Thursday, October 27, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again

I'm back in town after a whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia, my phone and power are still on, my car is insured, there are fresh groceries in the fridge, no significant body parts have dropped off yet and I'm sporting a new tattoo!

Woo-hoo! I'm back in the saddle again.

Actually, quite literally. I'm back at work bright and early tomorrow to pay for the trip to the Las Vegas Marathon in the first week of December! Mmmhhnnn... is there a theme here... running marathons, life is a marathon.... mmhhhnn... I'll get to you on that one.

And thanks to everyone for the hordes of congratulatory e-mails, notes and phone calls regarding my qualifying for the Boston Marathon. They were one of the very best aspects of BQing. Ya made my month. And one of the nicest came from.

Jeff Galloway wrote:

Vince, Congratulations!

Only one-tenth of one percent of the population finishes a marathon each year. Only about 5 percent of all marathoners quality for Boston!

I recommend that you back off the pace in Boston and enjoy the experience. You have much to look forward to. I hope you can join us at a one day run school or retreat: highly motivating with individualized information.

Great advice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Great Boston Marathon Qualifier

I thought that a simple, 3:29:39 entered into my "Boston or Bust" Blog was an elegant and ample synopsis of the results of my efforts in the Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna this past Sunday.

Yes, I actually ran fast enough in the Okanagan Marathon to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And afterwards, I was tired. Really tired. And for once, at a loss for words.

People, brevity is the soul of wit.

Or so they say, but given the deluge of complaints about the paucity of my statement I have bowed to public pressure and relented.

As per your request I have written a Blog that is filled with whining, kvetching, snivelling, self-absorption, self-aggrandisement, delusions and more than my usual degree of narcissism.

So for those of you who apparently must have the Director's Cut version of how I ran a 3:29:39 in the Okanagan Marathon I offer the following.

I will giving one of the many fine bottles of red wine that I won to the person who writes the best "Comment" to the Blog. Not because I think that any of you have any talent, but mostly because I am sick of doing all the work.

As for all those losers out there, you can start sending me my bottles of vino.

The Great Boston Marathon Qualifier

I have put off writing this for the past 36 hours simply because I have no idea what I want to say. Or even how to say what I don’t know what to say.

I qualified for the Boston Marathon in Kelowna by running the Okanagan Marathon in 3:29:39. In other words, I crossed the Finish Line with a minute and twenty seconds to spare. Which was my plan. Actually I was hoping to have a cushion of three or four minutes, but it was not to be, as I ran the race as conservatively as I was capable of running it, while going out as hard as I was able. And I got as much race out of me as I was capable of getting. I didn't leave anything behind on Sunday. I left it all out on the race course. I never knew I had that kind of prolonged discipline in me. It is actually kind of shocking to me when I think about it!

The day itself was nearly perfect. You could not ask for better conditions in which to run a marathon. The morning was cool, about four degrees Celsius and overcast, with the cloud cover lasting for the first few hours before the sun came out. I don’t think it ever got over ten or twelve degrees during the actual marathon itself. Post race, Kelowna was picture postcard perfect. A perfectly glorious autumn day.

I am a little confused because I thought that qualifying for Boston would be so much more exciting, rewarding, fulfilling, obviously as I grope here for words to express myself, I thought it would be a little more, I don’t know what… Something! But certainly more.

Part of the problem may be the way I ran the race. The Okanagan Marathon was my tenth marathon. And I was attempting to shave twenty-four minutes off of my previous best time. When I first set out to qualify for Boston I was always cognizant of the fact that I had given myself an enormous task to achieve. I always tell new marathoners that you have to respect the marathon distance and respect the race. They almost never do. Because until you try to climb the mountain, nothing ever really prepares you for it until you are actually trying to scale the pinnacle. Twenty-six point two miles is a distance to race like no other. I endlessly quote Bill Rogers, “The marathon can humble you.” The marathon is not just about being fast and being fit, it is also about being smart and about the careful management of scarce physical resources.

Faced with a challenge of this size and scope I knew I was not going to be able to pull this one out of my ass at the last moment in any haphazard flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants escapade as is the usual Vince Hemingson manner of tackling life’s little adventures. Qualifying for Boston was not going to be any Viking or Highland Scots early dawn raid on a slumbering little village and making off with the gold and the comely wenches. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was for me like preparing for a heavyweight bout against a very worthy opponent, one fully capable of knocking me on my ass. It took a full ten months for me to BQ and every ounce of my concentration and focus and energy along the way. In the end it was like a long drawn out military campaign and the last five months were spent in the trenches. And in all honesty, there were many moments where I did not know if I had the troops or the equipment to succeed.

