Meyo Recap + Recent Doping News

Since I never updated my blog after the Meyo mile, I’ll give a brief summary of what happened. I went into it pretty excited, came up with a race plan to put myself in a position to win, and arranged to have a former Notre Dame teammate take us through 1000m on pace. Unfortunately, things don’t always happen the way you plan. I had a bad start, found myself in last place at 1000m (which we hit in a pretty pedestrian 2:33), and had to kick hard just to run 4:01 (for third place).

With the season not going how I had initially planned, we decided to shut it down early, and start getting ready for the outdoor meets. I travelled to Spire with the Guelph crew the following weekend, paced Ross through a mile of his 3k (he ran 7:53), then took a down week. To clarify, I don’t think I was racing poorly or anything. I just didn’t feel like there was any need to race any more indoors, and figured the earlier I could take this down week, the earlier I could start training for the summer season.

Video of the Race:

*****

In more recent news, it was announced today that Qatar’s middle distance stud, Hamza Driouch, was recently given a two-year ban for irregularities in his biological passport. While this seems to be just another day in athletics (every day it seems like a new high-profile Russian athlete gets caught), Hamza’s ban hits a little closer to home. Back in 2010, I met Hamza and a few of his training partners at World Juniors, we spent some time discussing training, and traded gear at the end of the week. I wrote a blog post (more like a diary entry since it was never posted anywhere) when I got home from Moncton that summer, and now that the news is out about Hamza, I figured it’s an appropriate time to share what I had to say.

Post-World Junior Championships Blog Entry (July, 2010)

Spending 10 days at the World Junior Championships and being a part of team Canada was some of the best days of my life. The highlight of the trip however came on the last night of the trip when JP (Malette), Mohammed (Ahmed), Anthony (Romaniw) and I spent time in Mohamed Al-Garni’s and Hamza Driouch’s(Qatar) room, picking his brain about training, racing, and competitions. The conversations brought many emotions out of me that I feel compelled to write down so that I may read this later and be reminded of the positive energy that I gained from the talk. 

Throughout the week we had been talking to Al-Garni about the races, we became friends, and he promised to trade us some of his Qatar gear for Canada stuff. I knew him from before the championships because he had added me on Facebook and we had talked previously. I also knew he had run 3:36 and 1:46, so I was obviously interested in talking to this kid as much as possible. After the banquet, the four of us went to down to him and Hamza’s room. We asked him what he thought of his week, and he told us he was disappointed about coming 3rd in the 15 and 7th in the 800. He started telling us about some great workouts he had been doing that indicated he was in great shape coming in to the championships. This is where it got interesting. He pulled out his training log and was showing us some of the workouts that him, Hamza, and his training partner Abubaker Kaki ( a 1:42 guy) do together. They were UNREAL! Some that I remember off the top of my head: 6 500’s in 64 with 2min rest. Another one was 12 Hill repeats followed by an all out 800 in 1:47. And the craziest one of all was 1500, 1000, 800, 600, 400, 200 with 7min rest. He ran 3:37, 2:24, 1:48, 1:20, 52, and 25. Incredible! And it was the consistency of these hard workouts that blew our minds. I didn’t want to ask but multiple times I had to control myself not to ask where he gets his drugs from. We talked about what he does on his off days and it’s mostly easy runs at 3:50-4:10 pace which is reasonable and he generally hits 52-60 miles a week. So in general, he hammers on the track 2-3 times a week, and the rest is easy running of up to 1 hour. Anyways, after reading his logs and seeing all these ridiculous times he was running in practice, and hearing his coach (Jama Aden), who had walked into the room during one of our conversations, say that Al-Garni was at one point in 3:33 shape, it made all my accomplishments in track feel so insignificant.

The next thing Jama Aden said was that many of the Kenyans on this years team were far older than 19. He said he had spoken to the Kenyan manager who admitted that the guy that won the 1500 is 28 years old. He also said the top 3 in the 10000 were probably all too old, which is really unfortunate for Mohammed (Ahmed) who would have won without these overage cheaters. Hamza also said most of the Moroccans are doping, and both French athletes were from Morocco. 

