Tag Archives: personal best

Run With The Sound Of Music: Or Maybe Not

10 May

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

To run with music, or to run without music… that is the question. A surprisingly controversial question at that. While many runners are appropriately moderate in their stance about whether or not it is OK to block out the world with music during a run, there are those on both sides of the debate who can be astonishingly militant about their stance.

Those who are in favour of the tunes say that it counteracts the monotony of a long run, helps keep energy and motivation levels high, and simply offers the opportunity to enjoy some good music. They say the anti-music people are antisocial know-it-alls who think it’s OK to jostle a slower runner who happens to wearing earbuds.

Those against the music-and-running combination cite things like safety, being in tune with one’s body, and enjoyment of Mother Nature. They accuse the music-lovers of being antisocial plodders who cannot hear when they’re supposed to get out of the path of a faster runner coming from behind.

I am firmly in the middle of the road on this one. I listen to music on all of my training runs, but never on races.

I do my training on my own, partly by circumstance but largely by choice. I love the feeling of getting out on the open road early in the morning, when it’s just me. It allows me to escape from the “real world” of people and responsibilities, and to be beholden to no-one but myself.

Having said that, two hours can seem like a very long time when you don’t have the company of music. I never find running boring, but it can get lonely, and the music counteracts that. If I find songs with the right beat, it can also be a nifty training tool, and to be quite honest, it is refreshing to be able to listen to an entire song without hearing kids start World War III over a single piece of Lego.

I used to listen to music while racing as well, but the Energizer Night Race of 2011 cured me of that. I had no choice but to leave my music at home, because earbuds were banned from the course. A third of the way into the race I could understand why: the park that the race was run in was very, very dark, and although the headlights that came with the race kit helped light the way, all senses had to be on full alert.

The race went well – so well, in fact, that I started thinking that maybe the lack of music had been beneficial. I tested this theory in my next race two weeks later and set a new personal best time for the distance. And that was enough to convince me to run my races with nothing but the sound of the wind in my ears.

When I race, I’m not running to improve my form or experiment with speed. I’m not out there just for the joy of running. I’m running that race to get the best time I possibly can. I am racing – even though I have no hope of actually winning the race, I am trying to beat the most intense competition there is: myself.

While music is a pleasant distraction on training runs, I find it to be a hindrance on races. Without it, I can focus on paying attention to what my body is doing instead of trying to match my pace to the beat of the music. I can run according to how I feel, and for some strange reason, I am better able to manage my pacing to get a personal best time.

I have discovered that I don’t actually need the music when I’m racing. I get so buoyed up by the collective energy of the runners around me, and that is enough to keep me going. I enjoy engaging with spectators who cheer me on, and I like the feeling of getting pumped up by the entertainers along the course. Although I take my racing very seriously, leaving the music at home definitely helps me get more out of the experience and have fun.

In every single race I have run since I stopped racing with music, I have achieved a personal best time. There’s definitely something to that – at least, for me.

There is room for all runners on the road – the ones who listen to music and the ones who don’t. Watch this space next week for tips on how the two camps can coexist safely and peacefully.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karrienodalo/3227478067/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Outrunning My Expectations: Toronto Yonge Street 10K

23 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kilometre 10: 5:26

Total time: 1:01:40.

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

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

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

Grandpa And The Floozie: Good Friday Ten-Miler

6 Apr

Running is the one area of my life where all of my health interests intersect. It is good for my general health, it does a lot to keep depression at bay, and it is the means by which I raise funds for autism services.

It is no wonder that I take my running so seriously, nor that I’ve been anxiously awaiting my first race of the season: the Good Friday Ten-Miler, which happened today. I had watched the weather forecast throughout the week, and I was excited about the prospect of running in shorts to herald the arrival of Spring.

When I arrived at the start, the bitterly cold wind caused me some anxiety. I could deal with the shorts but I didn’t know if I would be able to take off my jacket. It was sunny, though, and it was only cold when the wind blew. And so I decided to stop being a sissy and leave the jacket in the car.

I headed to the registration area to pick up my race kit, and the first thing I had to do was look up my bib number. When I saw what it was, I actually snorted with laughter.

666. The number of the beast.

Seriously? I was going to have to run ten miles with the number 666 on my shirt? Where people could see me? The man who gave me my bib had a good laugh and told me to “run like the devil”.

I got to the start line with about a minute to spare, and all of a sudden we were off. I was aiming to beat 1:45:00, and in my eagerness to have a good race, I flew out of the starting blocks. I ran my first kilometre in 6:05, and realized that if I was going to meet my target I would have to dial it back a little.

A big hill in the second kilometre took care of getting my pace back in line, and through the rest of the race my pace was more or less consistent. Somewhere between the third and fifth kilometres, I saw my friend and coach Phaedra, who was a couple of kilometres ahead of me in the race. We waved and exchanged a high-five and went on our respective ways.

About six kilometres in, I tucked in behind a tall elderly man who was running at just the right pace. After a while I picked up my pace and passed him. Two kilometres further, at about the halfway mark, I slowed down and the man caught me.

He ran with me for a little while, and then we got to the big hill again, and he turned out to be better at tackling it than me. Off he went into the distance. I saw Phaedra again, but by this point she was entering her final mile and I still had about six kilometres to go.

Throughout the race, me and the elderly man were passing each other but staying more or less within spitting distance of each other.

With about three kilometres to go, I caught up with the man again. Sensing that we were going to be running alongside each other for a while, he started chatting to me. Jovially, he said, “I’ll race you to the finish!”

In wonderment that I could talk at all, I said to him, “You’re on!”

“Well, I gotta tell you. You may be young and pretty, but there’s no way I’m allowing myself to get chicked in a race.”

God bless him. He had called me young and pretty! I’m 42 years old, and having run 13km pretty hard at that stage, I looked anything but pretty. Still, it was nice of him to say so.

There is a fine but steely thread of competitiveness that runs through my veins, and I decided then and there to take on the man’s challenge. I said to him, “Well, you may have a ton more running experience than me, and you certainly look like you’re in better shape, but I’m not letting myself get beaten by someone who’s clearly a lot older than me.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Let’s see who gets home first. The grandpa or the floozie!”

Like a shot, he was off. And I wasn’t having any of it. I picked up my pace and chased him. I caught him and stuck with him for the next kilometre and a bit. I have to say, he put up a hell of a fight. Every time I sped up, so did he. But that little bit of competitiveness in me refused to lie down and die, so I kept trying.

All of a sudden, I could smell the finish line around the corner. I dug deep and found the biggest finishing kick that I’ve ever had. With about 500 metres to go, I finally passed my elderly friend and sprinted to the finish line, clocking a time of 1:43:10.

Not only had I beaten my target time of 1:45:00, I had absolutely smashed my previous personal best time by almost ten minutes.

And the floozie had beaten the grandpa.

Oasis Zoo Run: Outrunning The Old Me

27 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit to the author.)