The single biggest strategic objective that I was able to pull off, and the one that I give the greatest credit to in achieving my goal, was losing twenty-four pounds in the last five months leading up to Kelowna. I lost at least ten or twelve percent body fat and every pound was worth at least a minute in the Okanagan Marathon. As the weight came off, it became easier for me to train and much, much easier for me to recover from my workouts. During the last marathon clinic I pushed the Vince training envelope as far as I could and only stopped when I could hear paper ripping and the glue giving way. I ran as hard and as slow and as smart as I am capable of running. I came within a cat’s whisker of over-training on several occasions, and when I was exhausted to the point of collapse, I was smart enough to back off, give myself a day off and then go out and do it again. Frankly, I could never have done this without a heart rate monitor. The Polar S625X was like having the smart Vince (yes, there is a smart Vince on occasion) coaching the stupid, reckless, damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead, Vince (the usual Vince).

And during the last clinic and over the course of the summer, my strategy of measuring my progress and performance by a few well-chosen and well-timed 10K races was crucial for my confidence. By charting my 8K tempo runs and my races, I felt that I received enough positive feedback during my training to sustain me over the periods where I was plagued with self-doubt. And I really had no idea if I was going to be able to qualify for Boston until very late in August and in early September. Doing Yasso 800’s was also a key component of my success. In fact, during the last 5K of the marathon, my memory of the Yasso’s I had run was instrumental in me maintaining my confidence.

The race itself was almost anti-climatic. I laid out a plan of how I was going to run the race in early September and consulted heavily with Hugh (who ran with me every step of the race). I broke the marathon down into the first half, which I wanted to run at 156-158, the 10K up to the 32K mark which I planned to run at 158-160, the next 7K, which I wanted to run at 162-166, and the final 3K and sprint to the finish where I thought I could hang on to my speed with a 168-172 and then kick at 178-180. And that is what I did. Almost to the heartbeat. In fact the race went so much according to my plan that it was positively eerie. I executed the plan, I never deviated from the plan, and the whole race unfolded exactly as I had planned. Trust me when I tell you this folks – I am NOT that fucking good or smart. But I was on the morning of October 9th. And lucky. If you can’t be good or smart, be lucky. And I am lucky. And I guess that is all that matters. I guess I am a little dumbfounded about how the day turned out.

The morning was uneventful. I was a little quieter than usual maybe, running the race in my head. I had my usual pre-marathon breakfast. I put on my running gear and smiled when Justin remarked that I looked like Mr. Incredible in my lycra-spandex top. Hugh thought that I looked like a Marine about to hit the beaches. I was not nervous, not excited. I just wanted to engage the marathon and get it over with. We took some pictures and then it was time.

Prior to the race, I thought I might be able to build a slight cushion of three of four minutes by the 40K point of the marathon. But the start was crowded and that may have contributed to my ultimate success by giving me a great thirty-minute warm-up, but I was also down a minute by the 6K mark (and in the end I did the first 10K in 49 minutes). Also, the biggest hills were right at the beginning, so I definitely erred on the side of caution in tackling them, although an examination of my heart rate data does not really show any drop off in speed. During the entire course of the race I was never more than 30 seconds behind my pace and never more than a minute and a half ahead of schedule. I have always been able to have a strong finish if I am well trained, so that was never really a concern for me. I always knew, that at the end, when push came to shove, I would be able to drop the hammer.

At 20K I DID try to open up a bit of a gap. My heart rate was 158 and had been for miles and miles. It was like I was on cruise control. My breathing was completely comfortable and stress free. My groin tendon had not made a peep so I thought I would kick it up a notch. As soon as I did, something didn’t feel quite right, and I couldn’t even really put my finger on it, so I simply stayed at 158 because I was running right on pace and was happy to take what I could get. At 28K I again tried to build a cushion and this time when I tried to speed up I felt a flicker of muscle spasms in my calves and hamstrings. I quickly backed off. I never said anything to Hugh at the time, as I didn’t want to give voice to any excuse for not being successful, but in our race breakdown afterwards he was able to pinpoint exactly the moment in the race where he knew that something was not quite right with me. But Hugh said my running form never changed, despite knowing that something had happened.

