running

Sporting Life 10k Race Report

I think this race gets filed under the “I forgot I’m doing an Ironman” category of race entries.  In February, March and even April it was easy to keep thinking that I had lots of time before my long course races – Welland, Ironman Canada, Barrelman – that is, until I realized that Welland Rose City Tri is on June 15th, which is NEXT MONTH. Exactly 5 weeks, which is considerably less than the “lots of time” I thought I had.

I pretty much signed up for this race because I wanted to buy an Icebreaker merino shirt, and I got a $35 gift card with my $40 race entry. That was about 87% of the reason, the other 13% being that I really love racing.  Like, really, really love it.

That being said, I did pretty much everything wrong in training:

#1: I haven’t done any speed training since last October unless you count a track meet, a half marathon, or a 3x1200m that I did sometime in March.

#2: I’m only doing two decent runs a week: hills on Tuesday and long on Sunday, with some scattered recovery (read: mind-numbingly slow) and brick (read: mind-numbingly slow and uncomfortable) runs. Did I mention that I walk-run my long runs? I don’t know what fast is anymore.

#3:  I spent over 9 hours training in the week leading up to the race, including 5 spin classes from Wednesday to Saturday.  I went a little too hard on my Thursday class, because apparently I don’t have an off switch.  Oops.

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But who cares about race-specific training for a 10k, right? I have a half to train for in…oh yeah (eep!)…5 weeks. (more…)

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TTC Track Meet Report

I started off Sunday morning with a wonderfully meditative easy run to finish off my recovery week, and I spent most of the hour thinking over my races in the last couple of weeks and reflecting on the progress I’ve made.  I never really got a chance to think too much about the track meet two weeks ago because I was so preoccupied with my half marathon, but on Sunday morning I was able to relax and enjoy the success of the last two weeks.  So my run wasn’t really about the run; it was about getting outside, enjoying the sun and soaking in all the results of steady and consistent training.

Sunny snow along Leslie St on my way home.

Sunny snow along Leslie St on my way home.

With all of that being said, I really do want to share my experience at the Toronto Triathlon Club‘s inaugural track meet.  I haven’t run track since high school, when I finished last in the 200m sprint at the city track meet and swore I hated running.  Before that race, I would train with the track and field team sometimes (it didn’t last long), and I distinctly remember being out on the track early one morning with the most impossible workout ahead of me: 16 laps of the track, sprinting the straights and jogging the turns. I think I made it through 5 laps before I gave up and decided I’d never be a runner.  I really wish I could go back and talk to myself then; I’d tell high-school Kim that being a runner isn’t about innate ability (although some people have that), it’s about sticking with it long enough to see results (and that’s the part most people are missing).  I’d also tell her that running teaches you amazing things, leads to to wonderful places and introduces you to the most caring and dedicated people you’ll ever meet – and that none of this requires you to run fast or far.  It’s not about numbers, it’s about the community.

…I told you I was feeling reflective.

Fortunately I didn’t leave this track meet swearing that I hate running.  If anything, it made me love running more: I saw people of all abilities and ages out racing in the middle of winter, and having a fantastic time on a Saturday afternoon.  There were kids that looked like they were barely 8, Master’s runners who win their age groups, triathletes who haven’t been running all year, and what felt like more spectators and volunteers than there were athletes!  And that’s not even counting the food…

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The track meet was hosted by the Toronto Triathlon Club at Monarch Park Stadium, which is a real treat in a city without indoor tracks.  We started with a 1600m, followed by 400m and – for those brave enough to extend their suffering – capped it off with a 3000m race.  My main race was the 1600m since I’m not really a short track runner – 400m brings a completely different kind of pain – and I didn’t want to hammer a tough 3000m the weekend before my half marathon.  All three events were open, so I decided to race the mile and 400m, then take it easy on the 3000.

The Mile:

I did remember one important thing from doing 800m and 1600m intervals in the summer: it’s really easy to start out too fast, and a mile feels like five when your body gives up on you halfway through the race.  Unsure of my fitness level at shorter distances, I decided to take it quite easy in the first 800m and really hammer it home in the last lap.

Starting off easy meant I spent the first two laps in last place, and last is a tough place to be – especially when there are only four people in the race.  It took a lot of determination to hold my own pace rather than racing everyone else. I was able to pass two of my three competitors in the third and fourth laps, but despite some pretty decent suffering I wasn’t able to catch that last person in front.  Second place in my heat, and 6:09 finish!

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

The 400m

Second only to the 800m in suffering, the 400m race is all about giving everything you’ve got for a single lap of the track.  There was no pacing strategy for this race: the pace would be all-out from start to finish.

