Sticking to the Plan in February

February is here and your training for the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon should be well underway.

The big Sunday runs aren’t here yet, but they also aren’t far away either. The gradual increase in weekly mileage continues with a focus on building the base that will support the running that is to come in March and April.

Run the schedule, stay healthy

The keys to remember in February are sticking to the plan, and making sure you stay healthy.

February Running
February in Toronto can be cold, snowy and also beautiful.

If you don’t have a good training schedule on paper or on your online calendar, then that should be job one this weekend. Knowing what you are running now, and what’s coming up over the next few weeks helps ensure that you continue to take your training seriously.

I’ve seen too many people who don’t do all the runs in the first month and then pay a big price later on. The marathon training program from the Running Room (the one I recommend for new marathon runners) starts off pretty slow and easy. But once you get to week six or seven, look out.

If you don’t have the leg strength and miles under your belt when that increase in weekly and Sunday run mileage hits, you might run into some real discouragement along with the real risk of injury.

Ignore the soreness, don’t ignore the pain

If you do find yourself dealing with some aches or pains (as I am right now), don’t wait to see if things get better on their own. Go visit your physiotherapist, or find one if you don’t already have one.

Physio
If you have some aches and pains, don’t hesitate to get it checked out before it gets worse.

The worst thing you can do is to push through some minor pain in the hopes it will resolve itself. It might just be some muscle soreness or tightness associated with the increase in running, but it also could be the first signs of something more serious. Better to check it out and make sure.

Big month, bigger months to come

The Running Room training plan that I’m using calls for about 175km of running in February. March and April will be up over 200km each. If this is your first time training for a marathon, those may be big, scary numbers.

Plenty of people ust like you have done it before and lots of people are doing it right now on the way to a spring marathon. Take training seriously and you’ll be rewarded with success on race day.

Eight Things People Do On Treadmills That Drive Me Nuts

I treadmill run a lot and as a result, I see people doing stuff on the treadmill that drives me nuts.

Here’s the top eight things that make me want to walk over and say, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”:
Yup

  1. Run like hell for a minute and then stop and that’s it. What possible benefit are you getting out of a 60 second run at 8mph? Did you even get your heart rate up in that amount of time? Did you realize you have to go to the bathroom?
  2. Highest incline, hanging off the panel leaning way back. You are completely obliterating any benefit of walking or running on an incline if you hold on and lean back so you aren’t climbing a hill anymore. Similarly annoying is when you support your entire body weight on the handrails.
  3. 15mph YouTube run. Usually a teen male and three bro friends with smartphones in hand, making a video of the whole thing. You think it’s hilarious to set the speed to 15mph and see if you can somehow run that speed? It’s not. It’s dangerous. Eventually you’ll learn the hard way that treadmills can reach out and bite you.
  4. Run for a bit, feet on the rails for five minutes, run a bit more, feet on the rails some more. We all occasionally hop onto the side rails for a few seconds to grab a drink or wipe the sweat away. But some people spend half their workout standing on the rails and not running. I’m sure all your friends would be less impressed with the 5 miles you said you “ran” on Facebook if they knew half of it was spend watching the distance slowly rising while standing straddling the belt.
  5. Rocking out on the run. You’ve got your Beats headphones on, arms pumping in the air, and singing some awful song (out loud). Stop it. No one wants to hear you singing Miley Cyrus while you workout. And the Beats look ridiculous. Get some Yurbuds or something.
  6. Twelve treadmills available, you pick the one beside me. First of all, if you are a dude who does this to female runners – you are creepy. Don’t do it. Second of all, treadmills generate a lot of heat. If there are lots available, space things out so I don’t have to roast thanks to the heat from two belts on a wood friction plate instead of just one.
  7. Racing me without declaring it’s a race. If I run at 7.6mph, you run at 7.7mph. I up my pace a notch, you up your pace a notch. I’m not racing you so how about you run your pace and I’ll run mine? If you want to challenge me, then come out and say it and it’ll be go time.
  8. Standing on the treadmill doing nothing. Does it really take you ten minutes to mentally prepare to walk or run? Do your static pre-run stretches somewhere else! In a similar vien are the people who spend ten minutes going through all the programs, or flipping through the TV channels. Get on the thing, turn it on and go.

