Monday, March 21, 2005

Wet and Wild

After last week’s rather epic mileage (at least for me) and the pace of the speed and hill workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday, I took both Thursday and Friday off. On Saturday I did a relatively easy 24K (14 miles) with a 46-minute 10K stuck in the middle. I was ever mindful of the fact that I was going to run 50K (30 miles) the next day. Or so I thought...

Sunday dawned wet and cold. I wore more layers than I had in many weeks. It was also the first official 20 miler (32K) scheduled for the Running Room Marathon Clinic. The Running Room has a venerable and much beloved tradition of inviting all the Marathon Clinics from all over the Lower Mainland to the Denman Street location and then having everyone follow a 32K route that follows as much of the marathon course as possible. It familiarizes first time marathoners with the layout of the course and hopefully reduces some of the trepidation. Afterwards there are pancakes, hot chocolate and coffee and lots of runnerly camraderie.

Many marathoners, especially first timers, seem to fret about “knowing” the marathon course, as if they were Formula One Grand Prix race car drivers who need to memorize the apex of every corner in order to achieve their optimum lap times. Me, I am happy to follow the crowd in a race and frankly, it makes not a whit of difference to me whether I know the course or not. After a few marathons I try to cut corners, but I could care less where the hills are on the course. The last time I checked, the marathon is over when you cross the finish line. And usually the race organizers make a big stink about it, they put up banners, balloons and generally a crowd often gathers at the end as well. It’s pretty tough to miss even if you’re severely blood-sugar deprived and on the brink of hallucination.

Several hundred eager, enthusiastic and excited marathoners made their appearance on Sunday morning. The air of anticipation was so thick you could cut it with a knife. And therein lay the problem. No one treated the first twenty-miler of the marathon clinic like a training run. For most people it was clearly a dress rehearsal for the marathon itself. Any endurance or training benefits of the run were negated within the first few miles.

I was supposed to lead a 3:45 pace group and I was in the midst of fifty people who were determined to run at slightly above marathon race pace. In a word, it was insane. I barked a few times about slowing down the pace and a splinter group of about twenty people took off ahead of us. By the end, that group broke apart and was strung out over several kilometers. It was every man, woman and jackass for themselves. I was so startled by the pace that most people seemed bent on pursuing that I began querying all the unfamiliar runners around me about which Running Room store they were training out of and who their pace group leaders were. And just out of curiousity, what training regimen were they following? Was this a new training philosophy I had not yet heard about?

The long and short of it was that most pace groups were kind of, sort of lumped together by ability but nobody really “set” a training pace. What!? One group leader commented to me (and this was a nine marathon veteran) that he used to enjoy Sunday long runs but that at his store they had turned into Sunday races! The pace set on Sundays was so fast he continued, that over the course of the clinic about half of his pace group had dropped out, some with injuries, and he was down to eight people in his group. I did not find another person running outside of the Denman store who had a heart rate monitor. There were a few runners with GPS units and accelerometers, but they were mostly using them to keep track of the distance and not worried so much about pace.

Over the course of several hours of conversation, and most of the runners still left in my group couldn’t believe the amount of talking we were doing, I did not find anyone who was familiar with training in target heart rate zones or any of the good stuff you supposedly learn in a marathon training clinic. What are mitochondria? Enzymatic and hormonal changes in muscle cells, huh? Aerobic versus anaerobic? Free fatty acid mobilization? Capillary density? The Sunday endurance runs in most running groups are the equivalent of taking people who can’t swim, throwing them in the deep end of the pool with no instruction or supervision, and if they get out of the water alive, declaring that they know how to swim. I was shocked. But I found a lot of people who at least pretended to be interested in the discussion of the benefits of training at 65% on Sunday. That being said, it was almost impossible to keep the group below 70-75%.

