Regaining 10 Years of Fitness

Learning How to Run Again with Neurokinetic TherapyIn 2002 I decide it was time to train for a half marathon to prove to myself that my knees were strong and I had recovered from a decade of persistent knee pain. Thankfully the pain didn’t prevent from cross country skiing or competing in biathlon while in university.

The Vancouver Half was what  I chose  as my destination and  as my greatest endurance challenge post retiring from competitive biathlon. Rain started to fall just after crossing the finish line in 1:50 at the Plaza of Nations. A year later after training for the half and unable to register due it being sold out I signed up for  the full marathon. My stubbornness  dictated that I couldn’t  run/walk despite my better judgement. The goal of finishing under 4 hours slipped away gradually.  Instead my body stumbled through the last 10 km to completed the full in just under 4:09.

A sub four hour marathon and a sub 1:45 hr half marathon are still eluding me.

Regaining Fitness After 10 Years

Several years later in 2012 it was time to challenge myself again on a new course for the Vancouver Half. Kudos to whomever designed the BMO Vancouver Half marathon course because it showcases our beautiful city very nicely. Knowing that my fitness wasn’t great I still wanted to see if I was at least as fit as I was in 2002.

This half marathon was grueling. and after finishing in 1:55 I cramped up so much that I had a difficulty walking for the next week. While happy to finish in under two hours the sub 1:45 was still out there for me to grab!

Finishing a Half Marathon with Grace

The Scotia Half Marathon has been on my list of events since 2006! Since it was week after Seek the Peak which I had started to train for in February all I wanted to was finish in a decent time while being able to walk reasonably well the next day.

A last week registration was necessary because I wasn’t certain how my energy and legs would recover from Seek the Peak. We often hear of or see people finishing endurance events with nothing left in the tank and being proud of the post run hobble. This was not going be me this year.

As a non-elite runner who also has zero chance of being an age group medalist it wasn’t necessary to run myself into the ground.

The Scotia Half was an opportunity to execute a race plan that would test my current limits and keep me walking the next day. The first 10km was a steady 5:00 min/km. Many people passed me, I kept repeating the mantra

Run Your Own Race

, a mantra that led me to three gold and one silver at the BC Winter Games for biathlon.

It was more humid than warm. I made sure to take sips of my drink electrolyte/carb drink every 15 min and one GU gel at 45 min.

The water stations couldn’t come soon enough. Splashing water on my head and arms was the only way to stop from becoming dizzy. The pace held up to about 14 km which is the furthest I ran in training.

From there it was a matter of holding on and preserving energy for the last 8km. Each kilometer was clearly marked with big red signs. Eventhough 13 miles and 22 kilometers are almost the same distance there’s a big pyschological difference with the smaller number!

While the course is a net downhill climbing the Burrard Street bridge was a bit tedious and longer than anticipated. The earlier pace was not to be kept.  I was unable to keep a pace where my heart rate was at my threshold of 172 bpm and it dropped to 160-165 bpm. A hard left at the end of the bridge brought us onto Beach Avenue and the finishing kick.

At this point it was a matter of adding a little more push to each stride to boost the pace. When the finish line was in sight I kicked into high gear to drop a few precious seconds and come in 1:52:39.

This race was finished in a respectable time that I am happy with. It was an opportunity to learn where some of my fitness limiters are. Walking was a bit of problem after but resolved a few days later.

Fitness Limiters

Fitness limiters are components of fitness that are limiting or preventing a goal from being achieved. During my training the focus was too much on a high aerobic fitness. Discovering fitness limiters helps runners fine tune their training.

