Saturday, April 28, 2018


My last post was written almost exactly one month ago and was titled enthusiastically about my return to racing after an awesome month of March. Now here I sit at my computer injured. In fact, I have been hurt since about two days after that last post was written. I was in denial at first, and optimistic that it would be short-lived. I thought for sure that I would not miss the April Fool's Run, as I never miss that race. I've been doing it every year since 2012, including last year when I was pregnant. So what was a little injury? I didn't realize how hard I hurt myself until I went to see my physiotherapist and the simple exercises she assigned me to do were so very hard. If I can barely balance on the hurt leg for more than a few seconds, how do I expect to run 10K which is essentially thousands of repetitions of balancing on one leg over and over with no break?

I was in denial because I don't really know what I did to hurt myself. There was no one defining moment where I fell or twisted wrong. I just didn't feel good during a training run but got through it anyway, and the getting through it anyway thing was the worst thing I could have done. My knee stiffened up more and more as the day progressed, and my whole leg got very angry until I could barely move it. Despite this, I decided that it couldn't be a bad injury because I have never hurt my knee. There's a misconception that running is bad for knees and I cringe when people ask me if running so much has ever hurt my knees. Well, it did now, but this is after running for 8+ years and thousands and thousands of miles with zero previous knee pain. I think the combination of relaxin hormone in my system, a body shifting back to normal post pregnancy, yet still hanging onto a few extra pounds, plus shoes that were maybe at the end of their life worn a bit too long, and maybe a few other factors. There was no one defining moment, but rather numerous variables coming together like a perfect injury-inducing storm.

The first few days were the worst because the pain was debilitating. I could barely walk and so taking care of my daughter was really a challenge. Having a baby is physically tiring with all the carrying, lifting, etc., done throughout the day. Holding her in my left arm almost all the time has meant additional stress to that side of the body, likely another factor in the knee injury. So having to continue to care for her with this hurt body hasn't helped recovery. I continue to stress my knee out every time I lift her or hold her on one side of my body while I do things with the other, dominant side of my body, which places me in imbalance over and over again as each day progresses.

But the worst part of being injured is the missing out on everything part. I missed the Fools Run. I missed a weekend getaway to the Sunshine Coast with my family. I missed running with a friend. I have missed sunny day after sunny day this glorious spring where I could be training and wearing shorts! I have missed hiking invitations. I have missed social running opportunities. I have missed out on my favourite exercise and the ability to burn mega calories (which until now had helped me lose some of my baby weight). But also I find that when I run, I crave healthier food and I treat my body better. I am missing that and definitely feeling guilty about not eating super well this last little while. I have also missed out on my "me time" as I usually run solo and as a way to decompress and promote better mental health. I have missed out on something that is so me in so many ways, and I am absolutely itching to get it back.

It isn't forever, but it's been a month, and while I have made progress and can walk comfortably, I know I still have a little way to go yet until I am running well again. I will have lost so much of my fitness and will have to start back ever so slowly as to not risk further injury. I won't be starting with 10Ks and working up to a half marathon. A half marathon this fall might be too ambitious. I will be starting at the beginning all over again, just like I had to returning to running post-partum. Slow, steady, and boring.

So while I am so discouraged, I also know that running will always be there for me. I didn't ruin my knee. I have an injury that I will overcome. And when I can return, it will feel oh so very sweet. I will do all the wonderful things I wish to do as a runner. It just might not be in the timeline I had hoped for. But it will all still happen. Until then, I just need to find other ways to keep myself grounded and better focused on healthy habits. Until then I simply need to keep my chin up and keep working at getting stronger. Eyes on the prize!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Return to Racing!

Oh dear, it's been over two months since my last post. Time really does get away from you when there's a little one at home! I am very pleased to report that I have completed two races since my last post, and I have one coming up soon. I regret not writing a race report after each of the last two races, so I will do my best to recap here. My next race will be the April Fool's Run that I do every year on the Sunshine Coast. Because of my history there and my relationship to that race, I will do my darndest to write a blog post after that run as quickly as I can. My apologies to my social network that would have appreciated more timely reports on my other two races.

West Van Run 10K
The first of the two races was the West Van Run 10K on the first weekend of March. I love this race and this was a must-do event because of my friendship with the race director and my membership with the West Van Run crew. This race was my first 10K completed post-partum, and it was a "big long run" type goal. It was quite fitting that this event was my return to racing post-baby because of the way it book-ended my pregnancy in 2017. The West Van Run of 2017 was my first race after learning that I was pregnant, and its sister event, the North Van Run, was my last run completed during my pregnancy at 37 weeks. My daughter was born 2 weeks after that race, and I set my eyes on the West Van Run as a goal to achieve in 2018.

