Thursday, May 30, 2019

My learnings from my recent half marathon

I did it, I ran another half marathon this past weekend at the Oak Bay Half Marathon. I mentioned in my previous post that this was a bit of a big deal because, while I have run many half marathons before, this was my first one in about 3 years, since before I was pregnant with my daughter. This was a comeback to the distance, so to speak.

It was also special because of who I was running with. My sister in law, who was running her very first half marathon of her life, was my training partner. This race was very much also about celebrating her success. And then two of my girlfriends from Vancouver whom I met through running decided to come for the weekend to visit and run with me, so that made it all the more special too!

Me with my girls Karen, Sigrid, and Michele (left to right)

How do I feel about the race? It was fun to be with my girls, a beautiful course, and I did it. My friend Karen never left my side and it was so lovely to spend so much time with her. She kept my smiling with every soul-crushing km that I struggled through. It was amazing to be there for Michele and her big accomplishment of her first half. I am feeling ever so loved and appreciated to have had friends visit from Vancouver to be with me for the weekend. It was a weekend of awesome. But the race itself, well, I foreshadowed the outcome by calling it "soul-crushing".... Yes, I cramped (again),  I was slow, and I felt defeated, deflated, and I did not have a good experience at all, from a running perspective. It was awesome from a social perspective and I suppose I still got a good workout out of the deal.

I really don't feel like rehashing the event, talking about what causes or doesn't cause my cramping (because believe me, I have tried everything) or talk about finish times etc. I'm proud of myself for doing the event, for taking on the challenge, and for not giving up when it got tough. I am proud of myself for not letting my current weight or body image challenges get in the way of me trying. I am proud of myself for recognizing how badass I truly am, and even though I'm not as fit as I was pre-baby, I'm still way better off than the Zahida we all knew even 12 years ago.

I did not give up - I finished the damn thing, even though there were very few people behind me still when I crossed the finish line. But then again, when have I ever given up? There's a reason why I keep returning to the half marathon distance, even though it so rarely goes well for me. But it's finally time to hang up the towel. I'm ready.

No, don't be silly. I don't mean I am giving up on running all together. It continues to be my favourite sport and likely always will be. It feels good, it's fun, it's full of community. I left this race feeling like the feel-good aspect of running has not been part of the equation for some time now when I run half marathons. So why do I keep putting myself through it? I am going to walk away from trying this distance.

Instead I am going to focus on running distances that feel good and that empower me - distances that are achievable for me without having to do grueling long distance training runs, and that are enjoyable to complete. I will not run longer races than 10km, at least not in the near future. This way I can focus on enjoying my race experiences, be out of the danger zone for cramping, focus on improving my physical health, and possibly, get faster at running too since I love doing speedwork ad now I have incentive. It's so much more fun when you take the pressure off of having to achieve something specific on the workout. It's more about just doing it, not selling yourself short while doing it, no. I will ensure I'm still challenged and improving myself, but I am not adding pressure on myself to be an overachiever.

So what's next? Since the race I've done a a couple stroller runs with my daughter. This weekend we are lacing up for The Goddess Run 10K this coming weekend. I'll be running with my daughter in her stroller, and some girlfriends will be there too. Should be fun and all about girl power! It's also right in my new local community, so will be a great one to experience.




Sunday, May 19, 2019

1 week to the Half Marathon!

Gasp! We're now just 1 week away from the Oak Bay Half Marathon. This will be the first time running a half marathon since before I became a mother - so in October 2016 (as I was pregnant as of January 2017). I'd lost count how many half marathons I had run in my life up until 2016 (somewhere around 30??), but this one, being about 2.5 years later, feels very much like a first again. It's just been so long and my body has been through so much since then. Yet because of past experience, I am filled with both confidence and fear/doubt about how things will go on race day. I know what readiness feels like, yet I also know I am not the athlete I once was. It's a week away, so all I have time for now are happy, positive thoughts.

This race will be very special for various reasons. First, what I mentioned above. It's me taking on a big athletic goal after a big life event that my body went through. Sure, I am not even close to the fitness level I was pre-baby, but I am still pretty badass. I never stopped running, except for about the first 4 weeks after childbirth. I've come a long way and I know I am strong, just a little slower and carrying a little extra weight still. No big deal though in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully the race will go well enough (I don't have big lofty achievement goals, just to complete), and I will be inspired with confidence to keep at it. The one thing I know about running is that it doesn't disappear with age. I have seen many women return or discover for new a higher fitness level once their body is finally recovered from child birth. I honestly believe mine is still in recovery mode (probably because I was somewhat geriatric to begin with, relative to other moms). So getting to a point where running distances is easy again and desirable will one day come if I keep at it.

Second reason why this race will be special is Michele, my wonderful sister (in-law). I saw "in-law" in brackets because over the years, we've become super close. She's my friend and sister, who happens to be my husband's sister. She's running this as her first lifetime half marathon. I've seen her fitness and running ability really improve over the last while training with her, and I am very proud of her and excited for her to achieve this. It's been great to train together, doing our long runs together almost every weekend. I have loved seeing her achieve distances she's never run before in these training runs. As it's a first of sorts for both of us, having support and someone to keep us motivated, accountable, and on task is really important. We've seen so much of Victoria together as a result, as we've taken turns planning routes. We do something a little different every week, so it's also helped me get to know this wonderfully beautiful part of the world that is still new-ish to me. Victoria is a runner's paradise, and I know this well now. This race will be our victory lap after months of training and we look forward to crossing that finish line, and celebrating. Then it's anyone's guess what we'll do as runners.

