Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Life Well Spent

I write this while sitting in Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport waiting to check into, what will be, my sixth flight in two weeks on holidays. It's been a fantastic trip that has taken my husband and I to various parts of Europe as well as Morocco - and it's not even over yet.   

Waking up on an earlier flight today, I had this epiphany: I love travelling but I also love being at home. I can honestly say that I'm happy with the life I've built for myself. Sure, we all might question our decisions from time to time, but on the whole I feel satisfied. 

The past few years running marathons and writing this blog have shown me that setting challenges for oneself is important; it's helped me grow as a person and has kept me motivated in my running. These past few weeks being away, however, I've thought about my grad school convocation and the next steps in my career, but I haven't thought about running at all. 

I suppose it's telling, in a way. Goal setting is not just about picking arbitrary targets; it's about staying focused on one's own interests and priorities. When I started Five by 35, I dreamed about completing five full marathons, finishing up at the 2014 BMO Vancouver Marathon. Not only did I complete four, but I also put my career on hiatus and decided to go to grad school. Long distance running, for a time, became a secondary focus, one I needed to put on the backburner in order to accomplish the other things I wanted in my life. After missing out on May's marathon, I wanted to believe that I still had it in me to do number five. But if I'm being honest with myself, I just don't wanna

While it's important to set goals, perhaps it's just as important to recognize when we've outgrown the challenges we've set for ourselves.

I believe running will always be a part of me but, for now, marathon running is no longer in the cards. I have so much more to look forward to at this stage of my life. I'm still fresh from convocation and am resuming my career practically the instant I get home. I'm eager to put into practice the new skills I've learned in grad school, and use that experience to hopefully help people in some way. I'll make my husband join me on short weekend runs and, for now, given everything else in my life, that level of running is enough to keep me happy.

And so, for this final blog post on Five by 35, I wish you all enough challenges to keep you motivated, enough hardship to make you stronger, and enough happiness to last you a whole life long. Thank you so much for reading.

That's all she wrote. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Undertrained and Unafraid: My BMO Half Marathon Experience (Guest Blog Post)

Christina (R) with her running buddy Irina (L) before
the race. Already completely soaked, but okay with it.
Guest blogger: Christina! (Author's note: the running advice contained herein is not necessarily endorsed by Angie.)

When Angie asked me before my race if I wanted to write a guest post, I had momentary commitment issues. How could I say yes, when I wasn’t fully confident I would even end up crossing the finish line?  Such indecision! But this, in itself, seems like a good idea for a blog post.

Having signed up for the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon on January 2, along with thousands of other New Year's Resolution-makers, I had one goal in mind: improve on my finish time from my first half marathon in November. So I joined a Running Room clinic as I’d done before, and then promptly never attended. Well, maybe ‘never’ is a strong word. I likely attended 25% of all training runs – which is a solid way to achieve a running goal, amirite?

You see, somewhere between setting my goal and getting to the start line, life in general got in the way. I prioritized many other things over running – including more time with my family when they needed me, and I have no regrets now about slacking in my training. But when it came time to decide on whether to race BMO or not, my thought process was simple: “I haven’t trained enough….this seems like a bad idea….I’ll do it anyway!” 

Why, you might ask? Because I knew I could do it. This may come as a shock to you: I wasn’t planning on winning the race, so it really only mattered if I could finish it. And as many friends pointed out to me, the distance of the race doesn’t change depending on how fast you might go. So, I decided to go for it. Slowly.

Pre-race nutrition. Obviously.
To get in the zone the day before my race, I did what all great athletes do: I went for afternoon tea and ate tiny sandwiches. Also, ice cream. And pasta. Clearly, I was not really focused on pre-race nutrition. But I slept like a baby and woke up feeling no pressure, and was going to run just for the fun of it.

My decision to go ahead undertrained and unafraid was perhaps the best decision I’ve made about any race. I was relaxed, I didn’t really care about the pace, and I was running one of the most beautiful (and completely rain-soaked) courses you can find.  I loved the rain, I loved the atmosphere, and I loved that the course took me right past my own apartment – where I stopped for a bathroom break between kilometres 10 and 11. Take that, nasty port-a-potties! 

