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.