Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I've been running, honest!

Boy, it has been a loooong time since my last blog post! Life seems to have gotten busy, but that doesn't mean I haven't been running! Truth is, I've been following the 18-week schedule for the Halifax Hypothermic Half Marathon, and we are now in week 10!

The training has been going pretty well. Unlike this summer, where I jumped in at week eight of the program after being off for two months following surgery, I've started at the beginning and have been focusing on building up my speed, endurance and strength by sticking to the program fairly rigorously. In fact, my tempo runs have improved from 5:59/km to around 5:39/km, while my steady runs have also improved so that a 6:03/km run now feels pretty comfortable.


I've also been building my strength base with GoodLife's Body Pump classes, along with quite a bit of yoga. It's so great when you're running and your legs just feel strong, and this combination of cross-training seems to work for me. Body Pump is a full-body strength workout with a barbell, and includes one track (song) of squats, and one of lunges, in addition to all the other major body groups. I can really feel the difference in my legs!

I also discovered that Halifax Yoga had a special on for new students: $20 for 10 days of unlimited yoga. I used that as an opportunity to check out the studio and its classes. It's amazing how different each studio is each from the other, and it took me a while to get used to this studio's style. However, within a few days, I noticed my hips opening up, and it felt fantastic! Running can be pretty brutal on your flexibility, if you don't maintain a rigorous stretching program.

Running in cooler weather is lovely 

Starting the program in the fall meant I could avoid the hotter running conditions from the summer, and I've really noticed a difference. You can always dress warmer for the cold, but there's only so much cooler you can dress. However, this fall has been so unpredictable, with warmer days following cooler ones, that I've started wearing three different options in my gym bag each day, just in case the weather should be cooler or warmer than expected. Then again, living on the coast, you quickly learn that you can never predict the weather.

The other nice thing about running in cooler weather is that it gets you acclimatized to the winter weather, and makes sure you stay active throughout the holiday season.

Getting used to longer distances

Oh, the human mind is a funny thing. It doesn't matter how many half and full marathons I've run in the last four years, my brain seems to have short-term memory when it comes to long slow distances. For example, last Sunday was my first time running more than 10k in a couple of months. Unlike my 14k LSD last August, which was a sweaty torture from start to finish, this week I actually felt pretty good and maintained a fairly decent pace, up until km 8 or 9. It was at that point that my legs started getting heavier, and my brain started getting bored. I also didn't plan my route properly, so I ended up having to do loops around our neighbourhood for about 4kms, which got boring really fast.

By the end of the run, I was so mentally drained from my inner dialogue with myself about why I was keeping up the run when all I wanted to do was to be home, and home was so close, that when I walked in the door, I was a fuming mess, which hubby noticed. Smart man, he suggested that I go take a bath and relax, because I was so worked up.

Obviously, I've lost the knack for running those long distances - particularly on my own - and I'll have to learn the patience and endurance that I had built up before. I'll also try and kick myself out of bed sooner on Sunday mornings so that I can make it to the Running Room for Run Club. Running long distances alone can get rather...lonely.

Anyways, that's the long and short of it for now. I hope to start blogging more regularly again to track my progress, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A tribute to Coach Wendy!

A little more than a month ago, one of my running friends messaged me and asked me if I'd be willing to help out with a project - she and another friend wanted to recognize Wendy Leiper for her great coaching of the summer-fall Halifax Running Room marathon clinic.

Anyone who's run with Wendy knows she is passionate about running and extremely generous about offering her wisdom, insight and enthusiasm to encourage other runners. I personally have benefitted so much from her encouragement and generosity. So when Carol asked if I'd be willing to help write an instructor profile for the Running Room Magazine, I said of course!

Carol and I got together a few weeks ago after soliciting feedback from clinic participants about Wendy's role as a coach and mentor, and sat down over chocolate-banana muffins and tea to write the piece together.

The result is this article on page 9 of the November-December Running Room Magazine.

We felt it was a great way to recognize Wendy and say thank you for all she's done to encourage, lead and motivate all of the runners who are lucky enough to have gotten to know her.

Thanks, Wendy!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Guest blog post: Laura's first 5k race

About a year ago, I started reading my friend Laura's blog - How to climb a volcano (and other fitness exploits). Over the course of several months, Laura documented her training for a hike to climb up a volcano in Costa Rica to raise money for diabetes.

I really liked Laura's blog, because not only were the entries well written, they were humorous and gave real insight into the highs and lows of such a training program (which included having to raise the funds to get herself there). In fact, Laura's blog partly inspired me to launch Halifax Runner Girl and start documenting my own training program for a marathon, and the blog expanded to what it is today - part journal, part advice column, part product review and also a chance for me to profile other runners.

In the meantime, Laura raised the funds, climbed the volcano and then took on a new challenge - training for her first ever 5k road race at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon while I was training for my races. A few weeks ago, she successfully completed that challenge, and I asked her to write a guest blog about her experience. I loved her entry, and I think you will too!
Without further ado, I give you Laura's guest blog post:

My foray into running and my first 5K race

I ran my first 5K race on October 16th. Some of you veteran runners are probably thinking, “Big deal!” but this was a pretty awesome feat for me. I am not a runner. Wait – I was not a runner. Until five months ago. I remember the torture of the one-mile run from phys-ed in highschool and barely being able to finish. Heck! I remember not being able to make it around the block, jogging with my dog, back in June. But on October 16th I not only ran a 5K, I did it in 31:44.

This time last year I was gearing up for training to climb a volcano (yes, really) but it was very different training. When I returned successful form that adventure in late May, it was time to learn to run. In June I launched into a couch-to-5K program and began my running adventures.

They go pretty easy on you in the beginning: run for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds. While the running jaunts were a challenge for lil’ ol’ me, I was pretty proud of myself for completing week one. In week three I sort of glossed over the running plan and read, “run 90 seconds, walk 90 seconds, repeat.” No problem. Well, you should always read/listen to all the directions. In this case that would have revealed run 90 seconds, walk 90 seconds, run three minutes, walk three minutes, repeat. I panicked when I first heard that, but guess what? That’s right – I did it! I ran for three minutes in a row. More than once! Again, you may be thinking, “Big whoop!” but it was another first for me.

In the end, the nine-week training program dragged into 15 weeks (injury, travel, injury – my physiotherapist and I are very close now) but I was finally running 5K around mid-September. Oh. Em. Gee. Me. Running.

A week before the official race I ran my best time ever: 5K in 30:43 (my October 16th race time was my second best time).

Race day came. I knew I could push myself and probably run my best time ever. My sister was also running though, and I really wanted to run with her. It was more important for me to run my first 5K race (and hers!) with her than to score my best time. As we stood in the corral it was hard not to feel energized and I was antsy waiting for the start gun. When it finally went... we didn’t move. Right, must wait for everyone ahead of us. About three minutes later though, we crossed the start line.

My sister set a great pace. I felt good running with her. It was also my first time running without music but between my sister, all the other runners and the crowds cheering us on, it was pretty easy to feel motivated. As we ran I felt pretty much the same as I would on one of my own runs; my sister’s pace was my pace. How convenient! We’d never run together and yet we were right at the same place.

I must admit it was a tricky run. Usually my path is clear but for the occasional person on the trail or 
Final 200 metres
 sidewalk, easy to manoeuvre around. This time, thousands of other runners surrounded me, some blocking me, some passing me, some darn near tripping me up! I’ll say that’s where my minute (best time) went. As we approached the end though, my sister and I powered up. At 200 metres we began to push ourselves. I didn’t feel I had much left in me, but I found something and my sister and I crossed the rather dangerous (people coming out of nowhere!) finish line together! It was a fantastic feeling.

So, I’ve crossed the line, I’m gasping for breath, my legs just want to stop, I need water desperately (which was not so readily available – grrrr....) and we are barely recovered when my sister asks, “So, are we training for a spring 10K now?”

We’ll see sister, we’ll see.

[Special thanks to friends, including Halifax Runner Girl, who gave me great advice and support throughout my introduction to running, and to Carli at Running Into Shape (http://runningintoshape.com/5k-training-downloads/) for her fantastic couch-to-5K mp3 training series.]

~ Laura Mousseau

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Guest blog: Jen's first half marathon story!

I've been bad lately, I know...I haven't posted much in a while but that doesn't mean I haven't been training! In fact I've hopped back onto the Hypothermic Half Marathon training schedule and have been doig pretty good at following most of the runs on the schedule. So far, so good and I'm feeling pretty good, too.

But first, I wanted to share my friend Jen's guest blog about her first half marathon story a few weeks ago. I first profiled Jen earlier this year when she undertook her first 5k race schedule last April. Over the past few months, we've shared our mutual love for running via email and encouraged each other along the way. I was so proud of Jen when she decided to train for, and finished, her first half marathon this fall, that I asked her to do a guest blog post.

