Friday, April 24, 2015

Race Preview: Pick Your Poison 25k

This is the latest that a race season has ever begun, yet I'm still not sure if I'm ready.

All the skulls in the race promo/site aren't really helping.

At least for this race, I can be reasonably assured I've done the work. I have a couple of 25k runs in the bank, a bit of trail running, and I've made a decent attempt to feed myself a steady diet of hills. The fact I've put in 866.6km year to date seems only appropriate for the race's graphical theme, too. As I sit here throwing back some iron supplements, I'm trying to convince myself that it will be enough.

Pictured: my idea of iron supplements.
(Yes that is a full dinner plate of beets)

The way I see it, I have 3 main problems:

1) While I may have been running hills and trail, I'm talking about the rollers we have in Waterloo Region and some relatively flat, non-technical trail. No singletrack, and few if any hills that would actually qualify for a climb rating. This race is at a stinkin' ski hill and I guarantee I won't be seeing any lovely, wide crushed gravel rail trail on the 12.5km loop, which is described as follows:

"The course consists of approximately 98% off-road terrain made up of a combination of single track and ski trails. Runners will start with a 3 K "flatter" section followed by 4 major climbs over the remaining 9.5 K. This is a technical but rewarding race!"

Which seems to be race director speak for "You will start off hurting, and then it will get much, much worse."

To top it all off, there was lake effect snow yesterday that may very well have turned the trails into treacherous, energy-sucking mud, ice or both. Woo freakin' hoo.

2) Because this is really just a tune-up race for the Sulphur Springs 50k next month (..gulp..), I have failed to really taper much. Last week's long run was knocked down to just under 21km of hills, Monday was 5k instead of 6, Tuesday 8k of hills instead of 10+ but a normal swim, and yesterday was the standard 5-and-a-bit kilometers before a shorter swim. Run far too fast, no less. I did take Wednesday off completely, which is standard protocol for race week, and knocked off the heavy lifting in favour of just bodyweight exercises, foam rolling & yoga...but sleep has been as elusive as ever, and I haz le tired. What a shock.

3) My body seems to be refusing to let go of the poundage I gained over the winter. Part of this, I'm sure, has to do with the fact that winter won't freakin' die (see point 1). I am still almost 10lbs over race weight and have expanded dramatically in the butt, hips and thighs. I do think that some of it may be increased muscle mass, because a) I'm actually running faster than ever and feeling stronger on climbs; and b) I don't really look more than 5lbs away from race weight. However, the fact of the matter is there is more of me to drag up those "4 major climbs", each of which I'll have to do twice.

Who is this Becky chick, and why does she keep staring at me?

But I'll show up and get my jar of local honey anyway, and hopefully score myself a slick new pair of socks. Really, the whole reason for doing this one - apart from it being a staple race of the Ontario Ultra Series that I haven't yet experienced - was to get me out on some gnarlier trail and serious elevation change ahead of Sulphur Springs.

Wish me luck, kids. I'm going to need it.

All the best to those running the Waterloo Marathon or riding Paris to Ancaster this weekend!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seems Like Science: But I'm freezing!

I occasionally present theories on various aspects of endurance sport through this blog for which I have little to no scientific proof, but which seem pretty plausible. Since the plural of "anecdote" is not, in fact, "data", I'm instituting a new, searchable tag for my unsubstantiated but marginally logical ramblings.

Welcome to the latest edition of Seems Like Science!

Today I want to talk about why feeling cold all the time is a by-product of your fitness...but not for the reason you might think.

Every. Damn. Day.

I get cold really easily. I probably own more sweaters and jackets than any 3 normal people should, and wear them constantly. Poor Tanker the Wonder Sherpa is constantly on the verge of heat stroke through the dog days of summer while I find myself finally able to sit comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt. Barely. Despite the weather finally having broken (ABOUT DAMN TIME), I'm still mostly wearing a light sweater to the office just to ward off the inevitable chill.

I can't pin this on low body fat levels, because that's not a thing that applies to me right now. I'm not saying the effect has nothing to do with lack of insulating layers for many of you, but race weight and I aren't even in the same area code right now.

Plenty of room for sponsor logos, folks.

It was while I was out running through a sunset that I realized that my problem isn't poor blood circulation or a thyroid issue, though those things can totally make you feel cold all the time - if you suspect either one, go see a doctor. I'm just some dork on the interwebz here, not a medical professional. While I was concerned I'd under-dressed for the temperature I'd encounter after the sun went down, I actually ended up being perfectly comfortable - I was even sweating, though I didn't really feel too warm. Obviously running was keeping me from getting chilled, as I'd have been curled up in a whimpering, shivering ball wearing just shorts and a t-shirt at 8c/46f had I not been working.

The fact I was sweating without really feeling hot was what finally tipped me off. You see, trained athletes have an earlier and more copious sweat response than sedentary folks. This is actual, legit science - studies have been done & part of your physiological response to exercise is increased perspiration for evaporative cooling. You'll start to sweat in anticipation of your core temperature rising rather than trying to play catch up after the fact.

