Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .


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Running up those stairs & more

Back from a three city jaunt to Kingston, Quebec City and Ottawa with good running in all three cities. After tackling the nearly 400 step Cap Blanc staircase going from sea level up to the Plains of Abraham, a bit of research revealed that there is a race called the Défi des escaliers de Québec or the Quebec City Staircase Challenge. This stair marathon involves running up and down nearly 30 staircases for a total of more of 3000 steps over 19K. Imagine that!

For regular runs, one can choose to run along the St. Lawrence for many miles on a gently rolling course or through the more challenging hilly terrain of the Plains of Abraham. My longest run in our five-day stay was nine miles along the river.

Rock the ramparts – The Citadel, Quebec City

Our hotel in Kingston overlooked Confederation Bay and the path in front of the place was part of  an 8K long (albeit a somewhat circuitous) network of various waterfront pathways with a view of many windmills. The highlight of my three Kingston runs was an eleven miler with tempo sections. It is the fourth consecutive August that we have been in Kingston at the end of August but the first time that I ventured so far out along this particular route, having previously run through the army base. The down-side of those runs were the many unleashed dogs on the residential properties.

View from Majors Hill Park path, Ottawa

The best runs of all were in Ottawa. I heard rumours that one of my favourite paths, behind the Parliament buildings had been closed down. I was thrilled to find out that it was open and ran this beautiful Ottawa river path, through Majors Hill park, over the Alexandra bridge to Hull, past the Museum of Civilization and then back to Lebreton Flats in Ottawa. We lived in Lebreton Flats for a couple of years during our five years living in Ottawa. Since then the War Museum has opened and with this have come many improvements to the path that runs by it along the Ottawa river. The weather was a wonderfully cool 6C when I started and around 15C by the time I finished my 12 miles with a tempo section. This route is one of my favourite urban routes in Canada.

View from hotel room with windmills and running path (right, middle)

A feature of my runs in all three cities was listening to the audio book, Your Brain at Work by David Rock. which explores the latest in neuroscience and busts many a myth about the capacity of our brain to multitask. Some of the research cited would support my sense that creative thoughts while running are easier to come by for the long-time distance runner, for whom running is a second-nature, auto-pilot activity. I also enjoyed not having to focus on finishing my run at a certain time which set the  the stage for dreamy, lost-in-my-thoughts and very relaxed running. Of course this reduced urgency is only possible if your traveling partner also happens to be your best cheerleader and favourite running companion.

Plains of Abraham with my cheerleader, my husband, my love

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
Henry David Thoreau

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The 100 mile week, redefined

Until a few years ago I could run up to 170K or 105 miles at the peak of marathon training no problem. As I approach my 57th birthday the realities of training in the second half of my sixth decade (other than slower times) have begun to appear. Pounding the pavement takes more out of me and I just can’t train like I used to. What to do?!  While I have been a lifelong commuter cyclist, I’m not too keen on training rides that take three times as long to get the same cardio effect as a run. Training takes enough time as it is.

Back in the day, younger at age 52

So this is where I am at now, with eight weeks before my target race, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 14th. I’m cautiously boosting my mileage. I should hit 102K for this week after logging 18 miles or 29K this morning. After my 5 mile run tomorrow the past week will look like this:

  • 13 miles ( with 2 x 10 minutes at threshold pace)
  • 6 miles easy
  • 7 miles easy
  • 8 miles with a ladder workout of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (minute) sections of near interval pace running
  • 6 easy
  • 18* steady
  • 5 very easy (tomorrow)
  • Total = 63 miles or 102.5 K

The * asterisk is to note that having devised a new and complicated route to merge my run with a friend’s 10 mile run.  I got home, measured my route and saw that I was short 1.5 miles. You’ll know by this comment that I’m an old-school runner who does not own a GPS watch. Thankfully, I had not cooled down much so I immediately headed out the door and did the missing mileage. I gave myself a little pat on the back for that. Had my husband greeted me with a latte, as he often does post-long run, I might not have been able to gather myself up to get the job done.

Looking ahead, the peak training weeks will be from August 27th to September 24th. From there I will begin a three-week taper. I am curious to see how much mileage I will be able to manage at the summit of my training – the 100 mile week redefined.

As for my goal time, I’m will race a 10K next Sunday, on slightly rested legs, which will help me gauge my fitness level. Naturally, I’m hoping to improve on my 2nd slowest time ever of 3:50 run at NYC last year, the slowest being the 4:10 I ran in my first marathon in 1981.

My results since age 50 are:

3:10:02 Detroit (2005) 1st in age-group

3:13 Chicago (2006) 1st in age-group

3:17 Boston (2007) 3rd in age-group

3:23 Boston (2008) 7th in age-group

3:42 California International Marathon (2010) 1st in age group CLICK HERE for full story

3:50 NYC (2011) Waahhh! This one really hurt bad and I was 29th in age-group. CLICK HERE for full story

I’m hoping I can improve on my 3:42 of two years ago and my most optimistic hope is to run close to 3:30. According to the McMillan running calculator the 21:04 5K I ran in the spring extrapolates to a 3:25 marathon but we all know that for the vast majority of us, it is really difficult to match our shorter distance race performances at  the marathon because of the mileage base required. Surviving marathon training, is a lot of what running a marathon is about.

One bright spot on the topic of aging is that I was able to match past performance levels (age-graded score) at 5K on fewer training miles, with the help of intense  speedwork and an indoor track season build-up to the 5K. But – as a 56 year old marathon runner, accustomed to running the longer path, I’m hoping that a shorter path might still do the trick.

To get to the finish line, you’ll have to try lots of different paths.
Amby Burfoot