Why I Stopped Running

This post’s been long overdue, and something I’ve been trying to write for several months now. To sum it up in one sentence, I had chronic achilles tendonitis that wouldn’t allow me to train at the level I wanted. I’ve had achilles problems for years- starting back in 2011 while I was still at Notre Dame- but it was always something I could control/would only flare up near the end of seasons/never bad enough to take me out of extended blocks of training. Even in 2015, when I ran all my personal bests, my achilles was holding me back. The day before I ran a 3:36 1500m in Heusden I wasn’t able to do pre-race strides in spikes. Going into every race that year the things I would normally stress about like competition, pacing, weather, and fitness were replaced by just stressing about if I could physically complete 1500m without my achilles giving out.

2016 was meant to be a big year for me, which called for harder, more consistent training, yet it ended up being the most inconsistent year of running I ever had. My achilles hurt more than ever, but because it was an Olympic year, I ignored all warning signs and pushed through the pain. I never ended up racing, and watched all my friends and teammates qualify for Rio which was something I had been dreaming of accomplishing and working towards for years.

Around this time I moved out of Guelph and back in with my parents in Niagara. I needed a long break from running, and seeing as my whole life in Guelph revolved around running, it was hard for me to actually take the necessary time off when I was still in that environment. In July 2016 I also bought a road bike, which I thought would be a good way of keeping in shape until I returned to running later in the fall. Turned out I really liked cycling… so much that even when my achilles started feeling a bit better, I found myself wanting to get out on the bike just as much as I wanted to run.

By the end of fall, my running mileage was getting back to where it used to be, I was starting to commute to Guelph for workouts with the team, but the achilles pain slowly started becoming an issue again. Nonetheless, I pushed on. I committed to going to Flagstaff for an altitude camp in April (2017), and while the thought of quitting running was already creeping into my head, I wanted to give myself one last shot at getting fit. My thought process at the time was that if I surround myself with teammates, in a competitive environment free from distractions, with some of my favourite trails and roads, I’d be giving myself the best possible chance to overcome the achilles injury and get in good form for the season. I flew down a week ahead of my teammates and started seeing a chiropractor in Phoenix who had been highly recommended. Throughout the camp, I drove down from Flagstaff to Phoenix just to be treated by him. Things were actually going alright for the first few weeks. I was getting in okay mileage, some good tempo and threshold efforts, but when it came to high-end track work, I just couldn’t manage it. By the last week of camp, I had essentially already made the decision to not continue with running, but to make the best of the situation, I went on some really great, long bike rides. I bought a used bike off Kijiji, and on one of the final days in Flagstaff I rode up to the snow bowl on Mt Humphrey’s (10km @6%). Looking back, that probably ended up being one of the better workouts of the entire trip, and the most fun.

Within a week of being back home, I joined the local cycling group, and started going out for their weekly rides. Up until now, I had almost exclusively ridden by myself, so there was a huge learning curve involved. I was absolutely smashing myself to keep up with the group, and it’s not like these guys were a group of pro’s. They were mostly just 9-5ers with a passion for cycling, weekend-warriors, masters class guys. They were really great about teaching me the basics of pack-riding, etiquette, and strategy. Within a few rides, I was really starting to get the hang of it, and soon I was riding off the front of the group.

I started to get the itch to bike race, but I wasn’t confident enough yet with my pack riding skills for a conventional road race. What I found instead was the Whiteface Mountain hill climb, a mass-start, 13km @8% race from bottom to top. These types of races lean more towards fitness than actual bike handling or strategy, so it was a perfect first race opportunity. I ended up placing second, only being passed about 100m from the finish line. I ended up doing a lot of leading up the second half of the mountain, and we ended up posting two of the fastest times ever for the race.

Whiteface Mountain.JPG

After that weekend, I was hooked. I ended up racing about a dozen times over the summer, and every one of them was just insanely fun. Cycling provided several things I had been missing from running for some time. 1. Whatever I put into cycling, I got out of it. I could train hard at something, and within a few weeks, I’d notice an improvement- something which my achilles had prevented me doing in running. 2. I was racing, and being competitive- even though it wasn’t nearly at the same level (local class racing vs. national class in running), I absolutely love competition. The fact that I wasn’t able to race at all in 2016 and 2017 was really really difficult for me to handle. Cycling provided me that missing avenue to be competitive again. 3. It was fun as hell- running when you’re injured is one of the worst feelings. I dreaded nearly every run I did for about three years. Now, I’d finish one ride and immediately be thinking about where I’d get to ride next.

There are some things I don’t like as much about cycling. It’s expensive. It’s sometimes (often) gear-dependent (races can be ended by something as simple as a flat tire). It requires more training time. Races aren’t as much about pure fitness (in cycling, being the fittest guy doesn’t really mean anything, whereas in running, the fittest guy almost always wins a race). Nonetheless, I was still having a blast.

Cycling will never be an exact replacement for what running used to provide me. I’ll obviously never get to the same level of competitiveness, nor do I want to. I’m back in school now, and I have a part-time job. I just don’t have the time (or headspace) to commit to high-end performance anymore. I’m also 26 now, and realize that I don’t have that huge foundation of skills and bike-specific fitness that true elites have by the time they’re my age. However, I’m totally cool with this. Cycling is just a way for me to stay in shape, meet people, and get to explore whatever city I happen to be in. I’m still involved with the running community through work, and get out for the occasional jog, but otherwise I have no ambition to start serious running again. For now, I’m just having too much fun on two wheels.

