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Running With Purpose: A Photographic Record

21 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I am currently reading a running book that has a lot of great advice in it. Since I will be posting a review of the book in the near future, I will not give away too much about it now, but one thing it says is that every run should have a a purpose. You shouldn’t just go out for a run for the sake of putting miles onto your running shoes. You should have a specific goal to improve endurance, train for hills, work on form, and so on.

It’s really too bad that I got this book so late in my training for next weekend’s half-marathon. I confess that my purpose on many of my long runs has been to simply get through the 18km or 20km without dying.

In general, though, my training has been a lot more focused than it was last season. I have incorporated hills and speed training. My long runs have included race pace segments, and in a couple of cases, actual races. I have done some strength training, although I have not been as consistent with it as I’d like to be. Since I started reading this book, I have been paying more attention to form, and in fact, one of my runs last week was entirely devoted to practicing my form.

Today was my last longish run before the half-marathon. At this point, my training is done. I’m either ready to race 21.1km or I’m not. Apart from keeping my limbs loose and relaxed, no running I do over the next seven days will improve my chances for a good race.

Therefore, my purpose for today’s run was simply to enjoy myself. And to take pictures.

A beautiful day is a welcome sight for a runner heading out of the front door

A perfect day for a run in the Rouge Valley

Beautiful reflections in the Rouge River

Lake Ontario in all of its springtime glory

A family of Canada geese enjoying the sunshine

Waving to my American friends on the other side of the lake

My favourite graffiti

Aerial view of the river I ran along earlier in the run

(Photo credit for all pictures: Kirsten Doyle)

Here Come The Butterflies

12 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Two weeks and one day from now, I will be lining up for my first half-marathon of the season, the Toronto Womens Half-Marathon. I am looking forward to this race immensely. Not only for the chocolate station. And shallow and all as I am, not only for the aid stations manned by shirtless firefighters who douse you with water.

I am excited about the challenge of it. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra, I have really been pushing the boundaries in my training this season. I have managed to survive some fair significant disruptions, like unexpected travel to South Africa and a couple of bouts of illness.

The two races that I have done this year – the Good Friday Ten-Miler and the Toronto Yonge Street 10K – have both yielded PB’s (personal best times). I am eager to see if I can repeat the performance over a longer distance.

I just have to get through the final phase of training, which is referred to by many runners as Taper Madness. While tapering is an essential part of training, it can be a period fraught with anxiety and mild (or not-so-mild) paranoia.

The science behind tapering is this: you spend twelve or fourteen weeks training intensively for this event, putting in your mileage and your speed work, having a battle of wits with hills, and spending entire Sunday mornings out on the road. You build your stamina and your strength, and you get used to spending long periods of time on your feet.

The training is a long process that should be properly planned and carefully executed. And if you’re not physically capable of running the distance of a half-marathon two weeks prior to the race, chances are that you won’t be ready on race-day either. The last two weeks don’t really have any value in terms of building your fitness level or your strength, so you are better off cutting back your mileage and giving your muscles time to rebuild in time for the big day.

Because you are reducing your mileage, you have more of a build-up of energy, so you get jittery and anxious, and you start imagining that the twinge in your ankle means it’s broken, or that the little pimple on your chin means you have smallpox.

Some runners can get through the tapering period without incident. They are cool, calm and collected, and don’t suffer from any attacks of nerves. “Butterflies? What butterflies?” they ask with infuriating serenity, when you question them about whether they are nervous about their upcoming race.

Other runners cannot sit still. They pace around restlessly, talk a mile a minute and fidget incessantly. They turn into hypochondriacs, anxiously assessing every little ache and every occasion on which they need to clear their throats. Because they stop sleeping, they advance seventy-two levels in Farmville in a two-week period.

Guess which category I fall into? I’ll give you a hint: I’m sitting here typing this at 4:12 in the morning.

Technically, my taper hasn’t even started yet. It will start after my long run tomorrow. But I tend to start feeling the jitters right before that last long run. I feel that there’s a lot riding on the run. If it goes well, I will go into Race Day with confidence, but I will be worried about whether I can repeat the performance. If it goes badly, I will be obsessing about whether I’m ready for the race.

