26 November 2013

one man's trash

it's a weekly routine.

tuesday is garbage and recycling pick-up day in my neighbourhood.  out to the end of my driveway i lug my one-bag limit garbage, our green (compostables) bin, our gray (paper) bin and blue (other recyclables) bin.  this is the time of year that it gets tricky sometimes as the snowbanks can grow to seven or eight feet high ... but it's not december yet, so it's not yet an issue.

anyway, like clockwork around 9:30 i often see the same person - almost all year round - come by, rummaging through the blue bins in search of returnable wine and beer bottles.  in the drier months he'll swoop by on his loaded-up bicycle, but in this sloshy-snow he travels like the post carrier on foot.

i don't know just how profitable it is or isn't to collect the deposit from a suburb's worth of bottles.  what i do know is that it can be a tricky business.  bottle collectors can get territorial, and there have been times when i've seen two of them just about come to blows because one's been encroaching on another's turf.  and other times homeowners can become pretty ornery about someone rifling through their stuff, even though discarded - and i suppose that in the era of the threat of identity theft everybody's guard is up.

it's to my discredit that i've never stopped to chat with our local bottle collector.  i don't know his name, his story, where he lives, or how long he's been at this gig.  he may collect out of necessity, out of OCD, or out of interest - like people who comb the beaches with their metal detectors.  

what i do know is that i've no problem with him dropping by to sift through (i do try to leave the bottles on the top of the bin) for a contribution to his weekly take.  as a first-world society i feel like the least that we can do is to not be so tight-fisted as to interfere with someone else's initiative to turn trash into cash.  i think that we'd all be a little less materialistic and a little more altruistic if we paid attention to the hebrew scriptures which say 
"When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God." [Leviticus 23:22]
i'm all for recycling and saving the planet.  if this is one way that it can happen, let him go to town.
. . . . .

oh, and for all of you who might be disappointed that this isn't running-related content, let me just point you toward a few organizations that are making a real difference in the lives of others through the culture of running - because like my friend lewis often asks, "how can this be about saving lives?"


21 November 2013

form or function?

visual learner here.

i'll spend more time picking up tips about any activity or sport by watching video clips than i will by reading or even receiving directed instruction.  something about how my brain is wired craves just to focus (and refocus) on seeing something done well in order to learn how to do it myself.

this is why i have so many marathons on pvr.

reviewing the running strides of the world's best runners seems to imprint on me how to get better at running myself.  of course this is a tricky business, since there is no single 'correct' running form, and many different styles seem to excel, from paula radcliffe to masakazu fujiwara to ryan hall to priscah jeptoo ...

anyway, i just came across this article published earlier this fall comparing the form and stride mechanics of the top three men's finishers at the 2013 great north run - kenenisa bekele, haile gebrselassie and mo farah.  all great track athletes and now road runners.  

if you're interested in breaking down the working bits of the best running strides in the world, this is definitely worth a read!

17 November 2013

new balance MR1400v2 - road review

there's a part of me that feels like a traitor in reviewing the new balance MR1400v2.  that's because i've become an avowed minimalist runner.  having made the transition to forefoot running some 18 months ago, and subsequently working with low-stack, low-to-zero drop running shoes since then, tackling a 9mm drop (24mm heel, 15mm forefoot) racing flat is like going back to meat after spending a couple of years as a vegan.

(which i'm not)

however ... i won this pair of 1400v2s through a twitter giveaway sponsored by new balance canada.  i tweeted in support of team new balance athletes eric gillis and rob watson as they were preparing for the scotiabank toronto waterfront marathon, and they were both sporting the 1400v2 in the race.  so, despite the fact that i have plenty of running shoes in the current rotation, and also despite the fact that i tried to give these shoes away to two of my running partners (both of whom are in need of new shoes but sadly are a full size smaller footed than me), i have chosen not to look a gift horse in the mouth and give these racers a fighting chance.

if you haven't read any of the online reviews already, i'll let you know that i was probably sub-consciously (if not consciously) influenced by peter larson's review of these shoes, which led him to deem them as frontrunners for shoe of the year.  i also then read this weekend believe in the run's review of the 1400v2, in which they also gushed about the shoe if not to quite the same degree as peter.  so if these well-versed shoe reviewers give the 1400v2 the double-thumbs up, who am i to disagree?