I’m sure there are more…in fact, I’ll probably be able to add to the list later tonight when I hit the treadmill for another run. In the meantime, if you are one of these people, I have a suggestion for you: maybe hit the elliptical instead.

Improving Treadmill Accuracy on the Garmin Forerunner 620

Does adding a foot pod to the Garmin Forerunner 620 improve treadmill accuracy? Yes.

I’ve had the 620 for about 8 months now and I love it. The size is great, the touchscreen works really well, the GPS is accurate and the watch locks on to the satellites quickly. The HRM-Run strap that comes with the 620 includes some additional metrics like ground contact time and vertical oscillation for nerding out on data.

Treadmill accuracy? Not great

But the performance on the treadmill has never been what I would consider great. As long as I ran about my usual 5:00/km pace, it was passable. But running anything different than that (slower or faster) didn’t seem to make much difference—the watch insisted I was just running my usual pace all the time.

The Forerunner 620 features an accelerometer in the watch itself that is supposed to handle indoor running. But mounting that sensor on the arm instead of the foot means it just isn’t very accurate.

Adding a Garmin foot pod

Today I added Ginny’s standard Garmin foot pod to the mix to see whether that would help. I did some basic testing on the treadmill, altering the pace either up or down for a minute or two, and also running everything from 6.8mph right up to 8.0mph to see if I could fool it.

The good news? It tracked all the speed changes beautifully, and even after the 6km run, it was still bang on accurate compared to the treadmill distance display.

Note the stair step showing that the foot pod tracked the changes in pace (blue line) perfectly over the run, right up to 8.0mph near the end.

I’m really happy that I’ll be able to make better use of the watch for indoor runs now, and not have to worry about whether the distance and pace are accurate.

Using data to improve performance

I’ve already order a foot pod of my own to add to my collection of running gadgets. At $75, it isn’t cheap, but having some accurate data about my treadmill runs is always nice over manually logging the distance and time. It’s important for me to run a bit slower pace these days and running with the inaccurate 620 without the foot pod usually ended up with me running 7.5mph (too fast) to get into the accurate zone for the watch.

I’m also going to start wearing the HRM-Run heart rate monitor strap as well to get the full benefit of staying in the proper zones during the various workouts.

It’s easy to take all the data these various gadgets output and not really do anything with it. But things like a heart rate, cadence and even just accurate pace measurement can all be used to ensure that you are running the right runs as part of your training program.

This time around I’ll be paying more attention to the pace I run, whether I’m running in the right heart rate zone, and keeping track of my cadence to continue that focus on proper form. I’m hopeful that better quality training will lead to a better performance on race day, and will also help me reduce the strain on my body that comes with doing the wrong kind of running.

Adapting Your Training and Goals to Match With Reality

The truth about running: it’s not always easy. Even when you’ve done it all before, it’s still incredibly hard.

Training for a marathon can involve running up to the edge of injury (and beyond), and some days it seems like it’s one step forward, two steps back. It’s very easy to get discouraged early on and to think you’ll never make it to the start of your race, never mind the finish.

Shin splints, my near constant companion lately

Since last fall I’ve been struggling with horrible shin splints. These things are bad enough to have me limping on the morning after a run and bad enough that I thought for sure I had a stress fracture last fall.

Physiotherapy was helping a bit, and easing back on running took a lot of the pressure off. But not running isn’t how you get to the start line of a marathon ready to run well over 42.2km.

Discouraged isn’t a good way to end each training run

I thought I could manage things on my own and that as the training went on I could keep things in check and run right up to the fine line between soreness and injury. I was wrong about that. Lately, things were getting worse again, not better. Each run was more discouraging and I was wondering if I’d even be able to get to Ottawa to run the marathon in May.

Athlete's Care
Athlete’s Care Liberty Village

That’s not a great place to be when you are a part of Team Awesome for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, and are supposed to be encouraging and supporting other runners on their marathon journeys.

Seek professional help

Last week I headed back over to my physiotherapist, Adriana. She’s a person I trust and someone who knows me pretty well. I worked with her after a very bad bike crash a few years ago that left me with a severe arm injury and she understands that running is a big part of my life.

I was honest with her. I really want to run the Ottawa Marathon in May and so not running isn’t an option. We worked out a plan to pull back from the edge of injury and get to the start line ready to go.

