Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter time in #YYC...And the running is easy (?)

I've been away for the last couple of weeks on work travel, so getting the runs in was a little tougher. And what I came back to in Calgary wasn't exactly setting the scene for a smooth transition back into the training program - while it hasn't been as cold as it was when I was away, it was still fairly cold. But the biggest problem has been the slick pavement and large chunks of ice, which haven't really instilled confidence in me when it comes to attempting tempo runs on this slick surface. For some reason, Calgary doesn't seem to plow all that much after snowfall - and there's been a lot of snow lately!

So for now, my plan is to head to the gym for a treadmill tempo/interval run, and then when pace isn't an issue I'll do a medium run tomorrow and a long slow run Sunday. (In comparison Halifax seems to have gotten its first shovel-worthy dumping of snow today!)

In the meantime, check out my article on winter running in Calgary, which I just discovered is hot off the press in the Nov/Dec issue of OptiMYz magazine (pp. 75-7).

Enjoy, and stay safe and warm out there, runners!

~ HRG

Sunday, November 17, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 16): The Bone Cage - Great inspiration for athletes, and perspective

It's been awhile since I've wanted to do a review of Angie Abdou's The Bone Cage. I read it a few years ago while I was training for a marathon, and it really resonated with me.

The book is about the story of two young athletes, both of whom have qualified for the Olympics - one in swimming, the other in wrestling. They have spent their whole live training for this moment, and it is about to arrive.

Both spend literally all their time sleeping, eating, training, sleeping, eating, training....Their whole worlds revolve around their sport and their goal of winning an Olympic medal. He is still in university, but she has graduated and is working at the fitness centre to try and make enough money to keep training. And if it doesn't work out, neither one really has a career option other than what they have directed all of their life's energy towards since they were little.

Once they qualify for the Olympics, they become so isolated from those around them - their competitors are now a threat, their families don't really understand how important and isolating it all is - that the two athletes turn to each other and become friends.

As one reviewer put it, The Bone Cage is about the struggle of self actualization while being trapped within the physical body and trying to push it as far as it will go.

For me, it's also about the lengths to which professional athletes have to commit their lives to a sport to even make it to the Olympics, let alone win a medal. There's a sort of pathos about this story that made me feel that I was glad I had something more than my sport. As a teenager, I used to bemoan the fact that my parents hadn't put me into competitive gymnastics earlier. I had the strength and the determination, but I had started too late and all of the girls my age were years ahead of me.

But reading this book, I realized that I'm happy that I haven't committed my entire life to a single sport. Because if something happens to you while training, that could be it. And then you have to refocus your entire life on something else.

Every so often, I'd run into girls in my gym club who would tell me they used to compete with such and such girl who was now competing at the national level - the only thing is, the first girl had gotten injured and lost months' worth of training, while the second had been lucky enough not to get injured...yet...

Reading this book also helped me put my running training into perspective. So often, because marathon or half-marathon training require us to put so many hours into our training, the running does begin to consume our lives. Till all we do is eat, sleep, breathe running...

But I'm not a professional athlete, and my only competition on race day is myself. So it's ok to sometimes take a step back from things and live a little outside of the running. And that balance can only serve to make us happier, healthier individuals.

Long story short The Bone Cage is well worth the read, and I recommend it to anyone, whether you're training for your first 5k race or marathon. It'll give you some much-needed perspective.

~ HRG


Saturday, November 16, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 15): What if Rob Ford were a runner?

Ok maybe that title is presumptuous - maybe Rob Ford is a runner, but something tells me...he's not. Just a hunch.

And Rob Fort sitch is getting more than a little overplayed. In fact we try not to talk about it in our household because frankly we would rather focus our conversations on other, more important issues - or at least more positive ones.

But I'll admit - the Rob Ford scandal has been weighing heavily on my mind these last couple of weeks. Part of it, yes, is that it is incredibly sad to see a man have a global meltdown and as one commenter put it - it can either end up with him leaving city hall in a gurney or in handcuffs at this point.

Part of it, as someone who grew up in Toronto, as a Canadian citizen but also as someone who wants to believe in the rightness of our governing systems, is hugely frustrating, embarrassing and angering. Part of me wishes that I could sit down with Mr (not Mayor) Ford and ask him what he's really thinking. Because if he really loves the City of Toronto as much as he says he does, then maybe it's time to let it go. As they say - "If you love someone, let them go. If they come back, then they were always yours to begin with."

And more than anything, I want to believe in a system where a political leader, who has been voted in by the people, is held to the same standards as everyone else. If someone is admitting to illegal behaviour, then I cease to understand how it is that they are not arrested and held to account for the crimes they have admitted to.

But I digress, and this is getting political, which this blog is not about.

But as I was writing my blog post about what would happen if Bridget Jones decided to train for and run a long-distance race, and given that the Ford fiasco has been on my mind this week, I asked myself: "What if Rob Ford were a runner?" And you know what? My hunch is, things might be a whole lot different.

The first, and perhaps most obvious one, is that Mr Ford would probably look a whole lot less like a beach ball in an ill-fitting suit, and his face would be less likely to tend to lean towards shades of red. It's no secret that Mr Ford has now admitted that he is being treated by a team of health professionals, and among all of the other issues they are probably contending with, his blood pressure and weight are probably two concerns.

I know Mr Ford is a busy man, but if he were to get into the practice of heading out for a jog around the block when he felt like things were getting overwhelming, he might not be as likely to lose it or speak off the cuff as he has been. It's no secret that running, or even walking, and getting out of doors are great ways to clear your mind. After a run, you're more likely to feel less stressed and in a positive state of mind. Who needs drugs when you have endorphins?

There's also something intensely gratifying about setting a goal and accomplishing it. Even if it were just to run in the next GoodLife 5k race, Mr Ford would have something to take his mind off the daily grind and to look forward to. And once he crossed that finish, he'd probably feel a massive sense of having accomplished something good - not to mention the satisfaction of being a role model to children and adults throughout the city and beyond.

With running comes another spinoff benefit, which is the fact of being surrounded by a community of other positive individuals with similar goals and healthy lifestyles - somewhat different than perhaps the individuals with whom Mr Ford has been consorting. And what I've found is that when you belong to that positive community, it forms a collective, encouraging and positive network. Long runs become opportunities to talk through issues with friends, and often the greatest insight or clarity is gained while out on one of these runs.

Healthy lifestyles go beyond simply numbers on a scale or trim figures - they're about a positive mindset, goalsetting and communities. And running is one of the best ways that I know to enact a healthy and positive lifestyle.

Now I know - Rob Ford tried getting healthy during the Cut the Waist challenge last year, and did actually say he'd been running around the track and "eating like a rabbit." Just look at him in this photo announcing his Cut the Waist challenge: he looks the happiest he's looked in some time.

Who knows what could have happened if he'd stuck to the plan? He'd have felt better about himself, would have been more positive and energetic, would have inspired children and adults, along with his colleagues, and would have felt like he was part of a healthy, active community and a role model.

One can only wonder how he felt about quitting instead.

And if food seemed to be his issue, as seems to be the case from interviews with him, then running certainly wasn't going to help him feel less hungry, although with the right diet plan he'd manage ok. Evidently, even at that stage, there was more going on beneath the surface than simply wanting to be in shape or not...Even, perhaps, addictive behaviour with respect to food and eating.

As I said, this post is somewhat presumptuous (I'm by no means a doctor or a psychiatrist or even a personal trainer) and in some ways tongue in cheek. Mr Ford obviously has a host of deep-seeded issues that cannot be erased simply by heading for a run around the block. But the point is, if he'd stuck to the healthy regimen he'd committed to last year, perhaps at the very least he'd be better able to deal with some of the issues that have happened of late.

FWIW,

~ HRG

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 14): What if Bridget Jones were a runner...

This week I picked up and finished reading Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. It was great reconnecting with her after so long, although I can't believe it's been nearly 20 years since the first book was published. But despite being 51 in the book, widowed with two kids (Mark Darcy, sadly, died in an accident as an aids worker in a war-torn country), she's still the same kooky character to which many women can relate to, with the same insecurities, foibles and questions about life.

There were a few things I couldn't believe, however:
- The sheer volume of calories the woman consumes in one day - sometimes ingesting 4,000 to 5,000 calories in one day!
- The amount of shredded cheese the woman can eat - sometimes eating two bags in one night. I mean really?
- The ease with which she seems to be able to drop 40 pounds, simply by going to a diet clinic and despite her binge-like eating habits. Not to mention, the fact that she rarely seems to work out (Zumba and yoga classes are sprinkled sparsely throughout her regime). And then she keeps them off!

But what really hit home with me was that Bridget's story is like that of so many mothers who I know - widowed or not. With two kids at home with busy school and social demands, not to mention trying to get her screenplay written and published and find a man, it's no wonder Bridget can't seem to fit in a fitness class.

I was going to say that if Bridget decided to train for a long-distance race, I'm not sure how long she'd last. Her lifestyle has never been exactly healthy or active (number of martinis consumed: 7, number of minutes on exercise bike, which is serving as clothes horse, 0, number of hours spent obsessing about whether should join marathon training group: 5).

