Tag Archives: race

Is Finishing The Race A Good Enough Goal?

26 Sep

When I came back to running two and a half years ago, I came back from a zero-level of physical fitness. For several years my body had been completely devoted to growing babies and then nursing them. My mind had been devoted to trying to survive post-partum depression, the loss of my father, and my son’s autism diagnosis. With everything that I had going on, physical fitness just wasn’t on my list of priorities.

Therefore, when I started running again, speed was not an issue for me. My only goal was to simply get out there and complete whatever distance I was aiming for. Standing at the start line of my first half-marathon for autism, I was realistic enough to know that I wasn’t going to be a speed demon. I did not aim for any particular time. I just wanted to finish the race; I did not care how long it would take me.

Since that first half-marathon, I have run 12 more races. My approach to each of them has been the same: stumble across the finish line in whatever time I can manage. I have looked at my races not so much as competitive events, but as training runs with added zing.

Two weeks ago, though, I came to within a minute of my 10K PB (personal best) at the Energizer Night Race. This was a race run at night, on narrow park trails, with this weird headlight thing on my head. Most amazing of all, I actually had energy to spare when I crossed the finish line.

That race was a turning point for me in two ways. The first was that it made me re-evaluate the role of music in my runs. The second was that it made me ask the question: if I can put in a performance like that without really trying, what will I able to accomplish if I push myself beyond what I am used to?

I have been a somewhat complacent runner, being happy with just finishing the race. I still advocate that approach very strongly for beginner runners. But I am not really a beginner anymore. Perhaps it is time for me to start pushing the boundaries a little.

Tomorrow: read about how a change in race strategy this weekend worked out for me.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tdd/3524924669. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Night Running: Tuning In To Myself

16 Sep

It was like a scene from Alien. A park at night, full of people with red lights on their heads talking to an oversized bunny that was Pepto-Bismol pink.

OK, maybe it wasn’t exactly like Alien. There are people, though, who regard runners as a strange breed – particularly runners who voluntarily pay money for the privilege of running on narrow park trails at night when the mosquitoes are out in full force, while wearing strange headlights on their heads.

I arrived at last Saturday’s Energizer Night Race about an hour before the designated start time. As I stood in line at the bank of Porta-potties (race day means epic hydration, which results in, you know), I suddenly realized that I had forgotten an essential element in race preparation.

Eating.

I had forgotten to eat my standard pre-race snack. I gave myself a mental slap in the head. I can understand people forgetting to turn off a light or mail a letter, but forgetting to eat? How do you even do that?

What this meant was that I would have to run this race fuelled by a ham sandwich hastily consumed almost eight hours previously.

I headed over to the water table and drank a bottle of water as well as a couple of cups of Gatorade. I’m not really big on Gatorade, but I reasoned that I needed calories in order to run this race, and Gatorade was my only available source. I resigned myself to the idea that the race would be a tough one. But it was only 10K. I could handle it.

Before I knew it, I was standing at the start line switching my headlight from the red-light Alien setting to the spotlight see-where-you’re-going setting. And then, cheered on by a cheerfully waving Pepto-Bismol pink Energizer Bunny,  we were off.

The first few kilometres were fairly slow, not because I wasn’t feeling good, but because we were on narrow park trails and there were more than 700 of us. This enforced pacing meant that, when the runners became more dispersed, I had plenty of energy reserves to run the second half of the race strongly.

During this run, I rediscovered the art – lost to me a long time ago – of running without music. My MP3 player is loaded up with playlists of music that with a beat I can run to, and I have been more than a little reliant on this in my training. For safety reasons, participants in the Energizer Night Race were not permitted to wear earbuds or headphones. Not only did I not miss the music, I believe that I ran better because of its absence. For the first time in ages, I had to pace myself not according to the beat of the music, but according to what my body was telling me.

In fact, all of the conditions of this run resulted in the need for me to be completely aware of every little thing around me and within me. Navigating the narrow trails among hundreds of other runners in the dark – albeit dark that was broken by headlights – put me in tune with my body in a way that I don’t think I have ever experienced before.

In the end, my time was 1:06:14. Considering all the ways in which this run was so different to the norm, I am very happy with that time. It is a mere minute off my personal best time.

At my next race, the Oasis Zoo Run 10K, I am going to try and reclaim that minute and get myself a new personal best time.

Thank you to the organizers of the Energizer Night Race for creating an event that has, I believe, helped me become a better runner.

(Photo credit: André Van Vugt)

A Midsummer Night’s Run

29 Aug

 

At the finish line!

No matter which way you look at it, fifteen kilometres – almost ten miles – is a long way to travel on foot. For the modern human being, who has all kinds of conveniences available that are designed to help us get places and do things quickly, the  only reason to travel fifteen kilometres on foot is for the fun of it.

Many people just don’t get my preoccupation with running. They don’t understand how I  can actually enjoy the feeling of being on the move for two hours straight, and seeing how fast and  how far I can push  myself. It is beyond their comprehension that I wear my blackened toenails with pride, like badges of honour.

I don’t expect everyone to understand, just as I don’t always understand other people’s interests. I do find it intriguing, however, that many of the people who don’t understand go to all kinds of lengths to tell me all the ways in which running is bad for me.

If only they could see the incredible energy – the special kind of buzz – at the finish lines of races. There is no way you can be in the midst of hundreds of runners basking in the glow of achievement and still think that running is bad for you.

Last weekend, I got to experience that buzz for the first time in quite a while. I participated in the 15K event at Toronto’s Midsummer Night’s Run. Admittedly, I wasn’t too sure about doing this race. Thus far, my season of training can be summed up in one word: abysmal. There has always been one thing or another getting in the way of my training, and I feared that I had simply lost the spark of last year and the year before.