I loved her story about her first marathon, and I think you will too!

Without further ado, I give you Jen!

My first half marathon was a challenge I took on after starting to run in late April of this year. My friend from way back, otherwise known as, Halifax Runner Girl, inspired me to take up running after following along through her blog as she recapped races and spoke of her relationship with this sport. So when I was asked to recap my first race it seemed like a nice way to bring this experience full circle. So here we go...

I live in Brooklyn New York, and I wanted to find a race that was fairly close by so I signed up for the Atlantic City half, a race that involved boardwalk, views of sandy beaches and ocean waves...sign me up.  The course was described as flat and the boardwalk would be forgiving on the joints so I figured this would be the perfect half for a novice like me.

One thing this novice did not consider...Atlantic City= Casinos, bachelor and bachelorette parties, weekends of rowdy non-stop fun.  Why would this be an important consideration?  Well the night before a race you need to sleep...Fail.  But it was quite entertaining listening to all the fun going on outside the room, and honestly I am not sure I would have slept much anyway.

The energy race morning was contagious.  I turned the corner onto the boardwalk and was thrilled to see all of the runners.  Runners of all sizes, levels, and ages.  I joined them behind the starting line.  I also made the newbie mistake of sticking to the front...oops.  The American National Anthem was sung, I prepared my Garmin and Ipod, and away we went.  I was running happily along the boardwalk when I looked down at my Garmin realizing I was going way too fast for my planned pace.  I tried to slow down and kept running.  I looked up and noticed the pacer for the Marathoners and it said 3:20...oh no, still way too fast.  I tried to slow down again....but for some reason I couldn’t.  I felt like a caged animal that had been set free and I had no control at this point.

Mile 1, 2, 3, ticked by and I was still hanging with this group.  I then saw the hill...shock went through me and shear panic.  I had trained on bridges with inclines and parks with hills but not enough to tackle this ramp.  Yes RAMP...where was the promise of boardwalk views?  We were running up the ramp to the highway and it was steep.  Runners around me were cursing, “Hills! when did they add a hill into this race?” one runner remarked.  ( I would later read online that they changed the course this year.)  I knew I had been A) running way too fast and B) this hill was going to take a bit out of me.  I sucked it up and pushed up the hill.  One runner beside me began to walk, cursing, I think she had made the same mistake.  I kept going trying to block her out.

Mile 4...I had to stop at the porta-potty.  Line up...”Oh no!”  I thought as I watched the rest of the runners continue on.  I gave myself a pep-talk noting that this would give me a chance to adjust my pace.  I relaxed and did just that, until another winding ramp.  This did not make me happy.  I focused on my form and pushed my way up.  My legs and lungs were at this point telling me...we should have trained on more hills...oh well.

Mile 5, 6 ticked by and the sun was beating down on all the runners.  The course was now taking us through residential neighbourhoods.  Honestly it was boring, and I was feeling quite defeated.  This is when the mental strength had to kick in.  More runners were starting to walk.  I could feel myself slowing down.  I let myself walk through the water station and took my gu.  The Volunteers were great and very motivating.  I was frustrated and tired and worried as I took in the gu.  “What if this is too much for me?”  I started to worry.  I noticed a lot of the runners had a friend or family member with them.  I started to feel very alone.  I pushed myself to start running again.  A spectator yelled out to the runners, “KEEP GRINDING IT OUT RUNNERS!”  I breathed in her words and energy as I passed her almost in tears at this point.

Mile 7, 8 we hit a turn where I could see the pack of runners in front, and as I rounded the bend, the pack of runners behind me.  I realized I was about in the middle.  I started to listen to the conversations around me.  One runner was with the pace leader for 4:30 marathon time.  She was sharing that she was doing her first marathon and that she was scared that she was getting tired.  I smiled at her and told her she was doing great.  Secretly I was telling myself the same thing. Husbands and wives were pushing each other along, charity runners were cheering each other as they passed and I felt connected to all of the runners around me.  For this moment in my life these people were going through something with me, completely unaware that their presence was keeping me going.

Mile 9...okay where is mile 9?  There wasn’t any marker and my Garmin had gone crazy.  I had no idea how much further.  I was struggling.  We had hit the boardwalk at this point.  People were walking casually around all the runners, trying to dodge us as we barreled towards them.  I glanced at the ocean, I was so hot and the waves looked very inviting...but I pressed on.  My right hip began to hurt so I let myself walk.  I walked for what felt like forever.  Spectators watched as I walked by.  For a brief moment I felt like I was cheating.  “I should be running” I thought.  Runners twice my age were passing me by.  I was inspired by their strength and started to run again.

The course took us passed the finish line.  I watched others cross over, happy for them.  I knew at this point I must be at mile 9.5 because the half marathoners had to turn around after mile 11 and the full marathoners keep going along the boardwalk.   I stopped to walk again as my hip was really bothering me.  Another runner stopped and asked if I was ok.  I assured him I was and we talked and walked for a bit.  He shared with me that he was recovering from Cancer and that he had done the Boston marathon in the past.  He encouraged me to keep going and said that I was doing great.  Just as we separated an ambulance cart whizzed by forcing runners to get out of the way or stop.  When I ran further ahead there was a young woman in her twenties turning blue and sitting on a bench with oxygen on her.  She had passed out.  I noticed she was running the full Marathon by her bib colour and hoped she was ok.  I reached the turn around and passed through the water station.  Threw water on my face and gunned it for a bit.  At this point I realized my goal time of 2:15 was out of reach so I adjusted to 2:30.

Mile 11.5 my hip started to hurt again so I walked.  I decided to walk and sprint until I reached 12.5 miles and then I would give it all I had left.  I did just that.  I saw the finish line, the faces of the spectators and I ran like hell.  I passed through the finish and received my medal.  I looked at my Garmin it said 2:32, I would later find out my official time was 2:37.

It was not the race I wanted to run. I was hoping for that 2:15 finish because that was my goal and during training I knew I could hit that time.  But I learned that even when you are tired, and you are hurting you can push yourself to complete what feels impossible.  I am proud of that!  I started running the end of April 2011, and in October 2011 I finished a half marathon!  My goal now is to keep running, get stronger and run another half in the spring.  Who knows maybe someday a full...anything is possible!

~ Jen Marsan

Friday, October 14, 2011

Packing your bags for race day? A handy pre-race checklist

It's amazing all the stuff you need to pack to travel to a race; particularly when you're traveling far from home. Last spring, I traveled from Halifax to Toronto to run in the Toronto Marathon, and it was amazing how much room my running gear and equipment took up in my luggage.

Here's a quick checklist of things you will want to pack so you're ready to go on race day (I like to split it up into three bags):

The essentials bag:
- running shoes
- running socks
- Garmin (if you run with one) or sports watch (and charger if you're away for more than a day)
- gels or sports beans
- drink mix (if you use it)
- water belt and water bottles
- running top (you may want to pack two or three options (ex: tank, t-shirt and long-sleeved shirt), just in case the weather's unpredictable)
- extra running shirt for layering if the weather starts out cool (many races now collect discarded t-shirts along the race course and donate them to charity, which is a great way to get rid of that funky-coloured shirt you never wear)
- running jacket, if the weather looks like it's going to be cool
- running bottom (you may want to pack both shorts and 3/4 pants in case the weather's looking uncertain)
- gloves (again, if the weather looks like it's going to start out cool)
- hat or headband
- MP3 player and armband (and charger)
- BodyGlide
- Ibuprofen or Advil (I like to tuck one into my pocket for midway through a marathon)

The pre-race bag:
- sweater or jacket for before the run
- bagel and apple juice or other pre-long run breakfast food (if you're staying at a hotel)
- gloves (if it looks like it might be cool)
- Ibuprofen or Advil (this is not medical advice, but I like to take one before a race so that it kicks in partway through the run...But remember - never try something new for the first time at a race! If you've never done this, don't do it on the day of a race)
- safety pins (in case the race organizers don't provide them for your bib)
- race bib (if you picked it up before the race)
- camera (if you have folks who'll be watching you on the sidelines)

The post-race bag:
- change of clothes, including a hooded sweater or jacket
- emergency blanket (in case the race organizers don't provide them to everyone)
- banana, chocolate milk and/or any other post-race foods you found work (I also like salty chips)
- Gatorade or other sports drink that will absorb easily
- Epsom salts (if you're staying at a hotel or friend's house - that post-race bath, after the ice bath - will feel like heaven!)
- comfy shoes or slippers
- Band-Aids

Have I missed anything? What's on your race packing list?


Six songs to get you pumped on race day!

