Tuesday, January 29, 2013

T-minus 12 days till race day, and counting: What you do after the run is just as important as the run itself!

For tonight's tempo run I had arranged to meet my running buddy Kate downtown after work and then we'd head out for a 6k tempo together. So after work, I checked the weather, put on my gear, said goodbye to hubby and headed out the door.

But when I turned on the car, I realized that I'd forgotten a key part of my equipment: a warm jacket for after the run. I ran inside quickly, grabbed my ski jacket, then headed back out.

It brought home an important point about running, which follows a bit from yesterday's post about taking rest days to allow your body to recover from long runs or arduous workouts.

It's what you do immediately following a winter run that is just as important as the run itself. In addition to making sure you get in a good post-run stretch, after any winter run you'll make sure you plan for things like:

- dry, warm clothes to change into after your run (even if you're just driving right back home), since the body cools down quickly after running outside in the cold for some time (think of packing at least a jacket, and/or sweater, hat and mitts/gloves);
- proper hydration immediately after the run, and then sipping on water for the next few hours until your urine runs clear again;
- a good post-run recovery snack (I like to have a chocolate-banana or strawberry-banana shake right after the run, or even just chocolate milk and chips for the salt);
- a good post-run recovery meal within an hour/hour and a half of your run (I like things like pizza, burgers or chicken burgers, but the Hypo Half brunch of eggs, sausages and hashbrowns is also great)
- once you get back home or to your hotel room, run an Epsom salt bath (warm, but not too hot) - I'm sorry but I just will not do an ice bath in the middle of winter!

Thinking about these things is important as you plan for race day, because you'll need to consider them in the things you pack and prepare in your bags the night before race day. As you look ahead to race day, start thinking not only about what you'll pack for the race itself, but also start making a list of things to pack in your post-race bag.

Trust me - once you cross that finish line, you may be tired, warm and exhausted, but it won't take long for your body to cool down and start stiffening up, at which point you'll be glad you have your post-race bag with you!

What things do you include in your post-run/race bag? Share your tips here!


Monday, January 28, 2013

T-minus 13 days and counting: The importance of rest days

A few years ago, while training for my first marathon, there came the first Sunday where we did a long run - either 23, 27 or maybe even 32 - and I felt so good on that run, that the next day I decided to head to the gym and do 30 minutes on the bike and 30 minutes on the stairmaster.

The day after, for our 6km tempo, my legs felt like lead, and I felt horrible. I didn't understand why I felt so cruddy...Until I realized that I hadn't taken the time to rest after our long run (which as I recall was the first time I'd run whatever distance it was that we had done).

No matter how strong you feel, or how good your legs feel the day after a long run, it's important to remember to take that rest day. When you become so invested in your training because you've spent weeks and months training towards a goal, it can sometimes feel like copping out to take a night off and just let your legs recover.

As marathon or half-marathon runners, many of us tend to be Type-A personalities that find it difficult to stop and do nothing, even for just a night. But even professional athletes take rest days. Much like savsana at the end of yoga practice is an important way to let your body absorb the work you have done, allowing your body to rest after long runs or days of high exertion will mean that you arrive at that start line on race day stronger and injury-free.

This article from Runners World does a good job of explaining the benefits and importance of rest days 

Rest easy, runner friends! Then we'll be back at 'er tomorrow!


T-minus 14 days till race day, and counting: Race day visualization and mental preparation

It's starting to sound like I'm whining about the cold, but I gotta say: yesterday was another cold one (and by that I don't mean a brewskie).

Race day visualization
The schedule on Sunday called for 20k. I decided to stay in Halifax for the run but I did drive across the bridge to drive around the course and refresh my memory. Visualization is a great way to mentally prepare yourself for race day.

It's amazing how much stuff comes back to you when you're actually on the course. I remembered what it felt like, last year, when we were all gathered at the start line, the butterflies in my stomach but also the sense of excitement in the air as close to 350 of us gathered in -15 weather on a sunny day to share in the experience of running 21.1kms in the middle of winter for the 2012 Halifax Hypo Half.

As we drove along the course, I remembered the water station, complete with plastic palm trees, volunteers dressed in Mexican sombreros and dancing to tropical music. Then I saw the spot when I tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and did a spectacular fall and roll (for which I received some props from my fellow runners - I told them that I'd learn how to fall properly as a gymnast :P ).

We then passed the spot on a downhill stretch on Cow Bay Road, where I saw the two-hour group passing by us in the other direction and I knew that we were nearing the turnaround. At that point we had started seeing familiar faces heading back and we were cheering each other on. And then there were the two women in the Running Room van who kept driving ahead of us and getting out to do a crazy dance and whooping and cheering for us.

As we drove by the spot where I dropped my sunglasses for the umpteenth time, I realized that driving around the route was also a good reminder to try and figure out how to be more organized this time around, since winter running comes with so much more "stuff" than running in the summer. Last year I kept  dropping my gloves, my iPod and my sunglasses, which meant that I hadn't been able to take in enough fuel and as a result felt sluggish in the last stretch.

Then, coming up the hill in the home stretch, I remembered looking up and seeing a good friend with a cow bell, cheering me to the finish line in the slowest time I'd ever raced a half, but also with the best feeling because I'd just gone out there with no expectations and run the race with friends and enjoyed myself. I pictured running up that hill in just two weeks time, and feeling just as happy at my accomplishment as last year, no matter what my time.

The importance of dressing for the wind chill!

After we drove around the course, I went back to Halifax and geared up for my run. I headed out, but for some reason my legs felt sluggish and my gait was off (it was only later that I realized that it could have been the -22 degree windchill!). I made it about 8kms, but then while doing a mental check of my body I realized my core was getting really cold, as well as my head. I couldn't picture running for another hour and a bit while getting increasingly colder.

After some debate, I decided to run the remaining 12 kms on the treadmill, rather than quit, because I knew that this run was an important mental and physical part of preparing for race day. It was not a fun run, but for some reason the 10-minute intervals just started ticking away and soon enough it was done.

It was an important lesson to always, always remember to keep the windchill in mind when dressing for a winter run! (In fact I had worn almost exactly the same clothes as last year's Hypo Half, where I was dressed warmly for a -15 degree day...Just not warm enough for -22!)

And now the mental training begins

The visualization of the race course was a good first step for the mental training ahead. We're less than two weeks away from race day, which means my mind is starting to play its usual tricks on me: have I trained enough? Am I ready for this? What will the day be like on race day? But driving around the course was an important first step.

The trick for me, these next two weeks, will be to remember all the lessons learned in previous races, while at the same time shutting down the negative talk and tuning into my yoga zen voice. The physical work is done - now it's all about the mental preparation!

What tips do you have for mentally preparing yourself for race day?


Sunday, January 27, 2013

T-minus15 days till race day, and counting! Shout-out to race organizers

On Saturday I made my usual stop by the Spring Garden Road Running room to stock up on gels for Sunday's run. I ran into Bruce Bowen, the store manager. Usually Bruce is a pretty chipper dude, and in fact in the five years or so that I've known him, I've never seen him stressed or upset.

Yesterday was a little different. Bruce admitted that the venue he'd used in the past for the post-race brunch had fallen through, and he now had two weeks to sort it out.

"It'll get done," he said a little glumly.

I have absolutely no doubt that Bruce will indeed get 'er done, and that he'll have the support of the entire running community behind him, if that's what it takes

But it brought home to me how rarely I take the time to think about the people who organize races and running events, and all of the time and effort they put in to ensure that we can enjoy safe, organized races.

So thank you, race organizers! Whether it's a small local run or a large event, the truth is, we couldn't race without you!


Saturday, January 26, 2013

T-minus 16 days till race day, and counting: Run-dancing and the League of Funny Walks

The countdown till race day is still on, but I have to say that my goals are getting more and more realistic, with the cold and slippy weather we've had. I'm starting to think of race day as not so much a race, as an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the day with several hundred other runners, in the middle of winter.

For day T-minus 16, since it was Friday, I swapped a run on the treadmill with one of my favourite classes - Zumba. As anyone who has seen me at a party can attest, I just love to dance, and I don't care who's watching. If that means that I'm also burning calories and getting a good workout, so much the better!

I also love Zumba because it's so great to see women (and the occasional man) of all ages and abilities getting out there and having fun. It's got to be one of the greatest ways to exercise out there.

In fact, I love dancing so much, that sometimes I think I should invent a way to dance and run at the same time. It would be a faster version of dance-walking.

Actually that's not true - sometimes I have caught myself bopping to the music while I run - I just haven't done anything quite as outlandish as the League of Funny walks - yet. But maybe if the going gets tough on race day and I want to distract myself, I might just try it.

How's your training going? How did you handle the cold weather this week?


PS - One last thing, before I sign off and head to yoga class: this week, my blog surpassed 1,000 page views for the first time ever. And maybe it's just me being a nerd, but I have to say it was a pretty neat feeling. It was a sign, to me at least, that I'm not just sending my writing into the void.

But I couldn't have done it if there weren't others out there who were taking the time to read my rambling thoughts (and sometimes, sharing their comments and insights).

So thank you, fellow readers. You make me feel like someone's listening, and that means a lot.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

T-minus 17 days till race day, and counting - Integrating the treadmill into your workout regime

With the cold snap all of Canada's been having lately, I already knew my workout tonight would be inside. The question was, whether I would hit another Body Pump class (ouch!) or the treadmill?

Given that I haven't run since Sunday (Tuesday was Body Pump, and yesterday was nothing, since my hubby and my work schedules were packed - see how life can get in the way?), I felt like I had to hit the treadmill for a good, solid run. So at least I could say that I'd run this week.

I dreaded the dreadmill. I mean, come on: 50 minutes on the treadmill? It's an exercise in trying to distract yourself.

But I dreaded the cold more. So tonight, while gritting my teeth, I drove to the gym, changed, plugged in my earbuds and started to run, while my eyes scanned from one TV monitor to the next - trying to settle on something that would distract me and make the run seem less dreadmilly.

To be honest, part of the dread in the dreadmill is obviously the visual monotony - there's just nothing there to capture your attention for the duration of the run. At least, nothing compared to getting outside and seeing the sights and sounds of a city in motion.

But running on a treadmill, with the same consistent pace and incline, is also nothing like running through a terrain with real inclines, declines and all of the challenges built in between.

At the end of my 50-minute workout, I'm sure it was apparent to all those around me that I had had a workout, from the volume of unladylike perspiration beading off my skin. But secretly I have to admit that I still felt like running on a treadmill was not quite the serious workout that running outside would have been.

Hey - it's been cold out there! And for those days when it's just too cold outside to run safely and warmly (last week it took me a good two hours to warm up after my 8k run), the treadmill has its place.

There are however many running professionals who swear by the treadmill - because it's consistent and you can control the conditions.

There are also many ways to mix up a treadmill workout so that it's not only interesting, but physically challenging. When I used to do a lot more treadill running, I used to do this bump training workout (can't remember for the life of me where I found it):

- 4-minute warmup - jog slowly
- 1 minute at 60-80% effort
- 30 seconds at 90-95% effort
- 1 minute at 60-80%
- Then, keep increasing the time at 90-95% effort (1 minute, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3)
-.in between each speed burst, recover for 1 minute at 60-80
- once you reach the peak time (let's say 3 minutes), start working backwards (2:30, 2, 1:30, 1) until you reach 30 seconds
- cool down for 4 minutes

Marathon Nation has some great tips for running on the treadmill >

Runner's World has a few treadmill workouts for you to get the most out of your workout > >

At the end of the day, the treadmill has its place in a running regime. But make sure to mix it up, to keep it interesting and keep yourself challenged.

Soon enough, it will be spring again - and we'll marvel at the dust accumulating on the treadmill while the crocuses bloom outside!

Keep it real, fellow runners! Warmer days will be here soon!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

T-minus 18 days, and counting: Inspiration for winter running!

Image courtesy of www.funnycutestuff.com

Now that we're into the true winter months, it's sometimes harder to get motivated to bundle up and head out onto the slippery/slidy sidewalks.

So next time I need motivation, I think I'm just going to imagine this moose chasing me down Robie Street.

Yep, that should be motivation enough for me!

Watch out for those moose and other random wild creatures, fellow runners!


T-minus 19 days, and counting: cross-training on a wintry day

It snowed again today...A common theme around these parts lately (it's snowed four times in eight days, nevermind rain and snowmelt and everything in between). Given my fall from this Sunday, I thought I'd avoid the risk and stay inside tonight.

That's the thing about winter running - the weather can be so unpredictable that it can scuttle your plans. Which means that a mid-winter half marathon will probably not see you posting a PB on race day.

So tonight, I headed to the gym for a Body Pump class, for some good ol' cross-training. It's been a few weeks since my last BP class, so I didn't quite know what weights to put on the bar, but for the most part my leg core, arm core and back core felt strong.

My core, however, felt a little weak. I could especially tell when I was doing squats - my back started to hurt, which was a good reminder to suck in my abs as we worked.

I find it really takes effort and planning to find a good balance between running and cross-training, but it's that cross-training that's so important to building and maintaining strength.

We once had a speaker come in to one of the clinics I attended, who used to be the trainer for the national triathlete team. He said that they immediately saw an improvement in their athletes' performance as soon as they started building strength training into their regular training. So, for example, he suggested running to the park as part of your regular training run, then using the bars and a strength band there to do some core strength exercises, and running back.

I can tell you that the year that I got married, I tried something similar, and I was the fastest, strongest and fittest that I have ever been in my running career (if you can call it that). I would run 1.5kms to the gym, do 30 minutes of strength training, and then run 7.5 kms home. But the problem was that I'd arrive home at around 8:30 or 9 and have missed dinner (not to mention spending time with my fiance).

These days, my priorities are different. I would rather spend an hour at the gym or running, then the rest of the evening at home. Which means that most days I'm doing one run or cross-training class (whether yoga, Body Pump or Zumba), instead of both.

The trick, again, is to find that balance and to realize that I'm not a professional athlete, but I can still live a healthy and active life without expecting myself to hit PBs on every race.

Thus endeth my blog post for day T-minus 19 until race day!


Monday, January 21, 2013

T-minus 20 days to race day, and counting: What does Downton Abbey have to do with running?

Last night, I was watching my guilty TV pleasure - Downton Abbey, which is set just around the time where my grandmother would have been wrapping up her career on England's first touring competitive rhythmic gymnastics team, in the early 1920s.

Since my mind usually wanders to all things running related (according to my husband), and my knees were still throbbing from yesterday's fall, it occurred to me that since the start of the series, we haven't seen the characters of Downton do anything more active than ride a horse, or walk the dogs (and according to this blog, Matthew seems to really love riding his bike).

Most of the time, they seem to be either changing into their latest outfit for dinner, or sitting around chatting about the latest local gossip (or in last night's episode, wondering what the heck Tom was thinking, abandoning a pregnant Sybil in Ireland after having set fire to a castle of some English-Irish aristoctrat. I mean, really...)

It's amazing these folks all look so slim and slender, the amount of time they spend sitting around well-laid tables and glittering chandeliers, eating the lavish meals cooked for them by the staff downstairs.

In fact, Tom's run through the forest is probably the most activity we've seen the residents of Downton engage in over the course of three series. How the heck did he manage to run miles through an overgrown forest, and arrive at the doors of Downton looking handsome and rained on, but not out of breath?

Now that she's married, Lady Mary seems to have settled into her role as a married woman, which consists of writing letters, planning dinners with archbishops and redecorating Downton, where needed. Self-proclaimed spinster Edith, on the other hand, is causing stirs because she submitted a letter to the editor about women's suffrage - the gall!

So just imagine the brouhaha that would have occurred if any of the girls had waltzed into the dining hall, only to announce that they intended to take up running?

As it turns out, if they had decided they wanted to take up running, they'd have been years ahead of their time.

In fact, it wasn't until the 1928 Olympics that women were allowed to compete in Track and Field, including the 800 metres. But, according to this blog, which cites a New York Times article, because six of the nine competitors in the race ended up collapsing at the end of the race, the 800 metres was declared too dangerous for women to compete in, and was retired from the Olympics until 1960.

Women were declared too frail and feeble, and running might endanger their "lady parts," not to mention not be ladylike.

A few years ago, while training for my first half marathon, I remember our running instructor, Louise, telling us the story of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. It was a huge deal, because for so long women had been discouraged from running long distances - "they would get huge legs, or grow hair on their chest or their uterus would fall out," recalls Kathrine in a PBS documentary.

In fact, it was such a big deal, that one of the race directors tried to tackle Kathrine and pull her out of the race. Thankfully, Kathrine also happened to be running with her boyfriend, a muscular jock-type guy who pushed the race director out of the way, while journalists started heckling her for being a suffragette.

But Kathrine pushed on, determined to finish the race on her hands and knees, if that's what it took. She knew she was running for more than herself, but also for all women - to prove that women, in fact, were capable of accomplishing such feats.

Four hours and 20 minutes later, Katherine Switzer finished, becoming the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon. Amazing.

Oh, what the ladies of Downton would have thought of such a scene, when at present Edith can't even vote because she's not married!

That's not to say that we don't still have a long ways to go (just the other day on The Ellen Show, she had a young girl on who's petitioning to be allowed to play football on an all-boys team), but  looking at the ladies of Downton, all I have to say is, we've come a long way, ladies!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

T-minus 21 days till race day, and counting: Slip slidin' away

Today's run was an 18k LSD. When I woke up after a late night, my first reaction was to hit snooze on my alarm. Our bed seemed so cozy and warm, whereas getting up to go run outside wasn't all that appealing.

But then I remembered my post from the yesterday, and how inspired I'd been after my yoga lesson. I can't on the one hand write about inspiration and on the other decide to hit the snooze button and lie in bed because I was up too late the night before.

So I tried to turn off my brain and the negative self-talk that was telling me to stay in bed and go for a run later in the day, and instead tried to focus on how lucky I was to be able to head outside for a long run, and on how much I would enjoy running and chatting with friends and fellow runners. I knew that once I got started, I would be glad I had gotten up and headed out for that run.

Arriving at the Running Room, I did indeed see many friendly and welcoming faces who seemed happy to see me there. So instead of plugging in both earbuds and focusing on my music, I turned to them and started chatting away.

The roads were very icy, though - the theme of the week. It had snowed, then melted, and snowed, then rained, and a thin layer of ice coated the sidewalks.

Because I was chatting, I wasn't entirely paying attention, which meant that all of a sudden at about kilometre 4, I lost my footing in the middle of a sentence and fell to the ground with a loud "whoop!" that sounded much louder and dramatic than I actually felt hurt.

Our pace leader, Wendy, asked how I was doing and kindly told me to take some time to let it all sink in - because I might be in shock. The rest of the group seemed to be more in shock than I felt, partly because my "whoop" had been so dramatic. I was a little stunned, but more embarrassed than anything. But everyone was super kind and made sure to ask how I was doing, checking to see that there was no obvious bleeding or rips anywhere.

Beyond a couple of bruised knees and a scraped palm, I was fine, though. Although it was tempting to turn around and head inside - the roads really were treacherous - and grumble about how bad the run was, instead, I turned back to chatting with my friends, and the kilometres ticked off gradually.

Until we were at kilometre 17, and Eye of the Tiger came onto my iPod (I still had one earbud in).

I was tired, and my legs were heavy, but I knew it was partly because of the fall and another part because of our staggering gait on the icy patches.

I remembered Stephanie's words from yesterday: I could be achy, tired and miserable. Or I could just be achy and tired. So I focused on the energy in the song and enjoyed the little boost the music was giving me, almost singing out loud to the lyrics. I knew too, from previous experience, that it's the tough runs that are super training for race day, when I'll likely be just as tired and exhausted but will need the mental stamina to continue.

And I finished that run.

My legs are tired and achy now, and my knees are sore and a little bruised, but I'm happy I persevered. I know I would have beat myself up if I'd let myself quit too soon.

One more long run down before race day!

Hope you're all staying safe out there, folks.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

T-minus 22 days till race day, and counting: three things yoga has taught me

On Saturdays, I usually opt out of a run and instead enjoy a yoga or cross-training class.

Given that my hubby and in-laws bought me 20 classes at Halifax Yoga, I took the opportunity to do some breathing and stretching today in a Yin:Yang class.

I've been taking yoga for more years than I've been running seriously, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that I will never stop learning lessons about myself and my yoga practice, no matter how many years I practice. Yoga is so much more than flexibility and strength; it's very much more an inner meditative practice. And the more you understand that, the more the lessons learned on the mat can be transferred to life situations off the mat - including running.

The instructor in today's class (Stephanie) was doing a great job of talking us through the class and helping us to think past the performance of yoga, and into the opportunities for inner growth. I'll admit: sometimes some of the yoga talk can seem a little hokey, if you don't take the time to really think about it. But three things stood out to me today as lessons that can be applicable to running, and to life in general:

1) Stop trying to go places, and instead enjoy being in the moment: After a series of sun salutations A and B, our instructor asked us to move from Reverse Warrior, into Triangle Pose. My initial response was, "I know exactly what she means. I've done this so many times before, with no problem, and I'm flexible." So without any hesitation, I leaned forward, shifted my hips back, and placed my right hand on my right foot, with my left hand reaching up and my heart opening up to the ceiling.

Only to find out that the rest of the class was still waiting for Stephanie to guide them from the lean into the pose. "Hang out here for five breaths, and enjoy this sensation," she said. "So often, we are rushing from one thing to the next - I need to go grab my Tim Hortons in the morning. I need to go watch my TV show at the end of the day," she said.

But by making us hang in that in-between spot between Reverse Warrior into Triangle, Stephanie drove home an important lesson: enjoy being in that in-between; in the now. So often we are rushing to go from Point A to Point B, and all of a sudden we realize that minutes, hours or even years have passed by.

The same is true of running - instead of focusing on the experience of being outside with friends and fellow runners, I'm often so focused on just getting to the end of a run. I want to make it to that 12, 16 or 18k (or more), so I plug in my earbuds and focus on ticking down the kilometres till my Garmin tells me, mission accomplished. But it's also important to remember to slow down, forget the Garmin, and enjoy the day and the surroundings.

I've sometimes made a point of bringing a camera along with me for a long run and taking photos of neat things along the way (like on this 23k run a few years ago - I saw so many things I'd never noticed before, even though I'd been running the same loops for weeks, even months).

Whatever it is - whether it's bringing a camera along, or leaving your Garmin behind; take time every so often to just stop and reflect on how lucky we are to live in a city like Halifax, where the ocean is at our doorstep and salt runs through our veins. And we are lucky to be able to put one foot in front of the other, and run - no matter how fast, or what the distance.

2) We have so much: From Triangle, we did a few Vinyasas, and eventually flowed into Side Angle pose. "Now, just try lifting up all ten toes," Stephanie guided. "We have so much."

When you're hanging out with one hand on the ground behind a bent leg, and one arm up in the air, your heart straining to shine up to the ceiling, trying to tuck both hips under you while keeping your back leg straight and your back foot firmly on the ground, having an instructor ask you to lift all ten toes up may seem like asking too much, as sweat trickles down your forehead and your muscles start to strain.

But today, for whatever reason, Stephanie's message hit home to me: the very fact that I was able to hang out in such a pose and lift my toes suddenly seemed like such a gift, when I reflected on the young boy in a wheelchair I'd only just seen this morning in Tim Horton's (yes, rushing to get my morning tea before class...the irony of it), or when I thought about the mother of a former friend who'd passed away only a few days earlier after years and years and years of struggling with her weight and mental and emotional issues.

Suddenly, being able to lift up all ten toes while stretched out in Side Angle pose seemed miraculous.

So, too, is the ability to walk or run any distance at will. To be able to get up on a Sunday morning and drive to a local run club and hit the road for a few kilometres for a few minutes, or a few hours...

We are so lucky. It doesn't hurt to remember what sometimes seems cliche: we have our health. So many others do not.

The next time I grumble about heading out for a run, because I'm tired, or I've had a long day at work, I hope that I remember the miracle of lifting up ten toes in the middle of a yoga class.

3) You choose your reality: From Side Angle, we did a few more sun salutations, and then moved into the Yang portion of the class, which Stephanie started with Dolphin, then eventually Half Dragon.

As a runner, I know that any stretches involving hamsrtrings or quads will be a challenge, even though as a former dancer and gymnast I also realize that I'm quite flexible. That said, running has tightened my hamstrings and I've got some built up scar tissue on my right quad, due to a very old gymnastics injury.

So when Stephanie asked us to pull our right leg through in front of us, plant our foot and lean into our leg, and to feel the sensation in not only our hamstring but also our left quad, I was a little reluctant to stay in the posture for three minutes, as tends to be the case in Yin yoga.

But then she told us a story about walking to school with her son yesterday morning, uphill (which in Purcells Cove means it was a big hill). She had been counting down the minutes till she would reach the top of the hill, and not really enjoying the walk. Then her five-year-old son looked at her and said, "Never give up, mommy."

Oh, the fresh innocence of youth is sometimes astounding.

"You choose how you react in the now," said Stephanie. "You could be miserable, and walking in the cold and damp outside. Or you could just be walking in the cold and damp."

Slowly, as I breathed in and out in Oujaii breath, the pain in my legs ceased being pain, and turned into sensation.

"You can't control those sensations, but you can control your breath," she continued.

I only hope that this lesson will serve me well on the road, when I am running and my legs feel sore and tired. I hope that I can choose to breathe through the pain, and simply see it as pain - and proof once again that I am alive, and lucky to be able to be running with my two legs beneath me.

As we finished the class and began to prepare for Shavasana, I remembered a meditative refrain I've learned in another class, which I often like to recite to myself in meditation:

May I be filled with loving kindness,
May I be well,
May I be peaceful, and at ease,
May I be happy.

So too, fellow runners, do I wish that you can be filled with loving kindness, that you may be well, that you be peaceful, and at ease, and above all else, that you may be happy.



Friday, January 18, 2013

T-minus 23 days till race day, and counting!

It's Friday, which usually means I get the day off (unless I've skipped a few too many runs and am trying to jam another one in to the week). But I was a good girl this week and managed two out of three runs, which ain't half bad, considering the weather.

Although last night's weather was not as hairy as Wednesday's, once I got out on the roads I soon found out that the sidewalks were deceivingly slippery. What seemed like water running across the pavement was actually patches of really, really thin ice. And what seemed like ice, was ice.

Which made for an interesting run. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I had to adjust my gait to avoid slipping and face-planting (shortening my stride and running rigidly, tentatively), or if it was the fact that Tuesday I did a Yin:Yang yoga class immediately following my tempo run around the Commons, but for the first half of my 8k run my legs felt heavy and my calves achy. (Ok, I had also overdone it a bit on Tuesday's run, when I started out at 5:10 for what should have been a 5:30 pace.)

In any case, for whatever reason, I felt like I was tottering my way through much of the run last night. Partway through, I started hearing my negative self-talk creep in, wondering if I was feeling the pain because I haven't been training enough...was I ready to race...maybe I've put on a few too many pounds since the holidays...Ok, truth be told, after a long day at work I was mentally tired and dreading the run to begin with.

And then I remembered the lessons I'd learned from last year's training, which included trying to stop the negative self-talk. And I remembered that it's the tough runs, when you don't want to be out there, that help you on race day. Because if you can totter your way through an icy city when all you'd like to do is be home curled up under a blanket, then you can do this on race day, when there are friends and family lining the sidewalks to cheer you on.

I also reflected on a great article in Runner's World I'd just been reading the previous day, which said that the days when you don't want to go out for a run, because it's cold and icy out there, are exactly the days when you should get out there. Because when you finish that run, your endorphins will be flowing, and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment.

So I kept going, and I fought the urge to berate myself for running a minute slower than I would usually run (just more negative self-talk). The point of last night's icy run was to get out there, and do it.

Eventually, my gait loosened up a bit, and my legs forgot the ache. And when I got to my hubby's store, I did feel really happy that I'd chosen to go out and get 'er done.

How's your training for race day going? Stay safe and warm out there!


Thursday, January 17, 2013

T-minus 24 days till race day, and counting

Despite all my bluster and bravado yesterday about starting to prepare for race day now that I'm signed up, in the end last night's run was scuttled due to bad weather. Such are the trials and tribulations of winter training: there will be days where the sun is shining, the snow freshly fallen and you're glad to be outside enjoying it. Other days, such as last night, the roads are simply just too treacherous to brave; especially at night, where drivers may not see runners as easily, and need more time to stop safely.

So I called an audible last night (as did several of my friends) and opted to take the night off from running.

This close to race day, the training gets interesting. On the one hand, if it's your first time ever training for the distance, this is the point at which you're increasing distances for the first time. It's also close to the point at which you start getting paranoid about things like injuries or illness - one little slip, or a week or more of illness, might scuttle things on race day.

On the other hand, it's at this point that the amount of work you can put into your training starts becoming more and more limited. In a couple of weeks, you will reach the point at which there is nothing more you can do to prepare for race day.

So this time in training is a delicate balance between training enough and avoiding over-training. Which means that even if I missed tonight's run, I'm confident that things will still be ok on race day. Stay safe and warm out there, fellow runners!


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Countdown to the 2013 Halifax Hypo Half

At the finish of my first half marathon
2009 Halifax Hypo Half
So I've been waiting since November to find out if I'd have a spot in the Halifax Hypothermic Half Marathon. For those of you who aren't familiar with this race, it is what it sounds like: it's a half marathon in the middle of winter. I'm not kidding.

Last year there were close to 300 runners in Halifax's Hypo Half, and this year the race was sold out by mid-November. Yes, there really are *that* many people who want to run 21.1 kilometres in the middle of winter!

Anyways, I thought the pressure was off, because it was mid-January and still no word about whether or not I had a spot in the race. Which was ok by me, because despite my earlier delusions of grandeur and getting back down to PB time, not missing a run in the training cycle, etc, etc, the truth is, my training's been scuttled by a number of factors, including work travel, pre-holiday parties, holiday parties, holiday eating, then more work travel and another party.

All that to say that yes, I have missed quite a few runs in the training schedule, and yes, I have put on a few post-holiday pounds.

But then, lo and behold, I received an email in my inbox from a kind soul on Monday offering me her spot in the race. The pressure is back on!

This will be my third Hypo Half and my seventh half marathon. So, it's a distance I'm fairly familiar with. But I'm still struggling with easing off the pressure on myself. As my hubby said last night, "Do you realize how few people do what you do? And yet you get upset that you're not faster, that you were slower by seven minutes...Why can't you let go of that pressure?"

He's right. He really is. But as Marnie McBean writes in The Power of More (which I plan on reviewing for this spot sometime soon - it really is a great book), the trick is to balance that sense of realistic expectations with the desire for more. It's that desire for more that keeps us pushing to try and improve ourselves, even if it's by small, baby steps. Marnie calls it "the jammed cat theory." More on that later in my review of her book.

So there you have it - I've missed a few weeks of running, I've done most (but not all) of the long runs but not all of the weekly runs. I've gotten faster in my tempos and made it to eight hills, but still - I have no idea what will happen on race day.

That said, as a friend of mine said last night: I'm just happy to still be running. And that's what I should try to focus on, given that we have so many friends who are struggling with running-related injuries. At the same time...There's still that little part of me that wonders: just what is possible for me on race day?

Only four weeks to go till race day! W00t!?!?!

Stay safe and warm out there, fellow runners!


Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012: More than just a list of PBs

I can't believe it's 2013! With the coming of the new year, it's an opportunity not only to make new resolutions, but also to look back on the previous year's accomplishments.

It's often tempting to gauge your progress as a runner based on races run, PBs set, and time goals accomplished. But I didn't race very much in 2012 (apart from the Halifax Hypo Half and Bluenose). And in fact, I ran my two slowest half marathons in my running career.

But that doesn't mean I didn't accomplish a lot in the past year. In fact, looking  back on 2012, it may have been one of my most transformational years as a runner. Since 2012 my surgery in the summer of 2011 essentiallly forced me to slow down and take the time to recover and get stronger, it forced me to also take the time to get stronger mentally and really think things through about my relationship to running. As a result, I probably learned some of the most valuable lessons in my running career.

Some of the key lessons I learned about myself as a runner last year included:

1. Running to the tune of my own footsteps: I have always tended to run with my earbuds plugged in, as a way to blast music and distract myself from my anxieties about a run, or to pump me up for a tempo run. Oftentimes, if I have my earbuds in, you can be sure that I've had a stressful day at work, or I'm feeling anxious about the run to come. But what I discovered in my training in the last year was that running with music lends itself to becoming a more antisocial runner -- and that having conversations with fellow runners can be a much better way to pass the time on a long run than blaring the latest pop song.

2. Pacing takes work, but it's worth it: Read back on any of my previous posts, and a theme that consistently comes up, time and again, is that I have a hard time pacing myself. Instead, I have tended in the past to get overly pumped up and enthused at the start of a tempo or speed run, and then burn myself out before the run is over. But one of the key lessons I learned in the last year (partly thanks to my finally listening to the advice of my coach), was to pace myself early, and then give 'er later if I was still feeling strong. Following that advice meant that I could last longer on a tempo run, thereby building up my strength.

3. Negative self-talk is a waste of energy: I can't remember who it was, or when (I think it was Wendy, in our marathon clinic, but sometime in the last year, I learned to recognize the times when I was engaging in negative self-talk ("I don't feel like doing this today," "I'm not sure I can do this," etc., etc.,) and then learning to tune that self-talk out -- otherwise I'm using valuable energy in defeating myself rather than focusing on the run. Granted, that doesn't always happen, and every so often I still catch myself in the negative cycle...But it's a skill to be developed and worked on.

4. Running is more than just racing: One of the key reasons why I didn't race this fall was financial - racing can be quite expensive. But when I made the decision not to race, I didn't regret the weeks of training that had preceded race day. I started to question my expectation that I should run at least one marathon and/or half marathon a year, and I realized that the only person imposing that expectation on me, was me. I realized that running simply to run and enjoy other runners' company is also enjoyable, just for the joy of being out there, healthy and enjoying the feeling of the pavement beneath my feet.

5. There is still so much more to be learned: Over the course of this summer's marathon training clinic with my friend and coach Wendy, I quickly discovered that although I have run two marathons, I finished those two races in spite of myself. It seems funny to say, but I realized, in listening to fellow runners in the clinic as well as Wendy's advice, that I had no idea what I was doing when I ran those two races. I learned so much about planning a good race, fueling, and more, by simply being open to their experiences and advice. I'm now excited to race my next marathon (perhaps in spring of 2013?) and to put some of the new lessons I've learned to the test. But I also know that if I want to progress as a runner, I'll also have to continue to be open to new lessons and insights about myself as a runner.