I did it, but it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy because it was indeed my longest run completed post-partum. I had intended to complete the distance at least once in my training but things got in the way such as the flu, a lingering cough, and an unexpected snowstorm! But I had done 8km a few times and knew I had it in me to push a little further on event day. It was also not easy because of sideways rain that day! And I also had a very tough night the night before the race after a very difficult day before. This is what happens when you're a new mom - sometimes you have an insanely hard day. I LOVE being a mom and I feel so incredibly blessed to be experiencing this journey and to have my beautiful daughter in my life. There are some elements though of motherhood that are challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally. And that is putting it very lightly.

I do not feel like publicly detailing the challenging day that I had, but it was ugly and I could not sleep after all the negativity and many many tears. In fact, I almost skipped the race entirely because I didn't feel like I could fake a smile when I would bump into my friends. But this race was a goal of mine and I knew that not doing it would make me feel worse. I had to show up and prove to myself I could do this. And so I did. And it was hard. And when I got to the finish line and saw my loving friends there cheering, I burst into tears. I was so very very embarrassed too for my emotional outburst, but my friends were so full of love and understanding. Thank you ladies! I avoided seeing other friends, especially those with cameras, and dodged nearly all small talk. I avoided socializing. I avoided all the things I normally would do after a race and I promptly returned home. Running did make me feel better about the situation I was upset about, and don't worry, it's now all completely a thing of the past and I am just fine. And I have this bad boy in my possession!

My finish time has long been forgotten and it's nothing exciting to report on. It was my 2nd slowest 10K race (I was slower when I ran the Eastside 10K at 35 weeks pregnant, of course). The race was organized impeccably and it was great to be out there. Thank you to Kirill and all the amazing volunteers for the hours of work put into making this event happen. Hope to be back for the summer event in June!

St. Patrick's Day 5K
And as per tradition, I ran the St. Patrick's Day 5K again this year. This year the event fell on St. Patty's Day itself which made it that much more special. This was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to run because I saw that my husband had the day off work so his help with our daughter that day was available. I didn't want to make demands of his time so soon after the West Van Run, but of course, he was happy to take on a morning of parenting alone since he was freed up that day. So I contacted my sister in law, with whom I have run this race the last few years, and we made a plan to run together. And I know the race directors for this event too and was given the Running Room staff code to make the race even more affordable and a no-brainer to complete.

This race was, as always, a blast! My friend Monica ended up running the whole race with me, which was a lovely surprise. Michele was feeling particularly speedy and good and we didn't hold her back. We of course sported our festive green and enjoyed Irish stew, some beer in our new commemorative glasses, good music, and good company at the finish line festivities at the Stanley Park Pavilion. A good time was had by all indeed!

And next in line....

So next will be the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run on April 8th. It'll be my 7th year in a row participating, but this year I'm not officially blogging as ambassador. I wasn't sure I would run up until recently when I discussed with Monica and we decided to complete it as a two-person relay team. So I only have to run half of the half marathon distance (so just over 10K). I had this race on my hope list but only confirmed recently that I'd indeed run. It's hard to make plans for my time too far in advance these days when I'm my daughter's primary caregiver, plus I wanted to see if I felt OK running 10K before committing to doing it. Well, a bit more than 10K is fine as my running recently has been a lot stronger, even since the West Van Run. I have a run partner to do the relay with, and my husband has the day off to ensure that I can be freed up from mom responsibilities for a little while to allow me to run. He and our daughter will be coming along and we're going to make a weekend of it, staying the night before in Gibsons. Should be a lovely time! Stay tuned for a timely race report following the event :-)

After that, I am not sure what's in store. But I am hoping for a fall half marathon!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A New Year for a New Mom Runner

Please forgive me for it being a little over a month since my last post. Baby nap times are precious for getting things done, or catching some rest, so sitting down to blog doesn't happen as often as I'd like. The last month has been very very positive for me as a mom and as a runner. I've been able to run 3x/week consistently and I'm up to 7km now for long run day. I am intentionally progressing my mileage really slowly as my abs are still a little tender (but improving), and I am not exactly at my ideal running weight yet either. Because of both of those factors, running has been really hard work! I don't want to push myself too much too soon. The plan is to get to 10km for Feb 1st so I can practice that distance a few times ahead of the West Van Run in early March. A fall half marathon sounds like a reasonable goal too! Maybe the Victoria Half in October? It won't be the type of running year that's typical of Zahida, but I think still respectable, and all about returning to action and fitting a running lifestyle into my new life as a new mom.

I know a lot of people set fitness related goals as New Year's Resolutions. If you know me well, you would know that this is not my style. I'm goal-driven by nature and set goals constantly. Through and since my health transformation, fitness related goals have moved me forward. I am always working toward something. Now that I have "baby weight" to lose, I have that goal in mind, sure, but it has nothing to do with New Year's Day and everything to do with always wanting to live in the healthiest version of my body that I can. My true goals are more about health and how I want to feel when I run rather than a number on a scale. Despite not setting resolutions, that's not to say that I don't get reflective when a new year begins. I like to think about what I accomplished the year previous and what lessons I learned. I take those lessons to decide on a theme for my upcoming year.

