Storm of the Decade – The Clean Up.


On the bike again, four days after the storm I was detoured from the bike path as a large tree was chain sawed in front of me. Our home in the Northwest part of the city had been mostly unaffected but here, closer to the city core, the evidence of the storm was still apparent.

Queensland is used to storms, even ones of this magnitude.  Every year there are weather events that destroy property and disrupt everyday life.  Some years floods and power outages are a weekly occurrence.  In fact only 7 days earlier an afternoon thunderstorm drenched the South Eastern part of the State, flooding roads, and train tracks.  Naturally it occurred during the peak hour of traffic and thousands of Queenslanders including the majority of Brisbane were stranded in gridlock or on train platforms as neither trains nor cars could move through the flash floods.

We were on shift at the fire station that night as well, and responded to activated fire alarms for most of the shift.  At one point we were called upon to watch a trash pump that was emptying an underground parking garage that had flooded to above the lowest level.  Cars and debris floating around as the water level receded.

That isolated flood was minor in comparison to what has happened in recent years.  At Christmas time in 2010, Queensland endured ‘The Big Wet’.  A strong cyclone season combined with a La Nina event produced the wettest summer in Queensland history.  Nearly all of Queensland was in a state of emergency as dams overflowed and rivers broke through their banks. The pictures are awesome.  Towns with the flood water up to the second story windows, roads washed away, the freeway cut by a temporary lake, isolating thousands and hampering attempts for emergency crews to give assistance.  One town near Brisbane was completely washed away, killing 9 people.  This was no third world town with huts and dirt paths beside a river, this was a modern town with well build homes and infrastructure- gone.

It was no surprise, then to learn that the all resources that the fire department could offer during the clean up would be used.  When I got into work that morning, my first shift since the storm, we were informed that we would be traveling to the worst hit part of the city on the South side of the river to assist the SES with the clean up.

The SES is the State Emergency Services.  They are a group of volunteers who get called out to emergencies in the state whenever they are needed.  In Brisbane they were being used to mitigate flood and storm damage, but they can also be used to search for lost people, or help out in evacuations during bush fires.  They come from all areas of the state if necessary and they are well funded and well fed, but each one of them gives their time freely for the honour and excitement of donning their bright orange outfits and assisting where they are needed.  I spent a great deal of time talking to some of these volunteers aiming to unravel how the organization works and what kind of people would be attracted to this kind of service.

Talking to one volunteer, who admitted to me that getting time off for this deployment was not a problem because he had no job and that he had no worries about damage to his vehicle during the storm because he had no vehicle, I began to take a closer look at the SES members around me.  Now I truly do hold these volunteers in very high regard, but they are a motley crew. I could not help noticing that the young people involved could have been recruited from the local comic books store as they played dungeon and dragons, while the older volunteers, weathered and mostly bearded, looked to be old ranch hands newly into retirement.  I am told they love what they do.

Late that morning after a morning tea of subway sandwiches and the best tasting apples I have ever had, we headed out with the fire truck to homes with damaged roofs and windows in an effort to stop any further damage should the next storm occur soon.  Roofers and window glazers, despite calling in dozens of tradesmen from around the state, would be busy for months with the repairs and the next storm cells were predicted to arrive by the end of the week.

Driving around gave us a chance to see the damage first hand.  Truly unbelievable.  The hailstones ranged in size from golf balls to baseballs and were driven by 140kph winds at the peak of the storm.  The majority of the damage was, therefore, to the sides of homes and to windows and cars.

Ice driven at this force is an artillery barrage. Every South facing window in every house was smashed.  Vinyl siding was perforated with large holes and painted wood siding was chipped and damaged.  As we drove up residential streets to find an address that had roof tiles broken by a large tree limb that collapse on the roof I notice the cars.  Raked with ice projectiles every exposed panel suffered hundreds of dents, every windshield or back window, depending on which way the car faced, was smashed.  These cars will not be repaired.  Insurance companies are writing off the damaged vehicles rather than repair them.  Jay, a firefighter with us, had his new jeep written off with a price tag of $27,000.  The damage will be over one billion dollars, and it is fortunate that no one was killed.

By 4 pm later that day, having wrapped and covered as many roofs, windows, and shattered skylights as we could we again sat at the SES headquarters, enjoying yet another meal compliments of the Queensland government, including I confess several more apples.  It was obvious that money was being thrown at the clean up effort in to improve the optics for the politicians.  In lieu of dozens of skilled trades people, who where not available and would not be for some time the government threw hundreds of men and women with tarps and plastic wrap at the problem.  I noticed dozens of firefighters working on overtime eating the food on offer waiting hours for assignment.  That is, alas, little of my concern, at 7:30, more than 2 hours after my shift had ended I was finally allowed to go home.  I grabbed another apple for the road.

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La Cloche Silhouette.


Kilarney Provincial Park at the top of Southern Ontario, stretching into Georgian Bay, is an anomaly in Southern Ontario.  Mountain ranges, and crystal clear lakes it is a shock to see if you are accustomed to the dense pine forests and dark murky lakes of the neighbouring Muskoka and Algonquin regions.  

I traveled to Kilarney for a day hike earlier this past summer and hiking up to ‘The Crack’ (a granite peak, five kilometers from the park entrance) I was astounded by the views of mountain ranges with valleys filled in by lakes that reflected the bright sun.  

“Wow” I said and reiterated again and again as I walked around the summit looking out along the La Cloche Mountains and farther into Georgian Bay.  I could see much of the park to the South and Group of Seven type pine trees, austere and solitary existing on the bald bedrock of the eroded peaks.

I was hooked and planned a through hike of the 80km La Cloche Silhouette Trail for the Autumn.  As soon as I could get there.

This past week I began a five day trek beginning at the George lake campground right in the middle of a early Autumn heat wave.  Temperatures were already touching 30 as I began my first day and they promised to reach similar highs for the two days following.  “You certainly got great weather for it.” a friend quipped just before I left Guelph, not understanding the challenge that hot weather with high humidity can have.  The first day I struggled.  I was tired from travelling and a 90 minute run the day before. In my haste to pack I had made a rookie error.  I had packed far too much.  Believing myself experienced I packed my backpack with a certain amount of fearlessness, believing that I was experienced enough to know better.  But adding a few sandwiches, then a few more ganola bars, and just a few apples instead of reviewing my inventory and ruthlessly eliminating anything I did not need left me carrying an extra 5 kilograms.  Added to this was the burden of carrying extra water and taking more breaks to drink and replenish and filter my water. My pace slowed to a crawl.

I made 14 km on that first day, stopping at The Crack once again and having a rest before marching to my camp site on Prouxl Lake by 6 pm.  Tired, thirsty, hot and drenched in sweat I stomped into site H48 and right into a group of four hikers eating dinner.  “I think I have this campsite reserved.”  I said to them hoping that indeed I was not mistaken, and eying the water in the lake and anticipating its cooling effect.  “Well yes,” came the reply, “but we are stuck.  We needed to make it to H50 but we were just too tired;” For the first time I notice the weariness in their faces, plaintive stares that pleaded with me to be reasonable and allow them to stay in my site.  Otherwise they faced a very exhausting trek to their own or at least an unoccupied site.  

Too tired myself to communicate that I was more than happy to have them join me, or for me to join them as it were, I simply dropped my pack and promised that we could work things out before stripping to my boxers and diving into the water from a rock platform 1.5 meters high.  

The water in Proulx lake is deep but fantastically clear.  It is called a dead lake because the  nickel mining industry in nearby Sudbury produced enough acid rain to kill everything in the lake, and the erosion of the quartz and granite surrounding the lake has produced minerals that have turned the water baby blue.  I quickly swam to the other side of the lake then, deciding that I had not had enough dove back in and stroked my way to the far side 400 meters away.  Loving every second I eventually swam back to the campsite, at times blinded by the setting sun.  

The price we all paid, working hard in heat all day, was worth the reward.  The evening was warm and clear and after my dinner of sandwiches and trail mix with Mars Bars for dessert I laid on my back in a t-shirt and watch the stars come out while the five of us, new friends on the trail, talked and smoked and pointed out constellations to each other.  With four more days of the same I could hardly wait to get started the next day.

The rest of the hike was just as exciting.  I lost track of how many times I reached a peak or came to a lake and just paused breathlessly and said “Wow!”.  By the last day the weather had changed to a more seasonable 15 degrees and I was able to do some ‘off trail’ hiking along the La Cloche mountain range itself.  Out in the wilderness now truly I startled deer as I came over a ridge, found a bear jaw bone and used my wits to find my way, nearly 5 hours later back to the trail.  Another ‘Wow’,  this trek will not soon be forgotten.

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The WOTH Marathon Project.


 

Two soaked shoes, a dry mouth and legs that ached I clomped out the last few steps of a 29 km run on a sunny warm  winter day (11 degrees, a near record for February 28) and pulled up level with the yellow fire hydrant in front of my house.  I had, along with two of my running partners Brad McNeil and Teresa Duck, just completed my longest continuous run in over three years and despite tired hamstrings and deep thirst I was very happy with the results. We had started our ‘long’ run 2 hours and 18 minutes earlier from my house in the West End of Guelph, as the second in a series of runs that was meant to increase our endurance so that we would be ready for a marathon on May 1 in Toronto, only nine weeks away.

Four months earlier in October on the first day after my year-long trip to Australia I met with my small training group for a reunion run.  Naturally, being a weekend they were out for a long run and I was excited to join them.  Teresa’s husband Rich Tremain our coach and training partner, and our only elite athlete was training for the New York City Marathon in November, his second and as he tells it, last marathon.  This has been a life long goal of his, as he has a love for New York though not necessarily a love for marathoning, and he promised himself a break from his middle distance training in order to take a shot at finishing the marathon in New York City.

On that cool day in October Brad, and Rich held the pace, running side by side and discussing marathon tactics, training strategies, and running mileage, while reporting on recent runs they had done on their own.  They glided along the trail adjacent to the Eramosa River in Guelph while I tagged along with Teresa right behind them.  For my part I had given up trying to talk.  We were 17 kilometers into the run and all joking and casual banter was now left to the pair up front, I was pretending to be politely listening while instead I was focusing all my thoughts on keeping pace with the other three for the final 10 minutes of my run.

“Hey Josh, Brad and I are going to do another loop to give us two hours for the day, are you in.”  Rich asked after breaking off a conversation about some of the high school students he and Brad coached together.

“Ya, sorry mate,” I responded, allowing some of my Australian vernacular to colour my response. Trying not to gasp I said, “I think I am going to have to call it a day when we get back to the car.  I may be a little jet lagged, this pace is tougher than I thought.”  I was trying to sound casual but the truth was that I was desperately hanging on.  I was way out of shape and this run with my old running group was showing me just how much work I would need to do to get my running fitness back.

Teresa ended her run with me at the Boat House Cafe where we had parked her van, declaring that 80 minutes was quite enough for her.  I suspect that there was an element of mercy in her decision as she, without a doubt notice my distress during the second half of the run.  She offered me a ride home, I accepted, gratefully and we fell into a light conversation about my trip to Australia and  her plans for the next year since she and her family were planning a year of traveling.  Rich was a month into a year-long sabbatical from his job at the local high school and his marathon in New York was planned on the last day of a month-long stay in the Big Apple.  We promised each other to meet up for a few runs together before she left for the month, then said good-bye as she dropped me off at home.

Rich ran his marathon, a 2:49 effort where he went out too hard and paid for it in a big way in the last six miles. Brad and I were able to follow his progress on-line as he ran over timing sensors every 5 kilometers and Teresa tried to follow him through each borough in their van, spotting him at key points along the run.  We all texted back and forth excitedly as he progressed from Staten Island into Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Cautioning each other not to get too excited about his progress until he headed over the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan.  Rich, like so many marathoners, was forced to grind out a very painful final six miles. He had to overcome severe hamstring cramps as he limped his way through Central Park and through the excited crowds to the finish line. Tired and sore he was happy enough to take my phone call, and a similar one from Brad moments earlier to accept my congratulations and recap his experience. Like so many others who have put themselves through the task of racing 42.2 kilometers he was sure about one thing: never again.

