Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Running Round-Up: Santa Claus is Coming to Town Edition

Christmas is nearly here and, if you're like me, you're probably feeling a little terrorized by the Blerch right about now. Here's what I've been doing lately to try and keep my fat little cherub buddy at bay.

Cycling = Torture
I've had a teensy bit of a cold this past week but wanted to remain active, so I opted for some light indoor cross training. Although I have access to both upright and recumbent bikes in my apartment building, I have to say: I hate them both. 

I've never much enjoyed cycling. There was a time in my teens, when I took up mountain biking for about a year, mostly because my brother was into it and I wanted to give it a try. But I didn't really see the appeal then, and I still feel the same today.

However, I will concede this: cycling is a good workout. Even the stationary bikes kick my butt every time. It's obvious that cycling is not my sport of choice, but for a bit of cross training action it's a good option.

What do you do to cross train?

The Weather Outside is... Quite Nice, Actually
After a week and a half of being plunged into a deep freeze, the west coast settled back into its normal, rainy and temperate self. I went out for an 8 km run this morning to get a bit of fresh air and try and pre-empt the turkey-shaped muffin top that is bound to make an appearance in the next day or so. I also experimented a bit with the panorama settings on my camera phone - check it out.

Along the False Creek seawall

English Bay

My Holiday Running Wardrobe is Sorely Lacking
When getting ready for today's run, I had a sudden urge to adorn myself with a Santa hat. Sadly, I don't own one! Note to self: make sure to get a Santa hat for next year's holiday running.

Regardless of what festivities or religion you subscribe to, from Five by 35, I wish you all the best this holiday season! Stay happy and healthy out there, my friends. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running Round-Up: Arctic Outflow Edition

Hello friends! And merry (early) holidays to you all. My apologies for being MIA: insert usual school and end of term excuses here. Let's get to it, shall we?

Baby, It's Cold Outside
Canada is in a deep freeze right now courtesy of some cold Arctic air that's been pushing into the region. Unlike our prairie neighbours to the east, the west coast is thankfully not experiencing wind chill values below -40°C, although -14°C with wind chill is certainly much colder than us fair-weather Vancouverites are accustomed to. The one good thing about all this? Clear, sunny skies, and brisk running. Check out these gorgeous shots I captured on this morning's 5 km run (all unfiltered).

Science World and downtown Vancouver

Looking northward on the Cambie Street bridge

False Creek, downtown and mountains

Really? Really?
Whoever is writing the status updates on John Stanton's Facebook page has been a little preachy as of late when it comes to food and, quite frankly, it's getting annoying. For example:

  • As a runner your food is your fuel…select your choices wisely
  • Reward yourself with a run…rather than with food
  • Think of your food as fuel for your performance …make your choices wisely
  • As a runner you eat for performance … a non athletic person eats for pleasure …make your choices wisely

Don't get me wrong. I understand how important it is to make smart and healthy food decisions. But everything in moderation, right? Perhaps that includes reading these Facebook updates as well.

Announcement: Number 5!
I am officially registered for marathon #5 and I'm super excited! On Sunday, May 4, I will be alongside thousands of other walkers and runners at the BMO Vancouver Marathon as I endeavour to complete this "marathon" journey (ha, get it?). It's the marathon I've always wanted to run, in the best city on earth, in my own backyard. I cannot wait.

I'm planning to be on the blog more in the next few weeks, once I'm finished with everything for term. If you're in town and want to join me on a run, followed by a delicious, rewarding and satisfying meal of our own choosing (take that, Stanton), hit me up! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's the long weekend and am neither running nor stuffing my face with bird. Some big sections for my thesis are due on Thursday, which I am well behind on, so I'm spending this beautiful holiday chained to my desk. C'est la vie.

But I would like to spend a moment to give thanks, since this is what this weekend (in Canada) is about. Thanks to my husband, family and friends who have supported my crazy running habit since I really got into it four years ago, and to all of my readers! 

I'm also, of course, grateful for my health and for being able to run. That being said... it's flashback time! Three years ago during Thanksgiving weekend, I ran marathon #2: the BMO Okanagan Marathon. And this morning, runners in Kelowna are setting off on their own Okanagan journeys. Here's my Facebook note entry and images from my second full marathon. Enjoy!

Hello from Kelowna, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The results are in, and it's official... I'm under five hours!

Gun Time: 4 hours 56 minutes 40 seconds
Chip Time: 4 hours 55 minutes 27 seconds
Overall: 406 out of 471
F Group: 167 out of 204
F 30-39 Division: 60 out of 71

I've always said I was a slow runner, but this is still a big accomplishment for me. After last year's marathon in Victoria (read: 5 hours 27 minutes 54 seconds), I never thought I'd break the five-hour mark. Take that, marathon!

