Tag Archives: pace

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.

2011 Run For Autism

17 Oct

It is 8:55 on a cool Sunday morning. I am standing on a street in downtown Toronto, with about 15,999 other people. The atmosphere is buzzing with the collective energy of the crowd. As the national anthem, performed live, comes to an end, the crowd breaks into cheers and applause. And then, at 9:00 sharp, a siren sounds and the crowd surges forward as the race begins. This is it. My 2011 Run For Autism, the event that I have been training for all season. As I cross the start line, I am choked up with emotion as I think of the reason I am doing this run. My son George, my boy with autism and tons of love, my inspiration.

When I started training for this race in the Spring, I had a goal to finish in less than two hours. I knew that this would be ambitious: last year, I clocked a time of 2:22:38. Knocking 23 minutes off would be a tall order indeed. But if I formulated a good training plan and then stuck to it, I might just have a shot.

It has been said that life is what happens while we’re making other plans, and that was definitely the case with this season’s training. In the Spring I had a bout of bronchitis that put me out of action for a few weeks. I also had to deal with events like the brief hospitalization of one of my kids and a shoulder injury that sidelined me right in the middle of the season. Not to mention the fact that I got married in April.

Still, I somehow managed to salvage something resembling a training plan about six weeks before the race. I ran a couple of interim races and did OK, and then, right when my training was supposed to be peaking, I caught a nasty cold. I considered running through the cold: conventional wisdom is that it is safe to run as long as all symptoms are above the neck. But I knew from prior experience that running with a cold would slow my recovery and could jeopardize my race. So for once I exercised common sense and rested. Following the advice of my friend Phaedra, who is the kind of runner who wins in her category, I adjusted my training plan and made it to race day more or less in one piece.

It was obvious to me that two hours would not be doable. I considered following the 2:15 pace bunny but when I worked out the average pace that this would require, I realized that I would likely drop further and further back and just waste energy on being stressed. In the end I came up with a goal of 2:20. This struck the perfect balance between being achievable and being challenging.

I started out with the strategy of running the first 5km at an easy pace, without worrying about what my average pace looked like. If I fell behind my target pace, I would have 16km to make up the lost ground. I needn’t have worried: I was running at my goal pace by the 4th kilometre. I was running tens and ones – meaning that I would run for ten minutes and then take a one-minute walk break. During my ten-minute running stretches, I was getting ahead of my goal pace, and this provided me with enough of a buffer to stay on target during the one-minute walks.

Throughout the run, I was following my Dad’s strategy of “fishing for runners.” It’s a simple but effective strategy: you pick a runner about 200m ahead of you, reel them in by gradually catching up to them, and then run in their slipstream for about 500m before passing them and finding another runner to fish for.

For a while, I worried that I was matching my goal pace too easily. Either my energy would run out long before the distance did, or I had seriously underestimated myself during training. I tried to rein myself in but my body wouldn’t let me. I felt good, and I just had to go at the pace that my legs were dictating. It was only in the 18th kilometre that I started to feel the exhaustion. By then, I had less than 3km to go. I was faced with a choice: I could let my mind trick me into slowing down and missing my target time, or I could dig deep and just find the energy to keep going.

I chose to dig deep. I thought of my son George. He has to live his entire life with the challenges of autism, I told myself. The least you can do is run for another fifteen minutes.

All of a sudden, I was turning onto Bay Street for the final stretch and I had just 500m to go. Both sides of the street were lined with hundreds – maybe thousands – of spectators. My personalized bib was allowing people to cheer me on by name.

300m to go… I am exhausted and my legs feel like jelly, but I can see the finish line right up ahead of me. The closer I get, the louder the cheering is.

200m to go… a little bit of vanity takes over. I want a good finish line photo, so I start positioning myself in such a way that I will cross the line without being obscured by other runners.

100m to go… someone yells out, “Congratulations, Kirsten!” I raise my hand in acknowledgement and sprint for the finish, just metres away now. As I’m crossing the finish line, I somehow find a smidgeon of energy to raise both arms in the air in a gesture of triumph.

I have done it. I cannot believe that I have done it. I have run this race, beaten my goal time, and set a new personal best time for myself.

