Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Those Who Run ... Plan

One of the things I love about running is it can be highly methodical. As an extremely organized person who gets off on checking to-do lists, I derive great joy in pulling together training plans and reviewing my past Garmin data with a fine-toothed comb.

I have the suspicion that many others may not view running in such a scientific manner. But for those who are looking to coordinate their running calendars and want the spreadsheets - this post is for you.  

Full disclosure: when I started writing this blog, I swore I wouldn't be prescriptive or pretend to know what I was talking about when it came to running. However, if this post comes across as instructional it's only because I've amassed some tips over the years that I find I end up sharing anyway with friends who ask me, "How did you get into running?" or "What do you do to train?"

When I first started running again in 2009, I hadn't run for quite a long time. If you've never run before, or if you've been off running for awhile, it's not safe to just jump right into it. The best thing to do is start gradually and build up.
There are plenty of learn to run plans that can be found online. These gradually introduce a person to running by alternating walking with easy jogging. Most of these plans can get you safely running a distance of 5 km within 10 to 12 weeks. 

After you've learned the basics, the general rule for building a base is to increase your total weekly mileage by no more than 10%. For example, if I ran 20 km last week, my goal for this week should be 22 km. If I ran 35 km, I should be shooting for 38.5 km.

It might be obvious, but choosing a training program should be based on the goals you've set for yourself. Most commonly, many runners decide they want to run a specific distance within a set amount of time. If you want to run a 10 km race and have not managed the distance previously, then the training program you choose should be specifically aimed at completing - you guessed it - 10 km. (Duh, right? It's running ... not rocket science.) The same is true for those wishing to run half marathons, full marathons and beyond.

Sometimes, I find it's necessary to slightly alter some of the training schedules out there based on when my race is scheduled and if I've got other things going on. Let's face it; unless you have the luxury to train full time, life is going to get in the way. By mapping out the races I'd like to do in the next six to 12 months, I'm able to look ahead and work backwards from there.

I'm a big fan of spreadsheets. This particular training program originated from the Running Room Marathon Clinic, but there are plenty of others out there. Find one that is realistic for you, go forth and spreadsheet.

TIP: Print off your training program and post it somewhere where you will always see it. Track your progress by checking off the days you ran and the distance you ran. 

With so many running resources available online and offered through specific races, you shouldn't have any problem finding a program that will work for you. But - if you're not confident about what you're reading on the Internet and would like more direction, there are plenty of helpful sources to choose from.  

Learn to run clinics are offered by community centres, such as your neighbourhood YMCA or YWCA. Running clubs like Forerunners or local shops like The Right Shoe in Vancouver are great for those wanting to get faster in their distance running. National stores like the Running Room cater to the whole spectrum and even provide online training programs if you'd rather run on your own than with a group.

Regardless of what program you choose, make sure to continually monitor how your training is going. Are you following it to the letter? How did you feel that week? Were you short on your mileage? Did you need to change anything? Awareness combined with a little bit of planning will go a long way in helping you stay on track and be successful.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crossfittin' It In

Busy schedules mean trade offs. I normally like to reserve my weekends for running but sometimes this doesn't always work out as planned.

This is the first time I've ever consciously worked to fit cross training into my schedule. As you know, I've been learning a lot from swim class (Lessons Part 1 and Lessons Part 2) and have been loving the time I've spent in the pool.

© Crossfit Westside
In October, I also decided to take up Crossfit. As described by Crossfit Westside in Vancouver, the workouts go something like this:
We take functional movements such as the squat, push up, pullup, deadlift, clean n jerk, running, rowing, skipping, and jumping, mix them up, and execute them in short intense workouts. Each workout has a different combination of exercises with varied repetitions, rounds, and time. 

I'm still relatively new to Crossfit, particularly as I'm only doing it once a week, so by no means do I feel I'm an expert on the subject. I will, however, say this: Crossfit is challenging as hell and in the best way possible. It's pushed me to try things I've never tried before, and motivated me to work harder than I've ever worked.  

But - back to trade offs.

Trying to fit in cross training is like trying to fit extra days into every week. I haven't quite figured it out but I'm determined to make it work because I'm finding it extremely valuable not just physically, but mentally as well. I suppose it's like being well read; if you read nothing but the same author or genre, you can never fully appreciate how interesting other works of writing can be. Taking up swimming and Crossfit has definitely opened me up to new and inspiring fitness challenges.

