freak out but it was difficult. So when I crossed the start line at the foot of the Verazzano-Narrows bridge, I felt incredible relief and joy. How did I get so lucky to be out here, basking in the sun, running through this city with all of these wonderful strangers? THIS city.

Having lived here for a short time, and having more recently immersed myself in the race’s history, it really did feel like home. Parts of it at least. The other parts were filled with new sights and sounds that made me want to come back again.

As I crossed the start line I felt really good, almost unstoppable. That feeling lasted about ten seconds until I tripped on one of the countless paper bags flying around. Had it happened a lot later in the race I don’t think I would have been nimble enough to stay upright. Soon after, a man was blown over in front of me. Needless to say the wind was a formidable obstacle on this day but fortunately it became much less of an issue after we descended the bridge and entered Brooklyn.

Seeing the first few faces in the crowd seemed to put a jump in every runner’s step. This is what we’d been hearing about, this is what we were waiting for. And it didn’t disappoint. The genuine enthusiasm of the New York Crowd was palpable, and very endearing. It wasn’t just in the signs or the cowbells; these people didn’t just stumble upon a race. They woke up early on a Sunday morning to stake out their spot amongst millions of others.

For me, there are two race highlights that stand out, and I remember them for their contrasting sounds.

The first was around the one third mark, entering the Orthodox Jewish area of Williamsburg. It’s the neighbourhood of Fred Lebow, the marathon’s first race director. In the 70’s he tried to get his community to buy-in to the idea of having the marathon pass through their backyard. Although he managed to gain approval, he never really gained their full support. Even in 2014, that reality is starkingly clear. This section of Brooklyn is a ghost town, with only a few passers-by in traditional garb along with the occasional supporter. The transition from loud to soft to loud again was striking, and a humble reminder that even though marathons are now very much a mainstream activity, there are still people out there who think we’re all crazy.

The second highlight came around the 15 mile mark on the Queensboro Bridge, and not for the reason many others cite. Turning off the bridge and into the roaring crowds of First Avenue was pretty spectacular but my favourite moment was traversing the bridge itself, taking in the views of Lower Manhattan and best of all, being alone again with just runners, thousands of them, and hearing nothing but footsteps and breathing, footsteps and breathing. As we began to descend someone let out a scream that echoed off the ceiling. Others followed suit and I felt a smile come over me, and I saw others smiling too. We were on our way.

Climbing 5th Avenue before entering Central Park for the last few miles was a struggle, so seeing friends at the top of the hill gave me a huge boost at just the right time. The rest of the race is a blur, but I remember how different the cool, bright, high sun felt from a few months earlier when I ran the same rolling hills under overcast, humid skies. Coming around the final corner and seeing the finish line ahead was almost hard to believe. More than most things I’ve done, it felt like the end of a journey. But it was a journey that had opened countless other doors along the way.

After the finisher’s medal was placed around my neck and after I finshed the march of death to retrieve my bag, I decided to walk back across 96th Street to the east side of the park to cheer on my friends and all of the other runners. Just be a spectator. After the initial elation subsided, it became a long, slow, cold, miserable walk. But once I exited and began to make my way across the park, almost every single person I passed congratulated me. They didn’t know me or what time I ran or what my placement was, yet they went out of their way to say nice things to me, a total stranger. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it, but it’s also the kind of thing that makes you want to keep going. In that particular moment though, I was simply overcome with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. THIS city!

Chip Time – 3:12:55
Overall – 1638/50530
M – 1476/30108
M30-34 – 310/4139

Packaged picked up and ready to run! Also, this was the biggest expo ever.

Packaged picked up, shiny new shoes purchased and ready to run! Also, this was the biggest expo ever.

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Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island. Base camp!

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Soon after finishing, proudly displaying my medal and tribute to tennis legend and Queen’s native, John McEnroe. My favourite response to the shirt was a guy who yelled, “I AM serious, Greg!”

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I managed to run 26.2 miles without taking a break but along the walk from the finish line to bag pickup a volunteer directed me to shelter. There was no room at the warming tent.

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I got to play the roles of both competitor and spectator, and caught a glimpse of the one and only FLEX looking strong at mile 24.

I shamelessly brought my medal everywhere I went and would place it on worthy signage.

I shamelessly brought my medal everywhere I went and would place it on worthy signage.