But then again, no matter the challenge, she always does manage to get it done - whether covering up after a silly gaffe when she was a reporter, or getting her screen play picked up and produced (even though she'd spelled the main character's name, which is based on a historical character, wrong ever since pitching the idea) or even just ensuring that her children are well-balanced and happy despite having lost their father and despite feeling like she's going to fall apart at the seams - she always manages to pull through. If she decided to train for a marathon, she'd probably end up crossing that finish line, although perhaps not upright and smiling, and perhaps not without ingesting a bunch of grated cheese during the training process.

We relate to Bridget precisely because her inner monologue and uncertainties mirror ours so well. Like her, the modern woman (whether a mother or not) is trying to balance so many things - career, love life, active lifestyle, technology, fashion, children, friends and social calendar...Sometimes, it really does feel like a bit too much (see my previous post on my failure to keep up with NaNoBloPoMo - and I don't even have kids!).

That's why I am always so amazed by the women who I meet who commit themselves to a long-distance running program, despite having kids at home. For them, those long runs are an opportunity to get out of the house for an hour or two and focus on themselves. I don't know how they do it, let alone making sure their children are well taken care of.

It's also why I know so many women who are long-distance runners feel the pressure to get their marathons in and qualify for Boston before they have kids, because once they do have a family, it will be that much more difficult for them to get out the door for those runs.

Since we don't have kids and don't (yet) have a dog, I realize I am blessed with a flexible and open schedule - and still, I find it difficult to fit everything in. So for those mothers who do manage to do it, whether it's running a 5k race or a marathon or qualifying for Boston, I salute you!

~ HRG

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 13): Failing miserably at NaNoBloPoMo...Or am I? The jammed cat theory of NaNoBloPoMo

I remember a few years ago, I signed up for a Yoga Journal challenge to meditate practice yoga daily. An ambitious plan, but I figured if I could do it (along with a hectic work schedule, regular runs and fitness classes), then surely I would become a more zen person, filled with ethereal lightness and zenness. Not to mention that the daily stretching would help ease my tight runners' muscles.

I think I lasted a week.

At first, buoyed by my resolve, it seemed easy to fit it all in. And after three or four days of meditation, it did seem to be getting easier to clear and focus my mind. There was even one exceptional day where I remember sitting cross-legged, listening to the meditation track and aware of everything around and within me, my breath through my nose...Being, and aware of my being, but not thinking. It's an experience I rarely get during meditation, but when I do, I am filled with awe and yes, almost lightness.

But then within a few days, having missed the morning's meditation, I found myself shutting my office door at lunch to meditate. Then rushing home and upstairs to fit in the yoga practice before (or after) a run or other workout.

I remember complaining to a work friend about my inability to fit it all in and commit to the Yoga Journal schedule, and I remember her chuckling and saying, "Then why are you doing this to yourself?"

Her lighthearted but honest comment made me realize two things:

1) if it was stressing me out, then clearly the experience wasn't having the beneficial impact I had hoped it would. Better to practice yoga a few times a week and enjoy it, than be stressed out about trying to be relaxed;
2) the only person who was putting these insane expectations on me was - ME. Like so often in running, I (and many type-A personalities who often, coincidentally, tend to be long-distance runners) set a high bar for myself. But often, life gets in the way. At the end of the day, no one else is going to be disappointed by the fact that I only ran 20ish kilometres at 6:20 this week, or that I only blogged three times instead of 7.

That said, as Marnie McBean writes in her book The Power of More, part of the success of professional athletes is their desire to always push themselves a little more and never settle on contentment.

The trick, says McBean, is to hover between both poles - satisfaction with our successes while at the same time striving for more and the next challenge (something she calls the "jammed cat" theory - since a cat always lands on its feet but a piece of toast will always fall on its jammed side...So a jammed cat will always spin between both sides, in theory).

Anyways, long story short, the same seems to have happened to my wonderful NaNoBloPoMo resolution. I've been struggling ever since I signed on to this challenge (of my own volition, I might add). But it's not like I've cleared out more time in my schedule to write more. It's really no wonder that I can't keep up, what a busy work schedule (which, incidentally, involves daily blogging or blog editing), rigorous fitness class schedule and trips to the mountains with hubby or local hiking on weekends.

But the point is, I'm still here, blogging my little heart away, trying to catch up on four days' worth of posts. Some of them will be short and hastily written, but every so often, one of them may hit a chord with other readers. And after all, the point of this exercise is to write. And write I will!

How's your NaNoBloPoMo going? I want to know!

~ HRG

 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 12): Today was a turtle kind of day...

Tonight's run after work was a toughie, probably because of yesterday's mountain climb and perhaps because I didn't hydrate enough. Suffice it to say, while I could usually easily manage a 1mile run in less than 30 minutes, that wasn't the case today. My calves were stiff and extremely painful, and even though I felt like I was keeping up a fairly decent pace, I soon slowed to a minute slower per kilometre than last week's Tuesday run.

I managed a very slow 4.6 kilometre run but it was a toughie, sprinkled with a few short walks to stretch things out.

At the end of the day I chalked it up to it just being one of those days where I feel like a turtle rather than a red wolf...


I'm not worried though - there will be other days, other runs!

~ HRG

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 11) Remembering why we are able to climb mountains and enjoy the view

Yesterday my husband and I were in Banff, Alberta on a mini-vacation together. As we're still new to the province and the mountains are so close, we decided to take advantage of the three-day holiday to do a little exploring together.

Our initial plan had been to hike to the Agnes Tea House at Lake Louise, but once the Parks Canada rep told us there was a risk of avalanches this year, we decided to change our plans at the last minute. Instead, we opted for the Tunnel Mountain hike.

Based on my reading of the map, this was rated as an easy hike targeted at all levels. Imagine our surprise, then, when the trail started at a steep, snowy incline, and kept on going up...and up...and up, switching back and forth along the mountainside until we were so high if you looked too fast you'd get vertigo.

We made it to the summit after about an hour and a bit, having stopped for multiple photo opps - the view was that breathtaking. I'd been carrying a 10lb backpack with fluids and extra clothing, so I'd found the climb a little challenging and spent much of it out of breath.

But the climb to the top was well worth it, with views of mountain-ringed valleys on either side and Banff Village far below. On one of the mountain peaks across the way, you could see snow being blown off the top in white whisps. Even though the winds were cold up there, we stood there for long moments just soaking in the view.

It was by far the best hike we'd ever been on together. Standing there at the top of the mountain, surrounded by other towering peaks, I could hardly believe that this is where we live now. We felt miles, even countries away.

The climb back down was perhaps just as difficult, with snow and ice making us having to watch our footing and me landing on my behind a few times. Back at the car, we took another look at the map again, only to find that what we'd thought was an easy hike was actually rated moderate. We'd travelled almost 5 kilometres round trip in about two hours and climbed 1,650 metres.

By the end of the day, we left Banff feeling infinitely grateful that we lived in a province where these kinds of experiences are just an hour and a half away from home.

Reflecting on it today, I also felt grateful that my husband and I are not only healthy enough to be able to tackle what really was a relatively challenging hike, but also that we live in a country where we have the freedom to have such experiences.

It brought to mind a book I recently read, I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafsai. In it, Malala describes how she, her father and her classmates received threats for even heading out on a picnic together. The girls were accused of unseemly behaviour, and we all know how her tale continues, with Malala being shot for even demanding that she and her female classmates have an education, let alone being allowed to have picnics without fear.

All the more telling, then, that our hike occurred on Remembrance Day - a day marked to recognize the sacrifices of the brave women and men (like my grandfather, who cycled to an airplane factory each night during the war to build planes, and whose roof was blown off when a bomb landed in the front yard one night while my father, at two or three years old, slept in a drawer under the cupboard as a makeshift bomb shelter) who fought for us to have the freedom we enjoy today.

How lucky we are, here in Canada, to be able to walk up a mountainside with no fear, and to be able to stand at its summit surrounded by unimaginable beauty.

For that freedom, I am infinely grateful.

~ HRG

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 10) Even the pros have their down days

I've often blogged about my highs and lows in running. In fact, both my first and second marathon included long stretches where I wondered to myself whether I was ready; whether I'd overtrained; whether I'd under-trained; whether I was having an off day; whether I should quit.

This weekend, a colleague and fellow runner forwarded me this article by Staten Island runner Mike Cassidy, whose PB for a full marathon is somewhere around 2:18. Cassidy's article speaks honestly and openly about his self-doubt halfway through the race, where he asks virtually the same questions that I've often asked myself mid-race.

Cassidy's story drove home to me that even though our times may be hours apart, our minds as runners are more alike than I'd ever imagined. It gave me the confidence to believe that more than any training, it's the mental games that I as an amateur long-distance runner need to recognize and overcome, come next race day -which I am still hoping will be next February for the Calgary Hypo Half!