Sunday is typically the day most runners do their long runs. However, in the last month I've been caught twice leaving my once-a-week Crossfit workout to the weekend and have had to sacrifice either my long run or getting to the gym. If I'd only planned ahead and stuck to my schedule, I could have probably managed to accomplish both fairly easily instead of simply being optimistic that I'd be able to do it all and still have enough downtime to recharge from the work week.

The moral of the story: one plan that works is better than a hundred doubtful ones.  

And if I'd never read Aesop's Fables I wouldn't have known that one, either. More on planning to come.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Joy of Running Unplugged

I am an outside runner. More than that, I am an outside runner who does not listen to music while she runs.  

This is an age-old debate. There are runners who swear by their iPods and MP3 players and those who refuse to wear earphones.  

There are many reasons I do without, and I am constantly reminded of this on every run. My primary reason is safety. I am a small female who prefers to run alone. If I'm on a trail in some park somewhere or out in the early morning hours when it's dark and barely anyone is around, I need to be able to hear if any creeps are trying to sneak up on me. Being attacked is something I would very much like to avoid.

Another reason is because I like to let my thoughts go where they like. Running can be extremely meditative. Music is a distraction. These days, I mainly think about writing ... but I've also trip planned, focused on my running form, solved work problems, and have even had pretend conversations with random people in my life (I know you've done it too and trust me - it's therapeutic). If I had noise going on in my head, I wouldn't have been able to allow these things to happen.

Because I like to run outside and without headphones, the last and most important reason for me is a big cliché but I'm going to say it anyway: I like to be in touch with nature. Blegh, right?  

Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver by early morning moonlight. I mean, if "morning moonlight" makes any sense. And yes, of course it's a dark picture. It was dark out when I took it.

Seriously, though. Living along the coast, I think runners who plug in here are squandering the opportunity to partake in all that our wonderful city has to offer. We are very fortunate in that the beautiful landscape lends itself to wonderful sights and sounds. I've been on countless runs where I've stopped to watch boats, listen to the waves lapping against the shore, see the sun rise over the water, and observe the seals hanging around in the harbour - although, I would not have noticed the seals if I hadn't heard them first.  

The saying goes: "Stop and smell the roses." Well, I think there should be one about stopping to listen. There's plenty to appreciate if only we learn to unplug long enough.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Have Hope, Yo!

Runners often get into the habit of running regular routes. From personal experience, for example, I can tell you that I've committed a minimum of five routes to memory based on distance and time which all start at my apartment.  

Last weekend, I ran a route I don't normally run. This is a good thing to do once in awhile, as it breaks up the regular running routine - particularly when things start to get a bit monotonous. On that route, I ran past a bus stop bench bearing the following graffiti:

"Have hope, yo!"

(I wish I'd stopped to take a picture. Guess I'll have to run it again so I can do just that.)

I'm thinking about that statement today as my motivation to work out severely wanes. Remember how I mentioned that the trick to getting out the door is to not think about it too much? Yeah ... well, it seems I'm a victim of my own making. That's what I get for thinking.

Pep talks are important. © 30 Rock

Running is about highs and lows. A great run one day might mean a crap one the next. Competing priorities sometimes mean a change in running schedule is in order. And sometimes, we just fail to get out there - period.

Many new or inexperienced (or even experienced!) runners can often feel discouraged by the lows but the key is to not feel too bad about these off-days. They happen - and they're normal. Focus on having a better day tomorrow and remember: running is supposed to be fun! We can't have fun or improve if we're too busy beating ourselves up about having a small setback.

Have hope, yo!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Life Lessons Learned in Swim Class: Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about how I've never enjoyed being in water and my desire to be able to swim confidently. I've learned that when a person is relaxed, she floats. When that person panics, she sinks. So ... staying relaxed when swimming? Very important.

Taking up swimming and working to get over my fear of drowning have been incredibly beneficial for me. I've learned that it is possible to do things I've never done before. Before now, I have never taken on the task to just swim as fast as I can for a certain period of time. I would never have thought it possible because before, I wouldn't have been able to stop thinking, "I'm going to drown. I'm going to drown. I'm going to drown."  