Overall, it was a nice race. The day started out a bit windy and soggy, but after about an hour in, the weather was perfect. There were sections in City Park that weren't blocked off so well, but the volunteers and traffic control on the course were great - and a deer even ran past at one point, less than 10 feet away, going in the opposite direction! 

Kudos to the husband for being so supportive in my running endeavours, and for being such a great spectator! Who else would be willing to get up at the crack of dawn to stand outside for five hours, just waiting for his wife to run by a few times?? Thank you, Matt ... I love you!

Screen shot of my Garmin data from the run on October 10, 2010.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Surrey is Done!

Marathon number 4: check! 

It's been more than a week since the Surrey International World Music Marathon (sorry for the delay, loyal blog followers) and I'm still pretty pumped for the finish. Here are the details from the weekend.

Spot the Five by 35-er!
© Surrey International World Music Marathon 2013

For those not from 'round these parts, Surrey is about an hour from where my husband and I live in Vancouver. We'd planned to stay in a hotel close to the start line, so we could sleep in a bit and save on travel time the morning of the race. But a friend from the area had offered up his place to my husband and I for the night before and as a base for race day, and we were more than happy to accept - particularly since the marathon was scheduled to start at 7:30 am and transit was not running early enough to get full marathoners to the Central City start line in time. 

© Global BC 2013
It wasn't a great day, weather-wise. The entire weekend saw wind and rainfall warnings for the entire lower mainland, which made me very nervous right up until I crossed the start line. Even though it was gusting and cold when everyone started to line up in the race corrals, it warmed up almost immediately, and it stayed that way except for the last hour or so when it started to come down in buckets. I mean, who doesn't love torrential rain?

Having been sick and out of commission for most of September, I'd decided to pace this race quite more conservatively than the other marathons. As a result, I ran a slow race - yes, even slower than usual! - but I finished smiling, so that decision couldn't have been all bad. In hindsight, I think I'd subconsciously set two goals for myself, based on last year's outing in Saint John:

1. Minimize the possibility of mental breakdowns on the marathon route; and 
2. No ugly crying after crossing the finish line.

And I managed to achieve both, so... well done, me! 

The race itself was two loops: an urban run winding through Central Surrey, which took runners through residential districts, as well as green and woodland areas such as Holland Park and Green Timbers Urban Forest. 

Thank you, Garmin data

It was organized well enough. Although, based on my personal experience and the comments I saw on Facebook and Twitter, it seems as though there's plenty of room for improvement - probably not a surprise, given this is only the second year for this fledging event. The best thing about the race, by far, were the cultural stations lining the course. This race is touted as the "International World Music Marathon," and it certainly lived up to that name. According to the event organizer's website, a total of 34 performance stations encompassing 18 distinct cultures lined the course. All of the entertainment was great! And the variety of music, dancing and cultural aspects was definitely something I've never before experienced in a marathon. Well done to all of the entertainers and volunteers at the music stations! (I think Korea was my favourite; their performance was great each time I ran by. The United Kingdom's highland dancers came in at a close second.)

As for downsides, I hate to say it, but there were plenty...

On the communications side of things for runners, the website was awful. I'd registered online months ago through the marathon's official Running Room registration portal, yet there was no way for me to confirm my registration using the Surrey Marathon's website. Each time I emailed about this, the replies I received did not fully answer my questions. Not being provided with a straight answer left me with some anxiety, since I was never assured whether I'd registered properly after I'd already been training for weeks. 

In terms of logistics and deciding on how to get to the start line, months ago - when I'd first registered - the website indicated that organizers had arranged for TransLink to run one train early enough to get runners to the area on time, which was great. But only days before the race, this changed completely; the website updated with an advisory indicating that no trains would be able to get runners to the start line in time. And while organizers announced that a shuttle service would be provided, shuttles ran only between another train station and the start line, which meant that, unless a runner could get to that particular train station, they were pretty much shit out of luck. So thankful that our friend offered to be our shuttle service! But it leaves me to wonder how and to what degree other runners were inconvenienced.

Then there was the course itself. The route was pretty great, I've gotta say. And there were plenty of very eager and wonderful volunteers, pointing runners in the right direction... except in Green Timbers, the second time around (the second of two loops). A few of us full marathon stragglers were left to fend for ourselves in the park, where we ended up off-route because there was no one stationed at key turn off points to say, "That way." Not that getting lost in the woods after running 36 km isn't exciting, but I can think of better ways to get my kicks, ya know? Thankfully, some kind locals noticed what had happened, pointed us in the right direction, and major crisis was averted. 