So the butterflies have shown up, right on schedule. No matter what tomorrow’s long run is like, I am going to spend the next two weeks driving my family nuts and breaking out into occasional bouts of maniacal laughter. At night I will be banished to the sofabed because my incessant fidgeting will keep the husband awake. I will constantly bug the children, who will indulge me by playing with me for a while before my six-year-old gets exasperated and goes, “Momm-meeeee. You don’t play the gamethat way.”

Right now, the butterflies are not obeying any air traffic rules. They are flying around in chaos. But it is my hope that when the starting siren goes off on the day of the race, the butterflies will reconfigure themselves, arrange themselves into beautiful patterns, and fly in formation.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilker/287399328/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Outrunning A Cold

2 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

A lovely view of the lake eases the pain of a 23km run

Two weeks ago, I started to feel a cold coming on. The timing was dreadful: I had a 10K race coming up and I was aiming to break my best time. As the race approached I suddenly got obsessive about eating healthily and taking vitamins. Anyone who knows me will know that this is not usually the case. I can get up at five on a Sunday morning to go for a 20km run, but I am oddly undisciplined when it comes to my diet.

Race day came and went and apart from a little bit of nasal congestion, I was fine. I found my zone and ran the best race of any distance that I have ever run. I left my previous 10K best time in the dust and had lots of energy left in the tank when I crossed the finish line.

At some point during the half-hour drive home from the race, the cold that had been waiting in the wings finally struck. As I basked in the glow of a race well run, I stayed home from work for the next two days, with my head feeling as if it had been run over by a herd of stampeding bulls.

Although I managed to drag myself into the office on the Wednesday after the race, I was still not well enough to run. Technically, I could have: running lore holds that as long as all symptoms are above the neck, it is safe to run. I knew better than to try, though. When I’m sick, I need to rest. If I don’t, I just get sicker and prolong my recovery. I decided to save myself for the long training run I had scheduled for Sunday.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was feeling a lot better but by no means recovered. Looking at the calendar and seeing that my next half-marathon was just a month away, I decided to head out for my run anyway. I had the foresight to shove a few tissues into the pocket on my fuel belt – I knew I would need them.

The thing that really got me going that day was the sunshine. It was such a perfect day for running, and if I hadn’t gone out I would have wasted my time staring wistfully out the window. Instead, I put on my hat and a light running jacket that would end up being removed after the first kilometre, and I hit the road.

Two and a half hours later, I limped back into my driveway, hot and exhausted. My legs were feeling every step of the 23km I had just run, and I was ready for three things: a hefty dose of carbs, some coffee, and a long afternoon of lying on the couch.

Every time I had to move for the rest of the day, I grimaced in pain. But I felt good about the miles I had put in, and the fact that two and half hours in the sun had given me a touch of colour.

And my cold? Well, it’s still trying to linger. And I’m trying to bully it into submission, so it slinks away, never to return.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Running: Breaking A Personal Barrier

19 Mar

My Distance Enjoyment Chart

Yesterday morning I went for a 17km run.

As usual, I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. As usual, I seriously questioned the sanity of what I was doing as I got ready. And as usual, I ended up enjoying the run far more than I had thought I would.

Whenever I’m ramping up my distance, 17km is a milestone distance. If you were to plot my enjoyment of distances on a graph, the line would rise steadily from 5km to 10km. Then it would start to drop, and the lowest point would be at 16km – a distance that for whatever reason is hell for me. After 16km, the line climbs and reaches its highest point at 21.1km – the half-marathon distance.

So 17km is like a magic number for me. It means that I have broken the ugly 16km barrier at which I never really know how to pace myself, and I am free to run true to my natural style.

I knew going into the run that it might be a challenge. Two decades ago I sustained a serious injury to my left ankle that flares up from time to time. On Saturday night, I had woken up multiple times feeling as if someone was sticking a red-hot skewer right into the centre of my ankle joint. Sure enough, when I started running on Sunday morning, my foot felt a little tender. In addition, my left hamstring was a little tight, probably due to the fact that I added hill training to my routine last week.

I ran anyway, reasoning that I could always stop if I had to, and yet knowing that I wouldn’t. Little aches and pains that I feel at the start of a run have a way of disappearing as I loosen up.

