Monday, September 19, 2011

The Execution

Hmmm so I know I just posted a blog about a death run, but there is a comparably deadly type of run that I actually do willingly every 3-4 weeks called the execution run. I'm not actually trying to kill myself on all my long runs, but running is a pretty risky sport, and sometimes it just can't be avoided...perhaps slightly moreso if you do dumb things like try to run 45k in a foreign town by yourself with no liquids when you're drunk and it's 35 degrees with the humidex. Or dart across busy streets in the pitch black during rush hour in the middle of the winter (or better yet - during an ice storm). But sometimes, your coach tries to kill you instead.

That's right. You thought the execution run was MY idea?! Think again. Nicole even wrote an article about Execution Runs in the Globe and Mail. Check it out. No wonder we're called Angels. She's probably already killed us all and we're training in the cemetery in blissful ignorance. Anyway, as usual I am off on a bizarre tangent. In the article, Nicole describes the execution run as "an awesome but grueling run." True dat. It is awesome - if you get through it. For the most part, it's just grueling. In my experience training with Nicole, every execution run has been slightly different.

Coach Nic executing

I'll never forget the first execution run I did with her, in the cemetery of course, in January of 2010. It was -20, windy, the ground was snow-covered, I had a tender hamstring and had never run more than 30km. So naturally I jumped into a 28k execution, not really knowing what I was getting into. I showed up to practice and heard the girls anxiously chatting about how early they'd awoken to eat their patented pre-race meal and what they brought for fuel. They carried all kinds of bottles, belts, bars and gels and seemed quite distraught over finding the perfect place to lay it all down. I, meanwhile, had bolted out the door straight out of bed, empty-handed, and was jogging around madly trying to keep my singly-layered stems and dollar-store-gloved hands from freezing over. Eventually we gathered around Nic and she addressed our terrified faces with a devilish smile: 'Alright,' she said, 'The rules are: Start out slow. And if you speed up you CAN'T slow down. Finish with 2k HARD - I MUST, MUST, MUST see a pace change!' 'So if we don't 'execute,' I thought, 'then SHE will execute us?!' I began to get nervous. But it was too late for that.

Seconds later we were off, trudging through the snow. I found myself wanting to push the pace almost immediately - 4:20s?! It felt like a jog. I could go faster than that! Nic warned me not to go too soon. After 1 loop (6.5k) at 4:20 pace, Nic released her verbal hold on me and I began to pick up the pace, falling into stride with Lauren King, who was back in Toronto for her winter vacation. The pace dropped immediately to 4:12s and we continued along steadily for another loop. It began to get tougher at this point and I finally began to understand the reasoning behind the whole 'starting off slow' thing. The pace fell again. 4:08. After 3 loops (19.5k) my hamstring started to act up and I decided against executing, for fear that it would literally kill me (or my hamstring). Luckily, Nic didn't punish me, but seeing the other girls flail and gasp for breath in the last 2k of their workout instilled enough fear in me to be deathly nervous for the next one.

Here I am almost two years later with many execution runs under my belt, and I am no longer afraid of them. After this weekend I would actually argue that perhaps I have begun to underestimate just how hard they can be on your body. Funnily enough, my approach hasn't changed much - I still don't take gels, and although I'll usually bring a water bottle, I rarely take more than one or two sips through the entire run. I also continue to dress poorly in the cold weather, meaning I wear shorts until it starts to snow and thin tights in -20C. I suppose the only thing that's changed is that I wear massive lobster mitts because I've gotten frostbite so many times. That'll teach ya.

The plan for the execution run this weekend was to run 16k at an easy pace, then do 3 loops (19.5k) at marathon pace (3:50-3:55) or slightly slower, and execute with 1km hard. I knew I was fit enough to do this workout without too much trouble, but I wanted to nail it since it was my last big run until the marathon. Unfortunately, my shin was pretty sore after my run Thursday night, and even after a day off Friday it felt tight and sore. I had had this kind of fascial pain before that usually went away after a few days, so I wasn't too worried. I decided to do the execution on it and rest up afterwards if it got any worse. Uh-huh. S-M-A-R-T.

I woke up on Saturday and headed out the door at 6:40AM for 16k easy. My legs felt good, but I could feel my shin. I worried a little that it could get worse once I started to run hard, but I'm G.I. (Great Idiot?) Jane, so obvi I ignored it. I met Anne at the cemetery at 8AM to start the marathon-pace portion of the run. We went through 1k in 4:13, making me cringe since I was sure it was at least 4:00/km. My legs got into it soon enough, however, and I finished the first loop with 4:00/3:59/3:48/3:47/3:48 kms and a 3:55/km average. I was happy - my shin, however, was NOT. I felt it throb, especially on the downhills, but of course didn't contemplate stopping - the rest of me felt GREAT (so logical). Donna hopped in for 5k in the second loop, helping me bring down the pace to 3:46s AND take my mind off my leg. When she left me I maintained 3:47s for another loop, still feeling strong. As I climbed the last hill before my 1k execution, I saw the Varsity girls taking off on their tempo run. 'Perfect,' I thought, 'I'll catch 'em on the execution!' I started to hammer and eventually chased them down, crossing the 1k mark in 3:30. I think I threw my hands up dramatically and swore pretty loudly at this point since I failed to get in a sub-3:30 (must have been entertaining as they ran by seconds later), but overall was happy with the run. It only took a few seconds before I knew I had better book it home as my shin began to throb profusely. So, 6k later, I hobbled into Starbucks with 42k in the bag and a 3:04 total clocking, including 20k at 3:49/km average. You'd think I'd be happy. But I wasn't. For the first time, I was executed by the execution run.

The rest of the day, I pretty much sat on my ass and refreshed the bag of ice on my shin. I occasionally got up to take some more IBUprofen or eat a bag of gluten-free chips in moroseful self-pity. It was pretty sad. My Dad, who suffers from arthritis and who currently has a herniated disc, was in town that night and took me out to dinner. It must have been a pretty funny sight: I'm not sure who looked more encumbered climbing up the stairs at The Keg - the 26-year-old light and fit daughter, or the 65-year-old arthritic Dad with a herniated disc. Sometimes I feel like this running thing makes you live in dramatic extremes, where you're either hammering out a 20-miler with youthful jubilance or crawling down the street slower than a senior citizen. Unfortunately, two days later I am still stuck in the latter mode (um it took me 15 minutes to hobble four blocks today. Enough said.), and after a diagnosis of a severely strained and potentially partially torn anterior tibialis muscle, I think I might be here for a while. Strangely, I am not *that* upset about it - it sucks, but I am welcoming a little break from running. There's nothing I can do but rest and hope for the best - if it heals soon, I'll run Chicago - if not, I'll just run a later marathon. No biggie. I know I'm already ready at this point. If anything, I've finally learned to respect the execution - and really understand the reason behind its "intriguing" name!

The Coolis Cripples trying to look happy


  1. You are just a little crazy I love it ! very inspiring / funny blog by the way! i love reading it!


  2. ...and here I thought I was doing my own version of an "execution" by simply completing a 30-37km long run going at easy pace. Is it terrible that I resemble a complete beginner by the end of these things??

    I'm with you though, I don't carry anything on my runs and will sip very rarely, aside from during extreme heat.

    Hope the tibialis injury recovers quickly! :)


  3. Thanks Sophie! Are you running these days?

    And Olivier - it's all relative...99% of the population would say you are crazy for running 30-37km and calling it 'easy' ;). Are you running a fall marathon? Hope your training is going well!