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Outrunning My Expectations: Toronto Yonge Street 10K

23 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 23 – Health activist choice day 2: Write about whatever you like.

I was nervous leading up to yesterday’s race. I was not unduly challenged by the distance (10K) or the course (mostly downhill), but during the week prior to the race I had felt a cold coming on. Starting on Tuesday, I started stuffing myself with vitamin C and oil of oregano. I consumed zinc lozenges like they were candy and drank cups of my special tea that combats colds. I drank fluids like they were about to go extinct and got as much rest as my busy schedule would allow.

As God was my witness, I was going to run this race. There was no way I was letting a stupid cold stop me.

I woke up on race day feeling a little stuffy-nosed, but otherwise not too bad. I threw on running clothes that I thought would be appropriate for the weather: shorts, light technical T-shirt, lightweight running jacket, and just for the fun of it, a bright red hat. I gathered up my stuff and drove into the city, enjoying the next-to-nothing traffic on the highway.

When I got to the start, I immediately started to worry about what I was wearing. It was freezing and I was very aware of my shorts-clad legs and gloveless hands. My teeth were audibly and visibly chattering while I was doing my warm-ups, much to the amusement of a nearby police officer.

By the time the race started, though, I was not noticing the cold at all. Either it had warmed up by then, or – the more likely explanation – the start-line buzz had worked its usual magic on me. As the race got underway, I forgot all about my stuffy nose and the fact that my legs had turned purple, and I turned my sights on the finish line. I was hoping for a new personal best time, which meant that I would have to push myself, even if it was a downhill course. Because of the pesky cold virus, I thought I would do well to beat 1:03:00.

When I race, I’m rarely fast out of the starting blocks. I tend to be overcautious in the beginning out of fear that starting too fast will make me fizzle out before the end. My first two kilometres passed in the predictable fashion.

Kilometre 1: 6:31
Kilometre 2: 6:38

As usual, my body kind of automatically picked up the pace after that. The only uphill stretch of note was at about the 3km mark, and I barely noticed the incline as I floated up. I slowed down again in the fourth kilometre, mostly because of a bottleneck at the aid station, but after that, it was all systems go!

Kilometre 3: 6:09
Kilometre 4: 6:36 – because of that aid station congestion.

My body seemed to take on a life of its own during this race. From the fifth kilometre on, I was running well beyond my target pace, and although I kept waiting for my legs to run out of oomph, it just didn’t happen. After a while, I decided to simply let my body do whatever it wanted and enjoy myself. Occasionally I would attach myself to another runner, but inevitably, I would speed up and pass them.

The kilometres were passing almost in a blur, faster than I thought I was capable of.

Kilometre 5: 5:52
Kilometre 6: 6:06
Kilometre 7: 6:13 – and that was only because I slowed to a walk at the aid station, to avoid getting water all over my face.

When I ran this race two years ago, I fizzled out in the eight kilometre, so this time round I was paying close attention to my pace to avoid fatigue. I needn’t have worried.

Kilometre 8: 5:48
Kilometre 9: 5:58 – and that was because I made a quick diversion to a garbage can to throw out my now-empty water bottle.

Usually the final kilometre of a race presents me with immense psychological challenges, and I’m not sure why. My usual pattern is to hit a patch of unaccountable exhaustion right after the start of the final kilometre and slow down significantly. Then, in the last 400 metres or so, I pick up the pace to sprint over the finish line.

I wondered what would happen this time. Would I find myself starting to fade as soon as I saw the 9km marker? Would my legs fade out on me as I was running over the bridge towards the final turn?

Or would the last kilometre be as great as the rest of the race had been? The pace of my finishing kick says it all.

Kilometre 10: 5:26

Total time: 1:01:40.

Not only did I beat my previous 10K best time by about two minutes, I brought the sub-one-hour 10K within reach.

This was the best 10K race I have ever had, and it follows close on the heels of my best-ever ten-miler. My next race is a half-marathon at the end of May. Will that be another “best” for me?

If I have anything to do with it, then yes it will.

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Lessons Learned: Getting The Cup To Be Half Full: Guest Post by Phaedra Kennedy

4 Jan

Almost 12 years ago, I packed my life into checked baggage and moved, by myself, halfway across the world. When I landed in Canada, a country that I had never set foot in, I did not know a single soul. My friend Kane (a truly amazing human being who really deserves a blog post all of his own) put me in touch with his friend Phaedra Kennedy, who happens to live in Toronto. When Phaedra and I met, we discovered to our mutual delight that we shared an interest in running.

Since we met, a lot has happened. We met our life partners several months apart and we are both now married. We’ve moved around, stuff has happened in our careers, and for both of us, running took a back seat to other events that were going on in our lives. Now, we are back in the running scene, and Phaedra is coaching me for the 2012 season. This is truly an honour: Phaedra is the kind of runner other runners look at in envy and admiration.