When Rich handed the phone to his wife Teresa, I was expecting to hear more details from her since she had witness much of the race first hand.  I was surprised by the question she had for me.“Josh, got a question for you. Do you want to do a marathon with me?”  Until that minute, the minute in which she asked me to start preparing with her for one of the most difficult of human challenges, I would have been shocked to hear her, Teresa, my running partner for the past eight years, ask that question of me. “I really want to run a big city marathon,” she went on to explain. “I mean watching Rich was so exciting, want to be a part of that.”

I was shocked because our little training group does not do marathons.  We each have our niche, and our favourite distances.  Teresa in fact claims to just love running.  She rarely races and enjoys the training, the fitness that is a product of daily training.  She has run a marathon more than a decade earlier, but over the past eight years she has never indicated a desire to race more than 5 km.

For my part I did not hesitate.  I can usually be convinced to train for anything the group is doing at the time.  Indoor or outdoor track, 5km and 10 km road races, even team relays, but this suggestion was a little different.  I was in from the moment she asked, there was something very right about the idea.

I was looking forward to training with Teresa.  All the miles that we would be doing together would help make up for the year I had missed while I was in Australia.  The comfort of having a dedicated training partner was what I missed the most while down under.  It was in fact the only thing I missed.  For years our routine had been to meet twice per week around 10 am when our other running friends were at school or work.  We would do repeats at the University track or on trails near our house, or tempo work in loops around our neighbourhood.  Our training is almost always prescribed by her husband Rich, leaving us without the burden of writing and agreeing on the work we wanted to do for each day.  Training together now we could look forward to more days running together and more distance on each run.  My first step, however was to get into better shape.

The specific training for our race would not start until much later, the spring if we were going to do a fall marathon and we still had one more marathon to follow before we began.

Our mutual friend, and running partner Brad McNeil had been training with Rich during the summer months that I was away on the other side of the world and he was now finding it increasingly more difficult to find reasons not line up for a full marathon as well.  While training with Rich and he had allowed a fitness level, previously unattained to sneak up on him. He was thinner, but stronger, and he already had enough endurance to run for more than two hours. During that first run together as a group Brad kept the pace with Rich matching him stride for stride.  Two weeks later after a final test of two and a half hours he was finally convinced that he was ready race as well and signed up for a marathon in Richmond Virginia.

Brad finished his marathon, his first, two weeks after the New York City Marathon.  He just missed his goal time of three hours, running 3:02 as he struggled with pain and exhaustion in the final 7 kilometer.  Two weeks later on one of his first runs with me after the race he related to me all the details, kilometer by kilometer.  He easily agreed to start training with Teresa and I, but pushed for a spring marathon where he could accomplish what he had set out to do in Richmond.  To run a sub three-hour marathon.

With Brad on board with the project all the pieces had fallen into place.  Brad and I would prepare for a spring marathon and run together to finish in under three hours.  The three of us would then race the Toronto Water Front Marathon in October.  An event that draws over 20,000 runners as well as many elites from Kenya.  For the past five years it has served as Canada’s de facto Olympic marathon trials as many of Canada’s elites show up to test themselves against the fast competition and the tough Olympic standard.  The WOTH Marathon project had been born.

West of the Hanlon Track Club

Teresa, Rich and I began running together in 2008, four years after we had met.  Why it took so long to start running as a group, a group that quickly became a team, is not immediately obvious.  Rich and Teresa are both former elite runners one at the national level the other at the international level. I was new to the sport running with a recreational group in Guelph and trying decidedly non runner type endeavors like dabbling in duathlons or wearing a water bottle holstered to my back.  I am sure that they did not hold any of this against me,even though they were only a few years removed from their status as elite athletes, (Teresa was still sponsored by Saucony at the time), and did much of their running with serious groups and other former elites.

The watershed moment occurred one day in late March, 2010. I was headed out for a 90 minute run when I came across Rich and Teresa working out on the high school track together.  It was cold, windy, and overcast and I was not happy about running by myself for 20 km or so.  In fact I was miserable and only too happy to stop and say hello.  I ended up jumping into their workout instead of finishing that depressing jog and by the end of the work out Rich had agreed to start coaching me and within weeks the three of us were training together. I had myself a couple of training partners.

The next winter Teresa and I became exclusive training partners as Rich worked through an injury and dealt with his demanding job of teaching teenagers.  Teresa and I would meet twice a week at the indoor track and during warm up Teresa would describe the work outs that Rich had given each of us.

Sometime in the spring shortly after this gliding along on an easy run I was joking with Rich that when I moved to Guelph, being just new to the sport, my goal was to become the fastest runner in town.  I did not know about the elite running group that was growing at the University that would soon feature many of Canada’s fastest runners.  I joked that when I realized this I had to change my goal to becoming the fastest runner outside the University, then had to further refine that goal to fastest West of the highway that divides Guelph’s Western suburbs from the larger portion of the city, The Hanlon Expressway.  Then when he moved into the neighbourhood I had to further refine that to fastest runner on McCorkindale Place my cul-de-sac with 14 homes.  This distinction, to the best of my knowledge, I still hold to this day.  Rich responded with a laugh knowing how he had destroyed my plans, “Is that what we are then?  West of the Hanlon?  WOTH?”  We had a name for our training group, The WEST Of The Hanlon Track Club, WOTH TC.  We even have t-shirts.

Our little group has had some transient members, Greg and Lyndsay a married couple who ran in University, another Lyndsay who was a student of Rich’s, Robbie another former student who now manages the local running store, and we all live West of the Hanlon.  Young Adam Clayton joined us as a 16-year-old and possible because of  our love for him personally and respect for his athletic abilities he was anointed as a full-time member and given a t-shirt.

Brad McNeil joined a few years later and became our fifth full-time member. He is the only member that lives East of our demarcation line.  Brad teaches and coaches the high school team, many of whom train with WOTH so his addition to the team was only waiting for his resumption of serious training. Brad ran during University and was an accomplished athlete in his own right.  He has recently been building a young family and as a dedicated father spends most of his free time with his wife Christine and two daughters, Isla and Annika, and this dedication has hampered his ability to run regularly.  In the years that I have known him I have never run with him in the winter.  We see him in the summer and sometimes in the fall but not again until the spring when he shows up terribly out of shape and carrying far too much weight. This past year has been different, however. With his little girls growing up and needing a little less attention he has been able to continue his training year round.  Brad is taciturn and reserved and his running style is built for marathoning.  Quick and efficient we have often teased him for having almost no knee drive as we watch him run intervals on the track.  He is not a sprinter, nor even a middle distance runner like Rich.  But his short quick gate keeps his center of gravity over his feet avoiding heel strikes and increasing his endurance over longer runs allowing a quick adaptation to the marathon distance.

Adam is now enrolled at the University of Western Ontario, and running with a different team and different coach so it is rare for the entire group to all run together.  We remain a group however.  Rich still coaches us, and draws up the work outs, and we all mentor each other.  We train together when we can and we share the misery when the weather is terrible, or our bodies are hurting. Together we pursue great endeavours like personal bests or, as in Rich’s case, Canadian Records, or as in Brad, Teresa and I a sub 3 hour marathon.

 

Week one.

By late February our training had progressed, we had all added more distance runs to our weekly training and we were ready start marathon specific training together. First, however we needed to decide which Marathon we would be running. There was a slight issue choosing the right marathon that was both close enough in distance and was likely to have at least a handful of runners attempting a sub 3 hour marathon.  The obvious choice was to go to Buffalo and race on May 28 with 30 or more runners pursuing a similar goal, however that weekend did not work for Brad so we were left with a choice of Mississauga or Toronto.  Either would provide a net down hill course and at least a few guys to run with, though neither choice was perfect since we were likely to find ourselves running alone late in the race considering the small fields. More importantly, both races were on May 1 only 11 weeks away.  We had no time to put off the training even one more week, we needed to start the training right away, but first we needed to talk to Rich.

Rich was the most recent member of our group to compete in a marathon and more importantly he is the coach of our running group.  Rich ran track in high school in Guelph and competed internationally during university twenty years ago.  In university he focused on the 800m and 1500m, and once broke the 4 minute barrier in the mile, though he is devastatingly fast at all distances.  Even though I train with him, I will always be in awe of how fast he can run. He moves with a light-footed grace that betrays his speed until you focus on how fast the scenery is moving past him. To try to stay with him during an interval session is foolish, and even on an easy run together he can humble me or anyone in our group for that matter.  His natural talent for running is matched by his knowledge of training philosophies, so deeply ingrained now that they seems intuitive. Teresa, Brad and I have relied on his coaching for years now and have each achieved personal bests under his tutelage.  He seems to draw his workouts out of the ether at times, prescribing interval sessions that appear unorganized and needlessly complicated.  He may prescribe a series of 200m intervals to warm up the legs then 500’s and 300’s with rapid turnover.  He uses standard workouts, like the runner’s mainstay of 12 times 400m but will follow it up later in the week with a session that includes 1200’s and 100’s.

I occasionally ask for an explanation, just to satisfy my curiosity, but for the most part I just run.  I never need to ask how far, how much or how fast: I just do the work.  It sounds like a bit of running zen, a higher purpose, and I guess it is.  I put all my energy into running not wasting even a single thought on answering ‘why?’.

I met with Rich on a Sunday night in February to talk about the training schedule for the next few months.  We are both used to this routine.  Each year we meet to discuss what I want to achieve during the next running season.  Over a glass of Rye and Ginger we sit in his basement and Rich lays out a basic outline for my training for the year taking into account key races I want to run and personal best I hope to achieve.  With only 11 weeks until race day it would be critical to schedule the important runs with enough rest to allow for our bodies to adapt.  There was little time to waste, and no contingency plans to allow for injuries or missed training sessions.  Rich and I discussed the training while I made notes on a scrap of paper.  I scratched out notes about weekly mileage, recovery and rest and the length of four progressively longer weekend runs.  I would check in with him throughout the training to let him know how things were going and we agreed to meet again in April to discuss the taper and race day strategies.

For any marathon the most important training run on the schedule is the long run.  That is runs of greater than 25 or 30 km.  Different training philosophies may vary on how much weekly mileage is enough and how many tempo and hill runs to do, how many weeks to train, and which tune up races to do, but they all agree that the most important training for the marathon, the single run of the week that can not be missed is the long run.  Few training programs allow for fewer than five of these kinds of runs and if Brad and I were going to be fit enough to finish a marathon at all we could not miss any of those runs.  We wanted to have a 3 to 4 week taper to allow our bodies to rest and to assimilate the training and we needed to work up to the long run distance. Neither of us had run more than 95 minutes all winter so by February 21 we needed to make a great leap in mileage in a single go in order to have any hope of getting the bare minimum of long runs in.

I met Brad at his house at 9 am on Saturday morning.  Teresa was committed to a Basket ball tournament for the weekend so our marathon training group would be down to just the two of us. She would be getting some running in on her own or with Rich between games, and we promised to compare notes later in the week.  The temperature was just above freezing so I found him in shorts but with a running jacket on.  With no wind we had discovered that zero is our threshold for shorts, a very useful piece of information, the jacket does not come off, however until five degrees Celsius.

I had run the previous 5 days putting in 50 km and Brad had done some light tempo work the day before so neither of us was fresh as we started the first of two loops around the Western part of the city staying on sidewalks and quiet roads and working away a pace of 4:30 per km.

 

The problem was that we were both making a 25 minute increase to our long run, a 26% increase in running in a single week and clearly violating the 10% increase rule.  A rule widely accepted in the running community as the maximum increase in distance that a body can tolerated without injury.  Personally I think this number should be closer to 5%, but as I mentioned we were on a strict time frame and we did not have the luxury of a slow increase.  We had to hope that our bodies could handle it.

After one hour and 50 minutes we decided to end the run a few minutes early 5 minutes short of our two hour goal.  We congratulated each other on our prudence and our commitment to our goal.  We were hurting a little and definitely running out of gas as we pulled up to his house on Foster Street but we were in good shape for the training over the next 7 days.  A week that would test us physically and jeopardize both our training schedules.

 

Week 2

I found myself, Monday morning the day after our next long run on the couch, trying to get up and do something productive for the day.  My plan of running for an hour in the morning as a recovery run from our latest long effort, 2 hours 18 minutes, had been scrapped and I was trying in vain to salvage some productivity out of the day. My floors needed to be cleaned and my laundry folded but I was having trouble staying on my feet for more than five minutes at a time.  It was appearing more and more likely that the only productivity I was going to be able to manage was knocking off a season of the Mindy Project on Netflix.  If only I could reach the controller.

