I wish I could say the road to the Under Armour Eastside 10K was an easy race – so what better reason than to write about my running journey through injury and chronic illness and it’s impact on my training for the Under Armour Eastside 10K road race.

As a recreational runner, it was a humbling honour to speak to Canadian Running Magazine’s ShakeOut Podcast host Kate Van Buskirk, about my running journey, a place usually reserved for elite runners. In addition to being the host of the ShakeOut, Kate is an incredible internationally accomplished track athlete.

Before the interview, I gave the subject ”What I was reminded about myself training for the Under Armour Eastside 10K”, a bit of thought and wanted to share, my journey as a runner as well as the journey preparing to run the Under Armour Eastside 10K in Vancouver, B.C.

Check out the Canadian Running Magazine ShakeOut Podcast. LISTEN HERE

My Running Journey

We all have our own motivations to start picking up any sport or a hobby for that matter, are we looking for community, exercise, personal growth, a distraction from what is going on in life at the time. For me, I suppose it was all of the above – however, if I had to pick just one it would need to be personal growth.

Chronic disease and injuries seem to have been the shadow, for lack of a better label, that has followed me for a number of years. I have Crohns disease (diagnosed in 2005), an inflammatory disease of the bowels, and insulin dependent Type  2 diabetes (diagnosed in 2010 and progressing to full insulin dependence in 2018). To top of this wonderful trifecta, I also suffered a significant leg injury in late 2008 resulting in a radial fracture of my tibia and fibula that had me on crutches for 4 months and using a cane for over two years.

CROHNS DISEASE

My Crohns disease presents itself as a rheumatic response which effects the major joints in my body as well as poor or no control of my bowels. Imagine an illness that gives you lifelong runner’s trots.

DIABETES

 Fulling myself through any exercise routine is a balance between effort and glucose control.  I know my body doesn’t do well with high intensity circuit training.

The combination of these had me in and out of the hospital on several occasions and very much defined who I was, and how people saw me. I was that guy that was sick, bumped, bruised, and fragile.  It took a toll on my career and my relationships.

IMG: Me with a broken leg.
Injury can define us

IMG: My monthly does of medication for Crohns and Diabetes. 12 items in the picture.
Invisible Illness? Humm….

IMG: Under Armour East Side 10K - 2019.  Picture of the runners coral.
How can I let that stop me?

To put my illnesses into perspective, for the month of July 2019 – I spent a total of $2,872.03 on medications and related supplies.

I know many people in my situation that use chronic disease as an excuse; I can’t exercise, I can’t go to work, I can’t leave the house, and even those without the burden of chronic illness following similar arguments of I am too out of shape to exercise, I am not in the mood to exercise, I am too depressed, I am too busy.

To be fair, I have felt the same way. I also realize that life has ups and down and we need to make the most of every situation. What is the notable saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It’s the not the Destination, It’s the journey.”

“My illnesses are chronic, life long, are a part of me but do not define who I am – running is one way I remind myself of that, one way that I push my own limits and achieve a new personal best.”

It doesn’t matter what life throws at us, injury, divorce, illness, depression (I can relate to all of the above), we learn, we grow, we adapt, and more importantly we bounce back. I could not let these disabilities define me or more importantly how my boys, now 13 and 10 see me and or how I and in turn, they, should deal with adversity. My illnesses are chronic, life long, are a part of me but do not dictate who I am – running is one way I remind myself of that, one way that I push my own limits and achieve a new personal best. Not just in time, but in new plateaus – whether that is a new distance milestone, recovering from injury, or simply achieving my training plan for the week.

For my interview with Kate, I scrolled through my Under Armour MapMyRun app to track down my first run – yes, even on day one I pulled out the tech. Hey, that’s me! Like many firsts, I still remember the run as if it was yesterday. I officially started running on March 24, 2015 – a 3.14KM run at a 7:16 pace that truthfully kicked my butt. I recall having trouble making it to the next street, never mind the next block or two – however I pushed onward.

Img: Contour lines of Pace and elevation of my first ever road run.  pace too fast, cardio was in the dumps, and no structured run-walk mix.
First run ever: Humm — pace too fast, cardio was in the dumps, and no structured run-walk mix

That first run was the start of a running journey that has helped transform me both mentally, emotionally, and physically, and has kept me moving, running, and pushing myself and my body, and what I hope is a great example for my boys. If I look back at Mark before running and Mark today – it would be difficult to see the physical transformation. However, mentally, it is hard to believe I am the same person who was a mute wallflower, is now confident, personable, active, and strong – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Image: My First Road Race: Pink 5K (2015) - Sorry, no boa. With my Dad who surprised me and came to cheer me on.
My First Road Race: Pink 5K (2015) – Sorry, no boa. With my Dad who surprised me and came to cheer me on.