What strategies do you use to overcome your mental self-doubt during a race? Let me know here!

Happy running,

~ HRG

Saturday, November 9, 2013

NaNoBloPoMo (Nov 9): Wild things..Keeping encounters with nature safe while running

I remember a run one wintry day in Halifax a few years ago...We were exiting Point Pleasant Park and I looked up...And there, circling with its wings spread out wide, white head stretching out from a black body, was a bald eagle.

As someone who had spent most of my life in Ontario, to see a bald eagle in flight above an urban area seemed nothing more than mystical, particularly knowing that they had come close to extinction due to pesticides. But colleagues at my work who were familiar with the nature of the city assured me it was quite normal for Halifax. What to them was commonplace seemed to me extraordinary.

But that's about as wild as it got in Halifax over the course of five and a half years, beyond the songbirds who visited our birdfeeder and who I soon learned to identify. Despite news reports of coyotes nearby Spryfield, a panicked deer in downtown Halifax and a moose on the loose in Clayton Park, I never encountered them myself. Even on trips to the interior of Kejimkujik National Park, about the wildest creatures I ever encountered were loons...lots of them.

In contrast, since moving to Alberta, we've already spotted:

- catbird
- heron
- muskrat
- cedar waxwing
- red-tailed hawk
- white-tailed deer
- pronghorn (at Waterton Lakes National Park)
- snake of an unidentified species
- elk (at Waterton Lakes National Park)
- black bear (also at Waterton)
- mallard

...and today...a coyote!

We were driving out of town, passing a lake on our right, and there it was - seemingly at home in the middle of the ice, laying down and scratching itself like a dog. Unaware that my husband and I had stopped our car in the middle of a busy street to get out and stare at it, it got up and walked to a hole in the ice to drink.

It seemed like something more suited to the wilds than the middle of a suburban development. But although we and another family stopped and stared at it in awe, it continued lapping water, completely unabashed.

I stood there in awe - this was the first time I'd ever seen a live coyote. I was fascinated by its thick tail and pointy snout. But in the back of my mind, I also remembered the attacks in Nova Scotia by what have recently been identified as coywolves - a new species, some scientists say, which seems more aggressive and less fearful of humans than traditional coyotes. That species does not seem to have occurred in western Canada, however.

All of a sudden, despite myself, I grew a little more wary of running around town at night on my own, knowing that such a wild creature is living among us.

I suppose it's a reality of living near the foothills of the Rockies now - we're more likely to encounter large, wide-ranging mammals than elsewhere (one of the nature reserves we recently visited, just 20 kilometres from our home, had warnings of cougar sightings). And while I'm not a proponent of sensationalising these encounters, I did come across this article by Runner's World that offers some useful tips for animal encounters on your run.

If nothing more, it's a reminder to all of us to be vigilant on our runs and aware of our surroundings - whether in a downtown metropolitan area or on a trail in the Rockies. After all, encounters with nature are not to be feared, but rather celebrated - so long as we remain safe and aware.

As always, stay safe and warm out there, fellow runners!

~ HRG

#NaNoWriBloMo (Nov 8) How to know what to wear on a winter run?

This Tuesday was a long day, with the launch of a blog for my day job. By the end of the day, my mind and body were spent. But I knew that once I got outside for a run, I'd feel that much better. So that's just what I did. 

As runners, we quickly become watchers of weather - The Weather Network is usually bookmarked on our desktops, because it's the first thing we check before deciding what to wear, especially on a winter run.

I've learned over the years to discount the temperature reading and go straight to the windchill - because even if it's -1 without the wind, once that -10 windchill hits you, you'll wish you had a few extra layers on. But on this particular run, TWN read 1 degree without a windchill, so I decided to wear a long-sleeved running shirt, tank top and crop pants, along with mitts and a headband.

At first, I felt fine. But soon enough, my hands started aching from the cold, and I could feel it seeping through the thin wicking material of my sweater. Thankfully, I only had a few kilometres left to go, and I pushed my pace up to a tempo so I could make it home sooner while at the same time warming up a little more due to the faster pace.

It was obvious though that by the time I got home, I'd made a mistake in my clothing choices. I rushed inside and bundled up into warm clothes and sat by the fire until my core temperature increased.

It's no secret that clothing choice is one of the most important decisions of any run, particularly in the winter. Wear too little, and you risk suffering from hypothermia if your core temperature drops too far. Wear too much (as I've also done), and you'll not only overheat, but eventually get too cold from the humidity in your clothes due to sweating.

So how to know just what to wear on a run on any particular day? Even though as I note above, I've made the occasional clothing mistake, here are a few tips I've learned over the years:

1. Layer, layer, layer: this one's not new. If you haven't heard about layering, then it's possible you've been running under a rock. Layering allows you to moderate your temperature along a run, depending on the elements (as anyone who's run in Halifax knows, a sunny warm day can quickly turn to rain and back), and your own body temperature changes.

2. Keep a running diary: when I first started winter running, I was more diligent about this, because I was learning what worked for me. After all, everyone's internal thermometer is different. I tend to be a warm runner, warming up a lot faster than my running buddies but also needing a layer less than them on most occasions. But I also cool off really fast too, especially after we're done. By keeping a running diary, I not only tracked my distance and pace, but also what clothes I wore on a particular day and what temperature it was - whether I needed to add or take off a layer depending on whether I felt cold or hot.

3. Dress for ambient temperature + 10 degrees C: I have found that once I start running, I'm able to wear clothes for 10 degrees warmer than the current temperature. So if it's 1 degrees C, then I dress for what I would be wearing at around 11 degrees - hence capris and a light long-sleeved running shirt on my run on Tuesday. Or if it's 11 degrees, then I'll probably wear a t-shirt or tank top and shorts, because that's what I would wear if I was walking around at 21 degrees. But again, each runner's internal thermometer is different, so for you it might be ambient temperature +7 degrees, etc.

4. Bring something warm for after the run: our bodies tend to cool down quickly after a winter run. So it's important to have a warm and dry ski jacket, hat and mitts to slip into after the run's over.

But if you're not sure, it's always better to wear a little more and strip off a layer if you do get too warm.  Dressing for the weather is something you'll only learn by going out there and running. And if you're really not sure, consider staying close to your home base and doing loops, in case you discover partway through your run that you've underdressed for the occasion. 

So what tips do you have for winter run clothing? 

Stay warm and safe out there, running friends!

~ HRG

Friday, November 8, 2013

#NaNoBloPoMo #4 (Nov 7): Dear Chip, I'm healthy, active...And my thighs rub together.

You know those kids who always got picked last to be on a team in schoolyard games? Well - that was me, in elementary school. The time would come to pick players on a team and the numbers would dwindle down till it was just me - the shortest girl in the class - and most often, the shortest boy next to me. Don't ask me where this came from but there seemed to be this stigma surrounding height that meant that the shorter you were, the lower down on the team picking totem pole you wound up.

So I never tried out for the track and field teams, and never considered myself an athlete, despite my involvement in a wide range of recreational sports lessons -  including swimming, gymnastics, soccer, karate or skating lessons from as early as I remember. In fact there came a point where my parents told me I had to choose - because although I wanted to do it all, I couldn't.

Then, on to high school, where I tried out for the volleyball team, once. I wasn't picked - and still I believed it was because I was too short to reach the net and block (little did I know that some volleyball players are picked precisely because they are short and powerful). But the next year, I joined the dance troupe and signed up for dance as a credit. For some reason, it didn't matter that I was short - I had a natural connection to music and rhythm, and movement came naturally to me.

Being small also meant that I could be tossed around and lifted by some of the boys in the group, so I was chosen for some of the lead roles in our rendition of Cats, jumping backwards into the arms of a boy I liked from the back of a ladder. As a gymnast, I was small, strong and powerful - although terribly afraid of heights and not exactly talented.

But in dance class and in the recreational competitive gymnastics club I joined, no matter how short I was, I was never small enough. For a couple of months, we had a dancer from the National Ballet come to class and teach us. There I was at the bar, sucking in my butt and stomach as far as I could, but it never failed - each day, the teacher yelled at me - "Christine, rentre ton derrière!"

It didn't help that the required uniform for dancers and gymnasts was skin-tight leotards, so that each roll and bump showed through. I remember being mortified to have to dance in a silver unitard in front of the whole high school, feeling like every imperfection was on display.

Soon, I was minimizing the food I was taking in, not exactly counting calories but developing a distaste for food. And the amount of time I spent working out increased, drastically, trying to burn off the calories and look fit. Dance each day for an hour, then aerobics at lunch, then either gymnastics for another couple of hours and/or track running/weights and swimming. I wouldn't say I was anorexic. But the possibility was there, at the back of my mind. It became an obsession (I once estimated that I was probably working out more than 20 hours a week, and I was by no means a professional athlete).

And still, I was never small enough.

In university, I joined the competitive dance team. I loved going to practice each week, learning new routines. I loved performing and competing.

