CCIL Veterans Scholarship

The Canadian Council on International Law is fundraising for a new scholarship.  The CCIL Veterans Scholarship will provide tuition support to a Canadian Forces veteran entering or pursuing legal studies at the JD or LL.B. level in a Canadian law school.  As president of the CCIL, I am actively fundraising in support of this scholarship.  To this end, I am completing a series of endurance events through 2012.  Please support my efforts!

Learn more about my efforts here.  Learn more about the scholarship and the Canadian Council on International Law here.  The CCIL is a registered Canadian charity and donations are tax creditable.

Support the Scholarship!

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

By Craig Forcese

In 2012, I will try to complete the following endurance events in aid of a campaign to raise funds for a scholarship in law for Canadian Forces veterans: 

Winterlude Triathlon

Gatineau Loppet (50k edition)

Boston Marathon

Rideau Lakes Tour, Classic Route;

Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant (a half-ironman event)

Ironman Mont Tremblant (a full ironman event)

Army Run (half-marathon).

This blog will follow my "four seasons of moving vigorously", with hopefully worthwhile reflections on the world of endurance athletics.  I hope it will also encourage you and all my readers to support my cause.

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Four Seasons of Moving Vigorously

Follow my efforts in 2012 to complete a series of endurance events in support of the Canadian Council on International Law Veterans Scholarship.  I do so in the company of a team of others, assembled as Citizen Athlete.  Click on the banner to the immediate right for more information about our team and how to join.

Monday
Sep242012

Autumn and a bravo zulu on the Four Seasons

I don't really know what "bravo zulu" means.  I think it means "congratulations".  In this context, it risks being an icky self-congratulations -- quite self-indulgent.  But I worked the military lingo "bravo zulu" into my title in honour of the Army Run 1/2 marathon, which was my final Four Seasons event for 2012.

This is my second Army Run and, boy, has it turned into a major production.  I chose it as my final race for obvious reasons -- after all, I am fundraising for a scholarship for a Canadian Forces veteran.  But that aside, it is a run with real (excuse the second bit of military lingo) esprit de corps.  The Governor General's foot guard marching band, a cannon start and an army general to congratulate finishers.  It also features a wounded soldier run -- quite inspiring.  You always find a little bit of breath somewhere to cheer them on as you run your own race.

For my part, I had a good day -- not my best day.  But a better day than I deserved given how little structured training I have done since the Ironman.  (I usually have what I call a Sportstat performance bump -- I race better than my training suggests I should when wearing a chip that will result in my times forever being recorded on sportstats.ca.  I think that might actually be diagnosed by some as an ego problem).

Most importantly, the Army Run constituted a culmination to my rather nutty Four Seasons schedule. 

Looking back on the season since I began this venture in November 2011, I have been awfully privileged and lucky -- privileged to be in position to do all this and lucky that I didn't get injured, sick (well, except here and there) or burned out.  With the exception of Boston, I was fortunate to have good racing weather -- in all seasons.  I didn't cramp up (Boston excepted), flat or drown.  I did bonk in the Loppet, but on the downhill stretch.  Lucky again.

On such things we measure ourselves.

Going forward, I will fundraise earnestly for the next six weeks -- there is still time to donate!  And this is the point where I may prove very annoying to friends, relatives and colleagues.  But to remind you of why I'm doing this: see here.  And since I like to think my money is situated in the same place as my words, my family and I are making our own final, $500 donation to the fund today. We are lucky again to be in a position to do this, and are very happy to do so.  (I measure these things with an eye to the ridiculous cost of the cable TV I don't watch -- charitable donations look like a bargain in comparison).

After that, the executive committee of the Canadian Council on International Law shall take stock and strike a committee to elicit and evaluate scholarship applications.  And then we will award a scholarship to a deserving Canadian Forces veteran with an interest in international humanitarian law and entering a Canadian law school in 2013.

Between then and now, I will post my Four Seasons "by numbers" and reflect on a year of moving vigorously as a wrap up on this year's campaign.