My heart rate was about 180 before the gun even went off because I was so excited!  This time I started off in first place, which came with a new challenge: constantly checking over my shoulder to see if anyone was gaining.  Although I was terrified I would get passed the entire time, I held on to win my heat in 1:17.  That one really hurt!

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

The 3000m

After all this you might be thinking, “who would attempt to race ALL THREE EVENTS at a track meet?” and I can tell you sure wasn’t in any condition to be running anything after destroying a mile and 400m!  Although I had intended on running the 3000, I was so high on adrenalin that I was shaking and knew that I would be sacrificing too much the week before a big race.  I told the organizers I was pulling out and started walking to cool down.

Funny thing though…I felt better after a lap of walking, and I ended up caving and agreed to run in the second heat of the 3000m; yes, with all the Masters runners who could whup me on an easy day.  But Michael said he was taking it easy too and he’d run with me the whole way, and we all know I’m a little crazy – so I said yes!

I’ve never taken it so easy in such a short race! Although we were running well below 10k pace, it felt easy and I had enough breath to return some good-natured heckling from certain (ahem) people yelling “if you’re smiling, you’re not running fast enough!”.  We knew we’d get lapped (and we did) but it was the most fun I’ve ever had running so fast!  I loved the finish: we decided to kick it, and when Michael said “come on, give it everything!” I sure did! We crossed the finish line less than a second apart in 13:22.

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Photo by Hector Rodriguez

Post-Race

Hanging out with like-minded people always makes my day, and when food is involved I’m in heaven. I took some of my vegan, gluten-free lentil spice muffins – and was so incredibly flattered when four people asked me for the recipe!

I haven’t posted this recipe yet because it will be featured in the launch of a new project I’m working on with Hector: Our Fresh Kitchen, a resource for health-conscious people where we’ll share easy and delicious recipes for any diet using fresh, whole ingredients.  I hope you’ll check us out and sign up for our newsletter for some sneak previews and a reminder when we go live on March 20.  You can also find us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Chilly Half Marathon

Chilly Half certainly lived up to its name this year!  Despite the -20 wind chill and a dusting of snow overnight, over 2000 brave runners came out to Burlington for the Chilly half marathon and Frosty 5k – and brought along even more courageous spectators who didn’t have the benefit of running to stay warm.  This was my first time running the Chilly Half, but I had heard great reviews; it’s certainly one of the more popular winter races among my group of running friends and a nice way to keep some motivation going through the winter.  After having the best race of my life, I have to agree!

Starting off with my goals and expectations…

This was my first race following a DNF at Scotiabank half marathon and a disastrous marathon debut in Hamilton last fall.  Although I’ve done six half marathons, I’ve never felt that I raced a half to my full potential – there were always cramps, blisters or piriformis injuries that held me back – and I knew that my PB of 1:52 from fall 2012 didn’t really represent my current fitness level.  So with having done next to zero speed training since taking 6 weeks off after my marathon – I’m not completely sure racing the 400m, mile and 3000m races at the TTC track meet last weekend counts as an ideal speed training strategy – my time goal was to finish under 1:45, taking 7 minutes off my personal best…and honestly I wanted to beat that goal by a couple minutes and hopefully finish in the 1:42-1:43 range.  I also wanted to do this with a negative split, and feel strong at the finish.  Having fun goes without saying! (more…)

Off-season Challenge!

Super exciting, I know!  But before I go into the details of what I’m doing in my off-season I’m going to talk about what my goals are and why – because everything has a purpose.

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This is what the off-season is for.

My five main goals for this off-season, along with how I will achieve them:

Goal 1: Recover from training and racing hard in 2013.
> Take a two week break from formal training after the marathon (done!).
> Keep training light and relaxed for the months of November and December.

Goal 2: Fine-tune my overall nutrition by experimenting with different foods and recipes; come up with foods that are easy to prepare and nutritious, to support my Ironman training.
> Reduce my overall sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, focus on whole foods.
> Make a cookbook of foods that are easy to prepare (in advance if possible).

Goal 3: Lose some weight in preparation for next racing season, with the goal of reaching ~16% body fat by January (approximately 117lb, from 121lb today).
> Weigh myself every day (this isn’t for everyone, but it works for me), and track my weight along with my nutrition using the MyFitnessPal app.

Goal 4: Work on strength and flexibility to rehab and prevent injuries.  Specifically this means incorporating overall strength training and trying some different fitness classes.
> Weight training 3x per week with a focus on glute and core strength.
> Try yoga, kettlebell and/or Crossfit.

Goal 5: Work on refining technique (specifically in swimming) and maintaining a basic level of fitness.
> Get in the pool a few times before January – I’m being reasonable here…
> Spin class twice a week to maintain bike, run and overall cardio fitness.

