Thursday, June 26, 2008

Totem to Totem Marathon - Fringe Benefits

Neil Wakelin may have caught more Chinook than me, but mine was the biggest!  And honestly, isn't that really what everyone remembers on a fishing trip?

Three beauties.

Almost too beautiful for words...  

Marathon measurer extraordinaire, Neil Wakelin and Fishing Guide extraordinaire, Andy Wilson.

More photos at -

My Marathon Affair

Wow, just thinking about the last nine days leaves my head spinning and thinking about all the myriad ways in which the marathon has insinuated itself into my life...

I have run two dozen marathons in the past eight years, run them in runners and kilts and combat boots, run them fast (at least for me), run them slow, run them alone and run them as a Pace Bunny, I have run them hot and run them cold, in the rain, on sunny days, in sleet and snow and run them in three countries, two states and two provinces, I have run victoriously and run until I bonked.  I have eaten, slept and dreamed marathons.  My years, my Spring and my Fall have been planned around marathons and many vacations have had a marathon at the center. I even came up with the idea of starting the Totem to Totem Marathon.  And of course I started my Boston or Bust Marathon Blog...

I thought I had experienced the marathon in just about every way I possibly could and then I went North to Haida Gwaii and I experienced the Marathon in a whole new way.

I went to Skidegate in the Queen Charlotte Islands and helped Neil Wakelin measure the Totem to Totem Marathon course in order for the race to be sanctioned and certified, as, among other things, a Boston Marathon qualifying course.  It was such a fascinating experience to break a marathon down into its constituent components, 50 metres of steel tape at a time. And in the rain I might add.

Here is my Face Book Photo Album of the trip -

Walking and biking and driving and running the course multiple times over three days made 26.2 miles seem like such an intimate distance.

It took Neil and I two and a half hours to measure an accurate to within one inch (or is that two centimetres) one kilometre stretch with which to calibrate the Jones Counter which we had attached to a bicycle.   We hammered nails into the shoulder of a perfectly straight stretch of highway and then measured with the steel surveyor's tape and spray-painted the road for good measure.  Because it was raining, we had to go into the Co-op and buy paper towel and actually sop up the the shoulder of the highway until it was dry enough for the paint to stick... Now that must have been something to see!

Then Neil sat in the truck and worked out all his calculations, translating the number on the measured kilometre into miles and kilometres on the Totem to Tote Marathon Course.

The next day - still drizzling rain I might add - we measured the course in just under four hours.  Or about the length of time it takes to actually run a marathon for the average person!  We saw a bear, several deer and multiple eagles along the course.

We marked out every mile and 5K marker, and a 10K, and Half Marathon course as well, along the full Marathon route.  And we built in just under 50 meters of error to make sure the measured distance stood up to any scrutiny in the future.

Neil was grinning from ear to ear despite the rain and the cold, as he contemplated measuring out what he thought might be one of the prettiest, flattest and fastest marathon courses he's ever been on, let alone measured.  And after 112 marathons all over the world - his PB is a 2:28 - this transplanted Kiwi knows his marathon courses.

Of course, part of the reason for Neil's grinning may well have been the knowledge that after we measured the marathon course, Andy Wilson was taking us out fishing for Chinook!  See photos for the results of THAT endeavor!

Neil and I were so enthused about the course that we talked about running all 42.2 K the next day, but given time constraints settled for a fast and hard 10K.  Until of course when we reached the 10K turnaround and Neil said, "Let's do the Half course!", which we did.  In 1:42:00...  I was gasping at the end.

We flew back to Vancouver bubbling away with ideas for the Totem to Totem Marathon. Neil thought it was a fabulous race to run as a Boston qualifier and a natural place for runners to set a Personal Best.  Only time will tell.

After getting back to Vancouver, on Sunday I ran the Scotia Bank Half Marathon as a training run.  Because let's face it, I'd already raced a Half Marathon up in Haida Gwaii!   I did it in 2:16 at an average heart rate of 138.

On the Tuesday night tempo run I was still stiff from the weekend and did an easy 6K.

Last night I ran 10K in 48:15 at an average heart rate of 158. That's almost three minutes faster than two weeks ago and I felt much, much more comfortable.

I weighed 203 pounds this morning.  Twenty-three pounds to go...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday Tempo

Ran 8K tempo tonight in 39:16, about half a minute faster than last week.