Because of the dreadful weather conditions, the marathon also decided last minute to move the recovery area, along with all of the water and food from the finish line, to an indoors area at the nearby SFU Surrey Campus. This would have been fine, except after running 42.2 km the last thing I was going to remember was, "Oh yes, that's right. The recovery area is now indoors!" As a result, I didn't get any food right after the race, and only managed to get a hold of some chocolate milk thanks to my husband and friends who took good care of me after I crossed the finish line. I realize this was an entirely situational decision on the part of race organizers, necessitated by Mother Nature, but it would have been nice to see some signage or a few volunteers at the finish line directing people towards the food.

Based on comments provided on the marathon's Facebook page and the Twitter feed for #WeRunSurrey, Surrey locals did not seem very happy about all of the traffic closures, with comments ranging from mildly annoyed to white-hot rage. Not that I necessarily agree with these unhappy people, but even my friend had trouble getting around - and he's a local who's lived in Surrey a long time who had all of the traffic advisory information. It would therefore appear that the road closures could have been made a lot clearer.

So... yeeahh. Despite the inadequate information, lack of transit service, disgusting weather, getting lost in the forest, and the no-food-at-the-end scenarios, it was a decent enough day, all things considered. Would I run it again? Probably not. But it was cool to have the opportunity to run Surrey and to finish another marathon.

But the volunteers were phenomenal - as always. The entertainment was extraordinary. I got a shout-out at the finish line by legendary race announcer and emcee Steve King. And one of my friends surprised me right at the end of the course, at the 41 km mark! Definitely some great things to be thankful for. 

Special thanks to my pit crew: my husband (of course!), and friend who put us up and kept my husband company while I took five and a half hours to finish. Speaking of which, here are my results...

Gun time: 5 hours 32 minutes 58 seconds
Chip time: 5 hours 32 minutes 33 seconds
Pace: 7.53 minutes per km

Race swag... and dinner plate-sized hardware!

I placed 7 out of 10 in the Female 30-34 category (not 35, yet!), 69 out of 91 females, and 170 out of the 180 who finished the full marathon. I certainly brought up the rear on this race, but hey - it's another one for the books, right? And I'm one more marathon closer to the goal. 

Only one more to go: BMO Vancouver Marathon, here I come!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Here We Go...

It's race weekend! And after a terrible September plagued with illness, I am happy to report that I've recovered well enough and will be at the marathon start line on Sunday.

I'm a bit under trained, given that I didn't complete nearly as much mileage as I would have liked these past few weeks. But I'm hoping that the big mileage I ran last month will serve me in good stead. 

Epiphany: being ill while training for this marathon has made me appreciate the ability to run all the more. Out there today, I realized that being healthy makes such a world of difference. When I can't run because I'm injured or sick, I'm miserable. I'm certainly grateful that I have the opportunity to run this weekend - and I won't take it for granted because, who knows? There may well come a day when I can no longer do so. 

I leave you with this quote from John Stanton: "No time to run? Your mental attitude can be practiced at any time." I will therefore stay positive between now and Sunday, and really focus only on the things I was able to control these past few months in training. 

If you find yourself in Surrey on Sunday morning, come see me along the course or at the finish line. I'll be one of the stragglers bringing up the rear (happily!).

Course map
© 2012 Surrey Marathon

Monday, September 9, 2013

Weekend Woes a.k.a. Stories from the Sick Bed

It's amazing. Not one day into the start of fall term, and I end up sick as a dog. 

Today is the first time in over four days that I've woken up not hacking my lungs out and instantly wanting my life to end. But this obviously has meant no running. I was supposed to do 32 km on Sunday... ha! As if that was going to happen. Not with my lungs on the floor and my apartment covered in snot-filled tissues. 

With only three weeks to go until marathon #4, this recent sickness has got me a little stressed out. But maybe it's better than I got sick now than closer to the end of the month. Right? Right??

A few observations. You know you haven't been running in awhile when...

  • The battery in your Garmin has drained itself twice since you last wore it.
  • You don't remember what distance you last ran.
  • You don't remember what day you last ran.
  • All of your running gear is clean at the same time.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Goodbye, Summer!

It is now September and with it comes the last few weeks of marathon training... but also another year of school! (Yay?) 

Running these past few weeks has been quite the challenge. I haven't felt as good out there as I did earlier in the training schedule; part of it might be the changing seasons (oh, the humidity!) but out there today, I couldn't help but wonder if my poor diet and lifestyle choices i.e. long weekend wine- and beering, are taking their toll. Note to self: try and stay a little "drier" and away from pizza and gravy the next few weeks.

Me for the next eight months!
I've also found it challenging to stay motivated, given that I've got an assignment for my thesis due next week already (insert whipping sound here, am I right?). It's a sure signal that I'll need to stay extra diligent in forcing myself out on days where all I can think about is the next readings or project or report coming due. 

Because of all this, I'm expecting - as with last year - that I may not be on the blog as often. For this month, I'll definitely have an update on #4 and how that all goes; I'm definitely getting a little nervous, but it's mainly because the running's been less than spectacular. Hoping that will take a turn for the better going into the final four weeks of training.

