Racing Through the Base

It’s been a few months since my last post, and since we have the extra day of February 29 this year, I thought I’d really better get around to writing an update. Training has been going well over the past few months, with a steady build-up in mileage. I had just one small hiccup when I picked up a flu at the beginning of February which set me back a few days, but otherwise have been able to remain consistent. Beginning in early December I was at around 50 miles a week and since then, have worked up to consecutive 80-mile weeks. Last winter I ran just one week of 80 miles, so this is uncharted territory in a way. Over the past three weeks I ran 79, 80 and 82 miles. I’ll back off and probably run around 55 to 60 miles this week, and then go back up into the 80’s. The majority of it has been easy steady running, mostly around 7 minute to 7:30 pace done outside or on the treadmill, with some hills, strides, and the occasional tempo run. I’ve done one track workout, threshold mile repeats, on a day when temperatures were in the minus 40’s with windchill. I raced once also in a 3000 here at the Dome last weekend, running a slow time of 9:19.97 in what really was a rust buster. It was surprising how quickly Josh and I were dropped from the main pack in that race. With next to no track workouts, I just didn’t have any gears, but all in all it served its purpose as a hard effort coming from the strength end of things. I hope to go a little faster this coming Saturday when I plan to take another stab at a 3000.
Our approach to things this year has been quite different than what we’ve done in the past. In previous years, I would have been on the indoor track two or three times a week and would have been doing some hard sessions. We’ve found that every season inevitably seems to have ebbs and flows. I would do some very good workouts but then go through periods of staleness. This year with the ultimate objective to make it to the Rio Paralympics in September feeling fit, strong and motivated, we are really trying to have a linear progression as much as possible. Ian proposed that we stay away from the indoor track this winter and focus on developing a strong base, which to his mind would help to make me more resistant to injury and support the intensity and improved recovery when the time comes for harder training. Approaching things in this way made a lot of sense to me.
Running 80 miles a week without workouts can be on the monotonous side although I’m getting used to it. A typical week involves three double days where I might run 12 miles in the morning and 6 in the evening. Josh and I will run 13 to 15 miles on another day, and then I’ll have two days of running 6 to 8 easy miles, and generally take a day off. I’m feeling great and am adapting well to the mileage. The plan is to transition into a little more intensity beginning in April. We’re going to travel to the San Francisco State Distance Carnival to compete in a 5000m on April 2, where Josh and I hope to get the Paralympic T11 5000m A standard which is 16:30. Once again we will not have done anything too anaerobic prior to that race so will be going on our strength. After that we’ll spend the following week training in and around Berkeley which is our coach Ian’s alma mator, and where there are apparently some great trails and hills also, so it should be a good spell to begin to work into the next phase of our training.