Felt terrible.  Serves me right.  Ate too much at lunch.  Drank too much at lunch.

Most of our wounds in life are self-inflicted.

Eventually, not only will I learn this lesson, I may in fact one day actually heed it.

But not today...

Tomorrow I am headed north to measure and certify the Totem to Totem Marathon course.  Now THAT should prove interesting!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Data Does Not Lie!

What initially started as a trickle of interest from runners interested in qualifying for the Boston Marathon or running a personal best has turned into a torrent.  To date I have sat down with no fewer that ten runners in the past three weeks to outline programs that might help them achieve their goals.  In most cases we are talking about time improvements of 10-15 minutes.

And as altruistic as I might be, my recent focus on the basics of outlining a training program with very specific goals for others has helped me immeasurably as well.  I have gone through dozens of old posts as I have tried to illustrate all of my training suggestions and more importantly, back up what I am saying with secondary evidence and hard data.  It's been eye-opening for me as I realize that I have fallen out of many "good" training habits as I struggled with the task of finding the time in my schedule to run at all.  So I have already benefited from "going back to the drawing board".

For better or for worse, I am still a fervent believer in the benefits of training with a heart rate monitor.  I still believe it is the best way for runners to maximize and achieve the most out of a quality work out.  And with a finite number of work outs in a marathon training cycle, why would you want to squander even one work out?  And a heart rate monitor gives a runner invaluable instantaneous insight into their performance.  To paraphrase an old friend, "the data does not lie".

I've encouraged everyone who has a goal to establish a baseline from which to start.  Knowing where you are at is the best way to chart a course to where you want to go!

To that end, I gave everyone who asked me for specific training tips a "little black book", also known in some circles as a Training Journal or Log.  That last was more tongue in cheek than sarcasm.

Starting with their best race time to date and the goal time they wanted to achieve, I also had them write in their Maximum Heart Rate, Resting Heart Rate, Body Weight, Percentage of Body Fat, and MAX VO2.

Of course, this all sounds much easier in theory than in practice.  With the exception of myself, not a single one of the ten runners has been able to completely fill in all the blanks on their baseline assessment.  Now comes the fun part - filling in the blanks!

The first step has been to get people to either acquire heart rate monitors, or actually wear the ones they already had in their possession but which had been tossed into the back of the closet.

The next step is to go as a group and get tested for Maximum Heart Rate, Max VO2, Lactate Threshold and do an immersion body fat test.  After that step, every single person will have all the data they need to chart a course for success over the next 16 weeks.

On Sunday we went out and as a group ran 12.8 miles in 2:13:00.  So far, we are tentatively called the 3:45 Pace Group, as that is the minimum marathon time goal for most of the group, but we have a bunch who want to run everywhere from 3:20's to 3:40's.  We did the Jeff Galloway ten and one walk breaks as we normally do, and ran a pace of 9:30 per mile.  I think this was a bit of a shock for some.  And for those wearing a heart rate monitor for the first time in a while, even more so.

My average heart rate was 138, or 68% of my MHR.  Our average pace was 9:30, but factoring in walk and bathroom breaks, 10:24.  I burned 1942 calories - praise the Lord, and I will be keeping an eye the calories I consume between now and the Fall Marathon (I still haven't picked a Fall race yet...).  A little less than two pounds per week for the next 12-14 weeks is the same plan I followed with success back in 2005.  My God, where has the time gone?

I must say, that I have not been this enthusiastic about a marathon clinic in a very long time. It's wonderful to see so many people excited about setting a new goal and enthused about running a Boston Qualifying time.  And that feels great for me as well.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Racing Improves the Breed

Last night, and due largely to the urging of my running buddy, "Fast" Pat Gross, I ran the Longest Day 5K out at the University of British Columbia Thunderbird Stadium.  It was perfect night for a run and the 5K got off at 7:45.  The sun had actually made a rare appearance and it had been a lovely summerly afternoon, not too hot, but the rays of the sun had real heat for the first time in weeks.  And then as our own little solar system star began to set, it cooled off appreciably.

This week I went out reasonably hard on Tuesday - 8K (39:51), Wednesday - 10K (50:52), Thursday - mile repeats (7:00 miles), and Friday - 5K (23:18).