Areas of Focus

Fitness

  • Build aerobic endurance up to 22 km or 14 miles
  • Complete more supra threshold runs that are also longer than with longer intervals
  • Train for longer uphills of 2-3 minutes
    Train foot and ankle
  • Strategy – figure out a new pacing strategy
  • Review the course elevations and break the down into pace sections before

Unfinshed business

Retirement from biathlon left me feeling  as though there was more potential left in me as an endurance athlete. In two years I will officially be Masters (40 years old +) level athlete. This is a category that I want be in the top 25% of at the very least; to do so leaves me with five intermediary goals yet to accomplish

  1. 3:45 marathon
  2. 1:44 half marathon
  3. 44 min 10 km
  4. Seek the Peak 1:55 hr

 

Seeking the Peak of Grouse 2014: A Post-Race Analysis

The 11th annual Seek the Peak trail running race took place on June 15, 2014.  There were nearly 500 solo participants and another 300 relay or team participants.  This was the fourth time that I decided to throw my body into this event.   Last year I skipped it because I felt I wasn’t ready for its physical demands, which some believe are grueling: sixteen kilometers with a 4100 foot climb from Ambleside Park in North Vancouver to the top of Grouse Mountain.

Seek the Peak 2014 Finish

Alfred finishing Seek the Peak 2014 – photo Caroline S.

Armed with 2010’s 2:24 hr time and the top times in age group of around 1:35hr I have been motivated to at least achieve a sub two hour time.  Ever since I stopped competing in Biathlon I have felt that I have more potential and a talent for endurance events. With proper training I could achieve some top 10 finishes in my age group.

Post-Race Analysis

When looking for improvement it is important to take a deeper look at each event, even when goals are achieved. Some say success leaves foot prints!  While I missed the sub two hour goal this race was still a big success.

Stage 1 is a very gradual uphill which gives participants the opportunity to go fast to bank a little time, but risk using up all their glycogen stores. My goal was to push the pace a little bit and finish under 15 minutes, a time I met in 14:43.

Stage 2 keeps going uphill, but also has some good turns and fun downhills.  Although,  I quickly found out though that my training runs were not quite on the same trails my feet were still quick and I was sure footed.  This stage takes racers further along the Capilano River past the fish hatchery to emerge in the park near the damn by climbing up a long set of stairs.  Taking a slightly more conservative approach I reached Nancy Green Way while passing several people on those stairs.

Nancy Green Way is 1.6 kilometers of boring pavement pounding which ends at the  start of the Grouse Grind. This section takes more mental energy than physical.  The aim was to complete the road section in under 10 minutes, which I came very close to doing.

Stage 3 is the Grouse Grind which I predicted a time of 48 minutes. The strategy for this stage is just to keep the legs moving while repeating “one step at a time.”  It was grueling and at times I wasn’t sure if my legs would take me to the top. The left ankle strain of last year did not rear its ugly head either which was a big concern.  Final time for the Grouse Grind was 47:36.

If you haven’t been training hills stage 4 will fill you with dread! It did my first year and it started with a severe left calf spasm which left me hobbling.  This time around my strategy was 30 speedy steps followed by 30 fast walking steps. With a grade nearly 16% to the chairlift there was glory in reaching the final turnaround which also meant it was all downhill from there.

The gravel road down is bumpy and slippery when wet. Zigzagging down racers need to be careful to not run into anyone coming up on their left.  This year I felt the most sure on my feet I have in the several years during that section.

Finally the last few meters are almost flat but slightly downhill and the finish line was in sight! Time to turn on the jets. Well as best as I could! Out of breathed I cross the line in 2:01:10, 8% off my goal time and a personal course record. Looking up as I neared the finish line I saw 2:01:10.  This good enough for a top 100 overall and 21/80 in the male 30-39 year old group, which I have two years left in.

See the full Training Peaks File.

Planning for Seek the Peak 2015

Overall the race plan was executed very well. The call of a 1:55 is still out there for me to achieve and it isn’t that far away. It requires a fitness improvement of 13% in one year. Challenging? Yes. Do able? Yes.

What are the take home lessons?