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A New Season, A New Reason

As the nights grow longer and the approaching holiday season signals that another year is nearing its end, you become aware of the passage of time. Its difficult to believe that we’ve nearly completed another cycle. From a running standpoint, this was a fairly big one! Josh and I competed in two major championships. The first was the Para Pan Am Games in Toronto where we came away with second in the 1500 metres and first in the 5000 (albeit because of a disqualification). The second was the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar in October, where we survived a 5000 metre race of attrition to come away with second (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8JVDnyTsIc).
Having extended our season into late October means that I’m only now getting back into regular training after having taken a much-needed two week break. Following the high point of Para PanAms, where I felt Josh and I ran well but which I came away from with a lingering “what if” feeling, it was difficult to pick up where we had left off. We are used to having a break at the end of the summer and with Worlds looming, we just couldn’t afford to shut it down as we normally would. Things certainly did not progress in a linear way as we continued training into September. Having backed off a little right after Para Pan Ams, it was difficult to get going again and I felt rusty, with motivation at a fairly low ebb. I had even contemplated whether to go to Qatar, but in the end resolved that any opportunity to face our international competition would be more than worthwhile, given how infrequently we get to do so.
As part of our build-up, Josh and I ran in the Army Run 5k road race on September 20, finishing 10th in a slow 16:46. At one point in the race, I remember thinking that I would be ok with whatever time I ran or whoever beat me because I didn’t have any fight. This was not the competitive mindset which I am almost always able to draw on – I’m sure it was a symptom of a long season.
Three weeks later Josh and I were heading with the team to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, where we would spend five days acclimatizing to the heat and eight-hour time change before taking the short flight over the Gulf to Doha, Qatar. I had picked up a cold at the end of September and it had curtailed our training such that I had missed some key workouts. As Ian put it before we left, I would be short on race fitness but we would have our experience to draw upon.
We were able to fit in a couple of small track sessions touching on 5k pace– one in Sharjah and a second in Doha four days before the 5000 final. These were fairly critical workouts given the training I had missed and getting refamiliarized with race pace. They were probably too close to our race to have a lot of physiological benefit however. I went into it with little real sense of my true fitness which is unusual going into a championship race, and coupled with this I hadn’t been able to shake off the cold.
In terms of race strategy, we had envisioned trying to be near the front but not leading, and conserving energy and covering any moves as the race developed.
Early evening race temperatures in Doha were in the mid thirties, which we expected would temper the pace, but this was not the case as the Brazilian, Odair Santos and his guide took out the first kilometre in a speedy 2:57. Although they did not run aggressively like this at Para Pan Ams, this style of running isn’t unusual for them. Cristiano Valenzuela, the 2012 Paralympic 5000 champion, and his guide from Chile, followed them closely, and the Turkish team went out hard also, so that Josh and I found ourselves in a distant fourth place despite running 3:06 for our first kilometre. I was basically flat out and despite Josh’s encouragement, for me it was a matter of minimizing the slow-down, as opposed to picking up the pace.
After about 2000m, we caught up to the Turkish team and started edging away from them. A lap or so later, they would drop out. For most of the way from here on, Josh and I sat in nomansland in third place. Santos and his guide had opened a big lead over the Chileans, who in turn had a significant margin over us; we had no one behind us within 50 metres. At one point we closed the gap on the Chileans a little I think, but then the Chileans picked it up and got away on us again. I remember hearing the bell as Santos and his guide started their final lap while Josh and I were running the curve prior to entering the home straight – we were probably 150 metres back. At this point I had slowed to 79 and 80 second laps – “Dead pace” as my friend Matt Stacy calls it when you’re just surviving in a 5k.
As Josh and I ran down the backstretch for the last time, there was a collective gasp in the stadium and the announcer screamed in English that Santos had gone down. Josh instantly yelled, “Jay we’ve gotta go now!” There wasn’t much energy in my tank but I put everything into it, fully expecting that Santos was too far ahead to catch. However as it turned out, he was exhausted and unable to stay on his feet. He would stagger and crawl his way to the finish line with help from his guiderunner to place fourth, only to be later disqualified because his guide had aided him. It was a sad thing to run past the two of them on the home stretch and to hear the desperation in his guide’s voice – poignant even in a foreign language. It had been a race with eight starters and only five finishers, run in brutally hot conditions. Even Josh, who is a big fan of heat, would complain about it throughout our time in the Middle East.
Running 16:11 for 5000m, and finishing a distant second to Valenzuela and his guide, who improved a lot over the ensuing two months since Toronto, is not at all the result I had wanted but in retrospect given our less than ideal preparation, illness and the conditions, I know we gave it our best shot and came away with a result that we can build on. Although as I have said above, progression in running isn’t always linear, I think the lessons of running are. Over time we learn how to keep going and to dig deep even when we’re up against it. I think by trying to remain positive, doing what you can do and not giving up, things can sometimes change in ways you would never expect.
Now that the dust has settled and having had a good rest, I’m excited to get back into the regular rhythm of training again and together with Josh and Ian, begin to plan for the year ahead – the Paralympic year. I think this may well be my final competitive season on the track, so perhaps more than at any other point in my running career, I’m hoping to get it right. When I look back at the past year, there were many positives – notably a personal best over 10 km on the road at the Ottawa Race Weekend, our success at Para Pan Ams and Worlds, and getting back to within 5 seconds of my 5000 metre personal best from 2012. At 38 now, I’m still at the top of my game and still believe I can run even better. But I also found myself working through periods of extreme fatigue at certain points this year, particularly after our stint at altitude in Flagstaff, as well as leading into Para Pan Ams, and during our build-up for Worlds. I picked up a cold which seriously impacted our Worlds preparation and which persisted for six weeks. In retrospect, there were a few points where I probably pushed the envelope a little too much and this is something I really need to be careful about. I may try to incorporate some planned rest or down periods over the season, take it a little easier on recovery days and recovery runs, and really focus on good nutrition as well as sleep to try to keep on the right side of good health. It is consistent, steady training over time which will lay the groundwork for good racing. If we do this well then I believe the results will inevitably come and there can be no regrets. So as the temperatures drop outside and we turn inside to examine what has been and to envision a new way forward, I’m excited to build on our progress from this past year, to learn from the mistakes, and to put my best foot forward every day.