It all comes down to the fact that humans aren't terribly efficient when exerting effort, and the body is pretty particular about its working conditions. For every watt of power you manage to transmit into motion, you're producing 3 additional watts of heat energy. You need to get rid of that heat somehow, because your body only functions right within a very narrow range of temperatures - when your core temperature starts to rise, your only choices are to slow down, stop completely, or die.

So what does this have to do with being cold all the time?

The increased sweat rate is essentially an indication that your body has become more efficient at dumping heat as a response to exercise stimulus. While the primary (and desirable) effect of this adaptation is increased performance - particularly since most of us race in the warmest seasons - I theorize that the body doesn't cease it's efforts to keep you cool once you're done your workout. Even while sitting still or walking to the photocopier, my body is leaping into action to make sure my core temperature stays as low as possible in case I decide to try to lay down a fast mile just for the hell of it. If it's even marginally warm, I might even sweat lightly without realising it, and end up chilled in clothing that's now slightly damp.

Thus, the next time Tanker is looking at me like I'm some kind of idiot for being bundled up like the Michelin man while he's in shorts, I'm just gonna yell "FITNESS M'FER" at him and run away.

'Cause at least from an exercise physiology perspective, I'm cooler than him.

Can you feel me, daddy-o?

Who am I kidding? I'm just chilly, and chilly ain't never been cool.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Taking it all off

With just barely over 2 weeks before the first of several off-road races for this year, the trails are finally passable again!

First, I managed to cycle down to the farmers' market last Saturday via the Grand Trunk Trail.

Still a lot of ice & snow at the riverbanks.

I could've done without the blinding snow squall that began just as I left the house, and certainly without the couple of patches of ice that remained in some of the shadier spots. Fortunately I avoided any horizontal track stands and arrived safe but muddy at the market. We got our groceries, had some brunch, then I jammed down to the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail to get in a solid 24km. 

It was mild enough to go with just knicks and a long-sleeve shirt - a first for this year's long runs. Because of a rather catastrophic hydration bladder failure, I also ended up doing a serious test of my alternate hydration vest, and finally got to wear my favoured ultra shoes for a decent length run. 

Sunshine and dirt!

Most of the trail was clear, dry and hard packed, though I did find some snow patches in the ditches along the way.

They were smaller on the return trip.

Bare everything

It wasn't until I got down past the 69km marker that things got a little sketchy.



Fortunately, it was only 3 or 4 patches, and none were more than 50m long. The sunshine on the surface made them pretty slippery, though, so I was happy I'd worn actual trail shoes! I often don't bother, since the rail trail is about the least technical you can get while still calling it a "trail".

I managed to lay down a pretty solid time for my jaunt, and felt pretty good after finishing. The combination of a softer surface and especially having finally picked up a couple of new pairs of shoes has got me feeling much better than a month ago, despite running some of the highest mileage of my life at the moment.

I went to the pool directly from the trailhead, got in a quick swim, then emerged to this:


It snowed even more overnight, but I think we may have finally had Sheila's brush. I've only needed a light jacket & full-length tights one evening this week, and that was mainly due to it being wet and windy - it was still above the freezing mark.

The weather might have been damp and foggy last night, then thunderstormy this morning and currently absurdly blustery, but they're predicting amazing things for this weekend. I'm really looking forward to finally being able to ditch the sleeves and go for my first run since Christmas Eve in shorts and a t-shirt!

This is what happiness looks like.

Can this please really be spring? 

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Quickie today because I have to do ALL THE THINGS. I'm sure they call it "Good Friday" because you're just so bloody happy it won't be as busy as Thursday was, trying to cram in everything you need to get done before the whole world (seemingly) shuts down this evening.

I got to ride my bike at lunch yesterday, and again after work. It was bloody magical, despite not being quite as warm as I'd like to have believed (and dressed for). I went exploring through parks, found the Cooksville Creek Trail, bumped around in the woods a little, and generally enjoyed the hell out of myself in the gorgeous spring sunshine.

Eastgate park

McKechnie Woods
Cooksville Creek

Recently completed Burnhamthorpe Trail bridge

Queensway bikeway

My 3rd trip over Cooksville Creek
Now that there's daylight after work again, I can investigate a route that I started hazily planning last fall that connects pieces of trail through Mississauga so I can mostly ride off-road down to my Mum's place on Wednesdays. Not only will it be safer than navigating the insanity of suburban rush hour traffic, I'm much happier rolling through the scenery of parks and trees than inhaling exhaust and the smell of overheating brake pads.

There is the possibility we might go camping this weekend, but the weather doesn't seem terribly amenable. We'll just take it as it comes and see what we want to do. Hopefully there will be more trails, 'cause there hasn't been anywhere near enough of them in the past few months.


Hope you all have a safe & happy Easter - you can have my chocolate, 'cause I'm still trying to budge this winter insulation!