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Background to Dylan Wykes Toronto Waterfront Marathon
I guess the response and reception of my account of my trip to Scotland and Holland for the World XC and Fortis Rotterdam Marathon were positive enough that Gavin (time-to-run) and Alan (Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon -STWM- race director) have asked me to keep track of the my experience at the STWM.

A lot has changed for me since my last attempt at 42.2km in April and my last foray into the world of blogging. I've gone from living in Providence, RI (where I lived for the past 7 years. With the exception of a short hiatus to Australia and Texas)) to my hometown of Kingston, ON. From working a full-time job, to starting a MSc in Epidemiology.

[Image: epidemiology.350.jpg]

Leaving housemates, friends, and work behind in Providence was tough, much tougher than I imagined. Admittedly my first few weeks back in Kingston I really questioned my decision. But I was able to distract myself/refocus on the task at hand - training for Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM).

Recovering from my first marathon was a tough task. The physical and mental fatigue afterwards were enough to keep me from feeling myself in training until well into June. I raced twice over 10,000m, once on the road and once on the track in late-may and early-June. I felt terrible in both those races, and at times wondered if the marathon had turned me into a different beast (a far slower one!) all together.
But I started to come around and feel like I could really push the envelope again just in time to start building up for STWM.

I split the time for my buildup between Providence and Kingston. This was a bit frustrating at times because I wasn't able to compare some the efforts I put out in the early stage of my buildup to those I did in the second half. When in Providence I did almost all my workouts on a 2-mile road loop. I used this loop for my interval workouts, tempo runs, and marathon pace runs. At times I got tired of it, but it did allow me to see the progress I was making. And luckily, for the most part, I was making continual progress. Once back in Kingston I couldn't make any comparisons. But I think in hindsight this was a good thing, as it made me listen to my body more and really try to dial in to the right paces based on feel, instead of being able to look at every 1/2 mile split and compare to last week, last month, last year. And also having Steve on hand for every workout made things much easier and gave me some peace of mind. Besides, all the work I did was positive enough that I am confident in a good result come Sunday, Sept 28th.

Packing my bags- So it's the night before I depart for toronto. I am packing my bag, which soon turns into packing my bagS for the trip. Although the weather forecast now looks pretty reasonable for Sunday morning, I am trying to pack for all possible conditions the weather gods could throw at us. but now that I have the backing of Mizuno I have enough gear to be well prepared for anything (Sorry for the shameless plug of the sponsor!) There are so many elements to preparing for a marathon and I want to be able to perfect every little detail. So I've got my water bottles, gels, electrolyte drinks, sports drinks, breath-right nose strips, and the list goes on and on. I used to get so frustrated with girls on the Providence College cross country team when they'd haul these massive bags (that they couldn't even carry on their own) to a weekend meet. Unfortunately I now find myself wishing I had a third arm or just two really strong arms to manage all the gear.

300k vs 3000k - It's funny to think back on the lengths I went to in order to (a) get entered into the Rotterdam Marathon, and (b) get myself there. It's pretty exciting to be running a international-class race so close to home. I am currently on the train from Kingston to Toronto. This will be the only leg of my trip. Whereas last time out sitting on a train was just one of 5 or 6 pieces of the puzzle in making my way to the start line. I am hoping this will make the experience this time much more enjoyable. But, it might make the experiences in the lead up a little bit less exciting or novel.

I found myself awake early this morning and pretty excited about getting this trip going. So excited in fact that I couldn't bring myself to attend the 1 hour biostatistics lecture, which I just might have been able to squeeze in to the time table. I figure I'll have lots of time and energy to turn my attention to that side of things once I am done with this weekend. But for now thinking about and then physically running 3:10/km for 42.2 km's is enough information for my brain and body to be processing.

I got stuck beside a very nice (but very chatty) retired professors of English Literature (with a keen interest in Harry Potter, among other things) for the first 20 minutes of the trip. From the moment I sat down it was non stop chatter! I was able to keep the conversation light and pleasant and pretend like I actually knew what I was studying in this Master's in Epidemiology! But, it was stifling hot in that particular car. So, when the via attendants came around and said there was lots of room in the Air conditioned car ahead of ours I jumped at the opportunity to breath some cooler air and rest my ears and mouth. Although after a few demoralizing defeats at the steady hand of my computerized chess opponent I sort of wished I'd been able to continue that conversation about being a professor of all things Harry Potter!