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Looking Back

Its been a strange, rollercoaster of a summer. From a training and competitive standpoint, it went pretty well. We came away with Para PanAm gold over 5000, running my third-fastest 5k in a race where we actually finished second to our Brazilian rival Odair Santos, only to see he and his guide get disqualified because of an obscure technicality (they had registered two guide runners prior to the race but only used one). We also won 1500m silver, losing out in a close race to Santos and his guide. I’ll try to post the race videos – the site where these are hosted seems to be down at the moment.

Our Para PanAm preparations went well. After a couple of fairly mediocre races – a 28:33 run in the Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler in Central Park, New York City, and a 16:20 5000m at the Canadian Track and Field Championships in early July, things turned around fairly dramatically. This happened in large part I think because I switched back to running on Josh’s outside. For about two years now, we’ve been working on having me running on the inside and hence, covering less distance on the track. Although this should in theory give us an advantage, it simply hasn’t translated. I guess its difficult to break old habits which have been engrained for years – much to our coach Ian’s frustration I think. Josh and I have raced a few 1500’s with me on his outside during the past two years and the difference in terms of level of comfort, and my ability to push through fatigue and dig deep is significant. Its not that I’m especially uncomfortable running on Josh’s inside – its that I feel automatically so much more comfortable running on his outside.

We took an important step forward at a Twilight meet on July 15 by running 15:39.74 in a 5000m race where we got dragged along. The following week, we ran a 4:11 over 1500m and followed that a week later with a 4:10.

Away from the track, I found out on July 21 that I would need additional documentation in order to undergo the process of classification necessary to be eligible to compete at Para PanAms (this is the process where your disability is assessed so as to be matched against athletes with a comparable disability). I had been told that obtaining a letter from my family doctor explaining my disability would be enough, and I had done this. Now, obtaining the medical diagnostic information which I apparently needed was going to be difficult. To make a long story short, I visited an optometrist who referred me to an ophthalmologist, who in turn told me that it wouldn’t be possible to have some of the required testing completed in Ottawa on short notice. I was very lucky as I was able to get two appointments in Toronto to have the necessary testing completed due to some cancelations. I travelled three times to Toronto within the space of eight days and in the end, was classifiable …!

I think the back and fourth travelling, coupled with hard training, had me going into the Games a little more tired than I would have liked. I also slightly tweaked my right Achilles the week before we moved into the Para PanAm Village. What was supposed to be an incredible experience and amazing opportunity to compete at home was starting to feel like an uphill battle in terms of just getting there.

I’m happy to say that our Games experience was positive. We raced well and although I think there’s always room to work on race tactics, and room to work on some different things in training to be even more prepared, we competed well against some of our top competition. It was nice to have so much support behind us and to have family and friends in the stands cheering us on. I also want to thank everybody who supported us from afar and who sent messages, Josh and I greatly appreciated it. The Games received a lot of great coverage and Josh and I found ourselves in the spotlight also, particularly after our gold medal win.

The Games, perhaps the pre-Games, took a lot out of the tank however and I was glad when all was said and done to come home, and to have had these past couple of weeks to wind down. I had a birthday last weekend – #38. My parents came up to visit and we had a nice weekend. I took nine days with very little running, and spent last week building back into some consistent runs. Its been exciting watching the IAAF World Championships and especially seeing Canadian athletes performing at such an unprecedented level. We have our own IPC Athletics World Championships coming up in Doha, Qatar in late October – a fairly quick turnaround from one championship to the next.

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Panamania: an Inclusion Solution?