Today, Phaedra tells us about how she rose above personal tragedy and sadness to have a phenomenal season of running. This is a tale of strength and determination that I for one will take with me as I strive to achieve great things in 2012.

When Kirsten asked me to write a guest blog post for her, I was incredibly flattered.  I was also a little befuddled.  Her goal was to start off the year on a positive note so she approached 5 women she considered to be inspirational.  To be included in that group was high praise.  Me, inspirational?  I don’t know about that.  I thought long and hard about what I should write about.  She gave me no guidelines only that it had to be positive.  Which was challenging for me given that I had been in a bit of a funk as of late.   To top it off, I don’t normally think of myself as a positive person.  That had been cemented by the fact that I took one of those online tests a while ago to determine if I was a pessimist or an optimist.  Surprise, surprise, I was a glass half empty kinda gal.   But, somewhere along the way this year, my mindset MUST have changed a bit because this year has been one of the best years of my life and I chalk that up to me WANTING it to be that way.   Positive thought and determination made it so.

It all started in November of 2010.    I had just run a dismal race at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon.  I had decided to do the marathon after spending 1.5 years going through 3 failed IVF cycles.  It was a half-hearted attempt to get my athletic mojo back.  Over the course of the year and a half, my body had become a science experiment.  I had given up control over it in the hopes of starting a family.  I had been poked and prodded, injected with drugs, monitored on an almost daily basis.  My normal exercise routine went out the window.  I became a slave to my cycle.    Instead of early morning swim sessions, early morning clinic visits became the norm.  It took a toll on my body and my emotional state.  We had one last kick at the can in November of 2010.  When that failed, we were devastated.   When you’re used to being able to train your body to do what you want it to do, to have our 3rd IVF attempt fail was frustrating.  Especially when your doctor kept telling you everything looked great.  For whatever reason, my body was not meant to bear life.   It was a tough pill to swallow.  I went back to running to help soothe the pain.  There were some tears shed on those runs.  But there was also a realization that perhaps I had been given a different kind of gift.  The gift of being able to really follow my passion, to really delve into running like I never had before.  I was coming up on 40 and I thought You know what, I’m going to make 40 the best year of my life (to date).  With that simple vow, a world of possibility opened.   I rose to the challenge of taking the knowledge I had and crafting a plan that would get me to my goal.  I set what I thought was a lofty goal:  I was going to run 3 half marathons in 2011, with my last one being run in 1h 40 min or faster.  And I was going to blog about it.  Blogging would keep me accountable and if I managed to reach out and inspire a few folks along the way, then that was a bonus.

My plan was a departure from most traditional distance running plans.  Too much mileage and I will get injured.  This time around I focused on quality vs. quantity (no junk miles!!) And I added more strength training to my routine.  My diet also changed thanks to an amazing program called Precision Nutrition.  Gone were the processed foods and larger than necessary portion sizes.  I did a complete overhaul. I was quite proud of my little plan and my body responded to it well.

My first half marathon was the Chilly Half in March 2011.  It was the weekend of my 40th birthday.  My goal was to run sub 1:50.  No surprise, it snowed the night before so the conditions were horrible.  I didn’t freak out.  The snow was a blessing.  It made me start out slow.  Which was great.  Even with the slow start, I managed to pull off a 1:47 and change.  Perfect.  I was pumped.  I didn’t let the weather get me down.  I just went out and ran.  Lesson learned:  Don’t worry about things you don’t have control over, just go out and do your best.

My second half marathon was the Toronto Women’s Half in May.  I had been really looking forward to this race.  I had finally gotten back out with my running group so I had been getting some good speed work in.  I couldn’t WAIT to see what I was capable of.    The course was rolling and it was on bike paths so I figured it might be a bit challenging.  Bring it.   Race day was muggy and gross, but nothing that a few cups of water from some shirtless firefighters couldn’t help.  I busted my butt in this race.  Went out way too hard and paid for it near the end.  But I pushed through pain that normally would have me backing off.  I came out with a 1:41:39.  A new PB! And 5th place in my age group!  Lesson learned:  I’m tougher than I give myself credit for.

I went on a racing frenzy during the summer. It seemed like I raced almost every other weekend.   With each race, my results were better and better.  I started to get spots on the podium.  I won my age group a few times and then I actually snagged a women’s overall win.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have a year like this.  It took positivity to a whole new level.  I trained hard and continued to race all summer.  I learned to really listen to my body.   I went into each race with a positive outlook.  And a goal of working hard and giving it my all.   My new motto became leave it all on the race course.   This was a new thing for me.  I was always so cautious when I was racing.  What if I went out too hard?  What if I blew up?  No longer a concern.  I had faith in my abilities.    This was new to me!