well, let me give you my breakdown, focusing on the high/low lights ...
  • aesthetics - new balance canada let me choose which colourway i preferred, the blue/green combo or the 'sulphur spring' version.  without a yellow shoe in my arsenal, i chose sulphur spring and these are the coolest looking kicks in the cupboard by far.  besides the silver-foil "N" logo, there are also other little reflective accents that i appreciate as a pre-dawn runner.
  • laces - if you've read any of my other shoe reviews you know that i've a penchant for flat laces.  with that in mind, i will take these laces any day of the week.  they are essentially of the sport oval variety, but they're maybe half the diameter of any other oval lace that i've ever come across.  light and easy to tie, they don't seem to want to come loose and i like 'em a lot.
  • drop - ok mr. larson, here's where you got into my head.  you'd noted that they don't feel like a 9mm drop shoe - and while i do notice that they're certainly not a level platform, i tend to agree that it's not like i have to work to keep the heel from getting in my way.  mind over matter, or new balance witchery?
  • fit - as the 1400v2 is built on new balance's NB-J racing last, i was concerned that these shoes would not be wide enough for decent toe-splay.  sure enough, i found the toe box a bit tight (even after using shoefitr to try to get approximately the right size).  the solution that i was able to work out had to do with the removable insole.  at first i thought that i would try running without the insole at all, but found that the heel collar was riding a bit too high then - so instead i swapped out the stock insole for the insole from my skora phases (which for whatever reason give me hotspots when i wear them with my phases - so my phases are now worn with insoles from my skechers gorun 2s).  
    insole from skora phase (top) vs. stock new balance insole
  • weight - these shoes are light.  like, just how i like it light.  6.4oz listed for men's size 9.  race-ready light.
  • flexibility - these are not the kind of shoe that you can roll up into a ball.  that's partly because there seems to be a midfoot shank that affords some stability.  still, it's not like wearing wooden clogs out there - they seem to work with my feet rather than against them.
for my final verdict on whether or not i could marathon in the 1400v2, watch my review video below:

all things considered, i give the new balance MR1400v2 a solid four out of five feet - if they were good to go out of the box and maybe something closer to a 4mm drop, they would edge up in the ratings.  but they were free, and they will have a regular place in my rotation!


11 November 2013

no rest for the wicked

by way of confession i will humbly admit that i am addicted to training.

not running ... training.

my pal trevor posted this on facebook just this past weekend:

a little over a week out from my second marathon in two months and i'm itching to get back on the horse.  i've told my friends that i still am trying to become that person who 'enjoys' running - really what draws me out to the roads time and again is a (un?)healthy fixation on claiming a PB or BQ time.

however, i'm trying to pan out my perspective a bit and look at my running career rather than just any given running season.  as i do so i'm paying more and more attention to the importance of taking time off, gaining weight, and losing some fitness - all as acceptable pieces of building myself into a stronger, faster and more durable runner.  

it's motivating to me that even the most elite of elite runners will take a number of weeks completely off from running after wrapping up their race seasons.  i also read a great article from greg mcmillan last week subtitled "The lost art of recovering between training cycles", and it in he includes a bar graph showing his training weeks around a marathon:

and i asked myself, "could i lie low like that?"  do i have that degree of courage/wisdom/focus?

the jury is still deliberating that one ...

in the meantime, i've taken up reading matt fitzgerald's book RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel on a recommendation from stan.  i'm only about a third of the way through it, but it's quite an engaging read so far.  it purports not to be a 'here's-your-to-the-letter-training-plan' kind of text but rather an exploration of some key factors that leverage each runner's unique ability to maximize potential - including how much fun you're having, gauging your own optimal mileage, and variations in stride mechanics (have you seen world marathon majors champion priscah jeptoo run?).

my hope is that perhaps as i reflect on fitzgerald's musings that i may find myself less of a slave to the training routine and more of a lover of the beautiful activity of running.  to do so i'll need to heed lewis' advice of ditching the garmin for a while (isn't it surgically attached to my wrist?) and try greg mcmillan's idea of cultivating an inner gps.

for now, my (best-laid) plan is to let november be november and settle in for some rest time.  as hard as that will be.

