Tag Archives: kilometres

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.

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The Good Run

9 Jan

I have been struggling with my running lately.  Not in any big way, but just enough for me to have been craving a Good Run.  I have had several enjoyable and satisfying runs lately, but a Good Run is something special.  It is one where, even if you struggle a bit at first, you suddenly realize, a couple of kilometres in, that you have found your groove.  A Good Run is not necessarily easy – in fact, the challenging nature of it is part of what makes it Good.  When you finish the run and hit the “Stop” button on your watch, you have a feeling of accomplishment.  You have done the distance you promised yourself, and you have reserves left in the tank.  You would be able to go further if you wanted to, and yet you feel that you have pushed yourself.

I have not had a Good Run for about six weeks.

Until this morning.

I drove to the community centre to see which other members of my running club were venturing out for a run in the snow.  As it turned out, there were only two of us, and the other runner is one that I can pace myself to fairly well.  Because of the snow on the ground, we agreed on seven kilometres.  We briefly contemplated a trail by the lake, but rejected that idea due to the possibility of ice.  We are two women running by ourselves in very wintery conditions: we chose to play it safe and stick to the roads.

The snow on the sidewalk made it a little difficult for us to keep our footing, and it took me about 1.5km to find my rhythm.  Once I was going though, I was going pretty well.  I resisted the temptation to outpace myself in the beginning, and although I did not make it all the way up the one and only (and very, very long and steep) hill on our route, I gave it a good shot and did pretty well.   A water break and short breather at the top, and both of us were ready to go again.  The sidewalks were a lot more slippery towards the end of the run, but I finished pretty strong.

The seven kilometres took a little more than 43 minutes.  Considering the snowy conditions we were running in, I was happy with that time.  But as with any Good Run, the time wasn’t even the point (that’s the other thing: Good Runs are not necessarily the fastest runs).  The point was that I set out with a distance in mind, and I completed that distance feeling good about it the whole way.  I felt that I had accomplished something, and maybe set myself back on track to actually follow a proper training program.

I have a little story that illustrates what a Good Run is like.  Recently – on Christmas Day, as it happens – my younger son celebrated his 5th birthday.  In honour of the occasion, I made him a cake.  The trouble was, I didn’t have any icing to put on the cake.  I dug around in the kitchen cupboards and did some research on the Internet, and came up with a recipe for icing sugar.  A couple of hours and a big giant mess in the kitchen later, I had produced an iced, decorated cake.  I had worked really hard to make it, and I had poured into it lots of love for my son.

It was not the best cake I had ever made.  The icing was not as nice as the stuff you buy in the stores, and my “Happy Birthday James” lettering was not the neatest.  But you know what?  Because of what had gone into the making of it, and because of the look on my son’s face when he saw this cake that had been made just for him, it was the best cake I ever had.

A Good Run is like that – what makes it Good is not how fast you do it or whether it is easy – what makes it Good is the heart and soul that goes into it, and the feeling of reward that you have at the end.

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…

The makings of a social runner

15 Nov

As of yesterday morning, I am an official paid-up member of the Rouge River Roadrunners.  Joining a running club is quite a big departure from my former way of thinking, simply because it means that my long Sunday runs will no longer be solo ventures.  I used to do all of my running alone, primarily by choice.  I liked the idea of mapping out my own routes, getting to run to the beat of music in my ears, and being beholden to no-one but myself on my runs.  After all, half the point of running was to get out and be by myself for a change.

So what happened?  How did I evolve into this being who actually craves company on runs?  I mean, I like my solitude, and I get so little of it.  I have a little bit of social awkwardness.  It is not easy for me to meet and get to know new people, and conversation does not come naturally to me – not unless I know the person I am conversing with very well.  It seems kind of weird that I, of all people, would turn into somebody who needed a group of people to run with.

The metamorphosis started maybe six months ago, when I was training for my 2010 Run for Autism.  Since I was on the organizing committee for the Geneva Centre for Autism, I befriended some of the people there and we created an informal running group.  We started meeting up for a run every Wednesday after work, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the company.  I felt that I had struck a nice balance between running alone and running with a group.

Shortly before the half-marathon, I found that my Sunday long runs were getting a little stale.   I was varying my routes a little bit, but I was sticking to the same general neighbourhoods, and I was getting bored.  I found myself hitting a plateau.  My fitness and endurance levels were definitely improving, but I wasn’t really making great gains on my average pace.  All runs longer than about twelve kilometres were starting to feel a bit tedious, and I started incorporating as many twists and turns in my routes as I could, just for the sake of variety.