But - now? I'm trying to beat the guy swimming next to me. I'm pushing myself to swim in the deep end. I'm working on improving my front crawl. And I'm not thinking about drowning.  

(Well ... okay, I am still thinking about drowning. But just a little bit. And definitely not as much as before.)

I wanted to run a marathon by the time I turned 30 years old. So I did. I wanted to be able to swim. So I took a few lessons.  

I've set the bar a little higher now, but when I finish two marathons and see myself swimming in the deep end and think about these things that I would have never been able to accomplish 10 years ago, I think to myself, "My God. I can do anything."

The point is, I've proven to myself that I can do things now, at 32 years old, that I couldn't do when I was 20. Which means you can too - if you want to.

We may get older but that doesn't mean we can't improve. It doesn't mean we can't succeed at new things or learn new tricks. We just have to try.  

I'm 32. And I'm kicking ass.

© How I Met Your Mother

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Life Lessons Learned in Swim Class: Part 1

I had a breakthrough this weekend. I've always been scared of drowning but I went to the pool yesterday and swam in the deep end for the first time since I was a kid.

I know, I know. As if training to run a marathon wasn't enough, I'm gonna go ahead and conquer my fear of drowning at the same time. Why not? I'm a good multitasker. Plus - it's good cross training. 

As a little girl, I did learn how to swim but was always fearful of being in the water and never got comfortable letting go of the edge in the deep end. A few months ago, I decided to work on this.  I enrolled in a Learn to Swim class and worked my way up from there.

Fast forward to the present and yesterday's private swim lesson in the deep end. At first I freaked out. But then I re-learned how to tread water and then, amazingly, I was swimming and not sinking.  

I still panicked a little bit, especially when I saw that deep end below me; I guess old habits die hard. But I just have to think about what my instructor told me: relax! And remember that I do know how to keep my head above water. 

As with so many challenges in life, we could all use advice like this. Relax and remember to breathe. That's all it takes.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood. These guys are so wise. 

You Can't Know Where You Are Going Until You Know Where You've Been

I thought it might be useful for readers to know a little bit about me and my running history, so here goes.

I am 32 years old. My birthday is in October.  

My total race count since 2009 is six. For those who want to see my full stats, I've included them at the end of this post. But here are the highlights:

In 2009 ...

8 km at the BMO Vancouver Marathon in Vancouver, B.C.
The Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon
The Royal Victoria Marathon in Victoria, B.C.

In 2010 ...

The Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon
The BMO Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna, B.C. 

Along beautiful Lake Kelowna at the BMO Okanagan Marathon.

In 2011 ...

10 km at the Vancouver Sun Run in Vancouver, B.C.

Braving the crowd at the Sun Run.  I'm the one wearing red.

I had planned to run one more race in 2011: the inaugural Whistler Half Marathon. But ... you know. Best laid plans, and all that. What can ya do?

I have not fully decided on what training races I might run this year, although I have chosen my full marathon. I am now officially registered for the Edge 2 Edge Marathon, which is happening on June 10 from Tofino to Ucluelet, B.C. This will be my first experience running - and training for - a spring marathon, so it'll be interesting (read: constant rain).  

From what I've heard, Edge 2 Edge is a beautiful course. Plus, I've never been to the west coast of Vancouver Island so I'm kind of hoping to kill two birds with one stone and make a vacation out of it ... I mean, as much of a vacation as running 42.2 km along the Pacific Ocean could be.


For those wanting the full skinny on my race history, here are the details.

8 km race at the BMO Vancouver Marathon (May 3, 2009)
  Overall: 208 out of 650
  Gun Time: 47 minutes 41 seconds
  Chip Time: 47 minutes 37 seconds
  F Group: 99 out of 442
  F 20-29 Division: 44 out of 132

Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon (June 28, 2009)
  Overall: 2,627 out of 3,619
  Gun Time: 2 hours 17 minutes 6 seconds
  Chip Time: 2 hours 13 minutes 20 seconds
  F Group: 1,287 out of 2,031
  F 20-29 Division: 247 out of 367

The Royal Victoria Marathon (October 11, 2009)
  Overall: 2,384 out of 2,611
  Gun Time: 5 hours 27 minutes 54 seconds
  Chip Time: 5 hours 27 minutes 41 seconds
  F Group: 979 out of 1,122
  F 20-29 Division: 153 out of 166