Thanks again for your support and for reading.

 

Monday
Aug272012

Two at Tremblant: Summer Recap

It is time for an update on the third of the Four Seasons: summer.  Thanks again to everyone supporting the scholarship.

Summer is the season of triathlon, and in the Four Season plan, involved the inaugural Mont Tremblant Ironman 70.3 and Ironman races.  To clarify, the 70.3 event is the rebranded name for the "half-ironman" distance: 1.9 km swim; 90 km bike; 21.1 km run.  The Ironman (or "full" Ironman) is a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike and a 42.2 km run.  Each is, of course, a single day, continuous event -- for the full Ironman, a very long day.

Mont Tremblant was a first time host for both events.  The resort area is a premier winter destination, and a terrific summer holiday spot.  Now it is consciously targeting the endurance sport crowd, and positioning itself as a first-class training and racing destination.  Last year, many of the roads in the region were what I call "Canadian pavé" -- cobbled surfaces by accident, not by design.  This year, they were glassy smooth -- freshly paved and remarkably fast, despite the hilly terrain. 

The region is spectacular, top notch accommodation plentiful, and the improved roads make it a real pleasure to be there.  (For those making the trip, don't just stick to the race course: make sure to ride Chemin du Nordet, a few kilometers to the north-east of Lac Supérieur.  The pavement isn't as fresh as the newly paved course, but it is good.  More than that, it's a terrific, hilly, challenging and beautiful ride with virtually no traffic, other than cyclists.)

Lac Tremblant has always provided excellent swimming, as have the other lakes that sprinkle the region.  Running along the recreational pathway system and along the P'tit Train du Nord rail-to-trail line has always been a favourite of mine.  Plus, the region understands that people are there to ride bikes and recreate.  I found the driving respectful and the community solidly behind the Ironman events.

All of this is to say that the region was ripe for a top tier triathlon.  And that is what it provided.  For those considering the Tremblant events, they were first class.  Veterans with dozens of Ironman events under their belt ranked the Tremblant events among their all-time favourites.  The internet is abuzz with positive reviews.

In terms of the actual races, I went into both with a Plan, and in both instances executed that Plan.  For the Ironman, that Plan was essentially the extremely well-conceived "four keys" strategy advanced by Endurance Nation.  One might quibble that my particular execution of Plan was too conservative (especially on the bike), and in the case of the 70.3, I think I left some good time out on the road.  But for the full Ironman, a 180 km bike ride followed by a full marathon is no place to experiment with deviations from the Plan.  Boston was my lesson in how horrible a marathon is when you crash and burn in the last 12 km. 

In the final instance, I posted what I consider respectable times in both triathlon events, and took particular pleasure from my 10h31 Ironman time.  The highlight for me was running a 3:22 marathon after a long day of swimming and cycling that was significantly faster than my stand-alone "disaster in Boston" marathon. 

My key take-away from the Ironman in particular was the importance of a carefully planned nutrition strategy.  In my case (and in keeping with the Endurance Nation strategy), I aimed to take in 300 calories an hour, much more than I would in shorter races.  I also was attentive to increased sodium intake because I had been having muscle cramping issues during our unusually hot summer.  It worked like a charm and I exited the bike for the run feeling less fatigue than I had on many of my training runs.

The second lesson relates to what it really means to train for a full Ironman.  With the 70.3 distance, it is possible to train hard, do well and have zing in your life.  For the full Ironman, it is possible to train hard and do well, but I can't lay claim to much zing by July.  And I was following a relatively modest volume (but relatively high intensity) Endurance Nation training plan that had me top out (in practice) at just below 17 hours a week during July.  It is a well conceived plan, and I was careful to take rest days whenever my Restwise numbers pointed to problems.  So the training load didn't impair my core activities. But it definitely dulled the sense of curiousity/wonder/excitement that I usually depend upon as a source of energy (including for things like this blog).  "This is your brain, this is your brain on Ironman training".

