Thursday, August 25, 2016

Zahida's Tips for the Grouse Grind

For my readers outside of Vancouver, sorry for this post as it's about a very local topic. The Grouse Grind is a popular and challenging hike to the top of one of the local mountains in the Vancouver areas - Grouse Mountain, in North Vancouver, BC, often referred to as "nature's stair master". It's only about 2.9km in total distance, but this is straight up and therefore challenging with 2,830 stairs taking you up to the ~1100m summit. A novice hiker can complete it in about 2 hours, the average hiker likely takes about 90 min. A regular runner is likely to finish it in about an hour or so, as the common thinking is that the effort is similar to running 10km. The fastest ascent recorded is something crazy like 25min.... Anyway, as you can see, it's a perfect little workout with a big fitness impact!

I decided to write about the Grind because it's one of my favourite non-running workouts to do, particularly in the summer. Stair climbing certainly uses the legs yes, so it's not necessarily something to do to rest the legs entirely or to recover from running. But stairs work the legs in a different way from running and there are huge benefits to this:

  • Plyometric workout that builds strength and power in the legs - this is very important for both endurance and speed.
  • Uses stabilizer muscles such as gluteus medius which gets neglected running (and we cannot neglect this as runners). Stability is so important for injury prevention.
  • Improves your ability to run up hills by improving your VO2 max.
The above benefits are from an article I pulled from Runner's World. See the full article here

Many of my runner friends agree that this workout is great for cross-training and I'm a bit of a regular on the hill. I thought I'd tell you a bit more about why that is as I outline my tips for a great experience on the Grind. These tips are numbered, but they are not truly in priority order.

Zahida's Grouse Grind Tips

1.    If you want to improve your performance, go often: 

If you want something to feel easier over time, practice can only help. The first time you do the Grind, you'll probably hate yourself for choosing to do the workout. Next time you do it, it will automatically feel easier and you'll hate yourself a little less. Some of that is mental (I now know I can do this), but some of that is adaptation, especially if you don't wait too long before you go again your second time. You want your body to adapt to the stresses of the workout so it can handle it more easily. Also because this workout includes lots of stairs and a bit of hiking on rocks, getting a good rhythm / cadence in your stride comes with practice and confidence. I recommend going once a week at minimum if you want to see such improvements because any longer than that, your body or muscle memory forgets any rhythm it's learned. 
One of my ink drawings, this one titled "A Fine Grind"

2.    Invest in a Grouse Grind local's pass: 

No, this is not an ad for Grouse and they haven't asked me to endorse them. I am just all about getting the best deal. For $129, you get a full year of use of the mountain, meaning unlimited use of the Skyride plus additional perks. Each time you hike up, you need to take the Skyride to get back down the mountain and if you pay per use, this is at a cost of $10 each time. As mentioned above, if you want to make progress and improve your performance on the Grind, the best way to do that is to go often. 12 hikes later, or 3 months of going weekly, and the pass has paid for itself, and there's still the rest of the year. For a bit more, you can get a parking pass and a timing card to track your progress. There is even a 2-year pass available with more of a cost savings. These additional benefits are worth it, but I opted for the basic 1-year pass. The investment means I am prioritizing going to the hill more often (a bit of buyer's remorse doesn't hurt!). And I'm making a point of taking advantage of the additional benefits of having the pass such as using the peak chairlift (which is free with a pass but would otherwise be at a cost) to/from the very top of the mountain, taking guests up/down the hill for tourism and nature programs for 50% off, etc. And when Christmas comes around, I won't be hiking, but I'll be sure to go up the hill using the pass to enjoy the holiday-themed events and attractions such as the outdoor skating rink etc.
Birds in Motion nature program at Grouse Mountain.
3.    Respect the rules of the trail

I firmly believe in following the rules. They are in place for safety and also for the maintenance of this popular trail. I never hike the Grind when it's in its off-season months. The trail closes because of climate-related safety concerns and also so maintenance work can be completed. Some people hike when the trail is closed and put themselves at risk. In the same vein, hiking down the hill is prohibited for both safety reasons (for yourself and other hikers) but some choose to do it to save $10. My thinking is that if you want to hike for free, there are literally hundreds of other options in BC for this as we're truly blessed with trails, mountains, and works of natural beauty to explore. Paying $10 for a workout is truly not a big deal when you think of what gym memberships or fitness classes can go for. Also, if you do something risky and get yourself in trouble, you put someone who has to come rescue you at risk. I know I am opinionated about this and that some will disagree with me and think I'm uptight, but to me, there's nothing more important than staying safe, both for your own well-being as well as for others.

4.    Be prepared with appropriate gear

This goes along the same theme of staying safe. I think some who aren't familiar with our mountains don't realize they are hiking up a real mountain. Proper clothing will allow for a comfortable and safe experience. Or perhaps when you're at the base of the mountain, the summit doesn't look far away (it's because what you can see isn't the top of the mountain, so it doesn't look high). Or they hear it's a 90min hike, and that sounds easy, but it's 90min straight up! So you will see people in jeans or inappropriate footwear, and I can only imagine how miserable they will feel on the trail, let alone how the bad shoes could lead to poor footing and perhaps a slip or fall. The bare minimum should be a running shoe; I choose to wear trail runners so I have additional traction and a harder sole and toe guard for any steps I take that may be sloppy when I start to fatigue. Definitely wear comfortable, breathable and moisture-wicking clothing as you will sweat...a lot. I usually hike up in shorts and a tank regardless of the outside temperature because otherwise I feel too warm from the workout and elevated heartrate. I take a small waist pack (I prefer to not wear anything on my back because I get a very sweaty back) that has room for my Grouse pass, safety whistle, ID, keys, cell phone, water, and a clean shirt to change into when I get to the top. The clean shirt is a must in my books because while you're comfy hiking, once you stop and you're in a wet shirt on a windy mountain peak, you will feel cold quite quickly. I make sure to eat a good breakfast before I get to the mountain, but if I don't have the chance to eat before, I might pack a small snack with me in case I need a sugar boost.

5.    Water, it's non-negotiable

I always take water or sport drink on this hike. For me, it's about an hour's workout, so I might not actually feel the need to drink water during. But it's nice to have the option should I need a sip or two along the way. Sometimes I drink none of it, and sometimes, I drink all of it and refill at the summit. Either way, it's nice having the option as staying hydrated is important and there's nowhere to get water on the trail. You don't want to be so thirsty but be stuck without. Also, it's important to remember that you are out in a natural setting and that there's always the possibility of something going wrong. Weather could change suddenly, you could get hurt and need help or extra time to get off the hill, or even though unlikely, you could get lost (it has happened before). Anyway, regardless, you're not 100% in charge when you're out in the wilderness; even though this trail is well traveled and not out in the middle of nowhere, it's still a mountain and deserves respect. A bit of water with you could be something very important if you got stuck somewhere for a bit. Or you could encounter a struggling or unprepared hiker and you could help them out by offering them a much needing swig.