I ran at the front of the pack and attempted to explain running group etiquette to anyone who would listen. I had to tell the same individuals over and over again, that if they couldn’t run behind or beside me, they were welcome to join the group in front of us. Unbelievably, a number of four hour pace group members had sped up and joined us and one of them proved to be the worst culprits of all. This guy was incapable of carrying on a normal conversation and his breathing and his running form were clearly labouring to keep up the pace. I had to wonder what the point of the exercise was for this individual. Did he actually think he was getting some kind of training benefit from running 32K at a pace that was patentedly and obviously absurd for him? I bit my tongue, other than to make the somewhat acid observation that the actaul marathon race wasn't until May 1st.

Most of my regulars were running at the back of the pack and observing the fiasco that was playing out in front of them. Afterwards, during our 10K add-on, Michael and Sean commented that it was clear that the vast majority of the people were labouring to maintain the pace. They said there was little or no conversation at the back of the pack and a universal look of grim determination to tough it out. My God, what an unenjoyable way to train and to run on a Sunday.

Having kvetched and pontificated now at length, I must say I did enjoy meeting a bunch of new runners. I am certainly looking forward to running the Vancouver Marathon with a number of them.

We finished the first 32K in a little over 3:30 and this was with me adding a few unscheduled breaks and extending a few of the recovery walks without telling anyone what I was doing. Sneaky and underhanded, but it was so cold and so wet, 4-6 degrees in a constant drizzle, that I was damned if I was going to let anyone get injured on my watch. Leading the first 32K was more emotionally exhausting that physically tiring, but at the end of my ordeal I had no taste for doing another 18K. So Michael, Sean, Justin and Laura and I all took a bit of a breather; Laura, in a stroke of brilliance changed into a second set of dry running gear, and after a few Power Bars we set off to do another 10K on the trails in Stanley Park.

Once we were amongst the trees in Stanley Park, the temperature seemed to rise several degrees, but we looked like wraiths as we ran, great clouds of steam trailing in our wake and drifting off into the evergreens. The joy and bliss of switching to five and ones cannot be adequately described in this space. It was better than sex. That and the fact that we slowed the pace down to a place where we were all running at around 55-60%. In the end we ran 41.5K in 4:40 and headed home.

One of the pluses of switching to a pace where we were actually getting some endurance training benefits was that all of us observed that our legs actually felt like they were recovering from the previous 32K. We loosened up and a lot of muscle stiffness and soreness disappeared. I can honestly say that I am eagerly looking forward to an easier week of training.

But I can't help wondering how most people are feeling this morning...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll agree with you on this one. The pacing was racing!

12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Kvetched? I didn't think Heminson was a Jewish name! My attempt to BQ has been hamstrung a bit by tendonitis, but I'm shooting for Long Island on May 1, so we share a common race day. I actually raced as part of my long run yesterday - did 16 miles with a 20K as part of it. The chill in NJ (drizzle and 40ish...probably pretty close to your 4-6 made my hams and glutes get tight at the end. But I was just in shorts. I need more longs and can't do many fast. The legs feel spent today, the tendonitis in the right knee is detectable but not painful and the PF in the left foot is gimping me up, but duct tape, Krazy glue and baling wire (with liberal icing) should get me through. This is your first attempt to BQ?

3:08:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Hi Scooter,

This year is the first time I have ever entertained the idea of trying to qualify for Boston. Technically I won't be trying to qualify in Vancouver on May 1st because I will still be a young & tender 44 and my BQ is 3:20.

Come October I will be an ancient and honourable 45 and my BQ leaps to 3:30. But I want to get an idea for the pace so in Vancouver I am shooting for a 3:30.

My training has been going well, and I think the primary limiting factor on my ultimate success will be how well I conquor my weight issue.


4:09:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

New update, Scooter. I sent out this e-mail...

This is the qualifying time description off of the Boston Marathon website. If my goal is to run in Boston in April of 2006 at age 45, does this mean that ANY 3:30:59 I run after September 27, 2004 would qualify?