2 hours. 19 minutes. And 46 seconds. Every single moment of it dedicated to George.

Running In The Rain

3 Aug

This morning I woke up to the gentle pitter-patter of rain against the window.

Actually, that’s a lie. I woke up to the alarm on my phone going off, making a blaring, raucous noise that set every single one of my nerve endings on edge.

Once my central nervous system had gotten over the initial shock of being awake, then I heard the gentle pitter-patter of rain against the window.


I wanted to go running, and I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to run in the rain. Thanks to all of the dental goings-on of the last few days, it had been about a week since I had run at all. I was not in the mood for dodging puddles and having rain drip into my eyes. I was in the mood for a nice, uncomplicated run that didn’t require any actual thinking.

Who’s in any fit state to think at five in the morning, anyway?

I had a choice to make. Don’t run at all, run in the rain, or run on the treadmill.

I knew that not running at all would lead to a day filled with angst and guilt, and I had no desire to see the inside of a gym (almost a month of showering in the gym due to our dearth of hot water at home has left me a little gym-weary). So that left me with no choice but to run in the rain.

I threw on my running clothes and added a hat as a measure against the rain. Music cued, training watch set, and off I went. Following the logic that the faster I went, the sooner I’d have this over and done with, I set off at a hearty pace.

The run went surprisingly well. Not only did I find the rain to be refreshing and soothing, I actually managed to maintain the pace that I set at the beginning. Usually when I charge out of the starting blocks like a racehorse on steroids, I kind of peter out after three kilometres or so. Today, though, I finished my 5.65km in just a touch over 31 minutes, at a very respectable pace of around 5:42 minutes per kilometre.

I really should wake up more often feeling half-hearted about running. These runs always turn out to be the best ones.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angee09/2264408983/. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)

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.

Running into 2011

18 Nov

2010 did not start off well for me, especially from a running perspective.  As I rang in the New Year with Gerard, I was high on Percocet that was barely making a dent in the pain I was in.  Two days previously, a chiropractic adjustment had gone horribly wrong, and damaged a bundle of nerves in my neck and going all the way down my left arm. For the next six weeks or so, I was in unspeakable pain.  The next few weeks were a blur of doctor’s visits, emergency room visits, nights of crying myself to sleep in agony, and many, many drugs. A series of physiotherapy appointments gradually got me back on my feet, and almost three months after the original injury, I was finally allowed to try running again.

The first post-injury run did not go well. I was only able to run for about one kilometre, and it took more than eight minutes.  I kept getting shooting pains going up and down my left arm and I had to keep stopping for walk breaks. The following day I needed about an hour of intense physiotherapy. But I was officially on the road again. I had graduated from injury status to rehabilitation status. My next run two days later was a lot better, and from that point on, the improvement was exponential.  Still, it would be several months before I could say that my rehabilitation was complete.  Even now, I get the occasional twinge in my arm, which I am trying to resolve with the help of a sports massage therapist.

Despite the rough start to the year and the hammering that my average pace took as a result, I ended up having a busy running season. Here is a list of the races I took part in:
– Early April: 10km waterfront race in Pickering. It went OK, especially considering that this was just two weeks after I had started running again.
– Early May: Sporting Life 10K down Yonge Street. I enjoyed this event and I was happy with my time of 1:05:00. Sadly, though, when I got home from the race I got word that my friend and fellow writer Tim had lost his battle with cancer.
– Late May: Whitby half-marathon. Despite some pre-race concerns about the organization of this event, it went really well. Gerard and the kids, along with some extended family, were cheering for me at the finish line.  My time was just over 2:25:00. This was just over two months after my first post-injury run – I was thrilled just to be able to finish a race of that distance.
– Mid-July: Acura Ten-Miler in the Distillery District. The less said about this, the better. It was not my finest moment. Life had gotten in the way of training, the course was mentally challenging and offered almost no shelter from the midsummer sun, and I pulled a hamstring. I finished the race in less than two hours, which is a miracle considering all that was wrong that day.
– Late September: the main event – my 2010 Run for Autism, the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon. I cannot put into words the emotional high I was on when I crossed the finish line. It was phenomenal.  I managed a negative split, and beat my time from the previous year by a full six minutes.
– Mid-October: 10km zoo run. I did this race purely for the fun of it.  I had no expectations whatsoever.  I had an absolute blast and got a respectable enough time of 1:06:00 to boot.