In Rotterdam I managed fine doing all the travel and sorting out the logistics of things on my own. It worked out fine in the end. But, it is going to be nice this time around to have lots of good people around me for the weekend. My best friend from Providence, Francine, is going to be in town, hanging out and trying to keep me calm and confident. Steve will also be in town for most of the weekend. It will be great to have these two on hand as they have been the biggest motivators and supports of my running over the past 3 years or so. Also I am sure all of Alan Brookes' people with the Canadian running series and STWM will do a great job to make sure all of the logistics of the weekend go smoothly.

Being from the not so huge metropolis of Kingston, as a kid and teenager I always found Toronto to be a big, daunting, headache of a city. But, I think since my days of high school I've seen many many big cities - Boston, New York, LA, London, Beijing, Souel, Sydney. And the more time I've spent in each city the more I've enjoyed them. The cities where you can find distinct neighbourhoods that each have something different to offer are great and allow you to feel like you're in a much smaller place. But, this weekend is not about site seeing, so if you were hoping for some inside scoop or for my perspective on cool places to hang out in Toronto you are going to be disappointed with what follows . Anyways, if you're interested in the goings on of a hotel full of elite-athletes, media press conferences, and technical meetings stay tuned.

We are staying out at hotel right at the 12.2km turn around point on the course at Lakeshore and Windmere. It's convenient for running to high park and paths along the lakeshore but absolutely nothing else! Maybe that's the idea behind it. They'd rather have a bunch of restless athletes (who are used to running 160-200 km/week, but now likely only doing 50-60) bouncing off the walls on the outskirts of the city than running-a-muck around the Eaton Centre. But I've managed to get out for a few meals as the Elite Athlete Suite's menu hasn't always been conducive with my non-meat eating diet. We ventured up to BloorWest Village for a good feed of Thai food. I could have eaten the sticky rice and peanut sauce all day long!

On Thursday afternoon we went out for a short training run. I couldn't believe how hot it was out. I went out with a long-sleeve t-shirt on and had it off about 10 minutes into the run. But, the best part about the run was seeing a group of the African guys out for a jog in their full warm-up suits! Here I was sweating away with no shirt on at all and they have these big jackets and pants on. There systems have obviously adapted to the heat much differently than mine. As it turns out most of the guys do a whole lot of everything in their track suits, not just running. The most common sight around the hotel thus far has been about 5-6 guys huddled around the computer in the hotel lobby. I've no idea what is they are looking at, but clearly it is exciting for them. They all seem to have a really good attitude about running. None of them seem too serious about it (although I know they really are, as for them running is a job). They always seem to be joking around and enjoying themselves, drinking many cups of tea during and after meals and just sitting around in their track suits.

Getting together a group of 30-40 people for anything, regardless of their age or whatever can be difficult. But, when you thrown in jet-lag and language barriers, and such, getting 40 athletes to a Press Conference can be a much more difficult task than anyone can imagine. Cliff Cunningham came close to losing the plot, but managed to regain his composure when the bus to take us all to the press conference was late. When Cliff piled 10 of the athletes including myself into a van in a disparate attempt to get us to the Press conference on time I thought we were in for a nightmarish display of frantic Toronto driving. But, it didn't happen. In fact the press conference took ages to get going, and not because there were no athletes there to ask questions of.

The STWM organizers are trying to make a story out of the "strong" Canadian contingent in the race this weekend. Although we are still way behind the rest of the world, there is some progress being made. So, I was required to attend the press conference as the "leader" of this Canadian contingent. After a few key people spoke about the race and a few pictures were taken, I answered a few questions about my running and how I came to running marathons.


One of the questions that has come up a number of times is this idea of me "leading" a resurgence in Canadian Marathon running. As much I find it flattering, I think there are many more capable leaders out there. If Simon Bairu, Eric Gillis, or Reid Coolsaet take up the event (as they have all mentioned intending to do), I believe all of them are much more capable of having a serious impact on marathon running in Canada. Based on what they have done at shorter distances on the track they have the potential to be in sub 2:10 range right off the bat. So, I just try and focus on what I have to do to get to keep improving over the next 3-4 years, prior to london 2012.

