Analysis of the (maybe) Short Around the Bay Course

It’s becoming more and more evident to me that the revised course for the 2015 edition of The Around the Bay Road Race was short of the promised 30km distance.

Looking at hundreds of GPS tracks on Strava from this year’s race participants shows that the vast majority of them are slightly under 30km. On the other hand, looking at the GPS tracks from the 2014 edition of the race, most are in the 30.2km-30.4km range, as you would expect given tangents and GPS inaccuracies.

Analyzing the route differences

section-1To start, I tracked down and compared the official PDF course maps from 2015 and 2014 and noted some interesting differences and similarities. Granted these PDF maps are meant to be a rough guide, but despite the fact that there was a short section removed from the 2015 route just after the 2km mark in the race, the km markers on the map between 2014 and 2015 were unchanged.

Additionally, out on the course itself, the 10km split timing mat and relay exchange point were both located in approximately the same spot as they were in 2014. Logically, given the removal of the short section between 2km and 3km, the course had to be shorter up to this point as the race start was at roughly the same spot as it was in 2014.

Next I turned to MapMyRun and did some further comparison to see if the answers were there.

Neither a GPS track, nor measuring a full route using something like Google Maps or MapMyRun can be relied on to be 100% accurate over 30km. Only measuring the course with a proper Jones Counter wheel, in accordance with certification standards, would give a true indication of the actual course length.

However, measuring some short sections using online tools and comparing those to the previously certified course¹ probably does provide the accuracy required to make a solid judgement.

There were two changes to the route that I looked at:

  • Change one: The 2014 route has a little extra section just after 2km including James St. N, Guise St. E, Catharine St. N and Ferguson Ave. N. That section measures ~1.1km. In 2015, we ran straight from James St. N. to Burlington St. E over to where the old course joined, skipping that little section. The direct route measures 650m. Cutting that section out shaved about 450m from that portion of the course. View.
  • Change two: The 2014 route section that includes Spring Garden Rd and the big hill measures 2.05km. The 2015 section, staying on Plains Rd W, is 2.15km, or about 100m longer. View.

Is it a coincidence that doing the math results in a difference of ~350m between the two courses when looking at the changes in those two sections? I don’t think so.

I said after the race that I thought the course was about 300m short, and the analysis of the differences in these two sections leads me to believe that is the case.

One other thing that may or may not be relevant. You’ll note that the PDF route map for 2014 indicates that the course was both revised, and certified in 2013 by Bernie Conway. The 2015 map shows no such indication that the course was certified. It could be that omitting this from the 2015 PDF was an oversight, but it’s also possible that it was intentionally left off as the route was not certified by Mr. Conway.

Who cares?

This all leads to the question of whether it matters if the course was a few hundred metres shorter than 30km. I say yes, it does. Here’s why:

Firstly, the 2015 edition of the race was part of the Ontario Masters Athletics Road Race Championship Series. An officially sanctioned event in a provincial racing series needs to be properly measured and certified. Any records set in this race could be declared invalid because the course wasn’t properly certified. That’s not fair to participants.

Secondly, the website for the event notes the following: “Course measured and certified by Bernie Conway, Run Canada/Athletics Canada”. If that isn’t the case, then the organizers should have indicated this on the site and let runners know that because of a late route change, they weren’t able to certify the new, revised course.

Waiting for a response

The organizers have yet to respond to questions and inquiries on Twitter about the course length. Dan Way at Canadian Running Magazine wrote up a similar article to this one, based on some of the tweets from runners, and from the Strava data that suggested the course was likely short.

If and when the race organizers provide confirmation either way, I’ll update this article.

¹I examined the two different course certifications done in 2013 for the 2014 race. I noted that the race in 2014 used neither of these routes, instead runners ran a slightly altered route that was something of a hybrid of the two different certified courses. In other words, the 2014 route was also not properly certified, despite a note on the Around the Bay website saying it was.

Update (April 2, 2015):

Athletics Canada has issued a statement about the Around the Bay course distance, noting the course was not properly certified after being changed to account for construction. View that statement.