That means a little less mileage and speed for the next few months. It means being less focused on running a personal best in Ottawa, and more focused on enjoying training and having a good race.

I’ve started doing some exercises on my glutes and hips, and I’m also paying much more attention to how I run. There’s already a difference in how my shins feel after just a week. This is encouraging.

The takeaway

Things don’t always come easy, or go the way you expect. Sometimes the best thing to do is to change your goals or adapt your training to better match up with what your body is able to do.

The ultimate goal should be to have fun and enjoy your running. If other things are getting in the way of that, then maybe it’s time to take a step back and make sure that you’re looking at the big picture.

Getting faster and achieving personal bests is awesome, and there’s nothing wrong with setting performance goals. But be realistic first and listen to your body when it tells you that you may have set your sights too high.

Good luck with your training!

Seven Ways To Keep Your Treadmill Runs Interesting

With the arrival of winter, and the start of training for the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon in May, I’ve been doing more treadmill running lately.

Escaping the cold and wind is an obvious positive aspect of treadmill running, but the downside is that the view never changes and the training runs can get boring. So what is a fair-weather runner to do?

TreadmillsYou could abandon the hamster wheel and head back outside, but sometimes that’s just not all that appealing (or safe).

Instead, try a few things with your treadmill workouts to keep them interesting. I put together seven ideas to try that I’ve used in my treadmill running to keep it fresh:

  1. Add incline: The neat thing about a treadmill is that it can go from flat to 15% grade at the push of a button. Give the hill or random program a try if you like surprises, or just dial in some incline now and then during your run to keep it interesting and challenging.
  2. Play with speed: Fartleks are fun outside, and there’s nothing stopping you from doing them on the treadmill too. You can do short bursts of faster running, with rest periods in between, or start at a lower speed and gradually build up then back down over the course of your run.
  3. Listen to a book: Grab an audio book from Audible.com (your first one is free!) and listen to a book while you run. I’ve got Born to Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Chris McDougall, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes, and a few other running books ready to go on my iPhone for days where I want some runspiration.
  4. Run with a friend: If you work out at a gym that has multiple treadmills, bring a friend and run together. One of the best things about side-by-side treadmill running is that each person can run at their pace so you can run with someone you don’t normally get to train with.
  5. Simulate the real world: Print out a real world route map, indicate the inclines and distances, and then pretend you are running it. Add incline where the route has hills, and as you watch the distance counter rise, match it up to where you are along the mapped out route. If it’s a familiar route, you can even visualize where you would be if your were outside running it in a blizzard instead of inside on the treadmill.
  6. Cheer on your team: I have a bad habit of sitting around and watching sports on Sundays (Go Seahawks!) and weeknights (Go whoever is playing the Leafs!). If there’s a big game on you want to watch and your treadmill has a TV or is within view of one, put on the game and workout while they play. It beats laying on the couch and you won’t be reaching for those salty, fat-filled snacks either.
  7. Work on your form: The treadmill gives you a chance to think about your running form and work on improving it. Bring along your smartphone and set it up to video yourself from the side, and behind. Take a look to see if you are a heavy heel-striker or if you are rolling in and might need a more supportive shoe. A lot of newer phones have amazing slow-motion capabilities that can show you exactly what’s happening in your stride.

Whether you love the treadmill or hate it, with the winters we get in Canada, sometimes running indoors on a machine is not only the best option for safety and comfort, but it can be the only option.

What’s your secrets to making runs on the treadmill not only tolerable, but fun? Let me know in the comments!

Squeezing Training into Your Busy Life

The 2015 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon will be the first time my wife Ginny and I are both running the same marathon on the same day. That also means it will be the first time we will both be training for a marathon at the same time.

With two kids and jobs and all the rest of our lives wrapped around those training schedules, it means we face some challenges in getting it all done.

Maybe it’s a busy career, kids, a long commute or other responsibilities that fight for your time. Whatever the case, part of the challenge of training for a marathon is fitting it all in or deciding what needs to go away to make room for training.

So many kilometres to run, so little time

For Ginny and I, the timing seemed right this year for us to both train at the same time. Our girls are age 10 and 12 so they can hang out at home while either of us gets in a weeknight run, and they are quite helpful in handling a few of the household chores that frees up some additional minutes to run.

busierthanyouThe big challenge, of course, are the long Sunday morning runs that eat up hours and hours. The kids aren’t ready yet for being home for that long (and neither are we).