To qualify for the 109th Boston Marathon, athletes must meet the designated time standard which corresponds to their age group. Qualifying times must have been run after September 27, 2003 at a certified marathon. Seeding is based on qualifying times, which are subject to review and verification. All participants must adhere to the guidelines set forth by the B.A.A., USA Track and Field or foreign equivalent, International Paralympic Committee, Wheelchair Sports, USA, Disabled Sports, USA, and the United States Association for Blind Athletes. Qualifying times must be met in competitions observing these same rules. Proof of qualification must accompany the application. Participants must be 18 years or older on race day.

Qualifying times are based upon your age on the date of the Boston Marathon in which you will be participating.

5:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

To which Justin replied...

Vince buddy, read the FAQ! They have one there just for you .....


I will be 44 when I run my qualifying race, but will be 45 when I run Boston. What is my qualifying time?

Your qualifying time is based on your age on the day of the Boston Marathon, thus your qualifying time will be 3hrs 30 min – and you can be 44 when you run your qualifying race



5:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Seymour said...

The week after I got back into running after a week long layoff (a month ago), due to my injury, I woke that Monday after the Sunday long run to such pain, that I now use that day as a bench mark of how bad the pain can be!

In comparison then, to that Monday, I am very fine today. I have very little stiffness in my legs and an actual sense that I could do a recovery run of 10k today. I won't but I will save it for tomorrow and Wednesday.

I have spent much mental time, thinking about what I would say to those runners from the other stores, if I was given a chance to speak to them. I agree with Vince's implied assessment that those other stores' clinics
need to have a check of their leaders.

As the head of the four hour pace group it was impossible to control over 100 runners yesterday. By the time we got to the third walk break there was 30 people who took off in front of me. There was a pair, in that group of 30, that I did see twice more after they left us. Once, coming back from the turn around on fourth. At that point they were ahead of the Vince's group. I couldn't believe it!

The second time was at the end. They were there trying to cheer us in at the end. I was running with Sonya and we were already focused on doing the extra 7-8 km. The woman cheering was not really happy, for you could see the pain on her face. She was cheering us because it was a dress rehearsal for the race. I just wonder how she is feeling today.

May be we could send the Vince's Blog to the other stores through
Anthony. Or just forward this email to them.


5:57:00 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

I would love to know how the various clinics prepared their members for the 32K long run on Sunday. There was a real air of desperation to the running of some of the folks out there in the rain, almost as if they were trying to beat a time goal.

I saw a lot of people who were running at 75% and even close to 80% of their max. At the turnaround on Cornwall I was astonished at the number of people grimacing in obvious discomfort as they ran.

You usually don't see that except in the actual marathon itself. A lot of people were at very close to their race pace.

And what happened to their pace groups? The course was absolutely "littered" with stragglers and splinter groups of two and three people strung out for miles. There was absolutely no cohesiveness to the training groups whatsoever.

I lost at least a third of the 3:45s in the first mile, but the ones that stuck to the pace did stay together as a group for the entire run.

6:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love it!

I was chatting to a lot of people today about how silly a lot of the runners seemed. We had folks passing us who could barely talk.

11:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I won't post my name on your blog for obvious reasons, but all I can say is I'm not surprised.

The Running Room just doesn't offer enough to attract good instructors. And the poor minimum wage employees that inevitably get wrangled into leading a clinic don't have instruction manuals to follow. You can' t teach what you don't know. Of course, some of them quit halfway thru a clinic which makes it even more disorganized....

As well, I wonder how many of those rogue runners were following Stanton's distance learning program with the Province newspaper? A newspaper isn't going to lead you on a 7 min/km pace is it???

11:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something should really be said.

I couldn't bear to watch it on Sunday either.

11:22:00 PM  
Blogger Scooter said...

Justin beat me to the answer. So, yes, you can qualify on May 1 with a 3:30:59 or better. If you get it done then, you can go on an eating binge to try to return yourself to "white whale" status before actually running Boston! (OK - unlikely, but it conjures up some amusing imagery...esp. you trying to explain that you actually did qualify, then out a few lbs. on).

8:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your piece you say it was almost impossible to keep people below 70-75%. How do you know that? You've never run a 3:45 marathon yourself. Maybe you are too slow to be a 3:45 pace leader, did you ever consider that?

9:17:00 AM  

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