Monday, December 29, 2008

Marathons aren't for everyone...

My wife sent me this cartoon. Call me paranoid, but I can't help but think there's a subliminal message intended. Hmm, now if I could only figure out what she really means...
Good luck to all runners participating in the Resolution Run and the Polar Bare Run (haven't heard of the Polar Bare Run? Click here). I am volunteering as a Road Marshal for the Resolution Run, same as last year. Hope to see you there.
It's a good day to be alive.
M ;>)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Running On Roads

The following letter was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on December 5th. The writer, Jenna, argues that runners should stay off the roads. My comments follow her letter.
As a Winnipegger who regularly runs outdoors year round, I am constantly infuriated by other runners' insistence at running on the street. The street is a place for traffic with wheels, whether it's a busy street like Portage Avenue or the meandering Wellington Crescent. I can understand a driver's irritation at coming across a wayward runner schlepping along a street when there is a perfectly good sidewalk to be had.
I realize that sidewalks are currently coated in patches of icy snow that could down a pedestrian at the slightest misstep. Conditions aren't great. But these conditions will improve with a few more snowfalls and a steady freezing temperature, making running on the sidewalk viable and comfortable.If you can't handle running on the sidewalk, where you belong as a pedestrian, maybe you should take it inside to a treadmill. When it comes to a confrontation with a vehicle, a runner is not going to come out a winner.
The crux of Jenna's argument is found in her last sentence, "a runner will always fair second in a battle with a vehicle". No argument here! We runners are pretty well at the bottom of the roadway food chain only just
ahead of walkers and just below cyclists. Jenna reminds us that we need to be vigilant, smart, and respectful of vehicular traffic. But to stop running on the road altogether?! Well, that's simply not possible, and to suggest we "take it inside to a treadmill" is unreasonable and simplistic.
Coincidentally, I was hit by an SUV while running on the sidewalk several weeks ago
and then was verbally and viciously assaulted by the driver for my troubles. A friend recently found himself battling with vehicles while running across an intersection in the pedestrian lane on the green light. Another friend was clipped from behind by a vehicle while running through Assiniboine Park, a runners' haven, in broad daylight in a large group. The driver of the vehicle stopped, not to apologize or assist, but to rant at the runners about his broken mirror! Clearly, there's a lot of idiot drivers out there and they're going to find you whether you run on the road, the sidewalk, or on the trails. Fortunately, they're in the minority, and cool headed drivers prevail.
Most drivers are courteous, they slow down when approaching runners, they make eye-contact and they give a wide berth when passing. They recognize the need to share the roadway with pedestrians and cyclists for the benefit of the community. They understand that running on winter sidewalks is dangerous and often impossible due to ice and knee-deep snow.
My view is it's an
issue of fundamental respect. Drivers respecting runners and runners respecting drivers. We runners need to maintain a vigilance and healthy fear of running on roads. We must never assume drivers can see us. We must run towards traffic, wear reflective gear and a headlamp at night, consider leaving the tunes at home, and most notable, understand that no matter who's at fault, (in Jenna's words) a runner will "come in second in a confrontation with a vehicle". Likewise, drivers must learn to share the road, to ease up on the pedal when approaching a runner. They must understand that we're just regular folk, good folk... we're your sons, your daughters, your friends, your mothers and fathers. Good drivers share the road.
So dear runners, when you run on the road, be smart, never lose your guard, maintain a healthy fear of vehicular traffic and ... watch out for the idiots!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Will I freeze my lungs?

