Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A season summary: Tely 10, Calgary, and more

I'm not as much a fan of posting too many details about my own races. My favourite thing is to take a step back and see a larger picture. But as this season has been a busy and productive one, it seems disingenuous to ignore all people and places that have been part of 'my' running this season. My season started in April (not counting two indoor 3k races), and is taking a pause in August. In fact right now I'm on a work trip, writing this in Indiana of all places. First to boil down the facts, here's my races from the season.

 My 2015 Spring-Summer Road Races
Date Location Distance Place & Time  Rating*
April 25 Grande-Digue 15 km 2nd in 48:45 ★★★★
May 2 Lung Run 5 km 1st in 15:08 (PB!) ★★★
May 23 Cabot Trail Relay (Leg 17) 18.7 km 2nd in 1:02:05 (PB?) ★★★½
May 31 Calgary Half Marathon 21.1 km 8th in 1:09:14 (PB!) ★★★★
June 21 Halifast Track Event  5000 m 1st in 15:15 ★★
July 10 Antigonish Highland Games 5 Miler 8 km 2nd in 25:32 ★★★
July 26 Tely 10 16 km 2nd in 51:04 (PB!) ★★★★
Aug 3 Natal Day 6 Miler 9.6 km 2nd in 31:15  ★★★
*Rating (out of 4 stars) is a subjective combination of my feelings about my performance and the race itself. At the end of the day, it's hard to disentangle the two.

Some of the best season news is that I had no terrible races and no serious injuries. I never came close to dropping out or running hurt (running sore, well yes). Must be all those training heuristics I use (FYI: I don't keep a mileage log). Also one thing is for certain, I got real comfortable finishing behind the winner. On top of that, both of my victories were only 10 seconds ahead of second, so there was a real possibility of landing 7, let alone 5, runner-up positions. Fun fact: I finished behind a Matt (McNeil + Loiselle) a total of 4 times. Matts are fast!

Self-indulgent, but I wanted to experiment with Picasa's collage-maker. Centre: Me and Matt McNeil at the start of Natal Day's 6 miler. Clockwise from top left: Finishing Cabot's #17 'glory leg'; Me, Matt, and Jeremie posing post-race at Grande-Digue 15k; Top 8 finishers (me: far right) getting cowboy hats at Calgary's half championships; A solo effort at the Tely 10 (about halfway in); Start of Halifast 5000m; my finishing kick at the Lung Run 5k
My favourite races of the year, and perhaps of the decade, were Calgary, Grande-Digue, and Tely 10. In all three cases there was excitement for people racing fast. Unlike some races I know, running fast was encouraged by these organizers.

The Tely 10 has a unique history, being so big despite having a relatively small population. There's also prize money for top 5, NLAA now keeps a record of the top 1000 (!) fastest times (see below), and three days out from race there's a dedicated write-up predicting the top 10 runners.

Grande-Digue is (or was, as 2015 may be it's final year), the most competitive east-coast race with the largest prize pure. Top 10 win money (cash, no less), a nice jacket for age-category winners, and there's an awesome pasta dinner afterwards for every competitors. And all that for $35.

Finally there's Calgary, who hosted the nationals with flair. They organized host families for all out-of-town runners, added a very competitive prize purse for top 8, invited elite runners to a pre-race party. On top of that they had thank-you notes for all of us coming out to race. My hosts Linda and Al were amazing. They picked me up from airport, made fantastic meals and gave me a quiet place to sleep. I will be back, Calgary. [PS: honourable mention goes to Cabot trail for a great race, as always. Nothing is even at stake but pride, and everyone, including Black Lungs team, gives it their all].

As I think about races, other intertwined thoughts do come to mind. Figured they should be written down too. Some overall observations during the season:
  • Training with other people is better than alone.  Although I prefer running alone for sub-hour easy stuff, for longer distances and faster intervals it really does help to gauge yourself against others. Tempo runs are especially useful in groups since it simulates mid-race clustering. I've been lucky to find so many like-minded runners in Halifax. For a city well under half a million people, it rivals much larger cities for local competitive numbers. 
  • Belonging to a team is even better. Although I've been running on an unofficial basis with Lee McCarron (acting coach) and others for two years, there's always been a missing element of a proper recognition for us on race day. With mismatching clothing and no umbrella association, how would anyone know who's in our group? We therefore joined Halifast, which has traditionally been a track & field-only club. Once the team fees were sorted out, it was settled that they'd create a road race division at a club-competitive level. So halfway through the year I stopped wearing random singlets and started sporting their logo.  I don't 'gain' anything per se (e.g. no money or anything like that), but in the future when I leave and someone else takes my place there will be some common ground for us to share.
  • Sponsorship has more to do with branding than speed. I have done ok in some races, but I am not sponsored. How to get the attention of brands? If you win local races that's all well and good, but what sponsors really want is to associate their stuff with a reliable person on and off the field. That means tweeting about the stuff they give you, writing up blogs pieces on a regular basis, being available after races to interact with young runners, wearing the given apparel at competitions, and so on. Personally, I don't have the instinct for that kind of marketing. It's instructive to know what others see in you when you run, and to realize running itself is only small part of it. At first marginalizing victories sounds strange. Yet the more you think about it, the more abstract the very concept of 'winning' a race becomes. What does it actually mean to outrun others? Maybe there's more to it than that.  
  • Doping scandals (Kenyan and American) may cause some interesting side effects for non-elite road racing. Elite road races are unique in that spectators run with you. Compare that to boxing, football, hockey, and you see the immediate difference. Even cycling does not usually qualify a mass participation (Unlike the Boston Marathon, for instance, amateurs don't get to ride at the back of the Tour de France). The discovery of doping in baseball and football did less to hurt overall attendance/sales since doping only enhances the changes of seeing some amazing feats (steroids certainly don't hurt home run counts). But there's more of an imagined 'purity' to running. To damage that reputation may cause weekend runners to question their allegiance. As of now the repercussions are unknown, but . Yet we all know trends can change. Mass-running events require a group mentality to function. Such collective thoughts can be fickle, however, and may turn to another sport. In a matter of a couple years barefoot running came and went. Might back-of-the-packers turn to mass yoga instead? Remember the crash of inline skating in the 2000s
  • (added) Prize Money makes victory a little sweeter. To be clear, the absence of money does not spoil a good race. The Olympics are an excellent counter-example (although many countries choose to pay athletes for medals). But all things being equal, telling yourself (or others) that you train and receive nothing versus a little something, I think the choice makes itself. Overall I don't earn anything on races, but thanks to prize cash it doesn't cost me a fortune to compete. My trip to Calgary, had it been unassisted, would have cost me at least $1500. Instead, through a combination of travel grants, coming top 8 overall, and their excellent hosting arrangements, I spend maybe $200 in total. No profit to be sure, but it means I can race again without having to check my credit card statement.     
So let's see what happens this fall. One thing I know for sure, I'll be moving back to Montreal at some point, where my wife has found a full time job. When will the move happen? Will I find a full-time job of my own? Let us see. All I can saw for now is I'm racing the Valley Harvest half in October, and Halifast may have a team going to Kingston for XC nationals. I plan to be on that team. That's all for now. 

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