Lastly, I found Aden to be so knowledgable. He walked into the room and went “you’re the 3:42 guy, you’re the 28:57 guy, you’re the 3:45 guy and you’re the 1:49.2 guy”. He knew so much about the competition and even about US schools since he went to Farleigh Dickinson. He was listing off good Canadian distance runners from the 80’s and 90’s that I had really never even heard of. This guy seemed like such a knowledgeable and good coach. He invited us all out to Europe to train with his group for a couple weeks next summer. How Awesome would that be?!? As long as we’re running the same times or faster he said he’d be able to get us into some great meets. What an incredible experience that would be. (edit: Jesus, I was so naive)

Anyway, this all got me really excited for track to start up again, and already got me thinking about goals for next season. I now see more clearly what it takes to run at a  World class level, and will do everything I can to get there. Hopefully I’ll be able to read this a couple months from now and re-ignite the fire before track starts up again!

Those who knows me and have asked my opinion about the amount of doping that happens within track and field know that I’m skeptical of the cleanliness of many of the world’s best athletes. Why? I guess it has something to do with my childhood hero stringing me along for 7 inspirational years, onto then go onto Oprah a few years later and publicly admit that he had been a doper all along. Nonetheless, it’s one thing to assume that someones taking drugs, but it’s something else entirely when they actually test positive. While I had my suspicions back in 2010 that Hamza, Mo Al-Garni, and the rest of his crew were doing something illegal, I still had a bit of hope all along that the amazing performances by that crew were a product of talent and hard work. Hamza’s 1500m win at World Juniors in 2012 was one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen, and when people started calling him the next El-Guerrouj, I believed it ( I tried looking for a video, but couldn’t find one. If any of you know where I can re-watch it, let me know. EDIT: Thanks Jack for finding it VIDEO). While it’s satisfying to see cheating athletes get caught, its a shame that an athlete as talented as Hamza had to go down that road.

The doping news led to an interesting conversation on my run today with Reid. When I told him that I’m often skeptical of many of the worlds best athletes, he advised me against it. He argued that if you go into a race against someone who you assume is doping, you’re mentally handicapping yourself since you’re admitting that they’ve got an advantage over you. It was an interesting perspective that I had never thought about, and one that makes sense for him given that he’s an elite marathoner, possibly racing dirty athletes in every major marathon.

The news of Hamza testing positive carries greater implications as he’s recently been  photographed training with the defending Olympic 5k and 10k champ in Ethiopia. However, I won’t go any further with my accusations, seeing as how that kind of thing can get you in trouble these days (ahem, Andy Vernon).

To lighten the mood, here’s a fun photo I took of me running down the frozen Speed River last week. Getting a little tired of all the snow. It’s March next week, which means that spring’s just around the corner, right? Right?

DCIM100GOPRO

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New Balance Games Recap w/Race Video

I opened my season last weekend with a mile in New York. Going into it, I was pretty nervous about lacing the spikes up again. It had been 7 months since my last race, and close to 11 months since I had run in spikes pain-free. I had also just completed an intense bloc of training, doing 6 workouts in 9 days while in Texas. When we’re away at training camp, coach likes to give what he calls a “mega-dose”, which I found out is synonymous with “mega-pain”, and looked something like this:

Saturday- Tempo within long run

Sunday- Easy

Monday- Intervals

Tuesday- Tempo

Wednesday- Easy

Thursday- Intervals

Friday- Tempo

Saturday- Easy

Sunday- Time Trial

(+ Weights, drills, and morning runs)

Coming off a week like this, I was both a little worn down and  feeling uneasy about the race. According to coach, it was clear looking at my body language during warm-ups that I was lacking confidence. I’ll give Dave credit- he tried his best to motivate me, and encourage me to stick my nose in the race, but it didn’t work. I was nervous, negative, and not in the right mindset. On the set command, I was fidgeting wildly and caused the starter to stand us up. Right off the line I was in last place, and I stayed there through 800m in a pedestrian 2:03.9.

