30 March 2016

From the P-Train to the O-Train

Caveat emptor - I am not a real coach.

Which may pose some real issues given that I am primarily a self-coached runner.

Over the last couple of training seasons I've been trying to work with a semi-modified version of the training plans available from the Old Mutual "Do Great Things" Training Centre.  The guides available via this web portal are geared towards those who are preparing to run specific races in South Africa (which clearly I am not ... at least not until such time that I apply to the Comrades Marathon) and are developed in consultation with accomplished ultramarathoner Norrie Williamson.  I do use the qualifier "semi-modified" as I tend to tinker with plans, usually adding in workouts to accommodate the group sessions that I run with my beloved RunNinjas.


As our group normally has a 'workout' style run (e.g. fartlek, hill repeats, tempo) on Wednesday nights and more of a relaxed social run on Saturday mornings I decided that I would sneak my weekend speed work (which typically appeared on the training schedule for Saturdays) in before the 9 a.m. group run.  While not expecting anyone to join me I didn't want to exclude any of the RunNinjas so I put out an open invitation to the 7:15 a.m. "pain train" (as my buddy Steve affectionately called it), later to be known simply as the "P-Train".

Who knew that there would be other people crazy enough to tack on a solid workout (e.g. last weekend's 8x1000m @ 10k pace) ahead of a 10k easy run?

I've been blessed with the company of many great, fast and focused runners like Mike, Rad, Steve, Bill, James, Mark and Robert.  These guys all make me look bad, but at least trying to keep up with them forces me to draw from deep inside the well.

Which is where this story begins - and perhaps ends.

While it's been a great time every Saturday morning, the last week my body has been providing me with some unwanted feedback - as in I haven't been able to hit the paces that I've wanted for some key workouts (e.g. a 10k time trial and a 150 min. long run in particular).  This has elevated my level of concern as I began to wonder whether or not I'm treading a bit too close to the overtraining (let's call it the "O-Train" just to keep it all cutesy-wootsie) threshold.  

The thing is that while I feel like I can begin to check items off in the "Underperformance" category I'm not sure that many of the indicators are in play for me ... yet.  Of course I don't want to just keep on plodding down this track and eventually begin to recognize more and more of these symptoms showing up in my day-to-day existence.  Again, it's a fine line between pushing your boundaries out further (I've written before about training, recovery and supercompensation here and here) and stretching the elastic to the breaking point ... because once a runner has really crossed over into overtraining territory, it can be a long and arduous road back.

So maybe it's time to smarten up.  I may have been sabotaging my own training gains by pretending that I don't need to dial back as much as I probably do.

What's even funnier is that next Monday night I'm presenting a mini-workshop to the RunNinjas on essential training principles and periodization.  

Me, the non-coach who's booked a ticket on the O-Train but honestly doesn't want to take that ride.

Hopefully I can share some running wisdom while applying it to myself at the same time!


08 March 2016

Race report - 2016 Chilly Half-Marathon

Who looks a gift-horse in the mouth?

Not me!

My friend Bill messaged me a couple of weeks ago to ask if I knew of anyone who would be interested in taking over his bib for this year's Chilly Half-Marathon.  He had a scheduling conflict arise and didn't want to let his registration go to waste, generously offering to let anyone take his spot pro bono.  While I didn't have a half-marathon on my radar this spring I have thought about taking on this race for a number of years given it's popularity (meaning that there would be some very strong runners out there against whom I could gauge myself) and its positioning in the season as a decent litmus test for the kind of condition one might be in for a projected late-spring/early-summer marathon.

With that in mind I told Bill that I would be happy to take his place, paying the extra $10 to transfer his bib over to my name.  Budda-bing-budda-boom ... I'm now a late registrant for the Chilly Half!

Oi ... what did I get myself into?

Without really putting in much of a taper I simply adjusted my workouts for the week of Feb. 29-Mar. 6 to accommodate a race at the end of the week.  Had I thought this process through with a greater degree of clarity I might not have opted to take on the hill repeat workout two days before the race however ...

