Sunday, September 25, 2011

Niverville "Imagine" Half Marathon 2011, Race Report

There's something about small town races that makes me happy, so happy in fact I want to return.  The Niverville Imagine Half Marathon was picture perfect in every way, shape, and form.  The cause, Mood Disorders, is a serious one and the story behind the inception of Imagine is tragic.

A week before Mona Stott was to run the 2009 Manitoba Marathon her son Joey committed suicide.  Instead of running the marathon Mona attended her son's funeral.  Mona contemplated running the marathon before the afternoon funeral but was discouraged to do so by family and friends.  Personally, I think I would have encouraged her to run, I would have run, but that's me, and my advice isn't worth the binary code of this sentence. Mona created the Imagine Run to raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide.

And such a run it is!  Go here for Mona's story.  Go here for the Imagine, Mental Health Matters web page

I'm a sucker for the smell of fresh manure and wide open endless blue sky.  Like Treherne Marathon, Nivervile Marathon was brimming over with positive energy and exuberance.  It's a small town marathon with a big city vibe. The organization was impecable, the entertainment suitably cheezy with the Elvis impersonator at the turnaround, and the lonesome Charlie looping Lennon's classic Imagine.  Some of the bands were professional and their sound against the big blue sky made the run that much more enjoyable. The volunteers were absolutely the best ever.  My only pet peeve is the number of runners tuned out with head phones. To purposely lock their minds way from all that positive energy is breathtakingly myopic... I just don't get it.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the finish line.

At the mile 8 mile marker I felt amazingly strong.  I was pacing out at sub 9, my lungs were strong, my heart rate even and calm, and my legs strong. I looked to my right, strong 20 year old runners, very fit 20 year old runners, to my left, more 20 year olds and a couple of 30 year olds... all very fit, very strong.  Man, I'm doing amazing!  I'm just burning up this course!  At the mile 9 marker I check my GPS for time, pace distance.  DISTANCE!  Why does my GPS say 7.5 miles and the mile marker reads 9?  There must be a mistake!

Yes, there was a mistake, and it was all mine.  I remember an intersection a few miles back.  Some runners went straight and some veered left down Main Street.  I locked eyes with the RCMP officer and he nodded towards the left.  In reflection he was probably just saying hi, but I interpreted it as sign to go left.  So left I went... straight into the 10 k route.  I decided the only thing I could do was to run it in to the finish line, check my GPS and run outbound to make up for the shortfall.

So that's what I did.  I ran to the finish line strong.  Stopped a meter before the line, turned and bolted outbound to make up for the 1.4 mile shortfall.  When I stopped I heard a few gasps from the hundred or so spectators on the bleachers.  I heard someone yell. What's he doing?  But off I went.. in the wrong direction.  I ran outbound 0.7 and returned 0.7.  The GPS distance read 13.09... close enough, and the time 1:53:59.  All in all, not a bad time.

Would I recommend this run?  Yes, in a heart beat.

Do I know someone with mental health issues?  Sadly yes.

Is it a good day to be alive?

Well you know the answer to that.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Bismarck Full Marathon, Race Report

On the drive down to Bismarck David explained how he divides marathons into thirds. As with much of what David says, it stuck and has caused me to reflect.  The first third of the marathon he says,  we use our brains, the second third our legs, and the last third, our hearts.  It's the heart that gets us across the line, but it's the brain and the legs that make it possible.   So I tell my story in thirds.

The grand powerhouse of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning takes place here.  It's a filter not unlike the mother board of this computer I'm presently tapping.  The prefrontal cortex analyzes data, reads subtleties, and adjusts to conditions.  Remember the old days when your teacher  would give you a little slap on the forehead when she caught you daydreaming?  No?  Maybe it was just me.  She was stimulating the prefrontal cortex and in retrospect I should have thanked her for the abuse.  Try it next time you're losing focus, slap your forehead 3 or 4 times, see if it doesn't get the blood flowing.  Do it now, no one is watching, I'm doing it... slap, slap, slap, slap... feels good right?  It makes the brain spark, yes?  In a marathon we depend on the brain to set a pace that will sustain us for the full 26.2 miles.  It's difficult because the legs are fresh, the heart is strong, and the adrenaline is surging.  It's so tempting to go out fast, too fast.  It's the brain that says: 

"Whoa Mikey, dial it back man, watch your pace...".   

