Mind, Motion & Matter

Running, Essentially . . .

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The first half

And we are off – sort of.  Although I was only 20 meters from the start line where the transponder chip attached to my running shoe registers my start time, it took me 37 seconds to get there, more than the 23 seconds it took me to cross the mats at the Chicago marathon.  So there you have it, the distinction between “gun” time and “chip time”.

Transponder chip, tied to running shoe

Concerns going into the race; would my heart rate watch behave, would the hitherto unknown sports drink Ultima throw off my usual routine of marathon beverage consumption, would I be able to read my pace tattoos with my rapidly deteriorating middle-aged vision and would I experience foot cramps which I’ve had bouts of recently.

Pace tattoos in place

Following the advice of the three, 27 time-CIM-runners I took the significant downhill in the first mile very easy.  I was relieved to see my heart rate register on my watch as the night before I realized that I had brought the more complicated watch of the two I own, the one that I don’t really know how to operate.  I had frantically downloaded the manual and spent much time pressing this button and that, each press triggering a high-pitched beep, to my husband’s dismay as he quietly read.  Together we were able to get the watch into a mode that would display both the heart rate and elapsed time.

I missed the one mile marker but was running around 8:25 pace at the two mile mark and it felt quite easy.  I noticed some runners stop at porta potties and realized that I too, had to pee.  Canadian masters legend Diane Palmason suggests that you should drink continually up until an hour before a marathon.  And then, have another drink 10 minutes before the marathon.  I had forgotten this and so I spent the next 8 miles in search of a porta potty with no line-up or a some sort of private spot a little forest or such.  In spite of this slight discomfort the pace was very comfortable as I ran with my heart rate from 140-145.  At this point I had no trouble keeping my heart rate under 145.  What was interesting is that a few times my heart rate went down to 135 a lapse of concentration perhaps.

The weather was turning out to be perfect.  I had tossed my hat at the one mile point and knew that it would not be long until I would feel the need to take off my vest.  That would be a complicated maneuver as my race number was pinned to the front.  But, first I had to find a pit stop.  Shortly after mile ten we went by an industrial park which had a freestanding brick wall as part of the landscaping.  I had no choice but to quickly and discreetly duck behind this makeshift porta potty.  Ahem, well on the subject of  TMI my husband overheard the following conversation on marathon day.  A woman was explaining to her male companion how she had made a pit stop but that her muscles were very tight and she could only pee very slowly.  The lack of modesty shown by long distance runners in discussing these matters has something in common with the intense physical rigours of childbirth and the willingness of participants to discuss the details thereof.

Race bib

The logistics of removing my vest while running loomed.  I relaxed into the race for a couple of miles and then tackled undoing the four safety pins holding the race bib in place and redoing these same pins to attach the race bib to my shorts.  Then I removed the vest and tried unsuccessfully to tie it around my waist.  There was not enough length to do this.  So I put placed the vest around my waist and fastened the lower part of the zipper so it encircled me.  Then I twisted and twirled the vest so that it fit snugly around my waist.  You may ask would it not have been easier to just stop.  Well, as I write this I wonder too.

I ran the rest of the race in my short,shorts and sports bra, a racing outfit that my son used to refer to as a bathing suit.  Consider the embarrassment of teenager who has a mother who has raced down Yonge street in her bathing suit.  Now that I’m closer to 60 than 50, I do not feel inclined to expose so much of my body and avoid this “bathing suit” look when at all possible.  However, such were the weather conditions on this day and with all that training on the line, the seconds gained by cooler body temperature won out over vanity and dignity.

As for the race tattoos.  I should have given more thought to their placement as they were virtually unreadable in spite of pulling my skin this way and that.  Bottom line, print too small for middle-aged eyes.  I should have stuck to my old method.

So the first half passed with much distraction.  My time for those 13.1 miles / 21.1 km was 1:48:19.  It felt great to be able to finally focus on the race.  And as they say for the marathon, the race really begins at mile 20.

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The race expo, a love-hate relationship

At best, the marathon expo is draining.  At worst, it is a bit of a circus with sideshows of minimal interest to the long-time runner, catering as it may to the novice runner or the flavour-of-the-day in training methods.  The CIM distinguished itself by having Jack Daniels, one of the most respected coaches in distance running, as its headliner.

We arrived in town a couple of hours before the expo opened and all seemed quiet in the vicinity of the expo, located a block from our hotel.  It was a surprise to find the convention center packed a mere thirty minutes after opening time.  And, I mean near-gridlock type of “packed”.  I do not like crowds.  A manifestation of this is that after a total 27 years as a Toronto resident I have never attended the Canadian National Exhibition, the CNE, the EX.

The days before a marathon are not the time to be fighting crowds, rifling through boxes of running gear in search of bargains or sampling new sports drinks, bars or supplements.  As for shopping, as when on vacation, context is everything and souvenir doodads and apparel entice but may lose luster upon returning to the regular grind.  For example I briefly considered buying this t-shirt.