Today's run: 29 km. Weather: a little of everything. Light showers, cloud, variable sun, a little humidity. Feeling: very meh and worried about race day. If it's this hard now, how can I possibly finish 42.2 km in four weeks!? Trying to not panic.

Hope everyone had a fantastic summer! If you're back to school or work tomorrow, I wish you a productive and positive first day. And if you're sending kids back to the classroom, woot woot for you!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Running Round-Up: Where I Complain about the Weather Edition

We're definitely in between seasons right now on the west (read: wet) coast which has made for some less than inspirational running. Here's what's been happening this week.

As Alanis used to say, "Always too hot, never too cold"
After putting in 29 km-plus distances the past few weekends, I ran 23 km on Sunday. Training schedules typically back off on big mileage occasionally to give the body a little break but mentally, I've always found "shorter" long runs to be really tough. 

Take last weekend, for example. Because I was only supposed to run 23 km I decided to sleep in, leave a little later than usual and be back in time for lunch. Instead, the sunshine and humidity of the late morning combined like a mother f*cker to totally screw me and leave me exhausted. I was hot and absolutely pissed when I decided to literally walk the last three km because I just couldn't take it any more and, quite frankly, I did not care.

Over the years, I've found that marathon training is really just a series of good days and bad. It's meant to test a person mentally in order to find the will to finish. Was I tempted, at the end of that dreadful run, to hail a cab or jump on the next bus? Absolutely. Did I? Hell, no. I was finishing that run come hell or high water, either on my feet or crawling hand over foot. Stupid run broke me that day, but I still covered the distance. 

Ahh. Such is the beauty and disaster of marathon training.

And then, it rained
In torrents. Buckets. Not as bad as other parts of Canada this summer, but it was still pretty wet, relatively speaking, when you look at this year's summer in Vancouver as a whole.

I guess it was bound to happen. But it's not the nice, cool and cloudy rain yet. It's still 24°C out there after factoring in humidity - which makes it kind of unbearable. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration... let me just say, the weather for running in such humid conditions is not comfortable, that's for sure.

It's official: I am looking forward to summer being really, truly, absolutely, totally over. No more of this muggy, seasonal transition crap. 

On the plus side, I've confirmed that my new shoes fit properly (yay!) and I got to break in my Blerch T-shirt, courtesy of Matthew Inman a.k.a. The Oatmeal. Or rather, courtesy his shop. Nothing's ever free these days, is it? Still - worth it

Today's run: 8 km, just shy of race pace. Weather: see blog post. Feeling: like I need summer to be over. Roll on, fall!

I do not believe in the wall. I believe in The Blerch!
© The Oatmeal

Friday, August 23, 2013

It's All About the Shoes...

Retired but just can't seem to part with them.
...running shoes, o'course!

Once or twice I've alluded to the importance of tracking how much mileage you're putting on your shoes so that you know about when you should be getting a new pair. Shoes are built to last only so long, depending on a bunch of factors: the type of shoe (e.g. cross trainer versus running shoe versus sport-specific shoe), how much you're using them, how much you weigh, the types of workouts you're doing. Most "experts" recommend that runners should retire their shoes at around 400 to 500 miles, or approximately every 640 to 800 km. 

I read somewhere awhile ago (sorry, can't remember where) that unexpected soreness in your ankles or legs after runs may be one early sign that your shoes are ready to give. As an example, I retired my last few pairs at around 760 km, although I probably should have let them go a little earlier than that.

New and shiny... and no
longer in my possession.
I've been tracking the wear on my current shoes and am currently at 595 km, so I decided to treat myself to a new pair now instead of waiting like I did the last few times. One problem with not having retired a pair in awhile (the last pair I gave up in August 2012 after marathon #3): I was in the store and couldn't remember my size... and I'm really little (smaller than size 6 women's), which compounds the shoe sizing problem. 

So I came home, unintentionally, with new runners a half-size larger than my last few pairs. But - and here's a shoe-buying tip for you - I decided to try them out on the treadmill (not outdoors) with my insoles and regular running socks to see if they'd work. Sadly, they did not. Back to the store I went, regrettably, to return my new and shiny purchase.

I called around, trying to find a size in my specific shoe (Asics Gel 1100-series, now the GT-1000s) but alas, no luck. One store had my exact size, but in a different Asics Gel series: the GT-2000s. I figured, why not? Might as well give it a go.

Please fit!
I've now got the second new pair in hand (foot?) but haven't yet run in them. However, I did put them on at home and, given a brief direct compare with my last pair of shoes (while wearing my insoles and socks, of course), I'm feeling pretty optimistic. Fingers crossed they'll work out.