I must admit - I'm a dancer at heart. So when I hear a good tune, it usually gets me pumped. Which can be a good thing, when you're running a race. However, sometimes, if I'm in training mode, it can also mean that I get burned out before the halfway mark because I heard a good song and it got me excited and then all of a sudden my legs are pumping, my heart racing, I feel like I can fly...Till my legs give out on me and I realize darnit, I've done it again - let the music take over.

So there's a fine balance to choosing songs that will help you maintain your pace and not kick it too fast too soon on race day, but give you just the right boost at the right time when you need it.

Here's my list of songs that are always on my playlist, and that I just love to run to:

The "standing at the starting line" song: Black Eyed Peas, "I gotta feelin"
Every time I hear this song before a race or even before a tempo run, I just think to myself: "I gotta feelin' that this run's gonna be a good run...It's got the right tempo to let you start out slow enough out the starting gates but get your legs moving and the adrenaline pumping.

The "easy does it" song: Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind" (aka New York)
I love the piano and the beats in this tune. It's got just the right groove to keep me going at a steady pace, and for some reason I find whenever it comes on my iPod, I just feel inspired and the running feels light and easy. And yes, I do find myself singing along to it (apologies to those around me!). Good for partway through the run when you just want to maintain a steady pace.

The "I'm happy I'm running" song: Flogging Molly, "If I ever leave this world alive"
Whenever I hear this song, it reminds me of my brother, who made a playlist for me for my wedding last year. It's a great song for remembering that I'm alive, and thanking all of the friends and family who've supported me on my journey to race day. It's also got more of an upbeat tempo, so it's a good one for kickin' it.

The "extra push at around km 37" song: "Eye of the Tiger"
I know, it sounds cheesy, but believe me, it works. This is the "I'm invincible!" song. This one is good for that stage in the race where the pack has spread out, you might even be running alone (especially if you race in the Maritimes, where our numbers are a bit smaller). When this song comes on and it gives me that extra little boost I need to keep going (I recall listening to this song somewhere around km 37 of my first marathon, for instance).

The "kickin' it" song: "Sweet assed child o' mine" (DJ Donna Summer Remix)
This song...well, it just has that right mix of some cool dance beats, great tempo, and a nice guitar solo right in the middle. Maybe it's just me, but hearing it just makes me want to run, fast.

The "don't mess with me, I'm running" song: Beastie Boys, "Sabotage"
I just have to hear the opening beats of this song, and I just go...And I'm seriously "Don't mess with me!" The beat is great, the yelling into the microphone is great, and it's just a great song for giving you the extra kick in the rear to sprint it to the finish at the end of a long run.

Of course there are so many others I could list, but that's a little sample of the tunes I like to run to. What do you have on your playlist that you couldn't run without?


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Inspirational quotes for race day

Running a race this fall? Here are a few of my favourite running quotes, courtesy of my running friend Wendy, who sent them to me in advance of my first marathon last year.

Whether you're running a 5, 10, half or full, your first race or your fifth, take some quiet time to read through these quotes before race day. You'll find they really help when you need some inspiration to draw on during your run.

"When people ask me why I run, I tell them, there's not really a reason, it's just the adrenalin when you start, and the feeling when you cross that finish line, and know that you are a winner no matter what place you got." ~Courtney Parsons

"Good things come slow - especially in distance running." ~ Bill Dellinger, Oregon coach

"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired...You've always got to make the mind take over and
keep going." ~ George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”~ Confucius

“I have met my hero, and he is me.” ~ George Sheehan

“I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” ~ Mike Fanelli, running club coach

“The body does not want you to do this.  As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong.  You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy...It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.” ~  Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon Champ

“For me, like so many others, running is the answer. Out on the road it is just you, the pavement, and your will.” ~ John Bingham

"I believe in the runner's high, and I believe that those who are passionate about running are the ones who experience it to the fullest degree possible. To me, the runner's high is a sensational reaction to a great run! It's an exhilarating feeling of satisfaction and achievement. It's like being on top of the world, and truthfully... there's nothing else quite like it!" ~ Sasha Azevedo

"Everything you need is already inside." ~ Bill Bowerman

"To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." ~ Steve Prefontaine

"The only way to define your limits is to go beyond them." ~Anonymous

"It is good to have an end to journey toward: but it is the journey that matters in the end." ~ Ursula K. LeGuin

"Get going. Get up and walk if you have to, but finish the damned race." ~ Ron Hill to Jerome Drayton during the 1970 Boston Marathon

"Ask yourself: 'Can I give more?' The answer is usually: 'Yes.'" ~ Paul Tergat

"When you don't think you can do something, sometimes things just fall together really well on race day and you totally surprise yourself. So it's worth it to put yourself out there and take some chances." ~ Lisa Koll,
U.S. distance runner and four time NCAA Division One Champion

"Concentrate on small segments of your race at a time. For example, rather than obsessing about the distance that remains, simply complete the next mile in good form...try another, then another, until the race is done." ~ Jerry Lynch

And my personal favourite:

“To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” ~   Chinese Proverb

What's your favourite quote that gets you through a long run or a race?


Sunday, October 9, 2011

More inspiration for race day: giving thanks for your support network

Last summer, I was part of a marathon clinic group at the Running Room in Halifax. What I love about running clinics is that you get to meet so many different people and draw on each other's experiences and backgrounds to inspire each other. And by the end of the clinic, you usually get to know each other really well.

So last fall, after most of the group had run their races, we got together at a local restaurant to share some of each other's experiences and race stories. I had yet to run my race - Legs for Literacy in Moncton - but I showed up to hear how the others had fared (many of them had run the PEI Marathon) and learn from their experiences.

We took turns going around the table, each individual sharing their stories. Most of the women in my pace group had had a fantastic race, and accomplished, or even bested, their race time of four hours. Wendy had even qualified for Boston. And while I sat there fascinated by all their stories, my stomach was also tied up in knots, because I still had yet to run my race.

And then there was Greg's story, which I still carry with me to this day. He shared how he had made a point of thinking of all the people who had helped and inspired him through the several weeks and months of training, all of whom had played a part in helping to get him to the start line on the day of the race -- from his wife and family, to friends, colleagues and even members of the pace group he ran with.

He had then scribbled those names onto slips of paper, and put them in his pocket on race day. Then, when he reached a certain kilometre marker, he had started pulling them out, one at a time, thinking of the person and sending out a silent message of thanks to that individual. And then he left the slips of paper on the ground and kept running.

I love that story - it's such a good reminder of the roles that our friends and family and other support networks play in getting us to the start (and finish) lines on race day. And while I don't necessarily scribble people's names on slips of paper (there's just so much jammed into my water belt and pockets on race day, I don't think I could fit anything else in), I do make a point now of remembering of all of the people without whom I wouldn't have made it to the race course - from my husband (aka, "coach"), to my parents, my running group and friends. When my legs get tired and the kilometres seem endless, I send out a silent little message of thanks to them. And somehow, thinking of all the people who believe in me helps make my legs feel lighter and my determination stronger.

So if you're looking for inspiration as you prepare for your big fall race, take out a piece of paper and scribble down the names of all of the people who helped you get there. You'll be amazed at just how long that list is, and how strong your support network is.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Five inspirational movies about running

Preparing for your big fall race and looking for inspiration? Here are five movies about running that will get you all pumped up:

St. Ralph
A Canadian movie about a ninth-grader who trains for the 1954 Boston Marathon in order to wake his mom from a coma. I personally haven't read it, but Nancy Holland recommended it and the plot looks good. Next race, I'm renting this!

Run Fatboy Run
Features Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame). Pegg plays Dennis Doyle, a lazy layabout down on his luck. He decides to train for (and run) the London Marathon in order to win back the love of his life and mother of his child. My favourite part: where Dennis faces the virtual runner's wall, then crashes through it. Whenever I think I can't go on, I remember him crawling to the finish with a broken ankle.

Ok technically this isn't a running movie, and everyone knows this rags to riches story of Rocky Balboa, a club fighter from Philadelphia who trains for the world heavyweight championship. If you've watched the movie, you'll know there are also plenty of scenes with Rocky training to the tunes of "Eye of the Tiger" (one of my favourite running tunes), running up and down stairs, and racing his trainer on the beach.

Chariots of Fire
Truth be told, I've never watched made it past the scenes where Harold Abrahams completes the Trinity Great Court Run. It's a story about two athletes of different faiths who train to run in the 1924 Olympics. Considering it won 4 Academy Awards in 1981, including Best Picture, I think I'll add it to my list of movies to watch before a race.

Forrest Gump
"Run, Forrest, run!" Need I say more? Let's just say the pure joy Forrest Gump shows when he's running is something I long to hold on to throughout a race or a training run.

Those are my five. What running movies do you recommend?


Monday, October 3, 2011

The power of inspiration: together, we can do so much!

