Friday, March 3, 2017

The Fools Run is Coming!

In approximately 1 month, comes the 40th Annual BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run. This year will be my 6th year in a row participating in the event! I couldn’t be more excited to be part of it again. You likely know, this is my favourite half marathon. But you might also know that the half marathon isn’t always my favourite distance. So why do I keep coming back?
  • Location location location! This is an excellent excuse to explore a bit more of BC. Come on, let’s face it, there are only so many running routes in Vancouver we’ve all done 100 times. So how about something a little different? I love the feeling of running from one city to another. It’s kind of badass! So how about two towns you aren’t familiar with? The Fools Run starts in Gibsons and finishes at a beautiful beach location in Sechelt. Hard to beat that, if you ask me! The nice thing though is that this getaway can easily be accomplished in an affordable day trip with no car necessary because of start times chosen with ferry schedules in mind, and shuttle buses to get you where you need to be.  
  • Accessible race entry fee – You don’t have to break the bank to attend. It’s not one of those races that charge everyone for the all-inclusive package. If you don’t want a shirt, you don’t have to buy one. In fact, if you get your act in gear and register early, you could do so for as little as $25. Talk about exceptional value. One of the factors that prevents me from running more half marathons is often the cost of events. Luckily this one is one that’s affordable to all.
  • Small community hospitality – Perhaps this is something you have to experience to really get what I mean here. But when you run the Fools Run, you’ll be thrilled with the friendliness of everyone you meet from the shuttle bus drivers, volunteers, spectators, and business owners in the community. And I have to mention that the race organizers, Teresa and Larry Nightingale are class-act, down-to-earth people who know how to organize a great event.
  • Something for everyone – The race is a half marathon, but there is a menu of options for being part of it. Elite runners always come to the event and it’s inspiring to find out how much quicker they got to the finish line than you did (haha!). It’s part of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series, if you’re collecting points. You can run half marathon or opt to do an early start if you want to walk the whole event and not be pressured by time constraints. There are relay options if you want to share the experience with a team. AND, there’s an adorable little kids run too for the little guys to get in on the fun.
  • Fun factor! Even when I’ve been somewhat serious about my results (I’m no elite, but my personal best half marathon from 2013 still stands from this race) I am always guaranteed to have fun. I always end up meeting someone new, whether it be on the ferry, the shuttle bus, an offered ride home, a post-race lunch I’m invited to, or at the finish line festivities. There’s always great conversation with fellow runners on the course, costumes to check out, teams to cheer on, elites to be in awe of. And every year, I’ve managed to bring out some friends to join in the fun and introduce them to this great event.


Will you join me this year?
40th Annual BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run
Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Register before March 15th to save at www.foolsrun.com

Post AFR 2013 where I got my personal best!


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Race Report: YVRun - Jan 21st, 2017

Last weekend I participated in the YVRun challenge that was put on by Lululemon and Vancouver Running Co. It was this fantastic event that I wouldn't have even known about if it weren't for my dear friend, Sigrid. Sigrid is one of those girls who always has her finger on the pulse and knows what's going on in town. I can rely on her to have the scoop, always. Through one of her connections in the running community, she was invited to register for this event a day before the general public, and being a team event, I then was able to sneak in as well. When registration opened the next day, as expected, the event 'sold out' that day. It was limited to 300 people (90 teams), and was 100% free! Along with the free registration came a beautiful pair of souvenir running pants with the event logo on them. They are super comfy and I loved wearing them at the event - I will get lots of use out of them and this was an unexpected perk for taking part in this event. Thank you YVRun!

I didn't really know what to expect with the event, except that it would be at least 15km, and it would be a fun event with both Sigrid and our third teammate, Lisa. Here's the event description, according to event organizers, and all the info we really had:

In teams of 2–5, you will race in an effort to complete a 15km course. The catch? There is no set route, only a start line, finish line and checkpoints along the way. No bikes, cars, ferries, planes, or horses, just your two feet and your teams knowledge of the urban landscape

Pretty sweet sounding, eh? The rest of the details we found out at the start line. But I knew it would be like an Amazing Race type thing, but all over Vancouver, without camera crews, all on foot, and without (not too) crazy challenges at each pit stop.