Atop Christmas Hill with Michele for a photo opp during one of our long training runs in March.
Third reason are my girlfriends, Sigrid and Karen. They are coming over from Vancouver to stay with me the weekend and run this race with me. These ladies are friends of mine because of running; we met through running because of groups we trained with. So it's only fitting that running be the excuse to bring the three of us back together. While I've loved my time in Victoria and now feel very much at home here, my friendships with any history backing them are mostly now long distance friendships, them in Vancouver, and me here on the Island. It means so much to me and helps me feel less far from my old home to have these ladies coming for a visit. They are both much fitter than me too, so having them to push and motivate me in a friendly and loving way on race day can only do good things. And then all us girls, plus my husband and daughter, can all enjoy a celebratory brunch together after. Running is an individual sport yes, but it's so much about the people you run with, share similar goals with, and can celebrate victories and accomplishments with. I love my running community.

With Karen (left) and Sigrid (right) at a race finish line in Vancouver once upon a time!
Fourth reason is this city. I can't claim that I am new here any more, although I haven't yet lived here a year. I'm getting to know the city well, rely less and less each day on GPS and directions (I have much of this place figured out now), and I've participated in races I've never run as a result, giving me a chance to get to know the run community and what it has to offer here (answer - it offers a lot). So I'm looking forward to doing a half marathon I have never done before, exploring Oak Bay, and earning some bling to add to my collection.

With one week left to go, it's all about rest now, trusting in the training we've already put in, trying to regain some flexibility (I have been spending extra time with my foam roller now to get out all the kinks and ouch), running just for fun and to prevent my legs from going stir-crazy, and staying hydrated. The work is done and supposedly, I am ready. Gulp....

I will also mention that since my last blog post, I ran another race! The Times Colonist 10K (TC10K) took place in late April and I ran as part of Michele's corporate team called "The Young and the Rest of Us". It was really fun! Admittedly, I was a little unsure I wanted to run this, mostly because I was picturing it to be nutty with crowds like Vancouver's Sun Run. But while this race is huge in Victoria, it's to the scale of a smaller city like Victoria. It was big, but not unmanageable big. Just the right size to engage a lot of people and make for a great running atmosphere. After the first few kms of weaving around crowds, it got easier to run. It was a really fun energy, a beautiful course that included scenic Dallas Road, and started and finished at the iconic BC Legislature. It was nice to take a break from the hard long weekend runs and "only" run 10K for a change too. I hope to run this one again next year for sure.
With Michele waiting in the TC10K start line corrals

Wish me luck at next week's half marathon, and hopefully I survive the ordeal of 21.1km and can report on it here for you. Thanks always for reading, supporting, and believing in me.

- Zahida

Saturday, April 6, 2019

6 months of Running in Victoria

6 months. Yes, 6 MONTHS, of no blogging. Sigh. I can't believe it's been that long, but it feels good to be sitting here in my new home office, working on my blog for the first time in 6 months.

On October 11th, 2018, my family took a giant leap of faith, moved house, and relocated to a new community - Victoria, BC. While my husband grew up here and knows the place inside and out, I had only ever come as a visitor. Moving here was a big decision we didn't take lightly. It was hardest on me, leaving behind all my friends and losing the proximity to my family. But it was the right move, for so many reasons, and it feels like home now. My daughter has her own room, I have a home office, we have space. We're close to other members of our family, including my daughter's grandparents. And we live in an amazing community designed for families. We outgrew our old home, and it was time to move on.

The last picture I took in my old home with my daughter - staying out of the way while the boys moved the furniture.

Our move here coincided with the end to my maternity leave. I found a new job in the non-profit sector that allows me to work from home full-time while I look after my daughter. I had to learn how to go back to work while also being a stay at home mom. It has meant learning how to juggle, how to set boundaries on my time and energy, how to make time for me, and how to cope with very long and full days. My days are filled with play time, outings, and all the demands of parenthood, with the demands and expectations of a career mixed in, with all kinds of work needing to be done at high quality during what would otherwise be my down time. I think this is why finding time to blog hasn't happened. I was shocked when I realized that we were coming up on 6 months. It's gone by so fast! I am loving our life and having a little one to explore this new community with.

One of the joys of working from home though, is setting my own schedule.  I plan it around my husband's schedule so we can take turns on parenting. And of course we have help from his mom too when I have to do meetings outside of home. But when it's "all me", I still choose mommy time over work time 98% of the time, knowing I can wait until she's sleeping or until her dad gets home before I get to my work. So we explore a lot, but we also get out for regular workouts together. We've been all over the place with the running stroller. And now that I'm getting my bearings here and have an idea of where I want to explore, there'll be much more of that exploration coming up.

One of my favourite stroller run selfies. We have so much fun together!
In the 6 months since moving here, I've also done a few races. Nope, not going to recap them all, or even consider doing race reports (oh no!), but hopefully I can attempt to start race reports for my upcoming races beyond today.

Here are the events I've done so far since becoming a Victoria resident:

(1) Bear Mountain 10K - Sunday Nov 18th, 2018. 

Boy was that hilly but BEAUTIFUL!
Had to stop to take in this panoramic view of Victoria!

(2) Run Through Time 5K - Monday, December 31st, 2018 (New Year's Eve).

This was a fun evening run at UVic that I ran with my sister-in-law and also my daughter in her stroller.
Rehydrating after our run together.
(3) Harriers Pioneer 8K - Sunday, January 13th 2019. 