After the press conference there were some guest speakers at the expo. we had the pleasure of getting some advice from a wide range of speakers with many different approaches to marathon running. I am still trying to rap my head around the advice to try not to sweat too much, and make sure I save some energy left so that I look good for the photo at the finish line (because that is the most important part of the race, not the time you run)!

I admittedly am addicted to coffee. I am also admittedly a coffee snob. For me anything short of a organic, fair trade, bold, dark roast coffee and my ability to function as a normal human is completely compromised (i.e. I am very grumpy). The Foldgers coffee on offer at the hotel did not cut it. I went the entire day on Friday without a proper cup of coffee. I was in a total panic about what I was going to do the next two days. because it was highly unlikely I would survive the weekend without it. There was no coffee shop within walking distance of the hotel. When on the street car on the way back to the hotel from downtown I eyed a local coffee roasters shop. We stopped and I bought some beans and had them ground, just the smell of them put me a good mood. At that point I wasn't sure how I was going to make coffee with these grounds, but I was willing to try anything.

After unsuccessfully trying to find somewhere to buy some coffee filters, I resorted to carefully replacing the inferior Foldgers grounds with the oh so scrumptious smelling Bolivian dark roast grounds in the pre-packaged single-brew coffee grounds sachet provided at that hotel. Although the little coffee maker provided in the rooms didn't get the coffee very hot, it still tasted heavenly. And the effort was well worth it, as I don't think I would have made it to onto the 5:50am bus to the start line without it.

It was pointed out to me on Saturday that I my addictions went beyond good strong coffee and now included checking the weather every 15 minutes, and checking 3 or 4 different sources each time! I know the course for the race is honest and that I am well prepared to run a personal best. But, the one factor I have no control over, and have therefore chosen to focus on is the weather. Up until 4 or 5 days before the race I avoided checking the weather at all. But then I developed an obsession with checking the weather often. What was most intriguing to me was that different websites reportedly drastically different forecasts for Sunday. Once it was pointed out to me that I was being over the top and had no control over it, I tried to limit my checking the weather to once an hour!

I spent about 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon getting together the water bottles I would use for the race. No problems here at STWM getting to use my own water bottles on the course! Typically, the elite athletes in a marathon get to have their own water bottles, filled with whatever they want (rumour has it Frank Shorter (Gold medalist in the 1976 Olympic Marathon) used de-fizzed coke as his drink of choice) every 5km along the course. There are usually tables designated for the elites. Although I don't think it made a big difference in Rotterdam, I would like to think having my own bottles there might have helped me a little bit. Being able to use your own electrolyte/carbohydrate drink can be a major help late in the race, especially if it is warm out. I'd practiced with the same electrolyte drink and gels for many months in training. I made up the bottles so that the concentration of electrolyte drink gradually increased in each bottle, so that by 35-40 km the bottles I'd get would be a potent concentration of carbohydrates and electrolytes, which will hopefully help propel me across the line.

Later in the afternoon we had a technical meeting to go over the specifics of the timeline for the morning, the pacemakers, water bottle stations, etc. The race director, Alan Brookes and Ian Ladbrooke (in charge of pacemakers for the event) have been kind enough to designate a pacemaker for whatever pace I wanted. Stephen Koech, a Kenyan runner, based in Philadelphia is my man for the race. He is going to try and take me through 30 km at 3:10/km. I think this is going to be a huge help for the race. Being able to follow someone else and not have to think about the pace I am running every 3 minutes should help a lot. There are also going to be pacemakers taking the lead group through at 2:08 pace!

The night before the race was a pretty low-key affair. I ate dinner at the pre-race meal in the elite athlete hospitality suite. I tried stuffing my face with as many rolls, pasta, and rice as I could without feeling sick. (I've also been choking back some yummy artificial-orange flavored carbohydrate drinks.) In the few days prior to my last marathon I was really careful and stressed out about making sure I was consuming a large amount of carbohydrates each day, even calculating approximate amounts. This time around I was less stressed (as I tried to be about everything in the build-up) but at the same time conscious to be well fueled. The rest of the evening was spent organizing my gear and racing kit for the morning. I figured my brain might not be operating at 100% at 4:30am so, I had everything set out and ready to go. I managed to tinker with stuff until I was ready to crash around 10:00pm.

The next article - The Race
Quote:Background to Dylan Wykes Toronto Waterfront Marathon

Great blog! Felt like I was right there, with you!
This is very nice blog.

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