So given that I have a half marathon coming up at the start of Feb, this event lined up nicely as I wanted to do about 18km that day. I knew that 15km was a guideline, you know, if you traveled in the most direct route from one check point to the next. But given that we'd be finding the checkpoints ourselves based on clues, possibly getting lost or going the wrong way at some point, we would likely go over the distance. And we did!

The first challenge of the day was determining how we'd get to the start line for 12:30pm, not knowing where the finish line would be, and wanting to minimize post-race logistical challenges. Sigrid and I decided to park downtown at her office, knowing it's right by a Skytrain station, and no matter where we'd end up at the end of the day, it would be easy to get back to the car and then home. The thing was that the same day, around the same time we were making our way to the start line at Vanier Park, was the Women's March on Washington. Side note - I would have 100% been marching in solidarity had it not been for YVRun; we did find it quite entertaining how many people assumed we were part of the march given our matching outfits and that 3 of us girls were running all over town together, so we had a lot of great conversations along the way with fellow Vancouverites. But the March made the what should have been easy pre-event logistics much more challenging. Buses out of downtown were re-routed and/or well behind schedule. So we took a different bus than planned, first requiring us to get to a further bus stop than planned, then arriving several blocks further from the start line than we had hoped. The only way to get there on time was to run for it! Before the challenge had even began, we clocked over 4km.

But we made it the start line, checked in, and after some selfies, received our first clue directing us to our first of 7 checkpoints. And aren't we cute with our "team uniform" - these colourful antennae!!
With teammates Sigrid and Lisa at the start line!
We were very lucky to have had a great weather day. In fact, we only had one brief and light rain shower the whole day, and otherwise mostly sunshine. So this made it quite comfy the whole day. Running gloves not necessary, and light layers only! This is the Vancouver winter running scene I love!

We knew also that the 7 checkpoints were likely going to be some of Vancouver's points of pride, as this event was to showcase both Vancouver as a city, and the awesomeness of the Vancouver running community. But we didn't know what the checkpoints would be, what order they would be in, even if we could speculate what would be on the list, and what we'd have to do when we got to each. So that was a true thrill. I can't express how well this was organized, and how privileged I felt to be part of it.


At checkpoint #1 where we had to answer trivia about Vancouver's history. Phones were allowed, thankfully!
Our checkpoints included Terry Fox Plaza, Crab Park, Jack Poole Plaza, Robson Square, the Inukshuk at English Bay, Granville Island, and the finish line at a studio in Olympic Village. Our challenges at each station varied, from intellectual challenges such as trivia and song-writing, to physical challenges like planking and a relay race on the stairs at Robson Square. Running all over the place to get from one to another, completing the challenges, and so on, totaled just under 18km. With our 4km getting to the race, it ended up being a 22km day.  Boy was I spent by the end! But here we are at the finish line!


I couldn't have asked for a better team. Sigrid and Lisa have to be two of the most positive people I know. I didn't know Lisa much actually before the event, but we've been Facebook friends a while because of the running community. Like me, she's all about having fun running, and so it was a natural fit. I have to say I struggled toward the end of the event. Having the flu this month, my training just wasn't able to be what it should have been to prep for this challenge. My body was tired, and I was likely a bit dehydrated. I had completed a 15km training run 2 weeks before YVRun, but hadn't done a ton the week of the event because of congestion and a very sore throat.

So late into the event, my legs were getting very sluggish and started to cramp. My teammates were patient with me, understanding, and ok with walking a little and in general slowing our pace down to get to the last checkpoint (thank you!). I didn't go into full-on leg cramps, thankfully, but I wasn't comfy either. But doing 22km with only 15km 2 weeks ago under my belt was the reason why. I was pleased I could still go on, albeit slowly!

The finish line party was fun and I enjoyed the festivities with Sigrid as Lisa had to leave. We enjoyed some drinks, eats, socializing, and of course, some more photo ops!


