Four Weeks to Go

Four weeks, 28 day, 18 runs. The Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon is just around the corner now.

I’ve trained through these last four weeks a few times now over the years, and it always seems to go the same way. It’s a mix of tiredness from running the biggest weeks of the training program, constant worrying about this little pain and that little bit of soreness, and a hope that nothing bad happens between now and race day that will scuttle all the many months of training I’ve done.

countdownHere’s some advice if you are heading into those last four weeks too:

  1. Keep running: I’ve been preaching this one since the first week. You need to put in the training to be successful. Keep it up! Get those weekday runs in and continue to build the last bit of strength and endurance that will serve you so well in the last 5km of your marathon.
  2. Slow down a bit on your runs: Take it a bit easier on your runs and don’t push yourself to the limit. There’s not much more to gain by really pushing it, but there’s a lot to lose by training too hard. Ease back a touch overall, but use the last few kilometres of your remaining long runs to see where you are at.
  3. Slow down the rest of your life: Take it easy going up the stairs, lifting stuff, and whenever you are doing anything that is hard work. I’ve nearly busted my toe running up the stairs three weeks before a marathon and figured I’d thrown it all away. Slow down, be a bit more methodical and don’t do anything dumb that will jeopardize your race..
  4. Eat right: Take care of your body and it’ll perform better on race day. That means paying attention to the food fuel you put into it in the weeks leading up to the race. Ease back on the crap, avoid alcohol and try to enjoy good, nutritious food for a while.
  5. Sleep well: This gets overlooked a lot, but sleep is a big part of your performance. Make time to train, but also make time to rest and get a good night’s sleep whenever possible.

These last few weeks can be really enjoyable. You’re likely as fit and strong as you’ve ever been and the weeknight runs will feel easy. The last couple of super long Sunday runs will add to your confidence and give you a sense of what race day will bring.

Be smart, keep on running and enjoy the last four weeks until your marathon.

Dreaming of Boston

This morning at work I put the live feed of the Boston Marathon on my second monitor and undertook the mindless task of checking every single price in our pricing system at work for accuracy.

On my main monitor, amongst the roughly 10,000 prices I checked, I found quite a few incorrectly priced SKUs. On the second monitor, amongst the tens of thousands of runners on course, I found an incredible amount of personal inspiration.

Boston calling

I’ve never really felt all that drawn to the Boston Marathon, mostly because I’m not nearly fast enough to qualify to run it. The last thing I’ve wanted to do over the last five years of running marathons is to get obsessed over a specific, unreasonable time and feel disappointed if I didn’t attain it.

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I visited Boston in the fall of 2010 and ran across the finish line just a few months after my first marathon in Ottawa in May, 2010.

But this year was different for some reason. I watched the race from start to finish and then kept watching the finish line live stream and tracking map as my friends and fellow runners finished their races.

I found myself thinking about what running Boston would be like. I felt drawn to it.

Reality check

My personal best for the marathon is 3:48:30 which I ran last year at the 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon. Currently, I’d need to run a 3:15:00 marathon to qualify to race Boston next spring. In reality, I’d probably need to run a few minutes faster than that to account for the fact that there have been more qualifiers than spots in the race the last few years.

Knocking more than 30 minutes off my time at the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon in May just doesn’t seem possible right now so I’ve put it out of my mind. But I’m turning 44 in a couple of weeks and it turns out that the qualifying times for men aged 45-49 is 3:25:00 — a ten minute difference.

Looking forward

In the back of my mind I think a 3:40:00 is probably possible for me, maybe even this year in Ottawa. Add the additional ten minutes I get next year for getting one year older, and I feel like I could be within striking distance of that magical 3:25 qualifying time in 2016 or 2017.

I confess that for the first time Boston has a bit of a grip on me today. Nothing in running is ever a sure thing, but I think that over the next few years I might be able to commit to the significant training required to bring my marathon time down below 3:25:00.

For the first time, I feel the way others feel about Boston. And I think I’m okay with that.

Two Really Important Weeks of Training

I often find these next two weeks of training to be the toughest. The weekly mileage is at its peak, and the Sunday runs seem relentless with 29km and 32km runs to do before the taper starts.

tunnelBut these couple of weeks are also the most critical in building that last bit of stamina and strength. Resist the temptation to ease back now and continue to push hard and get all of your runs in.

Here’s why these two weeks are key:

  • The last of the super long runs: With 29km and 32km Sunday runs, these are the last two really long runs you’ll do and your last chance to gauge where you are at. If you’ve done the work and trained well, these two runs will be huge confidence boosters leading up to race day.
  • The start of speed work: The hill training is done and we’re moving on to the final phase of training which builds more of the all-important leg strength and cardio. These sessions will push your body and mind to the limit, so be careful not to push too hard and injure yourself.
  • Race day practice opportunities: These are your last chances to figure out your gels, hydration and race day routine. By the end of these two weeks, you should know which shoes you’ll wear, what you’ll eat the morning of the race, and what gels and fluids you’ll carry with you in the race.
  • A light at the end of the tunnel: It’s been a long winter and spring, and the weather is finally getting better. After weeks and weeks of training, the end is in sight now. Get through these two weeks and there’s a little thing called the taper waiting for you that includes shorter runs and more rest.