6.    Be aware of and encourage others

I get it, some people like to listen to music to tune the world out and get into their own zone. But I like being aware of my surroundings and aware of when a faster hiker is behind me and wanting to pass. I also like to be able to engage with and acknowledge other hikers. Some people, myself included, really care about their finish times. You could really impede or frustrate them by not letting them pass (or by not even knowing they need to pass). I like to at least say "hi", "good morning" or something like that to every hiker I see. But I will often crack a corny joke or say something encouraging along the way to those I see on the trail. You're sharing the trail, might as well contribute to it being a positive space. And as a regular, I feel I know my way around that I can genuinely offer encouragement to other hikers. I know for a fact that the first and third quarters are the hardest. I know which sections are easiest. So when I see someone struggling, I can both congratulate them for being there to start with, and offer then reassurance that something easier is around the corner.

My very first time I did the hike, I was indeed a "novice hiker" who needed 2 hours+ to finish. I was very overweight and had very little cardiovascular fitness. When I got home from the hike, I took a bath and then went straight to sleep, slept for about 15 hours, and could barely walk the next day. It was too much for me, and although I felt sorry myself, I was still very proud that I finished. It was empowering but eye-opening too, as the friends I went with had a much easier time with it. But the barrier I had of being very overweight wasn't a complete barrier - I still did it. When I see struggling hikers, I can't help but recall this old version of myself, when this hike was seemingly impossible for me. I remember fondly this one complete stranger who saw me struggling on the 4th quarter of the hike. She was super encouraging and told me she was a regular on the hill and at the point where we were, we were definitely only 10min from the summit and that I was definitely going to make it there. It was likely 10min for her and 25min for me, but regardless, this little tip filled me with a feeling of "I can do this". Now, literally every single time I hike the Grind, whenever I get to this point, I think of her and I say to myself, "just 10 more min." With this positive self-talk, I'm able to brush the sweat off my brow, smile, and put aside any feeling of fatigue or discouragement brewing.

7.    Count your "kills"

I know this is seems like the opposite of encouraging others, but my advice is to not do this out loud! I like to count how many people I pass on the trail and also count how many people pass me. I make sure I pass more than I get passed. When I do pass others, I will be encouraging yes, but I might catch myself singing in my head "another one bites the dust". A group taking a rest break is great because after you say a friendly hi, you can fully break out in song in your head "and another one gone, another one gone...(keep going depending on how many there are)..... another one bites the dust". I feel a bit of competition wills me to move faster. It's not meant to sound or be disrespectful, but simply a way to keep myself honest and pushing my pace. I don't want to get too comfortable hanging out behind someone who isn't going as fast as I am capable.

8.    Measure your progress

Especially if you go regularly, find a way to measure your progress. Then you see you're making change and it'll only motivate you to keep on. You can purchase a Grind timer so you can use the official timing system and track your hikes on the Grouse web site, etc. I take my own stop watch and start and stop it at the same official timing areas. What I like about that is that in addition to my completion time for the full hike, I can also see my splits for each marked quarter of the hike. This allows me to set goals during the hike and a realistic finish time. I record my splits when I finish so I'm able to compare how I do next time.

9.    Don't stop! And don't look up!

If at all possible, don't stop moving when on the hill. You can easily slow yourself down when it's gets hard or your breathing gets taxed. I sometimes take a 3 second break to reset my breathing and take a swig of water, but my feet are always moving, even if slowly. I find this helps, again with keeping a rhythm, both in stride/cadence as well as with breathing and heart rate. Stopping can also make it harder to get going again in case of any pooling of lactic acid as your legs fatigue.

And while it's tempting to look up to see what's next, it can really mess with your head if you see what look like miles and miles of stairs to climb and you're feeling tired. I will look up maybe 10 feet ahead of me just so I make sure I'm staying on the trail and who's ahead of me that I might be needing to pass, but that's all. I want to stay focused and positive!

10.  Celebrate your achievement

There's little to see along the journey up, so be sure to check out the view at the top once you get there. It's really breath-taking, and it is empowering to notice that you got that high up on foot. You may not be the fastest, but regardless, marking your time at this photo spot is well worth it. Go ahead and brag! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

5 Lessons Learned on Run With Zahida's 5 Year Blogiversary!

On August 4th, 2011, the Run With Zahida blog was born. I am so pleased that I have reached this milestone with my blog - my 5 Year Blogiversary!!!

I thought I'd briefly recap a little bit about my story here, the history of this blog, and what I've learned over the course of the last 5 years.

Before launching this blog, I had been blogging for some time already, namely through my art blog titled Art By Zahida  where I have been writing about my artist process for each piece I have created, as well as to talk about events I have been part of as an artist.

Alongside my artistic pursuits, in 2008, I started my journey to health, which led itself to the 130+lbs of weight loss that you now know about. It began with me wanting to get heart healthy in memory of my father who we had just recently lost to a heart attached. Over time, the goal transformed and the rest is history. But I'll continue to recap :)...

2010 offered its share of road blocks: emergency gall bladder surgery, followed by a blood clot (DVT) in my right leg, months on anti-coagulant medication (blood thinners) and finally surgery on both legs in the fall of 2010. I had lost much of the weight before all this happened (about 80lbs), was reaping the benefits of improved health, and had recently completed my first 5km event in a long time, so these several months of inability to exercise was certainly a major setback. It seemed like my body was fighting against me; I was getting healthy and NOW I was running into issues because I used to be obese - in past tense? How was this fair? I had stopped being lazy and stopped ignoring my health. But I didn't let it stop me or get me down and as soon as the bandages were off my legs and I had the strength to be on my feet more than 20min at a time, I started running again. It didn't take long for me to get it back and I set the goal of running a half marathon in 2011.

The half marathon wasn't my first (I had done 2 previously in 2003 and 2004, the first time I lost my weight...but then I didn't keep the weight off). But I would argue that the half marathon in 2011 was the most important one I have ever done. It set this whole "thing" in motion.

I remember telling a colleague about my goal, and he encouraged me to share my story. He convinced me that my story could help others and they would find the story of me training for a half marathon inspiring. I agreed with him, somewhat hesitantly (although I knew he was right) and so, this blog was born. The title, "Run With Zahida" was to mirror the title of my art blog, "Art By Zahida". Thank you, Stuart for encouraging me to start. Not sure I ever properly acknowledged your influence on me in this journey.