(edit: weird how I can write these 1300 words in about 30 minutes, yet a 1000 word paper for school takes me 6 days and 3 Starbucks trips.)

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Day 1- Flagstaff 2017

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Flagstaff

I finally got around to putting together some of the footage I got in Flagstaff. Most of the video was taken in the first week when I was running a bit less, and had more time to film the other guys. As the weeks went on, fatigue increased as ambition decreased, which is usually how those camps go.

As for my running, I’m still dealing with some chronic achilles tendonitis, and am only now returning to full track workouts. I was really hoping to be able to race at Payton Jordan, but I just wan’t ready. I hope to be ready in time for the meet in Windsor on the 21st of May.

 

Flagstaff 2016 v3 from Jeremy Rae on Vimeo.

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CIS vs. NCAA: A More Balanced Perspective

(Preface: Thank you to Maxine Gravina for sparking a conversation among athletes currently training in Flagstaff. We’re three weeks into this camp, and at this point we’re so sick of each other we’re looking for every reason to argue. The NCAA vs CIS debate has been the topic of conversation in our house for much of the past two days, and I’d like to summarize some of those thoughts. Of the six Speed River males (Genest, Proudfoot, Dulhanty, Britt, Winter, and myself), three of us studied in Canada, the other three in the US. Collectively, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what both systems can offer.)

In Maxine’s video (LINK), titled “CIS vs. NCAA”, she interviews several Canadian athletes who had varying levels of experience with the NCAA system. While the conclusion of the video was good (athletes should make individual decisions based on personalities and desires), you would never have imagined that would have been the conclusion from the first 90% of the video. In it, the interviewees list many negative aspects of the NCAA system, many of which are based on opinion, or which can equally be applied to Canadian schools. As someone who spent five years at an NCAA school (Notre Dame), and now trains with a group that is closely associated with a CIS school (Guelph), I feel I have a pretty good perspective of what both systems can offer a high school athlete. Some of the concerns mentioned in the video aren’t wrong either. Many of the problems that these athletes encountered at NCAA schools can also be found within Canadian programs. Prospective student athletes need to be critical when assessing their choices regardless of where you decide to study beyond high school. Below, I will summarize the relevant points made by each speaker in the video, and hopefully offer a more a balanced perspective.

(Before I continue, a few assumptions need to be made. Comparing the experience of a walk-on athlete at a CIS school to that of a scholarship-athlete at an NCAA school is not comparing apples to apples. This analysis will be geared more towards the level of high school athlete that is good enough to earn a scholarship to a US school, who’s looking to place an equal amount of emphasis on both athletics and academic pursuits.)

Connor Darlington (athlete, McMaster): Was concerned about “limited recovery time” and “pressure” that’s placed on NCAA athletes. 

  • Never actually competed or went to school in the NCAA. While he’s a good athlete whose opinion should be respected, his knowledge of the NCAA system is limited to what he’s heard or been told by friends or coaches.
  • I never found the pressure to perform in the NCAA any different than I see from the athletes at Guelph or other competitive schools in the CIS. The reality is that coaches are given performance expectations by their athletic directors, and if coaches do not meet these expectations, their jobs are at stake. A more fair assessment is that if you choose to compete for a competitive Canadian program, you will be expected to operate at a high level just the same as if you were to attend a top level NCAA school.
  • Recovery time is also not a problem unique to the NCAA system. The demands of a full academic course load can be rigorous at any school. Training room experiences can also vary greatly depending on where you go to school, and what kind of budget the program has. When you’re choosing a school, ask about how they help athletes balance their athletic and academics. If you’re currently receiving a certain type of treatment like chiropractic care or osteopathy, ask if that will be available to you.

Paula Schnurr (coach, McMaster): Concerns about the NCAA include: “teammates spending too much time together, eating and studying. Needs to be more balance.” Also claims that the 2-season system of the CIS (no outdoor track in the CIS) is more conducive to having summer track seasons. 

  • Time spent with teammates is actually the thing I miss most about my five years at Notre Dame. Some of my most favorite memories are from the countless hours we spent together in the locker room, at the dining hall, or the (not-so-productive) studying we’d do together. Claiming that this type of behavior is limited to NCAA athletes is also pretty unfair. I’m fairly certain the cross-country runners at McMaster live together and spend time with each other outside of practice time.
  • The conduciveness of the 2-season system to having a more successful summer track season is also not backed by any type of research. I never found I had a problem coming back to Canada in the summer and competing when I wanted to. I made two Canadian national teams in the summers after having full NCAA seasons. It’s also very dependent on the school that you attend. Mississippi State allowed Brandon McBride to have a limited indoor season this year so that he could focus on having a successful summer season. While this type of leniency is not the norm at every NCAA school, it’s an extreme generalization to assume all CIS programs allow athletes to peak for outdoors, while assuming NCAA schools do not.

Amanda Truelove (athlete, Western University): Claims that a healthier balance exists in the CIS between athletics and academics, and athletes in the US are stretched too thin. Also prefers racing amongst friends within the Canadian system, as opposed to racing people you don’t know in the US. 