As a team, everyone got along well - we spent so many hours together and traveled to Florida for an international competition. But secretly, we were all watching each other, measuring ourselves against the others. I'll never forget the day I overheard one of the girls from the group - who also happened to be an Ottawa Roughrider cheerleader - commenting on the curve of my back and how it created horizontal folds in my back. I weighed 113 pounds - those lines were always going to be there, no matter what I weighed, but seeing the cheerleader's scrutiny hurt, and only served to fuel my insecurities.

It's no secret that dancers and gymnasts have unhealthy relationships to food and their body image - let alone most women I know. Looking back, I see that I was just one more young girl who fell prey to these effects.

I'd like to say that I've healed. With time, I've come to like my curves, although I still never quite feel small enough. I'm at a healthy weight now, but I'd still like to lose 10 pounds. I know what my ideal weight is, but I don't know if I'll ever be there. I watch "How to Look Good Naked," and I wonder if my brain is adding on invisible pounds that no one else can see.

It's obvious that negative body image doggs me still, even though in my mind I know that I'm in pretty good shape and not overweight. And I now know that my height has nothing to do with whether I can be an athlete or run fast.

So when I hear of Chip Wilson saying that some women can't wear his pants because their thighs rub together, I get angry. I'll admit it - I've bought products from Lulu Lemon. I've paid exorbitant amounts for running tights and yoga tops, because they are durable and good quality, because it was a Canadian company and because I'll be honest - I was inspired by the company's ethos of healthy and active living. I've even reviewed some of their products here.

But a couple of years ago, an article by Slate magazine about the right-leaning messages behind the "Who is John Galt?" bags caught my attention. I didn't boycott the company altogether, but I wondered whether there was a disconnect between the company's manifesto and its owner's personal ethos.

And then this week, this report that Chip Wilson claims that some women should not wear his yoga pants because their thighs rub got my attention. Actually, it got me angry.

Really, Chip? How does this contribute to helping women develop a positive body image through active living? Not only does this do exactly the opposite, but it perpetuates the unhealthy behaviours I and so many women have struggled with all our lives.

And you know what, Chip? I'm five feet and 120 pounds, and active - working out 1-2 or even 3 hours a day about five times a week. I think I'm a size four or six in your store. My thighs touch. Even at my lightest, most active (back in my crazy high school workout days), my thighs touched.

Maybe that makes me ineligible to wear your pants, but maybe...It makes your brand ineligible to be worn by me.

Unfortunately, I now find myself with several articles of Lulu clothing that are part of my workout regime - not because of the brand but because I just can't affort to throw them out and buy new ones. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that, but I'm seriously thinking that I will not be returning to a store that will only serve to foster my insecurities further.

In the end, that probably means I'll end up saving quite a bit of money buying clothes that aren't as ridiculously priced. So thanks for that, Chip. Really.

How do you feel about all of this, readers? I want to know!

~ HRG

Thursday, November 7, 2013

#NaNoBloPoMo #3 (Nov 6) Oh the things you'll see!

One of the things that I love about running is all of the things you'll see when you're out and about. It's a great way to people watch (and I'm sure people enjoy watching me struggle along some of my runs). At the same time, you're bound to see things on your runs that you won't see if you're holed up at home in front of the TV.

Sure, sometimes you get so into a run that you don't realize what's around you - and I've been startled quite a few times by the sound of a horn blaring or a dog barking at me, only then noticing that I hadn't been paying to my surroundings.

But if you do take the time to look around, you may see the most amazing things. Sometimes, I even find that bringing my camera with me forces me to slow down and actually look at what's around me.

In the last few weeks since starting to run again, here are a few things that I've seen on my runs:

- a red-tailed hawk perched on the top of a yellowing aspen
- mallards and seagulls floating in the lake
- Halloween decorations of varying degrees of scariness
- spectacular sunsets reflecting in clouds
- a skin of ice forming on the lake
- fall trees mirrored in glassy waters
- a rainbow of trees - all the same species, but five different shades, all within feet of each other
- skeletons made out of plastic milk jugs
- the sun setting like a pumpkin over McKenzie Towne
- dogs running with their owners
- kids climbing trees
- a toddler with no socks and no pants crossing the road with no parent in sight (I circled the block to make sure he was ok and his mom ended up outside)
- other runners enjoying their runs
- drivers talking on their cell-phones and not watching where they were going
- dogs barking to each other from across their yards
- Canada geese heading south in a V
- and so much more!

See something neat on your run? Send me a message on Twitter and tag it with #seenonmyrun. I'll share it here!

~ HRG

#NaNoBloPoMo Post #2 (Nov 5) - I've been blogging...Just not here!

Aah! Bad #NaNoBloPoMoer! No sooner have I signed on to this challenge, fully determined to stay on track (although I signed on three days late), than I am once again behind!

As it happens, I have been blogging - just not here! This Tuesday I launched www.landlines.ca - the new blog of my employer, the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It's a project that's been months in the making, and certainly my experiences on this blog have helped inspire me for this new project. But it meant that at the end of Tuesday, my brain was fried and the last thing I needed was more blogging!

That said, the launch went super well and I'm excited to see it continue. At first, I thought as it's a nature and conservation blog, there might not be a lot of cross-over with content on this blog, except...

Many of the natural areas we are able to run in are there because of the people who believed in the importance of conserving them. In fact, conservation areas/nature reserves/parks allow us to escape from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and clear our minds - whether running, walking or sitting on a blanket soaking in the sun.

I reacently interviewed a trail runner from Calgary for an upcoming piece in OptiMYz magazine about winter running in Calgary. He and his trail runners go out about twice a week to nature trails near Calgary. He talked to me about how he enjoys being on a trail in the winter after a fresh snowfall, where he's the first one making tracks on the snow. How peaceful it is. None of those areas would be available for him to make tracks in if there weren't groups and individuals out there who believe that we should protect some of our natural areas - both for the species that live in them as well as for the health and well-being of humans.

Conservation provides ample opportunities for recreation and healthy living, and allows us spectacular areas to run in.

So there you have it - a quick #NaNoBloPoMo post, and a conservation+running mashup (one day when I have the time I might tease out those connections even more!).

One down, two more to go to get back on track!

Happy writing, NaNoBloPoMoers!

~HRG

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's NaNoBloPoMo!

I jst discovered this morning that it's NaNoBloPoMo! If you're a writer, you may have heard of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month). But I'd never heard of NaNoBloPoMo until this morning (bad blogger, me!).

Anyways, since I've found that I like a challenge, and that writing every day forces me to write, be creative, and more to the point write fast, I've signed up - four days late! So today's going to be a day of playing catchup so I can get on schedule with the rest of the NaNoBloPoMoers.

Thankfully, since I've started running again, I now have something to write about again, too! And having to write every day in this space will hopefully help keep me on track with my winter race goal: the 2014 Calgary Hypo Half.

I'm feeling good about running again (minus a tight left Achilles' heel and right IT band, which I am realizing are just part and parcel of running - getting used to those tight muscles and aches and pain). But I'm back on schedule again. Actually, I'm a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, and feeling good.

So here's to a happy NaNoBloPoMo, fellow run bloggers! And happy start of winter training!

Stay safe and warm out there on those icy streets, fellow Calgary runners!

~ HRG

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Winter wonderland: My first winter run in Calgary!

Yesterday, we were mowing the lawn...Today, what was a landscape of yellows, oranges and green is now white. My, how the weather has changed fast!

But since my insightful run from earlier this week, I seem to have found my taste for running again. I've managed a few more good runs, and I feel like I'm on track for a hypo half in February - at least for now. So today although we spent most of the afternoon huddled inside watching movies in bed, I was determined to lace up my sneakers and get out there for my first winter run. Because when you can run on a day like today, with wind driving snowflakes down your throat and icy sidewalks making each step tricky, then any run after that feels easy.

So I pulled out my winter running tights, sweater, hat and gloves, laced up my shoes and headed out for an 8k run. And you know what? I'd actually forgotten how much I like those winter runs, when the world is painted white and you've dressed just warm enough that the snowflakes dusting your cheeks feel oddly refreshing...And at the end of those runs, the feeling of accomplishment is just priceless!



I'm told that as Calgarians, we get the odd chinook that means we'll be running in 20 degree weather in the middle of winter! I'm looking forward to those days, but also to a new season of running in Calgary.

Enjoy that winter wonderland, running friends!

~ HRG

Monday, October 21, 2013

There will be runs where it all makes sense...

It's no secret from the less-than-frequent nature of my posts since arriving in Calgary that my running has been...less than frequent. Unlike when I moved to Halifax and I joined a running group immediately to get to know the city, with this move I've instead focused on getting involved a wide range of activities - anywhere from hiking in the province's many provincial parks with my husband, to cycling around our small town, not to mention getting back in touch with my dance background by taking up a few dance-related classes at GoodLife.

