Month: October 2013

My Training Essentials

This past summer I drastically increased my training load over what I had done in the past, from “you run a lot” to “wow, are you ever NOT training??”, and also quickly realized that increased mileage  and training frequency (and therefore decreased recovery time) means more aches and pains that can easily turn into injuries.  This fall’s marathon training and the subsequent focus on running has forced me to learn the weaknesses of my body, what I can run through and what I can’t, and how to manage the aches and pains before they become injuries that stop me from running altogether.

Although I’m hardly an expert on recovery and injury prevention, there are a few things that have had a huge impact on keeping me on my feet and training – things I really wish I knew about when I started logging those extra miles.  Let me know if I missed any of your favourites! :)

BodyGlide

Pretty much every endurance athlete I know uses BodyGlide on at least something during race day, but I betcha I put it in a weirder spot than most… Get your mind out of the gutter, everyone puts it there! :)

Whenever I run more than about 18km, I have to rub BodyGlide between my toes or I’ll get blisters.  Actually, between my toes is about the only spot I get blisters, and it’s really annoying because changing shoes or socks makes no difference (and before you suggest it, I’m not running in toe socks or FiveFingers).  BodyGlide between the toes is less gross than it sounds, and an absolute lifesaver when training or racing long.

Foam Roller

Foam RollerWhat would I ever do without my trusty blue foam roller? Like everyone else, I bought mine and then ignored it for a couple months until my Achilles started bothering me during runs.  A few days (and complete disappearance of my pain) was all it took, and now I spend about 10 minutes or so with my roller most nights.  Sometimes it’s just a quick roll on whatever’s tight, but I’ve actually spent over 40 minutes of quality time with my roller before when I had time, and was it ever painful wonderful.

I started by looking up some videos on Youtube (this is my favourite), and then modified the techniques as I progressed.  At first I would have screamed in pain if I tried to put my full body weight on the roll, but now I can (most days) roll most major muscle groups without having to support myself too much.

Stretching

So we all know that lots of training means some things get looser – like my pants (yay) –  while other things get tighter – like my abs (yay) and …EVERY MAJOR MUSCLE BELOW MY WAIST.  This usually means I end up getting weird looks for stretching my IT band in the office kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil, or sticking my butt out so I can get a good hamstring stretch when I bend down to pick something up!  Kind of embarrassing…

Anyway, about the time I started making rolling a routine I also started doing a few little stretches afterwards.  Sometimes I do some sun salutations or warrior poses when I get up, but most of the time I get down on the floor before bed, roll out, then spend a few minutes relaxing from the day and stretching out whatever feels tight.  I never thought I would say this, but it’s actually one of my favourite parts of the day now.

Massage Therapy

Finding a great massage therapist is like finding treasure!  A friend of mine recently recommended I visit Sharon, and I was blown away by how well her technique aligns with what I like – and what I like is PAIN!  Really getting into a deep tissue massage can be incredibly painful, but once the bruises heal (yes I actually bruise, and yes I’m actually proud of it), everything feels so much better and I’m able to keep a higher training load without getting injured.  I usually go every couple of months because I’m not made of money, and use my foam roller for maintenance in between torture sessions.

I always joke that RMTs would make the best interrogators, because they know just how to find that spot of exquisite pain and keep working it until you cry for mercy.  It’s pretty much true, except we pay them for the pleasure.  Can anyone deny that we’re crazy?

Epsom Salts Baths

After a massage, a race or a hard workout (or sometimes just because it’s cold out and I had a rough day), there isn’t much that beats an Epsom salts bath.  It’s a very simple but incredibly relaxing treat, especially when paired with candles, wine, and a book of your choice.  Also helps with DOMS, aka the reason you can’t walk properly after a race.

A few times a year I go all out with the relaxation and recovery, and make the trip down to Body Blitz Spa (pictured in the photo) where I can spend a few hours in the sauna, steamroom, dead sea salt and Epsom salts pools, and the cold plunge pool that is both freezing cold and totally worth it.  Ahhhh….

Sports Physician

https://i1.wp.com/www.chicago-chiropractic.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/clinic-img2.jpg

If all else fails as it inevitably will at some point, a good sports physician can mean the difference between arguing over a diagnosis and treatment plan with your family doctor (spoiler: it’s always 6 weeks rest and to stop training so much), and having someone whose goal is to get you back up and training for that Ironman as soon as possible. I see Dr. Douglas Stoddard at Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute (SEMI) in Toronto, and not only is he highly recommended within the athletic community, but consultations with him are also covered by OHIP (Also: SEMI has a referral program, which means you get a massage for every three people you refer. So tell him I sent you).  If you’re looking for a doctor and don’t live near Toronto, try checking the physician directory at the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine.