I wrote the below post a few days ago for ParticipAction’s Pep Talk blog (see http://blog.participaction.com/en/panamania-an-inclusion-solution/).
I’ll write more in the coming days on our recent training and Para PanAm prep but for now, wanted to share this.
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Canadian summer holds the key to new horizons. Thousands of athletes have been reaching for the sky over the past two weeks at the Toronto PanAm Games. The event has been a watershed from a cultural and athletic point of view. Despite the naysayers and pre-Games skeptics, Toronto 2015 has shone a light on the capacity for sport to bring us closer to ourselves and to each other. Canadian athletes have risen to the occasion, cheered on by partisan home crowds stirred perhaps by the feeling of a collective Canadian soul. And the party is only half over. In just a few weeks, Toronto will host the Para PanAm Games, where athletes with physical disabilities will demonstrate that sport can enable people of all abilities to pursue their human potential.
I’ve been privileged to represent Canada a number of times in track events against blind runners, including at four Paralympic Games. For me, competing at the Para PanAm Games will represent the completion of a circle in an athletic career which has taken me all over the world and which now brings me back home. To represent your country in front of your own community of support is to carry its hopes and to let yourself be carried by the people you love most.
My guide runner, Josh and I survive the ravages of winter mostly by training on an indoor track or treadmill if running on my own. Summer is a beacon of hope for the distance runner. But we should not let its hazy days and heady nights cloud our introspection – the summer light is a light that we can shine on ourselves. 2015 is the #YearofSport in Canada. By opening ourselves to the world through hosting over 60 international sporting events this year, we have an opportunity to look in the mirror and critique our commitment to inclusion – a touchstone of the diversity central to our understanding of ourselves.
Sport is perhaps a foremost social practice in reframing our identity. As sports fans, certainly this summer has redefined the playingfield in a sense and given us every cause for optimism. Canada hosted a very successful Women’s World Cup of Soccer a month ago, remembered above all for its skillful playmaking even despite the spectre of FIFA scandal. The scandal will inevitably fade, but the playmaking will live on to offer hope and inspiration to girls and young women previously on the sidelines to take up the “beautiful game”. The PanAm Games have perpetuated this momentum. Thousands of the hemisphere’s best athletes have captivated us with their performances on the track, in the pool or in the ring. Many of these athletes come from humble backgrounds without the infrastructure or support that we might take for granted. Sport offers a way in, perhaps a way through. It is this message which I believe can survive as a legacy of Canada’s PanAmania.
If I think in a global sense about what has changed since my first Paralympics in 2000, I’m struck by what has remained the same. Many of Canada’s 4.4 million with a disability are still impoverished and underserved. Our aboriginal population remains alienated in a number of respects. As Canadians, the stark reflection from looking in the mirror may tempt us to avert our eyes. Yet, there is an undercurrent of change at work and sport is its proxy. The Para PanAm Games will be one of the largest multisport events for persons with disabilities ever held in Canada with 1500 athletes contesting 15 sports. Today’s Para athletes train on a par with their ablebodied counterparts. They are professional, dynamic and engaged role models for people of all abilities. Like its PanAm forerunner, the Para PanAm Games will be broadcast via an ever-widening net of traditional and non-traditional media coverage. Canadians will learn and be connected as never before with a dramatic sporting narrative expressed through a lens of equity and inclusion.
I’m counting down the days to our departure for Toronto. And I’m optimistic that the Games will compel us as a society to refocus our gaze in the mirror and challenge us to admit that we still have blind spots. An honest appraisal and recalibration of our world view in relation to sport participation, and broader societal participation by extension, seems to me to represent the ultimate gold standard of success when the dust settles and we look back on the impact of PanAmania and Canada’s #YearofSport.