I admire those who do full Ironman races annually -- or more than once a year.  But next year, I'll revert to 70.3 events -- what I consider the perfect distance.  The Tremblant 70.3 is top of the list -- with the goal of punching much harder on the bike leg and finding a few more minutes in the water while preserving the run.

That said, I am glad to have gone the full distance this year -- the web is full of testimonials from people asserting the near mystical properties of a full Ironman event.  The buzz among veterans is that once you've done one, there is no going back.  In my case, there is definitely a sense of enormous accomplishment -- I honestly did not know if I could do such a thing.  In truth, having the famous "voice of Ironman" Mike Reilly exclaiming "You are an Ironman" as you crossed the finish was worth every penny and every hour of effort.  It amounts to joining a club in which I am privileged to be a member, in common with so many amazing people (often with daunting life stories). 

But in the end, the irony is that, having slain the dragon, it may have refocused me on other things -- family, coaching, volunteering, the next stages of my career.  That may be its greatest virtue.

One can't end a post on an Ironman race without words of thanks. Thanks to the team at Endurance Nation for being, well, so prolific.  Provider of tonnes of worldly advice in podcasts and blogs, and authors of a time-efficient (but still incredibly challenging!) outseason and Ironman training plan.

Special thanks to Greg Kealey and Sharon Donnelly, top tier coaches with Bytown Storm who found an extra 10 seconds per 100 metres in my swimming.  Looking forward to the next 10 seconds!  And to Julia Aimers at Team Triumph who got me down significantly from my original infinity per 100 m in my first seasons of triathlon, before my schedule made getting to those practices impossible. 

But above all, thanks to my wife and daughter: cheerleaders, nutrition experts, sounding board for endless training and race strategy analyses and tolerant of absences on ridiculously long bike rides.  And in one case, when both quads seized up 140 km into a bike ride on a blazing July day, my front-line rescue team.

One more season in this year's Four Seasons: Fall, and the Army Run 1/2 marathon.  Now I have to try to rebuild some speed in the much abused legs!

Thanks for reading and thanks again to those supporting the scholarship.

Wednesday
Jun062012

What makes you stronger may kill you...

...at least that's one inference from a much publicized Mayo Clinic Proceedings study examining endurance activity and "potential adverse cardiovascular effects" (namely "pathologic structural remodeling of the heart and large arteries").  To cite the abstract:

Emerging data suggest that chronic training for and competing in extreme endurance events such as marathons, ultramarathons, ironman distance triathlons, and very long distance bicycle races, can cause transient acute volume overload of the atria and right ventricle, with transient reductions in right ventricular ejection fraction and elevations of cardiac biomarkers, all of which return to normal within 1 week. Over months to years of repetitive injury, this process, in some individuals, may lead to patchy myocardial fibrosis, particularly in the atria, interventricular septum, and right ventricle, creating a substrate for atrial and ventricular arrhythmias. Additionally, long-term excessive sustained exercise may be associated with coronary artery calcification, diastolic dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening

The authors suggest that moderation may be everything.  And by moderation, they mean very modest levels of exercise: "on the basis of animal and human data, CV [cardiovascular] benefits of vigorous aerobic ET appear to accrue in a dose-dependent fashion up to about 1 hour daily, beyond which further exertion produces diminishing returns and may even cause adverse CV effects in some individuals".  And there are suggestions in the material that this moderate level of exercise is also a moderate intensities. See for instance a study being presented at the recent ACSM conference.  This suggests that the benefits of exercise follow a U shaped pattern -- and the bottom of the U where most benefits accrue comes with a 1 hour/day dosage.

These kind of findings certainly caught my eye, especially now as I now am in a cycle of 14-15 hour per week training weeks, and in the middle of a circa 20 hour "big week" that includes a 12 hour weekend.  A lot of this training is done at intensity, because a 14-15 hour weekly regimen in preparation for an Ironman is considered lowballing.  Under these circumstances, a 1 hour daily regimen of moderate intensity exercise looks positively paltry.

