Friday, August 15, 2008

Long Road...

Ever since I was a kid, I had been battling with my weight. I had been walking short distances (2-3km) several times a week, however my work had me sitting at a desk all day so that was pretty much the only activity that I was doing on a daily basis. I'd loose a little weight here and there, but I'd catch a cold, get derailed for a week and fall back again. Add in the fact that it didn't take much of an excuse to convince myself to skip a session (bad weather, something on TV, etc.) and at best I was simply treading water.

First Steps...

Fast forward to December 2006. I had just had a physical and got reamed by my doctor once again for gaining weight, and was just coming off of a nasty cold that shut down my exercises for a week or so. Given the short term determination that those stimuli prompted, I decided to make up the lost mileage by doing two 3km sessions a day for the next week.

By the end of that week, I was down about 3lbs and the extra mileage felt quite good so I figured that I'd stick with it for a little while longer. Things continued to go quite well, and while the weight loss dropped to 1-2lbs per week pretty quickly, it remained enough motivation to keep going. As time passed, I got faster and began adding mileage to maintain the session time. That in turn reaped significant benefits, so I slowly began increasing the time of the sessions as well. The progress continued over the next few months.

By March I was up to about 12km per day (two 6km walks), however I ran into a bit of a snag as I was beginning to develop some nasty blisters on my feet which stopped me from pushing much further. A week off (due to a trip out west) and new pair of shoes temporarily remedied the problem, however the crappy Reebok cross trainers that I was using didn't last long and it came right back a couple of months later.

The Importance of Proper Equipment

When the new shoes began to self-destruct on me (around June) and the blisters were worsening again, I figured that it was about time to get fitted for a proper pair. A new Running Room store had opened in the area, so I figured that it was my best bet in finding a shop with staff that actually knew what they were doing. That turned out to be a very good move, as the fellow that fitted me was extremely helpful and spent about 45 minutes finding the right shoe and getting some proper (non-cotton) socks to go with them.

Armed with proper equipment for a change, I was again able to begin increasing my mileage and speed. As before, this reaped significant advantages and by August I had settled into covering about 20km per day (two 10km walks). At this juncture I was approaching 200lbs, feeling much better than I had for many years and was determined to keep things up. I flirted a bit with adding some running into the mix, however I didn't really have any sort of formal plan so my success was limited.

By the end of September I picked up a Polar heart rate monitor to help me out with my training. Being an Engineer, the concept of working with hard numbers and objective measurements was quite appealing. Naturally, it proved to be a very powerful tool and helped me to take a much more formal approach to the exercise. Especially useful was the ability to quantify the number of calories that I was burning, as it put those little numbers of the nutritional panels into context. Eating a 100 Calorie snack is a lot less appealing when you consider how much work you'll have to do to burn it off ;)

From Walking to Running

When the new year rolled around, I joined the Learn to Run clinic at the local Running Room store to step things up a notch. In addition to getting a proper background and formal plan, this clinic also gave me a great group of people to run with, helping to make the transition a lot easier than when I attempted it on my own. The clinic sessions went well, culminating in a pair of 5km races (due to scheduling conflicts).

The first of these was the Frosty 5K in Burlington in the beginning of March. In addition to being my first attempt at running a formal race, it was also the first time that I would be running this far (the LTR program only targets running for 20 minutes) so I went into it not knowing what to expect. Given my prior runs, I hoped to finish somewhere in the range of 25 to 30 minutes, but I elected to run the race by feel and not worry too much about it.

Shortly after meeting up with the group and getting into position, we were away and navigating through the crush of people. After about 5 minutes I managed to get ahead of the main pack and was moving along at a much faster pace than I had attempted before, but I was feeling great so I elected to keep it up. When I hit the 4km mark fatigue started to set in, however I managed to fight through it and keep going. The final stretch of the race was a pretty nasty hill that took a lot out of me, however I managed to make it up and hit the finish line in 24:22 which was much better than I had expected. Needless to say, it was an incredible experience and drove me to want more.

Two weeks later, armed with some real world experience, I ran the second goal race (the Achilles 5K in Toronto). In addition to being another great race, it also provided an opportunity to met up with a couple of friends from University (yumke and Fitzy) who were also running it. With a more detailed plan this time around, I managed to further improve my pace throughout the race. Compounding this was the fact that Fitzy passed me near the end of my second walking break, making it into a proper race with both of us sprinting to the finish and me clocking in at 23:43.6.