I just checked Environment Canada's web page for an update for this morning's six mile run. It's another typical winter run, Winnipeg style... periods of light snow beginning this morning, wind north 40 km/h gusting to 60, temperature steady near minus 26, extreme wind chill minus 43... sigh, another day in the ''peg...but fear not hearty runners for it's a dry cold! It's true, it really is a dry cold, and that could be a problem for asthmatics.
I am asked, usually by my non-running friends, don't your lungs freeze running in weather like this? The answer, simply, is no, they don't freeze. Here' an article from The Globe and Mail that explores the question "will I freeze my lungs by exercising outside in the cold?".
The strangest story that Michel Ducharme, a scientist with Defence Research and Development Canada, has encountered is the Nordic skiers who were swallowing Vaseline to coat their airways as a protective measure against cold air. "That's just crazy," he says - and entirely unnecessary. Dr. Ducharme is the researcher whose work led to a major revision of the wind-chill scale earlier this decade, thanks to the efforts of volunteers who sat in a frigid wind tunnel until their faces developed frost nip. And he's happy to dismiss the idea that your lungs will suffer from contact with cold air. "The heat exchange is very quick," he says, "and there's no evidence of any risk of freezing tissue." This may be cold comfort for people who swear they are overcome by coughing fits or throat pain when they exert themselves in subzero conditions. Indeed, cold air has long been implicated in exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, an asthma-like narrowing of the airways that leads to shortness of breath and coughing. EIB affects between 4 and 20 per cent of the population. In these cases, though, it's the dryness of the air, not its temperature, that triggers the response, says John Brannan, a researcher at McMaster University's Firestone Institute for Respiratory Health in Hamilton.
The cells that line our airways are highly sensitive to dehydration, and breathing hard during exercise greatly increases the amount of dry air rushing past these cells.
Although this hypothesis has been disputed for many years, recent experiments by Kenneth Rundell, a researcher at Marywood University in Scranton, Penn., who spent 10 years as an exercise physiologist with the United States Olympic Committee, have shown that warm, dry air and cold, dry air trigger identical responses. There are some makeshift solutions: Wearing a scarf or balaclava over the mouth can moisten the air as it is inhaled. "That makes breathing more difficult," Dr. Rundell notes, so it's less useful for skiers or runners in competition, but may be fine in training. Commercial heat-exchange masks, which accomplish the same thing with less breathing resistance, are also available. If the EIB symptoms are serious - and confirmed by a lung-function test administered by a doctor - asthma medication can help alleviate the symptoms. Contrary to what some athletes and coaches believe, though, there's no performance benefit to taking these medications if you don't suffer from EIB, Dr. Rundell says. It's still not clear whether chronic intense exercise can lead to EIB.
Winter Olympic athletes have a higher prevalence than the general population does, but so do summer athletes, who breathe in more pollution and allergens. This is a more controversial topic and only relevant to those training at elite levels.
For most people, it's safe to conclude that, short of an asthma attack, exercising outside in the dead of winter is perfectly safe. Some people do experience a burning sensation in their throat or upper airways when they exercise in the cold, Dr. Rundell says, "but that's just a response of the nerve endings." In other words, you're not freezing your lungs - so you might as well keep going. Alex Hutchinson is a former member of Canada's long-distance running team, and has a PhD in physics.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

C.I.M. When can I do it again? (guest blog by Vivian)