Here are a few general tips for shoes and shoe buying in general:

  • Running shoes are meant to feel great from the get-go. There should be no need for a "breaking in" period. If you feel like you're trying to "break in" your new pair of shoes, chances are, they're not the right shoes for you.
  • Be sure to leave a little bit of toe space. Why? Well, if you've ever had a black toenail and/or had one fall clean off... that's why. (It's only ever happened to me once! Knock on wood it doesn't happen again.) One way to check if you have enough space for your toes is to run down a slight incline. If your toes are being smushed up against the front of the shoe, try the next half-size or size up and see if that pair is more comfortable. 
  • Track your gear and pick up new shoes well before you need to retire your old ones. If you've been keeping up your running regimen but find that you're feeling more achy than usual after standard distance runs, you likely need a new pair.
  • Don't take my word for it. If you're not sure whether you're buying shoes that are right for you, pop into a local running store and ask for help - that's what they're there for! 

P.S. I have a post that I've been meaning to write for months about "reading" the wear patterns on your shoes. Obviously, I haven't written that one yet. Hopefully now that I've mentioned it, I'll feel obliged to do it... soon. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sore Feet, Soul Intact: Add-On

I forgot to mention... 

Right towards the end of today's run, at about 30 km, I was tired and trudging up a small hill on my route when a man jogging past me in the other direction looked at me and said, "You go, girl."

Normally, because I'm usually such a grump, I wouldn't have really thought much of this gesture. But today? It was perfect and just what I needed to keep going. 

So to this random kind stranger: THANK YOU! Hope you had an awesome run.

Sore Feet, Soul Intact

Here's the general formula: run 32 km. Instantly feel better about yourself and life in general.

Of course, this doesn't happen every time (see Long Distance Do-Over: Update or The Yin and Yang Of Running). And more often than not, it happens when I least expect it. Here's the shakedown on what happened this weekend...

With gal pal The BB Creative in town, who I haven't seen in a very long time, we set out on the town on Friday night ready to par-tay. Which we did. And which I paid for on Saturday, which ended up being a total bust of a day. Clearly, I'm getting too old to keep up with the young'uns.

So, surprise surprise, after I slept in today, after spending all day yesterday in Hangover City trying to rehydrate and basically just keep food down, and after having neither picked a route for my long run, nor organized all my supplies the night before (as is my regular routine), I woke up less than enthused about having to run for many hours

© BMO Vancouver Marathon
But perhaps I was destined to have read this great article by Jeff Gaudette yesterday, in which he writes about the importance of learning how to pace properly and running by feel. Because when I set out late in the morning having no mental preparation for today's run, those tips kept going through my mind. So I told myself, "Okay. Just relax. It doesn't matter how long this run takes, so long as you don't kill yourself trying to finish." And then things turned out spectacularly! I love it when a non-plan comes together.

Today's run: 32 km. Weather: cloudy and cool, with some light, and wonderfully refreshing, intermittent showers. Feeling: sore legs and feet, but pretty darn happy.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Interlude: And Then We Went to a Book Signing

This intermission has been brought to you by Neil Gaiman.

Happy fan.
The master writer was in town a few days ago and my husband, myself and some friends were fortunate enough to have tickets to the sold out reading and book signing. Rather than attempt to recap the event when others such as Philip Harris and Jennie Ramstad have so aptly done so already, what I will comment on is this: the man is a marathon book signer. With more than 1,000 fans in attendance, many with copies of his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but then others with back items as well (one back item per person only, please) it's not hard to imagine the many hours that lie ahead for that person who has promised to "sign until his hand falls off."

Not being the first stop on this tour, one volunteer at the event told us about how Mr. Gaiman had been icing his hand before the reading in Vancouver, and how they were holding ice in the back as well, just in case. Fans were called up according to randomly chosen row numbers; we were fortunate enough to only have waited about an hour however, it took others more than four hours. Four hours waiting! Can you imagine? But then, can you imagine four straight hours of book signing

If Neil Gaiman can sign books for his devoted fans, night after night, for more than four hours and still have a smile on his face, it makes me think that taking more than four hours to complete a training run or to finish a marathon is certainly something I can do as well. Guess it's just what people do when it's something they really love.

Today's run: skipped. Having had a late night for the book signing followed by an unintentional early morning (I still woke up at 5:30 am the next day without an alarm, ugh) really threw off my sleep pattern. Thought I'd treat myself by getting back on track before tomorrow's long run.

P.S. Before he left town, Mr. Gaiman stopped for a chat with Stephen Quinn at CBC Studio Q. For those interested, the interview can be found online here (0:24:13-0:46:15).

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Long Distance Do-Over: Update

It's done. That's all I have to say about that. Not every run can be fun, right? At least I completed the distance.

Today's run: 29 km. Weather: cloudy to start, but cleared as the morning went on. Was also a bit muggy. Feeling: I don't want to talk about it.