In every instance I had no trouble revving my heart rate to near stratospheric levels. And my times were not that bad for the start of a marathon clinic.  More importantly, if I recalculated them taking my recently blossomed waist into consideration, the numbers were really not that bad.  Dropping 10-12% body fat does amazing things for race performance!  Take 10-12% off all my times this week and I'd be ecstatic.

Once again, the benefits of being able to look at old workouts and old numbers helped immeasurably in taking stock of my current condition.

I had not run a race since the Portland Marathon last October and it was great to pin on a race bib and feel the familiar fluttering of butterflies before the start.  I ran the first mile - which in all honestly is significantly downhill, in 6:10 and then wheezed across the Finish Line to an average time of 7:33.  Any race course that goes down must of course go up!

The Longest Day Race has a barbeque and a beer garden attached and usually attracts a great crowd. There were seven of us who ran the event and it is always great to swap after race horror stories and "you-should-have-seen-the-size-of-the-one-that-got-away" yarns.

I ran until I was gutted and treated the 5K like a real race, finish time to the contrary. Perhaps I erred in not taking the time to properly cool down, but I went straight from the Finish Line to the BBQ line-up and within ten minutes of finishing the race I was scarfing down a hamburger and a plate of veggies and fruit.  I did try to be sensible. And I was feeling light-headed because it was after 8:15 PM and I hadn't eaten since a salad at lunch and all I'd had for breakfast on Friday was two slices of multigrain toast. Food finished, most of us were getting pretty chilled from sitting in the shade of the setting sun in sweat-soaked technical race gear, so we nixed the idea of the outside beer garden in favor of a warm and cozy pub.

Whatever the reason, my stomach was none too thrilled.  I went home for a quick shower and intended to join my friends, but once home I quickly lost my dinner.  And I was utterly knackered.  I collapsed on the couch and could hardly move I was so fatigued.  I am sure there is a lesson in there somewhere...

I am definitely taking Saturday off...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Training Journals and Marathon Performance

Yesterday I went out and did two mile repeats, the first one at 6:54, which is probably a bit fast, and the second at 7:09, which is probably a bit slow, but at the end of three straight days of what felt like pushing-the-envelope speed work for my current level of conditioning, I was happy just to finish.  I knew going in, with my achy stiff-legged warm-up run, that I was going to be paying a price, and that was certainly confirmed with my cool-down run!

This morning I am stiff, tired and I slept like a log last night.  Eight solid hours which is about an hour more than usual.  And it was lights out the whole way.

This marathon training cycle I have been approached by more than the usual number of runners interested in taking their marathon performance to the next level.  Getting better as a marathoner is all about understanding what makes you tick as an endurance runner; incorporating speed, stamina and strength work outs, with a fairly knowledgeable comprehension of nutrition, physiology and training and racing strategies.

Looking back over my training history it's quite apparent that all of my best training cycles have come when I have kept fairly comprehensive training journal. Frankly speaking, I can't do my best without a training journal.  Stricken as I am with limited mental capacity, it's just too hard to remember over a four and five month period how I have felt at different times, the progress I am making, the mileage I have actually run on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, which work outs I have responded well to and which ones I didn't, what I weighed, what I ate, what my heart rate was, what I...  well, you get the idea.   There is just too much information to carry around in my short term memory and it gets readily lost when I try to box it up and ship it off to long term memory.

I was recently reading a training journal from five years ago and while I recognized my handwriting, I might as well have been reading a stranger's diary.  But once I started reading, it the memories all came flooding back.

Two things have worked in my favor when it comes to keeping track of my marathon training. The first was my Polar Heart Rate Monitor with its ability to download workouts; a hugely useful amount of data, and the second of course has been my Boston or Bust Marathon Blog.  And it never hurts having the knowledge that all kinds of people are essentially reading over my shoulder. It keeps me honest.  It also makes me show up for work outs!

So yesterday I went out and got simple marathon training journals for those runners who had approached me about getting faster and setting new personal bests and qualifying times.  On the inside of each front cover I labeled them "Marathon Personal Best Kits".

Oh yeah.  I weighed 205 this morning.

I have a 5K race tonight.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Real World Realities of Marathon Race Pace

Last night a small group of us went out for a 10K at marathon race pace. It was a little shocking.  And that was even with me fudging the numbers a little.  We did a hair over 10K in 50:52.  I had been shooting for 48:00 flat, which requires a pace of 7:43.  I should know better than to do math in my head while running! Our actual average pace was 8:11, which would have resulted in a marathon time of 3:34:24.  Close, but not close enough!  Actually, it would have been fabulous for everyone in our group but me!