Apart from a couple of little twinges, I pretty much forgot about the pain in my ankle. The hamstring never really loosened up, but it didn’t get worse either, and I was able to pace myself more or less consistently throughout the 17km. I had my usual difficulties at the usual times, and got through it as I always do: positive self-talk, upbeat music, and a reminder that my whole reason for running is to raise funds for autism.

It’s amazing how the thought of doing something for your kids can put things into perspective. My son lives with the challenges of autism day in and day out, and it will be this way for the rest of his life. Surely, surely, I can cope with the challenges of running for a couple of hours once a week.

And so I finished my 17km, and returned home to be greeted by the child who motivates me to do all of this. This little dude is the only person in the world who can hug me fiercely without caring that I have 17km worth of sweat and salt all over me. Sure, it’s a little gross, but at the same time it’s totally endearing.

After the run I may not have felt as good as new, but I was in reasonable enough nick. My hamstring hurt like the blazes for the rest of the day and I needed to stay off my ankle as much as possible, but I felt the sense of triumph that always comes after a successful long run.

My next long run will be 19km, and I say: BRING IT!

Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon: Training Week 2

12 Feb

2012-02-12 07.16.16This week of training has been dismal. That’s putting it mildly. News of my aunt’s very unexpected death threw me into a tailspin, and I was focused first on making arrangements for a very long journey, and then on actually making the journey itself. With all that has been going on, I have barely been able to run this week.

Monday

Today was a designated rest day. I felt good after yesterday’s 12K run. I thought about going for a short run this evening, but since I had to pack for my trip, I did not have the time.

 

Tuesday

I was supposed to do a tempo run today, and I had every intention of doing so. But since (a) all of my running stuff was securely packed in my luggage, and (b) I had to get to work super-early so I could leave early, I was not able to run. I guess it was always wishful thinking. I am consoled by the fact that high anxiety has been burning up plenty of energy for the last week.

 

Wednesday

I spent the better part of today at Heathrow Airport. It’s not a situation conducive to exercise, although I did spend a lot of time walking around. It took almost 25 minutes just to walk from the main part of the terminal to the gate. Just as well, because I spent the next 12 hours stuck on a plane.

 

Thursday

I arrived in Johannesburg today. It was an exhausting trip, and although I didn’t go to sleep until bedtime, I did spend the day kind of slouched on a chair without the ability to move or form a coherent thought.

 

Friday

Today was my aunt’s visitation. An intensely emotional experience. After we paid our respects we assembled at my aunt’s house talking and sharing memories. Running was the very furthest thing from my mind today.

 

Saturday

Jet lag hit me like a ton of bricks today. My body clock kept telling me it was the middle of the night while the bright sunshine outside said the opposite. I lazed around in a semi-conscious state for most of the day before going to see a movie with my brother.

 

Sunday

Finally! I woke up this morning, put on my running clothes, and off I went. I didn’t really know what to expect, how far I was going, or even what route I was taking. About a kilometre down the road, I looked to my left and saw a nice little trail down by the river. It was fantastic. It was warm but not to hot, and the trail was challenging but manageable. I ended up doing 8km. This was far short of the distance I was supposed to do, but considering that I’m not used to trail running, and considering that I was running in an altitude almost 6000 feet above what I’m used to, I’m glad I managed to go that far.

 

Conclusion

This was a tough week, made so by circumstances. Although I did the best I could considering everything that was going on, I would not deem this to be a successful training week. I will definitely have to make up some ground when I return home. This week may be difficult as well, and any run that I can get in will be considered a bonus.

Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon: Training Week 1

6 Feb

Monday

It’s a good thing each training week starts with a rest day, because there’s no way I would have been able to run today. I was struck down by a vicious stomach bug for all of yesterday and into today. The last time I felt this sick was when I had a listeria infection four years ago.

 

Tuesday

I was supposed to do a 5km tempo run today, but could not manage it. For a start, I still wasn’t really well enough, and secondly, there was a crisis in the office that had me working through lunch. By the time I left for the day, I felt like throwing up again. So much for starting my training program with a bang.

 

Wednesday

I took running clothes to work with me today, and went to the gym at lunchtime. I still wasn’t feeling all that well, but I had no choice. Anxiety has been eating me alive this week, so I had a choice between running it off or letting my head implode. So I hopped on the treadmill and did a tempo run at the target pace. It went really well – better than I had expected – but I couldn’t manage the full 5km. I flaked out after about 4km. Considering how sick I’ve been, I felt OK about that.