  • Keep fit from September to February – maintain the capacity to run 16 km
  • Start the main plan February 1st instead of February 28th
  • Increase leg strength and leg power – start training for power earlier
  • Incorporate more Pace Zone 4 (tempo) and Pace Zone 6 (threshold) into the training plan with longer intervals
  • Hills, Hills, Hills

 

How to Complete a Distance Running Race with Confidence and Speed

image

While competing in biathlon and cross country skiing I found a distinct advantage of being able to preview the course a few days before and event. This built confidence and enabled us to develop a strategy for each section of it.  Luckily the trail running route for Seek the Peak is in my backyard (well close to it) so I can run it as often as I like. It has nearly been two years since I ran the trails from Ambleside Park to Grouse Mountain in West Vancouver so the details are a little hazy.

Getting the  Pace and Distance Training Device to Work

After two  years of letting my Garmin Forerunner 305 sit idle in a drawer because I thought it wouldn’t synchronize with my computer anymore I decided to try again. When the original error occurred even technical support personnel suggested I send it in and might be repaired or even better buy a new one. I was elated that after a few software downloads and installations it synchronized!

Being able to now use a training device with GPS (navigation), heart rate and pace makes the data geek in me grin cheek to cheek! More data to pour over.

Finding Stage 1 of Seek the Peak

Although it was a little chilly and looked like it was going to rain it was time to get running. Sunday’s goal was to navigate through the first two stages of Seek the Peak and test the pace. Stage one begins at Field F in Ambleside Park  then travels around Park Royal mall, along the Capilano River to finish under Highway 1. Easy to find.   After setting Field F as the first navigation point my feet started with a slow run.

The bridge was reached an a quick 18 minutes while l still felt fresh. This was the end of stage one and the start of stage two.At each landmark or change of direction I set running navigation points for future reference.

Getting Slightly Lost A Few Times

Stage 2 is not quite as straight forward. The first section is fairly fast with a gradual uphill. There is a sharp right turn  where the trail goes downhill past the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but close by you can also go straight or up to the left uphill. This bit is a lot of fun and the feet can move fast. Be quick and light footed around the roots.

Keep following the Capilano Pacific Trail through a series of ups and downs and bridges that are slippery when wet. The right on the Shinglebolt trail was a little confusing. While trail directions are clear the names of the trails were not always obvious.

There is signage for an observation deck with a short trail that merges with the main one. Stay left and the observation place will be on the right. Eventually Shinglebolt transitions to Coho Loop. The trail gets a bit gnarly. Look out for a metal bridge crossing directly over a big blue pipe. Cross over it to wind up towards a series of stairs, yes stairs. My confidence started to falter after the stairs. I couldn’t really remember where to go next.

Instead of keeping left along Pacific Palisades I went right instead which brought me into a big parking lot. Crossing the parking lot I  met up with the trail I should have been on. This then continued to climb up to an opening into Cleveland Park.

Grinding Out the Last Mile on Nancy Greene Way

The last mile made me nearly stop in 2010. It is a lot less exciting than the previous sections or even the next – Grouse Grind! Sing “the ants go marching one by one…” to stay motivated and keep plodding along. I kept looking down at my watch trying to keep the pace under 10:00 min/mile instead it averaged 13:27 min/mile at 172 bpm.

Finishing Stages 1 and 2

Maintaining a  consistent pace is more challenging when you don’t know where you are going. The lack of confidence slows you down. The data has some blank spots where the timer was stopped while I entered navigation points.  It looks like it took around 1:08 hour for 5.28 miles. Next time I run this path I will be able move more quickly and more easily monitor my energy output.

Legs felt fresh, energized and even and a spring in their step for the first 30-45 minutes. A good sign since the previous longest run was for the just over an hour on flat treadmill! However, the last 20 minutes my thighs started to burn and they lacked power to push off up Nancy Greene.  Time to do longer tempo intervals and more hills.

Click to see the full training session.

Run with Confidence and Speed

Running route before a running race increases confidence and pace on race day. It will be easier to find your way with hundreds if not thousands of people as well as course markers on event day. You will run faster and know how much to push your speed to finish with nothing left in the tank.