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5 Peaks Whistler Blackcomb / Eastside 10k

I came up with the bold idea back in July to follow my first ride up Cypress with my first trail race. That dream died when my chain snapped near the top and I didn’t make the race in time. The silver lining was that the awesome folks at 5 Peaks allowed me to switch my registration to the Whistler Blackcomb race in August and from what I’d heard, it was a pretty spectacular setting.

I had been resisting the trails for a while but something (a lot of fellow runners) told me it was time to give them a try. I woke up before sunrise on a beautiful morning to take the first bus to Whistler. After I picked up my race package, I ran into some fellow Fraser Street and Broadway runners and we took the scenic ride on the two gondolas to Blackcomb.

Everything about the race was chill, and I loved that. Everyone I met was friendly and in a good mood even though the race start was delayed. There was loads of coffee and food. I even got to demo some trail shoes for the run. As the racers made their way to the start area, I found myself a spot near the middle of the pack and waited for our mini wave to get the go ahead.

I should say that everything about the race except the actual race was chill. There was a tough, steep climb at the beginning and another equally tough one near the end. At the first summit runners were greeted by the one and only Scott Jurek, who was in town to deliver a weekend workshop. He was giving words of encouragement to the runners and we were spread out enough that I even got in a quick chat with him. He’s as genuine and cool as I’d read about.

In the early stages I was cruising and building confidence on the unfamiliar terrain when soon after passing by Scott I took a tumble but managed to escape with just a few scrapes. I recognized it as a sign to reign it in; it was a humble reminder that I’m totally new to trail running and have a lot to learn.

The race seemed to go by much faster than the hour and twenty or minutes or so I spent on course. It was especially interesting to watch some of the experienced guys and girls weave their way through the single track, especially on the downhills. The final downhill into the finish area felt good but I was humbled again to see that my final time put me in the bottom half of my category. These guys don’t mess around!

Chip Time – 1:21:29
Overall – 50/190
M – 44/109
M30-39 – 17/32

Not a bad view to take in

Not a bad view to take in

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When Fraser Street Run Club (FSRC) let folks know that they wanted to get a big group out for the Eastside 10k I knew it was gonna be a fun race. I was also missing a good speed check leading up to the NYC Marathon and this was scheduled at the perfect time to gauge where I was at in my training. I also really wanted to get a sub-40 10k under my belt.

Another benefit to this one was that just like the only other 10k race I’ve run in Vancouver, the Sun Run, the start line is just a hop, skip and a run from my apartment door. After waking up and grabbing breakfast I did a light run down to the start and saw a bunch of familiar faces. It was another sunny day and even though there were over 1,500 entrants the race had a fun, relaxed vibe.

I made my way to a few rows back from the front, just to the left of the 40 minute pacer. Even though I usually don’t pay much attention to pacers I knew that without a watch this guy could come in handy. Although the first kilometre was downhill I felt like I settled into a solid rhythm right away as I tried to keep some of the faster guys I knew in view. By about the halfway mark the pain and doubt started to set in and as we began the second last climb with about 1.5km to go I could hear the 40 minute pacer behind me. On the final stretch up the viaduct he let us know that we were 30 seconds under pace and gave me a few words of encouragement, which I really appreciated. After a tough final uphill section, coming into the finish and seeing the 39 still on the clock was a pretty great feeling. When I ran my first sub-50 10k a year and a half ago I never would have thought this kind of time was within my range so needless to say I was quite pleased. I was also quite pleased with the decision to have a boozy brunch at Alibi Room after the race featuring a big group from FSRC and Broadway. A very fun day all around.

Chip Time – 39:29
Overall – 72/1461
M – 62/694
M30-34 – 16/109

Coming into the finish in just under 40 minutes. My pacer buddy totally nailed it. Give that man a promotion!

Coming into the finish in just under 40 minutes. My pacer buddy totally nailed it. Give that man a promotion!

BBBFs (Best Broadway Bros Forever)

BBBFs (Best Broadway Bros Forever)

10 Years

10 years ago ago this month I put all of my personal belongings in my 1990 Ford Tempo and drove to New York City on a sketchy job connection and nowhere to live. After a long day of driving I arrived in Brooklyn late in the evening and took the first and only apartment I had lined up to see. I had no clue what the neighbourhood was like, who my roommate was, but my options were limited.

Over the course of four months, I took every opportunity available to explore. One event I made a point of waking up early one November Sunday to watch was the NYC Marathon. The city was buzzing in the week leading up to the race so I had to see for myself what it was all about.