About a month ago, I was wasting time on the Internet late at night when I couldn’t sleep, and purely by accident I came across a website for the Rouge River Roadrunners.  I had never heard of this group before, and the name suggested that they might be local.  I looked up their contact information, and sure enough, their meeting spot turned out to be a community centre less than five minutes’  drive from where I live.  Before I really knew what I was doing, I sent an email off to the primary contact, asking for more information.

Several emails and a couple of phonecalls later, I agreed to meet the group for one of their Sunday runs.  When I arrived and started talking to the other runners, I started getting very nervous.  All of them – bar none – are experienced marathoners who have been running for at least fifteen years (without a great big gaping seven-year gap in the middle like I had).  They are fitter than me, they are faster, they have run more races.  To me, a 10km run is a decent distance.  To them, it’s a walk in the park.

Was I going to keep up with these people?  I had my doubts, especially when we started out at a pace slightly faster than what I am used to.  Since I would rather set my face on fire than admit that these runners might be too fast for me, I kept pace with them from the beginning.  When we’d been going for about half a kilometre, the man running next to me (who is almost 70 and in the kind of shape I was in when I was 25) asked me about my last race.

Cripes.  Not only was I running faster than usual for a long run, now I had to talk while I was doing it?  Whoever said that it costs nothing to be polite was lying.  Being polite can cost you your breath if you’re doing it while running with a bunch of gazelles.  But I didn’t exactly have a choice.  I was raised in a nice home and taught to be courteous no matter what.  I briefly considered the “no matter what”  part of the equation, and then answered my fellow runner’s questions.  To my complete surprise, my answer came out sounding normal. I didn’t sound as if I was about to pass out.  I sounded like someone having a normal conversation.

We continued chatting, and about half an hour later I realized to my astonishment that not only was I keeping up with these people, I was actually feeling OK.   I was not fighting for breath. My legs did not feel as if they were about to fall off.  I did not feel like a walrus among gazelles.

We finished the run, and fuelled by a feeling of accomplishment, I joined the other runners for a post-run coffee and then promised to join them again the following week.  That happened to be yesterday – a somewhat grey, somewhat rainy, somewhat windy day.  We met in the designated spot, and as we hopped around trying to stay warm, we debated where and how far we would run.  One of the runners cheerfully said, “Let’s find a route with lots of hills!”  Imagine my relief when someone else said that she had done hills the previous day and needed a flat route.  She suggested a route along the waterfront trail.  The rest of us agreed, and we set off.

Three kilometres later, I was thinking to myself, “Yikes!  This is flat???”  We were going up and down hills as if we were a bunch of yo-yo’s on steroids.  I was keeping pace, but this time I was not talking, and my legs were starting to burn.  I did what I always do when the running gets tough: I started to count.  Not out loud, of course.  Silently, in my head.  It’s a little trick I have that seems to get me through those little running bumps.  I count in time to my steps.  Sure enough, after about three minutes of this I found myself settling into a rhythm and enjoying myself.

This run was definitely harder than last week’s, but I kept pace with the other runners and finished feeling good.  And I realized that I had made a discovery: on all of those solo long runs that I did before, I underestimated myself and held back.  I am actually a much better runner than I have been giving myself credit for.  I needed to start running with a group of experienced runners in order to push myself and see what I was capable of.  This journey of discovery is only just beginning.

So although I still run solo once or twice a week, I am not getting as much time alone as I used to.  I am, however, getting time with a new group of friends with a common interest, and that is almost as good.  Probably better, in fact.  I just know that this will turn me into a better runner.

Good enough to aim for sub-2 hours in my next half-marathon?  Time will tell.

Getting over the hump

27 Jul

I have a mantra that I use during difficult runs. I cannot repeat it here, because I’m in polite company and the mantra involves a curse word starting with the letter “F”.  It also involves the name of a politician who I intensely dislike.  When I’m having a hard time during a run, I chant the mantra in time to my pace.  The opportunity to vent about the politican, combined with the steady rhythm of the mantra, helps soothe and distract me.  Interestingly enough, I used the identical mantra, but with a different politician’s name, when I was in labour with my first child.

When the run is going well, I don’t need a mantra.  When the run is going well, I can simply enjoy it.  I needed the mantra two and a half weeks ago, when I ran a ten-mile race in Toronto’s Distillery District. It was a hard race.  It happened on the worst day of my monthly cycle so I felt awful.  I was running in new shoes that I hadn’t broken in properly.  It was hot and there was virtually no shade on-course.  One stretch of the race – the Leslie Street Spit – was mentally challenging because it went on for so damned long.