Thanks again Lisa and Sigrid for such a fun and memorable day!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My First Love Was Swimming

I just returned home from an evening lap swim to my friend, Megan, and I feel inspired. So inspired that I plan on going shopping this weekend to replace my old crusty swim goggles. I feel like I've reconnected with my first love and I don't want that love to slip away. My first love was swimming, and I want to start seeing this love again more regularly, on the side a bit as I continue to dedicate my life to another sport, running, to which I am committed more seriously. In my current inspired state, I've decided the best thing to do before I go to sleep tonight is tell you a little story about my first love. First I need to clear the air about 2 misconceptions about me.

The first and most common misconception, for those who haven't known me long, is that running has always been my sport and the sport I've loved the most.  When I mean "always", I don't mean for the 36.5 years I've been on this planet. I mean that many assume that I started running 9 years ago, back in 2008 when I started my weight loss journey. They think I lost weight through running. But no, I didn't start running until about 7 years ago, when I had already lost about 100lbs and running seemed like a reality my body could handle and like a nice new challenge to try. Little did I know that I would get hooked and the sport would become my obsession, making me forget about other sports almost entirely. I know, the title of this post gave it away already and you'd already figured it out - running was NOT my first love.

The second misconception is that I lost weight with the help of a fitness trainer at the gym. I can see that people would think this because I won a "success story" contest at a gym. I entered this because my trainer there thought my story was inspiring and that I had a good chance at winning the big prize. I did win the big prize, I got lots of free stuff including a new workout wardrobe, a trip to Mexico, free gym membership, and then my face was plastered on posters all over Vancouver (including the back of buses). But no, the gym was also not my first love. I joined the gym in the summer 2012, a few months after I completed my first marathon (here's a link to my blog post about it). I joined because I wanted to build muscle, improve my marathon performance, and have a place to use a treadmill when needed. And yes, with the help of my trainer, I built muscle and ran two more marathons. From there I was inspired to learn more about weight training and got my PT certification.

The photo I submitted in my success story contest entry with my marathon medals worn proudly.
I digress here for a bit from the point of this blog post, where I describe meeting my first love, because I feel the need to define my success. My first love allowed me to be successful. For me though, you must know, my success was never about the weight I lost. Even today, every time I say this well-known-in-public fact about me, that I was once 130lbs overweight, there's some level of shame in admitting I once let myself become so unhealthy. The success in my story isn't the weight I lost, or that number that was written on those posters, but it's the tenacity I had in me to do it on my own and to never quit until I got there. My success is my attitude. My success is my determination. My success is that despite my low self-esteem, I cared enough about myself to change my own life. It's the persistence that has allowed me to not only lose that weight and get healthy, but to maintain my good health over the years and turn myself into somewhat of an athlete. I'm not the fastest runner, but my work ethic and dedication to improving myself is unwavering. That attitude is my own and that's what sets me apart from the crowd. The posters should have read, "Zahida is badass".

That unwavering tenacity, that badassness that is synonymous with the name Zahida, was born in a swimming pool.

When I was a child, my parents put me in swimming lessons and I quit after the first level. I was terrified of the water, terrified that I would one day drown, and there was no way anyone was going to force me into this horrible and dangerous sport.

When I started university (at UBC), I finally realized enough was enough: a grown-up should know how to swim. UBC has always had a fine aquatics facility. In fact, I understand it got a major upgrade recently too! My best girlfriend, Jennifer, whom I've known since grade 8 was a trained lifeguard and an excellent swimmer. She and I attended the same university, so she took me to the pool, ensured me it was something I could do, and patiently taught me some of the basics. I would go early morning when the UBC swim team was practicing, and I would carefully watch them and pay close attention to their technique - their stroke, their breathing, their grace, and I would hang out in the shallow end of the pool and try to imitate them. I was learning and gaining confidence. When I was ready, I signed up for some adult beginner swim lessons and soon enough, I was a swimmer.

My ink drawing called "The Swimmer" - I drew this long before anything to do with running!
Swimming became my sport. I practiced it regularly and got quite efficient with it. And I lost weight, and lots of it. By the time I was about 22, I was 145lbs and for the first time in my life, I felt like I was drop-dead gorgeous. I started running and I ran two half marathons. Then life happened, and life happened real bad. I got heavy again. Real heavy.