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Back to Earth

Its been nearly two months since my last post. Our time in Flagstaff seems long ago in the past now. Believe it or not, Nationals are just around the corner and the Para PanAms will be all said and done in another two months. Summer begins officially today.
I had the idea that I’d be at a new level of fitness after coming home at the end of April – that’s not quite what happened, at least not in an immediate or obvious way.
I started feeling the effects of seasonal allergies right when we got home. Fortunately I really only have them for a few weeks each year in the spring. But the main problem was that I was dead tired. Seasonal allergies may have been part of it, but in hindsight, I might have been in a bit of a hole coming out of Flagstaff. I was able to handle all of the training we did there but was probably right on the edge, or maybe even a little over the edge and of course, it’s a fine line. We had a couple of decent workouts once home, and a couple of disastrous ones. One in particular involved a series of v02 max 1200m repeats, where I was a good ten seconds off the goal pace and running flat out; I pulled the plug after just two. It got to a point where frankly, I wasn’t excited to be going to practice. I’d sleep deeply each night for 8 or 9 hours and wake up feeling zapped, not wanting to get out of bed.
I’ve struggled in previous years during May, so I hoped things would run their course, which is more or less what has happened. Our goal had been to aim for a good 5k coming out of Flagstaff. Josh and I travelled to London, Ontario to open our season with a 5000m on the track on May 17. We ran 16:17, not the fast race we were looking for. Six days later, we ran the Ottawa Race Weekend 10 km with a goal of breaking 34 minutes. We ran 33:54, going through 5 km in 17:06 and running the second 5k in 16:48. I was encouraged by this result as it was the first time I had run faster than 35 minutes for 10 km; more importantly though, it affirmed that all of the training behind us hadn’t been in vein.
The following weekend, Josh and I competed at the low key Ottawa Lions Springtime High Performance meet, running 4:18.12 for 1500m and 9:27 for 3000m. On June 10 (Colleen and my 9th wedding anniversary), Josh and I took a step in the right direction with a 4:12 1500m at the first Ottawa Twilight meet, and just this past Wednesday, we ran 9:00.18 for 3000m which is my best since running 8:51 in 2012. Ian has had me scale back a lot on the volume as well as intensity in training, and this seems to be helping. If anything I would say that I’m still on the way back, so I really think there’s better racing to come and I’m excited for that, and excited to be feeling good again.
On another note, the Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability, where I’ve worked since 2008, is going to be closing its doors at the end of the summer. We have had no consistent funding source for years since the Public Health Agency of Canada withdrew its core support in the early 2000’s, and have been surviving by way of a series of projects. We were never able to secure alternate funding or adapt a new funding model. Eventually, yoyoing from project to project simply became unsustainable. Although the writing has probably been on the wall for some time, its incredibly sad to be coming to the end of the road in this way. There’s so much greater awareness around inclusion and physical activity today and I believe our work contributed to this seed change. Some of the young people in particular who were touched through our programs over the years to take up physical activity are a living, breathing testament. For these individuals, active living became a catalyst to self-confidence and personal development. It’s a tough environment these days in the not-for-profit world; in retrospect, I think we should have made a concerted effort years ago to diversify our fundraising, rather than running out of oxygen and chasing pockets of air in desperation as our ship sank. Since announcing our closure a few weeks ago, we’ve received so many kind letters and emails of support from the organizations we’ve worked with. I count myself very lucky to have collaborated with so many great people across our sector, and to have learned and grown with Jane and Chris – great mentors and colleagues. The bottom line though is that sadly, one more counterbalancing voice articulating the perspective of persons with disabilities is going to be silenced. Although many organizations work to introduce people with disabilities to our sport system, there’s no national organization to my knowledge working to support physical activity providers to accommodate people of all abilities, or to empower those with a disability to adopt active living as a value which can transform their lives.

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Flagstaff Update #4: Training April 19-25