So here’s my challenge: From today until December 31, I will do some form of exercise every day.

Obviously this doesn’t mean hard exercise every day! Once I’ve done my exercise, I’ll share what I did on Twitter.  Here are some ideas:

  • Spin class or trainer ride    
  • Core workout
  • Weight training
  • Swimming     
  • Stretching
  • Yoga/kettlebell/fitness class
  • Running or walking

Anyone else in for the challenge?

Hamilton Marathon Race Report

It’s taken me a while to put my thoughts down on paper because this race was one of the most emotional and difficult I’ve ever attempted, and it took a while for everything to sink in.

The pre-race report is here.

Standing at the start line alongside so many other future marathoners, I was filled with anticipation for a good race and a solid undertone of apprehension about at distance I had never run before.  Forty two (point two!) kilometers and many tears later, I would be a marathoner!  I thought back to 13 years ago, when I remember watching the Sydney Olympics and wondering how in the world anyone could run 10km without stopping; I never would have imagined I would attempt a marathon.

Way too much energy...but I LOVE my neon pink compression socks!

Way too much energy…but I LOVE my neon pink compression socks!

With nearly perfect weather and gorgeous views for the first 10km, I almost managed to forget that for some reason my toes were numb and my hip was supposed to be hurting by 8k.  To my complete surprise, my pirformis syndrome didn’t flare up until everything else hurt worse – and by then I was in too much pain to care.

I held a nice steady pace around 5:10 for the first 10k, but it didn’t feel as smooth as the first 8km of Scotiabank Half two weeks ago.  I followed my race and nutrition plan perfectly, at 10k I added a little push and for a solid 8km I was floating through the course: meditation has nothing on how I felt on Sunday morning.  It was magical.

It took me about 19km to realize that I wasn’t having a good day.  Not that I was having a bad day exactly…but I knew I shouldn’t be starting to hurt 2km before the halfway point. I hit 21k within 1:49, and the triumph of beating my half marathon PB by three minutes (note: this was a BAD IDEA) was overshadowed by an overwhelming urge to walk the 21k aid station. That is, until I realized that walking hurt more than running (what’s with that?).  Running it is, I guess.

Everything between 21 and 29 kilometers is a blur; the breeze picked up and turned into a cold headwind, I wasn’t able to take advantage of the downhill between kilometers 21 and 22 because my legs hurt too much, and I was incredibly disappointed to be passed by the 3:45 pace bunny running down the parkway.  Did those runners have to make it seem so damn easy? Couldn’t they see I was in PAIN??  I was keeping a decent pace around 5:30 but it hurt like hell, and my first tears came as I was running up the off-ramp to the 29k aid station.  Fortunately I had a backup consolation pack of gummies, and they were the best thing I’d ever tasted.  Moment salvaged.

We hopped onto a section of trail to get over the QEW (hopped being a figurative, not literal term, because nobody is “hopping” anywhere 29km into a marathon), and I even managed to pop a smile and victory pose for the photographer across the bridge – I honestly don’t know where that energy came from. A second wind caught me as I ran down through the crowds surrounding the 30km mark, realizing that I was only 10 minutes behind my goal pace and getting a little teary and emotional as I ran by Dad and Brenda who were cheering and snapping pictures.  My legs were hurting, but I only had 12km to go!

My energy lasted until 32km, where the real race started to unfold (or should I say, unravel?). The first real tears came as the 4:00 pace bunny passed me, and I just couldn’t bring myself to run anymore so I walked and cried until I got to the 33km marker.  Little did I know, this would be close to the last running I would do in this race, and covering the last 7km would be the toughest finish I’ve ever done.

At 35km, as I turned back towards the finish line, my legs stopped cooperating.  A brief attempt to run…jog…shuffle meant I nearly collapsed, and I resigned my self to walk the remainder of the race in tears – and I literally sobbed for the next hour and a half as I limped my way to the end.  Low blood sugar, pain and a profound sense of frustration and disappointment were the highlights of my walk to the finish, and while I appreciated the cheering and attempts to motivate me as the kilometer markers grew further and further apart, I felt like kicking everyone who said “come on, dig deep and run it in!!” – with their happy smiles and legs that still work.

I almost quit at 40.5km.  I hate walking from the elevator to my car in the parking garage, let alone the last 7km of what was supposed to be a race, and WHERE THE HELL was the 41km marker?  Shouldn’t it be here by now? But I didn’t just complete 40.5km to give up now.  No matter what, I finish.

Although I walked almost until the last meter, at 4:41:20 I jogged across that finish line in tears.