I was not entirely sure that my blog could inspire or help others looking to improve their health. But I did know that publicly declaring my goals and talking about my health, my struggles, my fears, this would hold me accountable. Even if nobody was reading, or if very few were reading, I was publicly declaring my goals. You know, if it's on the internet, it has to be true (ha!), or it's somewhat permanent a declaration. I couldn't risk failing like I did back in 2004, when I completed my 2nd half marathon and then let myself go to the point where I put on all the weight I had lost and then some. My lifestyle change would be a permanent one this time around.

And so I began. The hardest part of starting this blog wasn't the writing. I can type stupidly fast and language has always come naturally to me. The hardest part was being OK with being open and vulnerable. I had always been ashamed of my body, my health, and that I let myself do that to myself, you know, I got fat....again. I had to stop being ashamed. How could I possibly not be ashamed though? I assumed that the world would judge me if they knew I once weight 285lbs. Should I not be embarrassed? Shouldn't I pretend that photos of me "fat and ugly and worthless" don't exist? Why would I post photos like this one here for the world to see when I should hide?
With Cam in 2008, before I began my health journey.
I forgot that I am human, and like every single other person in this world, I was not perfect and I had struggled. But my imperfections only make me human; they do not make me shameful. They do not give me reason to hide. My struggle may be different than yours, but that doesn't mean you can't relate. Show me one person who is without flaw, or has lived a perfect life, or who has never struggled with something difficult? It's impossible. That's part of the human experience. Perhaps those who didn't have 130+lbs to lose wouldn't relate to my specific struggle, but they could relate to my attitude toward mine. Perhaps my unwillingness to give up and my drive to achieve were something to look up to.

I had a following right away for this blog, I lost another 40lbs, and training for the half marathon went so very well that I finished more than 30min faster at this half marathon than at my previous one 7 years before. That had a lot to do with my wonderful running friend, Patti, whom I trained with, who encouraged me every step of the way, and ran the Victoria Half Marathon with me in October 2011. I learned so much from you, Patti. Thank you!!!! <3

At the finish line with Patti at the 2011 Victoria Marathon finish line
But the blogging journey didn't end there, as my running journey was only really getting started!

I don't need to recount the next 5 years to you now, because the rest is here on this blog. If you don't know it, you can certainly read on. It's no secret that I am obsessed with running, and run all the time. My health and lifestyle change, have been permanent changes. I see no possibility of ever slipping back. Races I've completed, well there's no sense listing them off. And I see no end in sight to this passion or this writing pursuit.

So instead of recounting the last 5 years since this blog was born, I thought I would share 5 positive lessons I learned over the last 5 years that have translated from this blog or from the sport of running to my life in general. Here you have it, in no particular order:

  • There's no place for shame in my life - I do not have to be ashamed about the body I used to have or the body I have today. Who cares if anyone sees a "fat" photo of me. Those photos are part of my story, as I am the same girl today as I was in those photos. I just look a little different, I'm a bit wiser maybe, and I like sports now. But the other version of me is just as pretty, intelligent, and worthy. Now I am slim with an athletic build, but I will never have a flat tummy. I have extra skin hanging off my tummy, my inner thighs and my arms and this will never go away naturally. Who cares! It's a symbol of my journey, my battle scars, so to speak. I used to shy away from wearing shorts and tank tops but now I wear them proud. I am proud of my body and what it can do. I am proud of my many miles my legs have traveled. I am proud of me. I don't have to pretend I was never that other girl as she is still me.

  • Vulnerability is OK - I am no longer afraid to share what makes me human. I don't hide when I am not doing well. I openly talk about my struggles and triumphs here and in conversation and this attitude has set me free. I hope it has helped others overcome their own barrier.
  • Community is everything -  This might have been a reason why after running my first 2 half marathons, my health slipped away. I didn't know any other runners well. I trained by myself, traveled to and from the races alone, spoke to nobody at the races, and didn't really share the experience with anyone. Now I have the opposite approach. Races are my social time. Catching up with friends often involves running. I am involved and have been involved in the running community the last 5 years. I have coached runners, I work at a running store, I know race directors, I have been ambassador to races and write about them here etc. I have become friends in real life with people I met online because of this blog or my social media presence. I show up at races, no matter how small, and find I always know a bunch of the people in the crowd by name. The difference it makes, being involved and social vs being introverted and quiet (my natural tendency) is a huge one. You can share the joys of the sport, share knowledge you've gained, learn from others, and most importantly, you never ever feel alone.
  • Be held accountable - If you want to achieve your goal, tell someone about it. Even if you only tell one very special person, tell that one person. I choose to declare my goals on this blog. I post my workouts on Dailymile. There's always someone watching. But I also talk about what I want to do when it comes to any goal I set. This is not just with running but I will always at least tell my husband or whoever is listening, about any other goal that's important to me. For example, this summer, I wanted to paint a new canvas. I said it out loud to a few people so I had to do it because they would one day ask me about it. And I did do it!
  • Celebrate success, no matter how small - Sometimes we get caught up into believing that only major milestones in life are worth celebrating. I think running has taught me that that is no true. I shouldn't just celebrate the marathons, but every small victory, every finish line crossed, every workout, every new running friendship made, every bad weather day that wasn't made an excuse, every injury I recovered from, every new place discovered on foot, and every day I am alive, well, and healthy. 
So now I'm thinking I should run the Victoria Half Marathon this coming October to mark the 5 year milestone. What do you think?

Thank you for all your support thus far on my journey this last 5 years. To 55+ more!

<3 Zahida

Monday, August 1, 2016

Race Report - Squamish Days 8K

Yesterday was the Squamish Days 8K, and boy was it an awesome day!

I ran the Squamish Days 10K a few years back on a very hot midsummer day. I remember that experience fondly as it was a great race (even though I struggled in the heat), I had a fun time as I had friends running too, and I was invited to a post-race BBQ as well. I hadn't run the race since, although I certainly wanted to. Any visit to Squamish is always special because that's where my husband, Cam, used to live when we first met and started dating, and so we have lots of fond memories there together. Also this race is one of the last of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series so a good chance to try to change your points and positioning if you're competing (although I am not sure if I will place in the top 5 of my category this year or not)....