  • While Amanda has some criticisms about the NCAA, she speaks mostly favorably about her experience at Duke. She also makes some good points about not taking a scholarship purely for the idea of being a scholarship athlete, and that every athlete should consider both systems equally.
  • Her point that a healthier balance exists within the CIS is surely very dependent on what schools you attend. Amanda studied at Duke, which is an elite academic school that will naturally have a more difficult course load than an average state school. It’s also extremely dependent on what program you choose, as work load varies greatly by major. I studied political science at Notre Dame (which is, I’ll admit, one of the easier majors), and never had a problem balancing my athletic and academic loads. Meanwhile, my engineering teammates struggled with that balance a bit more. I imagine the same can be said for Canadian universities.
  • I also think there’s a point to be made about time management skills. I often found that my teammates who complained about lack of sleep or recovery issues were those who could be found wasting time throughout the day. Regardless of where you study, allocating your time effectively will be critical to your success as an athlete and student.
  • Her point about competing among friends is a fair, but personal opinion. As an athlete, you need to decide what’s important for you. I know that I was able to make many friends in the NCAA, many of whom I continue to race against to this day. Ross and Alex have pointed out a few times over the past few weeks that I seem to know everyone we run into in Flagstaff, much of which can be attributed to my experiences racing in the NCAA.

Dave Mills (Coach, Western University): “Many athletes that I have coached have gone on to the NCAA system- some had great experiences, some had negative experiences, but I’ve seen that in the CIS too. So I don’t know if it’s a CIS vs NCAA thing, or just the individuals that you’re dealing with at certain institutions. It’s such an individual thing. What works for one kid might not work for another.”

  • Dave offers extremely balanced and reasonable opinions when comparing the two systems.
  • The above quote is bang on, and should have been used as both the introduction and conclusion of the video.

Gabriela Stafford (Athlete, University of Toronto): “Competing in Canada has just as much depth as competing in the US. 

  • What Gabriela was alluding to is that there are 7 girls in Canada fighting for a spot on the Olympic team in the 1500m. While it’s great we’ve got depth in Canadian female middle distance runners, these girls are not all in university, and therefore it’s an unfair comparison. While the CIS is becoming better and better, its overall depth is still much shallower than its NCAA counterpart.
  • Gabriela made some excellent points when comparing the two systems. She talked about there being a big discrepancy in terms of quality academic institutions in the US. When young athletes are considering US schools, they should consider how well their degree will transfer back to Canada.
  • Gabriela is also in an extremely unique position, in that she’s good enough to be nationally carded. This allows her to actually make money while going to school, which is a big advantage compared to the NCAA.
  • In her position, I would have made the same decision. She’s been a member of the Toronto track club since high school, and her coaches have handled her progression well. As the saying goes, “don’t fix what ain’t broke,” especially in an Olympic year.

The conclusion of Maxine’s video actually sums it up pretty well. Deciding between the CIS and NCAA comes down to individual personalities and desires. When I was in high school, I’ll admit that I hardly ever considered staying in Canada for school. Year after year I watched as the best high school runners went down south, and I blindly assumed that was best for my own development. Do I regret going to Notre Dame? Definitely not. However, I wish I would have given Canadian schools some more serious consideration.

The CIS has also come a long way over the last 10 years. My times as a senior in high school would have automatically made me one of the fastest university athletes in Canada. I thought that in order to improve, I should surround myself and compete against better athletes. Since that time however, the CIS has gotten deeper and deeper, and has produced athletes like CPT and Ross who would have more than challenged me in my collegiate career.

The other thing that’s changed over the past decade is the amount of quality options there are for Canadian schools that balance athletics and academics at a high level. When I was in high school, looking at CIS results would have given the impression that Guelph was the only school worth attending if I wanted to push myself athletically. Now, we’re seeing schools like Toronto, Windsor, McMaster, Victoria, and many others who have become competitive at the CIS level in both cross-country and track, which gives high schoolers many great options if they’d like to stay in Canada.

What it comes down to is that you shouldn’t let the opinions of others shape your decision. I remember being told continuously in high school that athletes in the NCAA are often expected to triple at conference meets, and they become worn out. The truth is that competing at conference meets was actually one of my favorite parts about my NCAA career- I would actually ask my coach to run more events just so I could help the team any way I could. The thrill of competing for a team title is unlike any other experience you’ll have as a track athlete, since we mostly compete as individuals. Doubling and tripling at conference meets is also not unique to the NCAA. Look at how Ullman and Bellemore, or Smart and Stafford, or Ayers and Watts were utilized at OUA’s this year.

The bottom line is that you should explore every option thats given to you, regardless of what system the school is in. Take visits, ask questions (not only to the coach, but more importantly ask the guys on the team about things that concern you), and be thorough in your comparisons. Make a spreadsheet, and score each school after every visit based on factors you find important to you. Also remember that while choosing a school is an important decision, it is by no means final. Plenty of athletes have transferred schools and have gone on to great professional careers (athletically and academically).

Below you will find an attachment to a word document put together by Trent Stellingwerf called “High School Scholarship Guide”. It was a tool I relied on greatly when I was making my decision, and while some of it might now be outdated, the majority of it still applies. All high school athletes should read through it before making their decisions. If any high school athlete has questions, needs advice, or would like me to expand on any points made, please feel free to reach out as I’d me more than willing to help.

(2004_HS_ScholarshipGuide).