I took the subway to Manhattan to try to catch a glimpse of the leaders in Central Park just before the finish. I managed to make my way through the crowds in time to catch Hendrick Ramaala and Paula Radcliffe claim victory in front of thousands of cheering spectators. Was I inspired? Sure. Was there any chance in hell I would ever come back here and race through Central Park, or run any marathon for that matter? No chance in hell.

Marathon legend Paula Radcliffe outkicking her opponent on the way to her first of three NYC Marathon victories in 2004

Marathon Legend Paula Radcliffe outkicking her opponent on the way to her first of three NYC Marathon victories in 2004

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Two months ago I found myself in New York City again, having visited a number of times since I lived there. I’m fortunate that two of my best friends reside in the city, making a trip there that much more fun and less expensive. After we ran the Chicago Marathon together last year, they convinced me to take one of their extra entries for the NYC Triathlon. At the time, I didn’t swim or own a bike. So of course I said yes.

Fast forward ten months and here I am, about to jump into the Hudson River for a point-to-point 1500m swim. It was an overcast morning which made for good race conditions, especially given how hot and humid New York can be in the middle of summer. The wait in our corral had been long but expected and I was eager to get going. Since our age group was one of the last to start, we had the opportunity to watch many of the swimmers make their way downstream to the exit at 79th St. The water was moving very, very fast, giving the athletes, especially the weaker swimmers, a welcome boost.

Rob and me sitting down on the right.  One of us swam the Hudson like a wetsuitless badass, one of us did not.

Rob and me sitting down on the right. One of us swam the Hudson like a wetsuitless badass, one of us did not.

 

After a nervous fist bump with Rob, I pushed myself off of the deck and into the warm water. The river was wetsuit legal by about one degree Celsius and I wasn’t going to make the same mistake as last time by not wearing one. The first minute or two was bumpy but it didn’t take long for our group to sort itself out and it was a fast, straight swim all the way through. My sighting problems were certainly not an issue here. It felt great to get a helping hand from a volunteer as I climbed the steps to the pavement and began the run to transition. At 700m it was quite long and I managed to pass a number of walkers before running into the transition area to make the switch to the bike.

My T1 was much smoother than in Vancouver, thanks in part to my brand new tri onesie and race belt. My wetsuit striptease still needs some work though. After mounting the bike there was a short, steep uphill to the entrance of the Westside Highway for the hilly 40k out-and-back through Manhattan and into the Bronx. I had what felt like a good ride going though the turn around point, passing more athletes than passed me. There were a couple of steep hills including a descent under an overpass where a number of cyclists were strewn about on the side of the road after what must have been a scary collision. I also noticed a number of racers changing flats which wasn’t at all surprising given the state of the highway. Just as I was counting my lucky stars for steering clear of all the chaos and about to ride back into Manhattan, I hit a pothole hard. I didn’t have time to see it because I was getting ready to pass the cyclist in front of me but I could feel the rear tire go right away. After about 30 seconds of denial I pulled over to the left and tried to recall from memory everything I could from the flat tire changing clinic at the previous day’s expo. After looking forward to this race for nine months, it certainly wasn’t the ideal time to change my fist flat. There was an NYPD officer stationed who was monitoring the race and helping another rider. He gave me some words of encouragement and soon after I removed the wheel one of the four mechanics on course appeared and finished the job. My initial frustration slowly dissipated and I was even able to help out my fellow rider by lending him my hand pump. After ten or fifteen minutes I was back on the road and before long, back into transition. (Note to self – reduce number of unintended sexual connotations in future tri race reports.)

As I began the run, I kept telling myself not to let what happened on the bike affect me, to appreciate the moment and enjoy the experience of running through Central Park. It wasn’t easy; as much as I tried to give my maximum effort I had trouble getting my mind into the present. But with a few kilometres to go I stopped feeling sorry for myself and pushed through to the finish line, taking a good look around at the large crowd that came out to support the athletes.

My walk through the finish area was bittersweet as I reflected on a race that didn’t go as planned, but in the context of accomplishing a goal I had set out to achieve almost a year ago. Overall the positive emotions trumped the negative ones, as they tend to when you look down at the medal around your neck and the beaming faces of other athletes describing their race experience to family and friends. Soon I spotted Rob and Molly and it was all smiles.