After the race, we met up for lunch to catch up and yumke managed to talk us into running the Harry's Spring Run-Off three weeks later. Unlike the previous races, this was a hilly course running through High Park so it added another variable to the equation. While I had some (smallish) hills on my normal training runs, I hadn't done any formal hill training (the Running Room doesn't add this until the 10K clinic) so I began adding some on my own. It certainly took some getting used to, however with a little work and some minor pace adjustments it quickly began to get easier.

When April rolled around and Harry's 5K approached, I headed down to high park a couple of days before the race to pick up my kit. While I was down there, I walked the course to get an idea of what I was going to be looking at. It was certainly a much more challenging course than the previous races, however knowing what to expect helped me to work out a rough plan to make sure that I had enough left to conquer that final hill.

On race day I headed down early to pick up my timing chip, and met up with yumke near the 8K starting line. After the 8K race started, I headed back down to the 5K start and met up with Fitzy. We talked for a while, and then proceeded to the starting line to make sure that we had a good position near the front of the pack. When the race started, we headed off with the pack. Looking down at my Polar, I saw that our pace was way too fast at about 3:50min/km so I moved over to the right and slowed down to the 4:40min/km pace that I had planned, letting Fitzy go ahead. Given the topology of the course, I closely monitored my pace and continued to hold back to make sure that I had enough in me for the final uphill push.

When I finally did hit the hill about 450 meters from the finish, I was still feeling quite good so I opened up and headed up as quickly as I could. As a good number of people ran out of steam at this point, I passed about twenty of them on the way up which did a lot to boost my confidence. My legs were pretty tired as I crested the hill, but with yumke and jellypepper cheering me on I pushed through and gave it a sprint for the last 100 meters finishing in 24:03.4. After the race Fitzy, yumke, jellypepper and I met up and headed out to grab some lunch.

At the same time as the above, the LTR clinic had finished and I started with the Running Room's formal 5K clinic. Our previous instructor was teaching it as well, and the majority of the group from the LTR clinic also came along so it made for a seamless transition. Things went along very well, and by mid May I was out for the Hazel 5K race (part of the Mississauga Marathon).

The start was a bit rocky due to a large group of children that positioned themselves at the front of the starting line. This forced me to go a little faster (~3min/km for the first 300 meters, ~4min/km for the next 200m) than I would have liked to in order to get past them, which left me more fatigued than I was used to. Either way, I fought through and covered the 5km course in 22:41.2.

Going Further

As the Running Room's 5K clinic was based on timed runs rather than fixed distances, I was up to doing about 7-8km per run by the time it was finished. With a few weeks before the 10K clinic started up, I figured that I'd look for an intermediate distance race and work toward it in the meantime. After a bit of digging, I settled on the Night Crawler 5 Miler in mid June which yumke was also running.

The training went quite well and was mostly a matter of figuring out what kind of pace was realistic for the distance. When the race came around, I headed down to the course and picked up my kit on site. After meeting up and talking with yumke, we headed up to the starting line and after a bit of confusion of where exactly that was we got into position. When the horn was sounded, yumke took off ahead of me and I headed out at my planned pace.

Due to a much more competitive field than I was used to, there was a lot more traffic to deal with for the duration of the race. Fortunately, I found a group that was moving at about the same pace as me so that didn't pose too much of an issue. Things got a little crowded heading up the hill near the end of the race as some people started slowing down, but with a little weaving I made it up. Once over the top of the hill, I opened things up for the final ~500 meters hitting the finish line in 38:18.

Next Steps

This, in turn, brings us to the present. With the Night Crawler under my belt, I originally planned to start the 10K clinic but elected to do the Half Marathon instead (as the former was a bit less aggressive than I would have liked). I'm now in the seventh week of that program, with the goal race being the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon on September 28th. I'm also getting ready to run a 15K race (Midsummer Night's Run) tomorrow in order to get a better idea of what pace to attempt for the goal race.

Anyway, from this point on I hope to use these pages to record my progress and hopefully provide some tidbits of information that others might find useful. Having gleaned a lot of great information and inspiration from other blogs (especially yumke's), it seems like a good way to pay that back.

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