Sunday April 19
AM, ran for 67 minutes steady with Josh mostly on the road with a section on a trail, including 10 mins of tempo, (10). Felt better as the run went along, so that at times we got moving at a good pace even after the stretch of tempo.
Monday April 20
AM, heart rate was 47, 02 saturation at 92 %, weighed 153.5 pounds. Ran for 30 mins easy with Josh out and back from our place, + static stretching, (4). PM, core.
Tuesday April 21
AM, Josh and I worked out at the NAU track. 15 mins warm-up, + drills and strides. Then in spikes, 2 * 300m on 3 mins recovery in 47, 46. We took 3 mins rest, then did 3 * 200m on 2:30 recovery in 30, 29, 29. Took 5 mins rest, then a 400 in 63, + 5 mins, + 400m in 63. + 39 mins cooldown, (9). Good workout. Running 29’s was right at my limit. The 400’s afterwards felt smooth. PM, Josh and I ran steady for 48 mins along with Jeff Harris, and Heather’s dog Pipin for about 30 of it, (7.5). We picked it up a bit on the trail near our place which has some good rolling hills. Did some static stretching once back home.
Wednesday April 22
AM, ran for 39 mins easy guided by Trent, along with Josh, (5), + core.
Thursday April 23
AM, worked out with Josh on the NAU track. 16 mins warm-up, + drills and strides. Then 5 * 1200m at 4:00 pace, accelerating for 100m at 400, and again at 800. We took 6 mins in between, mostly easy jogging (8 mins after the fourth 1200m due to a bathroom break). Times were 3:54, 3:54, 4:01, 3:56, 3:52. We took 13 mins rest, then in spikes, 4 * 200m on 2 mins walk back across the grass, in 32, 33, 32, 32. + 15:30 cooldown, (10). Toughest workout we’ve done so far at altitude. Was windy, which made it more challenging. Had to work really hard on this but just tried to take the intervals one at a time. PM, Josh and I ran for 46 mins on the gravel road by our place, including 25 mins of tempo, (7). Pretty well cooked after this, I would guess the tempo was around 6 min pace, maybe slower.
Friday April 24
Rest.
Saturday April 25
AM, drove to Cedona. 15 mins warm-up + drills and strides. Our workout was 4 * a mile, as follows: 1000m aiming for 3:35, straight into a 400m in 80, straight into a 200m fast. We took 4 mins rest between sets. Times were 5:21 (3:32 + 73 + 36), 5:30 (3:36 + 80 + 34), 5:25 (3:36 + 75 + 34), 5:22 (3:34 + 77 + 31). We did a relaxed 30-minute cooldown, (10). Conditions were uncharacteristically cool and damp. Felt good throughout on this although our times were all over the map. We were too fast on nearly all the v02 segments, without trying to push the pace. It’s a good sign and I think we could have run comparable paces to what we would normally do at sea level. Need to keep working on my kick, was happy to hit 31 on the last 200m and I think this will improve with time. PM, ran with Josh for a steady 48 mins, was cold and rainy, happy to get this run done (7).

Total mileage = 69.

This was another really good solid week of training. As I write this, I’m sitting in a chair with my feet up in my room, downloading some audio material to listen to on our flight home to Ottawa tomorrow. I’m pretty much exhausted. This morning Trent drove Josh and I up to Buffalo Park where we did a 90 minute long run. We were hitting only around 7 minute mile pace and it was all I could do. Yesterday, Ian had Josh and I do a v02 max workout comprising 4 1200 metre repeats in the morning, accelerating over the final 200m on each repetition – it was a tough session. In the afternoon we ran for 50 minutes including a 20 minute section of tempo. We did a similar thing last Thursday and by the end of these double workouts, I’ve been absolutely nackered. Somehow, Josh seems to have an unwaivering ability to run 6 minute miles no matter what – after dropping me off at the end of our 90-minuter he added on a final fast loop around Buffalo Park. I was able to get a massage this afternoon and it feels good to have the feet up now – we’ll go for a jog tomorrow morning before the drive down to Phoenix, and the flight home. Most of the athletes here will be competing this weekend at the Patan Jordan invitational at Stanford. Josh and I will most likely have our first race in London, ON on May 17 where we’ll run a 5000m.
I’m very happy to be coming out of the camp healthy and with consistently good training behind us – its been a really positive three + weeks. Its also been a terrific learning opportunity just being around athletes who approach things in such a professional way, and who are committed and hungry – here are a few of the things I’ve learned (some seem a bit counter-intuitive):
1. Having a positive attitude: the athletes who I see succeeding are those who believe they can. If they miss a time on an interval or fall short on a workout, they move on quickly and don’t seem to take it to heart.
2. Finishing fast: one of the athletes here was talking yesterday about how he likes to finish sessions with a fast interval to practice the feeling of kicking in a race. He had just run a 53 second 400m at the end of his workout. He said that this practice has been instrumental for him in developing his kick. To me, this makes a lot of sense.
3. High performance nutrition is relative: While many athletes here seem meticulous with respect to what goes into their bodies, for others it seems to be a matter of fuelling the fire with whatever will burn. A couple of athletes who have been living in the house beside us (no names) seem to flaunt the conventions: doritos and soda pop are among the staples for one of them; for another its bacon and pancakes with butter-flavoured maple syrup. Both have run 3:40 or better for 1500m. There seems to be a place for chocolate in the regimens of some others – particularly distance females. And coffee (now I’m there on this one). I guess the takeaway message is, there’s no panacea when it comes to the nutrition that fuels performance. Could these athletes perform better if eating different food? Who knows? I’ve read a couple of books on the subject while here – The China Study, and Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. Both advocate for a purely plant-based diet. While each author makes a strong case, I still find myself erring on the side of moderation when it comes to all food – while whole food is certainly best, I think there can be a place for everything to a degree. We run the risk of becoming obsessed in the pursuit of perfection and surely, this in itself falls short of the state of health which seems a precursor to sustained high performance.