Specific Nutritional Supplements

The best way to get the proper nutrients is from real food through a healthy, balanced diet, but I’ve also found that supplementing with specific vitamins (B12 and D) has a significant impact on my energy level, sleep quality and mood.  Good quality sleep, and therefore the energy to make it through my workouts, has helped me train better and recover faster, and means I’m not snapping at everyone I see for the rest of the day!  I also take an iron supplement since I am prone to anemia, particularly when I’m running a lot.

Learn from my mistakes: I discovered through trial and error – mostly error – that vitamins B12 and D are energizing and therefore have to be taken in the morning, unless you want to be up all night, so keep that in mind if you decide to take these vitamins.  I’ve got a pretty good system going for me now, and if I notice I’m feeling unusually tired it’s because I’ve missed a few days.

That pretty much covers my recovery and injury prevention inventory.  If you’ve got more suggestions, please leave me a comment so I can try out some of your favourites!

Happy training!

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Toronto Waterfront (Half) Marathon 2013

How did I start for the half marathon and end up handing out water at the 16k water station? Funny story…

Today’s race strategy was to run a relatively comfortable 1:45 half marathon, which would not only confirm my goal marathon pacing for Hamilton in two weeks, but would also be an easy 7-minute PB over last year’s finish.  Sounds simple, no?  It should have been, but I’m starting to think that I have a half marathon curse; I’ve never been able to run a half marathon to my fitness level because something always ends up getting in the way.  This year I was nervous that my recent hip issues would flare up, but hopeful because everything was feeling normal for the past few days.

Starting out on the slow side of a 5:00 pace felt so easy, just like I was floating (more…)

Ironman Canada

Blissfully Oblivious

Have you ever attempted something that you didn’t know was difficult?

When I was about 16 years old, I decided to try making a cheese soufflé for dinner one night.  I pulled out my family’s copy of Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, followed most of the instructions (even back then I had a habit of modifying recipes on the fly) and served up a cheesy, puffy soufflé for my family about an hour later.  My stepmom was incredulous: apparently soufflés are supposed to be very difficult to make, and somehow I had stumbled through the instructions as a novice cook and managed to turn out something puffy and cheesy that tasted exactly like a cheese soufflé is supposed to, despite opening the oven and poking it to see if it was done.  Had I known that they were a very finicky food to make I likely would have thought twice about attempting the recipe, but my ignorance meant I succeeded at something that “everyone says” is difficult.

My first experience with triathlon was pretty similar; I didn’t find out until a few years after my first (tri-a-tri) triathlon that a lot of people think they’re really difficult.  I’m still amazed when I hear marathoners and centurion cyclists talk in awe about triathlons and their goals to maybe-one-day attempt one; if only they knew that the most difficult part is starting!  Finishing your first triathlon is such an amazing accomplishment, but it’s not an unreachable dream for all but a few, as common knowledge would imply.

What if none of us knew how difficult things would be before attempting them? Sure, we’d probably get in over our heads at some point and fail spectacularly at something we thought we could do.  But we’d also take on things we’d otherwise never dream of trying, and we would succeed in accomplishing some incredible things, to the amazement of ourselves and others.  What would you try?

Ironman Canada

In making the decision to move to Ironman distance and sign up for Ironman Canada 2014, a lot of advice went through my head; echoes of friends telling me how difficult the training is, how brutally tough it can be to even make it to the finish line and that you really have to understand what you’re getting into before you commit.  I carefully considered what I’m capable of and if I have the time to dedicate to such a big goal, but in the end I decided to jump in with both feet and see where it takes me.

Being blissfully oblivious to what’s considered “difficult” has worked out pretty well for me in the past.

Walking the Tightrope

Today I am exactly three weeks away from my marathon. It’s that sensitive time where mileage is peaking, and I’m trying to avoid burnout and injury in the last few weeks before my race; it’s also where a lot of people throw their races. My massage therapist called this time “walking the tightrope.”

My tightrope walking started on Tuesday: I added a little tempo to my 12km distance run. Okay, actually I added 8km at faster-than-marathon pace, but I warmed up for 2km first and my heart rate stayed below 170 for the whole tempo portion, so I was still pretty well behaved! The only hitch was when something in my right hip/glute area seized painfully around 9km and caused a little discomfort for the rest of the run…but I was able to finish my tempo, walk it off and it didn’t hurt after.

Unfortunately, I had to cut today’s long run short when my right hip started getting a weird achy feeling after about 40 minutes of running. Stopping my run at 8km was such a difficult decision, knowing that I could have pushed through, managed the pain and finished my run…and instead I walked 2.5km after calling my dad to come pick me up. Frustrated and disappointed.

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The thing is, it’s so important to keep the big picture in mind all the way through training. I’m guilty of putting my head down and doing the mileage and paces I see on my training schedule, without adjusting early for how I feel and the conditions where I’m running, and usually it means I don’t see issues until it’s to late and I have to make a major correction. I think this is why most people hire coaches: they see the big picture and can gauge when things are going off track, at the point where a minor adjustment is sufficient.