This was a beautiful run in North Saanich on a beautiful and surprisingly warm day. I ran this one also with my sister-in-law.
Pushing hard to finish strong and wearing too much clothing!
(4) Hatley Castle 8K - Sunday, Feb 24th 2019. 

This was a beautiful run on the trails of Royal Roads University. I ran with my sister-in-law, of course. :-)
In front of Hatley Castle before the race started looking all cute!
(5) Esquimalt 5K - Saturday, April 6th 2019. 

Yes, that was today. I ran this one with my neighbour who's become a very close friend to me, and her kids are great playmates for my daughter. And she's a runner too!

Posing silly at the start line with the mascot for the Victoria Royals hockey team.
So, not bad - 5 races so far in the last 6 months. I have a few more planned coming up, including the large Times Colonist 10K event at the end of the month. Then next month, in May, I run my first half marathon since before I became a mom, or my first since 2016. This will be at the Oak Bay Half Marathon.

I've alluded to this already in this post, but I've been running a lot with my sister-in-law. We've always loved running together, but now we live in the same city. Well, kind of. We're about 20 min drive from one another, which is a lot better than when we lived in different parts of the province. So we run just about every weekend together for our long runs and I'm loving it. We've explored so much of Greater Victoria together on foot as a result, as we take turns planning routes. We're also training for the half marathon together, and it's LOVELY to have company on those long runs, especially because they are hard when your body is no longer used to them. Having someone to do those workouts with is much more fun and much more motivating.

So there you have it! Going forward I hope to be able to write race reports, at the very least. That's my goal anyway.

Thanks for reading :)


Monday, October 1, 2018

Race Report: North Van Run - Sept 1, 2018

I've gone and done it again - not posting since my last race. I've got to tell you, it's been a very very busy time. No, not that regular busy that all moms face, but actually super stupidly busy. Since we last talked, I found a new job to start at the end of my maternity leave (two weeks from today), which has meant we can finally go ahead with our plans to move home to something bigger to accommodate all members of the family. My almost 1-year old daughter has been sleeping in the living room since pretty much day 1 and we needed a longer term solution than this! Moving home actually means relocating to another city,  and we're doing this only 10 days from now. The last month or two has been a major blur, managing the logistics of all this change while still parenting and still trying to take care of myself and keep fit.

So that's why I haven't written in a while. But I also explained that all to you as it's relevant to the topic of this post. It is so you can understand further the significance of the race I ran yesterday. My daughter and I ran the North Van Run 5km yesterday and it was very special, and so much fun!

5km is pretty much the minimum distance I run on any training run, and because I do this about 3x a week pushing a stroller; it's something I am very used to. But no matter what, I will always argue that it's a respectable distance to race, even if the distance itself isn't a big deal. On race day, many run their hearts out to push for the best finish time they can muster. Over 5km, that's often pain, hell, and definite challenge. That hasn't been my approach to recent 5km efforts, as you know. It's instead recently been about maintaining fitness through pregnancy, regaining it again after childbirth, getting past injury, and so on and so forth. All of those things are a big deal to me. Yesterday was all about doing something special. Also a big deal. Mission accomplished.

A year ago today was the inaugural North Van Run. Given that I've lived here for close to 10 years and had never raced here, I didn't want to miss out. I was 37 weeks pregnant and little did I know, I only 12 days away from giving birth. It was a great last run before taking a 6 week break from my sport. I felt good on race day, felt proud of my accomplishment, and knew at the end that I was ready to take a break. Like Forrest Gump, I was just ready to stop.
Finish line photo from 2017 - you can't really see my belly in its full glory.
Fast forward to this year, I wanted to run this same event again, but for the longest time didn't know if I was going to be able to. Our move date was a question that only became clear the last few weeks, and I wanted to not plan my weekends too far ahead in case we needed to take a trip to our new hometown to go house shopping. Even when we put an offer on a house, until subjects were removed and all was finalized, there was a possibility of us needing to work out a plan B. So as soon as it was clear, I registered.

The North Van Run was special to me last year not only because it was my last run before my daughter was born (and me feeling rather badass running 5km so comfortably despite my very very round shape), but also because it's sister race, the West Van Run, was the first race I did after learning I was pregnant. The West Van Run crew are a group of wonderful people that I have gotten to know over the last few years. I didn't run with them frequently, but regardless, I was family to this group.

With a few members of the West Van Run crew at the Summerfast 10K in July this past summer.

So this year, when I realized that the North Van Run could potentially be my last race while living in Vancouver (where I have lived all 38 years of my life), I had to make it happen. Add to this that if I went with my daughter in the stroller, it would level up the awesome significantly. We had never done a stroller race together, even though we run with the stroller about 3x a week. So to do our first race like that a year after my last race pregnant sounded cool. And if you know me well, you will know that I am a bit of a sentimental sap. My daughter was born in North Vancouver and we are leaving here two days before her 1st birthday. The race was offering a finisher medal this year, which usually isn't a draw for me unless it's a half marathon or more. But with "North Van" emblazoned on the front, I thought this would make a wonderful keepsake for her to hang onto and hopefully inspire her own running or otherwise athletic pursuits as she grows up.

Last year this race offered a stroller division - you actually specified on your registration if you were bringing a stroller. I remember this as I was cheekily suggesting that carrying a full term baby in utero was just as hard as pushing a stroller (or maybe harder!) and that I deserved to be in the stroller division. But this year, this was not the case. The route changed too, so I wasn't sure if I could bring baby or not. I messaged the race director and was told it was fine, so I went ahead and registered and told my husband he didn't need to take the day off so I could race. Baby was coming with me!