After I graduated from UBC, I worked there for several years. One of the bonuses of being staff were the discounted rates I got at the pool, so I continued to go even with my weight gain, but not consistently, and not paired with other healthy habits. So naturally when 2008 rolled around and I said again, "enough is enough, I want to be gorgeous again!", my first instinct was to swim again. I paired swimming 3 times a week with healthy eating habits and the weight started to come off. It was easy to keep the routine going because I could incorporate a swim as part of my work day. Then in 2009, I moved to North Vancouver to the home I still live in today, and a few min walk from here, is a 25m lap pool. It made things even easier as I had the option to swim there in the evening and when I left my job at UBC, it didn't impact my routine at all because I had this well-known option near home. I became a regular at the pool, going every Mon, Wed, and Fri evening without fail. The staff at the pool all knew me, and it was a routine I very much loved and looked forward to.

It was made possible because my parents forced me to take swim lessons when I was a young child and then had the good sense to let me quit. I never forgot that I had quit and the need to redeem myself burned inside of me for years. So I must thank my friend Jennifer, who showed me the ropes once upon a time ago when I wanted to learn. I want to thank my swim instructor in the course I took at UBC. I want to thank another friend of mine, a male friend I was once enamored with who was once a competitive swimmer, and patiently helped me better my swim technique. I want to thank the lifeguards at the UBC pool who started to recognize me after a while and greeted me with a smile every time they'd see me. And same thing at the pool here in North Van, friendly lifeguards who noticed when I was there. I want to thank the triathlon coach who had a crew out at the pool and let me join in when the other lanes were busy with slower people. She told me I was one of hers, even though I wasn't paying her, because again, she'd observed my frequent attendance and my endurance matched that of her athletes. She boosted my confidence. I want to thank this one lady who was watching her son swim one day and I was in a nearby lane; when I got out of the pool, she approached me and told me she was also watching me and was amazed by my stamina as I swam solid for 45min without a break. I want to thank two lifeguards at my local pool specifically who approached me on different occasions to encourage me, and share with me that they noticed  my dedication, the progress and transformation they'd seen in me over the years (bathing suits do not lie!) and how witnessing that had inspired them. I was the girl who swam alone at least 3 times a week without fail and became a fixture at that pool. But I wasn't alone, as my Cam was supportive of it all, and encouraged me to go pop over to the pool for my regular evening outing. He'd happily wish me well on my way out, and greet me excitedly when I'd return home.

Today I went back to my local pool. It had been quite a while. I am not sure how long, maybe a year? More? I'm not sure. But even then,  it was maybe one visit? I don't know. Somehow today was different and inspiring and I'm determined to make it more regularly. Even if it's once a week or even once every two weeks - just for some good cross-training or a no-impact exercise I can do on off-days from running. Maybe it's because I went for an evening swim and it felt like home? Maybe it's because one of the lifeguards recognized me, even after all this time. Maybe it's because I had a dear friend there with me in the next lane. So thank you, Megan, for inviting me to go!

Why do I love swimming? For some of the same reasons I love running, I think. It's something I can do alone, and we all know, I like to be alone for my own introverted reasons. Even when you go swimming with a friend, you're still doing it on your own as they can only swim near you. When you're in the water, you're in another world; all you hear is the water around you and your breathing. I manage to silence my thoughts and have a somewhat meditative experience under water. All I think about is the lap I'm on or how many metres I've swam. I repeat the numbers in my head, recite them in poetic form, have them dance around in mathematic formulas in my head, what fraction of my workout have I achieved, how many laps to go. I forget about all else, all responsibilities I have outside the water, all to do lists, all matters of importance. The water washes it all away.

And some of those very same meditative qualities are what I love about running. I think with running though, and why I've taken that passion to obsession levels, is that it's also about athletic achievement. Sure, swimming is athletic. But back and forth, doing laps over and over, there's only so much of that I want to do in one session. 1 mile (64 lengths of the pool) is about my limit. But with running, a different distance is a different challenge, instead of more of the same. The scenery can change, the event can change, the elements I run in or the destination I run to, they can all change. But at its core is the same meditative space in my head that I first learned to love in the pool. It's time that allows me to centre myself.

So there you have it! Time to shop for some new swimming accessories, and I shall make my evening swims a more regular thing.