I ran my first 5K race two months later at local Pink 5K Cancer Run. My sister, an accomplished half marathoner, who also ran with me last weekend in Vancouver, made me wear a pink running shirt that in addition to being a women’s athletic fit was also a few sizes too small that made for some awkward pictures; If I recall, there were even pink boa’s involved.

I have run various 5K, 8K, 10K races, and the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront 1/2 Marathon, as well as a handful of 5-Peaks trail races, and most recently had the exciting pleasure to run the Under Armour EastSide 10K in Vancouver on September 14th. I have to give Canada Running Series (CRS) some kudos, they continuously put on well-organized and managed running events – CRS and CRS West that hosted the Eastside 10K are an incredible asset to the running community.

The Road to the Under Armour EastSide 10K

I was fortunate enough to win the Canadian Running Magazine and Under Armour contest to travel the 3500 KM from Toronto to Vancouver to run in the Under Armour Eastside 10K on September 14, 2019. This was the perfect motivation to refocus my spring running, lets aim for a 10K PB (my current personal best in a 10K is 54:11, as I don’t consider a downhill 53:44 as a fair indicator) and aim for a Half Marathon in October (PB of 2:00:57) were my two goals moments after I received that incredible email that I had won the contest.

Lofty goals I know – however, achievable right? With the contest win I also had the tools to make this reality. A brand new training plan with a fresh perspective to running and one-on-one virtual training coach by the name of Rich Hesketh. Rich is training development coach based in Calgary, Alberta and an Under Armour Training Team member and Brand Ambassador. Rich has worked with numerous elites.

Experience with the UA Road Running Training plan

Under Armour in collaboration with MapMyRun developed what I would consider one of the best, balanced and comprehensive 10K road running training plans I have seen. The Under Armour Eastside training plan not only incorporated a tapered running program bringing the runner up to 10KM, but more importantly included:

RUNNING AND ENDURANCE

The running program is built for beginner- and intermediate level runners. You will be introduced to tempo running, fast hill repeats and long slow runs, as well as understanding the discipline of recovery runs. TIMES PER WEEK: 5X

STRENGTH

The strength program is designed specifically to meet the demands of a runner who is looking to get a competitive edge. It is not designed to build muscle, but rather enhance your stability and mobility to run stronger. All sessions are circuit-based to help build strength while taxing your cardiovascular system. TIMES PER WEEK: 2X

MOVEMENT AND MOBILITY

The Movement & Mobility Routine will prepare your body for running by increasing mobility at the ankles, hips and T-spine. It will also activate your body for the twice weekly strength sessions. Keeping the body in good condition is not only better for performance, but also helps you stay injury-free. These pre-run exercises are developed to work on areas of the body that are pushed to the max while running, specifically the feet, hips and torso. TIMES PER WEEK: EVERY DAY

RECOVERY

The recovery routine is based on Under Armour’s belief that today’s recovery is tomorrow’s training. It is essential to attempt to restore movement quality after a run. The program is designed to hit the areas of the body that need the most attention. These moves will require a foam roller or tennis ball, which can be found at your local gym or health club. These moves should be done after every workout. TIMES PER WEEK: EVERY DAY

IMG: Eastside 10K Training Plan.
The 2019 UA Eastside 10K Training Plan – a balanced approach to road running training.

I wish more training plans were set up this way – unfortunately most recreational runners, and I have been guilty of the same – focus too much, or even entirely at times, on our distance goal, our pace, and not about a balanced workout. This simply leads to overuse injuries caused by unbalanced or weak muscle development of our quads, glutes and hips. We also rarely take the time to properly stretch, relax and recondition our muscles.

The Under Armour training plan scheduled all of the above and I would highly recommend any road runner, no matter the distance, or race, take a look and blend it into your running routine.

You can check out the full training plan here.

Under Armour Makes impressive Running Gear

In addition to the training plan. As the winner of the Under Armour Eastside 10K contest, Under Armour also outfitted me with new running attire that have quickly become some of my favourites.  

  • UA Rush Track Singlet and ½ Leggings
  • UA Qualifier Speedpocket Shorts – I love the new waterproof speedpocket in the front of the shorts to fit my iphone, keeps the leather case dry, and these are super breathable shorts. I LOVE these shorts!
  • New Hover Infinite Bluetooth Enabled runners that syncs with the UA MapMyRun app and tracks you pace, stride length, and cadence. Through the app, the shoes also provide cool training features such as recommendations on running dynamics (stride length), and dedicated training plans. Word of advice, they fit small – you may need a half a size bigger.
  • UA Qualifier Storm Packable Rain Jacket that came in handy this weekend in Vancouver and it’s infamous rain
  • A new UA Running hat, however the L/XL size didn’t quite fit my apparently average sized head 🙁

New gear, top notch running coach, motivation, and time – how is this not the perfect recipe for a PB?