Last year was defined by my pregnancy and the welcoming of my baby girl in October. Long before I knew of my pregnancy, I decided my theme for 2017 would be kindness to myself. My husband and I had been trying for a very long, painful time to get pregnant and I was often very upset at myself and worried it would never happen. The moment I let go and shifted my mindset toward kindness, the miracle we were looking for arrived. It enabled me to maintain a healthy and active pregnancy. It also allowed me to enjoy my pregnancy! Imagine that. You remember though, I ran up until week 37 and completed 10 races with baby in belly.

My daughter is here now, and I'm so full of love and wonder toward her. I can't stop staring at her precious face. So this year, I really want to enjoy every single moment with this miracle. My theme is about appreciating the little things and living in the moment more than I do. My daughter is almost 3 months old now and is indeed already growing up too fast. I don't want this time to slip by because I was in too much of a rush to do the next thing, trying to accomplish something comparatively unimportant, or too focused on bigger details, that I missed the little ones. I want to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Life will get busier once my maternity leave ends, so before it does, I need to embrace the slow life and all those messy, imperfect, quiet, cuddly, sweet cooing, crying in my face, diaper-filled moments.

So it was rather fitting that I began the New Year with the Resolution Run hosted by the Running Room. Being a fun run, rather than a timed event, I decided a while ago that I would likely walk the event with my daughter in the stroller. And since my husband got scheduled to work that day, that was indeed my approach. So I dedicated my bib to her.

It was my first time walking a running event, and most definitely my first event with a stroller! It was rather a special time with my daughter, even though she slept the entire way there, the whole walk, all the way home, and for two hours after that too! She has no idea she was part of this event, I don't think (I'll have to show her photos one day)! Here we are at the start line. Notice my lack of run gear? Odd to show up at a race in regular clothes...

It was a cold 0 degrees (Celcius) morning with lots of fog, but it wasn't raining and Stanley Park is always beautiful. The energy was very positive and I loved the special time with my girl. At the finish line, the Running Room store hosted a waffle breakfast with door prizes from Brooks. It was hard to get around in there with the stroller with all the store fixtures and other people, but I didn't let it stop me from enjoying. I also got to introduce my daughter to some friends who'd never met her before, including my running buddy Karen.

So what's next? The West Van Run in March where I'll be doing the 10K. I haven't decided on other events yet, except maybe the Victoria Half in October. Anything in between is still up for decision as now any race I do requires someone to look after my daughter, likely meaning my husband has to take time off work (he often works weekends). I'll keep you posted on what I decide!!

Thanks for tuning in and Happy 2018 to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Truth About Running Post Partum

My baby will be 8 weeks old on Friday and I've been running now just short of 4 weeks now. My goal was a gradual re-entry to running in November using run/walk intervals and then switching to running straight in December. The plan worked and with being able to do 10 and 1s by late November and about 4km, I decided to kick off December with some 5km runs - my first was today. And it felt a-maz-ing! I will start an increase in mileage slowly in hopes that a spring or early summer half marathon can be a reality.

The thing is, my journey has not all been sunshine and roses, even though the positivity of my sharing might suggest otherwise. I figured I'd be honest about it here, as I know others have appreciated my candor.

I have to note though that I've been extremely lucky with my health. I had a very healthy pregnancy with zero complications. It enabled me to run until 37 weeks pregnant (and I gave birth just shy of 39 weeks). Running that long allowed my pelvic floor and abdominal muscle strength to build / be maintained and for sure this enabled me to bounce back after delivery much faster. I just needed my stitches to heal up and for things to feel OK again, um, 'down there'... But other women experience much worse such as abdominal separation or issues with their pelvic floor that causes pain, incontinence, and other not so fun symptoms. Again, I have been very fortunate to have been able to maintain my strength in those areas and not suffer many terrible symptoms.

I have been consistently running 3 times a week (with the exception of this week - more on that in a bit), and again, my ability to do this is something I feel very fortunate for. My husband works retail at a store with long hours, so his schedule is all over the place, rather than a typical M-F/9-5 job. Him being home at odd times allows me to spread out my runs during the week. He's incredibly supportive and understands the importance of running for my mental and physical well-being, and also he craves his alone time with his daughter when I'm out. It's a win win. This week I was able to schedule runs for a Mon, Wed, and Fri because of his schedule and days he's home.