(he says as he completes this post just after a run)

06 November 2013

2013 hamilton marathon road2hope - race report

this past sunday i managed to complete my third marathon of the calendar year, and the fifth road race of 2013.  that in and of itself constitutes a milestone, as it eclipses any amount of racing that i'd put in previously, and certainly the most amount of concerted training miles logged within a 12 month period.

while i did not cap off the season on a high note, it was nonetheless an excellent experience and has me poised to take on 2014 with as much vigour and determination as ever.

the expo
it was only a couple of weeks ago that i was last at confederation park to race the MEC burlington race series five (10k).  that day it was a rather demure place - but on the saturday that i visited the hamilton marathon expo it was buzzing with people as the 5k and 10k races were slated for that day.  
overcast, cool and rainy, it was not the most pleasant day to be traipsing around the field at the park.  to the credit of the Hamilton Marathon organizers, it was not a complicated task retrieving the race kit (one tent) and then perusing the expo vendors (tent next door).  it helps that i'd been here last year and knew the drill, but all the same it was very straightforward. 

i actually find the road2hope expo to be just the right size - not too much in the way of promotions from other races, just a couple of local running store retailers (peddling the expected 3-for-$5.00 gel deals), and some nutrition freebies/taste tests.  especially appreciated was the latter, as the honeymaxx sports drink being served on-course was not one that i'd tried - but with the tasting booth set-up i was able to at least figure out how easy it would be to down ... and the lemon-lime went down just fine.

after collecting everything that i needed (for me and for trevor), it was a quick turnaround for the 100 minute drive back home.

race day
lewis, trevor and i made the trip down to burlington together early (5:00 am) on sunday morning - the saving grace for us was that it was the 'fall back' part of the daylight savings time observance, so we were all pretty wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for that time of the day.

we arrived at one of the parking lots near the start line (lewis' intention was to volunteer, so we didn't have to park at the finish line and shuttlebus up) and quickly made our way in the building at arcelor-mittal park.  we hoped to spot our friends norm and kathleen (both first time marathoners) and their families, as well as connect with stan.  a bit of stretching ensued, as well as porta-potty lineups, but alas no norm, kathleen or stan.

trevor and i headed out for a few kms of warmup, during which time we did come across stan.  he looked ready to rock, as he was aiming for a sub-2:50 time.  we noted that the conditions were decent, albeit a bit on the breezy side.  when the sun peeked out it was quite refreshing - and when shrouded behind cover, the temps snuck closer toward bone-chilling.

as the cattle call to lineup in the starting chute was issued, we managed to spot kathleen doing her final line-up for relief, and so was able to wish her the best.  trevor and i then introduced ourselves to the 3:15 pacer (since that was my goal - remember that) who was a jovial and encouraging cat named harvey.

i should have known that edging our way closer to the front (ahead of harvey and the 3:15ers) was a precursor of things to come.

fast forward ...

the first 21km were really quite uneventful, in all of the right ways.  the route which winds through the hamilton mountain countryside was enjoyable and tranquil.  trevor was again a courteous and efficient pacer, pointing me toward the flattest part of the road, allowing me to take the tightest tangents, and giving me the regular thumbs-up to indicating that we were on track.  i had a few conversations with other runners here and there, but really limited the chit-chat as my coach this summer told me that talking uses up energy, so to keep it in reserve instead.  from time to time it was convenient/helpful to tuck in behind a taller runner and draft as the wind was a noticeable factor in various open stretches of road.

as we started to crest our way toward the parkway and longest downhill stretch of the race, i started to breakaway from trevor and fell in with two other runners as we took turns drafting and leading.  

related digression:  there's a verse from the christian scriptures that goes like this ...

"I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate." ~ romans 7:15 (new living translation)

at this point of the game i was on pace for a 3:10 marathon.  while padding my ego, that was not the game plan.  and i was hoping beyond hope that this would not come back to bite me in the butt.