Injury – why, oh why, do we need to be injured?

I try to remind myself that we cannot take a million steps a year in runners without having some form of injury. Unfortunately for me, a relatively serious injury hit in early July just as I was starting my 8 week training program for the Under Armour Eastside 10K. Within two runs, I went from feeling totally ready for summer training and the 16 week climb to marathon season to barely being able to put any weight on my right foot.  

Image of Rich Hesketh, Sports Trainer / Coach
Rich Hesketh | UA Trainer and Sports Coach

Rich Hesketh, the Under Armour Training Team member provided me with a great pool routine to help maintain cardio function while I was benched.

When two weeks of rest and recovery were not doing the trick, it was time to call in the amazing physiotherapist team at LifeSpring Physiotheropy in Aurora, ON. If you are looking for a team that understands runners, and running related injuries be sure to check out LifeSpring. Prognosis: Posterior Tibial Tendon Syndrome and a few more weeks off of running.

Green Light to run and 5 weeks to go until Under Armour Eastside 10K

I was given the green light the first week of August to give running a try, however, those first few steps felt like I was back in a “Learn to Run” program. Where my Under Armour training plan called for a 40 minutes long slow distance (LSD) run, I was limited by my Physiotherapist to a 10 minute run at a maximum at 50% intensity, and to cut it short on any sign of pain.  My run, 1:27 KM’s at a 7:48 pace.  A long road away from 10K and a very short period of time to achieve that goal! 

The fun of building up to 10KM began from there:

  • 10 minutes – 1.51 km at 6:15 /km
  • 10 minutes – 1.71 km at 6:05 /km
  • 15 minutes – 2.35 km at 6:25 /km
  • 21 minutes – 3.34 km at 6:19 /km
  • 32 minutes – 5.01 km at 6:25 /km
  • 42 minutes – 6.31 km at 6:38 /km
  • 53 minutes – 7.50 km at 7:10 / km (Group run w run club)
  • 54 minutes – 7.32 km at 7:32 / km (5-Peaks Trail race)
  • 31 minutes – 5:01 km at 6:22 / km (shakeout run before Vancouver)
  • Sadly, life, as it does, got in the way of a second shakeout run.  No worries, I have this! 

Was I ready for the 10K?  Close, however, I also realized after my injury that goals need to be flexible.  Where I was once geared up to push myself and body to a new PB, I was totally content to just fall back and enjoy the run.  In hindsight it was to my advantage. Gone was the stress of a race and I welcomed the rare opportunity to pause, look around the cityscape, take selfie photos, and enjoy the sights of Vancouver as me and 2856 other amazing runners enjoyed the streets of this iconic west coast city.

Running the Under Armour Eastside 10k in Vancouver

Every picture I have seen a of the Under Armour Eastside 10k has been wet.  Leading up to race day, the Vancouver weather was ready to repeat.  90% chance of rain with 25mm expected in the forecast.  I am not sure how Under Armour pulled it off; however, race day was perfect weather, overcast and 17 degrees. Thank you run universe!  

IMG: Running the UA Eastside 10K through Gastown, Vancouver - Sept 2019.
A fun Saturday run through Gastown with 2800 running friends.

Staged to start in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown we were in for a treat out of the gates. For those not familiar with Vancouver, Gastown is the cities oldest neighbourhood circa 1867. Known for its whistling Steam Clock, mature trees, and cobbled stones, Gastown is home to indie art galleries and decor stores in Victorian buildings. A trendy food and drink scene includes chic cocktail lounges and restaurants serving everything from gourmet sandwiches to local seafood. It is also home to a large foyer as part of Woodwards Development that made for the perfect dry place to have bag check, race kit pickup, and just to culminate waiting for the race to begin.

The previous night’s rain made the cobblestone roads of Gastown a little slippery – however, it didn’t stop the race pack for hitting the course with a super-fast pace out of the gates that continued over the 10 kilometer course.

The race was FAST!

The elite pack at any race always blows me away – with Canadian Olympic Marathon trials just weeks away at Toronto’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, they were there in full force to prove a point. The winners came in with staggering finishes with the top male (Trevor Hofbauer) hitting a sub 30 minute mark at 29:58 and top female (Malindi Elmore) setting a new course record with her 32:42 finish.

The Start of the Under Armour EastSide 10K, September 14, 2019

The fast pace contained with the rest of the 2854 runners behind them.  All I can say is that it spring like weather or nicer 12 months of the year pays off for Vancouver runners. They are a very impressive bunch of runners.