Saturday night, my daughter fell asleep much later than I would have liked, and I found myself unwilling to wake her up early enough so she could have a full breakfast before the race; she needed her sleep. Her current routine is a bottle upon wake up, and breakfast an hour later. No, this was not happening. It was also super duper rainy outside. When you have a race to do and it's just you, all you have to do is worry about yourself - waking up at the right time, having your pre race meal, and getting out the door with all the stuff you need for the morning. Add a baby to the mix and a plan for what to do with her that morning that quickly went out the window, it makes it complicated. I opted to warm a bottle and pack it along with snacks and wake my daughter about 5 minutes before I wanted to leave home. I made the right call!

We arrived and parked at Lonsdale Quay. I put the running stroller together and loaded it with our gear for the day - my daughter's food, dry clothes for me, my phone, and the rain cover. I popped her in and wondered when she'd have a meltdown since I woke her up from a deep sleep to bring her outside into the cold and rain, and she hadn't had anything to eat yet. We made our way to the start line area, said hi to some friends, and then found shelter from the rain so I could take the rain cover off the stroller and let her drink her bottle. Super Mom level 6 achieved!


Knowing the bottle would be enough for her for likely the next 45 minutes or so, I decided it was OK to not stress about giving her food until after the race was over. We hung out in the Shipyards area to talk to friends and hide under vendor and food tents, and while I was at it, I scoped out the snack situation. Races always provide wonderful snacks at the finish line and I rarely partake as I have a hard time eating immediately after a run. I looked around though so see what there was and what could I potentially share with my daughter. Knowing the finish line was in a different spot and it might be a little while before we come back to this area, I grabbed a banana and stored it in the stroller. Yay for storage during a race - something I never have really ever had to my disposal. But I wasn't thinking of myself - this was part of my next-level super-mom thinking.

A couple minutes before race start, we came out from behind the shelter and lined up for the race. We took a spot in the back and it became clear at this stage that I was the only one there with a stroller. My daughter continued to be in good spirits, but after a few minutes of sitting in one place in her rain protection bubble, she started fussing. Oh no! We're just about to get going, and now she gets upset? I had confidence though that once we started moving, she'd be fine, and the experience would be positive. I tried to entertain her with peekaboo and other baby nonsense until the gun went off. This girl of mine, she likes moving, and she loves going fast in the running stroller. She doesn't like sitting in one spot. You'd know this if you saw the way she crawls at full speed all over our home.

So off we went, starting very slowly at the back of the pack, to allow space for us to move and turn corners in the beginning of the race where there are lots of turns. It took several minutes and about 1km to get into our groove as there was a lot of weaving and waiting for people who were jogging at a much slower pace and didn't notice us to move out of the way so we could pass. Knowing that this event wasn't about achieving a time, I was mostly relaxed about this. But at the same time, my pace is where I am happy, and move the most comfortably, and it took a while before I could achieve that pace rather than shuffling my feet and walking. Being in tight quarters with a stroller without room to maneuver is challenging and in order to achieve a feeling of safety for my daughter, I wanted to get us more room away from people who might trip over the stroller if they don't notice us passing and dart in a diagonal at the wrong time.

It was definitely tough to navigate the crowd, but soon we got to a point where we had space to move and freedom to go our pace. It was awesome! I could hear my daughter giggling and babbling and clearly enjoying herself. I had a blast too. I always love the energy of a good race. The rain didn't bug me even the slightest. There was one bigger hill which I walked up and down because with the stroller that would be too difficult to manage. But aside from that, we kept moving at a decent pace all the way to the finish.

We reached the finish line, on the beautiful pier overlooking the Burrard Inlet and downtown Vancouver, in just over 35 minutes. This was great because normally when I do 5km with a stroller, it takes a bit longer than that; the added effort of pushing adds up to 1 minute/km to my pace. The energy of the race definitely always adds pep to the step though, and I know that if that first km wasn't so slow, we could have been even faster. I was almost in disbelief that we crossed so fast. My daughter is indeed my favourite training partner, and maybe there's something to racing with her.

At the finish line with my daughter in her rain bubble, me holding my medal awkwardly.

We hung out at the finish and socialized with friends a bit. My daughter ate the banana I saved for her, so I knew we'd keep the hunger away a bit longer.

Selfie at the finish to show off the medal, baby eating her banana, good friend photobombing!
After some socializing at the finish line, we headed back to the Shipyards where the food and vendor tents were and grabbed some snacks, which ended up being my daughter's breakfast which I took only a few bites of. Ha! She loved the scones from Cobs Bread and the Teff bars. Mmmm! It was great to see so many smiling familiar faces, despite the rainy weather. After I knew baby was full from her breakfast, we made our way back to the car to come home so we'd be back for first nap.

It was a special first race together, and hopefully the first of many more to come. It was also part of a lovely send-off for myself, leaving North Vancouver which has been my home for so long. In the afternoon, my daughter and I spent time at my aunt's home for lunch and to celebrate her 1st birthday a little early. Then in the evening some of my girlfriends threw a little farewell dinner party for me, and I left baby home with her dad. It was such a very special day which I will remember fondly.

What's next for me as a runner? Well, exploring my new home of Victoria, BC for sure. It's a great runnable city and lots of trails near our home to explore. It's also home to many great races which I am excited to run for the first time. Stay tuned to learn about our upcoming adventures.

As always, thanks for tuning in!