Yours for $19.99 or two for $35.99

A nice aspect of blogging is that the act of posting a picture of something that catches your eye gives you a bit of the thrill of acquisition, and diminishes your desire to possess that object.  It is unlikely that I would ever wear this t-shirt, had I purchased it.

The most tiring expos of all is the Boston Marathon expo. I’ve run Boston four times and the last three times have ducked into the long corridor where the race kits are given out and avoided the expo altogether. My alternative to the expo is a trip to the Harvard Bookstore, located a couple of blocks from the Harvard Square subway station and a block from an Italian restaurant with great lobster ravioli.  You don’t want to start pumping adrenalin at the marathon expo, wait till race day, you want to reduce physical and running related-mental stimulation the day before the race.

To be fair there are items at expos that are not readily available elsewhere.  My purchases this day included;  arm warmers, mid-weight gloves, fluorescent gloves,  powder for Ultima, the official sports drink of the CIM and Mocha Clif Shots with caffeine.  As mentioned in another post, the Mocha Clif Shots are not available in Canada. Picking up my race number, t-shirt and timing chip took little time, however there was a bottleneck at the goody bag pick-up. My husband stood in the long line to get the goody bag while I made my purchases and looked around for sports watches as he needs a new one. Have you ever noticed how the life of a sports watch seems dependent on the life of the wristband?

Arm warmers, Utima powder, gloves, flourescent gloves and mocha Clif shots

Arm warmers, Utima powder, gloves, flourescent gloves and mocha Clif shots

No sports watch bargains were to be had so my husband returned to the hotel to do a work out at the fitness centre and I stayed for the presentation on how to run the CIM. This session was hosted by three runners, each having run the CIM all of it’s 27 years. The main takeaway points were; getting to the race start by bus is the ideal as the buses stay put once there and you can choose hang out in the bus for as long as you need, stay to the left at the relay exchange points as there is a lot of activity and confusion, the location of the major uphills on this net downhill course.

I returned to the expo recharged after the hour of sitting and bought a bus ticket. Then came upon the biggest bonus, pace tattoos. I normally create a waterproof pace chart that I pin to my jersey however no need this time round as I picked up, free-of-charge tattoos with splits for a 3:40 and a 3:45 marathon.

Pace tattoos, what will they think of next!?

Very cool. I returned to the hotel feeling that the net return on attending the expo was positive. I felt that I had for the most part done as Jack Daniels advised in his seminar the following day which was to concentrate on the task-at-hand.

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Power gels or chocolate?

When running a marathon, a past pre-race routine has been to drink a lot of gatorade, a can or two of Boost and then down a powergel, shortly before the race starts. Later in the race I take a gel at the 15K and 30K marks and further on, if needed. Through the years, as my body became better at using fat as a fuel, I needed fewer carbohydrates.

Mounds Dark Chocolate - 2 mini-bars

Power gels are the yuckiest, things you can imagine, a sugary, gooey syrup that must be followed with water in order not to gag on the stuff. Years ago, I asked a friend, a PhD in nutrition to analyze the contents to see if there was anything other than glucose in the mix. The answer, NO. Since I sometimes would have a power gel near the end of long run, I decided why pay nearly $2 for this concoction when I could be eating chocolate.

Mocha Clif Shot

In addition to the improved taste, a chocolate bar purchased on the run, also buys you a ticket to a washroom. This is a real bonus in the winter when most of the washrooms in city parks are shut down.

The talk at the high school went well. And the thank-you gift, a box of Lindt chocolates, inspired my blog topic. Chocolate however, does take a bit more effort to ingest so the gels, while racing the marathon will still be required.

Peanut Butter Crunchy Bar

Picking my poison, my preferred gels are Clif Shots with Mocha, my favourite flavour.

The mocha flavour is special because it has caffeine in it. Although this is only available in the U.S. as Canadian Food and drug regulations do not allow caffeine to be present in gels. I don’t normally go for sports bars but while traveling find that they are handy (and economical) items to have on hand in while on-the-go, in transit. My husband and I like the Peanut Butter Crunchy bar.

The best box of chocolates I’ve ever had was a gift from our across-the-street neighbours, who really know “good things”.

Stubbe Chocolate

The chocolates were from Stubbe which has a location at Dupont and Christie. The other day I bought two Stubbe chocolate bars at the LIT Espresso bar for my son and our roommate.  I’ve become a Stubbe devotee.

Stubbe chocolate bars, one with almonds, the other with peppercorns

LIT is the only place in Canada, I’m told, that brews Stumptown coffee. Those of us who are addicted to Starbuck’s, do notice the Stumptown difference.

LIT espresso bar, College just east of Ossington

Stumptown Coffee

Well, I really must go but I hope to continue this discussion of chocolate very soon. Sweet dreams!

p.s.  I ran 7 miles on the treadmill this morning and made edits to my talk, while running.