To qualify for the Boston Marathon I have to run a marathon pace of 8:00 per mile. Realistically of course, with breaks for water and other interruptions, a safer pace is around 7:45 per mile.  Hence the 48:00 minute 10K's at race pace.  A 3:20 is an even more daunting task.  That requires a pace of 7:38, which means that in the real world I should be aiming for a marathon race pace of 7:25-7:30....  Or faster!

It may seem a little obsessive to agonize over seconds, but in the end that is what every marathon boils down to, minutes and seconds per mile.

Once again of course, 16 weeks can work a lot of magic, but last night was a real reminder of how challenging it is to run a personal best.

The first night of the Clinic, the Clinic leaders usually have a brief discussion about running etiquette.  Never mind treating your Pace Group Leaders like the Gods they are!

Crikey, for once I wish they would tell people not to douse themselves in cologne or perfume.  Few things are more disagreeable than going out for a hard run for the better part of an hour and having your proboscis assaulted along the way.   The current clinic has a couple of men who wear so much of something that they run in a cloud.  You either have to run ahead of them, or simply drop back to keep from literally gagging.  

At the other end of the scale are the runners who've apparently never heard of deodorant, or even worse, wear the same workout gear for multiple runs.   THAT in and of itself is enough to make fly larvae regurgitate a meal of decaying meat, or as my Daddy used to say, smell bad enough to make a maggot puke...

On a positive note, the scale read 205 this morning!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A New Marathon Clinic - A New Road

A new marathon clinic started last night.  If my faulty memory serves me correctly, I think this is my fifteenth consecutive marathon clinic.  My next marathon will be my 25th.

I have set myself an overall goal of yet again qualifying for the Boston Marathon - still a daunting 3:30:59 or better - and I must confess that I am really looking forward to running a Fall Marathon.  In a perfect world I would love to break through the 3:20:00 barrier.

I agreed to be the Pace Group Leader for the 3:45 group and know that my Sundays will be spent with many old friends.   Something else to look forward to in the coming months.

One of  the best parts for me - at least anticipated - in the upcoming clinic has been the number of marathoners I know who are looking to set new personal bests.  I really do love nothing better than crunching numbers...

I encouraged everyone who expressed an interest in setting a personal best to start out with a clear baseline of their current fitness by going and getting their Max VO2 tested and their body fat accurately measured AND by knowing their current Maximum Heart Rate.  Once you've established those parameters, the rest is numbers crunching and training.  Hard training. Smart training.

The clinic started out with a tempo run and I finished up about where I expected after a long springtime of sloth, gluttony and indulgence!

First confession.  I am tipping the scales at 206 pounds.  Three pounds heavier than when I began my first quest to qualify for Boston!   And at a body weight back in the day of 203 pounds, my body fat percentage was 22%.   So my current beluganess puts me in the 24% body fat ball park!

For a little walk down memory lane, here is that old Blog...

I ran 8 kilometers last night in 39:51, which is about what I expected to do. My best 8K last year when seriously training was a much more promising 34:11.

One of my favorite marathon web sites for training information, tips and calculators is

An 8K time of 39:51 calculates to a marathon of 3:54:48, which I suspect is spot on.

A rough rule of thumb is that for every percentage of body fat that you lose, you gain one percent in performance, or speed. Calculated another way, for someone like myself, for every pound of body fat I lose, I'll get one minute faster over 26.2 miles.

In 2005 and 2006 that is exactly what happened.  I lost twenty five pounds and ran back to back 3:30:00 marathons in Kelowna and Boston.

Back to the tempo runs.  Last year in 2007 I ran a best 8K of 34:11, which according to the Race Result Predictor projects a marathon time of 3:21:24, all other things being equal, and in the best of all possible worlds...

After the run last night the usual suspects went for pasta and pizza.  And in time honored tradition we bench raced our bodies. "If I do this, if I do that, you should really..." God how I love these lunatics...

So this morning I woke up a little stiff but so looking forward to the next 16 weeks of sweat and toil.  I signed up for a couple of races yesterday to get my competitive edge back and to give me some concrete goals to work towards.