Sunday, July 22, 2018

Race Report: Summerfast 10K

Yesterday was the Summerfast 10K, the annual flat and fast 10K around Stanley Park hosted by the Vancouver Falcons Athletic Club. Their fearless leader, Coach John Hill, coached me once upon a time, so I like to support this race as often as I can. I had to miss it last year because we were out of town, but I was pleased to be able to run it again this year. As always, it was a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the scenic race route, the race was flawlessly organized by the club members and the post race party was not only fun, but included delicious home baking!

With my team mates with our 2nd place cake (gifted to us by the 1st place team)
Running this race yesterday for me was all about completion and very little about finish time. I achieved my goal of finishing strong without any suggestion of pain in my knee or anywhere else in my body for that matter, and with plenty of steam still left in me. This was not a race about pushing my body to its maximum to achieve the best time. It was just me wanting to complete 10K 100% strong, and all me. I achieved these things indeed and I am so happy about that.

My return to running after my daughter was born started at 4 weeks post-partum. I was slow and sluggish but running felt good. If I am honest though, I pushed myself to do distance work a bit too soon as I hadn't completely healed from child birth. I should have stuck to shorter runs. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I completed a 10K in March and likely shouldn't have done that. That race was a struggle the entire way and I don't think there's any denying that pushing myself through this race and in my training leading up to it is likely what led to my knee injury soon after that benched me for another 6 weeks.

I hated that 6 weeks off running, but now that I look back, it was perfect. Again, that hindsight! This time off forced me to rest my body and while I was healing my knee, the rest of me got a chance to heal. When I started running again in May, I was starting from scratch, taking baby steps as a beginner would. This process was really tough on me mentally and emotionally, but I also knew that it would be temporary and I'd be running for real soon. My approach was gentle and gradual, which bored me, but also motivated me. I was seeing progress rapidly. Summerfast was always an idea in my mind, but I did not register or commit to the idea until I was absolutely certain that I was ready. My first realization that I was ready was when I ran 7km with the stroller. Stroller runs are always harder, and this run was particularly hilly, and I did it without any hint of struggle. The following week I planned an 8km, but ended up doing 9km with my sister-in-law in Victoria. I registered for Summerfast after completing this run, only a couple weeks before the event took place.

When it comes to finish time, the thing is that I didn't know what goal time to set. This wasn't a typical race for me as I would have set out to do pre-baby. I hadn't completed 10K+ distances multiple times in my training. I hadn't done any speedwork. I had no recently completed race efforts to gauge my fitness. All I had done were a few training runs, all shorter than 10K, all at an easy pace that gave me the confidence I could do 10K. The closest I got to 10K was my "dress rehearsal" run the week before, running around Stanley Park with my daughter in the stroller (9.5K total).

We ran around Stanley Park together the week before the race!
I did this run with her at Stanley Park for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to give her the experience of seeing the entire seawall. Boy did she love it!
  • I wanted to push myself and see if I could run that far pushing the stroller - it was hard work, but the right amount of challenge!
  • I hadn't run the entire seawall in some time and thought some visual reminders before the race would benefit me (and they did). I knew what was around every corner, and I had the added bonus of cute memories of my daughter to help me through on race day.
When the race started, I didn't know what pace to aim for. In all my training runs in the last two months since I started running again, I have not been paying attention to pace because it's all been about just getting it done. I've been in the "easy miles" mindset the whole time. Of course that's all relative, because I can run a good minute/km faster when I am not pushing the stroller (or something like that). But it had been some time since I had run without a stroller. I had also not run so early in the morning in a long time when the temperatures are cooler and friendlier as I run according to my daughter's schedule. I thought to myself to aim for a 7:00/km. I fell slightly short of this at a 7:04 average pace, but this is OK considering it was just a ballpark projection, rather than a goal I had any investment in sticking to. The only reason to set a projection was to ensure I didn't push myself too hard at the race. I feel I pushed just the right amount.

I finished in just over 71 minutes. In case you're wondering, my best 10K is about 20 minutes faster than this. But I am super proud of my 71 minute finish. Why? Because 71 is a whole lot faster than the 78 it took me to complete that race in March that I struggled through. Because I defeated odds against me to get to this result with my comeback from childbirth and a knee injury. Because I finished strong and with plenty of gas left in the tank. Because this race gave me the confidence that I can now take my training to the next level. I can be a distance runner again, and I can turn up the heat and be faster than I was today, but all in due time.


I feel different today than I did when I first returned to running post-partum. I was running then because it was familar and ultimately what I wanted to return to. But it was hard and my body felt foreign to me. I feel different today than I did when I returned to running post-injury. I was deflated and hated to return like a beginner. Today I can run pain-free. Even though I am slower than I used to be, I don't feel slow. I feel strong, empowered, and like I can do anything I put my mind to. I'm also getting closer to my pre-baby self. Since I have stopped nursing, I fit into my pre-baby sports bras again and running is so much more comfortable without the added weight up top. I am noticing that I am regaining muscle that I had lost and slowly and surely leaning out. My legs are starting to look and act like runners legs again. 

I will be cautious about pushing too hard; I don't want to make that mistake again. But I want to try increasing my distance gradually and soon start incorporating a small amount of speedwork into my training week. Perhaps my next half marathon is in my not-too-distant future. Perhaps even by this fall, if all goes well. I'll keep you posted!

I registered to complete this race as a member of the West Van Run crew as there is a "crew challenge". I don't normally join teams when I race as I train mostly on my own, but this gave me a nice social aspect to the race to look forward to. Our crew isn't the fastest, but being a big group, we managed to come in 2nd in the challenge.