And so one looks quickly for explanations, provisos, caveats and rationalizations.  Amby Burfoot and Alex Hutchinson both have careful assessments of this and similar studies.  Needless to say, the evidence on how much exercise is too much is subject to interpretation.  Mr. Hutchinson's analysis suggests that significant running mileage may blunt the relative benefits of exercise relative to a sedentary lifestyle -- but even at significant running mileage those benefits do exist.  His assessment also notes that some of the studies pointing to diminishing exercise returns do so by holding bodyweight and things like blood pressure constant.  In other words, as between people with the same body weight, running over a certain volume produces diminishing returns.  The reality is, however, that the same person rarely remains in the same body weight category irrespective of volume: this is a false control, in other words.

The reality -- and my personal experience -- is that running over a certain volume produces discernable changes in bodyweight and blood pressure.  Put another way, you move from a higher risk body composition category to a lower risk category by virtue of the vessel of exercise.  My own experience is also that a plodding run of around 1 hour a day will move me a little way towards of lower risk (and sustainable) body composition.  I did this kind of exercise for years, and it moved me from a pretty bad BMI to a marginal BMI.  It did not, however, take me nearly as far in changing my body composition as my current regimen.

Accordingly, a more valuable analysis for me (and I suspect most others) is to juxtapose the cardiovascular consequences of my current lifestyle vs those associated with moderate exercise undertaken in a different body weight and blood pressure category.  Mr. Hutchinson's analysis suggests that controlling for these conditions, the benefits of a high volume running lifestyle are significant, and do increase with volume (at least to the maximum volume in the study he cites, greater than 9 km of running per day).

There are also second order effects that come from the move from recreational, fitness oriented exercise to an endurance lifestyle.  I am attentive to recovery, concerned about sleep, preoccupied with diet, observant of changes in mood and energy levels, and concerned with cycles of training that balance intensity between sessions, weeks, months and years.  More than that, I do the exercise not because of an inchoate desire to be "fit" but because I want to measure myself against my natural limits.  There are people who can get up in the dead of January and run treadmills and icy sidewalks because they want to be "fit".  I can only get up and do that because I'm going to the Boston Marathon or meet an equivalent challenge.

As Mr. Burfoot notes that "Many aspects of exercise and running also follow a U-curve. This is why many people believe the moderate approach is the smartest path to follow. Of course, you’ll never qualify for the Boston Marathon that way. We all have to make our choices." 

My reality is that if I didn't shot high, I probably wouldn't suit up at all, or would do so unevenly. 

And so to gather anything on whether I am killing myself slowly by making myself stronger, the risk category of my current lifestyle would have to be compared to what I would otherwise be: a modestly overweight recreational runner, a little uneven in his habits (in terms of both exercise, eating and healthy lifestyles), in a sedentary job, who in fits of guilt occasionally exercises more before sinking into relative indolence once more. 

Another issue that occurs to me, and is not truly answered by the studies, is whether all endurance activities can be lumped together.  Most of the studies I have seen focus on running.  Running is a notoriously strenuous activity.  In my experience (backed up by what I have read in the literature), at an equivalent rate of perceived exertion, heart rates will be higher than in cycling and swimming.  Ten hours of a multisport training regimen place very different strains on the body than do ten hours of running.  Indeed, 120 mile weeks would be the sort of miles top notch marathoners would put in -- at my average training pace that would work out to about 15 hours.  There is no conceivable way I could handle 15 hours of running week after week.  I can, however, do 15 hours of multi-sport.  Swimming and cycling don't pound the joints and muscles like running.  But I would be interested in knowing also whether from a cardiovascular perspective, the observed diminishing CV health returns of increased volume cited in some of these studies exist for multisport in the same way and at the same volume point as with running. 

La Gerche A, Burns AT, Mooney DJ, et al. "Exercise-induced right ventricular dysfunction and structural remodelling in endurance athletes," Eur Heart J. 2012;33(8):995-1006 is one study that does compare Ironman, half-Ironman, long distance cylisting and marathon events.  The longer the race (Ironman), the more significant the indicators of potentially perverse cardiovascular effect.  No real surprise there. 