All in all, not a bad year.  I put in almost 90km in races, and hundreds more in training.  I overcame a debilitating injury that I had at one point feared would sideline me for good, and I am looking forward to another great season in 2011.

So what does next year’s race calendar have in store for me?  I will start with the Resolution Run on New Years Day – just a fun 5km event that’s not even officially timed, but that does throw in a nice running jacket with the race kit. After that, I’m thinking of doing an 8km race in High Park in early April.  There are lots of hills in High Park, and they’re big hills.  It will be a tough run, but it will force me to be disciplined about hill training.

I have to give the Sporting Life 10K a miss because it’s happening the day after I get married.  I don’t think my new husband will be too pleased if I jump out of bed to go to a race at six in the morning.

At the end of May I will be running the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon. They have a chocolate station and a water station manned by hunky shirtless firefighters.  I will be a married woman by then, but I am still a woman.  And chocolate is chocolate and shirtless firefighters are nice eye candy.

I’ll skip the Acura Ten-Miler, because my experience with it last year was enough to put a huge mental block to it in my head.  I am thinking about the Midsummer Night’s Run 15K instead, but that follows most of the same route.  I may have to figure out a summer race later on.  I may even have to find one I need to travel to.

At the end of September I will do the 10K zoo run again.  I had way too much fun to even consider missing that.  And then, in October, it will be time for my 2011 Run for Autism.  I have big plans for that – to break two hours.  That will mean chopping at least 22 minutes off of this year’s time, and that’s a massive chunk.  But I am nothing if not ambitious, and assuming I don’t start the year with an injury, I think it might be possible.  Especially since I am doing it for my boys.

There is no time for slacking.  Right after the Resolution Run on January 1st, I will be diving straight back into training mode.

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.

Against the wind

28 Apr

Preparations for my weekday runs usually involve a great deal of stealth.  I wake up at five in the morning, and then sneak around in my own house, getting dressed as silently as possible.  There’s a lot of tiptoeing and feeling my way around in order to avoid alerting the short people to the fact that I’m actually awake.  It’s dark and I look like a burglar.  Once I’m dressed, I make my way to the front door in my socks, grab my shoes, and leave.  I close and lock the door behind me as quietly as possible, and then put my ear up against the door to listen to the blissful sound of silence coming from within.  Now that I have successfully made my escape, I put on my shoes, plug in my music, fiddle with buttons on my training watch, and set off.

If the kids wake up at any point during this process, I can say goodbye to my run. They tend to be somewhat Mommy-centric in the mornings (if they wake up and I’m already gone, Daddy is an acceptable substitute; but if they wake up while I’m there, they want me and only me). On those days, I tend to their needs and then get ready for work, staring wistfully at my pile of discarded running clothes.  In general, though, I have become very good at the art of stealth.  I could probably give James Bond a run for his money, except that I can’t fire a gun, I don’t have any fancy gadgets in my car, and I like my martinis stirred, not shaken.

Anyway, yesterday I was able to go for a run at a normal time of the day, without the stealth factor.  I was working from home, which meant that I had an extra two hours – time that is usually spent commuting.  So I got up at a time of day considered by most people to be reasonably civilized, offloaded James at his daycare, and returned home to work.  I planned my day’s activities around an early afternoon run, which would have me back by the time George got home from the therapy centre.

Halfway through the morning, though, I was not so sure about this plan.  I had been steadily working through the morning, and had gradually become aware that the house was feeling a bit stuffy, like a vacuum cleaner’s armpit (to borrow a phrase from comedic author Douglas Adams).  I poured a cup of coffee and went out onto the back deck, where I almost got blown away by a gust of wind.  If I’d had an umbrella I would have been like Mary Poppins.