I was bonking.  It happens.  Although I know the signs and can usually avoid it, once in a while my body just rebels against me and shuts down for a day or two.  If I am silly or determined to try to push through this phase of lethargy and perhaps try a short run, (one does not want to leave a blank space on the training calendar, or god forbid, two!) I am only capable of struggling up to a 6 minute per kilometer pace, forced to walk for periods of time and invariably return home feeling worse than ever.  The thing to do here is to take my rest: I need it.  Better yet would be to not get myself in this position at all.

Sometimes I just can’t avoid it.  After Brad and I completed our first long run I set out the next week to increase my weekly mileage and against Brads explicit advice not to increase everything at once, I did.  I ran the next day after our 1:55 effort and continued for the rest of the week until Friday, running at least 13 km per day and throwing in a 16 km tempo on Thursday. The problem is that I was involved in a hockey tournament with my peers on the Toronto Fire Department for most of the week.  I played every day and because we were successful, we made it to the final game and unfortunately lost, I played 3 times on Friday.  I was able to rest up on Saturday but by the time we finished our run of 138 minutes my body had had enough.

Strangely in these circumstances my body, (and I can’t help but think of it as a sort of separate entity with a rudimentary mind of its own) allows me to continue the activities that I am engaged in without slowing down even though I am taxing it beyond what my fitness level allows.  It may take me longer to warm up for my sixth and seventh hockey games of the week and my runs may start out a little slow or require a bit more stretching but once I get going my intensity is near 100%.  Unfortunately, however it is like I am borrowing money from a bank of energy if you will.  Once my savings are gone my body allows me to borrow energy, but at a very high interest rate.  The more I borrow the more difficult it is to repay.  I have had several instances of two or three-day recoveries from over ambitious weeks of training.  Days that I repeatedly found myself on the couch waking up from a nap I never planned to take.  For the most part now I avoid these situations.  I like to think that it is because I am smarter and better trained but it may just as well have something to do with being older and just a little slower.  Hardcore intensity is for the younger athlete I am sorry to say.

I called Teresa to report that I would not be joining her for a run that day after all but instead using my one scheduled day off for the week.  Teresa sympathized with me telling me to take it easy for a couple of days if I needed it.  I already know this but it is nice to hear it from my oldest running friend.

I met Teresa in the most likely place two runners would meet: at a race.  What makes the inception of our relationship unique is that we actually met during the race.  I was in my third 10km race of my life, being still new to the sport I had yet to break forty minute for that distance and I was determined to do so.  At the one kilometer mark of the race Teresa pulled up beside me, with her floating bounce of a stride.  Having little idea of pace I turned to her and asked her how fast she going to run the race.  I imagine that I thought she looked like a serious runner, she could hardly be mistaken for anything but and I was hoping to follow her all the way to the finish line if she was indeed fast enough.

Startled , she snapped her head toward me, immediately increasing the lateral distance between us to  more than a meter and covering up her initial suspicious glare with a face reflecting curious approbation. “Well I am just coming back from and injury so I am just going to see how it goes” she said, deflecting my question as she edged by me.

Fifteen years have passed and I still remember my sense of annoyance for that little runner who refused to let me in on her racing strategy.  At that moment I decided that a sub forty minute 10k was not good enough, I had a new adversary and I was going to beat her.

Teresa beat me by nearly a minute.  I watched her slowly pull away from me over the next few kilometers and at around 4km give a perfect high five to the leader of the race, who happened naturally to be her husband Rich as they passed each other on the out-and-back course.  For my part, I faded just enough to miss my goal time by 17 seconds  The upshot of the story is that during the post race activities I caught up with both Rich and Teresa to discuss the race and get a little training advice from two obviously experienced runners.  None of us knew it at the time but that race was the first few kilometers of thousands that we have run together since. It was the start of a lifelong friendship.

Teresa understands my need for rest, because she has learned the hard way that pushing your body beyond what it can take only results in missed days or weeks of running. She is the most driven runner I have ever met.  Even more driven than me.  If she could she would run for hours everyday just for the pure joy of it.  Once an elite runner in University she is now just happy to have good work outs and fulfilling runs.  That is not to say that she would not like to dominate in competitive races again.  She will never talk about her competitive nature and does a great job covering it up, but after running with her for a decade I have come to know her better than anyone with the exception of her husband Rich.  Rich confirms my suspicions when we are out flying along trails with out her.  We both know that she has never been comfortable with losing a race, (a habit she perhaps picked up when she went undefeated over a season in University), and if it were up to her she would never lose again, not ever.

Unfortunately it is not up to her.  Like all runners she gets injured.  Over use, and repetitive strain injuries retard her training.  Even with monthly physiotherapy and message, Teresa seems to develop a strain or sprain, or ache or pain every couple of months.  Just often enough to prevent her from developing that high end fitness she is used to.  To make matters worse, if her hips and knees and ankles remain pain free for a few months then her immune system betrays her.  She gets the flu and colds that knock her off her feet. After trying to train through the sickness for a few days she always seems to get more sick and has to take a break from running for a week or more and loses many of the gains she has made. She once had mononucleosis for almost a year finally recovering after a few missed diagnoses and misdiagnoses, only to get it again six months later, she was sick for nearly 18 months in total and during that time repeatedly tried to run, never satisfied with resting, with doing nothing.

Through all of this Teresa remains one of the toughest people I have ever met.  I have seen her wheel loads of topsoil around her yard all day, and she pocesses a wiry strength that seems incongruous with her meager muscle mass.  I have hinted to her that her physical and mental strength may exacerbate her issues as she trains through pain far longer than any normal person would in pursuit of her goals.

Because of her recent injuries she completed only 1:45 minutes with Brad and I in our latest long run.  She was not racing in nine weeks like us, but rather waiting until the fall, so she prudently chose a shorter run. We all knew the importance of staying uninjured during this training, because a marathoner can not make it to the finish if they can’t get to the start line.  Despite my overwhelming fatigue that week I was determined to do just that.

 

Week 3

By the end of week 3 I needed to get in another yet another long run.  This one however was meant to help me recover and I was only going to run for 90 minutes.  My day spent on the couch to start the week would have to count as my day off for the week and if I were to get in enough mileage for the week I would have to run for the six remaining days.  On Tuesday I slogged my way through my 13 km loop in a my worst time ever, showing that I was still recovering from my big week that finished only two days earlier.  My tempo session on Wednesday was difficult and although I got in 18 km I never could get my legs turning over as in a true tempo work out. Thursday and Friday I began to feel a bit better but as I approached the weekend I was thankful that Rich had scheduled a much shorter run to qualify as my long run.

Even with the meager 20 km run I had planned for Sunday my mileage was going to increase to 89 km for the week, the most I have run in years.  In my running journal my previous three weeks had totals of 85km with one day off, 86km with 2 days off and now 89km with just a single day off.  I looked through a few journals from previous years and could not spot a week with more running.

I have been keeping these journals for years.  At first, as a completely new runner I used a small soft covered journal sent to me for free when I subscribed to Runner’s World Magazine.  It was well designed to log all my running activities with each page divided into sections to allow for entries in each of the seven days of the week.  On each page is a motivational quote and there is a pace chart in the back.  I look over this journal from time to time and see how far I have come.  Back in those days, at our former home in Kenilworth right on a major highway, I had only two running routes.  Virtually all my runs list my route as ‘East’ or ‘West’ since I would invariably run on the side road directly east of our house or directly West.  There are major gaps in the Journal, like months at a time because I did not run through the winter back then and I was inconsistent during the rest of the year.

When we moved to Guelph in 2004 I received in the mail a small day timer.  It was a gift from a realtor, presumably the one who had sold the house for the previous owners because it was addressed to Dave and Kamila Gemin.  I felt that the little book would suit me perfectly for recording my daily and weekly mileage.  And so it was for many years.  I recorded how far I had run that day, with short notes on the routes and quality.  Occasionally I would add information about an injury or other activities I had done, like right heel still hurting, did 1.5 km swim. I keep the current calendar in my bathroom in a drawer, conveniently located close to the toilet. A place I am sure to visit just about every day, and as soon as I sit down out it comes and the previous days run gets recorded forth with.   At the top on the right I started totally my weekly mileage and then also added on the top left how many days off I had taken.  Race results are recorded at the back on a page titled ‘Notes’.  Each year I received a new calendar from the benevolent realator and I began to count on it arriving right before Christmas and I would open the letter address to Mr. and Mrs. Gemin and take out my new calendar ready to be marked up with my miles. Until my benefactor decided, without consulting me or considering my reliance on this annual gift decided to start to send a fridge magnet with his picture, business name and phone numbers. I now buy my running journals at the book store for $3.59

I treasure my run journals, I now have around 14 of them, not only because I can look up past workouts.  They have become a very abbreviated journal of my life.  I am surprised to see how many places I have run and how I have fit this daily training into the rest of my life, (my favourite entry says ’45 min on the Great Wall of China’) and it shows that with a little dedication it is indeed possible to find time to run just about every day.

As I entered the last few days of week three I found myself staying in a hotel with my family in Barrie.  My son Marty was participating in a hockey tournament, but even being away from my home and my normal routines and run routes I was determined to get my training in.  On Saturday I got up early and enjoyed the hotel breakfast before heading out on to country roads for a 12 km easy run.  After I returned, and I love this part, I was hungry again, actually very hungry this  time, so I was able to enjoy the complimentary breakfast a second time!

Sunday was much more difficult because Marty was playing at 7 am and I needed those 90 minutes to qualify as my long run.  The rink happened to be 20 km from the hotel,(I just love these mobile apps) so my plan was to leave the rink just as the game finished, run back to the hotel, meet Tracey and the family after they drove the van back, shower change, (and naturally enjoy a very large complimentary breakfast), check out and get back to the rink for the final game. Marty, incidentally played a terrific tournament marred only by the fact that the team lost in the final game 1-0.

That finished my week.  Six days of running.  Eighty six kilometers. I would be in touch with both Teresa and Brad to see how their weekends had gone and I would learn that Brad had done his running alone because Teresa had injured her foot on a mid-week run and was now limping around not capable of running a step.  The news was not good, Teresa hates to take time off to injury, but at the time I was not worried.  She still had plenty of time to get better.  Having witnessed her ability to overcome just about every running injury know to the medical profession, I was sure this would be but a short set back, that she would be running again with us in a few short weeks.  As it turned out I was greatly mistaken.

Week 4

After a much shorter long run the previous week I was in a lot better shape to start piling up mileage again.  I increased my easy runs from 13 to 14 kilometers and made sure that my tempo run for the week was more than 10 miles.  By Saturday, on five days of running I had logged 64 km and Saturday’s two and a half hour long run that would likely have me travel another 32 km.  I had made a major increase in mileage but I had made sure to taper my intensity on the three days prior to Saturday’s effort so that I could be reasonable sure of finishing.

I agreed to meet Brad at 8 am near the river trails in Guelph. Teresa had sent out a text message to us earlier in the week that her heel was hurting and that she suspected plantar faceitus so there would be no way that she would be able to join us.  She had promised to try to run with us for over an hour and a half but the evening before had pulled out completely as her heal was hurting too much to even consider running long.   Brad and I would have to go on with out her. He had assured me that the trails had now dried up and were free of snow and ice because of the unseasonably warm temperatures the area had enjoyed during the last week.  The day itself was promising to set a new record high and Brad and I discussed starting in shorts even though it was still below zero, it was forecast to increase by nearly 10 degrees celsius during our run.

We set out on the Eramosa river trail cruising over frozen mud and settling into a steady pace that we assumed we could hold over the next 30 kilometers or more.  We immediately started chatting about our previous week of training and I was happy to report my mileage and my intensity of training.  Brad admitted to me that he had to skipped a couple of runs as he prepared report cards for his students and had only 28km on his legs for the weeks.  We do this, talk like this, report our runs and training.  Admit to deficiencies and injuries.  We coach each other, cautioning one another not to overdo the training, or miss important runs.  I am his coach when we are out on the trails.  I make him accountable for his training and I am his conscience and voice of reason when discussing this crazy race that the marathon is.  I know this because he does the exact same things for me.  He cautions me not to pay too much attention to the totals I put in my log book, and to not worry that my tempo pace has slowed, just as I have told him the very same things the week before, or perhaps even during the same run.