As my 3rd and final race got closer, I thought about revisiting my goal time.  I was running the Scotiabank Half and it was flat so my husband said I should aim for 1:35.  In the back of my head, that became my new hard goal.  I recruited a friend from my running group to pace me.   This time I wanted to race smart and not go out too hard.   Race day I was calm cool and collected.  I knew I could do it.   Sub 1:40 would not be a problem.  Could I break 1:35?  If I raced smartly, and trusted my abilities, I figured I could.

In typical fashion I wanted to go out hard but my friend kept me in check.  I made a few mistakes early in the race that would have saved me some panic late in the race but at about 19km, I knew I was going to make it.  It would be close but I knew if I pushed myself I’d be ok.  Before I knew it I had hit the 500m mark.   I was overcome with emotion as I ran towards the finish line.  The culmination of a year of hard work was coming to a head.  The doors were finally closing on an old chapter of my life and opening on a new one.  I could see the clock counting down to 1:35.   I crossed the finish line in 1:34:48.   Amazing.  What was even more amazing was that I managed to place 6th in my age group out of 662 women.  6th!!!   When my husband told me that I burst into tears.  Tears of joy, amazement & thankfulness.

Lesson Learned:  Trust in your ability and most importantly believe in yourself.

I had exceeded my original goal by 5 minutes and I had crushed my PB from May by 6 minutes.    I never imagined I’d have a year like this.   All because I made the decision that 40 was going to be the best year of my life AND I actually did something about it.  I was amazed by the things that happened along the way.  I realized that my mindset has changed.  I’m no longer a glass half empty kinda gal.  I’m not quite at the glass half full point but I’m working on it.  2012 will be the year the glass becomes half full.  Of that I’m certain.

(Photo credit: Phaedra Kennedy)

Oasis Zoo Run: Outrunning The Old Me

27 Sep

I was more than a little nervous going into the 10K Oasis Zoo Run on Saturday. I had not run at all since the Energizer Night Race two weeks previously, I wasn’t entirely sure that I was completely recovered from my cold, and there are a lot of hills at the zoo. The old me would have shown up to this race and been content to just complete the run with no real concern for the time. There would have been no strategy, and the pacing would have been designed to just do the distance and no more.

Thanks to the Energizer Night Race, however, the old me was off pouting in a corner somewhere. The old me was not allowed on races anymore. The new me had a goal apart from just finishing the race. And along with that goal came a plan.

My goal was to beat my previous 10K PB (personal best) of 1:05:39. I figured that aiming for a time of 1:05:00 would provide me with enough of a buffer to allow for variances between the GPS on my training watch and the official race course.

I planned to run the first half in 33 minutes and the second half in 32 minutes. I worked out what my average pace needed to be and I set that up on my training watch. I hydrated and warmed up and did everything you are supposed to do before a race.

It felt very odd, standing at the start line with the intention of racing strategically. Runners were released from the start line in five waves, each wave starting five minutes after the one before. I was in the fourth wave, and I placed myself close to the back of the pack to avoid the intimidation of hordes of runners passing me.

Once I started running, I settled quickly into a rhythm. The Zoo Run starts off in the zoo parking lot, and takes runners past a row of porta-potties (the vision of scores of runners sprinting by while holding their noses is a quite sight to behold) and onto local streets for the first couple of kilometres. This part of the race is flat: a nice warm-up for runners before the course loops into the zoo itself for the remaining 8km. Once you’re in the zoo, you are running hills. While the hills are nicely balanced – the uphills are generally matched by corresponding downhills – they still make the run more challenging.

I maintained my pace well enough in the first half, finishing the first 5km in 33:15. At that point, I was feeling strong enough that I didn’t think it would be a problem to make up the fifteen seconds. But then, right after passing the 7km mark, something happened. I started feeling a little flaky. I was too hot and I felt vaguely nauseous. It got bad enough that I actually had a fleeting thought of bailing on the race. I have never, ever started a race that I haven’t been able to finish. I slowed to a walk so I could drink some water (thus making me grateful for my habit of always bringing my own water on races instead of relying solely on the water stations), started running again, and told myself that I would see how the next five minutes went.

Whatever the feeling was that had come over me, it completely passed by the time the five minutes were up, and by this time I only had 2km to go. Despite my setback, I still had a shot of making that PB, and I picked up my pace. I had another weak moment towards the end of the ninth kilometre, but that went away quickly, and I ran the last kilometre as hard as I could. With about 400 metres to go I dug deep and sprinted. By the time I turned the corner and saw the finish line ahead of me, my legs were shaking.

My official time was 1:05:28. I did not make 1:05:00 as planned, but since that had been a buffer goal anyway, it didn’t really matter. Far more important was the fact that I beat my previous PB by 11 seconds. Out of 145 finishers in the “Women 40-44” category, I was 57th. Being in the top 50% in my category, and making a PB to boot, was victory enough for me.

(Photo credit to the author.)