On Sunday I drove with Jess McConnell, Casey and Josh to the Grand Canyon. They took a lot of pictures – for me it was more of an outing, although each went to considerable pains to explain the spectacular scenery, which I really appreciated – I don’t think its easy to capture the magnitude of the Grand Canyon in words.
Finally, Jeff, Kate and I managed to play at an Open Stage last night at the Fire Creek coffee shop in Flagstaff. We played three songs: a Vance Joy song named Riptide which Kate sang, Murder in the City by the Avett Brothers, sung by Jeff, and my original, Walk Away. A nice contingent of Canadian athletes and coaches came to support us and we were received warmly by the locals also. Given that I’ve largely been a closet guitar player over the past several years, this was something of a musical coming-out party for me – I’m so glad to have been able to play music with Jeff and Kate here, it really added a nice flavour to this whole experience.

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Flagstaff Update #3: Training April 12-18

Sunday April 12
AM, ran for 77 mins with Josh steady hard, (11.5). There was a group of us in the beginning but after about 20 minutes, the road became rutted and washed out, and it was impossible for me to maintain any kind of rhythm after that. We jogged along for a bit, having been dropped by the group, and then turned around and ran the rest of the way on our own, mostly at a pretty decent pace. PM, core.
Monday April 13
No running. AM, heart rate was 44 and 02 saturation 91 %. A few of us drove up to a place called the Snow Bowl which is at 9500 feet. We hiked up there for about 1.5 hours.
Tuesday April 14
Did not sleep well, have had a headache since yesterday, maybe due to going to higher elevation. AM, worked out with Josh at NAU track. 14 mins warm up, + usual drills and strides. Then in spikes, 4 * 300m taking 3 mins rest in 48, 47, 50, 48. Took 3:30, then 4 * 200m taking 2 mins rest in 32, 31, 31, 31. Then 8 * gradual hill hard, about 200m; these would take us about 32 seconds, and we would jog down between reps. We cooled down for 34 mins, (10.5). Good workout. We were battling strong winds on the home stretch during the 300’s. Was working hard on the hills, Josh was feeling good on these. PM, ran for 49 mins steady with Josh, along with Jeff and Dan for about 30 minutes of it, (7). Big day!
Wednesday April 15
Good sleep last night. AM, heart rate was 48, 02 saturation 93% (shows adaptation to altitude), weighed 154 pounds. Gentle 33 min run with Josh out and back from our place, including 4 * 100m strides in the middle, (4.5). +core.
Thursday April 16
AM, Josh and I did a long run of an hour 39 minutes from the NAU track, incorporating farkleck throughout the run (15). Because as we discovered, many of the trails were too narrow and rocky for us, we ended up running back and fourth along a section which would take us about 10 mins each way. The trail was rolling and there was about a 400m gradual hill at one end which we would run up each time. This was a good hard effort.
Friday April 17
AM, Josh and I ran very easy out and back for 32 mins, incorporating 4 * 100m strides in the middle, (4.5). PM, had a 30 min massage, mostly working on loosening calves. Did core exercises.
Saturday April 18
AM, drove down to Cedona. 15 mins warm-up on the infield, + drills and strides. Then 4 * a miile taking 60 seconds rest in 5:38, 5:44, 5:48, 5:47. Then after 15 mins, in spikes, a 400m in 67, + 5 mins, + 300m in 44, + 5 mins, + 300m in 43. + a short cooldown, (9). Felt great on this workout. I can tell I’m adapting to the altitude as the mile repeats felt easy with the modified pace (we were aiming to run 5:46). Felt good to open the throttle a bit on the 300’s. PM, 54 mins relaxed with Josh out and back, (7.5).

Total mileage = 69.5.