Around the Bay Road Race Director Mike Zajczenko has yet to address any questions about the race distance.

Running on Vacation

I just got back from a nine-day family vacation in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. We do this trip every March Break, and since I’m almost always training for a spring marathon, it means a week of running while on vacation.

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A little taste of what running is like in Hilton Head Island. Paved paths everywhere.

Whether you can continue your running or not when on vacation depends a lot on where you are going. In the case of Hilton Head Island, running is safe and easy. If you are in a resort in Mexico or Cuba, it might not be reasonable to venture off the property, so long runs might be an issue.

Finding routes

But how do you find routes to run that are safe and good for running?

Use a route mapper

Sites like MapMyRun and DailyMile have route mappers that are handy in planning out routes to run if you know the area. But if you aren’t sure exactly where the good places to run are, Strava’s amazing Global Heatmap site is a great help. It shows where runners have run the most. That’s usually a good indication that it’s a good road or trail to run. I’ve used it to find runs in various cities around the world including in Amsterdam, San Antonio, and Portland.

Here’s Hilton Head Island on Strava’s Heatmap. You can see that many runners hit the beach to run, and that William Hilton Parkway is also a favourite. Super handy!

Find a running store

Another option is to search out a local running store to get some advice from the locals. If you are in Canada, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a Running Room around. Outside of Canada is a bit of a different story.

strava-beaches
The Strava Heatmap view around my house. Lots of streets that are popular with runners (including me)

I did a Google search for “hilton head island running store” and found The Palmetto Running Company which wasn’t far from where we were staying. Their running club page provides a link to a bunch of group runs, and also a link to local running routes of various lengths.

Ask a local!

Local runners are always a good resource too. I’ve had good success with just stopping runners out there and asking them where I should go. Every runner has been happy to share a route or two with me. Sometimes you can find a group run or pick up an impromptu running buddy this way. Don’t be afraid to say hi and ask about the local running scene. Put yourself in their shoes – you’d be happy to share a route or some advice with an out-of-town runner, right?

Whether you stick to your full training schedule, or dial it back a bit while you take a break from work and life, running on vacation is a great way to unwind and see some different scenery. Get out there and enjoy your runs!

Step-back Weeks Explained

It’s a step-back week for those training for the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon on the Running Room 18 week marathon training program.

I often describe marathon training as “climbing the ladder”. Each Sunday you typically run either the same milage or a few kilometres more than the week before as you make your way up to 32km (sometimes even a bit more). Step-back weeks are weeks in the training program where you take a step back down the ladder and run a shorter Sunday run than the week before.

This week is a nice one – the schedule calls for 19km this weekend, on the heels of last week’s 26km long Sunday run.

Why the step back?

mileage-graph
You can see the step-back weeks clearly in this weekly mileage chart from the Running Room training program.

Why do we have these step-back weeks in the schedule? The short answer is that the step back provides both physical and mental rest.

Pulling back on the miles every once in a while aids in physical recovery and helps prevent injury by giving the legs and body a bit of an easier week. You still do the same weekday runs including tempo runs and the dreaded hills, but the total mileage for the week will be a bit less than the week before.

A step-back also provides for a mental break from the grind of training. Piling on more and longer runs week after week can get overwhelming. Taking a breather and having a shorter week to look forward to is good for the mind and gets you ready for the next push.

Take the break!

You might be tempted to skip the step-back and run another 26km or even a 29km run this week thinking more miles will help on race day. Resist that temptation! Just as rest days are an important part of your weekly training schedule, step-back weeks are key to ensuring that you get to the start line healthy and ready to race.

Enjoy the 19km run on Sunday as the next seven long runs after that are at least 23km! Take it easy, run conversational pace and make sure you continue to try out different pre-run food options to see what works best for you.

The big runs to come

This is the second last step-back weekend before race day. After this weekend’s 19km run, there’s a 29km run (or 30km for those racing Around the Bay in Hamilton) and then another 29km run before a 32km Sunday that will be one of the longest you do in training.

