Tag Archives: distance running

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!

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95 Days And 6 Hours

13 Jul

95 days and 6 hours to go…

In 95 days and 6 hours, my heart will be racing and my adrenaline will be pumping.  I will be filled with nervous energy, and all of my senses will be on high alert, even though I probably will not have slept for a week.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be one of 20,000 runners waiting for the starters gun to go off, signalling the beginning of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and Half-Marathon.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will start my Run for Autism – the race that I do for my son George, who is my inspiration and my reason for running. My son, who has taught me so much about myself, about life, about the things that really matter. My son, who I love so much that I sometimes think my heart will explode.

Up until now, I have had a poor season of training. A variety of illnesses, extreme weather conditions and family emergencies has conspired against me. Not to mention the not-so-small matter of getting married. I did succeed in running an 8km race in the Spring, but I have had to blow off not one but two half-marathons since then, because I have just not been ready for them. I have tried to follow some kind of regular training regimen, and I have been running just enough to keep up some kind of conditioning, but my training has been very much a stop-start kind of thing.

Until now.

Over the weekend, I gathered together pen and paper, the list of races I am registered for between now and my Autism Run, and my calendar. Thus armed, I plotted out a training program, a path to get me from here to there. It is a program that will work. By the time I’m done, I will be able to run the distance and run it well, as long as I stick with it.

My impediment is not lack of discipline. If I have a run scheduled, there are very few things that will deter me. From time to time I may have to shift a run to another time, or even to the following day, but if my schedule tells me to run, then I will run.

The only thing stopping me – barring unforeseen emergencies – is my health. It hasn’t been so great lately. I have been tired, run down, and prone to getting sick. Conventional running wisdom dictates that it is safe to run with a cold as long as all symptoms are above the neck, but practical experience has taught me that it is not a good idea. It might be perfectly safe, but it knocks my immune system down a few notches so that it takes me longer to recover.

So the way I see it, the one thing standing between me and my ability to totally rock this year’s race is my health. If my health is good, my training will take care of itself.

With that in mind, I have a plan. This is all stuff that I really should be doing anyway, but if planning it is what it will take, then so be it.

Here are some promises that I am making to myself (and we all know that it’s wrong to break a promise, regardless of who it’s made to):

I promise that I will hydrate myself properly, and not only during my training runs. And not only with coffee.

I promise that I will take my vitamins every day, because I definitely feel healthier when I do.

I promise that I will see a nutritionist, because my diet is one area where my self-control goes to the birds.

I promise that I will try harder (and “try” is the best I can do at this point) to get more sleep so that I am not literally running on the smell of an oil rag.

Four promises. Anyone can keep four promises, right? And they’re not even hard promises, with the possible exception of the last one.

I can do this. I can totally do this.

In 95 days and 6 hours, I will be ready.

Running Through The Fields On A Summers Day

20 Jun

My next half-marathon, which takes place a month from now, will involve a variety of running surfaces. The route will take runners along trails, on the streets, through a tunnel going under the highway, and through a number of fields in the farming community hosting the run.

Training for this event is proving to be interesting. For one thing, I have to do my training runs on a mix of terrains – easier said than done, for someone who lives in a definitively urban area. But still, there are ways and means, and I’ve been trying to incorporate the trails in our local parks into my routes.

The bigger challenge for me is the fact that this race is happening on July 17th, in other words, slap-bang in the middle of summer. Although I hail from sunny climes, and probably have more endurance for hot-weather running than most North American runners, I’m not a complete masochist, and still opt to run in cooler conditions where possible.

But this race, taking place at a time of year when the mercury is already hitting 30° Celsius by eight in the morning, is forcing me to change my usual training strategy. Because where I would usually go running at 5:00 a.m., I am now looking for opportunities to run later in the day, when it’s warmer. It’s all about acclimatization. When race day rolls around, I don’t want to be the weasel who cannot handle running in the heat. I want to be the one who runs strongly throughout.

And that is why I voluntarily headed out for a 16km  run shortly after lunchtime on Saturday. It was hot. Blisteringly. Although the actual temperature was only 19° Celsius, the humidity reading was pushing it up to the mid-thirties. Although this would never have potential to be a run I would describe as “pleasant”, the heat in itself was not the whole problem. I had not fueled myself properly for the run. More importantly, I had not hydrated myself. So not only was I hot, I was intensely thirsty as well, and I just didn’t have the energy stores I needed.

After 6km I gave up, and decided to do the long run the following morning when it was cooler. Usually I would hate the idea of cutting a run short, but since I had initially intended to run on Sunday anyway, I felt OK about it. I just chalked this up as a bonus 6km run.

When I got home I looked at my training schedule and saw that I wasn’t even supposed to do 16km this weekend. I was only supposed to do 10km. If I’d realized that I would have stuck out my Saturday run for the full 10km.

Maybe next time I will consult my training schedule before I hit the road.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stamargo/4894061863/)

Holy Crap, No Way!

17 Feb

Yesterday I got an email that prompted me to utter the words, “Holy crap, no way!” and start to panic a little.