But in the last few weeks I'll admit I've started to feel some interest in getting back into my running routine. Perhaps it's hearing about everyone's fall race plans, perhaps it's just that I've finally had enough time away from running to make me miss it (because absence makes the heart grow fonder) or perhaps it's that as I look ahead to my plans for my 40th birthday (which includes running a marathon to mark this milestone) I realized that if I want to accomplish that goal, I need to start training now. Plus, the weather has just been so gorgeous - how could I not want to head outside and run around and enjoy the fall colours and autumn smells?

Whatever the case, over the last few weeks I've been building a few runs back into my schedule - 3k here, 5k there, 4k another time...They haven't been easy - in fact I'm constantly amazed at just how different running is from any other sport and how it requires you to keep at it if you want to succeed, no matter how many other sports or activities you engage in. But they've definitely gotten my brain thinking about running again, which it hadn't done in some time.

So on Saturday, I headed out for a 3k run. And it was decidedly not easy. My legs felt tired by the end of it, but rather than feel dismayed I took this as a sign that I need to get back at 'er and get those distances in. The following day, I found myself researching a winter half marathon in Calgary and a spring marathon, and calculating the time I would need to get myself back into fighting shape.

Tonight after work, although I had no plans to go for a run - I was actually changing out of my home office attire (flannel pants and a sweater) into clothes to go grocery shopping for dinne, when all of a sudden I was struck by an urge to pull out my running shorts and t-shirt instead, no matter how hungry I found myself.

So on went the running clothes and shoes, and I headed out the door for a 6k run, Garmin on wrist and iPod in hand. As with Saturday, I found my calves and shins cramping and my pace slow for most of the run. But something inside me knew that I could do it, if I tried - no matter the little demons in my head telling me that I'd been away from it for too long and couldn't do it, or the pain in my legs. For some reason - maybe it was the golden autumn sunshine beaming down on me - those voices seemed to get quieter and quieter as the run went on.

Before long, I was turning right at a corner instead of heading straight to the finish that would mark 6k, so that I could tack on an extra kilometre on my run. My legs felt less pained, and I managed to pick my tempo up just a smidgeon. All of a sudden, 8kms seemed doable, although I decided to play it safe and stick at 7.

Not only was I thrilled with the result, despite my slower than usual pace from a few months ago, I found this run incredibly insightful. It was one of the more meaningful runs I've had in some time, with the latter half of the run being full of lessons - some new, some that I'd just forgotten:

1. You only fail if you don't try: sure, I could have gone grocery shopping instead of running tonight. But the very fact that I opted to lace up my sneakers instead was a win in itself, no matter what the result.

2. Just because it hurts doesn't mean it's difficult: this is a lesson I've learned over the years through my yoga practice - the ability to separate physical sensation from mental effort. Sure, it hurt tonight, but I also knew that it probably hurt because I hadn't done it in a while. In fact when I did a mental check of my body, although my legs felt strained, they still had strength in them, and my breathing felt relaxed and easy. That mind-body awareness isn't always possible, but when you're able to separate the physical from the mental, it makes things a whole lot easier.

3. It gets easier with time: that means both on the run itself, and over the course of weeks and months of training. I have learned over the years that if you give a run enough time, your muscles loosen up and the pain starts to dissolve. It's just a matter of persevering until you hit that sweet spot in a run and things feel easier. Same with training: over time, any distance becomes more manageable. But you have to put the effort in to get there.

4. It's about the journey: some runs just aren't going to be your fastest. Sometimes, it's just about getting out there and getting the distance in, and forgetting that the virtual partner on your Garmin is beating you. If you're struggling with pace on a run, it'll feel that much more enjoyable if you can just ignore your partner's little whirring legs.

5. The power of more: a few years ago I read Marnie McBean's book by the same title, about how athletes are driven by the idea of "just a little more." If you tell yourself you're only going to run 3k, as I did on Saturday, then chances are that you'll only run 3k. But if you set your sights a little farther, for a little bit more, then chances are that you'll accomplish more. Tonight was a great example of the power of more.

6. It's about runs where it all makes sense: not every run's going to be easy. In fact there may be weeks or even months where you wonder why the heck you do it, and you want to quit. And sometimes, it's ok to step away from running for awhile and take a break to enjoy other pastimes. But every so often, you have a run like today - where you either learn a ton about yourself or you just feel like a gazelle with wings on (that wasn't me, although I've had those days) - and you finish the run with a blast of endorphins knowing that this is why you run. And it's those somewhat elusive runs that keep me coming back to running, time and again.

7. I run because I'm able to: it's something that so many runners say and that I try to remind myself often. The simple fact that we are healthy and able enough to get out there and run, no matter what our pace our distance, is a gift in itself that I often forget to cherish. But on runs like today, I remember how fortunate I am to be healthy, active and fit. And that fills me with gratitude.

That doesn't mean that I won't have days and times when I feel like stepping away from running for awhile. I'm sure it will happen again - I'm just not a consummate runner like some are, and I enjoy other activities far too much to give them up. I also enjoy having times when I'm not entirely consumed by running and all that is running-related. But I know that it will always have a place in my life, in some form or other, because I've been fortunate to have runs like today's, where I understand what it's all about.

Happy trails, running friends!

~ HRG

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The zen of running: Finding the balance between running and cross-training

So today I ran my first 5k run in about six weeks. At that time, I'd made it to a 12k LSD and a fall half marathon seemed in my sights. But then I missed a few weeks of training when I went canoeing for a week on the Kootenay River, and all of a sudden my training was scuttled. Geez, this story sounds familiar.

The thing is, it's not that I haven't been exercising. I've been averaging about five or six days a week of either yoga, body bump, Zumba, dance, or some other form of activity. Not to mention biking and walking everywhere (Calgary has such an amazing trail system and I haven't needed to drive more than twice the entire time I've been here). In fact, I've even managed to lose a few pounds and get a little more trim because of all of the exercising I'm doing. So you'd think busting out a 5k run would be easy for me, given that I'm not quite a couch potato.

But I'm not going to lie: today's run was a bit of a toughie. By the time I rounded the last corner and ticked down the last 100 metres, I was tired.

I was still happy that I can bust out a 5k run after not having trained at all, and probably if I'd done a 10:1 run:walk, I'd have made it to 10k or so. But the thing that never ceases to amaze me is how running long distances requires you to committing to the runs - three, four times a week. And the thing is, I also enjoy doing other things.

Now that we're settled into our new town, the gym and yoga studio are so close that I'm enjoying biking over there for a few classes every evening. They offer variety, strength training and agility - things that as runners we don't necessarily get to focus on if all we do is run.

In the end, I'm glad to know that if I had to tomorrow, I could achieve a 5 to 8k race. But it just hits home to me what an accomplishment it is for anyone who completes a long distance training program. I remember now what a feat my first 10k race was, let alone a half or a full.

I haven't ruled another long distance race in my future by any means. But for now, what I'm struggling to find is that balance between running and cross-training. And once I find that balance, I'm sure I'll be back on the path to my next half marathon in no time!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

First 12k run in Calgary: Lost key, found key, fortuitous fountain and an inauspicious finish

So there I was, just over a third of the way through my 12k long slow distance, and although it was a hot day by Calgary standards (23C) I was managing and I could see the finish in sight. With just 7k to go, I started planning my run back from 130th Street - a dash through the fountain I'd stopped at on my way to wet my hat and shoes, a stop at the convenience store for a drink at 7-8k, a loop around the lake and then home.

Lost...

Or so I thought. Stopping at a set of streetlights to grab some much-needed relief from the sun in the shade of a few trees, I took a quick scan of how I was feeling (not bad) and checked that my house key was in my wrist wallet.

But it wasn't. My ID and debit were there, but the key, which I'd hastily tucked in the band after locking the front door, was missing. And I had absolutely no idea where in the last 3.5 kms I'd dropped it. I'd been wearing my headphones and listening to music, so hadn't even heard any indication of a key hitting the ground.

"Shoot!" I uttered (or a variation starting with those two letters). Hubby was at work and not likely able to pause to send a taxi with the key (plus this wasn't the first time I'd lost a key, so I was loath to admit it to him). He wasn't likely to be home until another seven or eight hours, and here I was, a hot mess, locked out of our house in a city where we have yet to meet our neighbours or make many friends.

I briefly debated trying to climb to the second story of our house and trying to pull the window screen off, but our ladder was locked in the garage, and I didn't have that key either.

Well, there was nothing to it but to turn around and scan the ground meticulously for anything shiny, no matter how many weird glances I got, and pray to the universe that either nobody would be interested in a nondescript key, or that the key hadn't flown into a bush or tall grasses by the side of the path.

In an effort to be even more meticulous, I walked rather than ran, taking my time and literally sending a prayer out to the universe to please let me find my key - and to let it manifest itself to me.

On and on I walked, stopping at every glimmer of shiny candy wrapper or plastic on the path or in the grass.

...and found...

And then, just as I yelled yet another plea to the skies, there it was - a glint on the sidewalk. Not believing my eyes but at the same time believing that the universe had heard me, I picked it up, uttered a thank you...And determined that there was no way that I was stopping today after this mini miracle - no matter how hot or tired I might get.

Thankful for little miracles

Now, I'm not an overly religious gal. I'd probably define myself as agnostic. But whether or not this was a miracle, it reminded me of something I'd heard a yoga instructor say once, and what John Stanton had said when he'd visited Halifax for Bluenose 2013: treat every day, every step, every pose as a miracle. We should be so grateful to have our health - to be able to run, stretch, breathe and be. And if I'm hot or tired or in pain, well that's just a reminder that not only am I lucky enough to be able to run, but to be here yet another day.

With that in mind, I turned back to where I had been running, and kept going. By around 6-7k, I was back at the fountain I'd stopped at on my way there. Little kids were screaming and yelping in joy as they dashed in and out of the spray and tossed beach balls. Feeling like a bit of a kid myself, I strode right in to the water, soaking my shoes and taking in the spray full-on. I soaked my hat, then kept going, leaving a trail of soggy shoe prints in my wake.

As planned, I soon reached High Street, where I purchased some gummies and a drink, then kept going for the last stretch of my run.

There's nothing quite like running

And that last stretch, from 8.5-12k, was a toughie. I haven't been running religiously, having been doing a lot of cross-training instead, including biking, yoga, strength, dance and lots of walking - everywhere. Seriously, since moving to Calgary I may have driven two or three times. In fact our town and this city seem to inspire an active lifestyle - I've never heard hubby ask to go on a walk, let alone a bike ride, until we moved here.

But going on a run even when you've been fairly active is a good reminder that running using a bunch of different muscles that you don't use any other time.

Mind over matter, or matter over mind?

But rounding a bend by the lake, where ducks floated peaceably in the still water, I reminded myself again of just how lucky I was to be healthy and able to run and enjoy the day, and focused on mind over matter. Although my pace was slower, my legs felt lighter with these thoughts.

I rounded the bend onto our treed street, drinking in the shade and telling myself I was just hundreds of metres away.

And then stumbled, tripped and rolled, scraping my hand, knee and leg just 400 metres from home. It hurt as it always does, but I still chuckled at this inauspicious ending. It was also a good reminder that when I'm feeling tired, I need to remember to lift my feet and stop dragging them.

Also, no matter how much mind over matter you practice, sometimes matter just gets the better of you.

I got up, inhaled deeply through the pain, then kept on going to finish those last 400 metres and finish the run.

New race goals

Despite the fall, I'm pleased to be back out there, clocking the miles on my legs. I've been managing about two to three runs a week, but then there's all the cross-training (and the biking! Calgary has so many bike trails and places to explore, that I bought my first bike in 18 years and have been biking everywhere).

My goal is to keep clocking the kilometres with the goal of a fall half marathon - my first in Calgary. I've been trying to get some speed training in from time to time but am understandably slower, both because I'm not training as intensely but also because of the altitude. But my focus is different - when I stand at that start line this fall, my goal will be to run through a new course and experience racing in a new province and a new city and just soak in the experience.

At some point, I want to find and join a run club in Calgary - I've been missing the community aspect of running. But in the meantime, I'll focus on getting out there a few times a week and stretching my legs, clocking the kilometres. And who knows - with all the biking I've been doing, a triathlon may even be in my sights at some point too.

So hooray for good runs, healthy lifestyles and new goals!

Hope your training's also going well, fellow runners!

Signing out from Cow Town,

~ HRG

Monday, July 29, 2013

Running through Calgary, after the flood (includes photos)

It's funny how life works out sometimes. No sooner had we arrived in Calgary from Halifax, than the city experienced the worst flooding in its history. And here we were, fresh off the boat, just trying to get settled into living in a new place.

Fortunately, we weren't affected by the waters, although we were about three blocks from evacuated zones. Two days after the flood, I took my camera with me to take in the aftermath as the waters receded and roared around the city core.

Warning: yes, there are a lot of photos. But it's not every day you get to witness a flood of historic proportions.



All in all I have to say arriving just as the flood happened was a great way to witness first-hand Calgary's can-do attitude and resilient nature, even if I would never have wished this devastation on anyone. But I was struck by just how much the city came together in a time of intense devastation. In fact, I tried finding opportunities to volunteer but so many people turned out to help that I wasn't able to lend a hand!

In the weeks that followed, there were reports that runners were having a hard time adjusting to the aftermath of the flood, because some of their favourite routes had been washed away. But to be honest, I'm not sure that was a priority for people as they were trying to dig themselves out from the wreckage. Yes it will take time to fix some of the worst-hit areas, but in the meantime, give us a road and some shoes, and we runners can take ourselves just about anywhere.

~ HRG...via Calgary

All unpacked, and catching up: My last run through Halifax, in pictures

So the last few weeks have been spent unpacking, unpacking and more unpacking...We just moved in to our new house in McKenzie Towne, Alberta, and things have been a little unsettled as we worked on getting settled in. Which means that I haven't been doing much running (maybe a run or two per week, but lots of walking and working out).

Anyways, our stuff arrived a few weeks ago and I finally made it to the box that contained the cables for my camera. So I'm catching up on a few slideshows I should have posted two months ago, including my last run through Halifax.




And now that we're more settled in (more or less), I intend to start running more regularly and exploring our neighbourhood, with a goal of running a half in Calgary sometime this fall. So stay tuned for more!

~ HRG...via Calgary

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Settling in to life in Cow Town...Friendly folks, altitude training, floods and more...

Well here I am, in Cow Town! I can't believe it's already been nearly three weeks. And while I miss the ocean, I must confess - Calgary has been a pleasant surprise so far.

Before arriving here, I didn't remember much about Calgary apart from the biggies - Lake Louise and Banff and the Calgary Tower - which I'd explored with my parents as a teenager. So when we decided to move to Calgary so hubby could pursue a new job, neither of us knew quite what to expect, except that we were heading out on a new adventure together.

The day after our arrival, we took a taxi in from the airport. We could see the downtown core from where we were, and the mountains beyond it, looking majestic, mystical and somewhat imposing. From afar, Calgary seemed only slightly bigger than Halifax - a small cluster of skyscrapers surrounded by a spiderweb of highways.

But then the taxi drove into the downtown core, and it felt like the city swallowed us whole. We were used to being in a city where the tallest buildings were only a few stories high, you could always see the sky and the ocean was never farther away than a few kilometres at most. But as the taxi kept on going, and going, and going, and all we could see were buildings towering above us. We had no idea where we were, or where the horizon was, for that matter.

Stepping out of the taxi when we arrived at our rental apartment, hubby and I looked at each other, and took a deep breath. "Well, that wasn't at all overwhelming," he said. I could tell both of us thinking the same thing: what had we just done? Had we made the right decision to move all of our belongings to a city where we knew not a soul, and which felt 20 times larger than the one we'd just left after six years there?

"Let's just drop our stuff off upstairs, and then take a walk and find a local pub," I suggested, thinking that a beer might just take the edge off.

It turned out that walking through our new neighbourhood - rather than driving through it - was probably one of the best decisions we could have made. There's something to be said for exploring a new city on foot, whether running or walking. In fact, one of the first things I did when I arrived in Halifax close to six years ago was to join a running clinic. When running or walking, you're at your own pace. You can take your time to smell the flowers (Calgary has such lovely lilacs at this time of year) or stare at a new bird (everywhere we kept on seeing black and white birds with long tails, which I later discovered are magpies) or look at menus and do some window shopping.

Coincidentally, it also happened to be hubby's birthday, so we felt no guilt in spending the day hopping to and from a few of Calgary's brew pubs. By the end of the day, we felt quite a bit more relaxed and were enjoying the city's energy and youthful vibe. People here are also super friendly - we're feeling quite at home (our realtor suggested that some of the Maritime hospitality has bled into the city from all of the come-from-aways who've moved here from the east coast).

The following day, I woke up a little earlier and decided to head out for my first run in my new city, wearing my shiny new sneakers (which I'd bought at the Spring Garden Rd RR just days before our departure). I'd been warned by my Halifax running buddies that the altitude would take some getting used to, since the city is 3,500 feet above sea level. I decided it was probably best not to take my Garmin with me, to avoid getting discouraged.

I took it nice and easy and ran down 17th Avenue, which is one of Calgary's most bustling areas, with numerous restaurants and boutiques along it (for sports fans, I'm told it's also known as the Red Mile). I knew I couldn't get lost, because of the city's grid system  - the streets are numbered consecutively, so east-west streets are xth Avenue, and north-south streets are xth Street. That means that you can easily count how many blocks there are to your destination, and also that there's almost no way you can get lost. This makes running in a new city a whole lot more comfortable.

Not really having any sense of distance or pace, I kept on running till I saw the top of the Saddle Dome, then turned around and came back home to report to hubby on what I'd seen in our new neighbourhood. I felt like I'd maintained a comfortable pace, and hadn't really felt too wheezy, so maybe the whole altitude thing was overplayed, I told myself.

The next day, I decided to try and find the CORE shopping centre downtown, and opted to take my Garmin with me. That's when I realized just how deceiving the previous day's run had been. Although I felt like I was maintaining a steady pace, I was really running at about 6:45min/km even though I felt like I was running between a 5:55 and 6:05. My legs felt sluggish and my breathing laboured, and after about a kilometre and a half I felt like I was running at about 95% effort after speed work on what should really have been a very slow long distance pace. I managed a walk-run-walk 4-kilometre run and came back home exhausted.

The following day, I ran to the Eau Claire Market and found the Running Room, which is also conveniently located in the same building as the downtown GoodLife. Introducing myself to the manager on duty, I explained that I'd just moved from Halifax. "You crazy woman!" she exclaimed.

I hoped she was just being friendly and not actually commenting on my decision to move to Calgary from Halifax, or alternately on my decision to run in Calgary (I had as of yet encountered very few runners since arriving, so I was starting to wonder what the deal was and whether it did actually have something to do with the altitude).

I mentioned that I was debating joining the marathon clinic, but that I was feeling the altitude might make it tough for me to maintain a 5:30 pace for Week One's 10-kilometre tempo, given that I hadn't even broken 6:30 on my run down to the store. I asked how long it was going to take me to adjust to the altitude difference.

"I can't remember, because I've been living here for close to 20 years," she said, laughing. "But 3-4 weeks, I'd say," she added, suggesting that I might want to try the half marathon clinic instead, which sounded like a pretty good idea, considering how I was feeling. I ran back home slowly, trying not to focus on my pace but secretly feeling discouraged by how tired I was feeling on what should have been an easy run. At around 5.5kilometres I gave my tired legs a break and walked home the rest of the way.

I didn't run at all the following week - not because I was disappointed with how I was coping with the altitude, but because I was in Manitoba for part of the week on training.

This past week, I managed to run three times:

- once from work to GoodLife for a BodyFlow class and then home (managing a 5:57 pace over six kilometres, which was encouraging);
- once from work to GoodLife for BodyPump at lunch, which felt more like Fartleks than anything because of the start-stopping at red lights, although I did feel like I was maintaining bursts of speed);
- and today I ran an eight-kilometre loop around the SW portion of the city, to explore the after-effects of yesterday's historic flooding (it was also a stop-start run, since I'd brought my camera with me to take photos of the flooding, the swollen river and the evacuated downtown core, which is really quite something to see - I hope to post a slideshow of it here once I find out where my camera cable is packed). My pace felt a lot better, and I even managed to keep it below 6mins/km for a number of stretches, so I'm starting to feel like myself again and am optimistic that I'm acclimatizing.

 Now that I've been running around, what only weeks ago felt gigantic and imposing now feels quite a bit smaller. In fact, today's 8-km run took me just about around the entire SW downtown core. Considering that Halifax is about a 16-kilometre radius, that makes this city start to feel a whole lot more homey.

I'm encouraged that my pace is starting to pick up again, and I'm loving all of the city's trails (although right now a lot of them are closed down due to the flooding). I'm excited to start building up my distances and to continue exploring our new city. There's just so much to see and do. My one question, though, is - where are all the runners?

I've been told that Calgary's a great running community and there are lots of runners, but beyond a few clusters here and there or the occasional lone runner, I haven't seen them yet. I'm sure they're here though - so I'm on a mission to discover them, one kilometre at a time!

~ HRG

Sunday, June 2, 2013

This isn't goodbye..It's till we run together again...

Well Halifax, this is it. In just over 24 hours I will be hopping aboard a plane headed halfway across the country, trading the ocean for the mountains. Hubby has a great job opportunity that we couldn't refuse - and what better way to get to see a new part of the country?

So after 5 1/2 years of running through your streets, I have been struggling to find the words to say not goodbye, but au revoir - till we run together again.

It's tough to put into words what I'm feeling right now. Running has been such a huge part of my life ever since I moved to this city. In fact, one of the first things I did when I arrived was to sign up for a 10km clinic at the Spring Garden Rd Running Room. It proved to be one of the best things I could have done.

I got to make connections and eventually meet new friends. As the distances got longer, I explored virtually every corner of the city. I set new goals and challenges for myself to aspire to. And over time, Halifax started to feel like home, and I decided to set up a little blog called Halifax Runner Girl.

There were many ups and downs - literally, and figuratively, because this is hilly Halifax, after all. There were days I felt I'd run the same 8km loop over and over and over again. Other days, I ran home on a cloud, marvelling at the fact that my route took me by the ocean (and up those incredible hills in Purcells Cove).

There were the days where I ran the farthest I'd ever run before - over the bridge and back. Snowy Sunday morning runs through Point Pleasant Park, the snow soft on branches and ocean glimmering just beyond the edge of the trail. And there were those marvellous Blue Nose race weekends where it seemed the whole city thrummed with the rhythm of thousands of Haligonians of all ages running.

Despite my up and down relationship with running - those days when I didn't want to go out; the mornings when we trudged up the city's icy hills and I wondered what it was all about and why I wasn't in bed. Despite the rainy, slushy, windy, icy, snowy, hot, cold, you-name-it runs...As I look back I realize I have loved every footstep of it.

Running in Halifax hasn't just been about the kilometres marked, although that was one of the major accomplishments I celebrated since being here - moving from being a 5k runner to challenging myself to a 10k, then the Hypo Half, and then the full...After each race I crossed that finish line believing it was the farthest I could ever run - and then I put my shoes back on and pushed myself to run that much farther.

But none of this could have been possible without the support of my coach - aka hubby - and his belief in me. His encouragement when I just wanted to stay home and snuggle up in front of the TV has been priceless.

And then there's the Halifax running community, through which I have made so many friends. You have all been there for me at some point in my running journey - whether it was hanging back when it looked like I was flagging, or listening to me muse about my insecurities with my running after overcoming major surgery, or showing up at the track during speed training prior to my first full with a neon yellow sign that read "Go, Halifax Runner Girl!"...Or just being patient with me when I went quiet and put in my ear buds because all I wanted to go was get the run over after a long day at work and just wasn't in the mood to be social.

To all of you, I say thank you. I'll miss you all. I'll miss Halifax's hills and winds and ocean spray when cutting through Point Pleasant Park. I'll miss Blue Nose weekend - I run in every single Blue Nose single one since being here. It's been a highlight of my running years. I'll miss showing up to a crowded Running Room on Spring Garden Rd on Sunday mornings, perhaps dreading the 32k run that faced me, but feeling buoyed by all of the runners who had decided to show up as well and being motivated and inspired by their energy and enthusiasm.

But no one gets very far by looking backwards while running - in fact that's the surest way to trip. So I'm packing all of my memories into my mental storage bank for those days in Calgary when the going seems tough, or when I long for the salt spray on my face as we run along the Bow River. And I will think of you all.

I've heard that Calgary has many great running trails, but that I'll have to take some time getting adjusted to the difference in altitude. I'm planning to sign up for a marathon clinic when I arrive. I actually do highly recommend it as a great way to settle into any new city.

I also plan to continue blogging in this space, though I haven't quite decided whether to keep the name or change it to Calgary Runner Girl - though so far the votes I've had is to keep the name the same.

And who knows - in a few years, I may be back to run the Blue Nose again, looking to kick some butt at sea level after running at higher altitudes!

Once again, I thank you all for your support. It's been a blast, but this is not the last of it - it's only just the beginning of a new adventure!

Till then, I say not goodbye, Halifax - but till we run together again!

Stay strong, healthy and happy. You'll be in my thoughts.

~ HRG


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston strong. Halifax strong. Memorial run, Halifax Point Pleasant Park, April 22, 2013

Before heading to last night's memorial run, I had a Twitter exchange with a fellow Halifax runner who felt unsure whether he was going to attend, because he felt like the attack was not one on runners, and therefore felt mixed about the theme of "Runners grieve by running."

I responded that to me, last night's run was about solidarity for those - runners or not - who had lost their lives or had been affected by the tragedy, even the city of Boston itself as it struggles to recover from the horror that was wrought on it.

I was heartened to see the hundreds of runners of all ages and abilities at last night's Boston memorial run. It was amazing to see how many of Halifax's runners were there wearing Boston jackets, Boston Red Sox jerseys or blue and yellow. The bond between our cities was apparent. You could sense how each of us had been struck by the tragedies in Boston last week - and the determination that we'd keep running together.

As we waited in the brisk wind off the ocean for the organizers to speak, I could hear runners around me reliving their Boston experience last week. It was still so fresh and raw for many of them, just seven days after the event.

I was moved as our queue of several hundred crunched slowly off at the starting point, making our way around the park. This was not about speed or time, as the organizers reminded us. It was about solidarity and togetherness.

So we took off together, each of us running at our own pace for 15 minutes, and then turning around and running back to the start.

When we reached the starting point and started trickling back in, our group of several hundred strong milled around - many of us giving hugs to those runners safely returned. This was not just about what happened in Boston - it was about what had happened in our own community, as we watched in horror and hoped and prayed that all those who we knew were safe and sound. I was glad to have been a part of it.

Thank you to the organizers for pulling together such a meaningful event.