Brad for his part makes an excellent coach.  He is often taciturn, or reserved but his few words of advice hit home with me.  Spending hours and hours and miles and miles with him on these long runs is an important reflection for me.  I can hope that, with him as my partner, I will finally be able to pull off this distance successfully.

After nearly an hour of this ‘shop talk’ our conversation drifts a little.  We tell stories about our lives and our families and about previous races we have done or watched our friends do.  This is the inevitable cycle of conversation .  If our stories excite us or frustrate us, or our running anecdotes inspire us we see our pace increase and a quick look at the watch often shows a pace increase of 20 seconds per kilometer.  I enjoy this part and I try to stretch it out with as many stories as I can because inevitably as our bodies begin to absorb more punishment and our energy levels begin to drop and we  change the subject to how uncomfortable we are and how much longer we need to go.  We report an inventory on our bodies.  Brad admits to a sore and tightening lower back and I respond with a rather depressing report on my hamstrings.  Our energy levels drop and we talk about that, and compare it to how we have each felt during previous marathons.  Then we move on to talk about just how much longer we will be required to keep this up.  Forty minutes, 20, 10.  I explain my theory of halves to him again, even though I know I have done so before.  I take a long run, or even a long effort like in a 40 minute tempo.  I divide the time in half, and just try to run that part without thinking about the rest, then when I have done that I try not to think that I have to run that distance again but just try to concentrate on running half of that to bring me to the three quarter mark of the run.  At that point I try again to concentrate on only half of what I have left.  After 5 halvings the run has always been reduced to a very manageable distance regardless of how long the run was to start with.  Today’s run for instance would be halves of 16 km, 8 km, 4km, 2km, and 1km.  If we pick the right pace each half is as challenging as any other, and today it seems we have done just that.  This game of mathematics takes up a lot of our mental energy during the last parts of the run and distracts us from the pain that is starting to settle into our legs and muscles.  The final kilometer is indeed as tough as the first 16, as we round the final bends in the river trail and very thankfully stop.

This run, our second longest on the training schedule has been a success.  Brad and I walk away tired, sore yet very happy about our results.  We have run more than three quarters of a marathon and finished knowing that we could have run longer.  I suggest I could have held the pace for another 3 to 5 km before hitting a wall, he estimates that he could have gone even a little further.  The marathon, at our goal pace, we know will bring a much more serious type of hurt, and an exhaustion factor that we can not train our minds to deal with.  These realities will be something we will have to deal with on race day.  Our training thus far however is giving us great confidence that we will be capable of doing just that.

As for Brad and I we have now made some promises to each other as coaches, training partners and friends.  We really don’t know who will falter first during the marathon both of us have said that if forced we would put our money on the other, but we promised not to push the pace past a two hour and 59 minute finishing time until we are past 40 km.  We also agreed that there will be no heroics where one person sacrifices his finishing time while the other falters.  To do so would be a betrayal of our agreement.  We both hope that we will each glide through 40km together , look over at each other and see who wants the race more.

Week 5
March Break, a great time for a high school teacher like Brad to get some serious training in. Finally he would have the opportunity every day to do the runs he wanted to instead of missing days when he should have run and cutting runs short as he ran out of day light or time in his day. Our protracted run of 32km the week before marked the first day of the break and instead of taking a few days off to recover Brad took the opportunity to continue with his training. The day after the long run he ran a 13 km easy run but at a decent pace and reported that he felt great. The next day he took his young family to Niagara Falls but got in another 13 km. He followed that effort up with a tempo workout consisting of 8  one km repeats at well below 4 minute kilometers and finally a 12 km run before he was forced to take a day off when a head cold working its way through his family forced him to stop. He texted me this information late in the week, excited and proud.

Running through some numbers on our run together on Saturday, this time a 90 minute effort that would serve as our long run, he told me that he had covered 104 km over a seven day stretch. It was the most he had ever run in a week. I was happy to hear it and a little jealous of his numbers. The numbers can be so addicting. The urge to run more, and faster, filling out each page of the log book with bigger and bigger numbers, it can become an obsession that fogs your view of the overall picture. Brad was proud to share his results with me but admitted that he was very cautious when he bragged about his week to Teresa.  Teresa was still hurting.  She had been diagnosed with ‘fat pad’ syndrome, such an ironic term since there is nothing fat about Teresa.  She was now training in the pool because it was the only training that would not aggravate the injury she had regardless of what it was called.  During a phone conversation with Brad she had admitted to really missing the training with us and he heard here starting to cry as she said it.  Teresa just loves to run.  We wanted her back as a training partner but not nearly as much as she needed to get back into her running shoes.

Personally I had run 116 km in the seven days that ended with our 32 kilometer effort, a huge week for me. I know from experience that I had made great gains but to continue without a few days of recover would inevitable result in an injury,  or perhaps worse, becoming over trained.
Knowing this immutable fact still did not stop me from trying to get some hard miles in during the week Brad was pounding out record mileage. I took one day off instead of two and ran for an hour even after skiing and snowboarding for three days. By Thursday I was exhausted again instead of fully recovered. I slogged my way through a 55 minute 10km run on a trail in Toronto barely breaking 5 minutes per kilometer and was forced to take the following day off out of sheer exhaustion and frustration.
I was hard on myself as I related this to Brad after a stretch break at 3 km. “I cannot understand why I keep making the same mistakes.” I said. Brad commiserated with me. He is a coach of young high school students and it seems simple to him as he directs his runners how to train, and how to race but admits to repeating mistakes in training and in races himself.
During a less critical time of my training, we were now 6 weeks away from the marathon and only 2 weeks away from the beginning of our taper, I would have been very proud of myself for getting all that mileage in. I squeezed hour long runs into a ski vacation and before work. I found time to train even though my life was busy with so many other things. This is what runners do. Over the years I have gotten very good at this. I wake up early to get a run in before work, or I slip away during a lunch break. I have run to or from or during my kids’ sports. I have shown up at family gatherings and dropped my family off and announced that ‘I needed to get 35 minutes in’ before pulling of my shirt and jogging away. I even slipped out of a wedding to run along Toronto’s lake shore for half an hour so that I would be able to get my training in for the day, (on this particular occasion I was fortunate enough to run through a mid summer torrential rain storm so that when I returned and slipped into my suit, I was clean and smelling fresh. If only I had had a towel).
This habit allows us runners to see things that many other people do not see, or see rarely. I regularly surprise wildlife on my runs, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits and other small creatures and birds but I have come across deer in both urban and rural environments, one enormous moose in cottage country that nearly made me pause a tempo interval as he regarded me while standing on the road and for some reason in the past four months I have seen seven coyotes in Guelph and Toronto. On my third day of a year-long stay in Australia I startled a Koala as he moved from tree to tree along the ground (later a mate at the fire department mentioned that he had never in his life seen one in the wild, so it was a remarkable experience for someone so new to the country.). While living down-under I chased kangaroos, and wallabies and goanas and spotted large snakes both poisonous and benign, and I have been fortunate enough to have all of these creatures care more about avoiding me than attacking me.
The wildlife is but a part of the wonder I come across as I run. Any runner will tell you that they have seen more than a few sunrises and sunsets as they ran along a beach on vacation, or along a trail by a lake. My favourite is that which can be observed along the boardwalk at Ash Bridges bay in Toronto. I have run during an ice storm with a friend and heard tree after tree collapsing under the weight of the ice. I have run in rainforests, on beaches, in mountains and cityscapes. I have run over the Brooklyn Bridge, the Great Wall of China, along dykes and canals in Holland. I have run through rural parts of Cuba, Mexico and Nicaragua and later taken my family back along my route to share my adventure and what I have seen.
As a runner I get to see a lot because I am out on the roads and trails a lot. With marathon training I am out doing more miles than usual and seeing even more. There is a spot of irony here however. Marathon routes are often chosen for their picturesque scenery among other reasons. However, during a marathon, or any race for that matter I become so focused on my pace, and later in the race so distracted by my discomfort I do not notice any of the scenery around me. The crowds the city-scape, and all else is but something in my periphery, almost unnoticed.

Week 6

Ontario weather is mercurial.  So far this winter I have enjoyed running in shorts as the temperature rose into the double digits, and bundled up to protect myself from overnight lows of minus 38.  March can be the most unpredictable of all.  We oscillate between winter and spring on a weekly basis, sometimes enduring cold winter storms at others warm spring like conditions that promise an early summer.

One March 25, Good Friday this year, we woke up to the damage of yet another ice storm.  Thousands of people were out of power in the province, and roads were ice-covered and dangerous.  Houses, cars, trees, roads, quite literally everything left uncovered was now covered in a thick layer of ice.  The added weight had brought down numerous branches along side walks and trails and every surface was now slick and dangerous for drivers, walkers and runners.

As I walked my dogs that morning I observed all the damage and took in the raw beauty of the ice-covered forest.  The ice storms that have become so frequent in Southern Ontario over the last few years have a pleasant side effect:  the sublime beauty of a world covered in crystallized water.  I had my phone out to capture a few maple buds caught in a ball of clear ice, young trees bent over double with their frozen coatings and landscape shots of light refracting through each stick enshrouded with ice.

The ice laden tree branches fall indiscriminately and often block the trails that we want to run on and until the city can catch up with the clean up, they stay that way.  Unless we take matters in to our own hands. Late in the afternoon I returned to the path with my son Mason to use my chainsaw on a fallen tree that had blocked the popular walking path.  In six cuts I was able to cut the large tree into manageable chunks that I could haul off into the forest, thereby clearing the path for dog walkers and runners alike.

As beautiful as the storm left our city, it did not make it very pleasant for those of us who needed a run.  With my skiing plans cancelled because of the storm I called Brad to see if he wanted to get our long run in for the week.  We had previously planned to do this one on our own, a 90 to 100 minute effort, since we both had travel plans on the Easter long weekend. I was fortunate enough to be able to catch him just before he stepped out the door and he agreed to wait for me so that we could run together.  With the ice, and wind that was picking up speed it did not promise to be a very pleasant run.  Our usual routes along the river would be impassable so we set out on a roads in an Eastward direction.  Brad had a rough route planned out, something he thought would be clear enough after the storm, but as we slipped and spun on ice-covered surfaces it became apparent that we would have to be happy with our near 6 minute pace for each kilometer.

The parks and walking trails we ran through were particularly bad.  Running up a hill twenty minutes into the run I slipped back 10 cm for every stride I took.  As we slowly made our way over this small hill I asked Brad if he would mind taking a quick break so that I could stretch out a nagging tightness in my right hamstring, and take a quick leak on a tree to get rid of some of the morning coffee I had consumed.

We both stopped beside at the top of the hill and I walked a few paces off the path to an ice-covered elm tree to relieve myself.  These kinds of breaks are part of the routine for runners.  Running for hours every week, it is inevitable that you will have to relieve yourself during the middle of your run even if you try your hardest to plan around it.  Finding a suitable bathroom rarely works, since these biological urges often come along quite suddenly and runners are reluctant to interrupt their training for the length of time it takes to run into a coffee shop or gas station along the way.  Sooner or later all runners learn just to do it in the woods, or in the park or side of the road or where ever.  For the most part this is easy for men, we have been enjoying the freedom of outside urination since we were old enough to stand.  I personally stop at the turnaround point of any solo run to eliminate my bladder, taking a quick breather before turning and heading home.  This process is, of course much more difficult for women though I know few if any that do not feel comfortable having a quick squat during a run.  My wife Tracey has had to learn this ‘skill’ shall we call it, since she took up running and now claims that squatting in the woods has made her much more comfortable on all our long treks together since she is relieved of the anxiety of being away from first world toilets.  As an unexpected but nonetheless positive side effect she professes that a good squat works better for her physiologically than using Western toilets.  I will allow your imagination to fill in some of the blanks here.

Peeing outside is not the only thing that runners learn to do, that otherwise would be considered uncultured or barbaric.  We spit.  All the time.  Even the ladies.  We spit during our runs and after hard efforts, holding our knees and expectorating gooey saliva.  Sometimes during races I have notice runners try to spit out a viscous thread only to have it stick to their lip and whip back onto their cheek.  Sometimes they wipe the mess off if they have the strength and sometimes it just gets left there until they have recovered after the race.