Chip Time – 2:41:19
Swim – 17:30
T1 – 6:10
Bike – 1:31:24
T2 – 2:02
Run – 44:15
Overall – 1061/3400
M30-34 – 147/353

Showing off our medals (and my brand new tri onesie)

Showing off our medals (and my brand new tri onesie)

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It feels like forever since I entered the NYC Marathon lottery for the first time. Although it’s really only been three and a half years, so much has changed. I’m a completely different person in many ways. Running and triathlon training are huge parts of my life now and I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to run a race of such magnitude, with such history. I can’t get enough of highlight videos and stories from others who have experienced it. Typically at this point in the cycle I would be counting down the number of runs before training is over. These days I feel like I almost don’t want it to end because when it ends, the race will over, and so will the feeling of anticipation I’m getting such a high from right now. November 2nd is gonna be an awesome day.

Try, Try, Tri

When I started this blog, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t let weeks and weeks pass without posting. I planned to continuously highlight my progress as I tried to evolve from a runner to a runner/triathlete. I intended to write about learning to swim, buying my first bike, and all of the other daunting tasks new triathletes are faced with.

Yet here I am, on my way to my second triathlon, without having made a single post about the sport.

So here’s my chance. I’m on a plane that provides free wifi!

I’m generally not one to stress about travel logistics, but flying to race a triathlon changes all of that. I know it’s just me but I feel like I can hear the different pieces of my disassembled bike rattling within the plane below my feet. It’s a completely new challenge.

When I competed in my first triathlon a few weeks ago I felt prepared but I was also slightly intimidated. Fortunately it was an easy commute to the start line for a short race. For the NYC Triathlon on Sunday I’ve had to put a lot more thought into my race planning.

FYI, here are my results from the Vancouver Subaru Triathlon. Can I count this as a race report?

Chip Time – 1:18:31
Overall – 70/294
M – 60/173
M30-34 – 16/43

I feel like the key to doing triathlons is all about avoiding disaster, just trying to survive. How good are you at not drowning or crashing your bike, and staying upright during the run? But I suppose that’s part of the appeal?

Since the Vancouver tri I spent a bit of time questioning some of my decisions. Why do I spend x hours training these three sports? What are the benefits? What other opportunities am I sacrificing to do this? Then I went to Whistler to volunteer at Ironman Canada and any doubts I had completely disappeared. I was totally inspired by each and every participant that passed by our running aid station. From the elite athletes, to the dad who asked his kids if they’d had dinner yet, to the woman wearing a prosthetic, to Walter, the final competitor who had to boot it over the last 2.2km just to earn an official time before the cutoff at midnight, the purpose and determination of each of these athletes was crystal clear to me, even though I will never know what truly motivated them to attempt such a feat.

I hope to hold, even if just a piece, some of their indestructible spirit with me as I attempt to construct a respectable race on Sunday between the Hudson and Central Park. At this point there’s not much else to do than Try, Try, Try.

Sundays and Summers in the Desert

A year ago, my Sundays looked a lot different than they do today. I would typically roll out of bed around 10 at the earliest, often hungover, eat, and settle in for anywhere between 8 and 12 hours of online poker.

When I began training for my first marathon at this time last year, I hoped that I wouldn’t have to sacrifice my Sunday poker ritual. I’d been doing it for a number of years and had been fortunate enough to experience some success and earn a supplementary income all the while keeping it fun and challenging.

Not surprisingly, I felt a lot better sitting down to play poker after a 16 to 32 km run than I did after a late night out and sleeping in. The switch to a healthier routine made me sharper and more focused, and although it didn’t always show in my results (poker is a game of luck over the short run after all), I noticed a significant increase not only in my overall well-being, but in my confidence at the tables.

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Every summer the world’s most skilled live poker players, starry-eyed amateurs and online grinders descend upon the American desert for up to two months in an attempt to make their mark at the World Series of Poker and take home a gold bracelet (along with life-changing money.) A year ago less a week, I took a break from the virtual felt and traveled to Las Vegas for the seventh straight summer with that same goal. When I returned a week later gold-less, title-less, with a few less dollars to my name but eager to starting training for my first marathon, I had no doubt that I would be back again next year.

As I make the trip to Vegas for the eighth summer, I’m feeling a lot more uncertain about about my poker future. With limited vacation time, an expanding list of commitments including the awesome opportunity of co-leading this summer’s marathon clinic at the Broadway Running Room, and a growing passion for triathlon, it’s difficult to justify a ten day retreat to a city I don’t particularly enjoy, to spend most of my time with people I don’t know. Not unlike a destination marathon, the prospect of a destination poker trip like the one I did to Barcelona a couple of years ago is starting to feel like a much more appealing option to the WSOP grind. Better yet, a poker/marathon/destination trifecta!