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Woody Mountain Road, Flagstaff.

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Derailing the Beer Mile Hype-Train

(Preface: I wrote this blog a week ago after I was involved in a Twitter discussion regarding the potential popularity of the beer mile. I was frustrated, had lots of thoughts that I needed to get off my chest, but in the end decided not to post it. Today, I changed my mind when, after not hearing the word “beer mile” for three days, my boss (who has no knowledge of running or track and field) asked me if I was considering becoming a beer miler. Here are my two cents:)

For those who have managed to live under a rock for the past two weeks (I’m jealous), I’ll catch you up to speed. Over the past few months, this niche activity called the Beer Mile (which consists of running four laps and drinking four beers as quickly as possible) has been everywhere. Its gone from a non-competitive social activity and has turned into a professional event, with sponsors, world championships, and plenty of media attention. Within the last two years, the world record went from a relatively unchallenged 5:07 down to a very competitive 4:47. After setting the record, Lewis Kent signed a contract with Brooks, was interviewed by most major sports news sites likes ESPN & Sports Illustrated, and made an appearance on Ellen.

All this didn’t bother me too much. I met Kent this year, he’s a good guy. I’ve also spectated a bunch of beer miles, and they’re a ton of fun. I tuned into this years and last years FloTrack coverage of the beer mile world championships, and thought they did a really great job with it. I’d also like to preface my upcoming rant by saying that drinking four beers + running four laps in less than 5 minutes is very very impressive. It’s something that obviously took a lot of training, and I’m glad to see Kent getting lots attention for it.

Here’s what did irritate me: “media & marketing experts” like ESPN’s Darren Rovell saying that the beer mile will one day become bigger than track and field. He made the claim that beer milers can be more marketable than regular track athletes, and that popularity of beer miles will surpass that of regular miles.

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Darren, I respect you, but you’re wrong. Beer miles and athletics cannot (and should not) be compared. They are two separate entities, one with a long, rich history that dates back to the ancient olympic games, the other a bastardization of the worlds most prehistoric sport.

Here’s why the current rise in beer mile popularity does not signify the END OF TRACK AND FIELD as we know it:

  • The beer mile is currently going through a perfect storm of media attention, which led to Lewis appearing on Ellen. While he was able to benefit massively by being the best at the right time, there is no staying power. It’s not like every world record holder from now on will appear on a talk show. The beer mile went from being a niche activity to a viral sensation, and will now go back to being a niche activity.
  • The beer mile is not a new event. People have been doing them since at least the 80’s, and the idea of combining racing and drinking isn’t a new one. My dad took part is a few 2-mile beer runs in Buffalo, NY in the early 80’s that involved running through the streets of downtown drinking beer every 400m. Why did these types of races die out? The answer to that question might help predict the future of the beer mile.
  • Runners aren’t the first to combine their sport with drinking. Introducing the Single Speed Cyclocross World Championships (http://sscxwc.com), an extremely popular event that puts a fun spin on traditional cyclocross. Billed as the “wildest, most devil-may-care spirit of cyclocross”, competitors traverse challenging courses while stopping at various stations to chug beer and take shots of liquor. While the event has become increasingly popular amongst a niche crowd, ssxcwc hasn’t come near the popularity of traditional cyclocross (Video of this years cyclocross IS however worth a watch ).
  • There’s a stigma that comes with associating drinking and professional sports. As impressive as it is to combine a near four minute mile with incredibly quick beer drinking, people won’t ever consider it a real sport if it involves drinking. It’s something that gains the publics interest due to novelty, they’ll watch it one time, be awed by it, and move on.
  • Saying that beer milers have more marketing potential than regular milers is an especially ludicrous claim given that we’re going into an Olympic year. Over half the worlds population will tune into the Olympic games in Rio this summer, and there will be billions of dollars made in total revenue. Given that athletics is one of (if not THE) the main event(s) of the summer Olympics, track and field is about to benefit tremendously in 2016. Elite athletes that qualify for the games this summer will have the opportunity to provide their sponsors more international exposure than any elite beer miler could ever possibly imagine. I’m upset with myself for even having to address this issue.

There are however, several lessons to be learned from beer miles recent popularity. In my opinion, the fact that the event was able to become a viral sensation in the first place is a good sign for track and field. In the end, it means that people do have a general understanding of what a good mile time is (most people associate 4 minutes= good). They appreciate how difficult it is to combine four beers and still break five minutes. It also shows that “beer” is a sexy word that, when associated with (less sexy) words like “running”, it attracts attention.

I think this proves that there needs to be continued emphasis placed on mile races in North America. While the 1500m is the Olympic distance, people can’t relate to it. The general public didn’t run the 1500m in their high school gym class. People don’t know what an elite 1500 time is, but they could probably tell you who was the first to run a sub 4 minute mile. Substituting the mile for the 1500 in more and more events will be one big key to increasing interest in the general population. (EDIT 12/19/15: In light of the NCAA’s recent decision to change the 1500m to the mile at the outdoor national championships, let me make my position on the matter more clear. Yes, the mile is great, and yes it’s got public appeal. However, the 1500m should still be the chosen distance in championship events to reflect whats being done at the international level (Worlds, Olympics). My other major concern with this decision is that meets like Payton Jordan and Mt Sac might now switch to the mile. Since these collegiate meets are popular among elites for achieving qualifying times, I’m okay with the switch so long as championship meets like the trials, Worlds, and the Olympics accept the mile as a qualifying time.)