My friend and fellow RunNinja Mike (and soon to be new friend Dave) were good enough to pick up my race kit for me on Saturday - apparently the 'expo' was housed in the basement of the Burlington Mercedes-Benz dealership and wasn't anything to really write home about, so I feel like I didn't miss much by not going myself.  What worked out especially well was that after picking up my kit from Mike offered to have me join them in carpooling down to the race the next morning as our expected departure times matched up.  Initially I was going to opt out and trek down on my own as I'm (a) a rabid introvert, and (b) the last few times that I've carpooled with others to a race I've not performed optimally.  Recognizing  that the latter really had nothing to do with the company I was keeping and that I had no need to be superstitious (I really had no specific goals for this race after all) I decided that it would be a smarter decision to become one of these three Barrie amigos heading down the QEW.

Aside from the whole non-targeted, non-taper thing I decided to treat this event as a key race in every other way - including trying to mini-carb load, early-to-bed, first-thing shakeout run and pre-race fuelling.  Having gotten that all in I was psychologically in racing mode which helped me get over the feelings of soreness in my calves (oh, hill repeats ...) and the cumulative fatigue of the workout week.  I was also keen to cheer on Mike and Dave in the 5k, as well as catching up with my buds Steve, Rhonda, Stan, Nav, and Tyler.

A photo posted by patrick voo (@pbfvoo) on

Meeting up at 7:00am (a relative sleep-in when it comes to most race start times!) we hit the highway for Burlington and it was all smooth sailing on the roads.  We arrived in town with more than 90 min. to spare - plenty of time to snag prime street-meter parking, hit the (indoor!) washrooms before any significant line-ups, scout out the start/finish areas (HM and 5k had different start locations) and try to spot any familiar faces who were also milling about.  As Mike and Dave had clearly read through the info sent by the race organizers whereas I had not, they noted that runners were expected to make their way toward their respective corrals at about 30 min. before the start, so we parted ways with best wishes for a great race at around 9:30am.

Having picked my spot in the corral right around the 1:30 pacer, the crowd started to fill in ... and with about three minutes to I go I got a poke in the elbow from the guy beside me.  It turned out to be Stan!  I was really pleased to see him as he's such a great guy, spectacular runner and coach, and my flight-home companion after next month's Boston Marathon!  Of course I asked him about his hopes for his race, knowing that he'd come up with something conservative - and sure enough he indicated that as this would round out a 130km week of training for him he was hoping for something sub-1:25.  Yeah, I'm lining up next to that guy.

ok, that's not really my corral ...

It was also great to bump into a couple of other Skechers ambassadors - Erin (who was still recovering from the flu) and Kirstin were in the same section and are both extremely fast and capable runners.  I was happy to be anywhere near them, and felt in good company from the get-go.
The race
At just a few minutes after 10:00am the horn blew and we were off.  I tried to abide by the cardinal rule of not going out too fast so I didn't let my ego get (too) bruised as runners started to blow by me on my left and right.  I watched as Stan faded off into the slew of speedsters in front of me and I just focused on dialing into a pace that would be comfortable enough to sustain for 90 min. or so.

The course is shaped with a T, with two hairpin turns and the ends of the top cross-section - this meant that after starting out about 600m or so we made a sharp right.  It may have been the early nervous energy, the turn or the still clustered groups but one runner about 50m in front of me did a total ramble-tackle of a large orange road pylon which left him face-planted on the ground.  He wasn't hurt and was able to get back up and into the fray alright - but it was an interesting start to the race.

After about 2k I could hear some light and quick footsteps coming up from behind me - and in no time I could see out of my peripheral vision that my friend Rhonda (with whom I'd run a 30k training run just six days before) had caught me and locked into my cadence.  Being a lightning fast runner herself I thought that if we trucked along together for a ways that that would bode well for my anticipated outcome.  Somewhere just after the 4k mark she edged ahead, and I feared that I was slowing down already ... so I yanked ever-so-slightly on my proverbial bootstraps and picked up the pace.

I was hoping to latch onto a group running at a comparable clip to what I was laying down but as it turned out the middle miles were chock full of forward-and-reverse traffic ... runners passing me and then slowing up to be passed by me again.  As I checked my splits intermittently it looked like I was keeping a fairly even rhythm, so I'm not sure whether or not the minor undulations on the course were making a difference.