In the meat of the marathon the miles unraveled at what seemed to me to be an amazing pace. The race organizers had done an absolutely brilliant job of preparing the course in terms of kilometer markers and water stations every mile. It was an exceptionally easy marathon in which to chart ones pace. Hugh and I walked through every one of the water stations, taking a mouthful of water and giving our selves fifteen to twenty seconds to walk. I ran without a water bottle and only carried gels. I diluted the gels 60-40 with water. I never felt the effects of low blood sugar. I may actually have had slightly TOO much water to drink, as I had to make FOUR pit stops, something I have never done in any previous marathons.

Every time another water station appeared I was slightly shocked. The race was flying by. And we were really in fine form. At 29K Hugh and I passed a very fit woman after running with her for about half a kilometer. As we went by she looked at us and exclaimed, “What is this, your 29K warm-up?” At this point in the race I was very comfortable and very relaxed. But a few kilometers later the 3:30 Pace Bunny, whom we had passed at 7K, had joined us again. Keith was slightly ahead of schedule so I was happy to fall in with him. At first I was a worried that something was wrong with my pace because the 3:30 Pace Bunny Group had rejoined me, but with a few hundred metres it became clear to me that everyone in the group was right on the edge because with 10K to go their breathing made me think that they were really pressing the pace. I fell in behind a few people to assess where I was at and to draft a little after being out front for three quarters of the race.

With 7K to go the strangest thing happened, I was nearly overwhelmed by a flood of emotions that rose up out of nowhere and nearly engulfed me. I came within a whisker of breaking into tears and a lump rose in my throat that I almost couldn’t suppress. I had experienced this before in marathons, but only when seeing families cheer on a Mom or Dad near the end of a marathon, crying out as they do, “We love you Mommy or Daddy. You can do it, Honey. I love you!” or when seeing someone struggling to finish the race with a picture of a deceased loved one on their jersey as they run a marathon in memory of someone they cherished, or when someone gallantly staggers to the finish and their friends and family rush to embrace them. I was in the middle of nowhere, not thinking of anything, and with 7K to go it was still entirely unclear whether I was going to succeed or fail. Shaking it off, I quickly sucked back some gel and tried to pull myself out of the trance I seemed to have fallen into.

With about 5K to go Keith scheduled a one-minute walk break at a water station and Hugh and I kept going after about fifteen seconds. By now I was hurting and my heart rate was a solid 165-166. My groin was fine but every few steps a muscle spasm would flicker though my calves and hamstrings and stop just short of becoming a full-blown cramp. Keith yelled out for us to go for it. And all I wanted was for the marathon to be over. It was time to make my move. We were about forty seconds ahead of schedule. Where once the road had seemed to fly by under my feet, now it was crawling. I felt every bit of asphalt with every single footfall. And my respiration rate was now at a 10K race level. With 3K to go my heart rate was a solid 170 and every breath was coming hard and fast. The last 3K were as painful as any marathon or ultra marathon I have ever run. And I was in serious jeopardy of having the muscle spasms in my legs mushroom into full-blown cramps. By now I was gritting my teeth and growling. My face was pulled back into a grimace. Every foot strike hurt and I could feel every tendon and ligament along every inch of foot, calf and thigh. I hurt into my bones. But I still felt strong. And I still felt like I had another gear in reserve that I could summon forth for the finish. One last battalion for the final assault.

Hugh was right with me, just off my left shoulder as he has been for about a thousand miles this past year, offering encouragement and urging me on. With about half a kilometer to go I threw caution to the wind and from the tunnel on I broke into a full out sprint. As I rounded the final corner I could make out the clock as it ticked by 3:29. I crossed the Finish Line seeing 3:29:59 over my head and I knew that with my chip time and the delay in getting over the Start Line that I had qualified. I staggered within steps of being over the Finish Line and probably would have fallen if two volunteers hadn’t sprung forward to support me under the elbows. A woman asked me if I wanted medical attention and I said no. She then asked me if I felt all right and I snapped, “No, of course I don’t!” not wanting to add the obvious, Lady I just ran a fucking marathon!

I had a hard time standing for the next few moments and Hugh was once again right at my side, guiding me by the elbow, telling me to keep walking and after getting my finisher’s medal and having my timing chip removed, moving me in the direction of the tent. I ate a bagel and a few bananas and that was it. It was all over.

