100 Days

The countdown to the BMO Vancouver Marathon says 100 days. That’s just over 14 weeks and it means that training is well underway.

Within the next few weeks, the long Sunday runs escalate quickly to 19km and beyond. Hill training starts and the weekly mileage climbs above 50km and towards 60km.

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Out on the run.

If you haven’t established a good training routine yet, you best get things sorted out quickly. Without a base of training on which to build in the next phase, you’re setting yourself up for injuries and frustration.

Commitment doesn’t have levels

You should be running a minimum of four days a week if you want to be successful on race day. Anything less than that puts too much strain on your body on the long Sunday runs. A good rule of thumb is that your Sunday runs should be well under 50% of your weekly mileage total.

If you are having trouble fitting the runs in, then it’s time to assess whether you are fully committed to running a marathon. I’ve written about commitment before and rather than restate that here, you can go read that post.

Nobody said it would be easy

This marathon training thing is tough. It can be a grind. It goes on for months. But that’s what makes it so rewarding when you cross the start line on race day knowing you’ve worked hard and are ready to run 42.2km.

I’ve run one marathon on not enough training (on purpose) and believe me, it’s not a great feeling when you start a 42.2km run knowing it’s going to end very badly.

If you are looking back through your training logs for the last few weeks and you see gaps and missed runs, then you’ve got a week or two here to get yourself in gear. If you don’t, then come May 7, 2017, you’ll either be watching as others run or you’ll be crossing the start line knowing that you could have and should have done more to prepare.

The First Few Weeks of Training

My first two weeks of training for the BMO Vancouver Marathon are done and with this morning’s 13km “long” run, week three has already begun.

I generally enjoy the first month of training as the mileage is pretty low, and the Sunday runs are quite easy. While the schedule I follow from the Running Room calls for just 10km on the first two Sundays and then 13km for the next two, it’s no problem for me to push that a bit and get closer to 15km. Weekly mileage is about 40km these days with runs on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Some people think that training for a marathon means a ton of long runs, but that’s just not the case.

I generally run between 6km and 10km on my weekday runs throughout the four month program except for a few weeks where hill training pushes some runs to 10-14km. It’s only the Sunday run where the distance is built and even then, the farthest I’ll go in a single run is about 34-35km late in the program.

Good habits now

The most important thing in these early weeks is something I’ve preached for a few years since starting this blog: consistency. The time to develop good habits is now. That means running the schedule faithfully and putting in the weekday mileage no matter what.

If you get into the habit of running five days a week now, it’ll be easier to stay in that habit throughout the full 18-week program leading up to race day. On the other hand, if you start skimping on the mileage or skipping runs here and there, it will come back to haunt you later in the training cycle.

Make sure your body is ready

If you are an experienced runner and marathoner, then this first month is almost a rest period. If you are a first-timer, then it’s an opportunity to get used to the grind of training and a chance to see how your body will react.

Take the rest now and get yourself prepared both mentally and physically for what is coming in the next few months. Any small aches and pains, or minor niggles should be worked out before the weekly mileage ramps up and the Sunday runs get longer. Remember that it’s a long haul, so don’t get discouraged if things seem tougher than you thought they might be. You can do this.

Some other tips:

  • Have a training plan in place: if you haven’t joined a clinic or found a good program, then now is the time to seek out a good one for you. The Running Room has a very good marathon training plan they offer via their stores, or online if you don’t live near one. I strongly recommend their plan, especially for beginners as it is designed to get you to the start line healthy and the finish line “upright and smiling”. There’s more info about training plans here.
  • Get signed up for your race: if you haven’t signed up for your race yet, now is the time. Not only will it save you a few bucks over waiting a bit longer, but having a registration confirmation email has this way of keeping you motivated. For BMO Vancouver Marathon runners, there’s an additional reason—the race will sell out.
  • Don’t wait to treat any aches or pains: if you run into any injuries or issues, don’t wait around for it to get better. Seek out treatment from a physiotherapist or your doctor.

The countdown is on

It’s 112 days until the BMO Vancouver Marathon and that time will just fly by. Check back regularly over the next four months for advice and information about the next phases of training as we continue to build the strength and endurance required to run 42.2km.

Why You Should Archive Your Run Logs and Data

If you have a GPS running watch, you’re creating a ton of valuable data that you don’t want to lose.

Services like Strava, Garmin Connect and others do a great job helping you analyze the performance data that a fitness watch or tracker creates. But don’t think of those sites as archives or backups of that data.