So in theory, I have it really good. But as many will tell you, there's nothing that can prepare you for life with a new baby. It's incredibly rewarding and blissful, but very tiring, especially on a mom if she's breastfeeding. We are supplementing with formula which does allow Cam to parent without me. But often, I'm what she needs. Running the days Cam is off work have been easier to do, because I can go in the middle of the day if that's what works best for my energy and our schedule, but the other days are harder. Before having a baby, I may not have understood this. I'm on 12 months' maternity leave - how could I possibly not have the time to run? Sounds like a stupid excuse since I'm "not working". Motherhood is a 24/7 full-time job and even though I understood this on some level before, I'm living it now and fully aware of what it means now.

What this means is that on those days when Cam starts work at say 10am and I want to enjoy an 8am run, it's not just as simple as scheduling it and doing it like it used to be. If I was up in the middle of the night to feed the baby at 1am and again at 4am, and after feeding her at those times, I needed to spend an extra hour holding and comforting her to help her sleep, is an 8am run appealing? If I manage maximum 6 hours sleep a night and these hours are never in a row, that's hardly ideal to make running easy on the body.

Typically I've been waking up 2.5 hours before I want to run so I can have breakfast and then be available to feed the baby and/or pump milk before I go. Believe it or not, I've been successful at doing this so far, except not on Monday this week. After a very rough night with her, and a feeding that had me awake until 6am, running at 8am was the farthest thing from my mind. Being tired is never an excuse I'll accept because being tired is synonymous with parenthood. But I was so exhausted I could not keep my eyes open. No sense in trying to run in those circumstances. I fed my daughter, then slept as she slept until the late morning, missing my opportunity to run before Cam went to work. The stupid thing is that even though I felt refreshed when I woke up at 11am, I was overcome with guilt for missing my workout. My mantra is "no excuses" and sometimes that sentiment bites me in the @$$. No Zahida, being exhausted is not an excuse - simply a reality of life and it's best to listen to the body in those circumstances. Skipping this run is what we call self-care. If I am running for self-care, then sleeping for self-care should be allowed too. As soon as my daughter was fed that day, I threw on some non-pajama clothing, strapped her into her Baby Bjorn and went for a long walk. Walking all over the place to do errands with a 10lb weight (the baby) attached to my body is also excellent exercise, yet I couldn't see this as OK as I missed my run. How could only 2 runs this week be OK when my goal is 3 runs per week?

I'm finally over my guilt after an awesome, empowering 5km run this afternoon after a good sleep this morning. Yes, Cam is off work today and has been doing the lion's share of parenting since early this morning giving me a much needed break.

Then there's the "mom-bod" thing. I am also now feeling less of the shame and body-image challenges now that I'm seeing results on the scale. Pregnancy weight-gain is natural and expected. But I put on more weight than I wanted, and this was despite keeping active and eating relatively healthy all pregnancy. Sorry, I had to take advantage of my temporary tolerance to dairy and enjoy some ice cream this hot summer! But no matter how healthy I ate most of the time, my body held onto all kinds of extra weight because it could. I hated seeing the numbers on the scale go up as they reached a higher point than I've seen in about 7 years. My story of weight loss is one that defines a lot about my character and I felt ashamed to be "heavy" again. Of course, lots of that weight disappeared the moment my daughter was born. But even with that, I was left with another 30lbs to lose. No big deal for me considering I once lost 130lbs. I know how to do it, and I have the will to do it right :-) But it still has hurt the self esteem. I have reminded myself that my body did what it needed to enable a healthy baby. My body did the most amazing thing - growing and birthing a beautiful girl. I should cut it some slack and celebrate it, rather than feel bad about some extra weight around my midsection.

Since that initial drop in weight with childbirth, I've been tracking my food and exercise and have successfully lost 8lbs so far. Yay! I'm well on my way and hopefully the confidence in myself in that department will return, and hopefully fitting into some of my old pre-pregnancy clothes again will help. It doesn't feel that far away any more. I'll get there. It took 9 months to grow a baby, I can't expect my body to return to its old self instantaneously.

I hear my daughter stirring from her sleep, so I better end here. Thank you for reading!!!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Momming and Returning to Running

It's official - I'm a mom! In fact, tomorrow marks my dear daughter's 1 month "birthday". Our little girl arrived early and in an unexpected fashion on Friday, October 13th. I'll spare you my birth story, although I'd be happy to tell it to you if you message me privately! It's a good story, I swear! :)

What I can say about this past month though is that everything they say is true - nothing can possibly prepare you for the challenges of the first few weeks of parenthood. The emotions, the sleep deprivation, the doubt, the worry, the entirety of your life being completely flipped upside down by this tiny human who needs so much attention and care, all while you are recovering from the trauma caused to your body by 9 months of pregnancy and your baby's birthday - there is NOTHING that compares to it or that can prepare you for it. But then there's the other, much sweeter side, which makes every difficult moment worth it. Baby S (I will not be using her real name on my blog) took our world by storm. Every single moment with her I am in awe with the love I feel for her. I cannot describe it as it's something that compares to absolutely nothing else. I look at her and wonder where she came from, how I could be blessed with such a miracle. I stare at her little face, her little fingers and toes, and I watch every little squirm and expression so intently. Pregnancy seemed to last an eternity, but now that she's on the outside, I have a hard time believing this miracle is real. She's not even a month old, but somehow I can't imagine the life I had before she was here.