This year the race got changed up from a 10K to an 8K, but with a similar out and back course. I am not sure about the reasoning, but I am assuming that the road further ahead is undergoing or has already undergone some changes. Aside from that bit taken out, the course is exactly the same. I love how the 1km mark is pretty much right at the front entrance of the building Cam used to live. So although the building looks much different than it did back then, and still doesn't look like anything anyone would live in, it's nice to have that as a marker at the 7km mark on the way back (or the 9km mark when it was a 10K race). I was able to say to myself both times I'd run this race, "get yourself to Cam's house, then push to the finish."

I like a nice 8K, because in a 10K race, I'm usually hurting by 7K. So in an 8K, when that moment comes (here at Cam's old house), there's only 1K to go, and it's then 'easy' to push yourself. It had been a while since I raced an 8K though as I missed both the Shaughnessy and the Modo 8K this year. My last one would have been the Icebreaker 8K in January 2016. To give you some context, at that race, I was 20lbs heavier, and just getting back into running after my back/hip injury last year and finished in a sluggish 51:25 or so (don't remember the exact figure).

My friend Megan came up to Squamish with me to cheer me on and so we could spend the day adventuring around Squamish. We left my place around 7:15 and got to the race venue with enough time for me to collect my bib, find the washroom (a pre-race must-do) and get in a warm-up before the 8:30 start. During my warm-up, I bumped into Natasha Wodak, the incredible athlete who is Rio-bound, likely seeing this race as a tune-up opportunity. I said hi to her and wished her well in the race and ahead to the Rio Olympics. I have a feeling that little interaction inspired me to find my inner competitive athlete and go fast!

My legs were feeling a bit heavy from 8 hours on my feet working the store the day before the race. I also had a rough sleep the night before the race, with unexpected insomnia. I wasn't nervous or over-caffeinated, so not sure what the problem was! So given these factors, I wasn't sure how I'd fare. My warm-up didn't feel great, my joints felt stiff, my muscles felt heavy, but I assured myself that by warming myself up, I'd get into the groove of racing in no time.

And I was right. There were some kms where I felt it more than others, but overall, I was able to maintain my pacing exactly where I wanted it. My goal was to finish this race in under 45min. I figured that would be realistic, given that's a 6min improvement from the Icebreaker, but still without the unrealistic expectation of being suddenly fast enough to be closer to my 41min range best finishes from a few years back. A 45min 8K would be in the range of the 56min 10K I hoped to achieve at Summerfast, but didn't. It was my second chance at trying for this (but without the last 2km to really prove it - although I felt so good at the end, I know I could have).

I started out a little too fast, but quickly noticed and held myself back. After a fast first km at 5:15, I found my pace and consistently finished each km after that point in the 5:30-5:40 range. I kept my watch set to the "pace and distance" screen so I couldn't see my elapsed time, but I could monitor my pace and ensure that I wasn't quickening or slowing down too much at any point. I could adjust accordingly and stay consistent. I am really pleased with my ability to do that.

I liked that this course was out and back because in ways, this makes it easier mentally. Get yourself to the 4km turnaround and then you just have to get back! It also meant that I could see the elite runners at the front of the pack when they turned around. I was thrilled that as I passed the 3km mark, Natasha Wodak was passing me in the other direction on the other side of the road. Her powerful (yet effortless-looking) stride zipping past me on the other side must have inspired me to the 4km turnaround. I tried not to do the math, you know, if she can do 5km in the time I do 3km, what time will she finish the race? How far along in the race will I be when she finishes? Regardless of how much faster she is than me, and how I'm hardly competition to her, it's somehow inspiring as an athlete (even a very amateur/recreational athlete like me) to know I'm competing in the same race as an Olympic athlete.

Because I had my watch on the "pace and distance" screen, I actually didn't know what my finish time was going to be as I neared the "Cam's house" 7km marker. I was simply looking down long enough to see if I was keeping under the 5:40/km pace. Even though I knew with no doubt I was achieving this the entire race, I didn't actually know for a fact or had seen proof that I was on pace to achieve my goal for the race. So as I got closer to the finish, I chose not to switch screens to check where I was at, because I liked not knowing, and I didn't want it to mess with my head if the time I saw was not what I expected, if it was disappointing or indicative of missing the goal.

As I turned the corner at the high school and neared the finish line, I saw the race clock glowing bright red at the finish in the distance. It showed just over 44min. I knew if I pushed, I could get there before it turned to 45. I quickened my pace and gradually increased this pace more, then a bit more, giving it all I had in my engine, and going even harder until I was in an all-out sprint across the finish line. I was thrilled because there was a significant gap between me and the finishers behind me, so I knew all the cheers at the finish line were for me and only for me. I think people saw what I was looking to do because I was running hard and my breathing was definitely audible (maybe a bit grunty!). Boy do I love the running community, because most of the people at the finish line cheering, were fellow runners who already finished long before me. They are faster than me, yet excited for me and supportive of me trying my hardest. I squeaked in officially at 44:58, just under that 45min mark I was hoping for. This race doesn't have timing mats at the start line so only gun time counts, but I started my watch when I crossed the start line myself. I clocked 44:53 as my time on my watch, so that's what I'm going with :)

After the race, I enjoyed the treats offered by the event, chatted with fellow runners, and then freshened up and changed clothes. I skipped the awards ceremony as I didn't want Megan to have to wait around for me any longer. We left the venue and headed to the Chief. We took the opportunity to go up the Sea to Sky Gondola as neither of us have done that, and we did some easy hiking up at the top on some of the trails there. That was a great way to stretch out the legs and although the legs felt tired at the time, it definitely aided recovery. It also made me even hungrier! We enjoyed lunch at the local brew pub in downtown Squamish and then headed back home to North Vancouver.

Next up, the Eastside 10K which takes place on my birthday!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Speediness

With the summer heat now upon us, it's been wonderful to have a different training focus aside from training for distance. My weekend long runs are still long enough to keep my endurance up (14km or so), but I'm not planning a 20km+ run any time soon so being outside running for a couple hours in the heat is not necessary at the moment.

I had planned to write soon after running the Summerfast 10K on July 16th, but you know how it goes with summer. 1000 competing priorities get in the way, and most of them taking you outdoors. My indoors pursuits became all about a painting I was working on, my first in about 4 years. It was very important that I finished it, and that I had a chance to write about it. If you're interested in reading my blog post about it, click here (when you're done reading this, of course).

So, when it comes to the Summerfast 10K, I'm pleased with how it went. I've been running this race for the last few years. Well, last year I was registered, but didn't end up running because of injury. But I do make a habit of participating as it's an awesome event and benefits VFAC, whom I am happy to support - a group of awesome elite athletes coached by John Hill, who, for a time, coached me too. Hopefully if I continue along the path I am on now of getting fitter, I may sign up to have him coach me again in the future.