I also scored some sweet swag as I won one of the draw prizes at package pickup - some sweet new Sundog sunglasses! I loved wearing these at the race as they did not slip off my nose at all! They will be awesome training this sunny summer. And at the post-race party, one of my crew-mates won a voucher for Moveo Physiotherapy clinic here in North Vancouver which he said he had no use for. I sheepishly told him that I'd use it if he didn't want it. So he handed it over and I am excited to use it. I love my PT, but a freebie and a second opinion is never a bad thing. I plan to get my knee re-assessed now that I've been running a while, and ensure I do what I need to do to ensure it remains strong in the long haul.

Monday, July 9, 2018

They See Me Strollin’ - 5 Tips for Running with a Stroller

The moment I knew I was expecting a baby, I got rather excited about the prospect of running with my child. I ran through 37 weeks of my pregnancy, running with the baby in the stroller only seemed like the natural progression of things. Since I most often run on my own, having some cute company would be super welcomed. I hoped that I would have a little one who would be patient with me or even enjoy going out for workouts with me so that I can continue with my training schedule even if I am on parenting duty. I always admired the moms and dads at races lining up to race with their babes in a stroller and thought to myself, I hope that will be me someday.

So I was pretty pleased to have found a really great jogging stroller on sale second hand on one of my social media running groups. The dad who sold it to me even delivered it to me since he didn’t want me to have the hassle when I was pregnant and ensured I understood how it all worked. Gotta love the running community: it’s full of such friendly people. I pounced on the good deal but knew it would be a long while before it would get any use. So it sat in the corner of our condo dismantled for months as I waited to have a baby who was old enough for it. I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it until at least 6 months of age and not before baby could sit up unassisted.

When we finally reached those milestones, I was out with an injury. Upon my return to running, I wanted to return to running on my own before going out with a stroller. My daughter was about 8 months old when we finally got the stroller out of storage and were ready to hit the road. Now I needed to know that she’d like the thing, and all this waiting was worthwhile. So I first took her for a walk to our local bike shop to get the hand brake adjusted and air put in the tires, and she screamed her head off as I strapped her in. Thankfully once we got moving and out the door, she was fine and clearly enjoyed her new ride. It just took a little getting used to. Yes!

Now we run at least twice a week using the stroller and I am so very happy to report that my daughter loves joining me for workouts. I am so grateful for this because it allows me to have a bit more control over my training schedule as it doesn’t require someone else to watch over her every time I want to hit the road. I can go whenever I have an appropriate opening in my schedule. I also see this as setting a positive example for my daughter on how I prioritize and value an active lifestyle. And over the years, this time together will evolve. I can already imagine running with my daughter riding her bike beside me, and then one day when she's ready, RUNNING with me!

All smiles during our workout this morning!
There are a few things that I have learned along the way, so I thought I would write my 5 tips or nuggets of wisdom when it comes to stroller running that I have discovered over the past few weeks. These are in no particular order:

1) Allow time!

As with all things with a baby, they are predictable in their unpredictability. I assume I will get out the door at least 2 hours after I've woken up in the morning. I have to make sure that both of us are fed and dressed, and that I have all the baby gear available in the stroller basket should something come up along the way. Bottles, diapers, food, toys, soother, hat, sunscreen etc. If I time it well, our workout will lull her to sleep in the stroller and that morning nap has taken care of itself.

I've come to realize though, if I tried to squeeze a workout in on an already busy day, it likely won't work. So even if it's just a quick half hour workout planned in my training schedule, I will only go about it with baby in the stroller if we have the whole morning available. Because I have to ensure she's fed and possibly tired enough to fall asleep on the ride (rather than so tired she'll be cranky), timing has to be right. And I also have to factor time in as when we get home, it might be a while before I can get her settled down enough so I can have a shower and a recovery meal without stress. If I'm lucky, she'll fall asleep near the end of the workout and I can shower and even prepare lunch right when we get home in complete silence. Or it might be like today where she was wide awake and giggling the whole workout but cried and cried when I showered because I left her alone in her crib and she was not yet sleepy. Don't worry, we resumed playtime as soon as possible after! These are all considerations that are new when running with a baby rather than running solo. She's the boss over my time.

2) Keep expectations low.

Pushing a stroller while running is hard work! I expect to go a lot slower as a result. And because of what I described above, I am prepared to have to stop during a workout even if I don't need a break because baby needs a bottle or something else from me. I expect when she's older, I might need to stop a workout to let her play in a playground a little while. The outing is for both of us, not just my own training purposes. So it might not be the longest, fastest, or otherwise most ideal workout. But it is indeed a GOOD workout no matter what and a great way to spend time in the fresh air with my little one. I pay no attention to my pace or elapsed time on a workout when I look at my workout stats because I know that the stroller makes me slower and that I likely made stops along the way that I wouldn't have otherwise. It is not an accurate gauge of my fitness. I only look at the distance we covered.

3) Run without a stroller at least once a week.

I have noticed that since I have been running with the stroller most workouts now, whenever I go without, running seems so much easier, and so I can push myself harder. It's great for my confidence indeed, but I also realize that running with a stroller and also without a stroller, doing both of these things is making me stronger. Running without the stroller is a good gauge of where my fitness actually is. Without the added weight to push or unplanned stops along the way, it's on these workouts where I pay attention to all my stats. Ensuring I do this at least once a week allows me to see the progress I am making and to adjust my goals along the way. Also, with a stroller, your gait is different than without, so it's good to mix things up so ensure that you're getting the balance your body needs. I have generally been doing shorter workouts with the stroller and saving long workouts for when my husband is home to take care of the baby so I can go out alone. But that's not always the case as we're planning on doing a long one this weekend with the stroller.