We also blow our noises without a tissue.  This is something that I would never have expected to find myself doing and expected even less to find my female counterparts doing.  However, on a run, with your nose starting to run with that very thin, watery mucous a good farmer’s spit with one finger collapsing a nostril and a good puff of expelled air through the other, is the perfect remedy.

Finally there is the number 2 issue.  Naturally I prepare for any run by visiting the toilet.  I don’t want to be running with any extra weight if nothing else, but I just can’t avoid the occasional occurrence of a deification emergency.  As a novice runner I seemed to be able to make it home or to a fortuitously placed porta-potty, I just saw no other options.  But eventually I had to, out of sheer necessity stride off the trail or into a ditch to have a shit.  My sister, who works as a massage therapist and is very well versed in human anatomy tells me that running messages the psoas  muscle which stimulates the colon, or some such crap.  I have had it better explained as running shaking everything loose.  At any rate being out on a run will cause you to need to go, and most of the time you will not have much time to find a suitable place to do so.

So I shit.  I shit all the time when I run.  We all do it.  All runners shit in the woods from time to time.  They may not be habitual shitters like I am but they do it, they have to. I have become so good at it and so comfortable that while out on a run with Rich I once used a one minute break in a set of 10 two minute tempo runs to jump off the path drop my drawers and relieve myself before missing even a second of the next interval. And just like my wife has discovered while squatting to tinkle, I have discovered Western toilets to be entirely lacking in their engineering.  It is about body position I think. Shitting in the woods is now for me one of best unexpected pleasures of being a runner.  I shit you not.

On my Run with Brad during the ice storm I needed only to pee, and we were able to begin our run again.  We covered only 21 kilometers during the 100 minutes of running, but we did in those terrible conditions.  We jogged up to his house where my car was parked and said our good byes after discussing our plans for next week’s run.  It was to be our longest and our biggest test yet.

Week 7

March changed to April and the new month was ushered in the same way the previous one was, with a snow storm.  The previous week’s ice had melted and we endured a warm rain storm that washed away roads and flooded some communities into a state of emergency.  I was able to get 13 kilometers much of it at marathon pace, during this storm, but I wanted nothing to do with the snow storm that was coming on Saturday afternoon.  Brad and I had been planning to check the weather as the weekend approached just in case Sunday was blighted by bad weather, and sure enough Sunday promised a return to winter including 10 cm of snow and temperatures as low as -10 degrees.  We traded text messages back and forth and agreed to run at 7:30 am on Saturday and not wait until Sunday.

We wanted to run our familiar routes along the rivers, first up the Eramosa river then back to our starting point at the Boat House Cafe, then up the Speed River.  We had some extra loops and add-on portions to get us up to around 35 km for the day and the trails looked reasonably dry after Wednesday’s rain storm.  This was to be our final and biggest test for our 42 km race now only four weeks away.  I wanted to make it as authentic as possible, replicating as many conditions on this run as I would experience during the marathon.  After we parked the van at our trail head Brad patiently waited while I gathered all the necessary items I would need over the next two and a half hours.  I changed out of my shorts and into my track pants, since the temperature was not going to get above -1 degree, put on a ball cap, unfolded my little cotton mittens, and selected two gel packs from my cache of about a dozen, and grabbed a water bottle for both Brad and me.  I placed the gels in my running belt and dropped in 3 tablets of ibuprofen along with them.  I decided to leave my sunglasses behind then hid my keys on my rear tire and after tying my shoes I was ready to cross the covered bridge where we would stash our bottled water and perform a few stretches on my troublesome right leg.  Finally I had to reset my GPS program on my iphone and secure that in my running belt as well before we could depart.

It was a lot of stuff, but I figured I needed all of it.  There were times when I would leave on a two hour run or even more with nothing more than a pair of shoes and socks and my running shorts.  I would be almost naked as I ran through Guelph and along the trails with a superior attitude passing other runners loaded down by every running gimmick ever sold at the Running Room.

In the past I have wondered what other runners are doing with all that gear.  I have seen runners, and there are invariable the slower middle-aged women, carrying enough to sustain them for a few night in the woods, not a 5 km jog around the  neighbourhood.  I admit a bit of running snobbishness here when I see runners plodding along with an iphone strapped to their arm and plugged into their ears, running belt with multiple sports drink containers, , energy gels, energy beans, compression socks on their legs, high visibility straps around their ankles, and running visor on their head.  All this for a 5 km race!  To my surprise I am becoming a bit of a convert myself.  In the heat of the summer there is nothing better than a completely liberated run wearing next to nothing, however with freezing cold weather and a nearly three hour run I find some of this gear to be a comfort.

My running belt for instance.  I got my first running belt in my swag bag for a half marathon that I did in Hobart, Tasmania.  It is nothing more than an elastic band, that can clip around my waist and has the most minimal of pockets.  I scoffed when I received it vowing never to use it, but as I embarked on long trail runs and hikes in rural Queensland, Australia, it proved to perfect for carrying a cell phone.  Many of the treks and runs I did Down Under, I would never attempt without my cell phone since it was my lifeline should I become lost and just about as important it was my camera for recording many of the incredible sites I saw along the way.  It turns out that it is not a burden at all. My iphone 5 weighs only 120 grams and tucked neatly inside my handy belt I never notice it even while I am bouncing along.

When I returned to Canada and increased my mileage I could not resist taking my phone along with me to listen to books during the many hours I spent on the road and since I had the phone with me I turned on a GPS navigational app called Strava that recorded every meter of my run, and included elevation changes, speed and distance then allows my friends to check out my runs on-line.  I have become a running geek, but I can’t help it. I love the company my books provide on my hour long runs alone and I am addicted to the kilometer by kilometer stats that Strava provides me with after my run.  So far I have been careful with who I share these feelings with since it could get me kicked out of WOTH.  Apart from my closeted use of running techno gadgets we are running purists. We may have eight different pairs of shoes all of which we are currently using but we do not have a Camel Back, or running belt, or five toed shoes.  The purism of the sport must be preserved.

My iphone, however would be coming along with Brad and me as we started out in sunshine running through the first of many kilometers.  Brad’s GPS watch told us that we had finished that first km in 4:47 our next would drop to 4:23.  Brad had again approached this long run with very few kilometers for the week.  He and his wife Christine, also a high school teacher had both had busy weeks, and on three consecutive days he could not get a run in at all, but had run an easy nine kilometers the day before in order to test out a troublesome hamstring injury that he was beginning to worry about.

For my part I had taken two days off out of the previous four as I tried to shake some lingering fatigue.  We were rested and should have felt a lot better during the first hour, instead of a little sluggish and tight, which worried us about how the rest of the run would go.  With almost three hours of running together, we do a lot of talking.  Actually I do a lot of talking, or at least I do a lot more than Brad.  I am a talkative person by nature and with almost as much energy being used by my mouth as that being used by my legs I find the time goes by much faster.

Our conversations always follow the same pattern.  First we talk about how Teresa has been responding to her regiment of physiotherapy, rest and cross training in the pool.  Brad tells me that in a conversation with her early in the week her could hear her start to cry again when he asked her about her injury.  I get this information from Brad because I am becoming too afraid to text or call her.  Any conversation with her will inevitably lead to discussion about training.  She would have to admit how poorly things were going for her and I would have to share how well things were going for Brad and I.  I can not believe that she needed to hear about our training until she improved a bit herself.  We had not forgotten about her we but we both admitted to feeling reluctant to keeping her in the loop.

From here our conversations always follow the same pattern. We talk about what we have accomplished the previous week, then transition into planning for the upcoming marathon.  We Digress to talk about other members of our group, updating each other on Rich’s injuries, and Adam’s recent races then begin to tell stories about previous races.  These stories always make me pick up the pace again as I relive them and are perfect for making the kilometers shorter.  About the time that we arrive back at the Boat House, and grab out water bottles we are discussing how much further we have to go, playing the half way game, and starting to wish we were done.  I hate this point and I mention to Brad that we need to change the subject for a few kilometers to take our minds off the task at hand.  We switch to baseball, and Brad who is a bit of sports scientist opens up about his feeling about PED’s and their use in the sport.

By 28 km my right hamstring is starting to lock up.  The muscle grabs and threatens to cramp up on every third stride.  I shorten my stride, relax the pace a bit and at the next road crossing I am able to stretch out sufficiently to keep going.  Brad is an ironman through 30 kilometers reporting that his injured hamstring is responding well and that he could easily hold on for 10 more kilometers.  The mileage does catch up to him, however as we approach the Boat House on our return and he admits to being fatigued as we turn to head back out along the river to add on three more kilometers to make up a section we had to skip because it was flooded by the overly engorged Speed River.

Thirty five kilometers with an average pace of 4:40 per kilometer, we finished tired but feeling good.  Our final long run was a success.  Our next phase of training would be our taper, and would include lower mileage and more rest days.  First, however, we needed to talk with our Coach.

Week 8

Rich had been nursing a pulled calf muscle for more than 6 weeks.  He had not been running at all.  While Brad and I had been pounding out record weeks of mileage Rich had not been able to run a step.  Added to this his wife Teresa’s injury that was preventing her from doing anything but pool running it made for a very unhappy household.  Runners spend a lot of time complaining about running in poor conditions, or having to get runs in early or being tired from all the running we have been doing, but in reality, a truly unhappy runner is one that can not run at all.

With this in mind I sent an email to coach Rich explaining that our increased mileage portion of the Marathon project was now complete, and that we would now require another consultation with him in order to nail down the last four weeks.  Rich’s response was that he was now getting out for very easy runs of 20 minutes so he would be happy to run with me and we could discuss the project then.

Winter had returned to Ontario, and even though it was April 5 we set out between snow storms for an easy run dressed for a temperature of -5 degrees.  Rich found me stretching out my stubbornly tight right leg at our meeting place half way between our houses and we set out a very easy pace since we were now both nursing injuries that would be exacerbated by running too much or too fast.

Earlier that day I had set out for my 35 minute tempo loop in High Park in Toronto, but by the end of my 4 km warm up it was clear that my body had other plans.  The nagging soreness high in my right shin was really beginning to ache especially when running down hill.  I had been running through this discomfort for weeks, simply warming up through the pain, and ignoring any lingering soreness after my run was finished.  I had completed a 35 km run only 3 days earlier and had run a very fast 13 kilometers on the treadmill the day before, but now no amount of warming up or stretching would be enough to run without pain.

The issue was more scary than painful.  I could still run and walk without a limp but I had to admit that the discomfort presented all down my right leg, from a tight hamstring and buttock, to my sore shin, to an uncomfortable knee.  I could even feel the discomfort in my ankle and arch of my foot.  It was time for some rest.  If I could accept a few blank spots in my log book and a drastically reduced total weekly mileage I could very likely heal enough to get right back into the training within days.

I explained these aches to Rich as we gingerly ran down Elmira Road, down playing how worried I was about them putting an end to my training.  He related that his calf was getting better, slowly.  He was running every other day but needing to stop at 20 minutes or risk re injury, and  there was now no longer any chance for him to set new Canadian records on the track this spring.  With only a twenty minute run to discuss my next training phase I quickly related to him how our training was going.  Rich was very pleased to hear about the progress noting that we were a very good spot to be able to run under 3 hours on May 1.  Our taper phase, he went on to explain would not be too different from our current training.  The long run would be drastically cut to 80 minutes, but we would still run six days a week with tempo intervals of a mile or so at least once.  The other days would be full of ‘feel good’ running. That is just as it sounds, easy runs of about an hour at a pace that feels good.  I could run slowly or increase the speed to marathon pace as long as it felt good and I could avoid injury.

“Josh, by the end of next week,” Rich explained as we bumped shoulders each trying to avoid slushy puddles, “you will start to feel really good.  I mean on easy runs you will find yourself running sub 4 minutes without trying.  The hard part will be avoiding doing too much.”  That was the key.  After two months of increasing distance on every type of run we did Brad and I would have to find a way to back it down again. This can be harder than the build up phase.  It is easy to coach someone to do less to realize more, but some primitive part of the brain can not accept that.  As prudent as Brad and I pretend to be we each admit to pushing through a few more kilometers to get to a new milestone for the day or the week, and to running on days that we need to rest.