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Through the 1000, a gap opened between the first and back half of the field, and before I knew it, I was about 4 seconds back of the leaders and 2 seconds back from my teammates Ross and Taylor. I spent the last 600 in lane 2 and 3, passing guys I probably should never have let in front of me in the first place.

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Once I crossed the line, I had all sorts of mixed emotions. I was initially happy to have finished a race, and to have been relatively pain-free throughout. Then, I looked up at the video screen and saw my time, 4:03.58 for 5th place. I don’t know why, but I guess I thought I’d walk my way to a sub-4 mile. I was also upset about having let Ross and Taylor get so far ahead of me midway through the race, and wasted all sorts of energy going around half the field trying to catch back up. I then immediately thought to where my fitness was around the same time last year, when I ran 4:02 at altitude in New Mexico (which converted down to 3:57). My brain jumped to the conclusion that I was far behind where I was a year ago, and was pretty dejected because of it.

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On the cool-down, Ross and Taylor and I all vented about how we were disappointed with the outcome, but by the end of it I had already started feeling better. We started talking about our next race, the Meyo mile two weekends from now, and how we’re confident it’ll go better once we’re two weeks fitter and sharper. I also realize now that my training’s been hugely different than it was in university. Back then, I was essentially trying to be fit and sharp all year round, with conference and NCAA meets never more than a few months away. Now, all emphasis is placed on the summer season, and we’re just meant to use these few indoor races as a barometer of fitness. Therefore, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s natural that I race a bit slower this time of year.

After the race, we went over to Coogan’s for some food and drinks, and then later headed down to see Times Square. New York’s a place I always enjoy visiting for a weekend, but by the time I leave I’m so glad I don’t live there. Austin was great too, and a break from the snow was much needed, but I’m glad to be back in Guelph. I’m excited to get back to the old routine, and build on the fitness I gained in Austin.

Video of the Race:

New Balance Games Elite Mile

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Week 2 in Austin- With House Tour

We’re two weeks into this training camp, and everything continues to move along in the right direction. Workouts have been going well, we’ve continued to explore some of Austin’s best restaurants, and we’ve recently decided to re-watch all the Entourage episodes in the spirit of the upcoming movie.

Going into a trip like this, everyone talks about how easy it is to train hard, do all the little things like drills, eating correctly, etc. Yes, while this has proven to be true, they failed to mention the inevitability that you get absolutely fed up with everyone that you live with, for the most minute and insignificant reasons. On a smaller scale, this is probably what it feels like moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend for the first time. No matter how well you know and like somebody, you’re bound to find something that annoys you about the way they live.

This weeks video starts with a snippet of one of the many petty arguments we’ve had so far. Other notable and equally pointless arguments include Anthony and I debating whether the best US high school football team could beat Guelph’s team. Another good one was Anthony arguing that it was totally fine to eat half an apple and put it back in the fridge. One afternoon, there was all sorts of tension when Nixon took the liberty to blast rap music while people were trying to nap. Everyones got such a short fuse, especially when our only energy release happens during workouts, that these arguments seem to be happening with more and more frequency.

In other news, I’m all set to open my season in New York at the New Balance games next weekend. I’m both excited and apprehensive about it- excited because I haven’t raced in what seems like forever, but that’s also exactly what makes me nervous. Nonetheless, I’m hungry and can’t wait to get 2015 underway!

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Week One in Austin

We’ve been in Austin for a few days, and while this area is having unseasonably cold, near-freezing temperatures, it’s still better than the -15 I’m seeing up in Canada right now. We did some tempo work on Tuesday along the river, a bunch of easy running, and we’ll be doing some track work later today.

