Tag Archives: racing

Here Come The Butterflies

12 May

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

Two weeks and one day from now, I will be lining up for my first half-marathon of the season, the Toronto Womens Half-Marathon. I am looking forward to this race immensely. Not only for the chocolate station. And shallow and all as I am, not only for the aid stations manned by shirtless firefighters who douse you with water.

I am excited about the challenge of it. With the help of my friend and coach Phaedra, I have really been pushing the boundaries in my training this season. I have managed to survive some fair significant disruptions, like unexpected travel to South Africa and a couple of bouts of illness.

The two races that I have done this year – the Good Friday Ten-Miler and the Toronto Yonge Street 10K – have both yielded PB’s (personal best times). I am eager to see if I can repeat the performance over a longer distance.

I just have to get through the final phase of training, which is referred to by many runners as Taper Madness. While tapering is an essential part of training, it can be a period fraught with anxiety and mild (or not-so-mild) paranoia.

The science behind tapering is this: you spend twelve or fourteen weeks training intensively for this event, putting in your mileage and your speed work, having a battle of wits with hills, and spending entire Sunday mornings out on the road. You build your stamina and your strength, and you get used to spending long periods of time on your feet.

The training is a long process that should be properly planned and carefully executed. And if you’re not physically capable of running the distance of a half-marathon two weeks prior to the race, chances are that you won’t be ready on race-day either. The last two weeks don’t really have any value in terms of building your fitness level or your strength, so you are better off cutting back your mileage and giving your muscles time to rebuild in time for the big day.

Because you are reducing your mileage, you have more of a build-up of energy, so you get jittery and anxious, and you start imagining that the twinge in your ankle means it’s broken, or that the little pimple on your chin means you have smallpox.

Some runners can get through the tapering period without incident. They are cool, calm and collected, and don’t suffer from any attacks of nerves. “Butterflies? What butterflies?” they ask with infuriating serenity, when you question them about whether they are nervous about their upcoming race.

Other runners cannot sit still. They pace around restlessly, talk a mile a minute and fidget incessantly. They turn into hypochondriacs, anxiously assessing every little ache and every occasion on which they need to clear their throats. Because they stop sleeping, they advance seventy-two levels in Farmville in a two-week period.

Guess which category I fall into? I’ll give you a hint: I’m sitting here typing this at 4:12 in the morning.

Technically, my taper hasn’t even started yet. It will start after my long run tomorrow. But I tend to start feeling the jitters right before that last long run. I feel that there’s a lot riding on the run. If it goes well, I will go into Race Day with confidence, but I will be worried about whether I can repeat the performance. If it goes badly, I will be obsessing about whether I’m ready for the race.

So the butterflies have shown up, right on schedule. No matter what tomorrow’s long run is like, I am going to spend the next two weeks driving my family nuts and breaking out into occasional bouts of maniacal laughter. At night I will be banished to the sofabed because my incessant fidgeting will keep the husband awake. I will constantly bug the children, who will indulge me by playing with me for a while before my six-year-old gets exasperated and goes, “Momm-meeeee. You don’t play the gamethat way.”

Right now, the butterflies are not obeying any air traffic rules. They are flying around in chaos. But it is my hope that when the starting siren goes off on the day of the race, the butterflies will reconfigure themselves, arrange themselves into beautiful patterns, and fly in formation.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilker/287399328/. 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.