Stick with it here and you’ll be standing in the start corral in five weeks feeling confident about your race.

Running Through the Highs and the Lows

Marathon training is hard and there are many ups and many downs that you’ll go through over the course of the 18 weeks leading up to race day.

The best thing you can do is to stay on an even keel, no matter what happens. If you have a great run, be happy, but don’t expect everything to be awesome. If you have a rough week or a tough run, put it behind you and move on.

No panic

I’ve been dealing with a knee injury since last Sunday that had me limping around all week. I sought out some treatment and advice from my physiotherapist on Tuesday and she provided the reassurance that this was something we could manage.

dont-panicIt’s really easy to panic when something like this happens. You’ve put in a ton of work already, and the thought of not being able to complete your training and the race is tough to take. But not every injury or setback in your training has to result in that outcome.

My mantra this week has been this: No panic. It’s all good. Lots of time.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard

It hasn’t been easy this week, but I did a couple of 10km runs, a 6km on Saturday and then today I ran 27km without any issues. Good stuff and I’m confident that this knee thing is manageable and probably almost behind me.

The same advice applies when you have one of those awesome long runs or what feels like the easiest tempo run of all time. Enjoy it, remember how it feels, and move on.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the seven or eight times I’ve taking the trip through the marathon training plan, it’s that things sometimes go well, and other times…not so much.

Keep it in perspective

Whether it’s a battle with the flu that costs you a week of training, or the best run of your life, keep in mind that training for a marathon involves months of work, and hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of running. Enjoy the journey, but take it one day at a time and keep things in perspective.

Ottawa Race Weekend Volunteer Profile

Too often runners overlook the many thousands of people who give their time to make events like the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend possible – the volunteers.

At this year’s Tamarack Ottawa Race weekend, more than 2,000 volunteers will come together to make the Race Weekend happen. Volunteers help out with all sorts of jobs including handing out race packets at the Expo, staffing information booths, handing out water on course and even providing entertainment along the route. And they all do it with a smile on their face despite the fact they aren’t getting paid a cent!

Without the help of these great volunteers, the Ottawa Race Weekend would simply not be possible.

Volunteer Profile: Rebecca

I talked to one volunteer, Rebecca (@RebeccaRuns on Twitter), to find out why she’s giving her time and volunteering at the 2015 Ottawa Race Weekend so that the tens of thousands of runners can all take on the challenge of their races.

James: How many times have you volunteered and what do you normally help out with?

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Rebecca Wemyss at the water station, awaiting the throngs of runners

Rebecca: I have volunteered four times for a few different events in the Ottawa area. My biggest volunteer role is with the Ottawa Race Weekend where I am a station captain for one of the marathon-route aid stations.

I ran a station in 2013 with my school, but could not volunteer last year since I was participating in the half marathon. I also volunteer with inStride Event Management who put on the Manotick Miler and Ottawa Beer Run. I’m one of their pacers for the 5 Miler at the Manotick Miler and also helped lead a group of young children in a 1K and helped lead a group in the Ottawa Beer Run.

I already have a few volunteering gigs lined up for 2015 including The Ottawa Race Weekend, Manotick Miler, the inaugural Ottawa Sporting Life 10K and hopefully the NYC Marathon!

James: Why did you decide to start volunteering at the races and had you already run races before, or was volunteering what got you into running?

Rebecca: I have participated in every Ottawa Race Weekend since 2010 and was asked to lead a water station in 2013. I had a bit of experience with running athletic events since I am a track and field coach and have to officiate events from time to time. I emailed inStride Events one day to see if they needed pacers for the Manotick Miler and that started a volunteering relationship with them.

James: What’s the best and worst parts about volunteering? Any memorable stories to share?

Rebecca: I’ll start with the best part first…meeting new running friends! The Ottawa Beer run last year was one of the best afternoons of the year. I was a “Beer Bunny” that was in charge of leading a group on the route to different breweries. I ended up talking to several people throughout the day and eventually I discovered that I knew a few of them through Twitter. We all ran together as a giant group and were talking/laughing throughout the day. We almost made a detour to a popular Ottawa donut store! This year there are even more of us running in the event together.

Along with new running friends, volunteering allows me to gain valuable experience in event management, be a part of something big and fun in Ottawa and of course I love getting the race goodies and a chance to participate in events for free.

IMG_0056There really aren’t many worst parts. Maybe nerves about being a pace bunny when you are not feeling 100%. During the Manotick Miler, I had some GI issues since I had not discovered that I couldn’t chew gum and run yet (I have an intolerance to sorbitol) – that made for an interesting run.

Other than that, waking up crazy early for the Ottawa Marathon and ensuring that 40+ teenagers [water station volunteers from local high schools] wake up before 5:00 A.M.