Scotiabank Vancouver Half-Marathon (June 27, 2010)
  Overall: 2,964 out of 3,756
  Gun Time: 2 hours 21 minutes 41 seconds  
  Chip Time: 2 hours 19 minutes  
  F Group: 1,529 out of 2,131 
  F 30-34 Division: 265 out of 365  

The BMO Okanagan Marathon in Kelowna, B.C. (October 10, 2010)
  Overall: 406 out of 471
  Gun Time: 4 hours 56 minutes 40 seconds
  Chip Time: 4 hours 55 minutes 27 seconds
  F Group: 167 out of 204
  F 30-39 Division: 60 out of 71

10 km at the Vancouver Sun Run (April 17, 2011)
  Overall: 18,168 out of 38,869
  Chip Time: 1 hour 8 minutes 3 seconds
  F Group: 7,507 out of 21,666

Like I said, not very fast. But I do it anyway.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pumped Up

I was e-mailing with a good friend earlier today about being back on the run and back on the blog. She is highly supportive of my endeavour and just had to ask: "Where do you get your energy from?"

Truth is ... I fake it 'til I make it.

That's right. I find running - and working out, in general - to be largely an exercise in tricking myself to actually do it. If I think about it too much, I just won't go. So I get dressed, put the shoes on, find my hat and get outside before I can even start to process what exactly is happening. (Ha ha. Stupid brain!)

The reward? A day like today. 

I was exhausted when I got home from work. Getting back to work after a long break sure is tough! I'm still coping with being back on a schedule and not having the convenience to pull a snack out of my fridge any ol' time I feel like it. But I had some dinner, watched some TV and then worked my way to the gym in our apartment building to run a Zone 3 workout on the treadmill.

After more than 45 minutes and nearly 7 km later, I had plenty of energy left to come back upstairs and dance in my kitchen. With all the windows open and neighbours looking on. And my husband laughing at me as if I were crazy.

Pumped Up Kicks.  Messed up lyrics but fun to dance to.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Non-Resolution Run. And Swim.

I don't make New Year's resolutions - not because I don't believe in goal setting (clearly I do, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this blog) but because I've always been more of a set-your-goals-when-you-need-to-as-you-need-to kinda gal.  

The Running Room has, for 26 years, hosted a Resolution Run. This takes place each year on either December 31st or January 1st in various locations across North America as a way to kick off a new year of running. I've never done the Resolution Run but I think the spirit behind it is admirable even though New Year's resolutions are not my thing.

But since I'm back on the proverbial horse and am currently working to build my base mileage, I went on a 10 km run yesterday ... my first run of 2012! The weather held out and, based on my Garmin stats, I'm already seeing pace improvements after being sedentary for so long. Sweet. 

See?  Getting a bit faster.  I'm sure this won't last.  

I also got my ass handed to me tonight by my new swim instructor. I'm signed up to an Adult Level 3 swim class and have never really worked on my swim endurance so this first class was a bit painful. But it's the only way to improve. Right?

Happy New Year!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Running and I have never had an easy relationship.    

I started running when I was a teenager but quit in my early 20s. I started running again in my late 20s but barely ran at all for a whole year.  

I am not fast. In fact, you could probably lap me if we were on a running track. Or your toddler could.  

I live in a wet climate. It rains six months of the year. Needless to say, monsoon-like weather is not very motivating when it comes to running.

Ultimately, fitness and health is a choice. I choose to run because I enjoy it. I may forget that from time to time but over the years, my relationship with running has become clearer: we'll break up for awhile, but we always manage to get back together again.

My running shoes.  Most are retired, but I have a lot of them. 

I've decided to give running another go and have set a specific goal: to run five marathons before I turn 35 years old. I've run two already, and have three to go.  
Through this blog, I'll try and describe the experience I've had so far and chronicle the journey from this point on.

For the would-be runners out there, I'd like to be clear: however entertaining this blog may (or may not) become, I can assure you that this will not be a how-to on running. If you're interested in learning to run, I'd suggest finding a running clinic or joining a group in your local area versus listening to me.

For the experienced runners: hopefully you'll be able to relate to some of my experiences in running and share your own. I love hearing stories from those who have the miles under their feet.

I hope you enjoy reading. Thanks for being part of this journey!