Right now, Ginny and I take turns running on Sunday mornings at our local Running Room. One week she goes to the store to run with the group, and then next week I go.

We’re very early in the training right now and the Sunday runs are pretty short. Running a solo 12km on Saturday on her weekend to run with the group isn’t all that tough. Once we get up into the runs that are 26km or more, it becomes more of a challenge.

We’re both fortunate to have some super running buddies who are willing to move a long run to Saturday, or wait until later in the day on Sunday to go out so many of our long runs won’t have to be done solo.

We are also blessed with some very supportive parents. My parents often take the kids for a few hours on Sunday so we can both run which is a great gift to both me and Ginny and really makes a difference in our training.

Adapting life to make time to run

It’s not always easy to manage training and that’s where you may have to be willing to make some sacrifices, or get creative to get it all in.

That could mean running very early in the morning or quite late at night. I’ve gone out at 5:00 a.m. for a 10km before work and also hit the streets at 9:00 p.m. when that was the only time I could get the run in. Those runs can be tough, but it’s important to remember that you committed to running the marathon and to use that to get ourselves out the door when we’d rather not.

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Early morning run

I’ve also done things like getting my run in at lunchtime at work (thankfully we have a shower there we can use) and on a few occasions I’ve run the 13km to, or home from work because that was the only way to get the miles in.

Blend your training schedule with your life schedule

Whatever you do, make sure you have a schedule to follow and match it up with the schedule for the rest of your life each week. What events have you committed to that can’t move? Are there any runs that need to be moved around to ensure you get them in?

It’s far better to know on Monday that you need to move Thursday’s run to Friday morning and Sunday’s run to the afternoon than to try and make those adjustments on the fly.

Just do it

The most important thing in marathon training is to run the miles. Skipping runs leads to skipping more runs and that leads to trouble on race day. Give the training runs a high priority and do whatever it takes to fit them into your life. Sometimes that means moving runs around and other times it means moving life around to make room for running.

Good luck with the training!

Get Ready to Build in January

The holidays are over and training for your spring marathon starts in a couple of weeks.

While December was a month spent (I hope) laying a foundation, January will be a month spent getting all your tools and materials ready and starting to build on it. We’re adding the main joists and subfloor on top of that foundation this month and from there we’ll build up over the next few months.

calendar_running
My calendar has the full training schedule so I know when and how far I’m running each day.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit…

The Running Room training program

I follow the 18-week Running Room marathon training schedule. You can either join a clinic at your local store that has a late May race as its goal ($69.99), or join an online, virtual clinic for the Ottawa Marathon ($59.99).

You’ll get a full training schedule and a bunch of good information about training for your marathon along with a dashboard and weekly emails. Most of the clinics for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend start in the third week of January.

I’ve been a part of multiple Running Room clinics over the last seven years and highly recommend them if you are looking for a solid program that will get you to the start line ready to race, and to the finish line as well. Click here for a list of clinics.

Getting ready to go

My schedule says the first long, slow distance (LSD) run for the Ottawa program is on January 18th. It’s 10km which isn’t all that long since I’ve been running longer than that on Sundays recently. That means it’ll be a bit of a step back on Sundays for a couple of weeks but I’ll resist the urge to go further than that. That step back will help ensure that transitioning to running five days a week won’t push up my weekly mileage too much, too fast.

In the two weeks between now and the 18th, I’ll be slowly ramping up my weekly miles and frequency so I’m not going from two or three days a week to five days a week overnight. Last week I ran on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday for a total of about 28km. This week I’ll run four times – Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday for something around 30km.

Strava #TORW2015 Club
Get a community of runners around you for support and encouragement.

The goal is to be around 35km the week after that on four runs and then I can start going five times a week for 40km during the first week of the schedule.

Have a plan, and a community

This week you should have your training plan together and in a calendar so you can track your progress and hold yourself accountable to get out there and run. Get a community of runners around you as well and start tracking your runs.

You can join Dailymile or Strava and friend up with some other runners heading to the same race you are running. If you are on Strava, join the #TORW2015 Strava Runners club. Dailymilers can friend me up and I’ll introduce you to a few other runners heading to Ottawa in May.