At least I got this nice shot: view of Burrard Civic Marina and Granville Island.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Long Distance Do-Over

I've got 29 km on the schedule for tomorrow and, thanks to my Garmin stats, I can see that the last time I tried to do 29 km, I added a big ol' DNF to the description.

What does DNF stand for? DID NOT FINISH.

I'm not sure why I included this inspiring detail in my running records... sorry, scratch that. I know exactly why I did this. The main reason was because I wanted my record-keeping to be thorough and accurate; that run is when I got hurt last spring.

Tomorrow will be the first time since then that I'm attempting this distance as a training run. Am I a little freaked out about having to run this distance tomorrow, as a result? YupSometimes a little knowledge (even in the form of my own workout data) can be a dangerous thing. 

But plenty has happened since then. I recovered from my injury and went on to successfully complete another marathon! So my plan is to run that same route tomorrow, that 29 km distance - and finish it. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Today's run: 6 km. Weather: overcast and cooler than it has been recently. Feeling: fine, other than the anxiety thinking about tomorrow's long run.

Tomorrow's run: update to come.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

I Live in Utopia

You all know how much I love the west coast. I find it brilliant and beautiful - in the rain, and in the sun. 

Running has created an opportunity to truly appreciate this wonderful city I call home. As I'm sure all you runners would agree: there's no better way to experience a place than by foot. 

Long distance running provides even more occasion to be connected with my city's beautiful surroundings. Getting up to over 20 km on these long runs gives me the opportunity to really get out of my familiar neighbourhoods and out to places I never normally run. 

For example, I was out today on a route I haven't run in more than a year and it was spectacular to see the scenery once again. While I went past million dollar houses, yacht and tennis clubs (yes - plural, if you can believe it) there was also opportunity to find private beaches and quiet spaces. I was able to see the city from not-so-familiar vantage points. I saw stand-up paddlers and kayakers push off for their early morning work outs. I ran along the beach front and on gravel paths - not a customary practice on my regular routes. I ran past not one, but two, groups of tai chi practitioners. I even shared a brief moment with a cute, wild bunny rabbit who probably wouldn't have been caught dead closer to the main areas of the city.

And of course, I didn't have my camera! But here are some lovely snaps taken by others who have also found the beauty in this wondrous place I am privileged, happy and thankful to call home.

Today's run: 26 km. Weather: warm and sunny. Feeling: tired but amazing.

Path to Kitsilano Beach.
© Stephen Rees

Point Grey foreshore.
© Susan Smith

View of Vancouver from Jericho Beach.
© Dawn Coyote

Saturday, July 27, 2013

It Ain't Natural: Tips for Long Distance Running

A typical view of the weather
over the last few weeks.
Today: cloud.
What the...?

Saturday is typically the day before my long run and so I've always felt a little conflicted about what run to do on Saturdays, given this fact. I'm certainly not going to do a speed workout. I also don't want to run anything longer than 10 km, since I'll be out forever the next day anyway.

Today, I decided on an unmonitored 6 km. (My definition of unmonitored: without any form of heart rate, pace, or distance measurement device i.e. sans Garmin and heart rate monitor). So I'm out there today, fully meaning to take it easy, and I realize that I'm running pretty fast - or, at least I think I'm running pretty fast. I mean, there's no way to verify this since I'm unmonitored. But it feels fast, anyway.

This got me thinking about a conversation I had recently with a friend of mine. He's one of those guys who is a natural athlete. Like, he may have never really done a sport before but as soon as he gets into it, he just naturally kicks ass at it right away. Basically, one of those really annoying types. 

... so he's just recently taken up running, and is (of course) excelling at it already. But we get to talking about how he finds it challenging to run any slower - or rather, that it's hard to slow from his natural pace. 

Out there today, unmonitored, I was definitely running my natural pace; this is the pace where my running feels really good. But this pace, for me, is also unsustainable. I discovered this back in 2009 when I was training for my first marathon and, as I mentioned in my interview with Running Toward the Prize: "When ramping up my base mileage, I found I was completely exhausted after running distances that I had never before accomplished in training... I'd be tired for days."

This next statement, perhaps, is more a reminder for me than it is for you guys, particularly as I've been known to harp on about not being a speedy runner: I am definitely not slow. I can run a decent pace, and I think I proved that (mostly to myself) at the BMO Vancouver Half last year. However, by pushing my pace in that race I also ended up hurt and unable to run the full I'd planned on running that fall.