But most people don't do that many of these races a year -- indeed, it would be rare to do more than two and most will do one.  More interesting is what all the miles of training do.  On this, there is an intriguing line: "The change in RVEF [what the authors regard as the most serious indicator of pernicious effects] (post-race – baseline) correlated inversely with increasing race completion time ... and VO2max ... but not with age, weekly training volume, or years of endurance sport competition."  This is an intriguing observation clamouring for more study.  Most athletes doing an Ironman will spend many, many more hours training than the typical marathoner -- that is the nature of the sport.  As such, this finding may suggest that the typically extremely high volume of Ironman (and long distance cycling) training is no more correlated with potentially negative cardiovascular effects than is more modest duration running.  If so, then an obvious question is whether the point of diminishing CV returns from endurance training is the same for all sports.

Given all this, I will be sanguine about this latest study. I will take it as an article of faith that I am better off as I am than what I would otherwise be, and hope I don't keel over.

Wednesday
Apr182012

From Snow to Sidewalk: The Winter/Spring Recap

It has been months since I blogged.  The vice dean gig that I presently occupy consumes time (and when not time, energy) in pithy quantities.  So it is past time for a recap. 

First, thanks to those who have supported the the scholarship.  We're making progress, and your contributions are very warmly welcomed.  We're not yet at the point of being able to cover full tuition, but I'm confident at this point that this will be (at minimum) a reasonably sized, one-time scholarship.  And it is early days yet -- we will continue to plug along.  Please consider adding your support to our initiative if you haven't already, and spread the word.

Second, in the interest of "truth in advertising", I am happy to report that I have completed the first two of my "Four Seasons of Moving Vigorously," if barely. 

There is a tradition in some quarters of posting "race reports".  I feel a little self-conscious doing so, finding it hard to imagine that my trials and tribulations could be of any interest.  But I read other people's race reports with voyeuristic fascination, and so that may be proof of concept right there.  Plus, I don't want to accused of a bait and switch in terms of the scholarship fundraising. So here it goes.

Background

It might be useful to start with a few observations on training.  (One of the things I did this winter was to obtain a "trained" triathlon coach designation -- the science and art of endurance training has been a long-time interest). 

A first observation: The four seasons quest represents a bit of a departure for me.  Traditionally, I have followed a classic periodization plan, building as many relatively low intensity run, bike (on the indoor trainer) and swim hours as I can in the winter, and then upping intensity (and really, also volume) in the early spring when the weather improves.

This model is the bread and butter for a lot of high performing endurance triathletes.  It works -- if you have 15-30 hours per week to spare.  It is also been the subject of a recent re-thinking in both the scientific literature (hardly a month goes by without some study about the relative virtues of high intensity intervals vs long slow distance) and in popular coaching materials (most famously, Chris Carmichael's "Time Crunched" series). 

An alternative model is a reduced duration, high intensity off season model, then building endurance on top of speed in the spring.  For a long distance triathlete, this would amount to a "reverse" periodization strategy.  Endurance Nation is a key proponent of this model and they make a persuasive case.  Their approach to long-distance triathlon training also has the virtue of being sustainable for people with jobs and families who live places where hours on the bike in the Winter means hours on a trainer in the basement.  So when planning the four seasons, I opted for their approach, beginning their high intensity "out season" plan in November.

I followed the plan fairly religiously until the New Year, and then began tinkering -- adding in more running volume and skiing because of the events I had planned.  Here and there I messed up.  Volume added onto their high intensity formula compounds fatigue quickly, and I found that the threshold sessions on the bike began to fall away as the run and ski hours mounted.  This is especially true because skate skiing is an inherently intense activity for me (see below for comments on my "technique") and because I opted for a three "key" runs marathon training approach: a VO2 max session, typically in the 8-12 km range; a tempo run, typically in the 10-15 k range; and a Sunday long run, building up to about 32 k at higher intensity than is typical in a marathon plan.  I basically layered the FIRST 'Run Less Run Faster' plan onto the Endurance Nations out-season plan.  I did no "easy runs" -- non-running days involved high intensity skiing, cycling and (to a lesser extent) swimming. 