‘Rest as hard as you train’ I was once advised.  The aphorism is meant to remind athletes that what they do during their rest to allow their bodies to assimilate their training is every bit as important as the actual training.  You would assume that the rest part would be the easy part, but sometimes it is not.  Missing a run nags at the conscience, and I often find myself putting in useless miles just to ‘get one in’ when I should be recovering.

Our talk was over quickly but I had what I needed.  We were a miserable looking twosome as we plodding back to our houses but as slow and hurt as we appeared we were in much better shape than Teresa.

Teresa was not running at all, unless it was in a pool.  Brad and I were missing her on the trails during our long runs and she was doing everything she could to maintain the fitness level she had and get back out on the roads with us as soon as possible.  She could not just simple stay at home and wait for her injured body to heal, so she was running in the pool.  Five days a week she drives to the pool at the University and does lengths for half an hour then does deep water running for the next 45 minutes.  Many injured runners resort to this, and it has proven to be effective.  Running in the water stresses the body in much the same way that running on the roads does, but without the impact.  It is effective but it is incredibly boring.

The day after running with Rich I decided to join her in the pool.  My injury needed to be rested and a swim workout would assuage the guilt I felt for not hitting the roads.  Teresa and I did a 1000m warm up swim then flipped our goggles onto our foreheads and ran through the deep pool, churning our legs just like we would on a run.  For ten minutes we slowly moved through the water and talked about our training, our kids, and jobs around the house we hoped to complete.  It was as if we had never taken a break as training partners and made me realize why it was I enjoyed runner with her so much.  When we finished our strange shuffle through the pool, Teresa went on to do more running in intervals of 3 minutes, while finished 80 more lengths giving me over 3 km of swimming for the day.

Walking back to the car later I explained to Teresa that Brad and I had both missed her during our training runs.  I explained that I was a little reluctant to give her too many updates about what we were accomplishing because I knew that talk of running upset her.  I knew that she missed it that much.

“Josh, please don’t hesitate to include me in your texts.  I want to know how you guys are doing even if I can’t be there”  Teresa explained.  She was hobbling along in an air cast she was forced to wear to protect her injury and she soon went on to explain just how much she missed being out there. “I just love to run you know?  Like being outside on the road and trails.  And I love how fit I was, like when I see runners jogging along the sidewalk I just want that effortless fitness back.” She said choking up a bit as she recalled the image.  I knew what she meant.  I love it too.

Week 9

With three weeks to go until the Marathon I was not running at all.  After a pool session and a visit to a physiotherapist I thought I could try some easy running.  Eight kilometers on the treadmill made my leg ache and I was beginning to be uncomfortable even walking.  It was time for some serious rest. Rich and Brad both advised me that even if I had to miss a week of running at this point I would still be ready for the Marathon on May 1.  Continuing to pile up mileage while I hoped to get better would be foolish.    I would be joining Teresa in the pool again and skipping the trails and treadmill in an effort to rest my way through the worst of the pain.

With my running shoes now sitting uselessly in my closet I joined the ranks of the infirm. In  member of WOTH still running at all, Brad, and he was nursing a hamstring injury that could explode into an injury on any run. WOTH was a sorry sight as far as running was concerned and for the first time it appeared that the project could be in jeopardy.

For all the benefits that running gives a person it can be very hard on the body.  A perfect run prescription for a healthy body would be to run four or five days a week and include at least one day of high intensity intervals, and to stop entirely whenever something starts to hurt.  Runners who pursued this training philosophy could remain strong and fit year round provided that they avoided getting hit by a car while out on one of their runs.  They would not, however be very fast runners.

I do not run only to stay fit.  I run to be fast, to push my limits and to win.  Fitness is a serendipitous  side effect of this that I have to admit I appreciate.  Because of all the running I do I am slim, even though I eat almost anything I want.  I have a resting heart rate of 35 beats per minute and I can compete at most sports simply because I am fitter and faster than most other competitors, even if I lack their skill.  If only my body did not hurt all the time.

It is not really a coincident that all the members of WOTH were hurting at the same time.  Running and injuries go hand in glove.  People who run a lot, regardless of ability will inevitably have to deal with pain somewhere in their bodies.  For the newly initiated into the sport their first running injury is often worn like a badge of honour, a battle wound.  They report to their friends and colleagues that they had to take a break from running because of a running injury.  The fact that a physical activity can be pursued to such an extreme that it actually injures the body seems romantic and gives them the legitimate excuse to stop running.  A new runner will first have problems with shin splints, probably because they were too heavy to be running, or they had inadequate shoes or ran too long on hard surfaces or down hills or most likely a combination of these factors.  If the newly initiated can avoid that particularly tenacious and painful injury the next to go is their knees, likely for many of the same reasons.  If they can avoid these two problems there is an infinite number of problems that they will suffer through as the muscles and connective tissues in their hips and pelvis tighten up asymmetrically, affecting every possible muscle, nerve, bone and connective tissue from the lumbar vertebrae down to the toes.

People ask me if I ever get shin splints or have trouble with my knees and I respond by telling them that chronic runners almost never suffer from these problems since anyone prone to those issues never becomes a runner.  You cannot run if you have shin splints or bad knees and those that try quickly decide to take up cycling or some other low impact sport.

I used to get injured.  I even bragged about my first injuries to my friends, but eventually I found that not running was far more painful, albeit in a different way, than running through pain.  I no longer call my aches and pains injuries.  I refuse to acknowledge them.  I call them ‘issues’ as in “I am having an issue with my right groin”.  I warm up to loosen things up, I stretch and I take the occasional day off, but I never admit to being injured.  I can remember ‘issues’ that I ran with for weeks or even months, but I can’t ever remember what I did to get better, except to keep running.  I look back a summer, for instance that I had a problem with in the front of my pelvis.   I remember taking extra time every day to work through a series of stretches to get it loose enough to run then  one day, I don’t remember when, I no longer needed those extra stretches, but I had another body part, my ankle perhaps or my hamstring that was troubling me.  A new issue.

This is more or less true for all runners. Rich’s calf was healing as he worked through his calf injury.  He was now up to running almost every day though for only 30 minutes at a time.  Brad, always the prudent conservative was paying close attention to his troublesome hamstring as he continued with his pre-marathon taper, and Teresa, who knows more than anyone the near physical pain of not being able to run, was still running in the pool.  After six weeks of frustration and pain, she was finally beginning to see some results admitting to me while we celebrated her birthday, that her foot was actually starting to feel better.  Teresa for her part could not have been completely disappointed that I was not running.  We had after all enjoyed some fantastic pool sessions together, and although we had substitute the pool for the track it was beginning to feel like old times again.  Though I was miserable, and afraid I would miss my race, I was at least happy to be working out with my friend.

Week 10

The prodigal son returns!  Fourteen days to go until the race I was in a terrific mood.  I had just completed my fourth straight day of running as I eased back into training paying close attention to my aching right leg.  The run was 50 minutes with 40 minutes at marathon pace and the effort felt good, very good.  Immediately after the run while I was finishing some easy stretches, Brad texted me with news that our fifth member, Adam Clayton was coming home from the University of Western Ontario in time to watch us run.

I have seen Adam only once since the Autumn though I had been following his running with great interest.  Adam is a talented and dedicated runner who began running with WOTH  as one of Brad and Rich’s students during the summer of his grade 11 year.  During his final three years of high school I watched as he matured and got faster and faster each week on the track.  His zeal for running and his dedication to training made him stronger and it was not long before I was watching him pass me on intervals on the track.  While trailing him I marveled at his quick stride that makes him appear so light on his feet and I envied his devastating finishing speed.

Adam’s first year running as a collegiate athlete did not go as well as he expected or as well as the rest of us had hoped.  Although his fitness improved in all respects he struggled with the mental aspect of racing and found himself, late in races, unable to push through to win or accomplish new personal bests.  Even when he seamed prepared physically he could not make the break through psychologically.  I understand and I wish I could help.  Running can be very difficult.

I try to explain to people what it feels like to run a race.  The anxiety of the start, the fear during, the pain in the later stages and the elation of the final meters.  I try to paint a picture by describing the race as running through a curved tunnel with no lights.  You would be a little anxious as you started because you would be afraid of those dark places deep within the tunnel but at the beginning everything is fine because there is plenty of light coming in through the front opening of the tunnel.  As you progress the light from outside gets dimmer and dimmer, the opening just a far off light, then disappearing and as you make your way along the curve, the dark growing thicker and thicker.  This is how a race feels to me.  There is a very dark place full of pain and fear as I run from the half way point to the three quarter mark of the race.  It does not seem to matter how long the race is, at that three quarter mark it hurts so bad that I am scared that I will never be able to finish unless I slow down. My rational brain screams to slow down and my primitive brain sends urgent messages to my conscience that say ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!’  What I always tell myself is that just when the tunnel seems the darkest, just when I feel that I must slow down because I am hurting so much I am about to see the light at the other end of the tunnel.  This light will keep me going, the sight of the finish line will allow me to keep the pace, and always, with about 10% to 15% of the race to complete, I come out into the light.  Not that the finish is easy, it is in fact, excruciating, but once I have come into the light of that long tunnel the fear is gone and I can somehow find those last reserves I need to finish.

It always goes like this.  In fact the fitter I am, the faster I am the darker the tunnel is.  This is what I have learned from running: if you can endure it just a bit longer, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I know Adam has been deep into the darkness of pain and anxiety, I have seen him race.  I wish I knew how to help him, but for now I am just happy that he is back.

Week 11

The marathon is a totally different kind of race than any other distance.  The pain is not the same as that experienced in middle distance races and other long distance races, even the half marathon.  The Marathon is a slow steady burn of energy and resolve. The pain is insidious growing from an ache in the large running muscles to an acute pain to an all encompassing excruciating paralysis.  The problem is that there is just no way to carry enough readily available glycogen in your body to finish at a fast pace.  If you do not eat during the race you will be forced to run metabolizing only fat and the protein in your muscles.  Effectively cannibalizing the tissue you need to keep running.  Neither process is very efficient and nobody can run at a fast pace for 42.2 km without replenishing their supply of carbohydrate, and by this I mean sugar.  Marathoners use two sources of carbohydrate while they run.  Sport drinks and gels. Sport drinks have dissolved sugar and salt and have the added advantage of re-hydrating the runner as they consume it.  These drinks, however can be a little hard to consume in quantities high enough to supply enough calories, so we also consume gels.  Gels are packages of syrupy globs of sugar, with a dose of caffeine, salt and anything else that can be marketed as beneficial to performance.  The key here is the calories, usually about 100 of them.  But running and consuming calories and water in which ever form is not as simple or as easy as can be described in a sports science text book.

The pace of a marathon is still high enough that fumbling with a gel pack or grabbing a sports drink is difficult as runners try to maintain their cadence while their hands and arms moving out of sync with their legs.  Energy gels often get dropped and paper cups of fluid inevitably get spilled.  Swallowing creates even more trouble as a runner tries to breath and consume food at the same time, often choking and gasping as they do it.

For these reasons Brad and I have been practicing all of our race day routines for the last month before the race. Not only did we practice slipping gels out of our pockets and consuming them and running while drinking from a water bottle, we also started doing runs in the light weight racing flats that we plan to run in.  I even tried swallowing Advil and Tylenol during a training run since I plan to take a few tablets with each gel during the run.  We even discussed what we would be wearing, what to warm up in and what clothing could be discarded as we ran.

During the final week of preparation we needed to included lots of rest.  Brad had recovered from his latest cold and I was done my pool sessions with Teresa.  These pool sessions saved my legs but wore me out since our workouts lasted 90 minutes.  It was time to rest, and get ready both mentally and physically for the marathon.

Brad and I both knew from experience that after weeks of leg destroying miles the pre-marathon taper makes your body feel like your marathon pace is not much faster than a warm up.  It aches to go faster, like a dog pulling at a leash. Our final training runs were kept to a minimum, just 35 or 40 minutes instead of an hour.  All the miles at marathon pace had taught our bodies to run at that speed and I repeatedly found myself mid run realizing that I was cruising along at just that speed.  A rapid short stride easily carrying me along the roads and sidewalks. After a final easy run on Saturday morning before we left for the race expo I loaded up my van and double checked that we had everything I would need.  Adam met me at my house and we loaded up his bike before closing the doors and heading off to pick up Brad. We were ready

 

 

The Marathon.