Talking recently about natural pace and then having that epiphany on today's run really made me think about how I needed to alter my running when I started to burn out during training for that first marathon. At the time, one of the Team Diabetes trainers provided some really great advice which was vital in salvaging my training plan; without it, I'm not sure I would have successfully finished that race. I wanted to share some of those tips with you here, in case you find yourself struggling to complete longer distances and you're not sure why. Here is what she told me:

  • If you want to do heart-rate training first figure out your maximum heart rate. This is equal to 220 minus your age. During your runs, train within 60-80% of your maximum heart rate; long runs should be in the lower end of that range. As your fitness level increases, it will take more exertion on your part to get your heart rate in the zone. Note: fat is burned as energy after about 30 minutes of running and maximum fat burning happens between 55-60 % of maximum heart rate. Work outs above training heart rates burn more glycogen for energy and cause more lactic acid build up and muscle cramping and result in slower recovery.
  • It is always best to focus on completing a distance the first time you attempt it. Work with your current fitness level and build from there. By pushing yourself beyond what your body can recover from week to week, you are setting yourself up for injury and disappointment. It takes many years to build a strong base for long distances and to be the person that will be running marathons in their 80s! You should be able to talk comfortably during your long runs. If you are running alone, try singing occasionally to check in with yourself.
  • Specifically regarding marathon training for those new to long distance running: Your long run pace should be between 8:30 to 9:30 minutes per kilometre if you are following the "to complete" program. If you are going faster you are stressing your body to the point that it cannot recover by the next quality workout.   
  • Walk breaks work! Remember to take walk breaks from the beginning (she's referring here to John Stanton's walk-run method). Do not wait until you think you need them.  If you get close to the end of your workout and want to skip the last walk break, go ahead, but be sure to take them early, even if you are feeling you don't need them. They are built in as mini recovery periods to speed the overall recovery of the stress that endurance running puts on the body.


Sidebar: my natural-athlete-newbie-running-friend, after apparently making some snide remark about what a slow runner I am, apologized about it a few days later. I didn't actually notice he'd been a smart ass, but was still grateful that he took the effort to make reparations. Kudos to you for not being a douchebag runner!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Long Run Sunday Quickie

Happy long run Sunday! It's been a fun weekend, but a few late nights combined with running in the heat has left me absolutely spent. I'm gonna sleep well tonight! Anyone else run today?

Today's run: 23 km. Weather: warm and sunny. Feeling: slightly sluggish and a little slower than usual, but pretty pumped at running a distance I haven't run since August 2012 (thank you, Garmin, for keeping track of that for me).

In honour of Bruno Mars' amazing performance in Vancouver last night, here's a little Locked Out of Heaven for all y'all. Hope you had a great weekend! 

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Letter to The Oatmeal

Re: The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons why I Run Long Distances

Dear The Oatmeal,

I've been running marathons for four years and am currently training for my fourth. My husband (who is still new to running) came across your comic, The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons why I Run Long Distances, and sent it to me. I wanted to write you to tell you that: I LOVE IT. It really spoke to me! 

I have my own version of The Blerch (I call it my Self), and also very much appreciate the magical shortcut to euphoria. I gave up on stomach crunches years ago (mostly when I realized they were getting me nowhere - and who wants to diet like crazy and drop all that body fat, anyway?) and have always wondered, "What is the point of tanning beds... really?"

Most of all, and most importantly, who could possibly argue with your logic about running to seek a void? I, too, think too much about my responsibilities and my life; silence is a wonderful thing.

Thank you for creating such a wonderful comic. If this is what happens as a result of all your running, I hope you will always continue to run.

Your fan and friend in long distance running,

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Sick Verdict a.k.a. Sick of Being Sick and Sick of Complaining About Being Sick

Do I sound like a broken record? 'Cuz I sure think I do and I'm certainly sick of it.

I've been sick this entire past week and, apart from last Sunday's long run, have missed all of my running this week. I've debated going out there even though I've felt miserable, but haven't actually done so.

I've brought this up before, this question of whether or not somebody should be running while they're sick, and no one has given me a definitive answer. I turned to my personal running library and, surprisingly, none of the books I own really talk about it at all. 

Yesterday, I looked it up on the Internet (again), but actually decided to take some time to really read what information is out there. A lot of it is heaping piles of poo: articles written mostly from conjecture with no evidence or backing of the claims being made whatsoever.

There were, however, a few bright lights in the darkness. While the New York Times' article, Don’t Starve a Cold of Exercise, starts out anecdotally, it goes on to describe clinical studies that were performed with men and women of varying levels of fitness who were deliberately infected with a rhinovirus and then asked to either exercise, or not exercise, while they were feeling under the weather. The doctors involved in the study found that their subjects' "overall exercise performance wasn’t impaired, even though they were reporting feeling fatigued” and also found that, when the exercisers' provided an assessment of their symptoms they actually "felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better."

Other clinically-supported theories, like the one described in Runners World's article, Should You Run When You're Sick?, refer to the neck rule: "symptoms below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body ache) require time off, while symptoms above the neck (runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing) don't pose a risk to runners continuing workouts."