The thing with this event, is that I never get close to my PR at this race, even when my fitness was at its best. My 10K efforts where times were better were always elsewhere. I don't know if it's the summer heat come mid-July? The flat monotonous course (my legs like some hill to mix it up)? The fact that the Stanley Park seawall, as beautiful as it is, messes with my head (there is too much visual - I can see far ahead the whole time and I know what's around ever corner since I run there so much)? I don't know.

The other thing about this race, the one thing I truly love (aside from the home-made baked good at the finish line), is that it's fairly competitive. Essentially everyone who signs up is serious about their finish time. In many other 10K runs, there are droves of people coming in after the hour mark, including walkers. At Summerfast, the vast majority of runners finish under an hour, and once that 60-min mark hits, there are very very few people still crossing. My mention of this is not to take anything away from the runner or the walker who needs more time to finish. They too work hard and their goals are every bit as important. But what I mean by this is that going to a race where everyone is at a higher competitive level with themselves and with others puts you in a certain mindset. It drives you to achieve, or to give it all you have. It makes you feel pretty badass to be part of such a group; you have to be pretty serious to be running this event. This isn't meant to be a fun-run with costumes and a party on the course. This is about running your best.

I can't even remember when prior to this event that I ran a 10K race. My habit has been that if an event offers a 5K and a 10K, to choose the 5K because it's my favourite racing distance. You run hard but only have to sustain it for a little while. A 10K on the other hand, you should go a bit slower than the 5K (say 15sec/mile for example) because you have to hold it for twice as long. So yes, the pace feels easier but it's still hard enough and for much longer. If you are running hard and running for time, doing so for 10K as opposed to 5K is kind of hell. So I think part of me has been avoiding a 10K, and my lack of recent experience racing this distance really showed itself this time around at Summerfast.

The good thing though is that I've been really good about getting my runs in this summer, including 1 weekly speed session without fail. I've been doing these all at the track, even if my intervals are longer, just because measuring distance is easy, it's all flat, and then I am not dealing with traffic, dog-walkers, or other factors that slow you down road-running. With Summerfast though, I had a week of slacking a bit when I was camping in Salt Spring at the start of July, because I didn't want to run that much if I wasn't able to shower as much! But when I did have access to a shower, I had a killer track workout. So I didn't miss my speed work, but I had no slow steady stuff that week.

I set the goal of completing Summerfast this time around in about 56min. My thinking was that I was able to do Longest Day 5K in just over 27min, so this is twice the time + 2min. I started out on pace for this, and the pace felt good and like something I could maintain. I was pleased with my 5K split time, but it proved to me that I was actually pushing a bit harder than I had planned to. I reached 5K in just over 27min, although that 27min felt much much easier than it felt at Longest Day. I was both pleased and displeased to see this. It meant that if I were racing a 5K that day, I would have been pushing way harder yet and I would have crushed that Longest Day time. It meant that my work at getting faster was indeed working! But I was disappointed because it meant that I likely went out a touch too fast and that would make itself known in the second half of the race. And it did. I slowed down gradually, and couldn't find a second wind until about the 9K mark. I came in at 58:23. Not the time I was going for, but a good result still considering.

I could easily beat myself up about my result or about my pacing (or lack thereof). But I had a really good word with myself on course. At about the 7K mark when I realized what was happening to my race result (sometimes my good math skills are not a blessing), I had a word with myself. I could have taken the opportunity to be hard on myself and beat myself up. If I did that, negativity would have taken over and likely completely spoiled my experience. Instead, I was able to will myself into positive self-talk here, even though my legs and ego were hurting, and my inner engine was finding its will to go harder the next 3km. 

I remembered when I first got into running, and how impossible a task it was before then. I remembered the day I ran 10K for the first time and how it was a major victory. I didn't care about time at all, just about getting across the line. I remembered how I am much older than I was then (I ran the Sun Run in my early 20s when I lost my weight the 1st time and didn't keep it off like I have this time) but I am much much faster now. I reminded myself that I always try to forget where I came from when I shouldn't. I also reminded myself that earlier this year, coming back from injury, I ran the Icebreaker 8K in an awful 51:31, so no matter what, this race result would be a massive improvement for 6 months of training. I reminded myself that just being there and part of this event, running 10K without stopping, these are all huge feats that I should be proud of. I haven't always been capable of this. 

Why do I forget this and get so competitive? Why do I forget who I was so easily and focus so hard on who I wish to be? No I don't think I should dwell on the past because I like to believe that who I was doesn't define who I am. It makes who I am now that much more awesome, yes, as it shows strength in my character. But who I am today is just as capable as someone who's been fit their entire life and I don't want "her" (the old me) to ever be an excuse or someone who holds me back. Yet I think it's important to not lose sight of how far I've come or to forget who I was entirely, so that I can give myself a healthy dose of perspective in those moments when I start to beat myself up.

When I reached the finish line at Summerfast, I also reunited with a bunch of my running friends, most of whom are still running with Coach John on Tuesdays. Seeing them was good perspective too. I run, in part, because of this community. The running community is one of the most supportive communities out there. There's no judgement, even from someone who is way faster than you. Everyone can appreciate your own goals and your own efforts and be happy for your own achievements. And I'm truly thankful to have such awesome friendships within my running community.

So what's next? The Squamish Days 8K this coming Sunday. I'm thankful it's 2K less! :)

Monday, July 11, 2016

So Far So Good

That is how I would describe summer running so far - it's been SO GOOD!

I had written previously about my plans to run the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 26th and then spend the rest of the summer focusing on running shorter distances and building speed. The Scotia Half wasn't to be treated as a "race" with a time objective, but rather a fun event with the goal of completion with minimal discomfort and cramping. Races from then onward would be shorter and about pushing myself to see what I'm made of. I am happy to report that we're on that path.

I didn't get a chance to write a blog post right after Scotia because of the busy-ness of the final week of work and preparing for our first summer holiday which we just returned from a couple days ago. After Scotia, I ended up running a second race, the Canada Day 5K on July 1st, and there was even less time to report on that. So I thought I'd quickly summarize both here today; both events I am very pleased with the outcome.

So yes, if you haven't guessed, the Scotia Half was my 3rd half marathon of 2016 and another attempt at running without cramping. I was not entirely saved from this experience, but I never got myself to the point of pain as I took the entire race easy-does-it, took all pressure off myself as best as I could, and walked as soon as I felt the first signs of what was to come. I walked likely about 2km (if one were to combine my breaks), but was able to run across the finish line strong and with a smile on my face. I was a good 27-odd minutes slower than my best finish time, but somehow I couldn't be happier with the outcome because there wasn't that familiar discomfort I have grown accustomed to.

