Hidden Gems

I was going to title this post “The Comeback Kid Runs Again,” but then I realized I would have to flashback to 2009 to explain that. To keep a long story short, Running Legend Bill Rodgers (4 time winner of the Boston Marathon AND 4 time winner of the New York Marathon) gave me the nickname of “The Comeback Kid” after hearing the story of how I ran a half marathon in Ottawa  only days after having my casts sawed off when I had broken both arms at the same time.

I overcame many challenges to run that race, and I have done it again. Only 10 months after being hospitalized for stroke, I finished another half marathon. It is my second worst half marathon time ever, but it was the sweetest finish line I’ve had in a long time.

This year I signed up for a small, local race trying to keep it real given the obstacles I have overcome in reaching the start line. All I wanted to do was prove to myself that I can still run distance and cross the finish line. I wasn’t expecting a medal and there was none advertised. But, surprise, surprise, not only was there a medal at the finish line, but friends too, and it was the best feeling!

So my math is all blown to hell. Remember in Going Local, I was gushing over the plan for Philly 2018 to be my 15th medal and blah, blah … well, I got my 15th medal this year. I couldn’t be happier. My math for the 2018 running season is totally screwed and I am completely fine with that. The medal I got for this 2017 race is one of my top 3 medals in terms of what it means to me. I was seriously facing a running career ending health condition last year when I could not drive or run after having my stroke. I cannot begin to describe how much this medal means to me.

When I got that medal in Ottawa, it was shaped like a maple leaf. The medal I got this year is shaped like a maple leaf also. Must be a theme with maple leaf medals when I make an epic comeback.

While I talk extensively about races I have ran, I have never outright endorsed a race. *spoiler alert* I’m going to do so now. Please note I was not asked to do this and am receiving nothing for doing so. I’m just that impressed with this race that I want everyone to know about it. If you’re ever in the Central New York area at the end of September, there is this tiny race called the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon that is put on by the Cortland YMCA in Cortland, NY. It’s amazing in so many ways.

The Leaf Peeper was my 15th race overall. It was also the smallest. It is extremely well planned. Arrive an hour early on race day to pick up your bib and t-shirt. There is plenty of parking, plenty of rest rooms, and super nice people. The race fee is a complete steal, especially for someone like me who is used to the big city races with 30,000+ runners. All the money benefits the local YMCA and is completely worth it. It doesn’t get any better than race for a good cause.

The course is well marked and there is plenty of support. The volunteers at the road crossings are friendly. There is not a lot of traffic on the route. The route is a very gorgeous run through the rolling hills of Central New York. You can, indeed, see the leaves peeping across farm fields and streams. The race is aptly named. The scenery is spectacular in the morning as the fog is burning off at the beginning of the race.

The volunteers at the water and Gatorade stations are so polite. Some aid stations even had real food like m&m’s and bananas. I will take a banana in a race over a gel any day! Leaf Peeper rocks for best volunteers at a half marathon. There was also bicycle support, which I was not expecting for such a small race (very impressed), and each mile was clearly marked!

At the finish line, there was great crowd support. There was plenty of water, Gatorade and snacks at the finish. The race was professionally timed with the timing chips built right into the bibs. This race is a hidden gem, and I highly recommend it to anyone. It’s great for a first half marathon. It’s also great for more experienced runners like myself.

I actually made a challenge for myself with this race – I ran without my iPod even though I knew there was minimal crowd support on the rolling country miles. I survived. I went into this race treating it like just another 13.1 mile run, but by the time I finished, I realized this is truly a race, and an excellent one at that. I completely underestimated the Leaf Peeper.

It’s too late for you to run this hidden gem in 2017. Now is the perfect time to put it on your bucket list for 2018. I will definitely be back to run the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. Maybe not next year, as I already have a race planned, and my body is only capable of one long distance race per year, but I will be back for the Leaf Peeper again.

That was another huge plus – I finished the Leaf Peeper uninjured. After the significant injury to my hip in 2015, I was worried when I saw hills in the Leaf Peeper. I listened to my body and navigated them fine. My finish time may have been slower, but I ran a good race and finished uninjured. It was a great experience in my book.

I am officially in my off-season now for running, as my race is complete for the year. I am going to have a short rest. One day off for each mile raced, you know! Then, I’ll be back at it getting ready for 2018. If you are still in the planning stages for your 2018 race season, consider the Leaf Peeper Half Marathon. I highly recommend it!