Whatever the future has in store for me poker-wise, I’m doing my best to approach this year’s series with a positive attitude and a sharp mind. A few weeks ago I wasn’t feeling so confident that I’d be able to do that but with a couple of new exciting tournaments added to this year’s schedule, I can sense my optimism building as it always does at this time of year. I’m also going to hold myself to my promise of staying active and maybe even taking a day drip out to Red Rock or Lake Mead for a long run.

Regardless of my results over the next ten days, I’m grateful to know that I’ll return to Vancouver well-rested and ready to get back to work and training. As to whether or not I’ll be able to afford a fancy new road bike, it’s all (veggie) gravy.

The 2014 Calgary Marathon – MORE COWBELL

On the afternoon of May 31, 2014, I arrived at my new home for the weekend, Eleanor Town, having been greeted by the town’s mayor, Eleanor. And, luckily for you, the cameras were rolling…

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Reunion of the mayors of Greg City and Eleanor Town

On the morning of June 1, 2014, I awoke to the sound of my Broadway Running Roommates’ voices in my head… “Don’t blow this for us, Gene!” “Quit being so selfish, Gene!”

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But I kept telling myself, “You know what? It’s fine. Let’s just do the thing.”

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I arrived at the start line on the Calgary Stampede grounds unsure, nervous, edgy.

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And then the thought occurred to me, “I’m standing here, staring at pace bunny legend Alan Yu. And if Alan Yu wants more cowbell, I should probably give him more cowbell!”

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And we were off.

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6k – “Melissa, wait! Why don’t you lay down that cowbell right now? With me. Together.”

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17k – “All our times have come, Here, but now they’re gone.” – Pargol Lakhan / The Blue Oyster Cult

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23k – “Babies, before we’re done here, y’all be wearing gold-plated belt buckle medals.”

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25k – “Gene, you know… that… it doesn’t work for me. I gotta have more cowbell!” – the Orginal Greg

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29k – “Guess what? We got a fever! And the only prescription is MORE COWBELL.” – Celtic band Cabot’s Crossing

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35k – “And I’d be doing myself a disservice — and every member of this Calysto Steel Band, if I didn’t perform the HELL out of this!”

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40k – “I’ll be honest cuz, it was sounding great. But I could’ve used a little more cowbell. So, let’s take it again, and Gene, really explore the marathon space this time.” – Jolene Lawson

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“Easy, guys. I put my jorts on just like the rest of you — one leg at a time. Except, once my jorts are on, I run marathons.”

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Chip Time – 3:41.40
Overall – 234/1656
M – 185/965
M30-34 – 28/123

My thirteen day threesome (of races)

Vancouver Sun Run – April 27

This was my third time in a row (and overall) running the Sun Run. The 2013 edition would be my last race before beginning my first ever marathon training program. A year ago I finally broke the 50 minute barrier in a 10k and I was hoping to shave another big chunk of time off of my 46:57 personal best.

People seem to have a love/hate relationship with the Sun Run. It’s certainly a very crowded race with almost 50,000 runners and walkers participating every year. I do get frustrated that many people do not choose the appropriate starting corral, especially in the first few kilometres as I weave in and out of traffic, but overall I think it’s a great event that unites the city by encouraging physical activity and a positive community spirit. What’s not to like about that?

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also a very convenient race for me; the start line is only about a 10 minute walk from my apartment. After an easy run on what had turned out to be a very cool morning, I managed to squeeze into my starting corral at Georgia and Burrard about 10 minutes before the race began, just enough time to soak in the atmosphere and chat with a friend I ran into.

10 minutes or so after the gun went off, I wormed my way across the start line and immediately began the task of targeting the path of least resistance. My goal was to maintain a sub 4:10 km pace, which would result in a sub 42 min run. With all the weaving in and out, I was surprised to see that I ran my first kilometre in under four minutes, but the descent down Georgia played a big part in that. As we turned onto Denman and the street narrowed, I struggled to maintain a rhythm in the heavy crowd but I managed to make it through the next two kilometres on pace. At this point I had some breathing room and was able to focus more on the run itself. At the halfway mark, my time of 20:40 indicated I was on track.

I find the stretch between the Burrard and Cambie bridges to be the toughest but I was able to keep my momentum and knock off some 4:05 kms. Before long I was headed up Cambie Bridge and toward the finish line. I knew I would be close to a sub 41 min time and so I tried to put a little something extra into the last kilometre. I crossed with a chip time of 41:03 and headed into BC Place for snacks.