Now that I have braved the vagaries of air travel back from California to our little northern outpost, restocked the fridge that the teenagers ate bare, unpacked, and caught up on my sleep (a little), I am ready to try to put into words the amazing experience that was my first marathon.
We landed in San Francisco last Friday at noon to a beautiful sunny day, 22 degrees. Sacramento is a 90 minute drive north and east of San Francisco, on the interior. Weather experts tell us that Sacramento is supposed to be several degrees warmer than the Bay Area at any given time. As we enjoyed our lunch amidst the flowering pots of an outdoor cafĂ© in San Francisco’s South Beach area, pre-race anxiety and sun-on-my-face-sleeveless-bliss competed for conquest of my emotional state. If it’s this hot here, what’s it going to be like 43 hours from now, 90 miles east, at race start?
We headed for Sacramento, checked in to our hotel and headed for the California International Marathon expo. What is that thing psychologists call “imposter syndrome”?
There I was walking around the expo, picking up my race kit and beautiful CIM technical shirt, having my chip checked, acting like I was a marathoner. What’s with that?
Somehow we were able to shovel a massive quantity of pasta and salad into me at Buca di Beppo’s
(which I highly recommend for the portions and price when doing a long run in the U.S.) and slept (pretty well) on Friday night. David always says it’s not the sleep the night before the race that matters, it’s the night before the night before.
As it turned out I needn’t have worried about the weekend weather. Looking out the window of our Sacramento hotel room on Saturday morning, I could see all the way to – well actually - my window. And what I could see through the fog onto the street looked like a whole bunch of people wearing down jackets and mitts. Is this how Californians react to a little bit of fall weather or is it really that cold?
There were vast numbers of young freakishly athletic looking people staying at our hotel. Many of these folks were leaving the hotel in droves for group runs on Saturday morning. David warned me that this would happen. He reassured me that going for a run in the fog would make no difference to whether I finished or even my time. So I tried to ignore all the BQ-chasers and resist peer group pressure to do a pre race day run. Instead David and I strolled the State legislature park that stretched for blocks across the street from our hotel. We couldn’t find the Governor’s mansion (we heard Arnold wasn’t in town anyway) but found scores of orange trees weighed down with fruit, rose bushes in bloom and fragrant snapdragons.
Somehow I got through pre-race day, we set our alarm for 3:45 AM and woke up to another foggy day, or should I say night. CIM is a point to point marathon. For $10 on top of your registration you board a school bus at your marathon hotel at 5 AM and get bussed literally to the starting line of the marathon. It was an other-worldly experience - scores of orange busses heading out to Folsom in the pitch dark, each bus boarded upon arrival by a CIM volunteer who makes announcements and wishes the group luck, and then 6000 marathoners and 750 relay starters headed off to 250 porta potties (max. wait time about 1 minute, really! Hear that, Manitoba Marathon?). Checked our sweat bags, threw our last minute warm up gear into the charity bin at the starting line, and off we went. A wide starting street, even well back in the pack it only took us about 45 seconds to cross the starting line.
Our race plan was for 10-minute miles inclusive of walk breaks every 10 minutes, which meant doing about a 9:30 pace while running. My “wildest dreams” time was 4:20. My “would be thrilled with” time was anything under 4:30. We kept to our race plan and things went according to plan, mostly. Every mile a CIM volunteer called out the clock time and average pace as runners passed the mile marker. We were on pace. The course was mainly straight, the spectators plentiful, and the course entertainment wonderful – high school cheerleaders in uniform, marching bands, live rock bands, soul singers. The first 5 miles were rural and there were cows and horses to cheer us on.
We took an unscheduled 2 – 3 minute break at about Mile 10 – someone didn’t use the porta potty before the race and it wasn’t me (and there were only 3 PP’s at Mile 10 not 250) – and our pace slowed down a touch after about mile 20 but honestly I didn’t start feeling really tired until about the last 3.5 miles (you know, those last three miles that you’ve never run before in training or in my case ever). The weather was near perfect for me – 3 degrees throughout the race, fog and clouds, obviously some humidity but not a real problem due to the low temperature.
As we turned the last corner and saw the State Capital Building and the finish line balloons David grabbed my hand and we headed for the women’s finish line. My chip time 4:24:01, David’s 4:24:02. That first marathon finish was really everything that they say it is, and then it’s all a blur of more awesome CIM volunteers, post-race phone calls, and the very stiff, very cold but very euphoric walk back to the hotel.
In my pre race blog I expressed my gratitude to David and my amazing running friends. I cannot say enough about the CIM organization and the Sacramento Marathon. The CIM organization bills itself as runners for runners, and this couldn’t be more true. Finally I want to put in a plug for the humble taper and for wonderful massage therapist Elanna Greene. I had many aches and pains, and worse, throughout the fall as I trained for this race. By race week the aches were there but they were whining a lot less, and by race day the taper and Elanna had scared my injuries into shadows of their former selves.
When can I do it again?
Larry, Vivian, and David at the CIM exposition.
Congratulations to Larry who completed CIM with a 5:35 time in the 75 to 79 age category.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vivian guest blogs her First Marathon Journey