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Canadian Style

Since this year’s race is a small, local run with no medal, I’ve decided to play around with my training schedule a bit. I’m throwing it back and going Canadian style. Toronto is the city in which I ran my second marathon and it is hands down my all-time best time. I can no longer call it a PR, as it has been longer than two years since I’ve done Toronto, but it is the best experience.

What made Toronto unique was that I ran with pace bunnies from John Stanton’s Running Room using the 10:1 run/walk method.  Especially in America, many marathoners and spectators think that being able to run the complete marathon without stopping or walking is how to get all the glory. Spectators always cheer with added enthusiasm when you slow down for a walk break in a marathon; the crowd tries to will you to keep moving.

As I get older, I am starting to appreciate the run/walk method more. The word on the street is that run/walk methods are great for older runners (40+) and those with injuries or who are prone to injury. While I am not yet 40, I am feeling the effects of some injuries wearing me down. I’m not sure how many marathons I still have in me. As the popular saying goes, “there will come a day I can no longer do this. Today is not that day.” Not only has the run/walk method resulted in my most successful race times; I came through with minimal to no injuries in those races.

I researched a few different run/walk training methods. In the United States, the Jeff Galloway method is quite popular. With all due respect, the Galloway method is way too complicated for me, and when trying it, I did not see any of the benefits I see with Canadian style. I love math when I’m standing still, but when I’m running, I just can’t math. You know, that moment when you get “in the zone” and your brain turns off because you’re running on autopilot. If you’re the type that loves doing hard math while you are running, definitely look into the Galloway method. For me, Canadian style goes by 5s and 10s, so the math is a lot easier for me to handle when running.

I’ve always inadvertently incorporated some style of run/walk into my runs. My training runs are primarily on a trail. I typically walk the footbridges (usually people are fishing there, and I don’t want my pounding feet to scatter their dinner), and in races, I walk the water stops. I have ran some races in below freezing weather, and water stops can be quite slippery, not to mention there are potential tripping hazards in water stops such as discarded cups lying about.

This is the first time that I am purposely using the run/walk method to train in a distinctive pattern as well as planning on using it in a race. The hard part is going to be listening to the crowd for those 1-minute increments when I’m walking. In Toronto, we were all using the 10:1 method en masse, so the crowds were used to seeing large groups of runners slow for a 1-minute walk every 10 minutes. Those 1-minute walk breaks help your endurance so you can go the distance as well as recharge your muscles and reduce the chance of injury. I’ve officially been a distance racer for 10 years now, and as I am approaching 40 (but not quite there yet), I am all about preventing injury so that I can be a distance runner and distance racer for as long as humanly possible. Life is the ultimate marathon and I want to be doing this running thing as long as I can.

Incorporating the 10:1 program into my training has been beneficial so far. I have had two 12-mile longs runs now, and they seem easier. I’m not as worn out after the run, and my results show that I’m running each mile an average of 20-30 seconds faster. We will see how those results bare out when I actually run my race on September 23.

I’m going back to the Canadian style of running that I found so helpful in my early races. I’m not sure how I got away from that. I can definitely pinpoint when. Using data from my own races over the past 10 years, there is a definite difference in performance when I was running Canadian style compared to when I started going all out “run the entire thing no matter what” American style. The person who crosses the finish line in a marathon is not the same person who crosses the start line in a marathon. It is everything in between those two lines that makes the type of person and runner you are. The journey defines you.

If my race goes well this month, then I intend on using the 10:1 method from the very beginning when I train for the 2018 running season and for Philly. Historically, I have my own race data to back up the claim that I should be running my races Canadian style. That’s not to say that this method is for everyone, but it looks to be the best choice for me.

It is also important to learn to not get discouraged when spectators are urging walkers to start running again. Hey, I’m running for 10 minutes, and then walking for 1 minute. Nowhere in that equation do I see the word “stop.” I’m a marathoner. Run, walk, crawl, dragged, (or when in Philly, in drag), I cross the finish line. There is no shame in taking walk breaks as long as you cross the finish line. Less than 10% of the American population will ever finish a marathon. I have 14 medals doing this. I’m way ahead of the curve. Just keep moving.

Speaking of moving, my theme song has changed yet again. I’m not sure if it was bad juju or what, but I had changed my running theme song in 2015. For 13 medals, that old Eminem song from 8-mile was my groove. I changed to a different Eminem song in 2015, which is when I had that tear in my hip. That race was bad news. Hopefully I’m not jinxing myself again. If this race goes poorly this year with my new theme song, I’ll have to go back to my “Lose Yourself” days. But, I’m hoping this tune is a lucky one. My new theme song is below. Happy running, eh?