The race was also a really fun time as I got to run with two girlfriends, Patti and Sigrid. Neither of them were in it for time either, so we ran the majority of the race together. We had an understanding though that we weren't committed to running the entire thing together, and if at any point someone needed to stop or slow down, the others could run ahead.

At the start line with my girls!
Patti needed a break around the 10K mark and Sigrid and I continued on. But I couldn't keep up with Sigrid at a hilly section shortly after this so I let her get ahead of me and she went on to finish strong while I ran alone a while. Patti eventually caught up with me and we continued to run together until the base of the Burrard Bridge. We were quite close to the finish at this point with about 4km to go but it was at this point where I felt the first signs of cramping. I knew if I continued running, it would be trouble for me but Patti was feeling good and we both wanted her to continue. So at this point we parted and as a result finished a few min apart. I brisk walked up the bridge to stretch out my legs, and after a bit of jog/walk, I found the ability to run again continuously with a decent pace when there was about 2km to go. I am positive that having the company of these girls made for an easier run. And there were other friends I just happened to bump into on course. It's so much easier to forget the effort you're giving when conversation and company are this amazing! Running really can be like a party!

Impromptu action-shot selfie with my friend, Karen. We just somehow bumped into each other on course!
So I finished this one in about 2:27. I don't care to look up the exact time, because really it's not important to me here. Again, it's far from the finish times I'm used to clocking, but I couldn't be more pleased with how the event went.

With our earned bling!
So after the Scotia Half, came the Canada Day 5K. It was hard to know how to prepare for this one in the days between events, as there was only 4 days sandwiched in between. I decided to skip any speed work in those 4 days as I had some tightness in my glutes, hammies, and quads. I just did some light recovery jogs on the Tuesday and Wednesday with loads of stretching and rolling. I trusted in the speedwork I had been doing up until then. The Run Canada Day event is really a great run. It's all in the trails out at UBC at Pacific Spirit Park where I almost never run because of the distance and remoteness of the trails (and my lack of navigational ability in these trails). So running there in an organized event suits me just fine. The event is a great way to kick off celebrating Canada's birthday too as everyone dresses festively in their red and white and there is a great BBQ and Canada Flag cake at the post-race party. It's not a competitive race, although some solid runners do show up to play for sure. With the run being on soft undulating trails though, nobody's finish time reflects their true ability. You can't propel yourself in the same way without being able to bounce off solid ground. I think everyone sees a couple extra minutes on their times, but we can't let the ego get in the way. 

I ran it at my hardest 5K effort, you know the "oh my this sucks" kind of pace the whole way. Knowing it would be slower than it felt, I kept my eyes off my watch and just at who was around me. I tried to let no woman pass me unless she looked significantly younger than me :-) If anyone looked close to my age, I would do all I could to keep her behind me. You see, it feels good when you can do well relative to your age group. I won't win a race, but if I can see I am doing well for my age, then I know I'm achieving something extra awesome (as in beyond the awesome already given for just doing the event). 

I crossed the finish line feeling like a gazillion bucks. It's those hard heart-pounding kickass high-intensity paced 5K races that give the strongest runner's high and perhaps that's part of why I love these races. Minimal recovery and maximal rush. And I felt even better after chatting with some fellow runners at the finish line, guys who are super speedy but also saw a minute or two of added minutes on their finish times because of being slowed down by the trails. I had to take off and not enjoy the party in order to get ready for the next item on my Canada Day festivity plans, so I didn't notice until I got home that I actually finished very well. Like I hoped, I came in as the 18th female overall and 3rd in my age category in a time of 28:55. And this was a 10-year category, F30-39. Feels good to know I did that well even though there were young 30 year old punks in my group. This old gal is comin' for ya ;-)

Runner's high at the end of the race (parking lot selfie).
So what's next? There's the Summerfast 10K this weekend. I'm not sure how it will go as running last week was minimal while we were out of town, although I did get in a killer track workout. I'm excited to see how it goes!

I'll be looking for other races to do this summer, but otherwise my plan is to run lots, hike lots, and just be active in general. I'm coaching a 10K clinic at the North Vancouver Running Room too, starting July 21st! Perhaps you'll join :)

Otherwise, I'll see you here soon!


Friday, June 17, 2016

New Summer Focus

I keep saying that I am going to take a break from half marathons and marathons and focus on short distances. Then pride gets in the way, and I sign up for a long race. I get distracted from one train of thought and bounce over to another. I obsess over the long distances, yet again, even though I previously swore that I didn't care for it anymore. I think part of why this keeps happening is that I tire of the comments from those who don't get it. Or those who don't know me, or my cramping issue, nor understand why I'd take such a "break". The trouble is that the 5K and 10K distances often get the wrong reputation, or they are misunderstood. Yes, these distances are often what a beginner chooses to run for completion because, on the endurance side of things, these are relatively short and completion is an achievable goal. But that does not mean I am demoting myself or that I'm now a beginner. The focus these days tends to be on recreational runners going after longer and longer distances with the goal of simply completing them. I've been there and done that, and want something new.

Training to race a 5K or 10K with the goal of improving finish time is actually insanely hard work and a beast that seasoned athletes try to conquer. To me, training to take time off a 5K finish time is harder than training to complete a half marathon. Me opting to focus on shorter distance races is not to take a backseat, but to actually take my training to a higher level. A much higher level! I wish to challenge myself to something I know I can make gains in, Cramping is preventing me from making any improvements in my finish times in the long distance efforts, but this here is something I know I can change. With long distance races, I finish, always, but my times have not shown any improvement in 3 years. They stay the same or get worse. But with my 5K, 8K and 10K, I have improved before and can improve again. After a setback 2015, I know with hard work and specific training, I will be able to get faster and even achieve personal best times. I can smell it.

Here's the thing - when I've said to some listeners that I am focusing on the 5 and 10K distance over the summer, they seem to assume I'm going to be actually taking a break - slacking off and never running long, and therefore lose my fitness. Like if they want to invite me to run a 16K with them, I won't be ready to join them. But, no. I will still run plenty long on weekends to maintain and improve my endurance. But during the week, I'm strengthening at the gym and working on power gains, killing it at the track, etc. It's more specific, and a heck of a lot of work. It's painful almost. Painfully good. My quads feel huge after yesterday's track workout (OK, I know, they are huge).