To be clear: this was no short cut.  Higher intensity means threshold intensity or higher.  It hurt, and while the metrics I typically use (hours, kilometers, TRIMPs, and eventually, TSS) fell relative to last year, I carried much more fatigue... and developed a higher pain tolerance.

On swimming, I confess I also broke from the Endurance Nation plan.  They apply an unorthodox philosophy: as long-distance triathlon coaches, they focus on return on investment.  Training hours per unit of improvement favour focusing on bike and run in the off season rather than swimming. For those with modest to good form, the amount of time expended on improving swimming times can be massively disproportionate. 

But I cheated, because swimming is a huge limiter for me in tris and because I like a good challenge.  (A little infomercial: When I started swimming in 2008, I made huge progress under the tutelage of Julia Aimers of Team Triumph.  I was disappointed this year when my work schedule just made it impossible to continue participating in her swim workout sessions.  But by dint of good fortunre, I work next door to the university pool where the Bytown Storm has begun a new Own the Podium/uOttawa/GO Kingfish sponsored "high performance" tri training program.  This is an enormous development for the sport in the region, and to be strongly recommended to junior and U23 athletes looking to twin progress in the sport with university education.  To their eternal credit, the program organizers also don't mind somewhat less than "high performance" age group athletes signing up and taking pointers from former Olympians and award winning tri coaches.  You don't say no to that kind of opportunity -- Sharon Donnelly and Greg Kealey have been terrific.)

The net result was a bit of a paper-mache of training programs.  But bottom line: by the time the first races arrived in late January, I was closer to "race shape" than I have ever been before at that time of year.  By this, I don't mean great endurance.  But it did mean that sitting in heart rate zone 4 and 5 was not the shock it typically is after months of low intensity, but high volume, zone 2 work.

Winter

Winter consisted of the Winterlude Triathlon and the Gatineau Loppet.  For me, these were first time events with precisely zero weight of expectations.  I don't skate very well and while I love nordic skate skiing, I would characterize my style as more enthusiastic than elegant.

Both races were terrific fun.  The Winterlude Tri consists of a skate, nordic ski and run.  It had perfect weather conditions -- unusual in a winter that practically wasn't.  For the skate along the Rideau Canal, I hung back, festooned in knee and elbow pads.  I pressed a bit on the ski and then went all out in the run ("all out" being relative when running on ice).  In the end, I rolled in somewhere back in the pack, but felt good about my fitness. 

Lessons learned for next year: it really is worth the investment to get a pair of the clip-in skates that use ski boots.  Hopping on one foot trying to change from skate to ski boot while the heart rate is through the roof is not a lot of fun.

The Gatineau Loppet consisted of a 50km or so skate ski.  Let me clear: there are shorter versions.  But  I said I would do the 50km version.  Plus I'm aiming to pick up a local piece of endurance insanity known as the TriRudy award as part of the four seasons quest.  So I did 50km.  I had no business doing 50km.  That distance pretty much doubled my longest ski ever.  And I didn't work in that many hours on the snow before the Loppet -- what saved me was the roller skiing I did after the end of the 2011 triathlon season through to about November.  But I did the distance, complete with epic bonk about 15 km from the finish.  Apparently, you do need to eat during nordic ski racing and can't rely on a hydration pack filled with sports drink.  Luckily, the last 15 km were mostly downhill.  Lesson learned: practice getting energy gels into the mouth, while gloved and hooked up to poles.  In this case, I rolled at the back end of my age group, but loved the experience (except for the bonk -- not recommended).