Training Center → MotionBased → Garmin Connect

I bought my first Garmin GPS watch in May, 2008. The first run with that watch was on May 10, 2008. I know this because there is a .tcx file in a folder in my DropBox and on my Mac with all the data from that run. Garmin used to provide an application for Mac and PC called Garmin Training Center and that’s what you used to see how you did on the run.

Garmin-205Back then there was no Garmin Connect. Instead, you could upload the data file to a service called MotionBased (which Garmin eventually bought and which became Garmin Connect). Keeping those .tcx files safe was important to me because I wanted to have a full historical record of all my runs.

First there was Dailymile which eventually sort of handled Garmin .tcx files. Then a few years later Strava came along. It’s a great service that offers a community for athletes regardless of which specific brand of GPS watch or device they use. I signed up, but that meant starting from scratch with all my stats and metrics…except it didn’t because I had all that data!

Rather than starting at nothing, I bulk uploaded all the .tcx files I had safely stored away and within an hour or two, all my run data was in Strava too. Awesome! As of today, that’s 1080 runs and 11,254.6km. Here’s that first run I ever did with a GPS watch.

Why does it matter?

Training Center and MotionBased are gone. Dailymile is all but forgotten. If you only used a single service to track your runs and didn’t bother to save or archive the raw data, you’d be in big trouble right now. Services come and go and in many cases, there’s no way to get your raw data out. Dailymile, for example, gives you a sparse .csv with almost no useful info.

stravahistoryIn my case, because I archive all of my .tcx files outside of the services I use, if another service comes along that’s better, assuming they support the Garmin .tcx standard, I can bulk upload and push nine-plus years of running data into it on day one.

I find myself going back and looking at past runs fairly frequently. Sometimes its for sentimental reasons like looking at the first 10km I ran, or seeing when I first exceeded 21.1km. Comparing present-day performance to past performance is only possible if you have past performance data.

Save, store and backup!

So…how to make sure you are saving your data. There are a few of ways to do this.

  1. Back them up manually (and make backups) – this is what I did initially. I would copy the .tcx file off my watch, and into a folder on my computer. Every. Single. Time.
  2. Use a service that has proper export capabilities – while Strava offers a way to “download all your activities” from the settings page, what you get is .gpx files, not .tcx files which means some of the data is missing. Garmin lets you export single activities, but not all of your files at once.
  3. Use a service to do it automatically (the best option) – I use a service called Tapiriik that interconnects various fitness tracking services automatically. With Tapiriik, you have the option to link Garmin Connect to DropBox. For a mere $2/year, Tapiriik automatically pulls the .tcx files from Garmin Connect and puts them into my DropBox whenever I upload them. I don’t even think about it. Tapiriik will also go back in time and get all of your Garmin files back to day one, if you want (and you do).

Own (and save) your own data

It’s my preference to always have all of my data in my own hands. While it’s tempting to assume that you’ll always be able to get your files from Garmin Connect or Strava, the truth is that services come and go, and features come and go.

At this point, Tapiriik has me covered, but I also know that Garmin could pull the plug on their API access at any point and I might have to go back to manually archiving them.

Whatever your chosen solution, make sure you are saving off your GPS run data somewhere so you will always be able to look back on your running history. And if you do store them yourself, remember, two places or it doesn’t exist! DropBox is good because it stores a copy in the cloud plus a copy on your computer.

Why I love the BMO Vancouver Marathon

I’ve run 10 marathons now, but one race in particular keeps calling me back over and over.

It’s not Ottawa, although I do enjoy the whole Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and the marathon route is great. I’ve run Ottawa’s marathon three times since 2010 and it was my first full marathon. I’ve been to the Ottawa Race Weekend five times total.

It’s not Toronto either. Canada Running Series puts on a great event and it’s a really super route that takes runners through some beautiful parts of our city. But Toronto is also my home, and that takes away from the experience a bit. I’ve run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon twice.

World Marathon Majors have never appealed to me, although I did enjoy spectating at the Chicago Marathon when Ginny ran it a few years ago.

BMO Vancouver Marathon

The marathon that I love the most is the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I first ran it in 2011 on my 40th birthday. It was a birthday gift to myself and a way to do something I love on a day when I didn’t really want to celebrate getting older. Running my third full marathon in my favourite city on my birthday reminded me that 40 isn’t that old, and that I could easily run 42.2km despite my age.

I’ve been back to “RUN VAN” twice more since 2011.

