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.