The beer mile also helps prove that making track and field more of an “event” helps increase popularity. Meets in Europe are fun (and better attended) because there’s food trucks, beer is served, music is playing, and it’s generally more geared towards the spectator. Meets in North America need to innovate, and serving beer trackside is a must.

With all this being said, I must admit that i’ll be ending my down week on Saturday by running my first ever beer mile. After all the hype the past few weeks, our groups decided that we’ve got to take a crack at it. Then, I’ll go back to being a serious athlete again, with my sights set squarely on the main event (RIORIORIO).

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Photo from XC Nationals Nov. 28th.

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How I (almost) Qualified for the World Championships

1. Context

At first glance, the qualification criteria set out by the IAAF for the World championships was very similar to years prior. Hit the time standard (1500m in 3:36.20) before the deadline (August 10th), and you’re eligible. Each federation then chooses to either adopt the IAAF criteria as is, or add stipulations. Back in the fall, Athletics Canada announced that in order for Canadians to qualify, they would have to not only hit the standard, but they would have to do so much earlier than the deadline set out by the IAAF (AC deadline was July 5th, more than a month early). You would also have to place in the top 3 at the national championships in order to be eligible. While we knew that an earlier deadline would mean fewer opportunities to qualify, we (seemingly) accepted the criteria, and adjusted our schedules to best set us up to hit the standard in time. All fine and dandy.

Skip forward a month or two, and the IAAF then releases an amendment to the qualification criteria. It was announced that on August 10th, if not enough athletes had hit the IAAF standard, and they still had room in the field (ex. Size of the field for the 1500m is set at 45 athletes), they would offer invitations to the next fastest athletes on the list without standard. When we saw this new rule, one of my teammates spoke to an official at Athletics Canada, and was told that AC would NOT be honoring the IAAF invitations unless you achieved a fast enough time before the AC deadline of July 5th. Again, all fine and dandy, so long as we know that these are the rules.

Skip forward a few more months. We’re out in Edmonton at the national championships on July 5th, and NOBODY in the 1500m has hit the IAAF standard on time (nor has anybody run fast enough to even get an IAAF invitation). As far as we’re concerned, there’s very little at stake in the race, since nobody’s going to World’s anyway. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all trying to win for the sake of winning a national title, but coming 2nd and 3rd did not offer the consolation of being eligible for worlds. I can’t speak for everyone in the field, but personally, my mindset was “race for the title, but once it’s over, it’s time to shift your focus to next summer and Rio.”

A week later, I flew to Belgium, and got into the fastest race of my life. I placed fifth in 3:36.85, a pretty big personal best, and a time that’s less than a second away from the Olympic qualifier. I wasn’t the only Canadian to run fast that day, as Chuck PT and Nate Brannen ran 3:34 and 3:35, both achieving the world and Olympic standard.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In (what I assume was a) response to the public reaction, AC issues a statement saying that they changed their minds, and WILL ACCEPT IAAF INVITATIONS. However, they will only accept them if AC believes the invited athlete has a chance of making the final at worlds. The metric they decided to use to determine who could make the final was to be in the top half of the entries (ie. for the 1500m, that would mean you’d have to be ranked 23 or higher).

2. The Current Situation

Here’s a breakdown of the Canadians who did not initially qualify for Worlds, but will be receiving an invitation from the IAAF. The number on the left denotes the athletes world rank*. An “X” denotes top half of the field, and therefore within AC’s new (ability to make the final) criteria:

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(information based on this website: (http://toplist.leichtathletik-mehrkampf.de)

*This ranking is not a true world ranking. Each country can only be represented on this list a max of 3 times per event.*

This means that 11 Canadians will receive an invitation to compete at Worlds (myself included), but AC will not honor it because they do not see the value in sending someone to worlds unless they’re capable of making the final. 

Before I air my thoughts on why AC’s decision is wrong and short-sighted, I’ll say that I’m obviously incredibly biased. A completely open-qualification process would mean that I could be competing at the World championships at the end of the month. However, I’m not advocating to personally be on the team. I’m tired, I’ve had a long season, and I’m ready for a break. Because of the initial criteria, I was forced to try and chase standard early and often in the season, so it’s now August and I’m spent. I’m actually just writing this post to air my thoughts and hope for change with future criteria. I guess I’m bitter because maybe, had we known earlier that AC WOULD end up honoring the IAAF invitations, more emphasis would have been placed on running fast in July as opposed to chasing times in May and June. I was honestly a little surprised to run 3:36 given how long I had been tapering for.

But how can only taking athletes “with a shot at making the final” be a good decision? Aside from a lack of resources (which, if that is in fact the case, then I am much more okay with the situation), there’s no reason to NOT field a full team.

  1. The experience an athlete gains by competing at a World championship is invaluable, especially leading into an Olympic year. How are you supposed to make the final at the Olympics next year without first having experienced a major games? I’d love to see the data of the amount of 1500m runners who have made the final in their first world or olympic championships. I bet the number is very small.
  2. Bigger teams= better for the sport. Every athlete comes from a different background, from different schools, and part of track clubs with younger athletes who look up to and keep up with the athletes who qualify for Worlds. Sending more athletes can only help grow the sport in this country.
  3. Somewhat similar to point 1, but some of the athletes getting an invitation are young, and very very likely to qualify for the olympics next year. Take Gabriela Stafford for example. Judging by her improvement curve, she’ll probably be in Rio next year without any major games experience.