Runners huddling under the awnings before the race.
In the end, I finished at 2 hours 38 minutes 51 seconds. That’s 10 minutes faster than my first race, without even timing myself or caring about my pace. Woohoo! Must have been those tiny sandwiches.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, I don’t think it’s in my excellent nutritional advice. I would remind any non-runners or almost-thinking-of-starting-to-be-runners reading this that running only SEEMS difficult until you try it a few times, and realize that training really does work.  I was taught in training to break down any race into units of time: each unit consisting of ten minutes of running, followed by one minute of walking. The idea of running 21.1 kilometres can be a little intimidating, but breaking it down can help – and it certainly helped me yesterday.

Next year’s BMO Half Marathon is scheduled for May 3.  It’s on my calendar. Who wants to come for tiny sandwiches with me on May 2?! 

Done, delirious and happy to have a warm 
sweater courtesy of Chelsea!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Non-Race Day Blues a.k.a. Do I Need to Change My Goals?

I'm sad about not being able to run #5 today. But given that I woke up with a sinus headache, a sore throat and not being able to breathe out of my nose -- in addition to not having trained well enough -- I think I made the right call. It was just a disappointing one to make, is all.

Still feeling unwell and unhappy enough about missing out on today's BMO Vancouver Marathon to start thinking about which full I should aim for next. I really had my heart set on finishing up this journey in Vancouver which makes me wonder if I need to re-evaluate my Five by 35 goal. After all, I know I can run a marathon; I've done four. Things I need to ask myself: What are my priorities? Have they changed? What's most important? What am I looking to achieve by setting these running goals for myself? 

Questions I need to ponder in the next little while. Decisions to come. Stay tuned.

Goal setting: is this still working for me? Need to figure that out.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

So. Much. Mucus.

It's race weekend in Vancouver! I hit the expo yesterday to pick up my bib and race kit and wander the kiosks.

I've deliberately been keeping mum as I've been trying to decide whether I'd be actually running #5 tomorrow, given that I had to resort to some last minute cramming in my training. A few weeks ago I'd reasoned that I could give it a go, as long as I was okay with running a slower than normal marathon.

Of course, I didn't bargain for the nasty cold I caught which left me exhausted on Tuesday, with no voice on Wednesday, and mouth-breathing the rest of the week. Running a full marathon being undertrained is one thing, but also while not 100% healthy? Tricky decision.

Being at the expo yesterday I felt that familiar race excitement in the air: runners verifying their bib info, checking their race chips are working, talking about their training. Which makes it all the worse that I've decided to forego tomorrow's race, after all. Marathon #5 will just have to wait.

In the meantime, good luck to everyone running this weekend! Have a great race, enjoy, and see you at the finish line.

© 2013 Vancouver International Marathon Society

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Random Awesomeness

This has been a crazy and unusual week so far, and it's only Wednesday.

On Monday, I made a big career decision, ran 23 km, and then attended my final ever graduate-level class. Tuesday, Mike Gillis was fired as Vancouver Canucks' GM and President. Today, Trevor Linden (one of the great Canucks hockey players, who retired from the game six years ago) was named Canucks' President of Hockey Operations, and I received approval on my final thesis revisions, which means I can submit my thesis to the university library and it's done!

Okay, so a lot of that isn't necessarily about me, but this is a hockey-crazy town, and I'm also a big Trevor Linden fan, so all that Canucks news is kind of a big deal

Beyond that, all I can say is... huh. The craziness of life. How about that?

From today's press conference: Trevor Linden excited to get started as the Canucks new President

This week's long run was the first I've done in over a month - not a strategy I would recommend for anyone. But I realized I had to try if I wanted to get back on track for marathon #5

Last weekend was essentially the "drop-dead" date for me; if I couldn't get 23 km in, I wouldn't be able to move up the mileage in time for May. Hence, the cramming. Again, totally not recommended, but I'm doing the best I can given that these past few months have been so time strapped and the fact that I stubbornly do not want to let my BMO Vancouver Marathon registration go to waste!