4) Pay attention to your gait.

No question, your gait is different when you run with a stroller. I am very conscious of this as I want to be as balanced as possible and avoid injury. I want to ensure that running is still as natural as possible despite pushing weight ahead of me. I have a tether attached to the stroller which I wrap around one wrist and I alternate between pushing the stroller with two hands or with one. When using two hands, I tend to have to lean forward a bit more than normal, whereas using only one hand allows me to straighten out a bit and run closer to the way I would without a stroller. I use two hands when we are going uphill, when we are needed to slow down or stop, or when there are turns that require steering (rather than natural curves to the road). I use one hand only when I have some good momentum going, knowing that the other hand is still holding on using the tether. And I alternate which hand I use on the stroller vs. off the stroller so I'm not over-swinging one side of my body. Again, trying to achieve balance as best as possible.

5) Pick your running route carefully.

One of the things I love about running is the ability to do it anywhere. You can literally step out of your front door and go. With a running stroller, it's not so simple. Sure you could run along your neighbourhood sidewalks, but I don't particularly like this approach. It's not so much about all the ups and downs of the curb, as my jogging stroller has good suspension, but it's because of the narrowness of the paths and having to share with other pedestrians that aren't expecting us to be coming along at some speed and requiring space to get by. It's also things like untrimmed hedges, sidewalks that end, hidden driveways, drivers that aren't paying well enough attention, and so on. So I've been mostly using the paved green-way near home. I can access the green-way by walking a couple blocks and then going down a steep ramp, so our workout starts after a little 10 minute warm-up walk. We've also run on our local track. Or I pull the wheels off the stroller, throw it in the car, and we pick a paved path elsewhere to run like the miles of seawall available to run in Vancouver. The benefits of this approach is that there is width to the path we run so we can easily and safely pass other pedestrians, and we're likely needing to get on and off a curb or stop for traffic a lot less often. Less stopping means better momentum for a smoother, faster, and overall more enjoyable ride for both parent and babe.
Post-workout selfie (and bottle) with baby after our first track workout together.
We have a big stroller run planned for this weekend as I prepare to run a 10km race on the 21st (without the stroller). Wish us luck!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why I Quit Breastfeeding

I know what you're thinking. What does breastfeeding have to do with running and why am I writing about it on a running blog? Well, running and breastfeeding have something in common - they require my body and require effort. And I never knew until I started my journey into motherhood that they actually impact one another. Also I know that a lot of my readers are women, some are mothers, some may be mothers some day. Perhaps you might appreciate my insight and learning about my journey. But really, I need to write about this topic, use my blog as an outlet, and document how I am feeling today. I need to do this for me.

My daughter is now 8 months old and thriving. She is crawling, standing, babbling, and showcasing her hilarious sense of humour. Our 8 months together have been blissful, but challenging. Nobody can possibly prepare you for the challenges that you'll face in parenthood. I never realized how hard breastfeeding would be. I thought about it before and couldn't understand why women struggled with it and almost dismissed breastfeeding struggle with a "so what?" shrug. I just didn't get it until I was neck deep in the struggle, wondering if I would drown. It almost broke me on several occasions. It was the hardest part of parenthood so far. Why? Because I couldn't do it. Well I could, but only a little.

I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I was failing at a basic function of motherhood. I was not able to do what was "best" for my baby. Sure I had a lot of factors that were working against me. My late start at breastfeeding when my daughter was getting phototherapy for her jaundice after birth didn't help. My age and health history didn't help. And other things I won't get into here, they also didn't help. I had a lot going against me. I tried everything from seeing a lactation consultant, prescription medication, power pumping, expensive herbal supplements, lactation smoothies, lactation cookies, lactation blah blah blah.... nothing worked. Well, the medication helped a little but I never got to a place where I could breastfeed exclusively. I felt good knowing that she was getting some milk, but the rest of her sustenance had to come from formula and I had to be OK with that. I had to remind myself daily that my body didn't fail. It made the best thing in the world that I have - my precious daughter. I am no less a mom.

So yes, my girl was being fed and growing, and developing, and being amazing. In my head, I knew and know today that the fact that she's being fed is all that matters. But every time I made her formula, my pride and ego would take a hit. I felt guilt or wondered if there was something I could have done differently or better so she could get her nourishment from me. Or I'd feel good about our journey and then go out to a mommy and baby activity and see other women so effortlessly breastfeed their child, while I had to deal with mixing formula and heating a bottle to the right temperature for my babe. I would feel shame and imagine judging eyes on me. I know now that it's all in my head. Maybe the looks were just out of curiosity or admiration. I was feeding my baby and being the best mom I could be.

My attitude changed when my baby turned 6 months. I finally realized that she was fine despite our challenged journey. I made it to 6 months and felt so proud of myself. While I in no means achieved exclusive breastfeeding, I was able to provide about 1/2 of her nutrition for 6 months. I realized, though, that there was a cost to me, and I had to do something to back off and be kinder to me. We started to change our feeding relationship, only nursing in the morning and I pumped the rest of the day. It was lovely to still have that bonding in the morning that only nursing can give. However, it proved difficult to maintain that routine when we went on our family vacation to Maui. With the time difference, her feeding schedule and my production schedule didn't seem to sync up nicely anymore, so we moved to pumping throughout the day. This included pumping on the plane and in the passenger seat of the rental car, in order to keep with my schedule. The last time I nursed her was in bed in Maui one morning at around 5am, and it was one of our most lovely experiences with this relationship. I will always remember that time fondly and I am at peace with that being our last session.