In the end, I’m happy that Athletics Canada at the very least decided to expand the team to accommodate a few more people. Even though I’d (of course) love to be at Worlds with the team, I’m still beyond excited to watch friends and teammates race in Beijing at the end of the month. I’m also very satisfied with my own season, having run PB’s in the 800 and 1500, and am already pretty freaking psyched about the coming year.

To end my rant, here’s a tweet by Steve Magness that sums up my thoughts pretty good:

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Ninove Start Line

Start line in Ninove, Belgium. 26 people (2 rows) on a 6 lane track. 

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National Champs outcome? 4th place. Time? Irrelevant.

When someone asks you how you did at last weekends Stanford invitational, you tell them your time. Placing is unimportant.

When someone asks you how you did at last weekends National championship, you tell them your place. Time is unimportant.

Two different kinds of racing.

I was going to write a blog post about the wild tactics at play at nationals last weekend, but then came across a lenghty discussion about it on the Trackie.com message boards. So to sum it up, here’s both sides of the argument, and my short opinion on the matter. (Incase you missed it, context: The 1500m was won in 4:06 after crawling through the first 800m in 2:28. The winner, Thomas Riva, ran his last 400m in 52.0. I finished in 4th less than 1 second behind.)

Side 1: “Getting hung up on the time is like watching a chess match and getting worked up about how many moves it took to achieve checkmate”- ahutch.

I respect anything written by ahutch (Alex Hutchinson), appreciate whenever he takes the time to contribute to the forums, and completely agree with the analogy used here. When a championship title is on the line, the time is completely irrelevant. The difference in running 3:46, 3:56, or 4:06 is largely unimportant.

Side 2: “Seriously, what good does it do any of our guys trying to run a fast last lap off that slow of a pace? What race are you trying to prepare for with an effort like that?”- mattnormington

Matt, I appreciate and understand where you’re coming from with this mentality. Running fast times and improving on personal bests is, in essence, any track athletes main ambition. However, setting personal records, and championship racing are often mutually exclusive events, especially when you’re competing at a high level. In a championship race, my sole concern is running a tactically sound race to achieve the highest placing possible. Based on how I’m trained, what my strengths are, and the quality of the competition, I decided there was no benefit to me leading on that day.

What makes the 1500m so interesting is that, in general, the runner with the fastest PB will win the race, regardless of the finishing time. While there’s no way to prove this, I’d be willing to bet that with a few exceptions, the finishing order would have been extremely similar had the race been a fast one. While you might think that a race that tactical in nature might favor those with the fastest flat out 200m or 400m speeds, the results were essentially very similar to if you had just listed the competitors by season’s best time. Below are the athletes listed by season’s best, followed by how many spots different they were in the championship final.

1. Brannen 3:37.6    +4

2. Chuck 3:38.3         0

3. Levins(i) 3:38       +3

4. Riva 3:39.4            -3

5. Rae 3:39.9             -1

6. Kent 3:41.0           +1

7. Gorman 3:41.95       -4

8. Darlington 3:42.53      -2

9. Falk 3:42.62              0

10. Wilkie 3:44.28         +1

11. Morin 3:45.40         -2

12. Lapointe 3:46.50       0

To me, this shows that the extreme tactical nature of the race might have only had an effect on 4/12 athletes in the field. Brannen and Levins suffered from the slow pace, while Riva and Gorman used it to their advantage. However, the greatest deviation was still only 4 spots, which to me doesn’t signify a huge anomaly in the results based on the slow overall time. In my opinion, positioning going into the bell lap has the greatest influence on outcome, regardless of low long it took the athletes to get to that point (Riva and Gorman were in an excellent position with 400m to go, Brannen was not. That leaves Levins as the only athlete who, in my opinion, was truly influenced by the slow start).

Anyways, I’m not too upset with the outcome. My goal was to sneak into the top 3, and I knew that to do so would require me beating someone very good in the likes of Brannen, CPT, or Levins (honestly, I hadn’t even considered Riva as a threat until we were still jogging at the 800m mark. At that point, I knew that someone who’s just as fast as me over 1500m, even faster over 800m, and in a better position with 400m to go, was going to have an advantage). Therefore, the end result (4th) was what I would call a “good but not great finish” on my part.

I’m still hungry and excited about what lies ahead this season. While in past years I would get to June and July exhausted after a lengthy NCAA season, I feel like I’m getting sharper and faster every week. I’m writing this while I’m on the train from Amsterdam to Leuven, Belgium, where i’ll be based for the next 4 weeks as I chase fast times.

My rough schedule for the next 4 weeks is as follows:

Kortrich 1500m July 11th

Liege 800m (maybe) July 15th

Heusden 1500m July 18th

Morton 3000m/mile July 24th

Ninove 1500m August 1st

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Blurred Lines- More doping news + racing update

Amidst all the recent scandals in sport (FIFA and the World cup selection process being the first that comes to mind), Track and Field was hit recently with a damning article  by David Epstein. In it, he makes doping allegations against one of our sports biggest and most successful groups, the Nike Oregon Project. He interviews athletes and coaches formerly associated with the NOP, and even includes photo evidence that some of their athletes have taken banned substances in the past.