Vulnerable post-delivery photo. We did it!!!
So mushy lovey feels about my baby girl aside, now I am a mom! My whole life will now be defined by this fact, and my every day going forward will have to consider her needs in addition to my own. I made a pledge to myself that while I will be prioritizing S's needs, I will never neglect my own. I often do let my needs take a back burner (I will put off making my lunch to ensure she's fed and not screaming, for example). But I'll always come back to mine. S and I had some major challenges in our first week together, with an unexpected extended stay in the hospital where I was limited on holding and nursing my little girl. I didn't make this public, and I am still not going to detail it here as I wish to keep it private. But the experience was the most stressful time of my entire life. There were many tears and heartache beyond heartache. I couldn't control my emotions at times, which I know were fueled by the onset of all kinds of new hormones in addition to the circumstances, but I feared I was spiraling down a path I didn't want to. One of the nurses who took care of us reminded me of the simple fact - I'm no good to my daughter if I am miserable. She encouraged me to sleep even though I didn't think I had time to do so. She insisted and sat in our room with us so she could be the one to console my baby in my place when she needed me, while I blocked out the world for a moment and slept a few winks. I will forever be grateful to this nurse for doing this for me - I think she truly saved me. Happy mom equals happy baby, and putting my mental and physical health at the top of my priority list is one of the best ways I can take care of my girl. I have always known this fact, but in the depths of the anguish I needed someone to talk me through it.

The good news is that my girl and I are thriving now. We have even a bit of a routine at home and between her Dad and I, we think we've got a pretty good handling of this parenting thing. At least this stage of it anyway. We know the learning curve will continue to be a very steep one. But I have gotten over the fears of not being perfect, and have embraced the learning. We go on outings almost every day so I can get outside, stretch my legs, and be stimulated, but also to build my confidence in the whole momming thing! I feel awesome pushing the stroller with a calm cooing baby inside it.

My recovery from her birth has gone swimmingly and S's health is pretty much perfect too! At our 4 week doctor's appointment, the doctor told me I could try running again, as long as I take it easy. I know my body and my limits, and I know how to safely progress a run program as I've done it before and I've coached many runners too on the same. I know some me time, when Daddy is home to watch baby, will serve my physical and mental well-being. Running is my "go to" for this and so I have been anxious to get back into it to help take care of ME. I started on Thursday with a 3km run. My approach was just to go out and see what I could do, walk when needed. The 3km took me over 25 min, which is a very long time by my usual standards, but it only required 2 walk breaks on uphill sections. I don't care how slow it was because considering I hadn't run in 6 weeks, I just had a baby 4 weeks ago, and I have 30 extra lbs on my body, it's not so bad at all! I was a bit achy for the afternoon but I knew that it wasn't anything to worry about - just the fact that I just did something my body hadn't done in 6 weeks. I had zero achiness the next day, so I knew it was safe to try again.

So yesterday was my 2nd try at it, so I ran the exact same 3km route as I did two days before, but took a different approach. I ran 5 minutes at a time with 1 minute walk breaks between (i.e., "5 and 1s"). So I likely walked more than I did on my first attempt, but the walks were limited to a minute and scheduled. The eased up approach allowed for better performance. I felt less sluggish and more natural with my stride, and as I felt myself tiring, I could see on my watch how far I had to go before I got a break. Also having that successful run in my legs and confidence made the whole experience better too. It was pouring rain out there too, but I managed to finish this run in exactly 24 minutes. Still not fast, but faster by over a minute. I have time to get fast again. For now, I just want to get moving! The good news is that I had zero discomfort during and after the run. I am well on my way.

For accountability, I am telling you my goals! For now, it's just to run 3 times a week, scheduled around my husband's work schedule, so he can stay home with the baby. When I'm ready, I can try to increase that to 4 days and consider training for races. But in the short term, I will be using walk breaks a bit just so I don't push my recovering body too hard too soon. I'll be back to my old self in no time at all. I'll keep you posted along the way.

Time to publish this and go snuggle my babe.
<3 Zahida

Monday, October 9, 2017

Lessons Learned Running with Baby on Board

Hi friends! It's been one heckuva last 9 months for this runner girl here. I am just under 2 weeks away from my baby's due date, so I expect that any day now (or at some point this month anyway), we'll be welcoming a new tiny human to our household and our lives. If you read my last blog post, you'll know that I'm officially done, for now, with running. I never expected myself to be running right until my delivery date, but I didn't exactly expect that I'd run right up to 37 weeks. I exceeded my expectations of myself, and now I welcome the rest while I await the most exciting journey of my life to begin.