Back on the Boston Diet - or as I like to put it - the long, cruel summer...

And under the category of you can never have too much information:








1. What are some different levels of VO2 max, and what do these numbers mean?

VO2 max values, typically expressed in ml/kg/min., can vary between 20 and 90 ml/kg/min. The average value for a sedentary American is about 35 ml/kg/min, while elite endurance athletes average about 70 ml/kg/min. Your sedentary VO2 max value is primarily determined by genetics (a sedentary person may have a VO2 max value as high as 50 ml/kg/min. or as low as 20 ml/kg/min). Although anyone can improve their sedentary VO2 max value through training, this genetic variation helps explain why everyone can't train themselves to be elite.

2. What are some of the highest levels of VO2 max ever recorded?

The highest VO2 max value ever recorded, 93 ml/kg/min, was from a Scandinavian cross country skier. Steve Prefontaine, at 84.4 ml/kg/min, had one of the highest VO2 max values recorded in elite runners. Grete Waitz had a VO2 max of 73 ml/kg/min. when she was running at her best, one of the highest recorded values for women and on par with the values for some elite men. 

3. How do some elite runners make up for lower levels of VO2 max?

Although all elite runners have VO2 max values well above the population mean, the correlation between VO2 max and performance is not absolute. Derek Clayton only had a VO2 max of 69 ml/kg/min. and Frank Shorter only recorded a value of 71 ml/kg/min., yet both of these runners ran marathon times of under 2:11 and surely outperformed runners with higher values. This variation in VO2 max values among the elite is possible because VO2 max is only one of several factors that determine running performance. These other factors include mental attitude (ability to tolerate pain), running economy (how efficiently one runs), and lactate threshold (fastest pace you can maintain without accumulating large amounts of lactic acid in your blood). A runner with a relatively low VO2 max, but high in these other performance factors, could outperform a runner with a significantly higher VO2 max but with poor running economy and a low lactate threshold. For example, Derek Clayton and Frank Shorter compensated for their lower VO2 max values with their high efficiency and ability to run their marathons at a high percentage of their VO2 max without accumulating too much lactic acid (high lactate threshold).
MAX VO2 Calculators

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Boston Marathon Qualifying Trilogy

During a Winter and Spring that had more than its shares of personal ups and downs, and honestly, it often seemed more like a series of downs, my training for the Vancouver Marathon often hung by a thread.  Fortunately for my marathon training, I had promised my good friend Paul that I would run his first marathon with him and he had chosen to come all the way from Paris to run in Vancouver.  That promise, and the knowledge that Paul was indeed going to be showing up on my doorstep come the first week of May, compelled me out the door on many occasions where it seemed like I had neither the time nor the desire to train.  

After my Father's illness in January and death in February, I had any number of priorities that took precedence over my training schedule.  But in a show of loyalty and commitment to Paul, I did manage one or two runs during the week and I rarely missed a Sunday Long Run.  Paul had a goal time of five hours and I spent every Sunday as the Pace Leader of a Five Hour Pace Group.  So Paul and my five hour pace bunnies allowed me to run less for my own goals and objectives, and to run for other people and other reasons.

That, in and of itself, after my disastrous 2007 marathon year was a great thing.  I have seldom enjoyed my Sunday runs more than I did this Spring and I have seldom enjoyed a marathon more than the 2008 Vancouver Marathon.   Paul ran a 5:00:22 and I had the most fun I'd had in months.   Paul stayed with me for a week, and when he flew back to Paris I moped around the house like I'd lost my best friend!

The next marathon clinic starts tomorrow and I'm entering the latest training cycle with the most enthusiasm I've had for running in ages.  I won't lie; it was a major disappointment not to run the Boston Marathon in 2008 after running it in 2006 and 2007.  But it only strengthened for me the great lure and appeal of the Boston Marathon.   My friends Pat and Kevin both went to Boston this year, both ran great races, both re-qualified for Boston in Boston, and their joy and excitement  and passion for the race helped rekindle my own enthusiasm.

The past two weeks I did something I haven't done in a couple of years, I managed to run five days in a row.  Felt great.  Felt hard.  But great.  My body has been soaking up sleep like a sponge.  I have ached like I haven't ached in ages.  It feels great.  I've even lost ten pounds.

I still haven't decided on a Fall Marathon, but my choice will be predicated on re-qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  

I'm looking forward to it.