To compound matters, the race was on the same route as a disastrous race that I did last summer and vowed at the time never to repeat.

I knew I was going to be able to go the distance, but I wasn’t too sure how good I’d feel about it.

Despite my misgivings, I started to feel the usual pre-race adrenaline rush as soon as I got to the starting area. As I sat there on the lawn an hour before the start, eating my peanut butter sandwich, I felt the energy of the people around me start to fill me up. By the time I lined up with ten minutes to go, I was literally hopping in my eagerness to get going.

All of a sudden, I was determined to nail this race. I had a score to settle with this route that had soundly defeated me last year.

The run did not disappoint. I followed my usual strategy of running in 2km chunks. This method really works for me. I simply do not allow my mind to think beyond the next 2km. Only in the last 3km or so do I start aiming for the finish line. Running in this way keeps me physically focused and mentally strong.

The last 5km were hard. They were not made easier by the fact that the last water station ran out of both water and Gatorade by the time I got there. Add to that the fact that both my shoes and my orthotics were on their last – um – legs, and you have a couple of kilometres that inevitably felt very, very long.

But eventually I got to the point that I love in any race: turning the corner and seeing the finish line ahead of me, like a shining beacon. Just seeing that banner emblazoned with the word “FINISH” and hearing the cheering and applause of the crowds infused me with the energy that I needed to sprint – yes, sprint! – down the home stretch to the end.

With just metres to go, a well-meaning spectator yelled out that I was looking good.

I was looking like death warmed over, but it was kind of them to say so.

And so I finished another race, carried over the finish line not only by my legs, but by the collective energy of the crowds.

What a feeling. What a magical feeling.

This, my friends, is why I run.

(Photo credit to the author)

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/)

If He Can Do It, So Can I

15 Jun

Last night, my son George was upset. He was distressed for the entire evening, crying and looking at us sadly with tears escaping from his beautiful big blue eyes. I could tell that this wasn’t just a case of a kid being in a bad mood. Something specific was bugging him. I just didn’t know what it was.

It was heartbreaking. There was this child, my beautiful boy, clearly wanting or needing something, and he was not able to communicate what it was. It was not for lack of trying. He was making supreme efforts to find the words and get them out, but no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t understand.

In the end, George was just looking at me with an expression that told me he didn’t blame me for not getting it, that although he was sad, he was used to not being able to express himself, used to not being understood.

It was that look, the expression of resignation, that broke my heart. The idea that my child is already, at the age of 7, getting used to a life of hardship, just kills me. I guess this kind of acceptance has to happen sometime, because George’s life is never going to be the same as most other people’s, but still. It’s a difficult pill for a parent to swallow.

Moments like this strengthen my resolve where my running is concerned. On Sunday evening, I ran 14km on the treadmill. That’s a long way to run on a lab-rat machine, but really, I didn’t have any choice. Circumstances were such that it was the treadmill or nothing. And because I have a half-marathon a month from, now, I had to put in the distance.

Just because I deemed it necessary to run for 90 minutes on the treadmill, that doesn’t mean I liked it. It was very hard. The running part was OK. It was the mental resolve part that got me. Treadmill running is mind-numbingly dull, no matter what you do to try and distract yourself, and it took all of my self-discipline to keep going for the full distance.

Many of my long runs – even the ones I do on the open road – are tests more of my mental fortitude than my physical abilities. I know that I can run the distance. I have the base of physical fitness, and I have developed a running form that works for me. The mechanics of my body work just fine. The trouble is that my mind keeps trying to tell me that I’ve been running for a long time, and really, I should be getting tired by now. I have developed techniques to keep myself mentally strong during my runs. Playing music, thinking of things that are not running related, focusing on my body and how it feels as I run. The most effective technique I have, though, is this: all I have to do to keep going is think of the reason I’m doing it.

Every step I take, every aching muscle I endure, every toenail that I lose – it’s all for George. All of this training takes me closer to my Run For Autism, the event I use to raise funds for autism services to benefit my son and other people like him. Running for my child – what better motivation could there possibly be?

People sometimes ask me how I do it, how I go for all of those long runs and then, at the end of it, go out and race for thirteen miles.

For me, it’s easy. All I do is think of my boy. If he can live every day of his life with the challenges he faces, surely I can manage a two-hour run.

If he can do it, so can I. And he is my inspiration.

For details about my Run For Autism and how to support the cause, please visit my race page.

My Next Race

15 May

In yesterday’s post, I whined about how I would not be able to run the Toronto Women’s Half-Marathon at the end of the month. I’m still not happy about it, and I know that on race day I will be sitting at home resenting the crap out of the cold I caught and the damaged nerve that sometimes just has to get its way or else. I will be consoled, though, by the fact that at least I am not doing something stupid that could result in debilitating injury.

The good news in all of this is that as of this morning, I am registered for a half-marathon in mid-July. The race looks like a good one. It is in the Niagara region so the scenery will be nice. The elevation chart is mostly a flat line, so the race will probably not be on a physically demanding course. And it is a full two months from now, which means that I will have the time to train, and train properly. I have a half-decent chance to put in a half-decent time.

The only drawback to this race is that it is in mid-July. Meaning mid-summer. Meaning scorching hot temperatures and lots of humidity. It will not be easy to run in those conditions, although it will beat the winter runs where you have to wear all of the clothes you own and try to avoid falling on your ass on solid sheets of ice.

Just registering for this run has energized me. It gives me a goal, something to work towards, something to train for.

Niagara, here we come!