In the same breath the legs yell: 

"Come on Mikey, get the lead out!  Everyone's going 
faster than you, even that barefoot guy, hurry man, hurry....".  

Regrettably, the legs won over the brain .... sigh, again.  I went out too fast.  I was enjoying the ambience, chatting, laughing, and having a grand time.  This is just fine, even admirable... unless you want to improve your time. A good brain will give you a negative split, something I have yet to attain.  A bad brain will give you a 22 minute positive split.  Bad brain, bad!   Now there's a lesson here.. even a goal for my next Mary...slow it down Mikey, look for the elusive negative split.  Listen to the brain from mile 0 through 10.

The legs take us the middle third distance.  If we use our brain in the first third our legs are fresh and strong, they're ready to carry us to mile 20.  The legs represent the 1000+ miles we've trained, the hills, the speed workouts, the long lonely distant runs, the blisters, the set backs, the joy, lots and lots of joy.  The frustration of injuries.  All this is to prepare the legs. The legs are an extension of the brain and are deeply connected to the heart, but they are the powerful engine that propel us ever forward... step by step by endless step.  Blood, adrenaline, and endorphins surge.  Colours and textures flood the brain. The mind is sharp and focussed.  My thinking becomes clear.   I see details in macro view.  My legs move rhythmically to the cadence of my hearts. I feel good... omnipotent even.  My legs are confident, strong, hard.


My legs felt good, really good in fact, to about mile 15.  This is where we approached Mary Hill for the second time in the looped course.  Mary Hill is shown in a couple of pictures below.  It's about 1.5 miles in length and averages out to a 4 or 5% grade.  The first climb at mile 5 was a piece of cake, the second at mile 18 was tough, really tough.  The legs slowed, planked up, became heavy.  I walked a bit, ran a bit, set tiny goals... run to that pole, walk to that tree... I split the hill into manageable chunks because the legs were beginning to sputter. It was a long climb, a slow climb, my brain and my legs were failing me.  As I crested the hill at mile 17 I knew my legs were losing power.  Too early.  I need the legs to get me to mile 20 or 22, but here I am at mile 17, legs thick, brain thick, heart rate too high. Too early to pass the baton to the heart.   The heart can only carry me so far.  It can carry me for the last 5 or 6 miles, but I had 9 remaining.  It's too darn early for the legs to quit, too early to transition to the heart... too early to depend on the heart to take me to the line.

I entered the last third of the marathon 5 miles too early, the final third,  the most difficult portion, the heart.  By heart I mean spirt, drive, determination, resolve... not the organ in your chest. Or is it?  I could sense my heart rate increase to an uncomfortable level.  Too early for that... darn.  Ignore it, keep moving.  The legs ache, the brain's cooked, it's the heart that will get me across the line... that beautiful line, so skinny, a chalk line really, so meaningless to billions, and yet such a goal, such a challenge.  What does the line mean?  Why are we so drawn to the line? David, marathon number 88, says he's always one marathon away from quitting. Bob's barefoot, and enjoying it!.  We hurt damn it.  Why do we do this?  Why are we drawn to the edge?  Hunter Thompson understands.  He says of the edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. We don't run to the line, we over the line, past the line.

So friends, what's it all about?

To laugh? To run?  To dance?  It's the slow dance.. the moment when we surge past the line.  Images flicker like old 8 mm movies, black and white, sun spots, out of focus, powerful imagery.  I exist.  I am alive.  My past is focussed. My future glows before me.  I dance across the line... I dance, we dance, I dance.