Sadly, none of this is really surprising news to those who have been following the sport the past couple years. As with any sport, meteoric rises and rapid improvements in performance will always be met with skepticism. When Mo Farah and Galen Rupp sprinted to gold and silver in the 10,000m at the last olympics, the casual fans of the sport watched in amazement. Others however (myself included), shook their heads in disbelief, wondering how these two (admittedly very talented) runners went from mid-pack at worlds to Olympic champions.

While the BBC exposé and Epstein article did not include a real smoking gun proving the guilt of those associated with the Salazar group, it did show that they’re not afraid to push the limits and really take advantage of the rules (or lack thereof). Allegations were made that those in the group are encouraged to get diagnosed for thyroid deficiencies, exercise induced asthma, severe allergies, and illnesses that would (under the rules of the IAAF and WADA) allow you to take the otherwise illegal medication that might have performance benefits. To clarify, this is not technically cheating. However, in my opinion, it really calls for some reform in the TUE (therapeutic use exemption) process. At this time, all that’s required is for an athlete to find a doctor willing to sign off on a need for medication with potential physiological benefits (ie. thyroid medication, inhalers), and you’ve got yourself an advantage over those who aren’t taking the medication. While the performance benefits of all this medication might only add up to a fraction of a percentage, at the world class level, even the smallest advantage makes an enormous difference.

We don’t know the full story of what’s going on in Salazar group, and we might never know. Yes, they could be engaging in more serious violations of the rules. However, there’s been no real evidence of that, so if tampering with the TUE system is all they’re guilty of, then morality is needed to decide if what they’re doing is wrong. Personally, I find nothing wrong with exploring possible performance enhancers, so long as it’s not explicitly breaking the laws. Track and Field at the professional level is extremely cutthroat, especially when you realize that there’s a real income inequality in the sport (huge financial incentives for world champions, not much for anyone below that). I understand the pressure, and sympathize for who are trying to maximize their potential. Again, in no way do I encourage or support cheating. However, if you’re good enough to have the best resources at your disposal, including doctors and training aids like altitude houses and other leading technology, I see no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of it.

The second reason I sympathize with them is that, in the end, I’m a huge fan of the sport, and I try my best to assume that the stars are simply a product of hard work and dedication. If I became a cynic and made assumptions about the cleanliness of all world class runners, I’d have little ambition to continue pursuing this career myself.  I’ve looked up to Centro ever since he was in high school, and even when I eventually became good enough to race against him every so often, I was inspired by his tactical awareness and confidence in races. The other reason I continue to have hope is that the allegations implicate Cam Levins, a stand-up Canadian who I’ve only heard positive things about. I’ve totally bought into the humble, hard-working, high mileage persona he’s got going, and it’d be unfair to not hold him to the same standards as the rest of the group.

With all this being said, this feels remarkably similar to how I felt towards all the Lance Armstrong allegations in the late 2000’s. Even when the evidence became insurmountable, and teammate after teammate testified against him, I maintained a state of denial until Lance finally threw up the white flag on Oprah in 2012. While I do believe that if there’s smoke there’s fire, I’m trying my best to avoid denouncing or discrediting their achievements until we’re presented with more concrete evidence.

In unrelated news, I’m writing this while on the flight out to British Columbia where I’ll be racing in Vancouver and Victoria on Monday and Wednesday. The first race presents my last real good shot at qualifying for the Pan Am games, so I’m really excited for it. Two years ago, I ran my PB of 3:38.2. Last year, I flew out here and then spent 7 days in the hospital with brain swelling. An experience more similar to the former would be very much appreciated!

I’ve raced twice since my last blog entry. A 1500 in Windsor in 3:41.2, and then a 1500 at home in Guelph in 3:40.5. While I would have been happy with those times in University, I’m now trying to do this professionally, and always have that World and Olympic standard of 3:36 firmly in my sights. Anything short of that time will always leave me dissatisfied. Here’s hoping I can cut closer to that mark in the coming few days!

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Flagstaff Summary (with Video)

My blog today will be split into three parts: 1. Boring, science stuff, 2. Slightly less boring, workout stuff, and 3. A video.

Science behind altitude training + blood tests.

I spent the month of April in Flagstaff, Arizona with a few of my Speed River teammates. Training at altitude was a completely new experience for me, and I was excited to learn about the adaptations that take place within the body when at altitude. Bear with me as I attempt to regurgitate some of the information I learned.

For those unfamiliar, the concept of training at altitude has been around since the Mexico City Olympics, when athletes noticed an increase in aerobic power while training at altitude to acclimatize for the ’68 games.

The idea is that when you travel to higher altitudes, your body is forced to adapt to the lower barometric pressure of oxygen in the air, and your body (ideally) begins producing more red blood cells, and your hemoglobin mass increases. Not only are there adaptations in the blood, but scientists are now discovering benefits that occur within the muscles themselves when athletes are exposed to altitude for an extended period of time.

The downside to being at altitude is that training becomes more difficult when oxygen is scarce, and workouts need to be adjusted accordingly. While tempo run pace for me might be 5:00min/miles in Guelph, I might only be able to handle 5:20min/miles in Flag at the same effort level. For this reason, we travelled down to Sedona, which is at a lower elevation, once or twice a week, to perform higher quality workouts. Therefore, Flagstaff is situated in an ideal location, where you can live high, and within an hours drive, train low.