The Numbers

Chip time – 4:41:20
Average pace – 6:49
Age group placing – 32/43
Overall placing – 852/985

The Aftermath

My sense of disappointment took several days to dissipate, and for that time I was so embarrassed with my finish that I didn’t even tell people I’d run a marathon.  Of course they caught on as soon as they saw me walk or attempt stairs (which was actually pretty hilarious if you’re not the one wincing), but I needed to spend some time internally processing my feelings.  I’m still feeling a little sensitive about it, but realized that overcoming an incredibly difficult finish and actually completing the distance is a success.  Having big goals means failing sometimes, but that it’s just an opportunity to do better next time.

Also, some things just came together perfectly:

  • I didn’t have to deal with any specific pain or injuries during the race, not even blisters or chafing anywhere.
  • Compression socks are the most incredible thing ever because nothing hurt below my knees (thank you EC3D for having amazing socks)!
  • My nutrition was almost perfect, although I ended up with extra gels and wouldn’t carry as much next time.
  • I ran the race perfectly, I just wasn’t quite ready for 42.2km; ten weeks ago I had never run more than 21.1km, and with 7 weeks of training I ran and finished a marathon. Now I know what I have to do for the next one, and 30+km is no longer the daunting distance it used to be.

Finishing the toughest, longest and most emotional race I’ve ever done gave me the confidence of knowing what I have to do after I get off the bike on July 27, 2014, and if it gets me to a better Ironman finish it was worth the tears.  I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Hamilton Pre-Race Report

I don’t usually write pre-race reports, but this race is the biggest and longest one I’ve done all year, definitely the most painful, and the only one I might not even finish – all of which makes me much more nervous than usual (in the best way possible).  I felt it would be worthwhile to write down some of my goals and strategies so I can review what I followed, what worked and what didn’t after the race.  You know, once I’m done eating my dark chocolate-covered almonds and cranberries that will be waiting for me at the finish line, courtesy of my race-support Dad! :)

First of all, the goals:

My top priority is to finish the race, obviously.  Feeling strong or smiling when I cross the finish line would be nice, but the basic goal is pretty simple: no matter what, finish the race.  Since it’s my first marathon, that’s a PB right there.

My secondary goal is to run under 4 hours, which should be doable and is a nice round number (as well as being completely arbitrary), but it’s more of a consolation goal because my really super-amazing awesome goal is to run 3:30 and qualify for the Boston Marathon!  I know it’s a really big stretch, but I also know it’s possible if everything comes together and I run a strong race.

Since I’m counting on a lot to work out, I’ve come up with strategies for just about everything.  I haven’t made them into an excel spreadsheet yet, but just wait; there’s still time. :)

Pacing is probably the simplest, especially since my goal time of 3:30 works out to just under 5:00 pace. I’m staying a little conservative since it’s my first marathon, and plan to run about 1:47 for the first half and 1:43 for the second half if I can, both of which are under my current half marathon PB of 1:52. Woohoo, double PB!

Nutrition is also relatively straightforward since I’ve practiced plenty in training.
Pre-race: Lots of healthy carbs today and tomorrow, spaghetti the night before, and a scrambled egg sandwich on a bagel with coffee before the race.
During the race: One GU gel every 5km, which works out to about 50g of carbs per hour and also breaks up the distance into nice manageable chunks, with sugar at the end of each. :)  I’m wearing my fuel belt with two small bottles, which will mean I don’t need to worry about missing aid stations and I can take my gels every 5k rather than every 6k at the aid stations.

The toughest part is my psychological strategy.

Beyond the usual difficulties with the distance, my piriformis refuses to behave itself and has been painful enough to stop my last few runs.  I’m going to tape up my piriformis with my gorgeous purple KT tape, and hope that the extra support will delay the onset of pain and/or potentially reduce its severity once it shows up, and I’m preparing myself to manage a lot of pain.  I do have my doctor’s approval to run through the injury, so I’m working on mantras and dissociative strategies to help me manage for as long as I need to.  I’ve written “Embrace the pain” on my left arm, and even though I’m wearing long sleeves, I’ll know it’s there.

But as far as running the actual distance is concerned…well, I haven’t.  I don’t know exactly what to expect, and even for distances I’ve done in training, I have a difficult time coming up with mantras ahead of time since they’re typically different for every race.  Some of the mantras that have gotten me through other races are:

“Just keep going”
“Strong and smooth”
“Make it count”
“Own the pain”
“I am stronger”
“Make them suffer”

I’m not sure which of those will find their way into my head on race day, but tonight I stumbled across a slightly longer quote that really clicked with me:

“Energy and persistence conquer all things” – Benjamin Franklin

I think I know what I’m going to write on my other arm. :)

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

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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!

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…)

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?