This week's long run: 23 km. Weather: perfect for spring running, at 12°C and partly sunny. Feeling: like I'm way undertrained, but that wasn't a surprise. I'm also hopeful that I'll be able to salvage these last few weeks left in the training schedule to run a somewhat decent marathon in May. Keeping my fingers crossed!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Life Lessons Learned from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

You may remember me presenting this old formula: run 32 km. Instantly feel better about yourself and life in general

While I only did about a third of that distance today, it sure went a long way to restoring some balance in my life at a time that feels very unbalanced. After running four marathons and nearly finishing a graduate degree as a 'mature' student, the thing in my life that remains the most challenging is dealing with a difficult family member.

I know mine is not an isolated issue. Everyone has a mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, aunt, uncle, etc. they don't get along with. And the degree to which relationships are strained varies; it may be a minor annoyance, ranging to outright estrangement.  

Having to deal with difficult family is exhausting, but it's also an opportunity to learn, or perhaps, re-learn, lessons about one's self. Do I think this particular family member is a terrible person? Absolutely. No question. But there's no changing her. The only person I can control is myself.  

Today's run helped me remember what I feel is important, and how I want to aspire to live my life - specifically, one that is filled with gratitude, kindness, and humility. 

I want to be more accepting of others' situations, and understand that not everyone may believe or feel the same as I do; this doesn't mean they're wrong, but that they have a different perspective and outlook on the world. 

I want to remember, always, that everyone is dealing with their own challenges in life and that, sometimes, they may not have the capacity or ability to be the best version of themselves. When that happens, they might need time or space to just be

If I've hurt someone for any reason, I want to be able to say, "I'm sorry." And not only do I want to be able to say it, but I also want to really, truly mean it.

Most importantly, I never want anyone to feel that they owe me anything, just because I've done something nice for them. Gestures of kindness should be unconditional - done because one wants to, not because they expect anything in return.

As Amanda Fucking Palmer said on her epic multimedia blog post about TED 2014, BIL 2014 and #NINJAvan which all took place in Vancouver last week: "BE EXCELLENT TO EACH OTHER."

All I can say to that is: WORD.

© 2014 Matthew Lowe and Squelch Design

Today's run: 10 km. Weather: cloudy, cool, light showers. Feeling prior to run: exhausted, emotionally drained and devoid of energy. Feeling post-run: better. That's all I could have asked for.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Quick update: I've pretty much quit marathon training.

Last year, a friend from my Master's program came to this realization: "To succeed at grad school, I have to fail at everything else in life."

While sad, I've found this to be absolutely true - especially in these last three months before finishing up. Why did I decide to try and train for a marathon at the same time as completing my grad degree? Because I'm stupid, that's why.

So, no. No more running right now. I don't have time. It's not an excuse. It's just the way life is at the moment. C'est la friggin' vie.

I don't know if this means whether number 5 in May is a complete bust. At this point, nothing is certain. Will update again when I can.

P.S. If you don't hear from me, just assume I've suffocated under the soul-crushing weight of my thesis.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Did That Just Happen?

I've been having a tough time with my running. Lack of motivation to stick to my training schedule, and feeling anxious about choosing between running and school work has sometimes left me paralyzed. The result has been a less-than-best effort put into, well, anything I'm doing right now.

In other words, definitely not winning at life at the moment.

I didn't run at all last week, which has put me slightly behind on my long mileage. This can be disheartening, as it only serves to feed into the mentality of, "Maybe I should just give up on training completely." But, miraculously, I forced myself out there today. It wasn't great, but it was better than nothing. Also, I don't know many other people who ran 19 km today, so I have to remind myself that any long distance is a good thing.

Sometimes after doing long runs I think to myself, "Did that just happen?" It sometimes feels a bit surreal, especially after periods of blah. But I have GPS and heart rate data to prove it, so it must've happened. Small wins, right?

Today's run: 19 km. Weather: dry and cool. Feeling: okay.

Side note: a male runner who passed me today said, "Nice gait!" At first I was all like, say what now? But then I found it funny - and a little flattering. He may or may not really know what good running form looks like, but it was still nice for him to say.