25k ... 26k ... 27k ... 28k ... 29k .... 30k.  so far so good.  no breathing problems à la erie marathon.  still on track with a 4:32/km pace, having fought the wind on the parkway.

♪ ♫ ♩ ♬ i believe i can fly ... ♩ ♬ ♪ ♫

well, i don't think that i need to tell you what happened next.

the trusty ol' GPS watch started to feed back to me that my kilometre splits were creeping up toward 5:00 per.  then i started to watch as some familiar faces stride past me.  i feared the worst as at around 33km i heard what sounded like one of the pace bunnies pumping our motivational words to his pack of runners - and they were drawing closer and closer.

sure enough, it was our man harvey.

honestly, i was surprised to see about 12 runners still hanging with 3:15 harvey.  last year at this point, there were only about four runners with the 3:15 pacer, of which i was one.  knowing that i'd made it to the 35km mark with the 3:15 group last year, i grit my teeth and tried my hardest to stick with this pack before they lost me.

but to no avail.

the feet were failing me now.  the stride turnover could not keep up, and painfully i watched the 3:15 pull toward the horizon without me.  it was quite deflating knowing that i was not going to be able to hit my target once again, but all the same i pushed and pushed - one km at a time - and somehow did manage to regain some form for the finishing straightaway.

crossed the line in 3:25:10 and immediately had my left hamstring seize up like crazy.  couldn't walk, but thankfully my pal lewis was there to greet me/hold me up/escort me to the medical tent.  i only needed a bit of water and a quick sit in the 'waiting room' chair, but it was my first interaction with the nurses at any race.  i'm one step closer to being like one of my idols, yuki kawauchi, who pretty much passes out at the conclusion of every marathon.

lewis and i waited for trevor to finish - i'd assumed he'd be more or less right behind me (given his 3:38 finish in mississauga) but apparently quad spasms overtook him and it was past the 4hr mark before he crossed the finish.  i managed to also see kathleen cross (absolutely elated), but had to dash before norm completed the race.  i was truly bummed about that, as this was a bucket list item for him - to complete a marathon by the time that he turned 50.

the trip home was pretty serene for lewis, as he drove with two dopey (and sleepy) passengers.  i felt a bit nauseous along the way - not as bad as stan mind you - but it was probably a combination of fatigue and too many post-race pizza fingers.

so another BQ opportunity missed.  i will still some time to process it all, but i think that the big lessons for me were:
  1. don't be so dumb next time - there's a reason that absolutely everyone warns of going out too fast.  i'm confident that my conditioning would have seen me much closer to 3:15 had i run the first half more conservatively.
  2. i can run a marathon non-stop.  i'd never done that before - all of my other races i'd walked through most of the aid stations.
  3. a spasm can be worked out while still moving.  at 35k my right hamstring went completely, but i determined not to stop running - and while there were several metres of modified stride, eventually i regained full elasticity and use.
  4. the fueling formula is still a bit of a mystery.  my first marathon involved five full gels - this one only needed three.
  5. i like training on higher mileage plans, like 100-120km per week.  
what's next?  well, i'm thinking of taking on a trail ultra next summer, as well as possibly pacing a friend of mine through a 100km run for charity in the late winter.  as far as BQ opportunities go, look for me at mississauga in may once again.


01 November 2013

time to hit the road(2hope)

just wanted to post a quick shout-out to everyone running this weekend's Hamilton Marathon Road2Hope - no matter what your distance or your goal, know that i'm rooting for you and stand with you in pride as to your accomplishments (and sacrifices) that have gotten you to the start line.

specifically i'm cheering for a few friends:

  • kathleen, who will be running her first marathon and hoping for a sub-4:00 finish
  • norm, also running his first marathon (and second race ever) - hoping to finish before they collect the course pylons and put away the beer
  • stan, who is gunning for an uber-impressive sub-2:50 time
  • trevor, who will be running his second marathon and pacing me toward a BQ time
  • lewis, who will be volunteering for the first time at a race event.
here's wishing you all a great weekend ahead!