Spring, or "I went to Boston and all I got was...this lousy sunburn"

April is Boston Marathon month.  This was my first A priority race, the one around which I had really designed most of the winter training. A preface: both historically and at present, running is the closest I have ever come to being actually good as a sport/physical activity.  But I am something of an accidental marathoner.  Up until a year ago, I swore I would stick to half-marathons and half-ironman triathlons.  These were manageable distances for a pretty busy professional in his early forties with a young family.  And then someone in my swim club did Boston.  And I got to wondering.  So I upgraded from the half to the full marathon on Ottawa Race Weekend (not as big a deal as it sounds because I had a lot of running miles under the belt by this time last year).  And I qualified for Boston.  And so I signed up in September.  And unlike with my winter events, here I did have high expectations.  Turns out that with this one, I would fly a little close to the sun with wax wings.

As noted above, this year I ran less than I have in the past.  I also had to run more on the treadmill than I did for the late May, Ottawa marathon.  A mid-April marathon really requires a January training start.  We had a mild winter, but lots of freezing rain.  Speed work on ice-coated paths is something I try to avoid.

Still, I'm pretty sure I was in good marathon form.  I was posting times on the most intense 32 km "Run Less Run Faster" training runs that were actually at, or close to, my actual 2011 marathon race pace.  Put another way, they were as good or better times than I had shown for the same training runs before qualifying for Boston in the first place.

Of course, they were all run in early spring in Ottawa at about 5-12 degrees Celcius.

So my hyperventilating really began when the Boston forecasts went from 50 degrees F to 70 degrees F to 80+ degrees F.  As it happens, temperatures on race day hit 89 degrees F (31 degrees C) at spots along the course. 

I don't do well in heat.  Looking back over my racing these past few years, all of my best performances in both absolute terms and relative to the field have been at 19 degrees C or lower. The hot weather races in which I've managed to do respectably have always followed at least a few weeks of acclimatization -- that is, there have always been a few warm weeks before I raced.

Boston 2012 was a bit different.  There are now lots of Boston 2012 stories out there.  Ben Kaplan at the National Post has one that's pretty much like mine, even to the point of worrying about getting back to a wife and kid waiting at the finish line. 

The Boston Marathon in the heat has been compared to a mass casualty event.  Depending on your news source, 2012 was the hottest, or among the hottest, Boston Marathon in history.  The results were predictable -- something like 2000 people (just under 10% of the field) were treated by first aid personnel.  Really, there are hotter races, and I'm sure that there were people from Florida and Texas twiddling thumbs and saying "hey, great -- no humidity".  But there can't have been many of those -- 42 km in that kind of temperature hurts no matter how acclimatized you are and performances across the board were impaired.  This includes among the absolutely amazing elite runners.  And for me personally, it meant going from daytime highs of 15 degrees C to 31 degrees C in the span of two or three days.  Strike 1.

Strike 2: I drank a lot of gatorade in the days before the race, to hydrate but not risk hyponatremia.  Apparently it didn't work.  I had some pretty scary symptoms of what I think was overhydration (up to and including a dizzy spell that put me down on my now suddenly bruised knee) prior to the start.  That shook me a little, but I felt better after eating a little bit more.

The first 1/2 marathon I ran at a slightly debased goal pace.  I never felt good, however, and my heart rate was sitting in zone 5 at an effort that should have been upper zone 3.  Moreover, it was not lining up with rate of perceived effort or with breathing rate.  Elevated heart rate is not unexpected in hot weather, but the disconnect here was uncanny and suggests that I was truly labouring.  Strike 3.

At 23 km, I down-graded the pace.  It made no difference to how a felt.  At about 28 km, I progressed to walk/run after I started cramping in the hamstrings.  At 32 km, I decided that even with that strategy, I was likely to number among those who I could see suddenly stop and stumble into the barricades.  I took the view that I had just put in a tough 32 km training run for my upcoming Ironman.  And at that point, I devolved to a full-on walk, and finished the longest 10 km of my life.  My overall time was a full hour slower than my qualifying time.  Even then, I spent some quality moments lying on a Boston sidewalk after the finish line.

There have probably been races where I have dug deeper -- but in each one, I knew I could dig deeper and come out of the hole.  I have run through hamstring cramps, quad and calf cramps.  I have run seriously dehydrated in hot, humid conditions.  But I have always felt that things were under control.  This time, I wasn't so sure.  For me, this was a race in which I had to examine my priorities.  At 32km, I decided that the bucket list wasn't going to be the bucket, and so I went into "just get to the finish" mode.

