Running in Circles

I wrote this last night on the train ride back from Toronto.

Its Saturday night as I write this. My wife Colleen and I are on the train heading back to Ottawa from Toronto, where I raced an indoor 1500 metre race at York University along with my guide, Greg. We headed down last night so it was a short trip which involved going out for dinner with Greg and a teacher friend of his, ten hours of much needed sleep, and a veggy omelette at a place called The Spot, right across the street from Greg’s apartment. Our race didn’t go until a little after 4:00 today so we weren’t in a rush.

The first race in the season is often not spectacular and this was no exception. I didn’t expect a lot going into this race, as indoor racing on a 200 metre track, with the narrower straightaways and frequent turns, is difficult for Greg and I to navigate effectively. It is hard to get any kind of rhythm going. Coupled with this, neither of us had been on the track much as we’ve been focussing on base training with the outdoor season in mind. Today represented a chance for us to mix it up with some university runners and use it as a fitness test just to see where things were at.

We raced in the second of three heats. Before the race, I had what I thought was a conservative goal in mind – to run around 4:15 (our best is 4:07). This meant that for each 200 metre lap, we’d need to average about 34 seconds. The race started out with us being cautious, and with Greg keeping us to the outside and looking for an opportunity to pick a spot for us to cut in. This is always tricky as it means we’re running very close to other athletes, who are looking to cut in, exactly as we are.

We were more or less on track with our pace goal through the first 4 laps, hitting the 800m in about 2:17 with some surges and changes in pace among the group. We were in about eighth place at this point. It felt as though we picked it up as we neared the kilometre, but the split was 2:53, meaning that we slowed down. After that we did pick off a couple of runners and were moving up on Gary Storey, who I used to train with when I lived in Guelph. In the end Gary pulled away on us over the last 100m or so, and we were caught by another runner to finish seventh in our heat. We didn’t get the official time but it was around 4:18 or 4:19 – a little off what I had wanted but an effort that will hopefully help to set things up for a 3000 metre race which Greg and I will be running on the 400m indoor track in Ottawa next week.

Now a little on my training so far this winter. I made the decision last year to become self-coached, after six years working with Ray who is a coach with a track club in Ottawa. I ran well under Ray and he was and is very dedicated in enabling blind athletes to assimilate within his group. When I moved to Ottawa in 2003, Ray ensured from the outset that I wasn’t left behind or forgotten about when the group would head out for a warm-up, and after a while, runners would automatically offer to guide me and in this way, I developed a terrific training group around me and would typically run with any one of about 7 or 8 athletes during any given workout. Under Ray, I made two Paralympic teams, competing with my guide Greg in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, and capturing 1500m silver and bronze respectively. Last year however, the makeup of our group changed with some athletes leaving and basically, I started to feel like I might benefit from trying something different too. I felt like I had learned enough about my body and what it needed to try coaching myself. Beginning last fall, I trained by running outside with friends and training partners who had formerly trained with Ray, and ran a lot on a treadmill I have at home. Over the fall, I increased the volume of steady running that I was doing to a higher volume than I had ever done, and started doing regular tempo runs, with less emphasis on interval training where you run hard with rest breaks. A tempo run is usually done around the pace you might expect to hold for a half marathon, for a duration of 20 to 40 minutes. These runs are challenging, not all out, but uncomfortable and they serve the purpose of building endurance and your ability to sustain a hard pace for a long time. These tempos and the increase in volume has been the basis of the training I have been doing this year, and it has enabled me to develop a higher level of fitness than ever before. I haven’t done a lot of fast running on the track yet, so am not especially race sharp as I found out in our season opener today. I’m hoping that all the fitness I’ve been building up over these months however will help me to reach a new level in racing when I do start to add in more intensity in the spring, with the focus aimed at racing well in the outdoor season, from May to August.

Next week I’ll write about the 3000 metre race which Greg and I are running on Saturday February 13 in Ottawa. Thanks again for checking out our blog… have a great week everyone.

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