With that in mind, and a self-assessment of my symptoms revealing a "neck up" affliction, I charged up my Garmin, prepared my Gu gels and hit the sack early last night, eager and determined to run 23 km this morning. Sadly, I woke up after only an hour of rest, and didn't get back to sleep until 2:00 am. And when the alarm went off this morning, I felt worse than I have in the past five days since I first became ill.

In her article for the Globe and Mail, Dr. Wijayasinghe explains that whether or not to exercise when you're sick is ultimately a personal choice, as "Everyone is different and every body reacts differently to colds. It is important to listen to your body if you choose to exercise when sick." When I woke up this morning with my headache, clogged up sinuses and after barely any sleep, I decided to skip my long run after all. It's disappointing, and it means I'll have to look at adjusting my training schedule to work around this latest bout of sickness. But hopefully I've made the right choice - and hopefully it means I'll be back out there again sooner rather than later.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Running Round-Up: Not-for-the-Weak Edition

Happy long run Sunday! Here's a round-up of what happened on my runs this week.

Why are so many freak-outs named after animals?
Here's a story. I was out on Thursday morning, about rush hour. I was crossing the street at an intersection and my light had just started flashing when I stepped off the curb to jog across. I was looking for turning vehicles (you're supposed to try and make eye contact for safety's sake, right?). A driver was turning left onto a two-way from a one-way street but he didn't really see me so had to brake abruptly. And then he honked at me.

I will concede that, since my light had indeed started flashing, perhaps I should have waited to cross. But honestly... dude can't wait three seconds for a person to cross the street? I'm sorry, but if you're late and in a hurry or think you can push some pedestrian around because you drive a Beemer and are late for work, that's not my problem. It's still my right of way, after all.

So what did I do? Without hesitation, mid-stride, I swung around - and totally gave him the finger. 

... and with conviction, as well. Clearly, not my most gracious moment. 

And then he honked at me again. Big surprise.

Am I proud? Hmm. Does it make me a bad person if I answer that question with a yes? 

I know, I know. Love thy neighbour, do unto others, yadda yadda. But let me tell you something: this isn't really me. I'm one of those people who, in an argument, is unable to think of the comeback or witty, smart ass retort until days later. I'll fret over not being able to think on my feet and even when I do think of what I could have said, it bothers me that I didn't think of it sooner. 

So for this to have happened? So quickly, and naturally, and without pause? I dunno - but what I can tell you is that I laughed about it the rest of my run. Hell, I'm even smiling just thinking back on it now.

I chalk it up to this: he had a cow, so I gave him the bird. End of story.

Introducing: My Self
Having run three marathons and now training for my fourth, upon looking back I can almost attach themes to each round of training. The first was definitely Motivated by Fear. The second was probably something along the lines of Marathons are Great! Let's Do Another, as I remember feeling so inspired after finishing the first. And the third was Coming Back from Injury.

Up until this week, training had been such a slog. I'd missed a couple of shorter runs toward the end of last week and over the weekend. I knew that if I missed my 13 km run I was going to have real trouble making up the distance but I did not want to go out there. Somehow I did - and my Self battled against me the whole time.

Normally if I'm not feeling very motivated, I can almost "trick" myself into just running anyway. It might be heading out the door at some ungodly hour before my brain realizes what's happening. Or maybe getting dressed to run a shorter distance and then ending up running for longer. Or sometimes it's even just plain old guilt - always a good standby option.

But this version of my Self is interesting. It fought me tooth and nail to turn around, almost goading me to immediately stop what I was doing and go back. Somehow - maybe it was instinct, or who knows what - I kept running. It wasn't until about 11 or 12 km in that my Self finally gave in and said, "Fine. Let's just finish this damn run then. But so help me if you decide to run any further... !"

After finishing that day, I'd thought that having to fight with my Self to get out there on long runs was going to be the norm - the theme for this marathon. But surprisingly, the rest of this week's running has been incredible: fast (for me), fluid and fun. It's been an absolute joy to be out there.

I can only assume that my Self has given in to the inevitability that, yes, this is happening again. Another marathon is coming. Hopefully, it will stay away - but if not, it's nice to know that I'm able to work past it.

Captain's Log, Stardate 6.23.2013
Today's run: 16 km. Weather: overcast and a little muggy, some slight drizzle toward the end. Feeling: pretty great.

There's a lot happening running-wise around town these days, with spring races and so many runners beginning training for fall events. I had the pleasure of indirectly experiencing today's Scotiabank Half Marathon, as I inadvertently ended up on the course for certain sections of my run. I cheered on a few people who were at their 18 km mark and almost three hours in (yowza) before turning off to go my own way. 

Great job!
Props to everyone who finished the Scotiabank and MEC events today, as well as all of the Tough Mudders out in Whistler (you crazy bastards know who you are)!