The email was a weekly newsletter from Toronto Women’s Run Series, and the first sentence started with the phrase, “With 14 weeks to go until the Toronto Women’s half-marathon…”

WHAT? There are just 14 weeks until my next half-marathon?

Holy crap! No way!

Of course, that means that there are only ten weeks until my wedding, but that’s another freak-out for another day.

I’ve been sitting around all winter getting bronchitis and having kids in hospital and the such like, when all this time I should have been gearing up to training. To be fair to myself, I never stopped running completely this winter. I had to slow down some due to all that’s been going on, but in between illnesses, I’ve been able to get in some short but good quality speed workouts.

Actually, the speed workouts may have been my downfall. Forcing myself to maintain 4:55 minutes per kilometre when my usual speed workout pace is about 6:00 minutes per kilometre probably overtaxed my body and screwed around with my immune system.

But anyway. The point is that I’m probably not in as much trouble as my mind would have me believe.

It messes with me a lot, my mind does. But again, that’s another story for another day.

What the newsletter did do, though, was galvanize me into action. I went to a few of my favourite running websites and selected a training program to follow from now until race day. And you know, it’s not so bad. This training program is not any more difficult than previous ones I have followed in the past,and as I said, it’s not like I’m starting from zero.

For this particular race, I am aiming to break 2:15. It is an ambitious goal, since my best time since I came back to running is 2:22:38. A seven-minute improvement over a distance of 21km is quite a lot. But I think I can do it and I’m sure as hell going to try. Ultimately, I’m doing this for my son, and that is the best possible motivation.

I’ll just slow down briefly when I go through the water station staffed by shirtless firefighters.

2011 Run For Autism: The Countdown Begins

7 Jan

This is so weird.  It seems like it was just yesterday that I did my first autism fundraising run, back in September 2009.  I still remember how it was.  I had resumed running after a layoff of several years just six months previously, when I weighed almost 200 pounds or 91kg (to put that into context, my height is 5′ 6″) and I could barely stagger around the block, never mind run 21.1 km.

Since then, I have run a 5km event, three 10km races, two ten-milers and two more half-marathons, including the 2010 autism run.  This year I am planning more and aiming for some ambitious time goals.  How things have changed since 2009.

What’s really exciting me today is that we have already started the process of planning the 2011 Run for Autism.  I was on the organizing committee for the event last year – a committee made up of Geneva Centre for Autism staff members and parents of children with autism – and I will be helping out again this year.  Yesterday I met with Holly, the outgoing fundraiser for the Geneva Centre, and we threw around some ideas.  The first official committee meeting will happen sometime this month, and soon I will be registered for the half-marathon and starting to raise sponsorships.

People have different reasons for running.  Some people do it competitively.  Others do it to stay in shape, and others do it simply for the love of the sport.  People get hooked on the endorphins that kick in after thirty minutes or so of pounding the pavement.  And me?  My reason for running is my kids.  I got back into it because of the opportunity to raise funds for autism services, to do my bit to improve the lives of people like my son George, and also their siblings who need a special kind of support of their own.

The running is not always easy, of course it’s not.  I go through peaks and valleys (right now, in fact, I am trying to claw my way out of a bit of a valley), and there are times when I want to simply quit a run half-way because the going is so rough.  But I put a picture of my boys in my head, and that gives me the strength I need to keep going.  It is the reason I started running, and while I am really enjoying the other benefits that come from running, my boys are the reason I keep it up.

I would run to the other end of the world for my children.  Surely I can manage the occasional 21.1 km.

2011: Aiming for 1:59:59

30 Dec

Today is the first anniversary of my pinched nerves.  I am almost tempted to go out and buy a cake with one candle, in recognition of the day I went to the chiropractor and left with a bundle of pinched nerves in my neck and going down my left arm, that put me out of action for three months.  I would not want to celebrate the incident itself, but the fact that I got through it and am now in the process of planning out my 2011 running season.  Or maybe I just want cake and I cannot come up with a better excuse.

Either way, I am oddly superstitious about this day.  I feel that if I can get through today without incident, I will be fine.  I just have to avoid walking under ladders and avoid the cracks in the sidewalk.  I am planning a treadmill run at the gym later on, on the assumption that I am not tempting fate.

Be that as it may, my running has taken a little bit of a dive over the last few weeks.  I had a bout of bronchitis that sidelined me for three weeks, and getting back into it has been surprisingly difficult.  It’s not that I’m in bad physical shape.  It’s that I came back from my illness setting ridiculous paces at the start of my runs that I can only sustain for 5km or so.  I’ve always been perfectly happy to start slow and build up to my target pace.  Why the sudden need to be a speed demon?  It’s not like I’m winning the Olympic Marathon anytime soon.

My poor pacing has the effect of making me feel a bit despondant about my running.  I fade at the fifth or sixth kilometre, and one of two things happens.  Either I finish my planned distance a lot more slowly than intended.  Or I simply cut the run short.  Neither scenario goes well with my psyche.  Both make me feel like I have a big red L on my forehead.

It is time now for me to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start running again properly.  That means proper planning, proper pacing, proper nutrition, and not being too lazy to take five minutes to stretch at the end of each run.