This weekend, I participated in the CIBC Run for the Cure in Halifax. It's the fourth or fifth year I've run, and each year I always run for three people: my mom, who beat breast cancer about 12 years ago; her best friend, Lynn, who struggled with breast cancer for years before it spread to her organs and then sadly passed away, leaving behind two young children; all of us - because I'm not sure what the statistics are these days, but I know it's something like one in three women will have breast cancer in their lifetime. I also know that all of us - each and every one of us - knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer. None of us is immune to this disease.

But yesterday, when I woke up, it was grey and raining, as yet another hurricane - this one Ophelia - passed by our small city. I was still recovering from a pretty tough canoe trip into the interior with my dad, and I thought, "heck, I'll show my support in some other way." I had tentatively made plans with another friend to meet her there, but as she ended up being busy, that gave me the out I was looking for.

Until I scrolled through the Facebook posts on my page, and I saw this one from my running bud Nivose:

"Dont feel like doing the Run for the Cure this morning in this weather! Then again, no one ever feels like getting breast cancer... So I'll be there!"

Well that was all the inspiration I needed to kick my lazy butt out of bed, pull on my pink running top and gather the rest of my gear, and head out the door to The Commons, where it brought tears to my eyes to see the literally thousands of men and women of all ages who had braved the rain to come out in support of this cause.

Their pink feather boas and other pink apparel might have been getting drenched in the rain, but none of the people there were complaining about it. Everyone around me had smiles on their faces, was dancing to the music at the start line, and happy to be there.

As the start time approached, we counted down from 10, and then headed out. I told myself I'd just do an easy run, but of course when you're in those situations with thousands of people around you, the adrenaline gets pumping and you can't help but try and race yourself a little bit.

I'm not going to lie: after three weeks of not running (due to the lead-up and after my canoe trip), that 5k on an empty stomach was a little tough. I ran without my Garmin (or my music), so I have no idea what my time was, but that's not this was about. As I crested the hill next to the Halifax Clock Tower, I definitely slowed and my legs were feeling it, but I told myself - "this is for you, mom, Lynn, and all of us..." and I kept going, eventually making it back to the muddy field at the finish, where hundreds of other runners, walkers and on-lookers were gathered and cheering people to the finish.

Walking away from the field, I was so thankful to Nivose for her inspirational post - it meant the difference between me showing up and being part of a great cause on a rainy day, or me laying at home in bed and not contributing.

In the days and weeks to come, as we lead up to the Toronto Marathon, in which I will  not be running but at least a dozen of my friends and colleagues will be, I'll be sharing stories and thoughts of inspiration to help pump up my fellow runners before their big days. Because yesterday was a testimony to the power of inspiration, and the impact that one positive thought or comment can make on other people.

I'd love to hear your inspirational stories too, so please share them here!

Happy Monday, everyone,


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Update: No fall race for me, but a winter or spring half is in sight!

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I've been particularly open about the highs and lows of training for a fall half marathon, following my surgery in June, and I was having a difficult time with falling back in love with running. Then, a few weeks ago, I had a string of good runs and things seemed like they were on the up and up.

I was however still debating how much of a good idea it would be for me to attempt a race, knowing that I'd finish at least 10 to 20 minutes slower, given that I started in on the training program late, and probably due to the extra few pounds I've put on from two months of inactivity. Would it be more frustrating to come through the finish so much slower, or would it give me a taste for why I love road running and racing?

Then, last week, I missed my 18k LSD on Sunday - I was swamped with trying to wrap up work before my dad arrived on Monday for our five-day canoe trip in Kejimkujik Park, Nova Scotia. We've been doing a canoe trip together for the last few years. This year, we were late because I only decided about a month and a half ago that I felt strong enough for a trip into the interior.

And although I did a lot of portaging (some days averaged about 8k a day, which is a lot, when you're carrying a canoe solo and then another 30-40 pounds of gear over rugged terrain), I didn't get to run while we were in the interior (there was no time, and nowhere to run - most of Keji is dense, beautiful forest).

I also missed this Sunday's 20k LSD, as Dad was still here and we headed out to the Eastern Passage with hubby for fishcakes at Emma's and a walk along the boardwalk on Fisherman's Cove.

And as the perfect storm of excuses would have it, my hubby also reminded me we'd been invited to a wedding on October 9th.

You could say -- I've found just about all the excuses I need not to do a fall half.

But after all the highs and lows and personal struggles of the last few weeks, I'm ok with this decision. I'm actually enjoying the thought of maybe taking a break from racing for one season, and training for a winter or spring half. I've been training and racing non-stop for the last four years, even through a pretty serious operation, and I think it's ok to just lighten up and give myself a break if I miss this one.

Yet ironically, as I type this, I've just remembered that the CIBC Run for the Cure is coming up. Sure enough, it's this Sunday! I run this every year, if I can manage it, and this will be a great way to get a race in for a good cause.

So while I won't be out there with my fellow runners at the Valley Harvest Marathon on October 9th, I'll be there in spirit, remembering my half in 2009. Running by farm fields, the fall sun glinting off the cornfields, I remember being startled by the sound of cows mooing to my right. Running through the Annapolis Valley in the fall is a beautiful thing!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Week 14 of 18: Things I saw on my 18k run

I'll be honest: a week ago I just about gave up on training for the Valley Harvest Half Marathon. But after chatting with friends and fellow runners, after a pretty respectable tempo 5k and steady 6k, I thought I'd give it another shot. Which led me to dream up a future blog post that I'll publish shortly, tentatively called "Why blabbing on and on about running is important." More to come on that one.

To be honest, my husband probably would have told you he didn't think I'd follow through with it last night. I arrived at his work tired and grumpy after a busy day, and finding every excuse not to run - my t-shirt would be too hot, I didn't have my water belt or a pouch to hold my gels in...But he told me I shouldn't back out of it. So we agreed that we'd drive home, I'd go right upstairs and change out of my t-shirt and into a sleevless tank, grab my water bottle and drive back downtown again.

"You're doing this," he said. "You're going to go straight back out."

So I did.

Here is what I saw on my 18k (yes, 18 - I did it) run last night:

a white cat with a black patch leaving a church
a girl with a flute case
a runner (lots of runners)
a student (lots of students)
a dog walking its owner
a beautiful orange fuzzy cat sitting on a fence
an old friend with a new friend
a thug Kermit the frog in blue jeans on a t-shirt
a man shaking a Tim Hortons cup and asking for change outside the NSLC
a family out for a walk
a man pushing a shopping cart in the North End alleyways, looking for recyclables
a torn up sidewalk
a patched up sidewalk
a man checking the time an open grocery store would be open
a teeny dog getting tangled in a leash
a tortoiseshell cat cleaning itself on a driveway in the dark
a man watching tv next to his wife while playing the guitar
a big man on a small phone
a zig-zagging walker who couldn't decide what side of the pavement to be on
a sign on Quinpool Road that read "Everyone you meet deserves to be greeted with a smile"
a young woman holding up a sign outside the Superstore, asking for help in the growing gloom
a baseball game under bright lights
an older man running for a tennis ball on a busy tennis court
a drive home - my car, and the finish of this run


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Week 12 of 18: mini vacay with hubby, tough 6k & 16k LSD...and waffles!

I'll get right down to it: I'm waffling about whether to sign up for the Valley Harvest half. Last week was...tough. Apart from the fact that a minor wrench was thrown into my training when hubby and I went away for a mini vacay (which was lovely), my legs felt tired, and I just felt burnt out overall.

Add to that the fact that I started going over my training times from my last half marathon, and realizing that I was running on average 30 seconds to a minute slower per kilometre now than I was a year ago, and you could say last week was a challenge -- mentally, and physically.

I know, it's only been just over two months since my surgery, and I haven't been training or eating like I used to (even though I have been watching what I eat a little more and going to the gym more). But this phase of getting back into shape is just feeling like a long slow haul. And there's a little niggling doubt inside of me wondering whether jumping into half marathon training in week eight of an 18-week program, just six weeks after surgery, was entirely the right way to get back into it.

Then I realize just what a challenge it must be to get into shape if you've never been active before, and I've got to give mad props to all the people who decide to get active for the first time ever. Let's face it: being healthy and active takes time, and determination.

Last week's training kind of looked like this:

- Monday: 16k LSD...a toughie, but I did it!
- Tuesday: Zumba + abs, biceps & triceps
- Wednesday: Zumba + abs, legs & back
- Thursday: mini vacationing with hubby (walking on the beach, ping pong & swimming)
- Friday: mini vacationing with hubby
- Saturday: 6k steady run...also a toughie
- Sunday: 15.5k LSD...a little better than last time (this time, I remembered to bring my GU, Shot Bloks and water/Gatorade, which made a difference, though it was super humid and icky due to Hurricane Irene being on her way)

On Sunday, I stopped by the Running Room to pick up some gels, and Bruce was there. He asked me how I'd been doing, and whether I'd been taking it easy. I admitted that I'd been trying to get back into it slowly, but finding it tough.