Patrick had finished in front of me and came up to congratulate me, as did other friends.
A few minutes later I went back to the Finish Line and waited for the rest of the crew to finish. I was happy, but it was more quiet satisfaction and not over the top elation. Most of the people I talked with just after the race were a little surprised and even somewhat taken aback. They, like me, had expected a much more exuberant Vince. Maybe it still hasn’t sunk in. And to some extent, over the past month I have not even dared to allow myself to consider any other outcome other than success. I never entertained thoughts of failure. I knew it was a possibility of course, but I simply refused to believe that I would NOT qualify for Boston. At some level, I really believed that if I allowed myself to have doubts about my ability to qualify for the Boston Marathon, I was setting myself up for failure, and a very public failure at that.

In the end of course, a minute and twenty seconds is not a huge margin of victory. And truthfully, I cannot look back over any part of the race and say where I might have gained any more time. But having done what I set out to do, such an exercise is kind of a fruitless rehashing. I did it. I qualified for the Boston Marathon.

And at this point I would be remiss if I didn’t single out a few people to thank.

I want to thank the following for all their help and support. I simply could have not accomplished what I did in Kelowna without them.

They should all get medals of valour for bearing with me and putting up with me in my less than auspicious and gracious moments ... I had more than my fair share.

Very special thanks to Hugh and Seymour (my big brothers), and Patrick, Justin and Michael (I'd say little except they're so big, so I'll call them my younger brothers) without whom, over the last ten months and hundreds and hundreds of miles, I would not have made it to Boston.

You guys are the best. Simply the best.

Note: I will be leaving tomorrow for two weeks of research for The Vanishing Tattoo in Thailand and Japan, so there will be no posts while I am away. Upon my return, I will be continuing to post on this Blog as I prepare to make my journey to Boston and the Mecca of Marathoning this coming Spring.

I look forward to your Comments!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Okanagan Marathon - 3:29:39

Okanagan Marathon - 3:29:39 - Well, the first 3:10 anyways... Posted by Picasa

Interesting to compare the Okanagan Marathon Data with the Vancouver Marathon earlier this year, from May 1st.

Every pound I lost was worth one minute. And my heart rate is nearly flat. The last 10K of the marathon my heart rate climbed above 160, was above 165 for the last 5K and with 3K to go my heart rate was 168-171. I kicked the last 400 metres and my heart rate reached a maximum of 179.




M 48/166





Vince Hemingson


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pain Expectations

Disaster. Near disaster. Disaster somewhere in between. I went running at dawn in the rain and the cold and the wet. I have been limiting myself to 5K or about 25 or 30 minutes of uptempo running per day. Yesterday was miserable. On the way home I cut across a stretch of grass and was going at a brisk pace. Too late I noticed a huge puddle and tried to swerve around it at the last second. Didn't want to get my feet any wetter or colder than they already were... I pushed off of my left foot, leapt like a gazelle, and when I planted my right foot it shot out from underneath me on a patch of slick grass and mud. I barely avoided falling face first into the muck and a bolt of pain stabbed up my right leg and into my thigh.

A familiar stab. A familiar pain. Fifteen years ago I had the same thing happen to me while practising Kenpo, a form of Japanese martial arts, kick-boxing really. That groin pull took over a year to fully heal. I immediately stopped running. And limped home. Not good. Not good at all.

Saw my massage therapist this morning as scheduled and said nothing. She immediately twigged that there was something wrong with the tendon. "What did you do?" Damn! This lady is good. After working exclusively on my legs in every previous visit, I splurged this time on a full ninety minute massage, and threw my back into the mix for the first time. It took Diana all of two minutes to ask me how many ribs I had broken - many - and on numerous occasions - and to query me on the source and history of any number of adhesions and lumps of scar tissue she found while navigating my back for the first time (too numerous to list here). Diana has seeing-eye fingers and detective thumbs. She also has an elbow like a sledge hammer. Bottom line, she could tell that something was not right in Kansas any more. Great. Just great...

Back to my groin. It is very sensitive. And the injury too. I have no idea how severe it actually is. I ran this afternoon without limping, but I could definitely feel the injury. And when I pivot on my right foot I can sense a certain amount of pain and weakness. The only solution is for me to run in a very straight line. Will be interesting to see how this plays out over three and a half hours on Sunday. Not part of my best case scenario.

Regardless, I knew I was going to be in pain to some degree on Sunday. During the final stages of the race and definitely afterwards. With a fast marathon planned, it goes with the territory. You can not run your fastest in a marathon and not become acquainted with pain. It is the dirty little secret of marathoning. In order to be fast you must be willing to tolerate a certain level of pain. It is not something that gets talked about a lot. Certainly not in clinics or to first timers. Their goal is to finish. Running for a time is taking it to the next level.