After being injured and my race goal of PB was but aside I set a new simple expectation, “Enjoy the race,” as I reminded myself to simply find that natural pace and use that to govern the run.  That is exactly what I did. Putting my watch and pace aside, I ran, and watched, and cheered on fellow runners as we made our twists and turns through the streets of East Vancouver.

The race took us through Gastown and up-and-coming Railtown district which is home to edgy fashion studios, along the Vancouver’s Powel Street to views of North Vancouver’s mountains, and freight terminals, and past dozens of the city’s homeless campers that make Oppenheimer Park home. The 5 KM mark was the perfect place to throw the races monster of a hill at us – as we head for a +700 meter hill climb that had us twisting and turning through side streets of Vancouver not quite knowing when the crest of would be seen. The hill is certainly a defining moment in the course; run it smart and you will be great for the back half of the race – chew up too much energy and look out – you will have a bit of a laborious hike back to the party zone!  

IMG: Under Armour Eastside 10K Race profile.
It would not be a race without a hill or two. This one was a great addition to the race at the 5 km mark.

Total Kudos for the Race Team on this hill!! I was hoping for a King of the Hill challenge for this section – maybe next year!

Where were the Cheer Zones?

Ok Vancouver, where is your cheer? A huge thank you to the people that lined the streets to cheer on the racers, your support is always a huge motivation to keep moving.

Maybe I am spoiled from running larger races in the Toronto area (10,000+ runners) – bands and drums, dozens of dancers, roadside spin-cycle classes, and signs, cow bells and cheers along the entire route. The Eastside route was a bit quiet in comparison. If anything – I would say the race needed a bit more roadside excitement. Don’t get me wrong – I love to just run, but also love the running community and it’s supporters.

Training, equipment, and a consistent and steady pace paid off

Despite my injuries and accelerated training program – my race was my fastest 10K of the year – with a 9 minute improvement over training times and previous 10KM events this season. I had a super strong negative split by 2 1/2 minutes (30:02+27:34) finishing in 57:36. Still a long shot from my 54:11 PB, however, I am super happy with the result. Maybe there is something to be said for Under Armour’s UA Rush Track Singlet – umm. Regardless, of the science – it has become my go to running shirt. Now to find myself a short and long sleeve version for Ontario’s fall and winter weather.

What is UA RUSH? During performance, the body emits heat. The responsive UA RUSH fabric absorbs that heat and converts it into infrared energy that is re-emitted back into the body. This recycled energy increases temporary localized circulation, promoting improved performance, energy and recovery. When worn, UA RUSH stimulates increased endurance and strength.

My sister ran 10K in a cast

IMG:: My sister, Gillian Hanlon, running 10K in a walking cast.
Boot and Boogie and no DNF

A special shout and kudos to my sister Gillian that came along with me to the race. An accomplished half marathon runner in her own right, she had her own injury this race season with a severe ankle sprain. Suited up in her favourite running gear, she battled the 10K in her walking cast / boot. Such an incredible trooper!

What did I gain from a trip to Vancouver? 

I have to thank Under Armour for this amazing opportunity. Not only did they give two Ontario siblings a chance to travel across the country to run in the Under Armour Eastside 10K, they helped keep me running motivated and pushing through my injury. As hosts – the trip went off without a hitch, as sponsors, the selection of running gear the outfitted me with has been a refreshing upgrade to my running bag. I laughed; the contest win was perfect timing as my favourite 2 in 1 UA Running shorts had just worn a hole.

Under Armour Eastside 10K - Race Success. My race kit of late: UA Rush Track Singlet, UA  Qualifier Speedpocket Shorts, Garmin 920 XT Watch, UA Hover Infinite shoes (been trying them out), Running Room compression socks, Northface cap, and UA Qualifier Storm Packable Rain Jacket.
Under Armour Eastside 10K – Race Success. My race kit of late: UA Rush Track Singlet, UA Qualifier Speedpocket Shorts, Garmin 920 XT Watch, UA Hover Infinite shoes (been trying them out), Running Room compression socks, Northface cap, and UA Qualifier Storm Packable Rain Jacket.

Putting all the joking aside – the Eastside 10K gave me a strong running goal that helped motivate me to work through injury, work through time commitments of being a single parent, of work, of adulating, of simple day to day ups and downs of my chronic illness, and to get me to physio, all to ensure I fit in my critical training runs in and build to that 10 KM goal.

The Under Armour Eastside 10K reminded me, that no matter what adversities pop up in my life, they may shape and influence who I am but does not define who I am – running is, and will continue to be one way I remind myself of that, one way that I push my own limits and achieve a new personal best – or in this case a PB for 2019, and most importantly show my two boys that despite a bumpy and hard road, we can achieve our goals with a little effort and determination.

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