I'm very thankful that I was able to run that long, and I wanted to thank you all for reading and supporting me in the journey. I was overwhelmed by the encouragement I received. My next journey will be returning to running post-partum, and then I expect that to be shortly followed up by running with stroller. And who knows - running for achievement of a new personal best could be mixed in there too. There really is a lot about this sport to talk about. Running is a sport that can absolutely be adapted to fit one's lifestyle and stage in life. I am thankful for this because this sport is one that I turn to, day after day, to provide me with my "me time". Running gives me time to be me, sort my thoughts, and receive a endorphin boost, a good calorie burn, a physical challenge, a meditative and grounding experience, that primal connection to the earth and my living body, and empowerment that goes beyond the miles accomplished on the road. I'm grateful that my body allowed me to continue to enjoy these feelings regularly for the last 9 months. Without it, I don't know how I'd feel today. And while I anticipate at least 2 months off from the sport, that time will go by so very quickly. It will certainly be long enough though to make me hungry for my return to it. I see no issue with being motivated to go once life allows it to become a regular part of my day again.

Thankfully, my team of doctors in this pregnancy fully endorsed and encouraged me to run throughout pregnancy. And so I did, and it was a great learning experience. I thought I'd take some time to summarize and reflect on this experience and share with you the lessons I learned along the way. Hope you enjoy!

Remember one thing - this is not supposed to be easy.
The most common theme from talking to others about the experience was about its perceived difficulty. Sometimes the person I spoke to was a woman who ran in her own pregnancy and found it difficult, and she shared her experience with me about how long she kept it up and when/why she eventually stopped. Or those who don't have their own firsthand experience and have suggested that it's unimaginable to run in my "condition" because it doesn't sound easy. Then there's the opposite sentiment that I've received a few times only -- that because running has been my sport for so many years now, running with the added challenge of pregnancy couldn't have been a big shift for me. I don't know if they thought it was easy on me but maybe they didn't know it was hard. I was simply doing what I'm used to doing but slowing it down, so maybe doing that wasn't hard at all.

So I will tell you right now, running is NOT an easy sport. No matter how long you've been doing it or how at times it can absolutely seem effortless, it's not easy. The sport is designed to be uncomfortable and most of us runners don't do it just to do it, be comfy, or to stay the same. We do it to push ourselves to new levels. Sure, for me running in pregnancy, my experience of being a runner for a long time helped me through. And I didn't set goals to perform at my races and took it "easy" out here. But running was hard and got harder progressively, week after week as my body changed. Even if I was trying to do "the same thing", the fact that I was changing, maintaining my fitness was an act of pushing myself harder every week. It forced me out of my comfort zone week after week.

My mileage lowered progressively, but the effort of putting one foot in front of the other got progressively more difficult every time I went out there. It was discouraging, it was uncomfortable, I was often achy and/or exhausted, I thought of quitting, regularly. It was one of my most difficult running seasons of my life, right up there with returning from challenging injury, or training for my first marathon. There were physical, mental, and emotional challenges day after day, week after week. This included nausea, exhaustion, incontinence, weight gain, achy hips, achy abdominals, achy everything, fear, doubt, self-consciousness, body-image challenges, more exhaustion, a whole lot more weight gain, an altered centre of gravity, circulatory challenges, foot changes, you name it. It was really hard. But that's what made it worth it. Nobody grows when they stay in their comfort zone.

Race for you, not for competition.
My family doctor warned me against doing races. She said she was cool with me running as long as I wanted, as long as I knew to slow it down when it came to pace and distance. She told me that races could be a bad idea as one tends to push themselves, even if they don't mean to, because they get caught in the energy of others. I took her advice to heart, but lined up for 10 races during my pregnancy anyway. I simply changed my mentality and kept myself cognizant of the dangers of overdoing it at a race. I lined up at the back, started every race slow, took my walk breaks, watched my heartrate, and made sure I had a race plan for every event to ensure I finished in a way that aligned with my current state of fitness. I did not ignore the advice I received, but simply applied the advice to my race approach.

I chose to race because even though I run for my own health and for my "me time", my running community is also important to me and I wanted to keep myself connected and engaged in this community. Every race is a chance to connect with other runners, my friends, my running family, and those who are like-minded and see this sport for the amazing thing it is. I can run 5km anytime I want to, but doing so at an event has a whole lot of added benefit that I chose to experience. And I wasn't running to achieve something at my races, I wasn't training to achieve a personal best or a new distance, I was simply lining up to DO the races and to feel great about doing them. Having these races to look forward to gave me a goal to keep my training honest and directed toward.