Props to everyone who ran the Pacific Road Runners First Half in support of Variety - The Children's Charity of British Columbia today. Hope you all enjoyed the race, and the brief periods of sun we had this morning!

I think gratitude, in any form, is a wonderful thing. Here's a little video from Variety saying thanks to the Pacific Road Runners for all their support over the years. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I, Long Distance Runner

Years ago, I blogged about some quirky traits people inherit when they get serious about running. After four marathons and many, many miles, I like to think I've also learned a thing or two about myself over the years:

  • I am a long distance runner. 
  • The first five or six km of any run is what I need to really warm up and settle in. 
  • I'm no expert, but I don't need unsolicited advice about running. I know where to get good advice, thanks. Besides, not all advice works for everyone. 
  • I like to run alone - not because I'm anti-social but because, as a wise man and fellow runner (The Oatmeal) once said: "The buzzing roar of the world is nothing compared to the noise inside my head. But when I run, the world grows quiet." 
  • I also like to run alone because it affords me the opportunity to really pay attention to my body, run by feel, and allow my thoughts to drift in and out, as needed. This isn't possible if I'm running with someone else.
  • And no, I'm not fast - but I love it, so I do it anyway

I love long distance running! Long distance running's my favourite.

Here's to introspection! Hope you're all staying warm despite the polar vortex. 

Today's run: 16 km. Weather: cold (we broke a record!) but sunny and glorious. Feeling: blessed. Totally.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Running Round-Up: New Year, New Marathon Edition

Happy New Year, friends! I hope all of you had a chance to wind down, sleep in and de-stress over the holidays. And now, here we are: 2014! I've had a lot on my mind but no single topics that warrant their own blog post, so here's another round-up for you on what I think about when I think about running (or, when I'm actually running). Hopefully my mind will stop wandering all over the place when classes start again on Monday.

Marathon Training
I've signed up for marathon #5 and realized this week that I've never before run a marathon in May. I realized this, when I went to work out my marathon training schedule earlier this week only to discover that I should have started training last weekend. Oooops. No matter... having missed the first two runs in the first week out of 18 total weeks of training is not a big deal. It just made me chuckle, is all.

My last ever marathon training schedule??
What a Difference a Day Makes
As per my schedule for this week, I ran 6 km yesterday and another 6 km today, which is more mileage in one week than I've run since October. And yesterday was a great day to start as well, as it was raining and cold...which most people would find depressing, but I find rather glorious: fewer people around the seawall, that certain aura of mystery that only rain and fog can bring i.e. you know, like X-Files' style. That cool quiet is part of the reason I fell in love with the west coast in the first place. Today was also glorious, but for other reasons. The city started its day enveloped in a thick, pea soup-like fog, but opened up to filtered sunshine and dry weather. Two very different days, but both amazing. Rain or shine, I guess I just have a love affair with this place. 

Vancouver fog: late 2013
© Alexis Birkill

Bit of Worry
Having let my fitness lapse a bit since marathon #4 at the end of September, and likely having put on a little turkey weight over the holidays, I'm definitely feeling a bit sluggish out there. The past few runs have been slow and plodding, and have pretty much taken up my entire morning. Being a slower long-distance runner than most (that's not being humble, it's fact) means that other runners are knocking off higher mileage in less amounts of time. Given that I have to commit more time to training because I'm a slower runner, deciding to train for a May marathon in my last semester of my graduate degree with three months to go before I have to defend my thesis makes me worry whether I've bitten off more than I can chew. I must be nuts, right? At the very least, it will be a good experiment in time management. We'll just have to see.

Slow and Steady
Speaking of plodding, on December 31, John Stanton's page on Facebook posted this status update: "Enjoy your run today...there is someone out there that is more happy than you...running a lot slower." Me being me, I commented with this: "I'm the slow one! No one is slower than me so, you're welcome, everybody!" The nice thing was, I got six likes and a few encouraging replies. Not a bad way to end the year.

Hope 2014 has been good to you all so far! What races are on your list for this year?