Even though he was busy with other customers, I really appreciated how Bruce took the time to ask me how I was doing, then think and give me some honest advice.

I asked him what he thought about me jumping into the half marathon program almost halfway in, and he thought about it some more. His suggestion: maybe to only do a 10k race in the fall, then train for a winter or spring half, and a fall full.

"I'm no psychologist," he said, "But I know that if you're not feeling well about it mentally, you just won't feel well overall," he said. Basically, suggesting that the more I stressed out about these runs, the harder they would feel.

And he was right - Saturday's 6k steady run did feel like agony. I didn't want to do it, and I didn't believe I could do it. By km 4 or 5, I realized that my entire body was stressed and tense, which only made the experience more distressing.

After meeting Bruce, I had planned to meet a friend for a quick interview that I thought would only take 30 minutes, then head out for my 16k. But the interview ended up taking two hours. By the time I stepped outside onto Spring Garden Road, it was hot and sticky outside - Irene was on her way. I called Steve to tell him I was headed home and was going to skip the run.

"You know what you need to do," he said.

Goshdarnit does he ever know his reverse psychology, because no sooner did I hang up the phone than I felt guilty and thought "I'll show him."...and headed out for my 16k LSD.

I'll be honest - it wasn't easy. About 2k in, just after my first walk break, I actually unvelcroed my water belt, turned around, and started walking back to the gym. But then I thought, "You know what, let's just run 10 minutes, and then another 10 minutes, and see how far I get." At the worst, I knew I could call a taxi if I ended up exhausted, or if Irene decided to start blowing through.

In the end, I made it back to the gym, 15.5kms later. Once again, it wasn't easy, and my average pace was about 20-30 seconds slower than usual. But I did it, drawing on all of my previous marathon mental training, putting my head down, and trying to be in the minute. It's easy to get discouraged when you think about the entire distance that needs to be run. But if you just focus on putting one foot in front of the other, running till the end of the block, the end of the 10 minute interval, the next walk break, then you'll be amazed at how far you can get.

The run complete, I drove home, exhausted and sweaty. Steve was surprised that I'd completed the run. He admitted he hadn't thought think I was going to do it, because I sounded like I didn't want to. I admitted that I just felt so slow and sluggish lately, and he hugged me to him. "Who cares about your speed?" he said, pointing out that I was training almost manically before.

Maybe he had a point. Maybe the point here is just that I'm getting healthy again, and there's something to be said for balance. Who cares if I don't run the next half in sub two hours? In the end, it'll have been the journey that matters, and the difference it makes on my overall health.

I'm still waffling over whether to sign up for the Valley Harvest half, but I still have five weeks to make up my mind. In the meantime, I'll keep building up my strength and my distances, gradually, and see where that takes me.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Training weeks 9-10 of Valley Harvest 1/2 Marathon: bring on the strength training, and a sweaty trip to the Point Pleasant Grocery store

Well I am definitely back into training mode now and on track for the Valley Harvest Half Marathon. I'm happy to say that this week and the last, I've done most of my training runs, wich included hills (5 last week, 6 this one -- and I upped the distance on hills too!) and a 14k LSD last Sunday (16 tomorrow).

The 14k LSD was not at all dreamy and mystical like its acronym might suggest. I struggled my way through most of it, a pained look on my face as I wound my way through Halifax's streets -- looking up at people as if to say, "please help me! Why on Earth am I doing this?" If I'd passed me on the street, I might have either chuckled, or commented, "now there goes one of those crazy runners, putting themselves through torture on a hot day."

It was decidedly hot that evening, even though I had waited until the sun started setting for it to cool down (I just haven't managed to wake up for those 8:30 a.m. Sunday runs at the Running Room yet). I'd neglected to stop by the Running Room to pick up some gels, and I hadn't eaten anything prior to setting out for the run. So my energy reserves, in addition to already feeling fried, were lagging.

At around km 5, I stopped by the little convenience store across from Point Pleasant Park - the one that proclaims having more than 40 ice cream flavours on the sandwich board outside its doors (that number fluctuates up and down all the time -- these are the little things you notice when you are on an hour and a half-long run and have too much time to think and wonder). I wanted to pick up some jelly beans or gummies to chew on throughout the run, given that I'd forgotten to bring anything else along.

As soon as I stepped in the door, I was hit by a wave of hot, muggy air. There was a lineup of people waiting to pay at the cash, and within seconds I started dripping sweat in the most unfeminine way possible, wishing myself to be invisible as people glanced at me. Ugh...

Finally, it was my turn to pay for the bag of gummy Jolly Ranchers I'd selected. But lo and behold, that store only accepts debit transactions for purchases of more than three dollars. By this time  I was a veritable waterfall and felt like I was literally melting into a puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West. No point trying to wipe the sweat away - it was as though someone had turned a faucet on inside of me.

I began to dash frantically around the store trying to find gum or something that would amount to $3. Being so hot and bothered, my brain wasn't working properly, which added to the frantic nature of my scurry. Once I found what I was looking for, I tried to pay, only to have the machine reject my transaction -- not once, but twice. At this point even the store owner, who is your typical chipper chatty lady, let out a huge sigh.

"How well are you training?" she asked me, in an effort to be kind to the sweating mess in front of her, I suppose. She'd leaned over and started rummaging in the Take-a-penny-leave-a-penny box to see if she could find cash for me to pay her that way, probably wondering why the heck a runner was acting so frantic about a pack of sugary sweets. Meanwhile, a German family had been waiting patiently by the cash this whole time, ice cream cones gently melting in the muggy heat.

"Ah, well," I shrugged in a mortified-sweaty-defeated kind of way, "I still have quite a ways to go."

The transaction went through on the third time.

Thanking the kind store lady, I turned around and out the door.

I've always thought that running is not a pretty sport, and that experience only confirmed it for me.

Back on the run, despite the gummies, which really didn't sit well in my stomach - there is a reason why the Running Room and other sports stores sell energy supplements rather than tell you to go to the corner store, I thought to myself as the gummies weighed down in an uncomfortable blob in my stomach - I struggled through the remaining kms of the run. I'd planned a loop, but by the end of it I still had another 2kms to go.

It would have been so easy to quit right there and try and make up those 2kms during the week. But I knew that starting out so late in the training cyle meant I had to complete this run and get the distance on my legs.
That was the long slow distance. I did it, but that one wasn't fun. Meanwhile, I've started incorporating strength training into my routine, to build my core and upper body strength - not only for the running, but also because my dad and I will be canoeing through Keji and the Shelburne River in the fall. And thirdly - I've been gradually increasing my workout routine so that I can work off the weight I put on during my recovery, so my clothes can fit the way the used to! It's amazing to me how quickly the pounds can slip back on but how slow they are to burn off.

Tomorrow's run is 16k LSD, then 16 the following week before we taper back to 12k. After having done two marathon training cycles back to back, I'm enjoying these more manageable distances. Then again, you've got to commend any person who decides to lead a more active and healthy lifestyle - no matter how far.

It's so nice to be active and healthy again! Endorphins are addictive - they make everything feel so much better!

Till next blog,


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Week 8: Running with garlic, historic hills, a home run and 12k LSD

Last Sunday after my 8k LSD (Long Slow Distance...not the drug ;) ), I decided to try getting onto the Valley Harvest Half Marathon schedule so I'd have some kind of goal for the fall to work towards. Unfortunately, this means that I am entering the program in week 8 of an 18 week program, so just about halfway, but I figure what the heck -- at the worst, I'll do a slow half. It beats doing nothing at all. 

So on Wednesday of last week after work, I was about to head out for a 4k tempo run when hubby (who was cooking us supper) realised that we were fresh out of garlic. Funny how some things, you seem to always have in the cupboard, until you need it. Same with olive oil, at least in our household, for some reason.

No worries, I said, I'll just run to the grocery store to pick it up and run home (the kitchen was already full of the smells of cooking, so time was of the essence). 

I popped my ear buds into my ears, turned on my music, and headed up the hill out of our neighbourhood. The thing about that hill is, it's a long steep gradual incline that doesn't seem  like  much, but once you get to the top, you usually realise you're only running around 7:20 or slower. Good hill training, I guess.

But once I got to the top and the music was playing, I started to get into a groove. The lactic acid started wearing off, then gradually I picked up the pace till I felt as though it was eight weeks ago and I felt great (my Garmin, of course, reminded me that I was a little slower, but who cares!)!

The grocery store is only about 1.3 kms away from our house, so it was a brief burst of tempo there, but I pushed myself a little harder knowing that.