Be kind to yourself.
This is huge. In a runner's mindset is the tendency to push no matter what, to run no matter what, even against one's better judgement at times. When you're pregnant, it's not just your own body you have to consider, but the one you're growing. Growing a person isn't an easy task, so we are allowed grace. I was often hard on myself, as I tend to be. But for the most part, I learned that kindness toward myself was the best thing I could do. I paid no attention to pace, I avoided the big hilly routes, I loosened the structure on my training week, and I always gave myself a "get out of jail free" card. That card could be redeemed if I ever needed to end a workout early, skip a workout entirely, or if I decided it was time to hang up my running shoes more long-term. I knew that while exercise would keep me and baby healthy, so would rest, moderation, and kindness. There's no need to be Wonder Woman every day.

Set goals and a plan to ensure you don't scrap the goals prematurely.
So with the kindness noted above comes the danger of redeeming the "get out of jail free" card when it's not needed. Setting goals, re-evaluating those goals on a regular basis, signing up for races, and having many honest talks with myself kept me on target. I always said I had permission to quit, but the plan was to not quit until I had enough evidence that quitting was the right thing to do. One bad run wasn't enough to say "I'm done". I had plenty bad runs, but they were almost always followed up with an OK run, a good run, or an exceptional energizing run. A good run always feels that much better when on the heels of a bad one. So I always told myself not to quit until I'd seen a true shift that running had moved from possible and OK to truly too difficult to continue. It took until I hit 37 weeks and a full-term baby to feel I was truly ready to stop.

Be extraordinary, in your own way.
Perhaps this is a mantra I live by always. I don't like keeping myself at status quo. I like to challenge myself to something I know to not be easy and see how I can conquer. I ran through my pregnancy to to prove to myself that I could. If I could do this, certainly I could take on birthing a child. And certainly I can take on the challenges of motherhood. I chose to race because I knew it would feel good and empowering. I had seen other pregnant women at races and thought to myself, "wow that's awesome - I hope I can do that someday". I made sure to try when I had the opportunity, and soon, 10 races were completed. There was nothing extraordinary about my speed, my distance, the races I chose, my achievements at these races or anything I did as a runner this past 9 months. But I feel like my attitude, my perseverance, and my willingness to try something challenging were absolutely extraordinary, and I'm proud of myself.

I did all of this for me, but it doesn't hurt when others take notice what you're doing and find inspiration. It's why I blog, share, overshare, and speak openly about my fitness journey. It is why I have done so the last 6 years or so since I started this blog. But most importantly, I know that this ordinary mere mortal of a woman here, me, who's as flawed as the next person, she has grit about her and a desire to better herself, no matter how difficult. And that's one of the many things that make me extraordinary.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Race Report: North Van Run 5K - Oct 1st, 2017

This past Sunday, I ran the inaugural North Van Run 5km race. It was very likely my last run for a little while, and definitely my last race of 2017. It was a great time and an event I truly did not want to miss for several reasons:
  • The event was put on by my friend Kirill, the mastermind behind the West Van Run and whose commitment to creating a true running community is admirable. He has made a genuine impact on the North Shore (and beyond). I wanted to support him, first and foremost.
  • The other two events that Kirill directs, the West Van Run and the Ambleside Mile, are very well organized events I've enjoyed participating in, so no doubt this would be a great event too.
  • I have lived in North Van since 2009 and have never participated in a running event locally, in my own town. I have always had to travel somewhere to get to the start line. North Van is more known for trail races, which aren't something I've taken to. The only road race I'm aware of is a half marathon that is no longer, that took place the same weekend as another race I was always doing instead.
  • I would be 37 weeks pregnant on race day, and thought it would be a nice way to close my "baby-on-board running season".
  • Related to the previous bullet point, my first race after I learned I was pregnant was the West Van Run that took place in March. So its sister event in North Vancouver made sense to be my 10th and final race for this journey.
As with the Eastside 10K race, I opted for a rather last minute race entry. Not that I thought I was going to give birth early, but it was certainly a possibility. It was more that my running slowly progressed to less and less frequent. Perhaps I should say, my running has "regressed" over the past few weeks. I simply didn't want to commit to overdoing it until I felt confident that doing it wasn't overdoing it. Walking the entire race was certainly always a possibility. But you know me, I'm a runner, and I want to run my events, even if I have to take extended walk breaks.

With a couple days to spare before race day, I was informed that there were only a limited number of bibs left. So I registered, having faith that baby would stay put inside me a bit longer. The thing was, I had no idea what my race plan would be. It was a "try to run and see if it feels OK" approach. If it felt fine, I'd continue until I felt like stopping. If it felt bad, I'd switch to walking immediately and walk the whole way. So it was tough to set a goal or make a more definitive plan. But I suppose just showing up and committing to finishing the thing is enough at the stage I was in.