So far my favorite part about Austin has been all the different food choices. My day essentially consists of 15% working out and 85% choosing where I’ll be having my next meal. The best/worst part about where our rental house is located is the fact that it’s next to a trailer that serves gourmet doughnuts, covered in brownies and peanut butter and candy and all sorts of stuff. Sure, maybe eating one might negate some of the effects of the days workout, but a happy runner is a fast runner.

Here’s a video we made that shows what a typical day in Austin’s been like. Once the rest of the crew gets here next week, we’ve got some big workouts planned, and I’ll be putting some footage together from that.

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Holidays and End of Year Summary

I went home last week for Christmas, and it’s always a nice change of pace hanging out with my family and childhood friends for a bit. While my parents are ultra supportive of my running, I can tell they still get a little annoyed when I sit around all day between runs, watching TV or playing games on my phone. My mom also doesn’t really understand why I need to run so far every day. She’ll ask me as soon as I walk in the door how far that run was, how fast I was running, and thinks i’ll get injured from even the easiest of easy runs. It’s also fun hanging out with my high school friends. They know me primarily as a mediocre hockey and soccer player who for some strange reason needs to run 10 miles before I can meet them at the bar that night. Nonetheless, these guys are my biggest supporters and it’s always fun getting to see them again.

December was yet another month of solid workouts without any major interruptions. I’ll admit it, for most of the fall, I was so out of shape that I would NOT have even made the varsity top 7, which really took a toll on the ego. All due respect to the collegiate guys- they work extremely hard and it was amazing to see them do so well this fall- but it was somewhat really embarrassing getting my ass handed to me by 3:5x 1500 guys that my high school self would have had an easier time beating in workouts. However, I plugged away, slowly built my mileage, and two months later I’m now back contributing in workouts and feeling like my old self again. I’m four weeks away from my first indoor race, and couldn’t be happier with my progress so far.

It’s easy for me to point to all the negative things that happened in 2014. I re-injured my achilles, I caught the mumps, and then I was in the hospital for a week with brain swelling. I didn’t qualify for the Commonwealth games like I had hoped, I failed at picking up any major sponsorships, and it was the first time in 10 years that I didn’t set a personal best in the 1500m. Despite these things, I still had a pretty amazing year. Winning the Meyo mile for the third time and breaking the school record in front of family and friends was something I’ll never forget. I helped set the school record in the distance medley, and then anchored that team to win the schools first ACC conference championship. I got a spot in a super high-class mile at the Drake relays, and while I didn’t perform like I wanted to, I still got my feet wet in some high end racing. Running took me to Guadeloupe, it took me back to Moncton, then to Vancouver, and then to Europe. I didn’t race, but got to see Belgium, and Amsterdam, and Paris. I attended an old teammates wedding, and I celebrated the retirement of my old coach. Then, I made the decision to move to Guelph and join Speed River, a team that’s been nothing but supportive of my comeback even when I was a fat, slow, shell of a runner that I was at the start of the year.

Looking back on the year, it’s made me really appreciate the position I’ve been put in. I get to train with some of my closest friends and do what I love every single day. Pursuing one’s dream is a luxury and a privilege that so many people aren’t ever able to do. Speed River’s given me the chance to push myself for the next two years and really see what I can accomplish in running. While I came short of just about every goal I set for myself in 2014, it’s made me hungry and encouraged me to set ambitious goals for 2015. I want to make that Pan Am team, I want to make that World Championship team, and I’m excited about the many other opportunities that running will surely create for me in the new year.

Here’s a short video I made on an easy run around my town. I took the editing about as seriously as I did my run for that day, so don’t expect much. I’ll be making some better videos, and plan on filming a workout or two while we’re down in Austin over the next few weeks.

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I’m Already Sick of Winter

Today marks the end of my (pseudo) cross season. While I had initially planned on possibly running in Vancouver at XC Nationals, I’m happy I didn’t considering how sloppy the course looked. Sure, some might call that “being a coward”, but I’d rather call it “picking my battles and not being a dumbass.” I have my strengths, and running through shin deep mud for 10 kms definitely isn’t one of them. Sitting in my living room watching the stream with Reid, Anthony, and Jacob was infinitely more pleasant. Shout out to Barry for running just hard enough to win me a free copy of Transcend! I dislike you a little bit less now.