I can’t think of any more bad parts about volunteering. During the Ottawa Marathon in 2013 I only had one person who was a bit rude during towards us. Everyone else was so nice!

James: Any advice for first-time volunteers?

Rebecca: Make sure you check the weather the night before and dress appropriately. You will most likely be outside for a long time — be prepared for anything!

At the water station, really separate the water/gatorade tables from each other. Make sure that everyone is yelling “WATER” and “GATORADE” continuously and Gatorade should ALWAYS be placed first. Wear a poncho/water proof jacket and boots. You will be surprised how wet you get! Make sure that you don’t slack on filling up your cups before the race gets started. Everyone under-estimates how many runners will go through the stations and it’s hard to be filling up water cups while handing them out at the same time. If the weather on race day is hot and you are using a hose for your water source, spray the runners!

James: What would you say to someone who is thinking about volunteering?

Rebecca: Definitely try it out. There are so many different roles that one can take part in during a race. You don’t necessarily have to sit outside and hand out water for hours. For the NYC marathon for example, there are over 30 jobs to choose from. Make the “race weekend” a double header and run one day and volunteer the next. For me, Ottawa Race Weekend is one of my favorite weekends because I do just that.

Thank your volunteers!

When you are at the Expo picking up your race kit, or when you are out on course in Ottawa, make sure you thank the volunteers. It’s not hard to flash a smile and shout out a “thanks!”, and they really appreciate it.

If you are interested in volunteering in Ottawa, you can get more information at the Run Ottawa website.

The Real Work Happens in April

April is here and that means we’re into the heart of the marathon training program. This is the part of the training where the real work happens and where your commitment is tested week after week.

If you can get through the next five weeks, the last few weeks of training in May will feel like a victory lap heading into the Race Weekend in Ottawa.

29km+ runs are tough

Last week you ran at least 29km (or maybe even 30km at the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton). Maybe running that distance for the first time left you feeling discouraged about the marathon coming up in just eight weeks and your training progress so far.

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On course during my 30km run at the Around the Bay Road Race last weekend

If that’s the case, I can tell you that you are not alone. On my run on Sunday, as I made the turn onto Plains Road in Burlington to tackle the last 5km of the Around the Bay course, I seriously debated stepping back to the half marathon in Ottawa. It was mentally tough and I was nearly defeated.

After the race, I took some time to look at my run and think about my performance. After I did that, I realized that the reason it seemed hard was that I ran it hard. Really hard. It was literally the fastest I’ve ever run 30km. No wonder I was tired.

But they get easier

For some of you, the 29km run last Sunday was the longest you’ve ever run. It was probably really hard and by the last few kilometres you were questioning why you ever signed up to run 42.2km. Think about it. That was the longest you’ve ever run. No wonder you were tired.

Next Sunday you’ll run 29km again and it’ll be easier than last week. By the end of April, 32km runs will be less daunting and the idea of running another 10km on top of that will start to seem possible.

It’s mental, this marathon thing

Marathoning is mostly a mental game. The training and the race itself mirror each other. Just as the race is split up into segments, so is the training.

The first 21km of a marathon is pretty great. You’re feeling good, the run is going well. The first 9 weeks of the training is the same. Long runs aren’t that long, and it’s exciting to climb that ladder beyond 23km.

In the race it starts getting tough around 28km and you start to realize that the it’s not going to be easy all the way through to the end. In fact, it’s going to be really tough. It’s at this point that you’ll start to do way too much thinking.

Did I go out too fast or not fast enough? Have I been taking gels and drinking enough? Why does my calf keep twitching like that and will that little twinge in my left knee get worse, because if it does then what am I going to do? I wonder if I can call a cab to get me back to the hotel after the race. Does that kid over there have french fries? I could really go for some french fries right now…

Break-Your-Spirit-1-420x420That’s where we’re getting to in the training program right now. The doubts are setting in and the questioning is starting.

Can I run 29km or more four times in the next five weeks? Why do my feet hurt? Should I go see the physiotherapist about this shin thing or give it another week? Why am I so tired and hungry all the time? Why don’t we have any french fries in the house?

Simple advice

The advice for April is this: Keep running, and stop over-thinking it. Enjoy the runs. You put in the time and effort building the foundation and now it’s time to prove that you can do this. And you can.

It’s also time to lock in your long-run routine and start planning for race day.

Settle on a gel and energy drink that works for you and figure out what to wear to avoid any chafing or other issues. Get your race shoes figured out. That might mean getting a new pair of shoes worked in now depending on how many miles you’ve run on your current pair.

Seven weeks? Eeeep!

Ottawa Race Weekend will be here sooner than you think. There are just seven long runs left before race day. That’s seven weeks to continue to build your physical and mental strength so that come May 24 at 7:00 A.M. you be standing in the start corral listening to the gun sound, knowing that you’ll be wearing a finisher’s medal later that day.

Good luck with your training!