Training at altitude and learning about the science behind it all was a completely new experience for me, and I was extremely excited to see how I’d respond and my body would adapt to the new stimulus. On day 2 of the trip, we visited a lab that measured our hemoglobin mass, and we then returned at the end of the trip to perform the same test and see how our blood values changed.

Bad news: Today, I received the results of those tests, and while everybody else in the group saw jumps of between 4-8% in their hemoglobin mass, mine went unchanged. While hemoglobin is only one metric amongst several, it was still a little upsetting to not see some tangible results from those tests. I’ve since been assured that while my hemoglobin mass didn’t change, there are still plenty of other adaptations that could have happened. I was also told that my hemoglobin is naturally on the high end, even for elite athletes, and people with naturally high hemoglobin are sometimes non-responders to altitude exposure.

Workouts 

Test results aside, I still feel like my trip to Flag was a huge success. I had some great workouts in Flag and down in Sedona, and think my time there will set me up for a good track season.

A couple of the sessions I was most happy with:

At 7000ft:   12×400 w/1min rest. Averaged around 64-65. Ran my last one in 56.

At 7000ft: AM: 11miles with 2mile tempo+ 4min,3min,2min,1min tempo with 2mins rest at Buffalo park. Then later in the day, did 5×300 with 2min rest at 43.7, 43.4, 43.7, 42.2, 39.6.

Aside from Speed River, there were plenty of other Canadian groups living in Flagstaff as well. We often went to the track around the same times, and it was cool getting to see the different training approaches and workouts that the others were doing (it was especially insightful seeing how my competition trains. Looking at you, Chuck!).  CPT joined us for a tempo the second week we were there, which offered an interesting dynamic to the group. Tempo pace quickly turned into VO2 max pace as everybody felt a little threatened by the presence of our temporary training partner (me as the groups 1500 guy, Chris as the groups aerobic power guy, and Alex as the groups token French guy). Nonetheless, it was great having a few different faces in workouts, and helped break up the monotony of training with the same guys over and over.

I left Flagstaff the fittest I’ve felt since joining Speed River (which admittedly isn’t a huge statement), and anxious to get the racing season underway.

Video

As is becoming tradition, I’ve put together a video with random clips from the trip. As is also becoming tradition, I had to make fun of Barry a bit. It’s just too easy.

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Flagstaff- Week 1 in Pictures

Nobody likes reading paragraph after paragraph, so here’s some photos that describe how my first week at altitude has been. I’m in the process of shooting video clips, and hope to have a video completed by next week.

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The trip didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. Shown here is Chris rifling through his bag trying to find his credit card (he never found it), which we needed to get the rental car.

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Slight rental-car-dilemma aside, we were soon on our way up to the glorious thin air of Flagstaff, Arizona.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be sharing this condo with Chris and Barry. It’s located 10-minutes from downtown, but right next to some amazing dirt roads and trail systems.

For the next three weeks, I’ll be sharing this condo with Chris and Barry. It’s located 10-minutes from downtown, but right next to some amazing dirt roads and trail systems.

Plenty of porch sits will occur here.

Plenty of porch sits will occur here.

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Chris and Alex on our first run down Old Canyon road.

On our second day, we went down to the Hypo2 sports centre for some blood testing. Shown here is me breathing a little bit of carbon monoxide, which is how they will measure hemoglobin mass changes over the next few weeks.

On our second day, we went down to the Hypo2 sports centre for some blood testing. They had us breath a little bit of carbon monoxide, which is how they will measure hemoglobin mass changes over the next few weeks.

On day 2, instead of a second run, we went for a two-hour hike up near the snow bowl.

On day 2, instead of a second run, we went for a two-hour hike up near the snow bowl. We got up to 9337ft. 

On day 3, we went to the track at NAU and did a light workout. We met up with 20 or so other Canadian athletes who are also training here for the month of April.

On day 3, we went to the track at NAU and did a light workout. We met up with 20 or so other Canadian athletes who are also training here for the month of April.

Day 4- This was meant to be an easy 60-minute out-and back at Fort Tuthill. A few wrong turns later, we were completely lost and had to ask for a ride back to our car. I generally have a fairly good sense of direction, but when every dirt road looks the exact same, it’s unbelievably easy to get turned around.

Day 4- This was meant to be an easy 60-minute out-and back at Fort Tuthill. A few wrong turns later, we were completely lost and had to ask for a ride back to our car. I generally have a fairly good sense of direction, but when every dirt road looks the exact same, it’s unbelievably easy to get turned around. As if I wasn’t in an already salty-enough mood after running 25 minutes longer than intended, I got completely big-timed by Lanni Marchant. I heard later that day that when she told the other Canadians about what had happened, she described me as “the “kid” who wasn’t having a good time.” Thanks Lanni!

We took an afternoon trip down to Sedona to check out the sights, and have some dinner.

We took an afternoon trip down to Sedona to check out the sights, and have some dinner.

Jumped into an 800 down in Phoenix to open the season. Ran 1:50.

Jumped into an 800 down in Phoenix to open the season. Ran 1:50. Did a little tempo before and after the race, so it was a good day of work. 

Capped off the week with a 90 minute long run with the boys.

Capped off the week with a 90 minute long run with the boys.

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