The next step-back is 23km which will seem short to you, despite the fact that it’s nearly 2km longer than a half marathon. From there it’s just a few more big runs before the taper (more on that in a future post).

Onwards! Just nine weeks to go!

Review: Tiux Performance Compression Socks

What if something as simple as changing your socks could help you train harder and recover faster?

A plethora of quality, scientific studies done over the last few years suggest that compression socks do work to improve performance during your run by increasing blood flow to the muscles of the calves. Studies have also proven that wearing compression gear aids in recovery thanks to the same blood flow and circulation improvements.

$70 for socks? Uh, no. Enter Tiux!

I’ve used compression socks here and there over the years. Mostly I wear them after long runs to aid in recovery, and also when I travel by plane. They’ve never been a regular part of my training routine, partly because I’ve never really taken the time to see if they made a difference for me, but mostly because the idea of regularly spending $70 on a pair of socks seemed a bit crazy to me.

tiux-logoTiux is a new startup (currently in a pre-order phase via their website at tiux.co) that is looking to shake things up in in the sports apparel business, starting with compression socks. Tiux makes and sells premium compression socks, with all the latest technology, but at a much lower price point than traditional compression gear brands – just $35USD, including shipping.

By selling directly to athletes via their online shop, Tiux can skip the fancy packaging and retail markups that normally go to the retailer, allowing them to sell at a much lower price while still making a high performance product. Tiux also forgoes the big name (and big money) sponsorships that inflate prices and don’t bring any benefit to customers.

Sure they’re less expensive, but are they good socks?

Disclaimer: Tiux contacted me recently and offered up a pair of socks for me to test out. As with other reviews where I’ve either paid for or received products at no cost, these are my own opinions and there was no pressure or input from Tiux on the content of this review.

I opted for a pair of Tiux’s standard black, yellow and grey socks in the large size which the sizing chart suggests are good for men sizes 9-12. I wear a size 13 running shoe and they fit my feet and calves nicely. Tiux also has pink/yellow/purple and yellow/blue/black models if you want something with a bit more flash or a splash of colour.

Tiux socksThere’s no skimping on compression technology here, despite the price. The socks feature graduated compression of between 20 and 25mmHg of pressure from the ankle up to the top of the calf. Scientific studies suggest that graduated compression in that pressure range is essential if you want the full benefits of compression socks.

Tiux socks are also anatomically designed which means they are labeled for the left and right foot on the toe so you can make sure you have them on the correct feet. Speaking of the foot, the socks also feature compression through the arch and some additional padding in the heel and midfoot area that I appreciated when walking around the house on our hardwood floors.

Compression for recovery

I first wore them after a hard tempo run and found they did a nice job aiding in recovery. Slipping them on was fairly easy compared to other compression socks and the fit was good. The top band is snug and keeps the sock from falling down really well without being too tight.

The feeling of tightness around your feet and calves feels great after a run, and there’s a bit of tingling and warmth throughout your lower legs that suggests something is happening.

On Wednesday I ran hill repeats and didn’t feel the level of fatigue and soreness that I expected considering the pace of the run on Tuesday. I’ll be adding the Tiux socks to my usual recovery routine after hard runs in the future.

Compression for improved performance

On Thursday I decided to wear the socks during a run. I’m really, really particular about running socks, so this was a big deal for me. I’ve run my entire career in WrightSock Double Layer socks so to slip on something different for anything more than a couple of kilometres caused me a little concern about the potential for blisters or other issues.

Despite my fears about wearing difference socks, I didn’t have any trouble with hot spots or blisters and the extra cushion felt nice under foot. My other big concern was that they would fall down. That also turned out to be a non-issue.

I ran a nice, moderate pace 8km on the treadmill with the Tiux socks on to see how things felt. I could definitely tell something was different in my feet and calves. It’s a weird feeling to try to describe – almost like there was a bit of a disconnect between my legs and the rest of my body. I felt a bit like I was floating, or stepping more lightly. Overall it felt like maybe it took a bit less effort to run the same pace.