The photo below was taken right before the finish and although it may look like I was close to winning the Sun Run, there were definitely four hundred and some odd people ahead of me. Thanks to Yasuyo for pointing out the pic and big ups to her, Original Greg and Kelsey for rockin big PBs.

Chip Time – 41:03
Overall – 470/43160
M – 410/19375
M30-34 – 84/2734

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None of those pictured won, or came close to winning, the 2014 Sun Run (Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Sun)

Vancouver Marathon – May 4

I’m generally not a big quote person but there was one that stuck with me over the course of this marathon training cycle. While celebrating with folks from the Broadway Running Room group who had volunteered for or run the marathon, Sybille and I realized that we had both leaned on the same quote to get us through the 42.2 kms. I had noticed it for the first time in one of Steve‘s emails to clinic members.

I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” – Mike Fanelli

I think that one sentence captures so much of what it means to run a marathon and why it can be such an emotional experience.

The week leading into the race wasn’t the smoothest. I overdid it in the first swimming session with my new triathlon club and didn’t rest as much as I should have but I tried to remind myself that my training outcomes would be a far more accurate predictor of my race.

The week before the race wasn’t the smoothest for my marathon partner in crime, Jay, and his family, either. On Friday they were forced to cut their first day of travel from Calgary short due to an avalanche near Golden. But, they are a super family and made it Vancouver before 2pm on Saturday in good spirits. Hosting a family of four in a one bedroom apartment (or ‘Greg City’ as Jay’s five year old named it) before a big race sounds like it could be a challenge, but super families make wonderful houseguests. It helps that we have experience doing this kind of thing; we’ve traveled to Kelowna, Victoria and Chicago together to run half/full marathons. After picking up our race package at the expo, we spent the evening eating, drinking, watching Frozen and playing name that 90’s grunge song – a lot more fun than stressing out over a silly marathon.

After a green super smoothie breakfast and a straightforward commute via the Canada Line for the 8:30 start, I felt well rested as we stood in the rain waiting for the starter’s signal. I gave a big high five (1 of 2) to Andrew before tossing my hoodie over the fence in the last minute or so prior to the gun going off.

Although I had never run the Vancouver Marathon, I had trained each section of the course multiple times during our clinic runs and on my own. It surprised me how much of an advantage that felt like, even if it was only psychological. The lack of fear of the unknown helped to calm my nerves a lot.

In constructing a race plan, there were some key spots along the route that I thought would be the most telling (or the most fun)…

Camosun hill (9km)
I knew that after a significant downhill section along 49th and still full of adrenaline, I would have the urge to take this hill too hard. A sub 5min km here would be dangerous and certainly catch up with me later in the race. When I reached the top of the hill, I was relieved that that wasn’t the case, and I felt recovered soon after.

Blanca out and back (13km)
Out and backs are always one of my favourite parts of any race. Nearing the turnaround point, I find it very motivating to see the faces of those I’m competing with and against, but the best part is when you spot a friend! I was able to catch a glimpse of Steve before he tore back up 16th and soon after the turn it was time for high five #2 (with serious air this time) for Andrew (which I believe I initiated and he later regretted – sorry, Andrew!) Just before I turned right onto 16th I gave a big wave to the 3:30 pace leaders, Dave and Barry (and must have just missed 3:35, i.e. W18-34 BQ, pace leader, Alan.) A third of the way through, I felt good and was on track.

Halfway point (21.1km)
My goal for the halfway mark was to run it in under 1:40 while still feeling fresh so I was very pleased to come through this point of the race at 1:37.03. It also marks the end of a long descent from UBC so it’s easy to feel pretty good here, especially before having to deal with the rolling hills through Kitsilano.

Final gel station (29km)
The third quarter of a marathon has typically been my strongest section but that wasn’t the case at all on this day. I remember taking a number of glances to my left at the vast expanse of downtown and Stanley Park still to be run; it was not the most awesome feeling. I managed to hold my pace through to the 29km water station where I was expecting to see Kelsey and Josh cheering. (Fun fact: When I ran over to give them a high five, apparently it looked like I was trying to speak but no sound actually came out of my mouth. According to them, this is a common thing. Does this happen to anyone else?) 10 or 20 metres after passing the station, I realized I had forgotten to grab my fourth and last gel. I had none left and it was the last gel station on the course. After a few seconds of panic, I decided to turn around and go back for one. I snatched a caffeine-free vanilla Powerade gel from a volunteer who was holding it for a couple of oncoming runners, turned back around and continued with the race. Hashtag marathon problems?

