Friday, February 28, 2014

It looks bigger in metric

It's no secret to almost anyone in North America that this winter has sucked. In terms like "40% more snow than average" and "23 cold days where we usually average 6" (NB: I have no idea how they define "cold day", since there's only been 1 day above the freezing mark in 2014 that I remember), it may not be the suckiest winter that ever sucked, but it's been pretty brutal.

Nonetheless, I have been out there running.

Iced up eyelashes, here I come!

While slipping & sliding on ice, trudging through deep snow, a nasty brush with frostbite and enduring more evenings at -10c/14f or below than I can ever recall, I've actually managed to break my mileage record for February. I finally pulled off, despite missing 1 planned run due to a very late night at the office, an average of 50km / 31mi per week for the whole month...for a total of 200.89km / 124.83mi.

Through sheer bloody-mindedness, I've amassed a pretty solid base since the beginning of January, which has me wondering if I shouldn't take this just a tad further than my original Around the Bay campaign idea. Y'see, I ran unheard-of mileage in 2013 - a grand total of 2,138.3km / 1,328.7mi - and really felt like I made some progress as a (still rather mediocre) runner. I pulled off a sub-2-hour half marathon and a sub-3-hour 30k almost solely on the basis of a pantload of miles, and I'm on a decent track for this spring as well.

I ran something like 621km from Jan 1-Mar 31 in 2013, but that was an easy winter.

2012 was the last year that I ran Around the Bay, coming off an injury in early January and trying to tackle the horrible hills of Hamilton on a "long" run of only 18k. I've already banked a couple of 20+km runs in the last couple of weeks, with more to come before I do what will likely be a 2-week taper come mid-March. I'm less than 20k away from my total 3-month prep of 2012, and feeling pretty good about my odds of improving my 3:04:22 finish time.

There's one other PR that I'd really like to work on, though, and I think the timing may be right.

Look at that 2011 mileage. I can top that by the end of this weekend, if my planned runs work out. Look at the distribution, too - almost half of it run in March, like someone suddenly panicking when they realise they have a long race coming and haven't done the work.

Like someone who has totally and utterly failed to respect what a full marathon really takes.

Oh gawd..

It was May 1st, 2011 when I toed the line of my first and only attempt on the 42.2km of pain that is the road marathon - at Waterloo, which isn't really for the faint of heart. I only put in another 171-odd kilometers in April, bringing my 4 month base up to a paltry 575km - less than I put in last year during my half-marathon campaign. I paid for my laziness in the hard coin of race-day pain, nighmarishly sore legs for days afterward, and a time that rankles to this day.

4:37:53. Almost 8mins slower than my goal at the time, and almost 9 minutes over the Oprah line.


Moving so slowly a sign grew out of my head.

Based on last year's Midsummer Night's Run 30k result, the McMillan running calculator says I should have a 4:15:xx marathon in me...if I do the work. It's exactly 4 weeks after Around the Bay, which actually gives me a bit more recovery time than I had between the Run for the Toad 50k and Horror Hill 6-hour last fall. The final hilly miles of Around the Bay make it a pretty ideal training run for the Waterloo Marathon, and will ensure I get in at least a 30k long run before the marathon. I might even be able to sneak in a 20-miler in the four week interim. Really, though, I think the additional 3 years of base mileage and the knowledge that I've run more than full marathon distance several times now is what will see me through. That, and keeping up the good training I've put in so far this year.

After all, it's only 26.2 miles...right?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hanging in

..and dreaming of spring.

Just 27 more days to vernal equinox!

Which, of course, means just 37 days until Around the Bay.

Deep breaths..

Friday, February 14, 2014

Seems Like Science: Soggy isn't sexy

So Tuesday night I headed out for a run. I checked my phone, which said it was -15c/5f, and dressed what I thought was appropriately. I had a merino wool longsleeve shirt and socks, my usual winter jacket, hat, face cover/neck gaiter and a pair of polar fleece pants. I decided that since it wasn't -20c or anything, I could probably get away with just a pair of knicks (tights that come to just below the knee) instead of full longjohns under the pants.

I ran for a little less than an hour, and was a little amused when I finished to see that my legs had iced up on the outside of the fleece pants, but only on the outside above the knee.

I was distinctly less amused when I got out of my now-wet clothes after coming inside and discovered that my lower legs looked like this:

Son of a diddly!

For a few minutes I couldn't understand why this would happen - the air wasn't that cold and my legs hadn't actually been exposed since they'd had the fleece pants covering them, overlapping my socks. The knickers were just plain lycra/spandex stuff, not designed to provide insulation. What the actual hell had gone on to bring me dangerously near frostbite between my ankles and knees? How had my winter running know-how failed me?

Finally, realisation dawned. It was all because of SCIENCE!