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In late 2011, I was in the midst of recovering from a bad bike vs. car accident that left me with a serious arm injury. The trip out to the west coast in May 2012 to run the marathon provided something to look forward to during the tough and painful physiotherapy sessions. The race itself provided proof that I had recovered enough to run a marathon again.

In 2014 I went back to Vancouver and ran it again on a rainy and cool spring morning. It was spectacular once again. I ran a PB that day and enjoyed the run immensely despite the weather.

A Stunning Course

The course has changed a bit since the first time I ran the race in 2011. Back then it was full of twists and turns (my Garmin GPS track). It started and ended near BC Place Stadium and went through some of the more industrial areas of the city before hitting a portion of the famed Seawall. From there, runners cut through the centre of Stanley Park over to the Point Grey area of the city. Then it was a tough finish up and over the Burrard Bridge and back downtown.

Starting in 2012, the course changed for the better. This year’s course is pretty much the same as it was then, with a few minor tweaks. They moved to a point-to-point route that starts south of downtown in the Cambie area at Queen Elizabeth Park. From there, runners head further south, then west towards Pacific Spirit Regional Park. There’s a big hill (hello, Camosun…nice to see you), and then eventually you end up on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) before blasting down NW Marine Drive to Jericho Beach and then the beautiful Point Grey neighbourhood.

Yes, you still run up and over the Burrard St. Bridge. She’s a mean one, but when you crest the hill, there’s a nice surprise around the next corner with some of the best cheering around and another nice downhill cruise. After that, you get to run around the entirety of the Seawall starting at Sunset Beach and ending in Coal Harbour. The finish is downtown near the Convention Centre and the Olympic Torch. It’s a stunning route and I will never tire of running it.

Here’s a course map I made on RunGo.

Great Route + Beautiful City + Good Weather

What makes this the best marathon as far as I’m concerned is that it’s a spectacular route, in a beautiful city, at the right time of year.

The views from the UBC campus across to Vancouver Island will threaten to stop you in your tracks. Look left on the Burrard Bridge at English Bay and you say, “wow!”. While you may hit the wall, it’ll happen on the Seawall…and there’s no better place. Siwash Rock, the “Girl in the Wetsuit”, Brockton Point…and stunning views of downtown to take you through the last 5km.

Vancouver…what a place. Host of Expo 86, the world’s fair where the city first came out of its shell before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games introduced it to the world. It’s a new city, young and fresh. You can’t help but want to be outside and active when you get there. It’s full of life with seaplanes landing in the harbour and mountains rising up on the north shore. Find me a better city to be in.

The weather in early May is usually pretty ideal for running a marathon. According to WeatherSpark, the average weather for race day, May 7, 2017 typically varies from 9°C to 15°C and is rarely below 6°C or above 18°C. It tends to be cloudy, and generally there is a 50-50 chance it’ll rain.

I’ve had two sunny days with temps around 12ºC and one drizzly day that was about 10ºC. Compare that with an Ottawa race in late May and you’ll conclude that Vancouver offers a much better likelihood of having good weather for running 42.2km.

Making the trip to Vancouver

As I did last time I went out, I’ll be staying at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel. It’s the race hotel, and is situated right at the finish line. That makes it super convenient after the race ends. You can literally walk out of the finish chute and into the lobby of the hotel.

bmo-inYou can find a whole bunch of different hotel options in different price ranges via beVancouver. Booking through that site gets you 50% off your race registration and a bit better price on your hotel room. If you want to stay at the Coast Hotel, you’ll want to book it via this page using the “Book your stay” button. Note you don’t get the 50% off the race entry this way, but at $219/night, it’s a great deal on a super nice hotel.

I’ll be flying out from Toronto. I was waiting on a seat sale from either Air Canada or WestJet until this week when I grabbed a flight on WestJet for just over $600 return – score! Getting to downtown from the airport in Vancouver (YVR) is easy and cheap. The Canada Line runs from YVR to the city centre.

Vancouver is a big city and it isn’t always the cheapest place to visit. That said, there are ways to make it more affordable. Airbnb is one option, although the City of Vancouver has been cracking down on these types of short-term rentals of late so be careful if you opt to use Airbnb. With great transit, one other option to save some cash is to stay south of the city near the airport in Richmond and take the Canada Line up on race morning.

Plan to stay a few days on either side of the race and take in some more of what this great city has to offer.

Let me know in the comments if you plan to run the race this year!