So today my big picture side showed up and told me that it’s not worth pushing through pain. That the marathon won’t care if I ran 10km instead of 25 today; I’ve put in the training and now I have to walk the tightrope.

Rest, stretch, roll. Don’t fall.

How to Become an Athlete

This week I was talking to a coworker who started running with our company club last year, and is running her first 5k in a week and a half at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.  She asked how my training is going and I told her I’m feeling really strong, and then asked about her upcoming race.  She was telling me how excited she was, but then laughed a little and self-deprecatingly said, “but 5k is nothing to you, and I’m really slow.”  I understand where she’s coming from because I think we’ve all felt that way at some point, but I spent the next ten minutes telling her that her 5k is a huge achievement and convincing her that it’s not about the distance: she, along with anyone else who runs, walks, swim, cycles or lifts weights, is already ahead of anyone sitting at home on their couch.  You may be the slowest runner out there, but you are still a runner and that’s not nothing.

Although I tend to think of my current fitness level and training load as pretty normal – partly because my training partners are just as or more crazy than I am – people can find it really intimidating to talk about their workouts to someone who they think of as extremely fit. Lots of people think they couldn’t do what I do, simply because they can’t do it now; what many people don’t realize is that I started out in worse shape than most of them.  In high school I couldn’t run a kilometer without walking, and my fastest mile took over 12 minutes – in fact I remember watching the first triathlon at the Sydney Oympics in 2000, and wondering how the heck anyone could run 10km without stopping!

So now that we’re all on the same page as to my starting point, let me take you through what it takes to go from a 12 minute mile to a triathlete!

Gravenhurst swim exit

Gravenhurst Sprint Triathlon, 2008

The first time I ever ran voluntarily, it was one kilometer with a friend who insisted on dragging me to the gym at 5:30am, three times a week.  I survived that one, and started running one kilometer every time I went to the gym…and then made it two…then three…and worked my way up to 5 kilometers over the course of about two months.

#1: Find a friend who will drag you to your workout on a regular basis, and make it both a consistent routine and a priority.

My first triathlon was held in the spring in Calgary, and I’m not kidding you, it snowed on the bike and my hands were so cold I almost couldn’t brake. But despite such terrible race conditions, I loved the feeling of crossing the finish line and was instantly hooked on racing!  Racing gave me motivation to train harder and smarter, and I could feel myself getting stronger and more competitive with myself.

#2: Create motivation to train and push your limits; it doesn’t have to be racing, but that’s what got me hooked.

In first year university I ran a little, but the changing routine and monotony of running alone meant I gradually stopped running regularly, and didn’t really pick up my fitness again until I joined the University of Waterloo Triathlon Club in third year.  I started racing again soon after, and had regular workouts with other triathletes who not only challenged my competitive spirit, but also gave me training tips and advice.  I started racing faster and longer, which made me willing to work even harder.

#3: Surround yourself with people who are passionate about your sport and can give you motivation and advice.

When I graduated from university, 6 years after finishing my first triathlon, I bought myself a carbon fiber triathlon bike (my beloved Kuota K-factor) with some help from my grandpa and family, and joined the Toronto Triathlon Club.  My training became more consistent and focused, which resulted in an age-group placing and finally moving up to Olympic distance in 2011, then qualifying for the duathlon world championships in 2012.  Many of my friends are dedicated and passionate triathletes who support and push me in my goals, and training is no longer something I have to think about: whether I will go for a run is not a question, the only question is when and how far.

#4: Make it part of your life.

Really, that’s all it takes.  You honestly don’t need to be a high school track star or a natural-born runner like some lucky people; I’m not physiologically any better suited to triathlon than your average human being, I’m just stubborn and a bit obsessive.  Don’t get caught up in what you can’t do right now, but start working on the things you can.

And finally, regardless of how insignificant you think the distance may be, at the end of the day I want to hear about the workout you did on the weekend or the race you’re really excited about.  We’re both passionate about the same thing: pushing the limit of what we thought was possible just a little more each day.  Isn’t that an incredible achievement?

What have you accomplished recently that you couldn’t do before?

Garmin 3:17:25, 33.01km

Sunday Recap: Moving Forward

Saying it’s been an emotional day would be a bit of an understatement, and that doesn’t even include my BIG NEWS! (It’s at the bottom).

Today I tackled my longest training distance in preparation for the Hamilton Road2Hope Marathon: 33km with just me, the rain and my very awesome playlist.  Last week’s 30km run with Héctor was tough enough, particularly after 27km, and this week I had not only an extra 3km but I was on my own with no one to talk me through those last few kilometers that were so painful.  Plenty of challenge!