Wake up call was 5:30 am and I rolled out of the queen sized bed at the Comfort Inn to tap the alarm on my iphone.  Brad and I had checked into the hotel the evening before with Adam after visiting the race expo and collecting our race kits.  The evening had a festive air to it as the three of us joked and laughed and shared race stories.  Battles that we had previously fought and won or fought and lost.  Adam talked about his initial year at University, not going into too much detail about his races but instead relating his successes academically.  I was giddy and talked non stop, as I often do when I am excited and I forced Brad to discuss over and over again the race plan even though we had talked about it every time we had run since February.  After a breakfast of oatmeal and raisins and two cups of coffee we headed off to the starting line.

I had arranged to park van at the fire station only 500 meters from the start, planning to retrieve it later and use the short distance to warm up for the race and get in a few stretches.  Adam unloaded the bike and planned to accompany us to the start line then ride along with us along the  course from the start at Mel Lastman Square to the Lakeshore portion that would account for the entire second half of the race.

At the start line, under a blinding sun rise, Brad reset his GPS watch and adjusted his gel packs in his running belt and listened to me as I talked nervously and re-tied my shoes. Neither of us listened to the Mayor John Tory as he acted as master of ceremonies and gave a short motivational speech.  Crammed into the front of a field of nearly three thousand I looked around for other runners who might be trying to break the three hour barrier as Brad and I were attempting to do.

Although I had been very confident after our last long run of 35 kilometers it had been four weeks since we had run anything longer than 70 minutes.  I trusted Rich’s wisdom, the marathon training plan the taper, and our race pace, but standing on the start line less than a minute away from the blast of the starter’s pistol, (actually it ended up being a blast of a police car horn by The Toronto Maple Leaf mascot, Carlton the bear), I began to have my doubts.

“Holy shit Brad, what have we got ourselves into?” I asked, fighting a sudden urge to urinate.

“Don’t worry, it will be fine.  We are ready.” Replied Brad, effectively hiding the nervousness I knew he felt as he pulled off an old sweat shirt and threw it to Adam on the sideline.

When the gun went off I nearly did pee my pants, and I flew up the road jostled by the crowd, nearly clipping the heals of several runners who had pushed past me at the starting line and losing Brad entirely.  The excitement of the race, and the cheering crowd, does something funny to people.  Four hundred meters into the race I was still making my way through a crowd of runners who had nearly sprinted out of the gate and were rapidly slowing down.  I was able to rejoin Brad a few minutes later and we settled in together shoulder to shoulder trying to get into a rhythm.

“Too fast.”  I said.  Already conserving energy by truncating my sentences.

“I know.” Came the reply, a second before his watch chirped to indicate that he had finished the first kilometer.  “Four-oh-three”. He said.

“Shit.” I groaned. Thinking that we were already blowing it.  The pace was way too fast and we needed to get control of it before we headed into the down hill section at four kilometers.

The crowd of runners was rapidly thinning as everyone adjusted their pace to something they thought they could handle over the next 41 km.  Brad and I settled in behind a group of five including one woman as they worked together, those behind tucked in out of the slight breeze coming up Yonge Street.  The initial shock of throwing ourselves over the start line dodging swinging arms and striding feet was subsiding and we both develop that efficient, energy conscious stride that we always adapt when on a long run. Brad describes it as running on eggshells, a good description of the stride necessary to protect the body from three hours of pounding.  Low knee drive, feet barely clearing the ground, avoiding landing on the heel.  The first half of the race was mostly down hill.  Fast, but unless we protected the big muscles in our legs from the pounding of the asphalt we would pay for it later in the race.  Pay in energy, time and pain.

Adam caught up to us on his bike, easily coasting down the hills on the sidewalk and parts of the closed off roads.  We watched us and cheered us on, just sharing the experience with us.  Our group of seven had grown to 12 as our large group caught other runners who had gone out faster than us.  These runners, on their own or running in a pair were happy to tuck into our peloton, happy to have the group set the pace and do the work collectively.  Our pace had settled quite a bit and now varied between 4:09 and 4:14 but felt easy and relaxed.  There was very little chatter between competitors.  Just a few short sentences between runners who were obviously working together like Brad and I.

“You okay?” a tall guy in a red singlet and compression socks asks.

“Yeah.” Comes the the reply from the only woman in the group.  Possibly his wife.

“How is your hamstring?” I ask Brad

“Tight… but okay” He says between breaths. And we roll along, eating up the ground on the way to the finish line.

At 21.1 kilometers we crossed a timing mat that would take our split times.  We finished off our second gels as we crossed watching for the next water station to grab a cup of water to wash it down with.  Rich had advised us to drink at every water point, approximately every three kilometers because by the time we spilled have the cup down our singlets coughed up much of the rest as we drank on the fly we were actually able to consume very little of it.  We were lucky not to need it however since the sun, previously bright and warm had slid behind some clouds and the temperature had actually dropped a degree or two.

Passing through the 25 kilometer mark our group had shrunk back to seven.  All but one runner we had caught and added to our pack had faded out the back as well as one of the original five that Brad and I had caught, a heavier runner with a clomping stride that I was surprised to see moving at the pace we set.  The woman and her husband were still in the group in fact he was doing most of the leading with her tucked in tightly focusing on his shoulder blades while the rest of us followed them.  Brad and I were shoulder to shoulder using up our energy judiciously.

Adam had been forced well off the course and onto the grass lawns that ran along the Martin Goodman trail along the Toronto waterfront.  We had not seen him for several minutes and we suspected that he had stopped at around 24 kilometers and would wait for us to make the turn around and come back to him.

By the 33 kilometer marker the familiar ache in my right leg could no longer be ignored.  While making the turnaround with 9 kilometers to go I slowed to tuck in behind Brad trying to take the inside track, but found myself struggling to catch back up and get back to running on his shoulder.  I immediately reached for three ibuprophen and my third gel, while consciously trying to maintain the pace with Brad.  Over the next 500 meters I carefully, so as not to drop the pills or the gel, work both into my mouth.  I chewed the pills then covered their bitter taste with the thick sweet gobs of energy gel.  Without a word Brad reached for a gel as well.

The turn had allowed me to see the runners we had left behind.  A few had dropped back but were holding on to a good, though slightly slower pace.  Others I did not see at all and assumed they had dropped out.  I also noticed that one more of our number was now falling back.  Falling back quickly in fact and would soon be caught by other runners.  He held on to the group too long and now it was too late to pursue plan B.  I could see by the look in his face and the pace of his stride that he had hit the wall.  I would be surprised if he finished at all.

Our lead tandem was still putting down a metronomic pace of 4:13 per kilometer.  But by 35 kilometers the man in the red singlet was vocally encouraging his wife.  I could hear her starting to breath louder and had not heard her respond to the pacer’s comments or words of encouragement, and two kilometers later the pace had dropped to over 4:20 per kilometer.  Brad and I were still hanging on, now not talking at all, but we could feel that the pace had slowed significantly and was about to plummet if we stayed in behind the couple.  My hamstring pain had now migrated up through my buttocks and lower back and I was beginning to fatigue, approaching the wall.

Brad and I had agreed that we would not lead the group, even if it slowed.  We know that most runners could not mentally handle giving back time that they had fought so hard for and would take over the lead in any group within a minute of it slowing noticeably we just needed to be patient.  Our group was now down to five, with only one runner behind us, a very young looking, and extremely skinny guy who had actually darted into a port-a-potty around kilometer 10 only to catch back up again. My leg needed to be stretched out.  I needed longer strides, I needed to be done this race. I knew I had at least a few faster kilometer before I slowed so with a glance at Brad I pulled out to the left and started to pass the woman and red singlet. “Lets go.” I said.

Brad pulled out with me, staying on my right shoulder.

“Easy,” he cautioned “not yet.”  But he did not mean for me to slow down, just not to start a finishing kick with over four kilometers to go.

We slid by red singlet and it was clear that he was not going to attempt to follow us.  He was there to take his wife in to the finish. “Good luck.” he said as we passed.

The kid for his part picked up his pace right with us and seconds later as Brad’s watch chirped out a 4:37 he actually came up to my other shoulder as we ran three abreast.

There was no competition here.  We were all far enough back from the lead, around nineteenth place by my count of runners as we approached the turn around, and the boy was clearly in a different age group than us.  We ran together and without words we formed a bond, a partnership. We were in this together, we were racing home as a team.

We went through each of the final kilometers together passing four runners who were suffering badly and slowing down precipitously. One guy around 39 kilometers was actually walking, though he tried to get going again when he heard us coming only to start walking again a minute later.  Adam rematerialized at the 40 kilometer mark, on his bike again now smiling broadly shouting that we had over two minutes in the bank. He reported that we were going to smash the three hour mark.

For my part I was not that sure.  My right leg now was starting to cause me to limp every third stride as my hamstring grabbed and threatened to cramp up entirely.  I had fallen in behind Brad.  The kid, after a great effort for a couple of kilometers was now falling off drastically.  I limped along trying different strides to prevent a total lock up as Brad continued to glance over his shoulder.

“Keep the pace!” I told him, I needed to know how much I was slowing and he was my gauge.  At a huge yellow sign that read “ONE MILE TO GO!!” my hamstring had had enough.  It cramped up entirely and I did three Terry Fox type limping strides before pulling up to a stop.

“Shit!” I yelled.

“What happened?” Adam almost screamed coming closer on his bike.

“Don’t touch me!”  I told him. Desperation, fear, and anger in my voice. Even with this complication I did not want to be disqualified because I was rendered aid from a bystander, even though this was not realistic considering the level of the race.

I desperately bent over my right leg, gently stretching the muscle, then doing the same more aggressively. I straightened, then bent again bouncing down as far as I could angrily stretching out the muscle.  I straightened again just as the kid approached and as he was about to pass me, I turned on my left heel and began to run.

It had worked.  My leg was still in pain, but with brief rest and a quick limping stride that did not overstep on my right I was able to get going again.  I had given the kid a new life too.  We were approaching the light at the end of the tunnel and as I set my sights on catching Brad nearly 100 meters ahead of me the kid clomped and groaned and gave everything he had left in his life to the effort.

At 41 kilometers I had increased my speed.  Brad I knew was maintaining our previous pace allowing me a chance to catch up, and the kid was now tucked in behind me desperately holding on.  Adam had caught up to Brad and I guessed that he was reporting the situation to Brad, and I caught Brad trying to look over his shoulder to find me.  He was obviously tiring as well, and could not chance breaking his stride to try to see me so after a couple of attempts he seemed satisfied to rely on Adam’s eyes for updates.

I closed the gap between us even as I lost the sound of the kids footfalls behind me. At 42.0 kilometers with the finish line in site I could hear Adam updating Brad and yelling encouragement back to me.  Thirty seconds later I could see the official clock above the finish line and I was close enough to touch Brad. Adam pulled off the road to stay out of the finishers chute and as I pulled up even with Brad we crossed the finish line just as the clock turned over to…

Does it matter what our finish time was? The WOTH Marathon Project had been a success.  It was a success as soon as Brad and I toed the line that Sunday Morning in May.  Our goal time of less than three hours is an ambitious goal.  An achievement that most runners would be very proud of.  But as I pursued this project with the other members of my team I found that the marathon itself was no more than a means to an end.  A journey, as they say not a destination.

During this project, we have run through beautiful sunshine, cold wind, pelting rain, and even a coating of ice.  The entire time I was running, experiencing, suffering through it and loving every minute of it with a group of people who I like a lot.

I never imagined all the fortuitous side effects that this project had on me.  I set an example to my kids and others around me as they saw me return home after an hour run just as they were getting up to start their day, or as they asked me how many kilometers I got in after a night shift at the fire hall.  I amazed them just as I amazed myself.

The project has brought me closer to people who I was close with already.  Brad and I ran hundreds of kilometers together during the build up to the marathon, swapped stories, and cried about our injuries together.  I met his wife and kids and his name became a daily fixture in my run reports to my wife Tracey.  With Teresa and Rich we lived through their injuries with them, missing them every step of our adventure, and I feel closer to them now that we have accomplished so much.  Finally Teresa and I found a way to become even better friends even though we never ran a step together after mid February.  Working out in the pool with her ended up being the most fun that I had had for a long time.  I could never stop smiling when I knew that I was getting a chance to jump into a cold body of water and punish my body in ways that I had not thought of before.  It was heaps of fun.