As someone who has had their share of injuries, grievous, bodily and otherwise. I am on more than just speaking terms with pain. Pain and I know each other well. And I learned a long time ago that the best way to deal with pain is to embrace it, hold it close to you and never let it out of your sight. Pain can not be your enemy. You have to understand pain. Pain is your friend. Hold pain close to you.

When you go out fast in a marathon and continue to go fast for miles and hours and you run on the ragged of edge of your very best effort, where you are mere heartbeats away from going out too hard and failing and crumbling before you have reached the finish line and your best time, you will meet pain. Pain will run alongside you, and you will feel it in the muscles and sinews of your legs and in your joints and your bones and you will feel it in every ragged breath, in the pounding of your heart in your ears and in the nauseous pit of your belly.

The very best runners will embrace pain and continue to run. They will continue to hold their pace and to hold onto their form and in the end, even in the face of pain, they will get even faster. This is what makes running a marathon so extraordinary. Because you can not run it and run it hard, and by running hard I mean racing and not face the same test as every other runner. No one gets to race a marathon for free. At least not pain free. The marathon takes the measure of a runner.

Most of the rest of us will do the best we can in the face of pain. On some days and in some races we will be tough. On other days we will give in to pain. We will relent under pain's onslaught. We are, after all, only human. We are taught early on in life to listen to pain. Giving into pain is something that we are expected to do.

A lot of people will start to slow down when pain runs alongside them. Not because they have to, or because their bodies can not continue, but because they want pain to go away. Have pain chase someone else. And the easiest way to do that is to slow down. In fact your body will be demanding that you do just that. And you won't be bonking from low blood sugar, or be truly injured, you will just be giving in to pain. Pain will look you in the eye and you will either stare pain down, or you will blink and look away.

I was expecting to run with pain this Sunday. Now I am just curious when he will show up.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Race Pace for 10.5K, including Walk Breaks. My Polar was giving me fits, fortunately I was running right beside Hugh and his (Polar, that is) was working. Time to change the battery! Weather was rainy and miserable. Summer is over.... Did I mention it was wet and cold and just plain awful? But Hugh and I were very pleased with our heart rates as we burned along the Seawall. It all bodes well for Kelowna. Posted by Picasa

Last Sunday Long Run (24K), September 25th - Took Jeff Galloway's words to heart and went out very conservatively. Average heart rate 124. Cruisin'..., crusisin' on a Sunday afternoon.... Posted by Picasa

Last Long Run on Saturday, October 1 - Went out very slowly (see pace) and got passed by several slower pace groups! Average Heart Rate for Two Hours? 115! Posted by Picasa

6K Race Pace Sunday Morning, a Week Before the Marathon - Felt relaxed and comfortable. Posted by Picasa

Late Breaking News

A week between Posts. What kind of slacker has Hemingson turned into?

Just too much on my plate, folks. And I wish I was talking about food. I've just been trying to clean off my plate before the marathon planning begins in earnest this weekend. And by plate, I should be saying slate. Mixing my metaphors. But instead of putting away carbs I have been putting away backloads of work.

A couple of jobs have gone over budget and past schedule because of client changes and requests. And the client is always right, even when they're a complete pain in the ass. They do, after all, pay the bills. So it has been a mad scramble to get the extra work done as quickly as possible in order to maintain that ever vital submission of invoices in a timely manner. I have to pay for all those groceries and runners somehow!

I've put in twelve hour days - or more - for the better part of the past three weeks. And I've ended up working the weekends since the end of August (except for that mad dash to Tacoma for the boxing match which was even more arduous than work). The running of the marathon is going to seem like a picnic, and a well-earned vacation! The good thing is, my legs have been relatively rested and the work has kept me fit and cross-trained. My weight is still in the 179-180 range and I have been able to eat like a horse. I have also been able to get a good night's sleep - no social life to speak of, mind you - but lots of healthy eating, resting and recovering.

I have the marathon clinic dinner on Tuesday, and I hope that tonight is my last long night...

Speed workouts and tempo runs this past week have been very encouraging. I feel much stronger than last week, and much, much faster. My heart rate has sunk to new lows. And I have regained the energy necessary for me to pace rooms again.

Will be good to drink wine again, whether in Victory or Defeat.