The day after and a long drive south

The next day really told the story. Normally on Friday I’ll feel a fair bit of tightness and fatigue through my legs and shins after three straight days of running without a day off. This Friday, which included a 13 hour drive to South Carolina for a family vacation, I found that there was much less of that usual fatigue and my legs felt really good.

tiux-message
A little secret message sewn into the inside of the top band of the socks.

Is it the socks? I can’t say for sure, but I do know that the increased blood flow that compression technology creates is designed to flush out metabolic wastes from the muscles while speeding healing to muscle fibres. I can’t argue with how my legs felt after wearing them both for recovery and on the run.

Studies on compression socks seem to agree. There’s lots of research on compression technology and the benefits to athletes and specifically runners is pretty well proven. The fact that most high performance distance runners including compression socks in their race kits suggests they see benefits as well.

The verdict

Do compression socks improve performance or aid in recovery? My experience is that the Tiux socks provided what I believe to be clear benefits in my training both during and after runs.

Are Tiux as good as other, higher priced compression socks? Again, based on my experience, yes. Tiux provides high quality compression socks that work really well. At $35USD a pair, you can get two pairs of Tiux for what you’d pay for a single pair of comparable socks from other well-known brands.

They are comfortable, provide good compression and they feel very well made. If you want quality socks and you don’t want to pay for sponsorships, fancy packaging and the usual retail markups, then Tiux is worth a look.

I’m super happy to see some innovation both in technology but also in the way running gear is marketed and sold. Reducing the cost of gear allows more runners to add this kind of advanced technology to their training.

You can read more about Tuix socks at their website. Currently Tiux is taking pre-orders with expected delivery of their first batch of socks around the end of April.

Update (May 7, 2015): Tiux is now taking orders for socks in three colours, with immediate delivery.

Hill Training on the Treadmill

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I like doing my hill workouts on the treadmill.

Here’s what my current routine is like for Wednesday hill night:

I start with an easy warm up – a kilometre my steady pace (which is what I’ll run throughout the workout). Tonight that was 6.8mph. It’s supposed to be a very easy warmup, just to get my legs going and my heart rate elevated a bit.

Then I start creating some hills. I begin at the top of my virtual hill, rather than the bottom. Each hill repeat for me is 400m flat (no incline) which is like the downhill run to the bottom. Then I start up the hill with 100m at 2.0% incline then 300m at 4.0 or 4.5% incline to simulate a bit of a gradual start followed by a pretty good hill. At the top of the hill, I back the incline down to zero again and run out 100m before “turning around” and taking a 100m walk break back to the top of the hill to do it all over again.

After the repeats are done, I run a 1km cool down with no incline and at the same pace to finish things up.

Each hill repeat ends up being 1km this way so it’s easy to keep track of where I am in the workout – the repeat number matches up with the kilometre number. When I have 3km on my watch, I’m starting down the hill on repeat three. The total distance of the run will be 2km plus 1km X the number of repeats.

Adjusting for maximum training effect

hills-hrm
A good hills workout. 5 hill repeats with a 1km warm up and cool down.

Depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll play with the pace or the incline to ensure that I’m getting my heart rate elevated enough on the hills. All of the repeats should be done at the same pace and incline, so you need to make sure you aren’t over doing it early and then paying the price on the last repeat.

When I’m done, the result is a nice set of hills in my heart rate graph, and if I got the pace and incline right, there shouldn’t be too much difference in the height of those heart rate hills between the first one and the last.

Compared to doing real hills outside, I find it easier to adjust the treadmill incline and pace to get a better quality workout. Some weeks I feel good and I’ll edge up the pace and incline to match. Other weeks, when I’m feeling less than stellar, the hill can get a bit less steep, or the pace can come down a touch.

Keep in mind that whether you choose inside on a treadmill, or outside on a real hill, the real key to hill training is that you do it.