Once there, I picked up a three-pack of garlic, paid, and ran back across the parking lot and in the direction of home, my garlic safely in my hand. Part of me thought I must have looked like some paranoid runner looking to ward off vampires, and the other part of me wondered if I was be one of the only runners to have ever run with garlic before. It actually felt pretty great being the only person running out of that parking lot when everyone else was driving.

The rest of the route home was mostly downhill with a little uphill, so again I pushed it past the "talking while running" point. It was probably a little fast for a tempo, but given that it was the first fast run I'd had in a couple of months, I just decided to breathe hard, push myself and enjoy it.

Dinner with hubby that night was, as usual, yummy!

The following day, according to my schedule, called for hills. I was a little nervous because again -- I hadn't done hills in a couple of months (actually, I hadn't done hill repeats in at least three months, if not four). But I dropped off the car early at hubby's work, changed into my running gear and stood in the parking lot to try and catch a signal on my Garmin. For some reason in that parking lot it seems to take forever and I constantly get glances from people why I'm standing in the middle of a parking lot with my arm sticking up straight, but you get used to the stares and eventually it always kicks in (unless it's raining or foggy).

Not knowing what my legs could handle, and given that I was supposed to do four hills, I decided to run up and down the Citadel instead of our usual Point Pleasant Drive hill. It's a little shorter and probably not quite as steep, but when you haven't done hills in a while, four times up and down that historic landmark feels like a good enough workout.

And lo and behold, I made it up and down -- not just once, but four times! Although the first one felt like I was just limping up the last 50 metres and I wanted to lie down at the end, I knew from previous experience that often times, once you warm up, the second and third hill feels a little easier. And looking around me as I climbed that hill, and as a Harbour Hopper drove by with the tour guide proclaiming all of the city's wonderful landmarks to the group of tourists (perhaps pointing out that the Citadel hill is well-used by local runners, I thought, huffing and puffing behind another couple of runners), I felt some of the awe for this place that I felt four summers ago the first time I visited Halifax and decided to head out for a run around the city. Halifax really is a pretty special place to live and run in. 

That night, as we drove home, I told hubby I was planning to run home the next day. He glanced over at me and looked impressed. "You're really getting back into it, aren't you?" he said. With so many false starts over the course of the last couple of months, I think he was measuring his enthusiasm to see if I'd give up or hurt myself. But three runs in a row somehow convinced him that this time, I was serious.

The following day, which was a Friday, I must admit that I wasn't overly keen to run 5k home after what had been a long week. I was tired when I arrived at the parking lot to hubby's work. But I also knew that so often when I've felt tired and pushed myself out the door, I've come home refreshed and energized. Gotta love those endorphins!

I was a little nervous again because I didn't know what I could handle and hadn't run home in  some time. Let alone the fact that it was 5k, there are also two massive hills on our way home, and there's no way to avoid them. I'd also noticed that my left achilles tendon was a little sore and swollen the previous night and had iced it with a bag of freezer burned frozen strawberries (I knew I wouldn't be using them for anything else as I couldn't even remember when I'd put them in the freezer) in the hopes of coaxing the swelling down. 

Nevertheless, I made sure to take my cell phone and credit card with me just in case I needed to head out. At worst, I could always walk it.

The nice part about that run is that before you start climbing the hills, there's a very gradual downhill along Quinpool road, and then a pretty significant downhill to where it wraps around the Arm, stretches flat for about 800 metres, and then begins to climb. After all, what goes up must come down.

That initial stretch allowed me to warm up and get into the groove. For some reason it always seems to take a good 13-18 minutes before I the tension in my legs from the previous day's run has dissipated and my breathing is regular. I still felt some tension in my left Achilles, but it was manageable and I was hoping that it too would go away after I was warm.

Rounding the bend around the Arm, I once again felt lucky to be in such a picturesque city. Running by the Arm isn't a travel destination -- it's home. How great is that.

Anyways, long story short, I made it up those two hills, and eventually all the way home. Although it was so tempting to walk them (I was hobbling uphill a hair's breadth above walking in any case), I forced myself to run them all the way up. I knew that only persistence and perseverance will make those hills seem easier, week after week. 

The following day, which was a Saturday, I took the day off from running and went back to yoga. For some reason today the class was quite boisterous and chatty with the instructor, and although I don't like to be a yoga snob, I had a really hard time getting into the zone and at the end of it just didn't quite feel the yoga glow of the previous week. I was glad that people were getting out and being active, perhaps trying yoga for the first time, but I was really hoping I could have just focused on my practice and my breathing. Ah well, next time.

The week wrapped up with a 12k LSD run. I decided to run part of it on Rails to Trails, although my husband said he'd feel safer if I was running in a more populated area. It's true -- once you get about 3k in from Joe Howe, you're in the middle of nowhere and anything could happen. 

So I did 3k out, 3k back, and then another six around the city. The first 13 minutes were once again tough, and I worked to ignore the niggling doubt in my head that wondered -- "why am I doing this again?" And then I remembered all the reasons, including feeling good, losing the weight I'd put on since surgery, being fit, and the feeling of amazing accomplishment when you cross the finish line at a race. 

Long run story short, I did the run. Maybe a little slower than usual, but my goal these days is just to get out there and put the distances on my legs. Speed will come a little later (if at all) as I get fit again. And if it doesn't, well then I'll just do a slow half marathon in the fall. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I am well and truly into training mode for the Valley Half, and it is so great having a goal to look forward to again! I can't wait to be standing at the start line in Wolfville on Thanksgiving morning, our breaths rising foggy in the chilly air, the music blaring and adrenaline flowing. And that final great victory lap around the track at the university makes anyone feel like the world's greatest athlete.

This week's schedule: 4k tempo/5xhills/5 steady/4k (or cross-training)/14k LSD

Wolfville, here I come!


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Catching up on an inspirational HRG Runner Profile: Erin Poirier & Team Love 4 Gambia

I first profiled Erin Poirier as she was still several months of training away from her run across The Gambia to raise money for the Nova Scotia Gambia Association.

As I started following her blog and chatted with her off and on over the weeks before her departure, Erin seemed more than ready to face this challenge -- she'd trained for months, she'd had a great Boston Marathon experience. She had a team that included a nurse, driver and fellow runners. She had a shoe sponsor (ooh, how I'd love some bright pink runners myself :) ).

Two weeks before her flight out to The Gambia, Erin's coach, Cliff Matthews, suggested that she take the time off to rest before her 17-day run. She would be running at least 23 kilometres a day for two and a half weeks, and she'd already injured herself. This was time for rest.

The eve of her departure, I messaged Erin on Twitter to say that I imagined that she must be really excited. She soon tweeted back:

"@Love4GambiaErin I'm so excited that it's turned into ecstatic! RT @HFXRunnerGirl: You must be so excited, Erin!"

But no matter how much training Erin put in over the course of 7 months, no matter the planning and thinking ahead, I'm sure no one on the Love 4 Gambia team could have predicted what a life-changing and inspirational journey that run across The Gambia would be.

Once Erin and her team arrived in The Gambia, they began blogging about her run on a daily basis. Soon, all of us who were reading her posts were pulled into the experience. We soon became familiar with her team -- Ashley, Pa Modu, Kebba and Spider -- and learned how much a part of the experience Team Love 4 Gambia was. Of course it helped that Erin is a great writer, and soon we were sucked into the experience.

In fact, one Saturday, partway through Erin's run, I was meeting a bunch of running friends, including Wendy Bungay, for brunch. But instead of perusing the menu at Chez Tess to decide which of the yummy brunch options they would choose, Wendy was busily scrolling throug her iPhone, a frown on her face.


"Oh good. There's a post from her," she said.

It turns out that Erin hadn't posted for a couple of days, so some of her friends had started to worry -- Erin had posted so regularly that to not hear from her (although we all knew she was in a location where Internet connections were scarce) was worrying.

In the end, after two taped groins, difficult discussions with her gut over food (you really should read her blog posts to see what I mean), heat, exhaustion, running with mamas and children in flip flops, yoga on the side of the road, a missing Akon tape and 423 kilometres, Erin, Ashley, Pa Modu, Kebba and Spider made it to Banjul and jumped into the Atlantic ocean on July 26, 2011.

But instead of telling you about it, I suggest you read one of Erin and Ashley's more recent posts, where they reflect on the journey (which brought tears to several readers' eyes, including mine).

And then I suggest you start at the beginning of the team's run through The Gambia, and read forward. You'll be sucked into her inspiring journey just as I was. And perhaps, you'll be inspired to make a donation, however small or big, to Love 4 Gambia so that children in The Gambia can grow up big and strong.

Congratulations, Team Love 4 Gambia. You are true inspirations.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Yoga glow, handstands and Natal Day 8k run!

This recovery has been one of learning about patience and believing -- believing that no matter how difficult things may seem, they will get better. It's also been one of taking lessons learned from different times and places, and applying them to this long learning process. It's been one of learning not only about my body, but about myself as an athlete and person.