I don’t mind a bit of a breeze, but I hate wind.  I can handle just about any other weather condition, but wind makes me intensely irritable.  It blows my hair everywhere, makes my ears hurt, and generally sets me on edge.  I will not forego a training run because of rain or snow, but I must confess that I have rescheduled runs because I just didn’t want to run in the wind.  So when I went outside yesterday and stood there in the wind, I seriously questioned whether I really wanted to go running in that.

I quickly got a hold of myself, though.  I have a 10km race coming up this weekend – one that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks – and this is really not the week for me to be flaking out because of a little bit of wind.  I need to be well-conditioned this week; my limbs need to be loose and agile.  And besides, what I am going to do if it’s windy on race day?  Whine about how I don’t want my hair to get messed up?

So yesterday afternoon, I surfaced from my work and got ready to go running as planned.  I braced myself, opened the front door – and stepped out into a stunningly gorgeous afternoon.  The sun was shining and a light breeze was blowing – nothing like the gusty wind that had set my teeth on edge just four hours previously.  As I set off down the road, I could not believe that I had almost foregone this run.

It turned out to be fantastic.  The sun was gently touching my shoulders and the breeze was keeping me cool.  In the beginning I was taking it slow and easy; for the last two kilometres I was flying.  I was on a high for the rest of the day; the physical activity boosted my energy, and as always after a run, I felt a sense of accomplishment.

If I felt that great after a 5.5km training run, imagine how I will feel standing at the finish line of my run for autism.

Questioning my sanity…

8 Apr

While I was out for my early morning run today, I seriously contemplated the possibility that I was going mad.  I actually pondered out loud, to the bemusement of a pair of young men who were standing in a bus shelter.  I was muttering about how I must be crazy to be doing this, and how normal people were tucked up in their nice warm beds at that hour of the day. Although to be honest, the hour of the day wasn’t bothering me as much as the God-awful weather I was trying to run in.

Since I got all serious about my running about a year ago, I have openly told people that I will run in any weather.  And I will.  The hot sun is not a deterrent as long as I am wearing a hat and keeping myself hydrated.  Even though I am now Canadian, I am from Africa.  I am a child of the sun.  I don’t mind the rain – in fact, a light drizzle of rain during a run can be extremely comfortable and refreshing.  Snow?  No problem, as long as I watch my step and take care to avoid slipping.  Even sub-zero temperatures will not deter me.  I have good quality winter running gear.  All things being equal, I prefer to run in clear, warm conditions, but that is certainly not a prerequisite to me hitting the road.

The hour of the day isn’t a big factor to me either.  If I had my way, I would run at about ten in the morning.  But since I have not yet made my millions publishing my first novel or won the lottery, I have to get to work in the mornings, so any weekday running is done either before or after work, or during lunch.  My preference is before work because of all that feel-good stuff about starting the day with an accomplishment and not having the go through the day all tense about when I’ll get to go running.

So for today’s run, I dragged my sorry butt out of bed at 5:15 a.m.  Because I didn’t think to look out of the window while I was getting dressed, I was completely oblivious to what was going on outside. As a result, when I stepped outside at 5:30 and beheld the dark and the mist and the rain, I was completely taken by surprise. No problem, I thought, as I quickly ducked back into the house to grab my running jacket.  I set off on my way, and got halfway down the road before I realized that the rain was actually heavier than I had thought.

Still, it wasn’t too bad.  I’m not scared of a little rain.  It’s only water falling out of the sky.  I maintained a fairly brisk pace for three kilometres, and despite the weather I quite enjoyed myself.  During the last two kilometres, though, the weather abruptly changed.  What had been a gentle breeze suddenly kicked up to a full-on wind that I was running straight into, and the rain really started pelting down.  The temperature plummeted, and I realized that there were little bits of ice in the rain, hitting me in the face like lots of tiny hammers.

That is the point at which I asked myself if I was crazy.

You would think that these awful conditions would slow down my pace, but I actually kicked it up a notch.  The faster I ran, the faster I would be able to get home and get inside. When I rounded the final corner, I sprinted home, and embraced the warmth of indoors.  Looking at the run stats on my computer, I was not surprised to see that I had run the final kilometre in less than six minutes, such had been my desparation to get home.

Am I crazy? Probably.  Will I run again in those conditions?  Most definitely.

My name is Kirsten and I am a runnaholic!

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!