My route started on the east side of Burlington at Appleby Line, and followed the lake to Hamilton where I covered the last 10km of the marathon course before turning around and retracing my path.  Immediately I stumbled across a power line trail, which was absolutely gorgeous in the morning fog and filled with fellow runners and walkers to keep me company for the first several kilometers.  I decided to run by effort today rather than by pace like I usually do, and quickly settled into a very comfortable 5:45 pace (the fact that I can even honestly write the words “very comfortable 5:45 pace” makes me feel so amazed at the incredible improvement I’ve experienced over the past month of training).  I also ran through the preparations for Burlington’s CIBC Run for the Cure and garnered some cheers and jokes about my “headstart” from volunteer course marshals, before moving down towards the lake and feeling the power of Lake Ontario waves crashing into the pier.

After crossing the bridge into Hamilton, I was officially running on the course for the Hamilton marathon and I was struck by how beautiful and energetic the trail becomes, with waves and surfers dancing in the lake, photographers capturing the action and beauty of nature, and a multitude of runners, cyclists, walkers, dogs, children and squirrels filling the trail with the joy of being outside and active.  How could I not enjoy the run?  I was smiling the whole way and didn’t want to turn around when I reached 16.5km. (I did though, because I know how long runs work – you’re supposed to feel great in the middle of them, but it’s a terrible time to make decisions regarding distance).

I felt great all the way up to about 20km when I started to feel little twinges of pain in my left knee.  A tight IT band is not a new issue and it just means I need to spend more quality time with my roller, but it was tough to realize I was in pain and still had 13km to finish.  (Just in case you’re worried, yes I can run through it, yes it’s painful, but often it gets better after a while and I’m not making it worse).  I kicked it up a notch with a special Espresso GU gel I brought along for when things got tough.  Cause I’m tough too.

With 8km to go and my knee pain fading, I started picking up the pace again…and realized that the difficult part of the run had started while I was distracted with my knee, and that this was going to be a very long 8km. I had the mixed blessing of running back through the now-dispersing Run for the Cure, which was nice because I got some cheers and encouragement, but sucked because there were now lots of people to dodge – and my legs weren’t really in any condition to be dodging anything.  Shoutout to the guy I passed, then informed that “I’m a ninja!” when he commented that I snuck up on him: I was delirious and my blood sugar was probably very low.  Apparently I get a little crazy around 28km.

Around 29km, I had to cross a street then run back up onto the pathway.  I cried a little because of that slope that I am going to call a hill.

At 30.5km, I started talking to myself.

At 32km, with 1km to go, I picked up the pace to a blistering 6:20/km, a little terrified that my legs would just collapse, throwing me into the pavement without enough energy to even raise my arms.  I avoided this doomsday scenario (which I’m sure would have ended with me curled up on the sidewalk bawling), finished that last painful kilometer by talking myself through 100m increments, and stumbled to a halt as my Garmin beeped my 33rd kilometer split.  Then I started crying as the low blood sugar and incredible sense of accomplishment hit me all at once.

Garmin 3:17:25, 33.01km

So with my monster 33km and a few tears out of the way…

I have some BIG NEWS!

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and decided to finally take the plunge and register for my first full Ironman!  On July 27, 2014 I will be finishing a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run in Whistler, BC at IRONMAN Canada.

There’s a story behind this, and I’ll share it once everything sinks in a little.  Until then, enjoy looking at my registration page, and appreciate that it took me about 10 minutes to actually press “complete payment” after filling out all my information.  It’s kind of a big deal.

It's official!  IM Canada here I come.

OMG I’M DOING AN IRONMAN!!

Muffins on a plate

Guilt-Free Double Chocolate Muffins

This recipe was born when I was in a chocolaty mood (as with most delicious things), but don’t let that fool you – these muffins are a much healthier version of your typical double chocolate muffin, so they’re guilt free too!

I have to admit, this recipe is a little weird because I wanted to make a dozen large muffins and 16 small muffins so I have a variety of sizes around depending on how much I feel like eating. I’ll be modifying the amounts for only the one dozen regular sized muffins, but I had a lot of demand for the recipe after sharing my muffins last night, so in the meantime you can either multiply the recipe by about 2/3 or you can make extra muffins (I know which one I’d choose).

Muffins on a plate

Guilt-Free Double Chocolate Muffins
Makes: 12 regular muffins and 16 small muffins

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup ground flax seeds
2 Tbsp cocoa
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

6 mashed bananas
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup oil (I used half olive, half canola)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease muffin pans (don’t use liners because they will stick).
  2. In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients in the first section above. In a smaller bowl combine wet ingredients, leaving out the chocolate chips.
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, and mix slightly. Add chocolate chips and stir just until combined, leaving the batter a bit lumpy.
  4. Spoon into muffin pans, filling each right to the top. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  5. Let cool in the pans for a few minutes then remove and cool completely on a cooling rack.