I have just gone online to order the 2011 Runners World calendar.  This calendar is amazing.  It has gorgeous photographs of “Rave Runs” – beautiful trails and paths that people run on.  It has race listings, running tips, inspirational quotes, and space to plan.  Simply having this thing on my wall on 2010 has been a great motivator for me.

Now I am planning my racing calendar for the year.  I am going to start out this coming Saturday, New Years Day, with the Running Room Resolution Run.  This is really more of a fun run than a race.  It is not chip timed, and I don’t even think the course is officially certified for the distance.  But that’s OK.  What better way could there be for a struggling runner to start off the new year?

My next racing event will be Harry’s Spring Run-Off on April 2nd.  It is only 8km, but the location – High Park – has so many big hills that it will feel like 10km.  I am doing this race specifically to have hills to train for.  I need the discipline, and when I am registered for races, I am actually pretty good at sticking to the right kinds of training programs for them.  Here is a promo video for the race.

Usually I would do the Sporting Life 10K down Yonge Street on the first Sunday in May, but since I am getting married the day before this year’s event, I should probably give it a miss for 2011.  So my next run will be the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon in Sunnybrook Park.  I am really looking forward to this, not only because a fellow member of my running club is running it with me, but because the water station manned by shirtless firefighters.  Not to mention the chocolate station.

After that, I will do either the Acura Ten-Miler (which I hated in 2010, and feel the need to conquer) or the Midsummer Nights Run 15km (follows the same course as the Ten-Miler, so it will be just as much of a victory).

In late September I will do one of my favourite runs ever – the 10km Oasis Zoo Run.  I had a blast at this event a couple of months ago, and it has earned a permanent place in my annual racing calendar.  I cannot find a promo video for it, but here’s a montage of pictures I found of the 2009 event.

Then, on October 16th, I will run in what is by far the most important event in my race calendar.  It is the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon, and this is my reason for running.  This is my Run for Autism, the race I do for my son George who has autism, and his little brother James, who is experiencing the challenges of being sibling to a child with autism.  This event is loaded with emotional meaning for me.  Every step I take is for my boys, these beautiful people without whom my life would be empty.  Here is a nice video showing some highlights of the 2010 event.

I have a lofty goal for this year: to break two hours for the half-marathon.  That means shaving 22 minutes off my best time.  I’m going to have to train my ass off.  Literally.  With the amount of training I will have to do, I have no doubt that part of my ass will indeed come off.  Which is a good thing.

Anyway. I am excited about the new year.  Just planning it out is helping me break out of this funk I am in.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone all the best for 2011.  Aim high and whatever you want to achieve, go for it.

Get into the groove? Gotta find the groove first!

21 Dec

Usually, when I get sick, I can bounce back fairly quickly once I recover.  The recovery itself may take time – I had a particularly nasty bout of bronchitis early this year that grounded me for about a month – but once I’m on my feet, I’m pretty solid.  This time round I seem to be having a much harder time of it.

Yesterday I wrote about my run on Sunday, which was really tough.  I had more reasons for it then, though. I mean, I was hungover and getting over this bronchitis. I thought that I would feel better after this morning’s run for sure. So confident was I that I bounded out of bed at five in the morning, quickly got dressed, and headed over to the gym.  There I got onto a treadmill and did a twenty minute hill workout.  And it was TOUGH.

Granted, I always pick the higher-level settings when I’m doing treadmill workouts, but it’s always a bit of a breeze.  Running on the treadmill is a lot easier (albeit a lot more boring) than running on roads or trails.  Usually I can knock off a thirty of forty minute workout and still have enough reserves left in the tank for a weights workout or a go on the rowing machine.

But this morning, after twenty minutes, I was done. D-O-N-E. I completed the workout, and I was even able to up my speed a little bit at the end, but afterwards there was nothing left in the tank at all. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t feel bad.  I wasn’t on the verge of collapsing or anything like that. I was simply not capable of doing more.  It was a somewhat dismaying feeling.  I mean, c’mon.  I’m a distance runner.  I’ve done three half-marathons in the last fifteen months and I have two more planned for 2011. I’m used to going out and running ten miles before breakfast on Sundays.  And now I cannot even cope with more than a paltry twenty minute hill workout on the treadmill?  What is that about?

There are a number of explanations, of course, the biggest one being that this bronchitis did knock the stuffing out of me a bit, and it may take a couple of runs for me to find my groove.  The enforced three-week break from running won’t have helped either.  Nor will the lack of sleep.  I have been going to bed far too late over the last little while, and my sleep deficit is just frightening.  And then there’s the fact that my nutrition leaves much to be desired.  It’s not bad bad, but I’m definitely not following the kind of diet a runner should.

These are all things that can be fixed.  It’s just up to me to make the choice to follow better eating habits, take my vitamins (that’s one thing I have been doing better at), and get to bed at a reasonable hour.  And the rest should follow.  These choices are especially important if I am going to achieve my goal of breaking two hours for the half-marathon in 2011.

It’s just that I hate this feeling of not being able to push my body as far as I want it to go.  I need to break out of this funk…