Pumping for your baby is no joke though. Every half hour spent connected to a machine means time you can't parent fully. You can simply put your baby somewhere safe and engage with her at a distance. When you have an active baby who wants to hang out and play, this can be hard to achieve. You have to sing when she starts to cry, ignore her when she's clearly pooped her diaper or is asking for something you can't provide, all the while try to relax so your milk will flow. Then when you make plans for your day but realize that you're approaching the deadline to pump (or be uncomfortable), you cut your perfectly good outing short to come home. Despite these challenges, I continued this routine for 2 months.

I would have continued to do this right until I returned to work, perhaps, but I had a scare about a week ago. I have been on prescription medication from the beginning, and apparently the effects of the medication can be multiplied if you eat grapefruit. I have been avoiding the fruit although it's one of my absolute favourites (I consumed it daily when pregnant - no joke). I accidentally ate some when visiting a family member who made a beautiful salad and this resulted in frequent heart palpitations for two days. I made an appointment with my doctor and she reassured me that my heart was OK, but this might be a good time to consider weaning. At 8 months, my daughter is a champion eater and will rely less and less on milk over the coming months. If I have to take drugs that can impact my heart to feed her, is it worth it? I think not. So we've started the process and so far so good. Well, except for the mood swings and meltdowns (on my part). I am almost there.

It hasn't been easy to make that decision. Breastfeeding might seem trivial to those who haven't embarked on the journey. It certainly did to me, admittedly, until I became a mom and the challenge hit me square in the face. I think the reasons why the journey is so challenging if it doesn't go according to plan is twofold: (1) we want the very best for our babies and breastmilk is excellent nutrition and full of a mother's antibodies to help baby develop their immune system and (2) after growing a baby in our bodies for 9 months and then giving birth, breastfeeding is the one remaining way of keeping our bodies connected. My daughter is literally part of me.

I have many helpful mommy friends who have said the right thing at the right time to help me through this journey. I hope you read this and see how much your support has helped me. To my dear friend who couldn't breastfeed and chose to exclusively formula feed, thank you for helping me understand from the very beginning that "fed is best" and that formula is wonderful nutrition for a perfectly healthy baby. I thought of her and her beautiful son every time I struggled with preparing formula for my girl. My sister-in-law who was able to breastfeed her three babies (perhaps with struggle of her own that I don't know about) reminded me that breastfeeding is not better than combo feeding or formula feeding. It's simply different. And my best friend who is a mother to three as well told me that even though I could only feed my daughter partially for 8 months, my effort to do the best for her was the furthest thing from partial. Thank you!

So I suppose saying that I "quit" is too harsh a comment. I made a choice and one that is right for me, and as a result, best for my child. Quitting suggests that adequate effort wasn't put forward. It connotes that perhaps I should have tried harder. Although sometimes my heart pangs with these inaccurate sentiments, my mind knows better and tries to correct it. I indeed tried and tried harder at this than almost anything in my life. And that says a lot since you know me, my work ethic, and my journey to become a runner. Don't tell me there's something I can't do, because I will do everything in my power to prove you wrong.

What does this journey have to do with running? Everything, really. Imagine my breastfeeding journey as a race, an extra-grueling, ultra-marathon, with absolutely no finish line in sight. During the race there are sleepless nights, physical pain, and a young child who you love more than anything needing you, begging for you, but you're not able to be there for them, because you're busy running a race. And it's not like you're winning the race; you're somewhere in the back of the pack, struggling to hang on, wondering if you're going to finish last. It's no wonder that 8 months into this race, I would want to start walking, or perhaps, take a seat on the curb for a while. Or call someone to tell them to pick me up and take me home. And tell me it's OK not to "finish" because my journey had already been admirable enough. Scoring a "DNF" in this journey (Did Not Finish) is too harsh here because I believe that the part of this race I completed had a very positive impact on my daughter's health, and it's an accomplishment I should feel proud of. Someday I will be ready to be proud of myself, fully.

And soon, my body will be entirely free of this, my hormone balance will regulate again, and certain characteristics of the woman and the runner I was before I became a mother will return. I will not be the same, nor do I have any desire to "get my body back" (I never lost it!), but I do expect that over time, having a balance in hormones will allow some changes back to what's familiar. It will allow me to lose that last bit of "baby weight" I haven't been able to as the body hangs onto fat stores in order to make milk. No, breastfeeding isn't the miracle way to lose weight folks. That is a lie (at least it isn't true for every woman). My body will still have a different shape and evidence that it housed a baby at one point, and that's OK with me. I've never had flat abs anyway, so why stress about something unattainable, and frankly, entirely unimportant. But losing weight will help me as a runner, both because it'll put less stress on my joints, and because I will be able to go a bit faster than I can now. I am most excited about relaxin working its way out of my body, the hormone that allows the body to change shape to accommodate and birth a child. It's likely what was responsible, in some way, for my knee sprain that benched me for 6 weeks. I have heard from other mother runners that after they stopped breastfeeding, their joints gradually began to feel stronger and more stable again.

But it'll also free me up from something that has been so hard on me emotionally and taken up so much of my time. I know longer have to schedule pump sessions and factor that in as something to do before any scheduled run. With my mind freed of this burden, running will just be so much better!

We did indeed reach the finish line!

My daughter crawling across the finish line at our local track.
So there you have it - I hope you have appreciated my candor here. I have appreciated all the positive comments, private messages, and emails I receive about my blog posts where I speak about such personal topics. Thank you for being an audience and a support.