And this week, I felt like I accomplished a few major milestones in my recovery. I finally feel able to put in place a tentative fall race goal. More on that race goal later.

Although last week my belly was a little sore and swollen after Zumba, I decided to head to the Park Lane Good Life to see if I could make it through the whole hour of yoga. I'd also been feeling tired the last few days, perhaps because I'd forgotten to take my iron pills. But I was tired of doing nothing so I decided to see what I could do.

Perhaps it was because Jason slowed things down since there were a few beginners in the class, or perhaps because I'm getting stronger, but nevertheless I felt like I had much more stamina and energy this week as we flowed through the poses.

Focusing on my breath, I was in the zone, flowing from one position to the next. By the end of the hour, I felt cleansed. As we said Namaste, I thanked myself that I'd taken this time to practise on that day. I headed out of there, my mat slung over my shoulder and a satisfied glow within.

After that success, I felt emboldened. Yesterday, after a great day hanging out with hubby on the Eastern Passage, I decided to head to Ashtanga Yoga Shala and try an hour-and-a-half-long Karma class. I figured if worst came to worse, I would hang out in child's pose for most of the class if it got too difficult.

Walking up the stairs to the Shala, I was more than a little nervous. Guylaine's Karma class is a tough one to keep up with, and she can be pretty ruthless. I was worried that she'd try to force me into poses I wasn't ready for and I wouldn't be able to keep up.

But then when I got into the studio, there was no trace of Guylaine. Instead, Seth was there. And anyone who's taken classes with Seth knows -- he's even more ruthless and focused than Guylaine. Just a few minutes with either of them is enough to turn me from a confident yogi into a self-doubting one...Which according to them is probably a healthy approach to yoga in any case.

So I unrolled my mat, took a seat and waited to see what Seth had in store for us. The studio was uncommonly empty for a Sunday, and I wondered if most of the class had headed east to Moncton for the U2 concert.

A few minutes later, Seth came in, turning on the lights and taking a seat on the stairs.

"So - do you want fast, or slow this week?" he asked. Most of the class was quiet, although there were a few inaudible mumbles from the far corner of the room.

I didn't say anything. Last week I'd warned Robert that I was still recovering from surgery and wanted to play things by ear, and he respected it (sometimes instructors feel compelled to push me into poses and I didn't want that to happen). But around Seth, I felt a little shy -- or perhaps intimidated. He's pretty intense. Again, I figured if need be, I'd take a breather and hang out in child's pose if things were too tough.

"No one? Ok well then we'll just do handstands all class. I'm not kidding," he said.

He wasn't kidding.

Bear in mind that I hadn't done a handstand in at least 10 years, even though I'd been a recreational competitive gymnast and coach for almost 10 years.

Bear in mind that I'd had pretty serious surgery about two months ago.

I was nervous. As I breathed in and out through my nose and settled into a few sun salutations, I wondered whether this had been a good idea. Maybe I should roll up my mat and walk out.

Then again...Who knows what I could do?

So I stayed.

Soon enough, we progressed from sun salutations to deep groin stretches, and then...

Handstands against the wall.

But I was determined not to be the one who walked out. Thank goodness for self-imposed peer pressure.

In the end, I ended up doing handstands against the wall for 5, 10, 15 breaths as Seth worked us through a series of poses meant to stretch our groins (how handstands were doing this, I wasn't sure, as I breathed into my shoulders, which were quaking with the effort. However, I tried to remain up as long as I could given that I was one of only a couple of girls hanging out in the full pose. Yes, I'm competitive).

It was a tough class. It was at times a painful class -= as classes with Seth tend to be. But I did it. Once again, I left with a tiny little glow of self-satisfaction. I felt like my recovery was looking up, although my shoulders would be sore in the morning.

Yet today, surprisingly, my shoulders weren't sore. I was encouraged.

Although today was Natal Day and Nova Scotians should be taking the day off to celebrate our province's origins, my poor hubby had to work. So after dropping him off at work, I decided to try and head out for another run, albeit a slow one.

It was hot, so I spent most of my run darting from one shaded area on the sidewalk to the next. Part of me was glad that I'd missed so much of the summer's hottest days. I typically tend to be a hot runner, so I don't perform well on warm days.

Anyways, I did it. I ran 8k today in 10:1s. My pace slowed considerably by the end of the run, but I didn't let it get me down.

Something Seth said in class yesterday while I was upside down in handstand resonated with me today as my Garmin ticked from 6.99 kms through to 7.00 as I crested the long gradual incline next to the Public Gardens:

"Your leg may not be as far down as the person beside you, but that's ok." I think that's what he said...something akin to "It's not a competition. It's just about you." (I was upside-down and focusing on not falling, so not all of what he said stayed with me, but the message did).

And unless you're an Olympic athlete, I realized that's just as true for running as it is for yoga.

So while I could have been disheartened that once again this run was slower and harder than I would have liked, and that friends I used to train with would have smoked me today, instead I focused on my own little accomplishments.

Today, 8k, next week - 10 or 12?

And this October, who knows -- maybe the Valley Half?

But for now, I'm content to take it one day at a time; one step at a time; one little success at a time.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Week 7 of recovery: I'm almost back!

I've been quiet for some time, namely because I've been recovering following my surgery (a myomectomy, which required an incision in my uterus and abdomen, not to mention messing up my stomach muscles -- leaving lots of scar tissue to start healing and strengthening again).

The surgeon and nurses had said that it would be six weeks until I could begin exercising and doing other household chores like laundry and washing the floors (hehe). I haven't done any of the latter yet, but just as soon as I could after the six week mark had passed, I headed to the gym. My husband asked "why so soon?" I think he was worried that I was heading out there too soon, but all I could say was that I was tired of doing nothing, and wanted to be back out there.

So last Saturday, I decided to hop on the stationary bike for 25 minutes, then do a bit of strength and upper core work. On the whole, it felt pretty good and there were no major mishaps.

On  Monday and Tuesday, I attended my first Zumba classes since the surgery. Apart from feeling pretty wiped and not really able to give it my all like I usually do, I was pleased to be out there (despite being a little disheartened by how much weight I seemed to have put on in a month and a half of not working out).

Tuesday, after the second Zumba class, I was waiting to pick up my hubby from work and had some spare time on my hands. Given that I was still in my workout gear and in the vicinity of Rails to Trails (not to mention that it was a beautiful evening with the sun setting crimson and saffron in a rainbow-striped sky), I decided to do an easy mini jog along the trail.

So I headed out, with no Garmin and a little trepidatious about everything. I probably did about 200 metres, maybe 300, but I felt pretty good. That was the sign I needed that I was ready to head out again.

Saturday, I took my first yoga class and warned the instructor that I might be taking it easy as I'd just had surgery. I thought this was really important, since a lot of times the instructors may want to force me into a pose and I just didn't know how my body would handle it. Once again, I felt pretty good, but couldn't give it my all like I usually do, and had to take a few breaks in child's pose from time to time.

Saturday afternoon, I decided that I was going to try and head out for my first run. I laced on my shoes and put on my running gear (I've got to admit it's been kind of nice not having running clothes airing out in my closet every day), dropped the car at hubby's work, and started on a very slow run around the Commons.

My goal was to make it at least four kilometres before heading back to his work, but even at 800 metres, it was tough slogging. My breathing was laboured, my muscles were straining, and all I wanted to do was to quit and give up running altogether. I'm not kidding -- the thought that it would be so easy to just not push myself back into running crossed my mind more than once on that run. It felt like I was just starting out from scratch again, and that all of my work prior to the surgery had been lost.

But then I remembered how much satisfaction I get out of running, not to mention how it keeps me in shape and fitting into my clothes. I forced myself to remember that this was just another "day" like so many other days when I'd doubted myself.

I made it 3.8 kms, then walked back to the store and stretched, sweaty and out of breath.

When I complained to hubby that I'd found it difficult and I'd thought I could just head out on an easy four k run, he said, "Based on what?" It was true -- I'd done nothing for six weeks. What told me that I could simply head out and be a superstar again?

I realized that this was going to be a longer process than I had thought, even after weeks of being patient and taking it easy.

It could have been easy to fall into a slump and get disheartened, particularly because I definitely notice that the pounds have crept on and I'm not as strong as I was before surgery. But I've been working to remember that my body needed this time to heal (remember the sneeze incident?) and that eventually, if I persevere, I'll get back to where I was. And that quite possibly, I'm farther along in my recovery than I might have been if I hadn't been in good shape before surgery.

The nice thing about getting back into working out after not having worked out for some time is that you remember how hard you were working before, because your muscles ache in a way they don't usually when you're accustomed to working out. My shoulders and triceps ache now following yoga, but it's a good ache, if you know what I mean.