Readers of See Mike Run may be aware in about 72 hours I will be running the California International Marathon in California’s state capital, Sacramento. I have been asked to “guest blog” my training and race experience. Hopefully doing so will distract the fluttering butterflies for few minutes. Here goes:
Where to start? Ironically this journey started exactly two years ago at the Las Vegas Marathon (running this year on the same date as CIM). The LVM was my third marathon, that is, my third marathon as spectator/supporter for David (six months into the relationship, three marathons, you do the math). Being David’s cheering section for an out of town marathon involves 1) car rental; 2) a full tank of gas; 3) detailed pre-race study of city and marathon route maps; 4) waking up at the same ridiculously early hour as he does; 5) a good luck kiss over the coral rope followed by a sprint to the car; 6) conquering a deep-rooted fear of driving in unfamiliar cities; and 7) rigorous training and stamina. The idea is to drive like crazy around the route, park a couple of blocks away, run to a spectator’s spot on the side of the road, do a quick “Where’s Waldo” so David can see me, and then do it all over again every 5 miles. Doing this was so exhausting (by then I was over 50 after all) I figured, how hard could it be to actually run the 26 miles?
My clandestine plan to become a runner instead of a spectator took root over the next couple of weeks following Las Vegas 2006. It helped spur me on that a legal colleague had been at Las Vegas doing a 1/2, I sized up my fitness level against hers, and I figured I was pretty fit already from spending a lot of time at the gym. I also knew that if I defined “runner” as David and his cohorts I’d never make it to the starting mat. A couple of weeks after our first date David was off to his 3rd Boston Marathon and is, as I loved to describe him at the time, “freakishly athletic.”
My first step was a Running Room 10 K clinic that started in the depths of a 40 below Winnipeg January. The fact that clinic instructor Neil MacLean didn’t make good on his announcement that he couldn’t run a clinic for 8 people changed the course of my running life. I finished off that clinic (not without a collection of new-runner injuries), went straight on to the Half Marathon clinic and in June 2006 I ran my first half marathon at the Manitoba Marathon.
The rest is all good. Since Manitoba 2006 there have been 4 more half marathons. More importantly I have met an awesome group of runners who have become my friends, my training partners, my running support network, and partners in crime. By the summer of 2008 I figured that since 1) I’m not getting any younger; 2) Being of good Northern European stock I’m not really a heat runner; and 3) David likes to do a pre-Christmas marathon(in 2007 it was Seattle Marathon, THE TIME HAD COME.
Through this fall I have pretty much followed the Running Room marathon training schedule. The 2 best things about the training have been David and The Ladies. About David: I’ve already said that he is freakishly athletic. This means that he runs sub 8 minute miles in training and 8:30’s on long runs (and don’t ask me about his speedwork pace, I don’t want to know). This also means that we do not run together – until this marathon training. Six Thursday nights at Garbage Hill, about a dozen Sundays once we got over the 10 mile mark, he’s been there by my side, running at my pace, encouraging me, almost literally carrying me back to our hotel after our 22.5 miler a month ago in Minneapolis, putting my yucky GU wrappers in his pocket, sweetly telling the barrista that his girlfriend propped up against the doorway needed a Mocacino RIGHT NOW because she just ran 22.5 miles, bearing with me during attacks of pre-race OCD … I could go on. David is the perfect coach, the perfect partner, the perfect friend … thank you sweetheart.
About The Ladies: You know who you are. What I said to you in my private email to you earlier in the week. Thank you for your companionship, your support, putting up with me when I get tired, or controlling, or OCD or when I say “Is there any impediment to leaving now.” Thank you for coordinating your 10 mile runs around my 20 mile runs. Thank you for watching for David and I through the window of the store and scooting right out so that we don’t have to break our stride. You have enriched my life. Thank you ladies.
Am I nervous? Am I preoccupied? Are you kidding? Case study: I’m obsessing about hydration. Right now it’s 25 C below with the windchill in Winnipeg. In Sacramento on Sunday I expect race temperature to be about 12 to 16 C – for me this is hot weather running. I need to hydrate a lot at the best of times. Does a normal person check their pee colour against a colour chart in obscure article on the internet?
Thank you Michael for all your support, your blog, and becoming the unofficial scribe of our little running community. I wish you could have been there last Sunday. It was a perfect taper-friendly long run. Gwen, Sandra, Lorie, Lori, Jason, Jacques and David’s pals Stig and Jake, 10 miles to the Forks, a mocca afterwards. It was a great day to be alive.
Hope I can do this. Stay tuned. Vivian