What I’ve been up to

I’ve had a serious lapse in updating this blog with useful information, and for that I apologize. I would have liked to continue to provide helpful guides and other tutorials, but I continually found excuses to be lazy. Writing these guides is as helpful for readers as it is for me, so it’s something that I need to engage in more often if I am to continue with personal development.

With that in mind, I thought it’d be useful to provide an update on what I’ve been up to for the past few months, to keep things in perspective.

Changing roles

During the summer, I started a new job. As with any new job, there is an adjustment period and during that time I wanted to stay focused on getting up to speed and being able to deliver in the role I was hired for. I’m always apprehensive about new environments, so I wanted to take the time to properly learn the ropes and not be too assertive, while at the same time not being too withdrawn.

I’m glad to report that things are going quite well. The new position suits me well, and most importantly, the people there are great to work with. My new team lead, and indeed many of my other team members have also been recently hired, so I was a little less intimidated as I was by no means the only “new guy”. Since then, we have all had to opportunity to learn, grow and adjust to the environment, so it’s been a great team-building exercise of sorts. (As you can tell, the company is very much in a growth phase at this point)

About the only thing I don’t like is having to drive to work, as the new workplace is out is Mississauga. It’s not a horrible commute (~30 minutes one-way), but it’s just that I don’t like driving.

Boston 2011 Training

The other big event in my life has been qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which I did last year in STWM 2010.

Luckily, I managed to get in the day registration opened, as all the spots for the 2011 Boston Marathon filled within 8 hours! The fast fill-up time can probably be attributed to a self-fulfilling prophesy, as the people who were locked out last year (when registration filled in “only” 2 months) vowed not to miss it again. This created rumours that things would fill up even faster, and likely created a “bank run” type scenario.

I quickly booked my hotel and flight down to Beantown for April this year, as I didn’t want to miss out because of something logistical. But my planning for Boston hasn’t been limited to administrative items though, as there is of course the training required.

For this next marathon, which will be my sixth, I decided that I need a new approach, one that involved following a proper training plan. Before this, my training had always been self-developed – that is, lacking structure and reason. I would basically run four times a week: One long run on the weekend, followed by three ~10 km runs during the week. All of these would be run at the fastest pace that I could sustain over the distance.

This seemed to work, at least for a while, as I managed at 3:02:50 performance in the 2009 Edmonton marathon. However, this was followed by a disastrous 3:27 finish in the 2009 Toronto GoodLife marathon, and a qualifying near-miss in the 2010 Mississauga marathon where I finished in 3:13. Having just barely qualified during the 2010 STWM with a time of 3:10:46 (and that was only due to sheer willpower during the last 2.2 km), I knew a different approach was required, one that was more regimented.

A new approach to training

So I bought a few books and began reading up online about exercise physiology. I quickly learned that I had simply been running all my training runs too fast, which seems contradictory to the goals of training. After all, to run a race fast, shouldn’t you train fast? It turns out, the truth is not so simple.

Basically, by running everything as fast as I could during training, I wasn’t giving my body time to properly recover. Strictly speaking, it isn’t the workout that improves your fitness – as after a workout, you are tired and your performance is actually decreased. It’s actually the supercompensation that happens during the recovery phase that improves your fitness. Without recovery, hard training will simply break down your body and leave you less capable.

That’s what was happening to me – I was “leaving my best race on the track”, as famed distance running coach Daniels would say. With all that hard running, each workout began to seem tougher and tougher – though the actual intensity was not getting harder. Soon, it got to the point where I could not complete my four runs per week, and had to switch to cross-training in a vain attempt to preserve my fitness. It turns out, this is a common pitfall of amateur runners as they attempt to devise their own “training plan.”

Rest and recovery

After all of this, I needed a recovery period. I took some downtime after my fall marathon, and when to physiotherapy for some issues I was having with my right knee. It turns out I had PFPS (Patello femoral pain syndrome), which is basically a kneecap-tracking problem caused by muscle imbalances and likely aggravated by all the hard running I was doing. I was given some exercises to do and also began some strength training for my quads, and during the past three months the pain progressively decreased and is now almost completely gone. During this time, I was never prevented from running.

But I also began to change how I ran. I no longer ran everything at the fastest pace possible. In fact, for two months, I reverted to a “base training” phase, where all my runs were done at others had proven effective, and I was able to increase my weekly distance up to levels I’d never touched before, all while remaining injury free.

During this time, I also worked on shortening my stride and increasing my cadence, thus moving away from a heel-striking gait to more of a midfoot strike. I believe this has prevented my plantar fasciitis from returning, something I struggled with for over a year. At the end of this phase, I did a time trial on the treadmill, and I was no slower at 10 km than before. In fact, physically, I felt much more stronger and refreshed.

Marathon training

With recovery out of the way, the question of which training plan to follow came up. After consulting with the folks over at the RWOL Boston forums, it became clear that many of them were following the plan from Advanced Marathoning, by Pete Pfitzinger. Pftizinger and Daniels have very similar ideas – specific runs at specific paces to train different parts of your physiology necessary for the marathon – but Pfitzinger is a more specific with his training schedule, something I desired.

At first, things were a bit daunting – after all, the lowest-mileage plan (which I planned on following) has a maximum week of 88 km, something I’ve never done before. But the beauty of the plans is that while there’s a lot of mileage, there’s a selective use of hard running. Pfitz always places sufficient time between hard runs, filling them with slower-paced runs that keep your cardiovascular system in shape while allowing your legs to recover from the harder efforts. It’s a much more sane approach.

I’m following the 18-week plan that peaks at 88 km, (commonly referred to as “18/55” since 55 miles is about 88 km) and have just finished the 5th week. I feel great – a lot stronger and most importantly, remain injury free. Hopefully things will remain that way.

Summing it up

Besides updates on my marathon training progress, I will aim to add a few more development/programming related guides. I have the beginnings of a few, but just need the motivation to put them together. Hopefully that will not be interrupted by laziness. But Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”.

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