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing now. There is relatively out there in terms of information for post-surgery recovery programs. I did, however find this site -- a support group for women who run, on Hyster Sisters. Not quite what I've gone through, but similar enough. The overwhelming message on the group is that each woman's healing process is individual, and that if you push yourself too hard too soon, you'll end up doing more harm than good. The good news is that many women report to being back to themselves (or better) a few months to a year following the surgery.

Tonight, I headed out for another run. My goal is to be able to run home again from hubby's work, which is about 5k. Initially though, I had no idea how I'd feel. I headed out the door, turned on my familiar running tunes, and ran up the hill (in our neighbourhood it's either uphill or downhill to start, and then uphill or downhill at least once or twice to finish -- good hill training!). The hill was tough, but by the time I made it down the first one and up the second, I was feeling a little more limber and had settled into a good breathing rhythm.

So instead of turning right onto our road and straight home, I decided to head down past Frog Pond, around to Williams Lake and home the long way.

Once I got back to the street closest to ours, I could have stopped. But I wanted to hit 5k. So I did a few more laps around the streets, breathing a little heavier now and tired in my legs from all those hills. But something told me that the only way to progress from 3.8k to 5k is to build on the distance, gradually day by day, with some rest days interspersed.

I made it to 5k and couldn't stop repeating it to hubby, who was patient with my incessant blabbing about how I'd just done 5k.

Really, I have no idea what I'm doing now, but my plan is to try and build on my weekly distances so I can run 7-8k easily, and build my long runs on Sunday gradually. I've let go of my initial pre-surgery goal of running a half in the fall, and I'm just going to see how the next few weeks go. If I'm feeling good, then maybe the Valley Half. If I'm still feeling weak, then maybe a 10 or 5k. It's all a game of wait and see right now -- and I'm getting pretty good at waiting and seeing!


Sunday, July 10, 2011

HRG Runner Profile: Nancy Holland

Well, it would appear that I'm not quite ready to start running again. I sneezed this week while walking and ended up hurting my stomach so bad that I couldn't walk or stand for several hours...Bummer, because it's a beautiful sunny and breezy day out here in Halifax today, and it would have been nice to be able to slip on my shoes and head out for a Sunday run. But that will have to wait a few more weeks.

So while I give my body more time to heal, I'll take this opportunity to introduce to you Nancy Holland. I first met Nancy through the Editors' Association of Canada, and she and I quickly discovered a mutual love for running, in addition to an editor's love for language and grammar.

Nancy also happens to be the president of Run Nova Scotia, as well as a member of the Halifax Running Club, and she is pretty connected to the road running culture in the province, and committed to promoting healthy lifestyles and active living. If I ever want to know what races are coming up and whether I should consider participating in one of them, I know to ask Nancy!

Without further ado, I give you Nancy Holland, today's HRG Runner Profile!

HRG: How long have you been running?

NH: An eternity. Or since 1994, whichever comes first.

HRG: How and why did you start running?

NH: I couldn’t take being a couch potato any more. I was athletic in high school but, like most young women, I stopped doing anything once I graduated. I ran off and on (in pre-minimalist minimalist shoes no less) through the 80s. When I moved back to Halifax, I had an apartment on the Common and there was the perfect running track right outside my door. The first lap nearly did me in, but I kept going and haven’t stopped since.

HRG: Favourite part of running?

NH: It’s a tie between finishing a run and hitting that magical runner’s high when you feel like you can run forever. That doesn’t happen very often. Oh! And the people I meet. I tap into local running groups when I travel and have made some great friends along the way. But the running community in Nova Scotia is tops!

HRG: Least favourite part of running?

NH: The runs that suck. You know the ones: your leg feel like stumps and/or you can’t breathe. Every step is a struggle and you start to doubt that you’re a runner at all.

HRG: Favourite time of year/weather to run in?

NH: Early mornings when the sun’s out. Fog’s nice, too, but I’ve had enough running in fog this year. Gentle snow’s good.

HRG: Favourite route (training or race) to run?

NH: So many to choose from! I like doing long runs on the Halifax peninsula. Running in Shubie Park is always awesome and challenging. Favourite races include the Liverpool 5-miler, the Berwick 5-miler, the Louisbourg 8-miler, the Enfield 10-miler, and the Nova Scotia Half Marathon.

HRG: Favourite distance to run?

NH: 5 miles or 10K

HRG: How do you keep motivated?

NH: I love food so if I want to fit into my clothes, I have to run!

HRG: Best pre-race meal?

NH: For long races (10 miles and further), some kind of pasta thing. I don’t eat anything special the night before shorter races.

HRG: Best post-race meal?

NH: Chicken wings and champagne after the PEI marathon. Best. Meal. Ever. But the hamburger at the Union St. Café in Berwick is awfully good, too.

HRG: Upcoming race goal?

NH: Decide which fall marathon I’m going to run.

HRG: Tips or words of wisdom for new runners?

NH: There will be good runs and bad runs; be thankful you can run at all. Run in any weather. Keep a running log. Leave your watch/Garmin at home now and then. Always thank race volunteers. Look both ways before crossing the street. Be fitted by a professional to get the right running shoes for YOU. Don’t put your running bra in the dryer. In a race, always move to the side of the road before stopping or taking a walk break. Smile.

HRG: Anything else you want to add?

NH: Running may seem like it should be innate, but it isn’t. We can all benefit from some coaching now and then.

HRG: Thanks, Nancy!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HRG Runner Profile: Jonathan Kirk

I'll get right down to it: Jonathan Kirk is training for a 100 mile race. Yes, that's right -- there are two zeros in there, and that's equivalent to 160 kilometres! Kinda makes any other distance seem piddly, doesn't it?

Then again, it takes a special kind of person to not only want to do it, but then to stick to a rigorous training program over the course of several months, including 100-kilometre weekends, a few very early morning runs in the dark and one all-night run to Peggy's Cove and back.

Since discovering Jon's blog, I've been following his progress on his blog with a mixture of awe and curiosity -- what on Earth makes someone want to do something like a 100 mile race? Most of all however, I've been just so impressed with his determination. Yet another runner from whom to draw inspiration!

Leadville is less than two months away, so I was grateful that Jon took the time to answer my questions for this week's HRG Runner Profile. I wish him all the luck in his continued training as Leadville approaches, and I know there will be cheers resounding all the way from Halifax when he's standing at the start line in less than two months!

So without further ado, I give you Jonathan Kirk!

HRG: How long have you been running?
JK: I have been running since I was 11. I'm 39 now so that makes 28 years. I have taken a few breaks in those 28 years but I always came back to a new sense of purpose and wanting to run again.

HRG: How and why did you start running?

JK: I started running because when I lived here as a kid I never learned how to skate and hockey was expensive, so running was the cheapest and easiest thing to do.
(PS: I still can't skate to this day...anyone give lessons?)

HRG: Favourite part of running?

JK: Knowing sometimes that I have done more then most people by 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

HRG: Least favourite part of running?

JK: Sore feet.

HRG: Favourite time of year/weather to run in?

JK: I love running the spring, summer and fall. I almost always take December/January off from running completely. This helps my overall recovery from a long running session. I really like running in the rain -- keeps me cool and I just run that much better.

HRG: Favourite route (training or race) to run?

JK: I really like my Purcells Cove road loop. It gives me nice flat sections and great hills for 30 kilometres. Favorite race is the Hood 2 Coast Relay. It’s the mother of all relays. Think of the Cabot Trail Relay times  1,000: 1,000 teams, 12,000 runners. Just a classic race.

HRG: Favourite distance to run?

JK: I like running between 15-20k. I like racing in the half-marathon.

HRG: How do you keep motivated?

JK: I like having a goal and I usually tell one person about this goal, so that person can  hold me to it.

HRG: Best pre-race meal?

JK: Pasta, a little sauce, nice big salad and garlic bread......YUMMY.

HRG: Best post-race meal?

JK: The pulled pork sandwich with a side of Mac-n-cheese from Boneheads. They are make the best BBQ in Halifax.

HRG: Upcoming race goal?

JK: Right now I'm training for my first ultra-marathon. I'll be running in the Leadville trail 100 miles (or 160 kilometres) race. This race starts at 10,500 feet above sea level and tops out at 13,000 feet above sea level. Leadville is one of the hardest ultra-marathons in North America and only 53 percent of starters finish...This is going to hurt a lot!!

HRG: Tips or words of wisdom for new runners?

JK: New runners should know that not every day will be a good run day. You will struggle and it may hurt, but just keep moving forward, it does get better.

This is one of the best quotes I read once:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Say you're running and you start to think, Man this hurts, I can’t take it anymore. The hurt part is unavoidable reality, but weather or not you can stand any more is up to the runner himself. This pretty much sums up the most important aspect of marathon running.

~ HRG: Thanks Jon, and good luck!