Over the past week, we’ve finalized our plans to go to Austin in January. I’ll be down there for three weeks to escape the winter a bit. It’ll be nice to get onto an outdoor track for some workouts instead of running endless laps indoors in Guelph. I’m also getting to the point where my body desperately needs some color for fear of blinding my teammates. Some sun will be much appreciated. We rented a super nice four bedroom house right next to some trails, and its even got a hot tub on the patio. The bad news though is that because I’m a newbie in the club, I’ll have last pick at a bed, and I’ll most likely end up sharing the bunkbed room with Nixon, Jacob and Barry. It’ll be a fun game to see how long it takes for us to make Barry sleep in the living room. You can only handle hearing about Idaho potatoes for so long before you do something violent.

After a super inconsistent first two months in Guelph, I was finally able to string together four good weeks of training in November. Three weeks in the 70’s, and then capped off the month last week with 85 miles. I’m also finally getting better at longer tempo’s, and even felt smooth running some fast 200’s at the end of last Wednesdays workout. For the first time since February, I’m running back to back pain-free days and I’m super excited about the indoor season. I have no concrete race plans yet- the only thing I know for sure is that I want to be back at Notre Dame for the Meyo mile.

Lastly, there was a really good article in the Star last week (link) about the financial struggle that many Olympic athletes face so they can represent their country. It talks about how many semi-professionals (a category I’d place myself into) have to work part-time to make ends meet, and lists some of the necessary expenses we incur to chase our dreams. Personally, I’ve worked 15-20 hours a week at Sears throughout the fall, and have been saving as much of it as I can so I can train in Austin and Flagstaff this winter and spring. While I think it’s good to make people aware of the lack of financial assistance in many Olympic sports, I really get frustrated when athletes outwardly complain about how “unfair” and “broken” the system is. Nobody forced us down this career path. I decided to run post-collegiately well aware that I’d be living frugally for the next few years of my life. I also completely understand that unless I’m running fast enough to consistently compete at the international level, I’m not getting enough exposure to make a big contract with a shoe company worthwhile. Sure, sometimes I wish I could afford a more luxurious apartment, or own a dog, or start a family- but for now, I’m content with doing what I can to keep the dream alive. Besides, when I run fast this summer and get a chance to represent my country, at home, in front of friends and family at the Pan Ams game, it’ll make it all worthwhile.

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Lessons for High Schoolers

I’ll be giving a talk tomorrow to the members of my old track club. Together with my coach Dave Scott-Thomas and fellow Speed River athlete Anthony Romaniw, we’ve been asked to talk about the recruiting process, give an update on our current training, and offer some advice for the young athletes at the club. Personally, I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years. Since I imagine we’ll focus mainly on our experiences in high school, the NCAA, CIS, and now post-collegiate racing, I want to share some of the advice I’ve come up with incase I don’t have time for it tomorrow.

Some Things I wish I knew As A High Schooler:

  1. Set short-term realistic goals rather than one, big, long-term goal: This is something I learned the hard way this year. Around a year ago, I came up with the goal to qualify for the Commonwealth games. After the indoor season, things were looking good, but I was also dealing with an achilles injury. Instead of setting a short-term goal to get healthy and make sure my achilles got better, I was obsessed with my long-term goal of hitting the standard to make the team. Long story short, my achilles never got better, and I was unable to qualify. Long term goals are great, but short-term mini goals can often accomplish much more.
  2. Focus on the process and not the outcome: In grade 10, I became obsessed with breaking 4 minutes in the 1500m. I was doing workouts that indicated I could break 4, but it took forever for it to happen. I’d go into every race, regardless of how small or how weak the competition, wanting to run fast. I ran between 4:00 and 4:05 fifteen times before I finally went 3:56 at OFSAA in grade 11. It was really easy to look at the times from those bad days and get down on myself. I learned instead to focus on giving it your all in training every day, take confidence from good workouts, and the results will come.
  3. Consistency is key: In high school, I thought that if I gave 100% in a workout on Monday, I earned the right to take the next day off. What I learned in University is that it’s much better to give 80% every day rather than 100% a few times a week. The best way to get better is to put together several back to back days, weeks, and months of consistent training. Having one all-out workout at the beginning of the week followed by several throw-away easy days isn’t the most effective approach in the long term.
  4. School Comes First: I know it’s cliché, but don’t forget about doing well in school. I made the mistake of taking the bare minimum amount of classes in high school in order to get my degree. While I enjoyed skating by in grade 12 with easy classes, I got to Notre Dame and they made me take a calculus class as a prerequisite to get into the business school. Since I had only taken a basic stats class in high school, I was super underprepared for that University level calc class, and had to switch majors because of it. Don’t take shortcuts, because more often than not, you’ll end up at a disadvantage in the long term.
  5. Have fun. I’ve made some of my best friends through running. In high school, I’d chat with runners from across the province and we’d set up big family dinners for after OFSAA meets and AO meets. We also had this tradition where after cross-country meets, we’d find a local track, make teams, and have a big 4x100m relay race. Some of the friends I made at these dinners and events continue to be my best friends today. Don’t get too caught up in the training and pressure from racing. Learn to let loose a bit, make friends, and realize that running track is a privilege and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
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Life Changes

After being told by several people to consider blogging, I’ve finally decided to start. What really encouraged me to go through with it was my visit back to Notre Dame this past weekend. Everyone was asking me what I’d been up to the past few month, and it was pretty repetitive having to update people on why I had such a lackluster summer track season. I’ll save that story for my next blog post.

To start, I want to fill everyone in on my current situation. At the beginning of August, I made the decision to move to Guelph, Ontario and join the Speed River track club. I considered a few different training groups in Canada and the US, but in the end, Guelph was the most logical choice. I have great training partners here, it’s only 90 minutes from my parents house, and I had already developed a positive relationship with coach Dave Scott-Thomas. On top of that, the group has a strong connection with New Balance, and the city of Guelph has a growing running community with an awesome trail system.

I had such an amazing five years at Notre Dame, and loved how close the team was there. We’d spend hours together at the dining hall, in the locker room, and hanging out in the dorms. I knew that wherever I ended up this year, I’d have to find a group that’s similar to what I’ve become accustomed to. What set Guelph apart from any other group is the way that the collegiates and post-collegiates all work out together. Being around the University guys a couple times a week has really helped with the transition to post-collegiate life. Working out with them has also been incredibly humbling and inspirational, and I get to see first hand why this team has won so many CIS titles in a row.

I’m living with Reid Coolsaet and Taylor Milne. Both are Olympians in the marathon and the 1500/steeplechase respectively. I won’t lie- I feel so unaccomplished living with these guys. They’ve each participated at every level of the sport, and it’s been a big learning experience living here. They’ve made me realize how little I know about the sport, and it’s inspiring seeing their work ethic on a daily basis.

Currently, I’m still trying to get healthy and get back to consistent training. We had a few meets penciled into the calendar for the fall, but the main priority is to get all the injury issues behind me first. 2015’s a big year in track & field, and I’ve got lofty goals set for myself. It seems like so long since my last good race, and it’s hard for me to envision the next one when it still hurts to put one foot in front of the other. Nonetheless, I’ve gotta try and be positive and trust the system and plan that my new coach has for me.

I’ll finish my first blog post with a quote from one of my favorite comedies. I watched it the other day and found this part applicable to my last few months. :

“Anyway, he uh… he gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, ’cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn’t learn a thing.”- Steve Carrell, Little Miss Sunshine.

Cheers!

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