But silently, I made a goal to run at least 3 of the 5km and to finish as close to 40min as I could, although I wouldn't be watching the clock closely to check if I was achieving that time goal. The 40min goal was just something to aim for, based on it being a little slower than previous recent efforts, proportionately slower to the amount of time that had passed since those efforts, with a buffer knowing I may walk up to 2km. Same approach was followed at this event as all my runs of recent days - follow my perceived level of exertion, look at the heart rate on my watch and keep it at or under the level I'm comfortable with, but not look at any performance-based stats (pace, elapsed time, etc.). This is for the sanity of my competitive-self, so I don't feel bad or discouraged for being the turtle at the back of the pack. I've been told by many how the fact that I'm there doing is inspiring and badass, which I do now believe. I should not let myself get obsessed with time. I can do that later when I'm not running with a watermelon attached to my body!

I started race morning with a bold coffee, cold water and pre-natal vitamins, and some peanut butter on toast. Breakfast of a sleepy pregnant champion! I was all ready to head to the start line early, allowing myself lots of time to get there as I wanted to avoid not being able to get through road closures and having an issue with parking. Also, pregnant ladies have a tendency to need a bathroom regularly, so I wanted to make sure there was plenty of time to wait out a long line for the ladies at the start line. 

Of course, being that this race was right here in North Van, something had to go wrong for me to foil the plan. After the above social media moment where I photographed my race bib next to my cup of coffee, I promptly forgot to include said bib with the gear I took with me to the race. I drove myself almost all the way to the start line, and then it dawned on me that I left my bib at home. I pulled over, checked my bag and confirmed it was time to U-turn myself around and go home to find my bib waiting for me on the placemat next to my empty coffee cup. Thankfully, home was only 5 minutes away, but again, I was fighting the clock to get to the start line before road closures were in place. It ended up not being an issue, but I arrived with a jolt of "way to go baby brain" rushing around like a headless chicken type of adrenaline! 

The next dilemma was realizing it was warmer outside than I assumed it would be from looking at weather reports the day before. My confidence that I'd be running more than walking at this stage made me realize I'd be too warm in the long sleeve top I was wearing. I had the shirt in my car I planned to change into post race and decided to change then instead. I managed to get back to my car and change outfits with 2 minutes to spare before race start. Trouble was, the shirt I packed was not what I intended to run in as it's too short to cover my belly support belt, so I was self conscious all run of the fact that this ugly belt was visible for the world to see. I should have brought a different shirt as a backup, but didn't think that through. The most important thing though was that the lighter layer kept me comfy running, and I was likely the only one paying attention to my belt.

I started the race at the back of the pack, running well, managing to pass quite a few runners and boosting my confidence in the process. There was a fair chunk of hilly in the middle of the race, a couple uphills and a rather steep downhill after. I find uphill hard on the compressed lungs and downhill hard because of gravity pulling the watermelon down. So I opted to walk most of that section. In total, I think I walked about 1.5km total. I ran the whole last km and again, managed to pass some runners who had passed me when I was taking my walk break. That was good for the ego! I pushed a little harder at the end, excited to see the beautiful finish line at the end of the Drie Dock on a perfect fall morning, blue sky above and the Vancouver skyline in the background. I came in at 40:30 for my slowest 5km event of my life, but one of the most satisfying!

Finish lines don't get much prettier than this!

Me and my watermelon at the finish line.
It was a good time at the finish line, of course, catching up with other running friends and West Van Run crew members there to cheer and photograph the event. I enjoyed the adrenaline rush of my accomplishment for a little while and then remembered, at 37 weeks pregnant, it was a good idea to get home to a meal, shower, and some rest. I took a race-provided shuttle back to my car, and headed home.

After a brief outing after the race, I started to feel very tired, so I went home and changed in my PJs to rest. My belly was achy for a few hours, likely from overtaxed round ligaments that had to hold my belly through the race. I felt fine lying down or walking around, but it was enough to have me realize that maybe it's now time to stop running until after baby. If I could be this sore after running maybe about 3.5km, which isn't far at all, I should switch now to walking. I'm comfortable with that decision. It's time. I don't need to prove anything further to myself. I ran 10 races in my pregnancy, and ran for months longer than I thought I would. I have kept my body and my cardiovascular fitness strong. Transitioning to running after baby will be that much easier because of this. Labour should hopefully be much more tolerable too, because of this. Why make myself uncomfortable by doing this for too long. I'm looking forward to my long walks I'll be doing now going forward. I'm proud of all I accomplished in the 37 weeks of uncertain times. A couple months off from now until doctor clears post-partum exercise will be just fine.

It's now only 2.5 weeks until the big due date, and I'm so thankful for my health through this process. Thank YOU for your support and encouragement in this journey. 

<3 Zahida