Thursday

The run I had planned for today evaporated with the phone call I received in the early hours of the morning, informing me that my beloved aunt in South Africa had very unexpectedly died. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I was like the walking dead. I ended up staying home, as did my older son who was sick.

Friday

Despite my body screaming at me in protest, I got up early this morning and went out for a 6km run. It was perfect. It felt so good to be out there, running on the open road. I may have been sick earlier this week, but you’d never have known it today. I think my two-week lead-up to my training made a real difference.

Saturday

I thought of doing my scheduled Saturday run today, but chose not to. I don’t want to miss out on tomorrow’s long run, and since I ran yesterday, I’m worried about overdoing it this early in my program. Besides, I had tons to do. I am flying out to South Africa on Tuesday, and there’s a lot that needs to be done before I leave.

Sunday

I came this close to bailing on my long run early this morning. I started telling myself that I didn’t have to get up early – I could just go running later on. But I squashed that talk, laced up my shoes and headed out the door. And I am so glad I did. I ran 12km and enjoyed every single one of them. I wasn’t exactly a speed demon, but on these long runs, I’m not supposed to be. This was as perfect as a 12km run can possibly be.

Conclusion

My first week of training did not exactly go as planned. I missed one run and both of my strength training days. But considering all that was going on this week, I feel good about what I did accomplish. Finishing off the week on a high training note was fantastic, and I deem this week to be a success.

The next two weeks will be challenging because of my upcoming trip to South Africa. My friend and coach Phaedra assures me that because it’s so early in the program, this disruption will be easy to work around.

Now, it’s time for me to finish my packing. I will be taking my running gear with me across the Atlantic.

Better Running Starts With A Kitchen Makeover

28 Jan

My 2010 Run For Autism

Two days from now, my 2012 training season officially begins. Over the last couple of weeks, I have gone running a few times and learned how to do the strength training exercises that have been prescribed for me. I have been reading through the plethora of material provided in my Precision Nutrition kit. I have been trying to prepare myself for this season, mentally and physically.

This weekend sees the final push, the last preparations before I start my training program. It’s kind of like preparing for a trip. You spend weeks or months figuring out where you want to go and how you plan to get there. You sort out details like visas and passports, you make lists of what you want to take, you sort out someone to take care of the dog. And then, for two or three days prior to your departure, you rush around in a frenzy of activity, packing your bags and confirming all of the details.

To follow the analogy, I am now in the process of packing for the trip and doing all of that stuff that brings all of the prior planning together and ties it up in a neat bundle.

Here’s what my weekend has in store for me:

  • Today, my kitchen is getting a makeover. I am emptying out the cupboards and repacking them. I will finally throw away the baby bottles that have been lurking unused at the back of the top shelf for the last five years. Now that I have decent pots and pans, I can get rid of the old dented ones with chipped handles and thereby add valuable space to my tiny kitchen. The fridge will be organized in preparation for tomorrow’s grocery shopping trip.
  • Meals for the next two weeks will be planned.
  • I will make a list for said grocery shopping trip. I will buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list. The husband will not be permitted to add unauthorized items to the cart.
  • I will go through the training program that my friend and coach Phaedra has given me, and I will add all of my runs to my wall calendar. I will also schedule them on my Outlook calendar. Once they’re scheduled, they have to happen, right?
  • I will get my home workspace organized in a way that it will stay organized. This will make it easier for me to get things done in less time. When my space is cluttered, my mind is cluttered and that doesn’t help anyone.
  • I will finally put away the mountains of clean and folded laundry that I have everywhere. I spend ridiculous amounts of time digging around for clothing that I could find in five seconds if I was organized.

This is a lot to get through in one weekend, but I am excited about doing it. I even have an incentive: if I do all of these things, on Monday I will reward myself with a new pair of sports headphones I’ve had my eye on, and this will give me a wonderful musical experience when I’m running.

I am looking forward to making new starts in my life. I am looking to creating some desperately needed balance, and doing things for myself that will make me happier and healthier. I have been languishing for too long in this feeling of being overwhelmed by my life. It feels good to be taking action and making plans.

I intend to post weekly updates on my progress, every Saturday. Come with me as I embark on this journey. It may not always be easy, and I’ll need cheerleaders along the way!