In the end, I feel ok about it.  I have unfinished business in Boston, but a race like this was a better teaching moment than any of my more successful ventures.  Lessons learned:

1. When the race organizers offer a deferral, actually think about it. 

2. When you're not acclimatized, turn off the Garmin watch with the GPS pace information, and don't pass anyone for the first 16 km until you know what the heat is doing to you.  And yes, heed the flashing billboards set up by the organzers that say "High Heat Warming -- Slow Down".

3. Run more downhills before Boston.  Even in better temperatures, my quads would have been shredded by the last 5 miles.  

4. Don't ever do a marathon again?  That is apparently not among my lessons.  It was the first thing out of my mouth to my wife, when I could speak again.  By dinner time, it was "I wonder if I should add a Fall marathon to the four seasons quest and re-qualify for Boston?"

5. Why do these kind of things?   You have time for a lot of philosophy when you're walking 10 km by screaming crowds, while in a semi-comatose state. People have different reasons.  For most, it's the quest for a new challenge.  For others, its probably because in so few aspects of modern life can success be attributed to undiluted merit.  Likewise, effort and earnest dedication are not always as closely related to outcome as we would always hope. 

Endurance sports are honest is a way that much else in life is not. There is luck, of course, and fate, and genetics.  There are dopers.  But for most people, the race clock is an objective, indiscriminate, brutally egalitarian referee.  We wouldn't always wish for such a hard-hearted adjudicator -- that kind of equality shouldn't be confused with justice in every aspect of life.  But every once and a while, at lot of us just want to test ourselves against it. 

For me, I'll never be the fastest.  I'll likely never even come close to winning my age group.  But each morning, I can get out of bed and try to be just a little bit more than I was the day before.  The take-away lesson from Boston 2012 is that "more" doesn't always mean "faster".

Of course, I'd rather not repeat that particular lesson ever again.

Next up is Summer: the Mont Tremblant half and full Ironmans.  So yes, maybe the idea of a hot August marathon after a hilly 180 km on the bike and 4 km in the water is scarier than it was a few days ago.  But then again, there'll be more shade.

Thanks for reading and I hope you'll support the scholarship.

Tuesday
Jan312012

More Crime, No Punishment Yet

Just this week, I heard a story at my daughter's swim club of a parent who cycles all winter.  Apparently, he was recently overtaken by a car at a stop light.  The driver gunned the engine repeatedly and, in the version I heard, intentionally "bumped" the rear wheel of the cyclist, before speeding off.  The cyclists was uninjured but the rear wheel destroyed. 

That account prompts an addendum to my prior post on dangerous driving and leaving the scene of the accident.  Obviously, this constitutes a case of failure to stop at the scene of an accident, a crime.  But, on the facts as recounted to me, it also constitutes what we colloquially call road rage.  And there are criminal offences that fit the bill.  In one eerily similar BC case, a cyclist stopped at an intersection for a red light.  The motorist approached from behind and told her to get out of the way and threatened to hit the cyclist.  When the cyclist failed to move, the motorist pressed the bumper of his vehicle against the rear wheel of the bicycle, causing the cyclists to skip forward but not otherwise causing any damage or injury.  The cyclist them moved aside, and the motorist left.  The motorist was convicted of assault with a weapon, as well as leaving the scene of an accident.[1]

Put another way, people can and do receive criminal convictions for this kind of behaviour.  Enforcement is another issue.  It is important that the police be called, even if the cyclist cannot collect a licence plate.  There are human witnesses and an awful lot of webcams and other electronic devices out there, and you never know.  At the very least, a description of the vehicle might help police triangulate incidents and collect a portfolio that assists in identification.  After all, a driver that intentionally collides with a bicycle may also be notorious for other reasons.


[1]           See R. v. Chase, 2006 BCCA 275.