Entrance to Stanley Park (32km)
Recently I’ve had a few conversations with runners about technique, specifically stride rate. I’ve never concerned myself much with form or biomechanics but figured it’s probably something I should start taking more seriously if I want to continue improving, especially when I begin to plateau. I’m not exactly sure why I thought the 32km mark of a marathon would be a good time to experiment but the pain was making me feel a little desperate. I shortened and quickened my stride rate, and was quite shocked at how much better I felt. It could easily have been a sort of placebo effect but I didn’t care and I was amazed that I was still maintaining my splits.

Exiting Stanley Park for the final stretch downtown (40km)
After managing to pick off a number of runners along the seawall, this is the point when I realized a sub 3:20 time, which a few months ago felt like a long shot at best, would become a reality. That realization likely made the last couple of kilometres more enjoyable than they otherwise would have been but regardless, running down West Pender and soaking in the support from the crowd made for a huge high. It was all the more special seeing Mélissa, Kristine, Emma and Steve soon after crossing the finish line, especially with the news of Steve and Jan‘s big PBs.

As much as I wanted to stick around and look for others, I was starting to stiffen up in the rain and the less than ten minute walk back to Greg City was all too enticing. But there was no way I was missing the get together later on at St. Augustine’s to celebrate with the new and veteran Broadway runners who all had kickass races. There, I made sure to drink the first three beers with my head, the second three with my personality and the last three with my heart. 🙂

Chip Time – 3:18.51
Overall – 275/4933
M – 229/2816
M30-34 – 50/389

2014 Vancouver Marathon

On and around West Pender (literally) at the 2014 Vancouver Marathon (Photo courtesy of Jackie Polak)

Broadway Beer Mile 4 – May 9

Still woozy from LuAnne’s massage at Smile Thai Wellness, I rushed home and frantically searched for something to wear to the evening’s (year’s) big race. I was anxious, nervous, excited. But then I panicked. I noticed that I hadn’t washed my lucky shorts since the marathon. I needed something pink if I was going to have any chance in this race. As it stands, I’m still working on accumulating pink items for my running wardrobe and currently don’t have much to choose from.

That’s when it hit me like a tonne of bricks, or an oversized Hallmark character come to life. I dug out my Hoops costume from the back of my closet, immediately realizing it would be the key to victory. I threw it on and ran downstairs to meet Adrian, who had driven up from Seattle to represent ‘Merica in this great competition. He didn’t recognize me. I removed the headpiece. He still didn’t recognize me. When I recited my full name, a summary of our ten year friendship, and told him we needed to hop in a car2go to make it to the race on time, he told me I had him at car2go.

As for the rest of the evening’s events, I could summarize them here but why do that when I can simply link to a much more professional and better written synopsis?

Beer Mile

Colourful, fast, beer loving and just generally awesome – The Broadway Running Crew (Photo courtesy of Pargol Lakhan)

As for my future in the sport of beermiling, I am not prepared to choose between that and the marathon or triathlon at this time. But I can confirm that I will be paying close attention to the first ever Beer Mile World Championships, set for this fall in Austin, TX.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis

Racing season begins tomorrow!

My biggest hesitation in running a second marathon within two months of my first was that the whole experience would feel saturated. That didn’t turn out to be the case, but for me it’s still important to take big chunks of time off from racing to rediscover purpose and refocus on training. After five months off, my most crowded racing season to date begins with the Vancouver Sun Run tomorrow morning. Hopefully it will serve as a nice warm-up rather than a detriment to next Sunday’s Vancouver Marathon. Here’s my 2014 schedule:

April 27 – Vancouver Sun Run
May 4 – Vancouver International Marathon
May 9 – Vancouver Beer Mile **
June 1 – Calgary Marathon
July 13 – Subaru Vancouver Triathlon (Sprint)
August 3 – New York City Triathlon
October 5 – Portland Half Marathon (tentative)
November 2 – New York City Marathon
** 2014 goal race

As my second marathon clinic and training cycle come to a close, I’ve been keeping mental notes of the things I believe have made a difference in contributing to a stronger session. Because I’ve made a number of changes since last year, the researcher in me hesitates to speculate exactly which of them have had the biggest impacts. Here they are, in no particular order:

    • Schedule – maintaining my mileage while reducing the number of weekly runs from 5 to 4
    • Equipment – I caved the day before my first marathon and got my first GPS watch (well, my friends got me one – thanks, friends!) which I’ve been using regularly to track my progress and training statistics. I also invested more research time and money into my shoes. I think I held onto a lower-end pair for too long during the last cycle that contributed to a minor injury.
    • Cross training – more strength and core workouts, and of course more swimming and cycling
    • Diet – no more meat!