After years of running the same routes and the same races and doing the same workouts I found and I think the group has found, through this project, a new focus.  A new way to enjoy the trials of miles.

Teresa said it best when she told me that day, as she limped along to the pool, “I just love to run.” she said.  I have found during this project that I just love to run and that having the ability to do that for more than an hour a day every day of the week has been a joy for me.  For as many years that I have been running I have rarely enjoyed it as much as I did during the eleven weeks of The Woth Marathon Project.

 

 

 

 

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Jjj


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Winter Cottage


Marty does not know why we want to go up to the cottage in the middle of the winter.  It is an isolated rustic cottage somewhere in the vicinity of Sudbury, or North Bay or Parry Sound, but really it is out in the middle of nowhere near a small hamlet named Port Loring.

The cottage, owned by Tracey’s grandparents is uninsulated and has no running water now that it is winterized.  The long driveway will be clogged with snow and the toilet will not work.  Our first night there should get down to -29 degrees.  Maybe Marty’s reservations have some merit.

Mason, has no issues with going up North to spend a couple of days in the freezing weather.  At his age he will still follow me blindly depending on me and believing in me to   have everything sorted out.  He is along for the ride and positive that I will deliver an adventure.  I hope not to disappoint him.

I can’t wait to get there.  I plan to build a roaring fire and turn on the electric heaters.  I have board games and books for the kids and I.  I have meals and snacks planned.  I plan to walk on the frozen lake, looking back on the shore from where we often sit in a canoe.  I have extra clothes packed, enough for excursions outside, and adequate layers for just sitting around the cottage.  I have cross country skis and winter boots and back packs and extra mitts and balaclavas so that we can sojourn through the bush and maybe see some bear tracks or moose tracks or racoon tracks or unidentifiable tracks, and maybe we can imagine sneaking up on one of those animals for look or a quick picture taken hastily and with held breath before we scare it away.

I have downhill skis and snowboards packed so that we can make a jump on the hill and maybe even stop by the ski resort on the way home.  I packed our skates just in case, and I hope for this with a mad desire remembering a few glorious days from my youth, that the lake will be frozen and free of snow in some spots.  All this and we may even have a campfire and see if we can see the milky way or if luck is with us, even the Northern Lights.

Marty wishes he could stay home and ‘hang’ out with his buddies.  But this, this insane trip into a veritable arctic, will be what he remembers.

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The Outback Chronicles, Chapter 7.


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The Shearers quarters where we stayed with two of the utes.

Trip 1, Day 3, Out with My Mates.

“Mate, that bloke has had some problems.”

So the conversation continued around the fire.  We had just finished a day of driving around paddocks, and shooting kangaroos at Abbieglassie station.  We had stopped for a meal at a beautiful shaded spot beside a pond and the guys had let me drive the quad bike, (four wheeler) around for hours.  A few beers by the fire was the perfect end to a great day.

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Ranchers from surrounding properties meet to collect wild dog bait.

The conversation continued:

“He comes in to the station one day after a blue with his missus and starts hanging shit on the S.O..  It turns out he had been on the piss for most of the arvo, nearly had a prang on the way in to work and then starts taking the piss out of everyone.”

“Ya mate, I know I used to work with a few of his mates at 25 station,  he was constantly having barneys with the boys up there, I just crack the shits whenever I have to work with him.”

On and on the conversation goes. I figure I now speak Aussie quite well but I was having trouble following everything.  The Australians have a vernacular that is all there own, and when the five of us sat around with a few drinks around a fire on our last night in the outback the lingo, as one would expect devolved into the most Australian form of the English language.  They tend to shorten everything, and assign nick names to everyone and everything.  Adding a ‘y’ or an ‘o’ to any name or occupation makes it familiar.  I am Joshy, Martin is Marto, I work as a Firey, truck drivers are truckies, paramedics are ambos, carpenters are chippies, and electricians sparkies.

That night over the fire some of my favourites came floating across the fire.  Fair dinkum (for real, genuine), taking the piss out, (making fun of), on the piss, (drunk), piss (beer), hanging shit, (giving someone a hard time), cracker (adjective meaning great or fantastic, as in cracker of a day), and everybody is mate.

Men call their friends mate, but also their kids, women call each other mate, coworkers are mates, a stranger on the train is a mate, as in ‘excuse me mate’.  We start many of our sentences with mate, in fact at the first fire I went to I thought it was part of the radio protocol.  I like being called mate, because I like how friendly the term is.  From the moment we set foot in this country people have been saying to me.  Image that, 20 million people who don’t hesitate to call you friend at their first encounter with you.  It makes one feel included.

These men around the campfire with me,DSC_0038 they were my mates.  They had accepted me and invited me along on an adventure in the outback an experience I will not forget.

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A rocky crag.

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Bogged in the mud!

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The creek at one mile. Nice place for a picnic.

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The Outback Chronicles, Chapter 6.


Trip 2 Day 1, Running with Roos.

When we arrived at Abbieglassie station I could not wait to get out of the truck and onto the red earth for a run.  I always enjoy running in new places and the outback offers some really exciting tracks to go for a jog.  The 70,000 acres of AbbieGlassie is divided into a grid of paddocks with fences that have to be constantly maintained as the roos and emus pass over, under or through them as they roam from paddock to paddock and property to property.  Each one of these fences has a road plowed beside it so that one can drive the fence lines for hours.  Walter or someone he has working on the property needs to do this periodically, I am not sure how often, in order to maintain the fences.  Occasionally he will find damage to posts or gates, or gaps in wires or sometimes, sadly a kangaroo or emu caught up in the fence dead or dying.

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I did my own perimeter checks by running some of the fence lines.  I was a little apprehensive about running off into the outback following a fence and I made no assumptions about where the track would take me.  With images of getting lost surrounded by red earth with no water or cell signal I always ran an ‘out and back’ route.  Simply following my path in reverse to return to civilization.

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Tracey and I set out one morning while it was still cool and after a warm up together I set out ahead to get in some tempo intervals.  Usually I do these on a oval track or just use my watch to run hard for one or two minutes and repeat several times but with so much wild life running around I had something much better.

I ran out hard in front of Tracey and as I rounded a bend near a dam (pond) I spotted three kangaroos crossing the track in front of me.  With something to chase I increased my effort level hoping that they would slow before they crossed under the fence.  The roos bounced over to the fence and as one slipped under the other two turned and balanced on their hind legs staring at me.  I ran on closing to within 50 meters before they crouched and slipped under the wires.  I cut my pace and returned to the track for a breather.

Within minutes I spotted a lump up ahead, perhaps 700 meters away.  I was not sure that it was a kangaroo so I kept jogging along watching the spot until I saw the image move, shift.  The lump turned out to be two small roos that jumped off to the left but were replaced soon after by one larger.  I started another pick up, accelerating fiercely and imagining that I would have the speed to catch up to him.  I would not.  I have personally clocked kangaroos hopping at over 45km/h, but the fun was in the attempt.

I did not get close to this one either but as I approached to within 100m I noticed on my right running along side me, more than a dozen more.  They bounced up ahead of me and followed their mates across my path and through the fence.  More and more of them appeared from in the bush and scrub land and at one point I was 20 meters from a mob of them with more crossing in front of me.  It lasted just a moment but it felt as if I had entered in a 5km race for kangaroos.  A race I would not win.

My dream here is to surprise a flock of emus standing in a paddock.  I have seen these birds run and it is very unlikely that I would ever be able to get close to a healthy one, but the chase would, I imagine be quite sporty.  They don’t travel as fast as kangaroos do and I like my chances if I can get one confused along a fence or some other obstacle.

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Eventually I slowed to a stopped and returned the way I had come to meet up again with Tracey and to tell her all about it.  Unfortunately I had chased off all the roos and she had not been able to see any of them.  So after a few minutes of easy running I darted into the bush and ran parallel to her course dodging trees and stumps.  (One must always be careful running though the woods in Australia because there are a number of very large spiders that make their webs at face height between trees and sit there waiting for their prey to become entangled.)  Soon enough I spotted yet more roos ahead of me in the bush, it was a very busy morning and this time, again using a two minute tempo interval I was able to flush them out to my right presumably straight across Tracey’s path.

Tracey was thrilled when the roos burst out of the bush in front of her, she told me minutes later as we continued on toward home.  I  was able to get a few more intervals on the way back and count it as a work out, and by the time we were finished I already had plans for the next days run.

 

If you have followed along this far, and want to read more about our adventures in Australia, scroll back up to the top of the page and click ‘follow’, and you will be alerted to new posts.  Don’t be shy to leave a comment if you have enjoyed this.

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The Outback Chronicles, Chapter 4


During the months of April and May I visited an outback property near St. George in Western Queensland.  During the two 4 day trips I experience a little piece of outback Australia.  My experiences were far too numerous and profound for a single blog post so I am releasing my reflections in serial format.

Trip 1 Day 2 Chasing Kangaroos.

It was 9 am and I found myself sitting in a old car seat full of holes and covered with a towel to soften the coils pushing out of the fabric, loaded loosely into the back of a ute, (pick up truck) throwing slabs of poisoned meat over the side.  This bait covered in poison number 1080 was meant to kill off some of the wild dogs, dingo hybrids, from around the property.  With half of the 70,000 acres to circumnavigate (another ute was covering the other half) we had a big day ahead of us.

The Australian dingo is all but extinct and exist now in a wild dog mix of dingo and domestic feral dogs.  They are a pest to the Queensland farmers because they prey on the young lambs and their numbers need to be reduced for farmers in the area to be able to stay in business.  The poisoning is part of a government initiative, the poison was poured onto freshly killed kangaroo meat and picked up by each rancher at a common site earlier that day. That morning I had watched as several thousand kilograms of bait was prepared.  I had 2oo kg to toss out of the truck myself. As harsh as the outback is it is surprising various and lush the life is.

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An Echidna crosses the road near the town of Roma.

During my trips to Abbieglassie I saw uncountable birds, including emus, (in fact I almost ran into one in my truck as it crossed the road), snakes, blue tongue lizards, tree frogs, and an echidna, somehow this dry landscape can support all this life which is why, I suppose the ranchers use the land to raise beef and mutton.

The most numerous mammal in the outback is of course the kangaroo.  The landscape is positively thick with them.  Driving on the roads during twilight or sunrise is very hazardous.  There are mobs of 2 or 10 or 30 running along beside your car or bouncing off into the woods.  When I am out for my run I do tempo intervals chasing mobs of them, backing down when they get too far off and picking up when I come across the next bunch.

roos2  They are extremely successful as a species, the females keep a joey in their pouches at all times as another gestates in the womb and they say that she can arrest the development of the joey in her pouch during drought.  There are, in fact more kangaroos in Australia now than before Captain Cook first pulled into the Sydney Harbour in 1770, due to the increase in pastureland created by the farmers.

This brings me to the problem of this iconic animal.  In South Western Queensland it takes 30 acres to raise each head of cattle, and 6 acres for a sheep, and with thousands, or tens of thousands of large herbivores bouncing around on the land consuming all available food, it would take much more.  There are in direct competition with the domestic animals and the farmers livelihood.  Something has to give and like the dingo the kangaroo is targeted for culling at all times around rural properties. My mates from the fire department come all the way out to Abbieglassie for a chance to hunt.  They are helping Walter out by thinning the population. Walter could never afford enough bullets (at about $2 a piece for a .243 bullet) to make any effect on their population. It is not cruel or inhumane.  It is necessary, and it is part of our way of life.

I personally would love to watch kangaroos and chase them on foot, they are magnificent while on the run, but our beef loving society will not allow for it.  We could put a halt to the cull completely by all refusing to eat beef, and here is a suggestion, switch to kangaroo, put I know that could never happen in our society.  The evils of beef production, (a massive contributor to global warming, destruction of natural habitats, elimination of native flora and fauna for grazing), are well documented and just as well ignored.  Our desire for beef is that strong.

I like many others prefer not to think about it.  During my trips to the outback I was very happy to see so many animals jumping and running around, and happier still to be out on the red dirt trying to chase them down.

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