Establish routines and good habits now

The big danger early in January is that you’ll get (or stay) lazy and won’t establish a good routine before training really starts. Things ramp up fairly quickly around the fourth week of the training program and if you haven’t been getting all the runs in and continuing to build mileage and frequency, you’ll find yourself in big trouble in February.

Don’t sit around and wait for training to come to you. Establish good habits now and get out and put in the runs even when the weather is bad, or when you don’t feel like it. Figure out how to fit training into your life and make the changes to adapt to being in the training program. That might include changing your diet, or adapting your wake up or bedtime to get make time to run.

Make your training a priority over the next five months and you’ll be rewarded on race day.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it. With that in mind, it’s time for a traditional look back at the year gone by, and a look forward to 2015.

2014 was a good year for me in the running department. I started out strong with good months of training in January, February and March. I decided early in the year to head to Vancouver again for my third BMO Vancouver Marathon. It was another solo trip and it was a bit of a celebration of the end of physio and the completion of my (not quite complete) recovery from the big bike crash in 2011.

Originally, the 2012 BMO Vancouver Marathon was supposed to be that celebration, but a second surgery and more physio in early 2013 got in the way of that. 2014 offered the reset that I was after and I still had something to prove after a less than stellar run in 2012.

Around the Bay and off to Vancouver

Leading up to marathon number seven in Vancouver, I ran Around the Bay again in March, 2014. I ran a solid personal best of 2:33:38 for the 30km. I faded a little bit on the big hill and through the finish so I think I have a really good shot at breaking 2:30 in 2015. That’s the first race on my calendar this year.

The race in Vancouver in May was great. The weather was wet and cool and it meant I would be running my first ever marathon in the rain. I ran a strong personal best of 3:48:30 and ran really well from start to finish. I’m super excited to try to improve on that a bit more in May when I run the 2015 Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon.

In the summer I took it pretty easy, but made a somewhat last minute decision to run the Midsummer Nights Run 15km. That’s a distance I’ve never raced, so I meant a PB no matter what. I was already two for two in PB’s in 2014, so I was happy to take a third one for free.

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon
On my way to a great finish and six seconds shy of my PB

I ended up running a really strong 1:10:55 in the race which surprised me a little bit. I was super happy with that and felt it was a solid PB even as a first time racing that distance.

Run streaking and the Scotiabank Half

Starting with the Midsummer Night’s Run 15km, I embarked on my first experience with streak running. Between August 16th and October 16th, I ran every day – a total of 62 days straight. I learned a lot in that two-month period and ended the streak the Thursday before the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon.

That was a real last minute decision and I wasn’t sure how the race would go given that I hadn’t run longer than about 18km since the marathon in May. Most of my runs were 5-7km and while I felt strong and fast, I wasn’t sure I would have the endurance.

It turned out that I did. It wasn’t quite a personal best, but a 1:38:32 was just six seconds off my half marathon best set on a much easier course in Hamilton a couple of years ago. It was probably my best half marathon ever and a solid personal awesome.

Chicago and Ginny’s first marathon

One other highlight of the year was our family trip to Chicago. Ginny ran her first full marathon and the girls and I cheered everyone on. What a great experience that was, and it was so exciting to see Ginny run 42.2km and also to run better than her “A” goal. She’s caught the marathon bug now too and Ottawa will be the first race where we both lace up the shoes for a full marathon at the same time.

Team Awesome and the Ottawa Race Weekend

Near the end of the year I was asked to join Team Awesome for the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Of course I said yes!

Team AwesomeI’ll be blogging and encouraging runners and generally talking up the Race Weekend this spring and then in May I’ll be running my eighth full marathon in Ottawa. Training starts in a couple of weeks, and I’m already itching to go.

2,000km, a marathon PB (I hope) and maybe another ultra

Overall, 2014 was one of my best years of running. I ran 1,800km which was my second highest yearly total ever and more than 800km more than my terrible 2013. With some luck and smart running, I should be able to top 2,000km in 2015.

Racing-wise, I’d like to take a run at a 3:45 marathon (or better). And I think a run at my half marathon PB would be a decent plan for the fall. There’s also been some talk of revisiting the Niagara Ultra for the third time this summer. I think maybe a 5:00 50km might be doable and I’d love to take a crack at ultra marathon number three.

It’ promises to be a good year of running!