And before you judge, wait, I am running a half marathon 9 days from now - the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon. I will probably still run more half marathons than this upcoming one. I just won't make improving my times there my goal. I am just running them for enjoyment, to socialize, or to give me the excuse to log higher training mileage because I simply love it.

I have mentioned before, my goal setting may have been confused before. I wanted to lose weight, as I'd gained 15lbs last year whilst working in a stressful job. Yet somehow I didn't understand why I had slowed down so much as a runner. I was perhaps a bit in denial. I was asked by friends if I'd be speed training with them again, and my excuse to say no was that I was afraid of injury, since 2015 saw plenty of that. I told them I was just trying to get my endurance back safely and injury-free. Yes, this was true. But there was more to it and the "in-denial" part of me failed to mention that when you're carrying 15lbs of excess weight, that alone is going to slow you down a whole lot. Losing the weight would do as much to help me, or be more helpful and safer, than trying to run my guts out in interval training heavier.

Some examples - my easy or long run pace had always been in the 6:00-6:30/km range. My 5K pace was about 5:00/km. With the extra weight, I was averaging 7:00-7:30 on a slow run. Yikes! So naturally when I started seeing these times, I decided to stop timing myself. It was discouraging and I wanted to eliminate anything that would make me feel bad when I was rebuilding. I also stopped trying to run with friends because truth is, I wouldn't be able to keep up with them, and I wouldn't want to hold them back.

The Icebreaker 8km this January was a wake up call. I signed up to run it like I do every year. But I hadn't really been timing myself for months, so I had no realistic view on how fast I actually was (or how much I'd really slowed down). I should have known that if my slow stuff was around a 7:00/km, I wouldn't be anything near my previous 5K pace of 5:00/km. Truth is, I was in denial about my fitness loss, and I hadn't expected to finish as slow as I did. I was out of breath giving the effort I always used to in an 8K, thinking I want to be as close to 5:30/km as possible (surely 5:30 should be possible with a small amount of fitness lost).....but I was looking at my watch and seeing that I could barely maintain a 6:30/km pace. What used to be a lazy pace somehow felt like a sprint. I was out of breath. I wondered how I ever ran an 8K in under 41min when I finished that day in 51min. It seemed impossible and I was deeply embarrassed when I crossed the finish line.

So after the Icebreaker, my focus truly became about losing weight. The timing of this race was why Feb was the start of my efforts in the weight loss department, and I pulled all the stops to achieve it safely and effectively. The half marathons and other events I did were just for an excuse for higher mileage, or for fun, for socializing, and something to focus on. I didn't wear a watch to time the halfs, just did them and hoped to not be in pain. You know though, I cramped.

But about a month ago, I officially got to the point where I was happy with my weight again, having lost the 15lbs and a bit more in fact; I felt like my old self again. I decided to finally start timing my runs again. Even before starting to intentionally do speed work, I noticed huge time improvements over where I was months ago, just from losing the weight I'd gained and regaining my base fitness. Like magic, my easy pace had improved back to where my easy running times belong, in the 6min range. I started running at the track once a week for intentional speed training because now I knew I was light enough that it wouldn't risk injury and the fast feeling would be familiar to my now familiar feeling body. In fact, it felt amazingly empowering too. So when the prospect of the summer and a lot of options for shorter distance races came up, excitement welled up inside me.

Even though I had only done a couple of track workouts at this point and knew that these wouldn't have made a huge impact on my fitness, I signed up for a recent 5K, the Longest Day Road Race, to put myself to the test - as a benchmark of my current fitness so I can set realistic goals for upcoming races knowing I'd keep up my training habits over the coming months.  Normally my success in 5K efforts comes from a great warmup, lining up close to the front, and giving 'er at the gun. If I start out "too fast" at the start, it is a short enough distance that it won't kill my race. In fact, it might have the opposite effect if I've trained myself to push and dig deep for more even after I've tired. But I knew I hadn't been training specifically for long enough to use the old strategy. I went in with little expectation of myself, did a very light warmup, and lined up more middle camp.

I, as a result of lining up further back and being less warmed up, couldn't give 'er at the gun as much as I normally would. I had a few slower joggers to navigate around too in the first km, but soon my legs worked out their usual kinks as they warmed up. I felt good and my legs remembered the feeling of being in a 5km. And an event I've run 3 times previously felt familiar too so I pushed myself a bit harder. I looked down at my watch and was pleased to see I was averaging a 5:23 pace. So I pushed to hold it. In fact, I could have pushed even more but held back and made my goal to maintain the pace the whole way. I had a km at 5:07 and my worst was 5:30 when we had some hilly bits, but considering where my fitness was before, this was a huge victory. I finished with a chip time of 27:23. This was about 2min off my personal best 5K, which isn't bad at all. The difference is absolutely surmountable, and knowing how I approached this event and how little specific training I'd done, I feel very empowered about future races and what I can do with a little more elbow grease added to my training.

So today I burned a hole in my credit card and registered for a few more races to keep me busy this summer:
Hope to see some familiar faces there! First things first though, the Scotia Half on June 26th.

<3 Zahida

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cramps are Crap!

I don't know what else to call this post, but seriously, cramps are crappy.

I didn't get a chance to write a proper race report after completing the half marathon at the BMO Vancouver Marathon two weeks ago; now just seems a little too late for it. But naturally, I need to talk about this event a little here. This was my most recent race and I ran this one very strong. Training runs leading up to it went flawlessly. The race itself started out great too. I was poised for a good finish, a good pace, good form, and no signs of that changing. But then it happened again, unexpectedly, cramping at the 18km mark. Not enough time between there and the finish to fully get over them (stretching, massaging, walking several minutes tends to be all that helps) and so I finished my race looking like this:

You can probably imagine why I won't be giving $70 to MarathonFoto for a high res version of this photo to remember this grimacing moment more permanently. The medical guy was very kind and all, checking to see if my screamy crying self, dragging my ass across the finish line was, in fact, dying. It was certainly not one of my proudest moments - it was a very very frustrating moment instead. I wanted the medic to leave me alone and let me collect my medal and disappear/hide myself from judging eyes. But I didn't have the words in me and he didn't believe me when I said, "I'm OK" because my face and my body were still screaming and saying something different.

Cramping at 18km and all the walking and hobbling I had to do to for 3km to get to the finish added a good extra 15 minutes onto my finish time from what I was on pace to finish at before the cramping. That's one of the worst parts of it - my pride gets in the way, and for some reason, people always have to ask you what your finish time was, or they simply look you up and I HATE how slow my time makes me look. I wasn't that slow. I was slowed down.