Look, those changes even form an acronym, DECS, or CEDS. Maybe that will become a thing? Probably not.

As my race season gets underway tomorrow, wishing everyone out there a great start or continuation to your own racing season. Have so much fun!

Goals and Accomplishments

In 2011, I entered the New York City Marathon lottery for the first time. I could never say that I loved running but I was decent at it and it’s a great way to exercise and set new goals. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of really good friends who live in New York and I figured why not try to run my first marathon in style? By the time the 2012 lottery came and went, I was 0 for 2 and guaranteed entry to the 2014 race if I wasn’t awarded a spot in 2013. When that turned out to be the case, I decided to train for the Chicago Marathon in the Fall of 2013, partly because I ran a half marathon on little training and felt the desire to step it up a notch before New York City, and partly because my friends suggested that running NYC as a first marathon could prove to be quite challenging due to pre-race conditions, the volume of runners, etc.

Upon the advice of a friend (Do you see a theme here?) I joined one of the Running Room clinics to help me achieve my goals and become part of a community of runners striving to be their best. But what exactly were my goals? Looking back, it isn’t all that clear. Obviously, one goal was to complete the marathon. I also had a vague idea for a time goal, but that evolved with training and speaking with my more experienced running compatriots. Aside from those goals, I knew I was looking for something deeper, something more meaningful, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Sometimes our group gets together outside of running, which provides a great opportunity to discuss goals and accomplishments. It’s a supportive group and it’s usually someone else who points out your accomplishments, and vice versa. Goals tend to be described in a quantitative manner, i.e. goal time for the next race, number of marathons to race this year, etc. The exchange of information can often be a great way to help form your own goals. I can’t think of any other forum where everyone competes as an individual so that if you and I are running the same race, technically one of us defeats the other, but in reality, we are both supporting each other to accomplish one’s goals, meaning with enough perseverance and hard work, we can both come out winners. I think it’s something that makes this sport and the running community very special.

But mapping goals to accomplishments isn’t always easy, or predictable. To date, my biggest accomplishment was something that came as a complete surprise. Even if I am fortunate enough to run 100 marathons or qualify for Boston, it could never be surpassed. It was never even on my radar as a goal to begin with.

As I trained for the Chicago Marathon last year, I decided to leave my training schedule open-ended after the race and before training for NYC starts in June 2014. I had no firm plans and wanted to make my decisions after what I knew would be a gruelling and emotional race. After the race was run and the celebrations were over, a week passed and soon enough it was Sunday morning, the day and time of our usual long run. It was the first time in four months that I didn’t have a race to train for. When the alarm went off, I had a decision to make. Sleep in, or roll out of bed and put on my running gear?

The answer was surprisingly clear. I made it to The Running Room for 8:30am (I think I was even on time that morning) to meet the others for a 23k run. That decision was and always will be my greatest accomplishment as a runner because it was the realization of a goal that I could never quite articulate until the moment I woke up and became immediately aware of its existence and its significance; I had learned to love the sport. I got out of bed for one simple reason; now, I love to run.

Rings

Today I threw my iron ring in the garbage. After nine years of avoiding the fate experienced by countless other Canadians with engineering degrees, after dozens of airport screenings, forgetting it in my gym bag time and time again, I threw my iron ring away with the rest of my taco scraps at La Taqueria. I didn’t realize where I had misplaced it until I returned to the office, noticed it was missing, and my taco companion explained that she saw me remove it and place it on my plate next to some refried beans. Thinking nothing of it, I cleaned off my plate and dumped it into the waste – ring, beans, napkin and all. What’s crazy is I have hardly any recollection of this. Was I subliminally sending myself a message that it’s time to put the ring away given that I’m not a practicing engineer and never really have been? I’m not sure, but it feels like the best thing to do is to pass along this very sage advice to ring owners everywhere, including my soon-to-be sister-in-law (official as of two days ago – yay!): Your ring may certainly be bigger, sparklier and more meaningful than mine was but be warned – Anyone can fall victim to unintentional taco time ring disposal syndrome.

Keep your salsa-pouring hand steady and your ring finger guarded. Because he shoulda, and he put a, ring on it.