As I'd been running, I'd started to sweat a bit. It's a thing that happens. The knicks (and, for that matter, my socks) had done an effective job of transporting the moisture away from my skin and out through the hydrophobic polyester fibres of my fleece pants. When it made contact with the frigid air (which actually turned out to be -21c/-6f, as the weather app on my phone hadn't updated the home screen display when I checked), it then froze up, resulting in the fuzzy-looking ice coating on my leg. This is all well and good, and I'm going to assume it only happens on the side & back of my leg because the wind chill of my own forward motion keeps the front of my quads from sweating as much.

The problem with my lower legs is that the loose fit of the pants meant there was no fabric in direct contact with the skin, which meant no moisture transport. Instead of being wicked away, the sweat just sat on my skin and was chilled by the cold air. In summer, that would be considered "doing its job" - the evaporative cooling effect of sweat on skin is what allows humans to run long distances, and can be seen as a major driving factor in our species' evolution. In winter, though, it can be really dangerous!

Scumbag water.

While air itself can act as an insulating layer, it has to be in a closed environment that severely limits the entry of cold air (or rather, loss of heat) and the loose, open bottom cuffs of the fleece pants just couldn't cut it. An elastic band around the bottom of each would have made a huge difference, as the trapped warmth of my body would have prevented the sweat from trying to freeze on my skin. This is a big reason why clothing made for cold conditions generally includes elastic, hook-and-loop or drawstrings at cuffs and hems in order to lock in your body's warmth. Heck, if I'd even tucked the bottom of my pants into the cuffs of my socks I probably wouldn't be writing this, though I may have risked arrest by the fashion police.

You may be thinking to yourself that if I'd been fitter, maybe I wouldn't have sweat as much on that run. Au contraire, mon frère! While everyone's sweat rate will be slightly different, by and large fit people will actually sweat sooner and more copiously than unfit people. It's part of that awesome adaptation that lets us work harder and longer without raising our core temperature past the point at which we'd start to break down.

So, where does this leave me?

The next night I headed out in virtually identical weather: it was -20c/-4f with similar wind, and I dressed identically to the night before with the exception of wearing full-length lightweight merino wool tights under my fleece pants. The results?

My whole leg iced up on the outside of the pants this time, but there was zero discolouration and minimal chilling of my lower legs. The moisture transport chain worked perfectly, keeping me dry and comfortable!

While most of us know how much more comfortable it is to run in wicking apparel in the summer heat, we may not always think about the need to move sweat away from our skin when temperatures drop. Please, take this as my warning that you disregard this factor at your peril! If you're still running in cotton or other materials that aren't effective at moisture transport, I highly suggest you look into at least a few pieces of kit that will make your life so much more comfortable, if not actually a great deal safer.

Fortunately, my legs are fine - had returned to their proper colour with no lasting effects after a good swim workout following Tuesday night's run. May I always be so lucky in my adventures as your cautionary example!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Let the games begin!

So it's all still bollocks outside - ridiculous amounts of snow, blistering cold, and truly arse running conditions.

This is apparently what the City of Cambridge considers "acceptably plowed" for our street.

Things don't really look like they'll be improving any time soon, so I'll keep plugging away at the training for Around the Bay while keeping every available appendage crossed that I don't hurt myself or freeze to death. Seriously, I do like winter, but this is really starting to impinge on my sunny effin' disposition. I love cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, tobogganing and even winter camping, but it's tough to motivate yourself to get outside and enjoy nature when it's 800 million degrees below freezing, the wind threatens to rip your skin right off you at the slightest exposure, and you're immobilized under at least 15 metric buttloads of snow.

For the foreseeable future.

Staying the hell inside really has its appeal right now, even if that means grinding away on the trainer. At least some relief has finally hove into view - my very favourite thing to watch while I crank away on the hamster wheel.

I know it's not the traditional logo.
I don't really care. This one rawks.

Despite all the controversy and politicizing, whether Sochi is ready for it or notIT'S WINTER OLYMPICS TIME! I absolutely adore the winter games, and will definitely be spending every moment I can tuned in to watch the incredible feats of athletes from around the globe.

Seriously, do yourself a favour and find some coverage of a winter sport you know nothing about. While some of the events have immediate mass-market appeal (slopestyle snowboarding anyone?), compelling moments happen in all venues. We're lucky in Canada (I can't speak for other nations) that the media coverage typically includes at least one person with real knowledge of the sport on display - they can provide insights into what you're watching such that even if you've never seen ice & snow before you can appreciate some of the excitement of a luge run or a huge upset on the speed skating track. Some of these events are spectacles that are rarely seen outside of the Olympics, so you may learn about something cool you'd never have encountered otherwise (like the truly badass biathlon, which is cross country skiing with freakin' guns!).

Really though, the biggest thing for me is that it's incredible to watch athletes of any sort at the very peak of their chosen sport, all striving for excellence in an arena that fosters sportsmanship and positive national pride. In a world filled with terrible conflicts, the Olympic spirit burns bright as the torch which bears its name - a beacon of hope for peace and celebration of athletic achievement.

Oh, and funny trousers.