This was a solid week of training – some good steady work with some speed also. Everything is feeling easier than at first. We have been here for two weeks now, hard to believe.
Josh and I had been talking about how it might be good if we could finish off some workouts with a fast interval or two, which is the idea with racing – to have the ability to finish fast. I mentioned this to Ian, and yesterday for our Cedona workout, he had us end with a 400 and a couple of 300’s. I haven’t run under 45 seconds for 300m in some time, it felt great to do that! Needless to say, I’m a little stiff today as a result – the muscles seem to have forgotten that sensation, haha! On the 400, we ran behind Peter Corrigan, who was running the first of 5 x 1000 metres in the low 2:40’s range – Peter recently ran 13:58 for 5000m. Josh and I ran a 67 before pealing off, which is close to my 1500m pace. I tried to imagine holding that pace for an entire 5000m – I might have been able to do it yesterday for 1000m, flat out. To clip off 66’s and 67’s for 12.5 laps is frankly mind-boggling. To be able to share a tiny portion of a workout with athletes of Peter’s calibre is very inspiring – you realize that they are ordinary people just like yourself, committed to pursuing extraordinary things. To be training together with Olympians, to see the uncompromising dedication which drives athletes here to kill themselves in workouts so as to become callused for the hard racing to come, to be passed, as we have, by athletes like Bernard Lagat and Mo Farah on a run is to say that running is one of those rare sports where people from radically diverse backgrounds and levels of ability can occupy the same arena – the trail, track or road. Just as you aspire to improve within your own spere, so they are doing exactly the same. Just as you are all too familiar with feeling good, feeling bad, working hard, overcoming doubts and recognizing and incrementally pushing beyond your own limits, so they are too.
Outside of the training, life has developed into a familiar rhythm. Each morning I’m up first in our house to drink a couple of mugs of strong black coffee and have breakfast, and relax a bit before we run. On the days when we are working out, Josh is up a bit earlier too but when just running from our house, he generally gets up right beforehand. After training, we eat and then in the afternoons, rest or read. We run again around 4 pm on the days when we are training twice. Josh has been doing more of the cooking since we have been eating Kenyan-style on most nights. Its delicious, filling, nutritious food which is fuelling our training well. I’d like to try my hand at making yugali when back home. I’ve tried to get a straight answer out of both Josh and his mum on the ratio of water to cornmeal, and both say that it is a matter of eyeballing it – not exactly the clear-cut answer I was looking for. They each say it is simple, yet complicated. Anyways, I’m bound and determined to figure out how to prepare this most enigmatic of hearty foods …
We’ve been into Flagstaff a couple of times – last Sunday evening with most of our group for a great burger and a local dark ale at a place called Diablos, and on Tuesday evening in hopes of playing at the Open Stage at the Firecreek coffee shop. Jeff, Kate, Peter and I had gone early to sign up, only to find out that the event had been cancelled. We had to quickly get word back to the twenty or so from our group who were planning to come in to watch. Since the four of us were already in town, we had a beer at a place next door to the Firecreek, and then had some really good Thai food, before heading back. We’re hoping to play at this Tuesday evening’s Open Stage – will be sure to check before going this time. In the meantime though, we’ve been continuing to play music nearly every evening and it generally culminates with several other people dropping over to listen. Last night, we held a small concert at the clubhouse a few minutes walk from here. Many of the athletes and coaches came and we played eight or nine songs. We’re getting better as we play more often – the musical element of this trip has been a wonderful additional bonus.
I just did a bit of a doubletake as I heard the sound of distant thunder, and rain pattering onto my balcony outside – this is the first hint of rain we’ve had here. The air has a smell similar to summer rain at home. Even in the desert, I guess its bound to rain from time to time.
We have an easy recovery day planned for tomorrow ahead of our next hard session on Tuesday. I’m looking forward to another week of solid training, our last full week here in the mountains. As Trent, the physiologist here with us stated, quoting Pete Pfitzinger, getting the training right at sea level is the most important thing of all. This said, being here is a phenomenal opportunity, and its exciting to feel the tangible differences with adapting physically to altitude. Josh and I have been able to string together successive good sessions here and this is usually a solid indication of good things to come… here’s hoping.
Hope everybody is doing well back home – it sounds like spring has well and truly set in.

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