The biggest problem, though, was my training leading up to the race.  Or rather, my lack of training leading up to the race. For about a month, I struggled with my running.  I couldn’t get the weekday runs in: the kids were going through a phase of not sleeping, so I couldn’t summon up the energy to get up at five in the morning to go running.  And in the evenings, Gerard was working hard to meet a deadline, so there was no-one to watch the kids while I hit the road.  I was able to get out for my long runs on Sundays, but lack of training during the week made the long runs painful. I had to cut a couple of them short because I just couldn’t do it, and I had to skip a couple of them altogether due to scheduling conflicts.

That I managed to finish that ten-miler at all is a miracle.  As soon as I crossed the finish line and retrieved my very hard-earned finisher’s medal, I resolved to get my training back on track.  And so I allowed myself two days of rest followed by a short easy run, then I jumped right back into it.

Two weeks ago, I started a dedicated half-marathon training schedule.  In addition to the obligatory Sunday long runs, it includes tempo runs and hill training.  I have been following the schedule and not skipping any runs. No matter how tired I am, I get up at five in the morning when the schedule calls for it – a painful process, but once I am on the road I am always glad to be there.

In two weeks, I have already noticed a phenomenal difference.  The two sessions of hill training that I have done have started strengthening my legs, and this Sunday past, I went for a long run that was the best I’ve had in weeks. I paced myself right, and felt strong throughout.  I even managed to negative split the run – meaning that I ran the second half faster than the first.  Best of all, when I was done with the run, I felt as if I had enough juice in me to continue had I so chosen. I am also noticing a difference to my pace in my tempo runs. When I was coming out of my injury earlier this year, I would have been lucky to maintain a pace of 7:30 minutes per kilometre.  Now, I aim for 6:30 minutes – this morning, I kept up 6:06 minutes and felt good doing it.

There are eight and a half weeks remaining until my half-marathon.  I am starting to think that if I keep up this progress in my training, the 2:15 time I am aiming for will be well within my reach.

Back to the start line

7 Apr

On Saturday, the day after World Autism Awareness Day, I officially made my comeback to the world of racing. My previous race had been a ten-miler back in November – a fairly miserable affair in which I had been overdressed, over-complacent, and completely confused by poor course marshalling.  I was scheduled to run in the Resolution Run on New Years Day, but my freshly acquired pinched nerve took care of that ambition.  So now, during the Easter weekend, I was ready to race again.

I did not really have any great expectations. Even if I had been healthy in the interim, I would have expected a bit of a slowdown due to the challenges of running in winter conditions.  You just cannot maintain any kind of speed running into strong icy winds with snow coming at you, while wearing multiple layers and a balaclava that makes you look like a burglar.  As it was, I was out of action for almost three months because of various things that were wrong with me.

So my goal on Saturday was simply to finish the 10km race.  I had a friend with me who was running in the 5km event.  Fran and I have known each other for years, and she has recently been bitten by the running bug.  Saturday was her first race ever, so there was a sense of occasion for both of us.  Although we were running different distances, we had a common goal – to cross the finish line.

Ten minutes before the race started we discovered that the 5km and 10km races were starting from different places.  The 5km runners stayed in the designated starting area, and the 10km runners were sheperded to a different point, about 600m away.  I set my training watch, listened for the starting siren, and off I went, wondering how far I would be from my pre-injury pace of 6 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre.  In defiance of my usual strategy to start slow, I ran my first kilometre in exactly 6 minutes and 30 seconds.  The second kilometre was slower.  The third one was very fast by my standards – 6 minutes and 13 seconds.  There were still seven kilometres remaining; I knew that I was going to regret this early spurt later on.

At around six kilometres, I passed Fran, who was coming in for her final stretch.  She was looking good; we waved at each other and went on our way. And true to my predictions, I started to seriously flag in the eighth kilometre – this unfortunately coincided with a couple of pretty intense hills along the course.

But mental power means a lot in running, and the fact that there were only two kilometres remaining helped restore some energy.  I got a further boost thinking of George, the ultimate reason I’m doing all of this running in the first place.  I used the ninth kilometre to recover, and I was able to run the final kilometre fast and come in for a strong finish.  My final time was 1:06:14.  My pace was 6 minutes and 38 seconds per kilometre – not far off from my pre-injury pace.  I was very happy with how I did.  I am now looking forward to my next race – also 10km – at the beginning of May.

It is now four days after the race.  I have been for one run since then, and my legs have not complained too much.  I must be in better shape than I’d thought!