But then again, that's just my opinion.

It's a good day to be alive.


Matt Adams 2:23:36

Mary Hill


Bob's soul.

David crossing over the line
Happy Rastafarian Runner. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Treherne Half Marathon, Race Report

Man I like this race!  There's something about the Treherne Half Marathon that makes the world hum a sprightly tune.  Maybe it's the sweet smell of manure wafting across the course, or the endless blue sky and golden fields, or maybe it's just the absence of pavement that makes it all seem, well, just about perfect.  The town folk are as cheerful as they are plentiful.  Smiles and grins abound and are contagious, no, more like uplifting.  Yes, uplifting is the word... yeah, for sure, uplifting indeed.

I entered the race in a frump but my negativity was replaced with endorphins by the time I reached the house with the little old lady plunking out Chariots of Fire on an aging piano.  One could see the notes as they drifted out the open windows and swirled around the runner's feet before they faded into the dusty road ( ok, ok, that last bit was embellishment, but you get my drift, call it blogger's licence).  

It's a technical course in that the gravel roads change from step to step.  Runners look for the sweet spot, that narrow swath well traveld by trucks and free of gravel.  We glide along on the sweet spot until it fades only to be met with a another a few steps over.  Always searching for the sweet spots.  We avoid the sides because the slope of the roads will cause pain to the hips.  The hills are everywhere, but there's one in particular, let's call it OH (insert expletive here...)  _ _ _ _ HILL!  It's a challenge at about 500 meters in length with a 5 or 6% grade and a rise of about 120 to 150 meters.... no small feat, or is that feet?  After that that there's a series of small but long hills, a couple of dozen for sure.  It's difficult to tell if you're running on flat, or a rise, some slopes are so gradual you're unaware until you start to slow and notice an increased heart rate.  I suppose the word de jour is "rolling".  My hill training this past summer paid in dividends today.  

I bumped into Bob on the course and chatted along the way.  He's the barefoot guy in the pictures below.  He's run a couple of full marys and many halfs ala bare feet.  I think he leans more toward trail running, but I'm not sure.  I ran aside him at mile 8 and suggested he join us in Bismarck.  He replied he'd have to think about it.  He did, and by the time he crossed the line about an hour later he gave me the thumb's up. Bob's pretty organized, he had cold Samuel Adams at his vehicle... next time, memo to self, pack a bottle opener.  We did mange to open them and, my oh my, it tasted good.  We chatted, talked about Boon Burger, Bismarck, the winter run across Lake Winnipeg.. which I really want to try next year.  It was good, nice way to end the race.

I wore my No Meat Athlete tee shirt for the first time (see below).  It caused a bit of a stir. Many people, mostly young, loved it and asked where to get one.  That was encouraging.  One runner told me he admired my spunk wearing a No Meat tee in the middle of cattle country.  I did get a couple of sneers or maybe I'm just sensitive, no matter.  I ask because I don't know... can one call themselves an environmentalist and still eat meat?  I think not, but what do I know.     

I also took the opportunity to pass out about 50 Ted's Run Brochures.. my opening line, There's a new race in Winnipeg and it's flat!   This, after the hills of Treherne, got a smile and opened the door for a little discussion about the cause.  Many people said they were interested, but they all had endorphin heads so who knows how many will register?  I chatted with a high school teacher from Treherne and she said she would like to bring her track team.  That would be great; hope it pans out.  

For the geeks.. time 2:01:51, av pace 9:20, heart rate (two hours after race) 70 bpm, blood pressure 96/67 (yes, I have a blood pressure monitor, what don't you!?), bmi 22.8.

Enough talk.. time for some pictures.  Click 'em to make 'em big.   

It was such a beautiful day to be alive, running through fields, chatting with friends, sipping a cold Samuel Adams, a blessing actually.

It is a beautiful day to be alive, you know that, check Bob's face at the finish line if you need confirmation