The BMO half came on the heels of running the April Fools Half about a month earlier. At April Fools, I cramped too. But these came on earlier, at the 13km mark, and after 4km of hobbling it off, I was able to run again so my finish line photo was a lot more graceful.

But again, with 4km of doing anything but running to get rid of my cramps, my finish time at this event was one of the slowest of my life. I know - I should be proud that I finished.

And I get it. Finishing is an accomplishment. But for me, running 21.1km isn't something I haven't done before. I've done is countless times. 22 races, and countless times in training. So finishing after suffering like that doesn't feel like an accomplishment at all. It feels like a failure. Like I'm cursed. Like I'm never going to get under 2 hours. Like I don't deserve it. Like I should give up. Like I'm too stubborn for my own good.

After BMO, I posted a note on my personal Facebook page regarding my frustrations, no holds barred. I was thrilled with the feedback I got, basically an outpouring of support to not give up, and some offered me ideas on what it is causing my cramping. I want to say THANK YOU for this support. I hear often that I inspire others, but truly, if others didn't encourage and inspire me, I couldn't do this at all. If you believe in me, then I shouldn't think it's crazy to believe in myself.

Frustration has been the theme of my long distance running since I ran my first marathon 4 years ago. That was the first time I'd ever experienced cramping like what I'm referring to here. It was intense and excruciating. I walked and cried. It was the biggest day in my life up until then and it was falling to pieces. The cramping added on a good 45min extra onto my projected finish time at this marathon. I finished, but I was ashamed to post such a slow time. It took a long time to get over this shame. Finishing a marathon is not anything to be ashamed of. In fact, I went on to run two more, and at both of these, I cramped too. My times improved, but I never got my time down to where it should. I continued to feel shame and that's likely a big reason why I haven't done any more marathons since. My fastest marathon was still 30min too slow for my liking.

Cramping forces me to stop and walk a long time. I lose control of my muscles. The only healer of this is letting time pass. Time is not what we have on our side at a race. Allowing time to tick on by is not something I like to do, which I am sure you can imagine if you have ever been acquainted with my competitive drive.

So what exactly are these cramps that I'm talking about? I'm not talking about a sissy little twinge in my calf muscles. I've get that occasionally, but I can normally still run and function through that. What I'm referring to is losing control over my leg muscles entirely. The pain is excruciating. It takes tenacity and courage to even move when it gets at its worst. Let alone walk. And running is impossible. It starts sometimes with my toes curling up in my shoe, or my quad muscles start to wiggle around and make it hard to balance on my feet. However it starts, it quickly intensifies to debilitating pain that feels like there are knives stabbing every inch of my legs. My quads always feel it the worst, but the pain is everywhere from the top of my legs right down to my babiest of toes. Literally half my body is overcome by the cramps and little compares to the pain.

I'm too stubborn to give up and love running simply too much that I tend to have amnesia after an incident and keep on signing up for long distance races. I refuse to just run short distances. I'm too proud and love running distances. I love the thrill of accomplishing the distance.  It's social and many of my friends are distance runners so running is a chance to be part of the same community events as these friends.

Over the last 4 years I have been trying without success to solve the conundrum of my marathon cramps. The trouble is, they haven't limited themselves to just my marathons. It started happening in my half marathons too and now it pretty much happens in all my half marathons. Is it under-hydration? Over-hydration? Electrolyte balance? Muscle fatigue? Lactic acid build-up? Poor running form? Inadequate training? Over-training? Lack of sleep? Poor nutrition overall? Insufficiency in one or more nutrient? The wrong meal the day before the race? The wrong breakfast on race morning? Muscle weakness? Muscle imbalance? Poor response to stress? All of the above? Some of the above? A little of this plus a little of that? Or the other this and other that?

There are so many variables and options and I believe I've tried everything. I have read all kinds of literature, consulted all kinds of experts, and tried so many things. Thing is, we all know the scientific method means that you can only change one variable per experiment to truly understand if that variable makes a difference to the experiment's outcome. So this would mean I can only make one change to my approach to see if the one change makes a difference. But it's impossible to replicate your training exactly, and with each race, there are a million things that are different to begin with: it's a different day, different location, different time of day, the fact that I've aged, my fitness has changed, different temperature outside, etc. So how do I truly narrow it down? Trial and error and refusing to give up.

But even trial and error doesn't seem to make sense. I once ran 23km in under 2 hours in a training run leading up to my 3rd marathon. If I can do 23km in that time, clearly I can run 21.1km in that time. My body is capable. This training run was when I was my fastest and fittest and was training with an advanced running group. Long tempo runs were part of my normal training. I was a machine. But still, when game day came, I would break. My coach told me not to give up and reminded me that when I do finally break 2 hours, I will break it by a lot. Things just have to go my way.

I have a few other variables that make my running challenge even more unique. First of all, my circulation challenges since my blood clot (ie., even today I have to pop aspirin before and wear compression socks on airplanes) - this could be a factor. I mean I had surgery on both legs in 2010 to overhaul my circulatory system there. It's far from perfect, so when it comes to purging away lactic acid from my blood, maybe this is an issue, and maybe I don't deal with lactic acid efficiently.

Secondly, I haven't ever admitted this publicly, but I also have a diagnosed condition that makes me sweat profusely. This isn't heat induced, but induced by any kind of stress or discomfort (extreme cold, job interviews, presentations/speeches in front of crowds, first dates, same thing!). It's more a symptom of my nervous system than anything, so maybe my issue is psychosomatic. I've finally learned how to treat it to control and avoid embarrassing situations (so I don't mind mentioning it now - perhaps this admission is now 'safe'), but when I run, it's not really something that can be controlled. Add in the additional stress and adrenaline factor of race day, and maybe that's just enough to make my system go into overdrive and my hydration plan that works in training falls short to make up for the difference. There are only so many litres of water or sports drink and electrolyte capsules that one can consume comfortably.

Maybe the key is that I have to truly, and I mean TRULY learn to relax on race day like I do in training and let go of all fear of the cramps, right down to my subconscious. I'm not sure how to do this. But I need to try. Maybe I should hire a shrink instead of a sports scientist!

I could go on about this topic for hours and tell you what I've tried and what I haven't tried. The thing is, I might never figure it out. I just have to be OK with the possibility of it happening again and not let it stop me. And that's why when the desire to run the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon next month came about in my head, I decided in the end to go for it. At first I was afraid to, thought I should take a break, I was afraid of it happening and having to admit it happened again etc., but then a Groupon deal came up so my excuse about it being expensive was no longer valid. I'm excited to run this, sure I'm a bit freaked. But I am going to do this, and do it well. Zahida doesn't give up!