Approaching the turnaround at roughly 13k I could see that there were two runners jockeying for the lead, with one of them being the Skechers elite athlete Josh Bolton.  I yelled out my encouragement to him as a fellow Skechers (but far from elite) athlete but I could tell that he was pretty focused on trying to take this race so I didn't expect any kind of acknowledgment.  I also saw Steve and Stan pass by on their home half of the loop before I hit the hairpin and also tried to root them on with some boosting words.

One quick side note:  I had a couple of interesting observations regarding the aid stations.  While they were evenly spaced and in sufficient number along the course I wasn't crazy about the fact that the water cups were plastic.  The electrolyte drink was in your standard wax-paper coated cups which are typically compostable, but with these plastic cups they were probably going to hit the landfill - and add to that the fact that they would crack (and leak out what little water they may have been holding) when trying to perform the hook-and-pinch maneuver.  The other thing was that they didn't offer gels at any of the aid stations (even with Clif Bar as one of the race sponsors) which kind of surprised me ... even though races that do have gels usually make them available way too late (around 18km for the half-marathon or 38k for the marathon) so I don't depend on them.  Still, I thought that they would be out there to be had.

During the ride down with Mike and Dave we'd talked a bit about the power of visualization, and I'd mentioned that having done a bit of online course scouting I planned to try to push it a bit harder at around the 16k mark (which was conveniently enough as we crossed Appleby Line so I could use the street sign as a mental cue).  So I did try to bump it up a gear at that point although I'm sure that it looked more like me just bumbling along a little more awkwardly than usual - still, it felt like the guys who were distancing themselves in front of me were no longer doing so as I was now keeping pace with them.  Where it got interesting was just before the 19k mark as I heard footsteps closing in from behind and then falling into rhythm with my own cadence.  I decided to turn to this hanger-on and say "we can catch the next two guys ahead of us" as a way of motivating us both.  Well, doesn't he say "you got it - just stay behind me" and push just ahead of me - I could then see that he looked a bit older than I (maybe in his early 50s) and sporting a Longboat Roadrunners singlet.  I would later figure out that this guy was the president of the club, Roger Moss, an accomplished marathoner and coach - but to me he was like the home-stretch pacer who yanked me into his wake as we closed the gap and then slingshotted past the two runners that I'd eyeballed.

With 1000m left to go I told myself that it was time ...

I could see that there was a female runner about 75m ahead of me and called on whatever reserves I had left - pumping my arms up and down, hands spread out karate chopping the air, grunting like crazy - to try to reel her in.  I managed to do so just before the final turn down towards the finishing strait.  Then it was just all out as I spied a 1:26:xx on the clock and knew that I would be crushing my previous half-marathon PR of 1:36:58.

Gotta love the pics where you're airborne!



Almost immediately after crossing the timing mat I spotted Mike and Dave who were busy snapping pics and trying to capture the moment for me (and who also brought my backpack with clothes to change into to stay warm).  They'd both just completed clocking their own new PBs in the 5k - Mike having come through in a blistering 17:37 and Dave smashing his old PB by more than four minutes with a 31:29.

I also spotted Steve with some of his fellow Black Lungs compatriots and went over to congratulate him on a solid effort.  He was disappointed with the result (a measly 1:21:27 ... pssshaw!) given that he was probably capable of a solid 1:18 at this time.  Still, I offered some small consolation and then we progressed down the chute to pick up finisher medals, water, fruit, granola bars and Muscle Milk protein drinks (not a bad little exit buffet!).

After snapping a few obligatory post-race pics Mike, Dave and I headed for Wendel Clark's Classic Grill and Bar, one of the four or so restaurants that was offering a free beer and bowl of Stagg chili to all race participants.  This was surprisingly easy to get to (close to the start/finish area), the patio was none too busy and the chili in plentiful supply.  I passed my Steam Whistle beer over to Dave (as I don't drink) and was happy to just enjoy the meaty meal and great company.

I couldn't have imagined a better experience with my first Chilly Half-Marathon - really fantastic friends, a pleasing race result and lots of great memories.  If you're looking to dot your 2017 calendar with a spring half, make sure to consider this race!

Race gear for the 2016 Chilly Half-Marathon: