Saturday, February 23, 2013

What a weekend! Yoga for runners and a half marathon (sort of!)

So there I was, feet tucked under me and sitting on a couple of foam blocks, ankles and feet asleep but in utter agony, and I thought to myself, "Yeah, this probably wasn't such a good idea."

Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of a Yoga for Runners workshop at Halifax Yoga, and I wasn't about to quit. At least, not with the workshop instructor, Mike, telling us "This is supposed to suck! I want you to be happy, healthy runners!"

Well, I want to be a happy, healthy runner too, and I was there to write an article about the workshop for OptiMYz magazine, so there was no way that I could back out of things now, no matter the pain. And it wasn't so much the pain that I was worried about - the thing is, as any of you who have been following my blog for the last month and a half know, I was supposed to do a 21.1-kilometre run the next day to make up for the Halifax Hypo Half I'd missed the previous week due to inclement weather.

And working your glutes, core and ankles to exhaustion is probably not the best way to prep for a race - not when what I knew I should have been doing was to be home, hydrating with my legs resting.

I'll write more about the workshop in a future post, since I enjoyed it (despite the pain) and it reinforced my understanding of the important connections between yoga and running (and no, it's not just about flexibility). But suffice it to say that while I enjoyed myself, I still wondered whether I had overdone things the day before a half marathon - race or no race.

A race that wasn't a race

The next morning, as I went through my usual pre-race preparations (half a bagel with peanut butter, a small cup of orange juice, a glass of water, pulling all my gear together), I could feel the previous day's workout in my glutes, shoulders and back, as well as my right obliques. I hoped that once I got moving, this would loosen things up a bit.

Even though this wasn't technically a race, I'd still worn my race bib, as had a few of the other 30-odd runners who'd gathered at the Running Room on this rainy Sunday morning for their make-up run. I met up with two of my running friends, and we agreed that we'd just treat the day as a training run and do 10:1s, with the goal of about a 2:15 finish.

Although it wasn't an official race, Bruce had still put out the counter clock, to make things feel a little more official. He let all of the other run groups filter out, and then our small group of half marathoners gathered at the start, and he counted down to the start time. A few of us let out a cheer, and then we were off.

For the first few kilometres, I felt fine. We were running at about a 5:45 pace. As always happens to me at the start of a race, I wondered whether I'd be able to keep it up for the entire run, given that I'd been so inconsistent with my training and only been running about two to three times a week for the last month and a half, and missed a few long runs. And then there was the issue of the workshop I'd done only yesterday.

We started out by going down to the waterfront, then through the dockyards, and finally right and up along the hill at Point Pleasant Drive. And that's where my legs began to feel it  - a combination of tiredness but also lack of hill training. I consoled myself by the fact that there shouldn't be too many more hills and there was a long downhill at Quinpool and Dufus.

Oh right - this is hilly Halifax

Yeah right. I must have forgotten that this was Halifax, after all. You can't go farther than a couple of kilometres without meeting a hill.

By the eight kilometre mark my brain was starting to do its negative self-talk: "They're in better shape than you. You've missed too many runs. You've put on weight. You're not ready for this." And so on...

...until a kind woman from Montreal, who was running at the back of our group with a friend, came up alongside me on a hill at Oxford across from the university, and said, encouragingly: "You can do this."

Don't ask me how she knew, but those four words at that time were exactly what I needed. It's not that legs suddenly felt lighter, or I felt faster. I just knew that no matter what, even if I had to slow down to a pace several minutes slower, I could do this. I'd done it so many minutes before.

That's also about where a friend of one of the girls we were running with showed up with her young children and signs, cheering us "half-marathoners" on. And she kept on turning up every few kilometres along the route, giving us a real race experience.

I eat hills for breakfast?

For the next several kilometres, up until the 10.5km mark, I kept up with my running buddies, slowing down on the hills but catching up on the flat parts. On the long downhill stretch at Quinpool, I caught up with them. But my legs were no match for the hill at Joe Howe.

That's where I really felt how tired and unprepared my legs were. As I hobbled along, barely passing a woman who was walking up a hill, I worried about the hill that was yet to come - up Windsor.

But this wasn't a race. It was no longer about keeping up with the group. It was just about getting to kilometre 15, where two friends of ours were standing in the cold at a water station they'd set up outside their house. After that point, I knew that I'd have a long downhill stretch for a couple of kilometres, and the rest would be gravy.

Don't ask me if it's a sign of maturing as a runner, or simply not having the mental pressure of it not actually being a race, but whereas a few years ago I'd have agonized at not being able to keep up with the group, this time I just let the others drift away from me, and I focused on my own run. I knew I could do the distance, and I no longer worried about my time.

I love Halifax's running community!

At around 16 kilometres, Doreen and Barry were indeed there with their dog Sophie, a bag of gummy bears (Doreen later told us Sophie developed a taste for gummies by gobbling up the ones we'd dropped on the sidewalk) and water. They were wearing their medals, since they had done their run the day before. A major, major shout-out to both of them (and Sophie) for standing out there in the cold and rain for hours for us runners. That is above and beyond, but it also just shows what I've said so many times before - Halifax has a really great running community. It's times like these, when you're outside running with 30, 100 or 400 other runners in the middle of winter, that you realize it.

After stopping to finally tie my shoelace (it had been flopping around for at least three kilometres), I thanked Doreen and Barry, and continued along the route - down a nice long stretch on Dufus, along Barrington towards the road to the dockyards.

It's about at that point that I recognized the feeling I've had in many races - the one where the last few kilometres start feeling like they're taking ages to tick down, and your mind starts to wander and get anxious for the finish. But I also remembered what I've learned on many difficult runs - that it's those difficult runs that are the ones that prepare you for race day. Because if you can keep on keepin' on when you'd rather be snuggled up at home in your bed, then you know you can finish any run.

Ticking down the last couple of kilometres, my legs were tired and I dreaded the hill up Morris. But at the last set of stoplights on the hill, two of the women who'd been running near me turned around and waved me up the hill, with big smiles on their faces (in fact one of them was the kind woman who'd encouraged me at 8kms). Such was the mood of the day - it might have been a little drizzly and gray, but there was just such a great, encouraging feel about the race.

Crossing the finish line (kind of)!

In the end, I finished at around 2:17, even running by the display clock and Bruce holding out medals, tacking on an extra 700 metres to make sure that my watch clocked at exactly 21.1 kilometres. Reports varied on the length of the course. One of the women who I'd run the entire course with, almost neck and neck, said that it was about 500 metres too long.

So who knows - maybe my time was more like 2:15. It was by no means my fastest run/race (in fact it was my second-slowest half and anyways I wasn't racing, right?), but it didn't matter to me. I was simply proud to have finished my 7th half marathon, especially given that I'd barely managed two runs a week since the start of the year.

In fact, so proud was I that I wore my medal to Starbucks. I ordered a hot chocolate for me and a coffee for Bruce, who was still standing at the display clock in the rain, waiting for the last runners of the group.

What a contrast from my first half, the 2009 Hypo Half, where I was so disappointed to have come in 10 minutes slower than my goal, at two hours! It just goes to show - your races are what you make of them. Because unless you're Perdita Felicien or Usain Bolt, you're probably just racing against yourself, and all of the myriad factors that can disrupt even the best-laid training plans.

Thank you!

To the runners who encouraged me on the route, whether slowing down to show me the route, or running up to encourage me...To the woman and her children who drove around the route to encourage us...To Doreen, Barry and Sophie, who stood out in the cold and rain to give us gummies, water and good cheer...To my hubby, family and friends, who have put up with my talking about all things running, and have encouraged me in my up and down training season...To the race organizers, who did the best they could to give us a race experience (and also showed up for the 60 runners who braved the winds and weather on the actual race day)....

Thank you!

What's next?

Any runner knows that you almost never finish a race without already knowing what your next race is. So when Bruce asked me what my next race would be, I already knew - Freddy 2013 (aka Fredericton) in May. No expectations this time, but I'd like to train for a 3:45 and aim for a 4hr finish. That would be a huge improvement on my previous two fulls, and who knows if it's possible - life and weather will have to cooperate.

But for now it's a goal. And that's good enough for me!

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