Boston strong. Halifax strong.

~ HRG

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston 2013 memorial run: Runners grieve by running



Tonight runners from across HRM will be gathering at Point Pleasant Park for a 30-minute memorial run in support of the tragedy at last week's Boston Marathon.

Runners are encouraged to wear yellow and blue. A minute of silence will be observed at the start of the run.

The run starts at 6 p.m. in the lower parking lot at Point Pleasant Park.

I'll be there. I hope you will be too.

~ HRG

Sunday, April 21, 2013

T-minus four weeks till race day: The excitement is building!

I can't help this feeling, deep inside of me: it's four weeks till race day!

Not to mention, it's the Blue Nose 10th anniversary race weekend.

It will be my eighth half marathon since 2009.

I've been feeling strong lately. Today I had a good 18kms, preceded by a strong week (with a good 12kms/tempo/9 hills).

And the events at Boston last week have made me appreciate: I am alive - I have blood coursing through my veins. I am breathing. My muscles are straining. My feet are pumping.

In the past week, we have struggled to gain some sense of perspective of the week's events. I have been humbled by those of you who told me that my post on Monday where I struggled to put my feelings into words helped you.

In the last week, all of my runs have personally been in tribute of those at Boston. I have pushed myself harder for them. I have run my nine hills, with the last four in honour of the victims of this week's tragedy. My muscles were screaming, but I couldn't stop, for them.

I have realized that if it hurts, it's because I am still alive.

Tomorrow, I plan to head to Point Pleasant Park with many, many other Halifax runners for a run in honour/memoriam of Boston.

So on race day, there will be no excuse: it may prove difficult at times, but I hope to make it a day of celebration and tribute. I'm sure standing at the starting line in four weeks' time will feel bittersweet. Still, I feel excited about a race for the first time in a long time.

In fact, I can't wait!

See you at the start line,

~ HRG

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

#prayforboston

You see from my blog title what this entry is about. I have to be honest, I have hummed and hae'd about whether to blog about the events at today's Boston Marathon, which was held in honour of the 26 victims of the Newtown tragedy. Would writing a blog post be playing into the hands of the sick individual(s) who decided to set off bombs near the finish line of today's race, costing three lives and countless of other injuries (some of them meaning those injured may not have the use of both legs ever again)? Would posting something about the horrific events that played into today's tragedy be sensationalizing this event?

But tonight, my parents and brother called me to see how I was taking the news, because of my connection to marathon running, as well as my connection to some of the runners in today's race. It seemed they were expecting me to have a personal connection to the event, simply because I have run marathons.

But let's face it: today's tragedy cuts us all to the core, runner or not. This was an event that unfairly targeted thousands of innocent athletes, families, volunteers and organizers - the several thousand people gathered to celebrate healthy lifestyles and the work and effort of thousands of individuals over several months, let alone their efforts on the actual day. It was an event that celebrated life, no matter our political affiliations or country of origin.

And yet, I also had a personal connection to the event, as did so many of us watching them unfold from the comfort of our laptops and televisions.

Last Wednesday, I headed to the Fireside Lounge with a dozen or so fellow runners to celebrate the achievements of two fellow Halifax runners headed to Boston. We handed them greeting cards and bags full of Canada paraphenalia (including thunder sticks and huge Canada ties for their husbands).  No matter what their time crossing the finish, all of us there knew that simply making it to Boston is an incredible feat of months' worth of determination and effort, when running becomes your every waking (and sometimes, dreaming) focus. So when members of our community qualify, we're ecstatic. You could bet we'd be watching on race day for any news of our friends!

And that's just what I did. This morning, I watched the Facebook feed as our friends handed off their cell phones to hubbies and made it to the start line. "Enjoy the day!" I posted. "This is the celebration of months' worth of training and hard work!"

As the race progressed and the various corrals started, one of our run club members kept posting updates of our friends' progress, with their splits and anticipated times. Then, three hours and 40 minutes, later, one of them crossed the finish, re-qualifying for next year's Boston. The Facebook stream erupted in cheers for her, and then waited for our second friend to finish soon, as she'd also been looking strong.

I stepped away from my desk for an hour, and then when I got back, the unimaginable had happened.

For the next 45 minutes, all of us who were connected to anyone running (or spectating) in Boston scrambled to get news about our friends and family in Boston, all the while trying to stop our minds from imagining the worst. My Twitter stream was flooded with contradictory news, and I tried my best to navigate through the information.

I had chills up my spine as I watched a video taken in the immediate vicinity of the first bomb.

I was horrified that someone would think to turn a celebration of health and wellness into the scene of a horrific tragedy. I couldn't imagine how I would feel if I was minutes away from finishing a race after being on the course for almost four hours and heard the blasts, or if I was standing on the other side of the race course, waiting to cheer on a loved one.

There is nothing that can explain today's tragedy. As an editor, I realize that using a word several times over the course of several paragraphs is redundant. But honestly, all that I can come up with right now to describe today's events is tragedy, sickening and horrific. No other words describe it.

Eventually,  my friends and their spouses were safe and accounted for. One of them missed the blast by 10 minutes because she had slowed down, even though she was on target to finish within a minute of the blasts.

I breathed a sigh of relief, all the while watching the news unfold with horror.

When we finally did hear from them, one of my friends had nothing bad to say except that the city of Boston should be proud of how they handled themselves in this emergency situation. Props to her for having perspective in a moment of crisis.

In the days and weeks to come, there will be reports that examine and attempt to explain the day's events. Those uninjured runners who traveled to Boston will return home, and sift through conflicting emotions - at the end of the day, they will say, things could have been much worse.

We will grieve the victims of today's tragedy.

Other runners will look ahead to future events, such as the London Marathon, and wonder whether they feel safe enough to run.

Race day is the celebration of months and weeks of training and determination - whether on behalf of the runners or their family members. It is the celebration of healthy living and inspiration. Race day cuts across political tensions and celebrates the triumphs of the human mind and body. It is the celebration of feats that to many of us are unimaginable - and yet we manage to cross that finish line.

And race day or no race day, runners or non-runners, Boston or elsewhere - there is just no excuse for what happened today.

My heart goes out to Boston tonight. But I know we will stand strong at that next starting line, and cross the finish together, arms raised.

~ HRG

Monday, April 1, 2013

What are you running for? Taking some time to reassess my goals

Hello, blog readers! Yes, it's been awhile - I've been on a bit of a writing hiatus while I took some time to myself to sort through my running goals and my relationship to running.

Maybe it's obvious from my last post, where I compared running sometimes to feeling like a turtle, and sometimes a fast fox. Truth is, over the last few months, I'd been having fewer and fewer foxy days, and many more turtle ones. I was getting to the point where I dreaded heading out for a run, struggled my entire way through it, and then came home and felt upset with myself about having had a tough run.

My goal had been to train for the Fredericton full marathon this May with a couple of girlfriends, and I'd struggled my way though most runs longer than 16kms.

So one night before a scheduled 29-kilometre run, which I'd been groaning about all week, hubby sat me down and switched into coach mode. 

He pointed out that I'd been dreading my runs more and more, whereas I'd been enjoying my yoga classes more and more. And reminded me that the reason I run is to have fun. If something that's meant to be fun was causing me stress, then it was time to change things.

We agreed that I'd take a step back from running and reassess my goals while focusing on things that I enjoyed, like yoga, strength training, Zumba and other classes. I tentatively decided that I'd aim for the Bluenose half marathon rather than doing a spring full, and then I'd reassess whether I wanted to do a full this fall.

I'll admit - for the next two days, I had a really hard time with this decision. I felt like I was letting myself down, and my running buddies, not to mention my blog readers. But my running buddies turned out to be super supportive, and I found myself enjoying the shorter weekly runs now that the pressure was off.

Beyond the psychological hurdle of running 50+ kilometres per week over an 18-week period, I realized a few other reasons why marathon training just wasn't cutting it for me anymore:

- It's a huge time commitment that impacts not only you, but your family members and their schedules. Just getting to run club on time after working a full day was proving to be a juggling game, given that hubby and I have only one car.
- Fitting in all the weeknight runs meant I had less and less time for other cross-training and doing things I enjoy, like yoga.
- Sundays were ending up being all about running, then recovering from the long run. Which wasn't a lot of fun given that hubby and I only have Sundays to spend together.
- I found myself spending a LOT of time thinking about running, planning my runs, planning my meals, talking about running...Which is great if you live with a runner but a little repetitive for non-runners.

Since making the decision to step back from the full, I've been spending more time doing cross-training and strength training. I've managed two or three runs during the week, and then the long run. Yesterday's run was an easy 16-kilometre run with the Running Room Run Club. I found myself chatting to new folks and enjoying myself more than I had on any long run in months (then again the sunny day could have had something to do with it too).

So I'll run the Bluenose half this spring, ad reassess my fall goals after that. But right now I'm feeling happy with that decision.

Have you had to take a step back from running? Have you found it to be a love-hate relationship? How have you coped with it? Inquiring runners want to know!

~ HRG