Thank you for reading! Up next, my intention is to write a report on my experience with the YVRun challenge last weekend. It was a blast with awesome running friends and some serious mileage :)


Sunday, January 15, 2017

2017 Thoughts, and a Race Report for the Steveston Icebreaker 8K.

Today was the first race of the year. Like the rest of 2017 so far, it did not go as expected. But somehow, I easily see the silver lining in it all.

I had really hoped to do well in this race as my biggest goal is to gain my speed back on the short distances. I had been very good about my training, not missing any workouts over a busy holiday December, etc. Speed training was a bit tricky with wintery conditions out, but I managed it anyway.

So with January approaching, I decided to come up with my goals for the year. I am choosing to keep my running goals on the short term - planning races no more than a few months ahead, to relieve some pressure on myself. I'm focusing on the short distances for speed, but still running long for fun. I have a couple half marathons already in the plans, including the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run (of course) again as ambassador.

Check out my race calendar to see what I'll be up to!



Personally, I decided that my goal for 2017 would be to slow down and relax more! To devote more time to self care. To listen to myself and grant myself a break when I need it. You know, like be OK with Netflix and chill, or reading a book, or (gasp) missing a workout (more on the latter in a moment). I know, this is an odd goal. Most opt for doing MORE in the new year - get fit, lose weight, work out more, etc. I don't have a problem with working out. I rarely have to pump myself up into going out and getting sweaty. I really have a problem with knowing when to stop. I suck at relaxing. I need to relax more, lower my stress levels, take care of myself.

It's funny, because I guess at the time of setting this goal, I must have been approaching burnout, or my immune system was taxed anyway.....Like it's happened before, right when I realize I need to slow down, my body does something to force me into slowing down. It's like my body is one step faster than my stubborn brain. I have been sick for most of 2017, first with an awful stomach bug that was very gorey (too gorey to describe here), and sucked the life out of me and my appetite. When I finally started to feel human again from this and regained my ability to eat real food again (and get out running), I got sick with a bad cold. Coughing still, but starting to recover again - sinuses are clear and fever is gone. Technically, I suppose, you could argue I haven't been at full health at all this year. But I am on the mend now, for real.

I have kept my chin up through it because the moment I got my appetite back and felt like running again, it wasn't that difficult to get back into it because I had been so active in December.

But here's the thing, maybe I got back into running too soon? Is this why I got sick a second time because I pushed myself too hard and went out in the cold when my body was weakened already? I don't know. I've come to realize why I sometimes struggle. As a run coach and a motivational speaker, my mantra has been "No Excuses". This is how I transformed myself. This is how this former obese girl became a marathoner. It's by following a plan and reaching the goal, no matter what. It's about not whining when it's raining, cold out, late out, I'm tired, hungry, bored, etc., and just getting out there and getting the workouts done. So when the little voice says, "Zahida, you need a break", Zahida thinks "NO WAY! #noexcuses! Get it done, Zee!" and I go get it done, always. I need to listen critically to the little voice. Sometimes she's right. And being one who doesn't lack in motivation, chances are if I think I need a break, it's not actually an excuse. Listening once in a while might serve me well.

So coming to this realization and seeing the Steveston Icebreaker coming up today, I didn't know what to do. I had worked hard for this event; then January happened. I registered for this event and have done it the last few years and had a great time; but my body needed rest and was asking for a nice long sleep-in after a few rough nights previously. I made a call, maybe it wasn't the wisest call, but I'm happy with it anyway. I didn't want to regret missing the run so I negotiated with my "little voice of reason" and decided to simply lower my expectations and run today's race slow and for fun and completion than anything more "at my level". My training has lacked in recent weeks, my body is (relatively) weak and tired, my breathing is laboured, my cough is relentless, my appetite is small, but my legs work good! Staying at home was the ideal, so how could I be disappointed with a slow finish?
Photo credit: Shannon Banal - The finish line final push and looking a little awkward...
It was a fun morning, and great to catch up with some running friends at the startline. I took the race at an easy 6:00/km pace (averaged 6:07 actually), but the pace actually didn't feel entirely easy because of a sore inflamed throat and the cold icy air. But I didn't have to stop or slow down too significantly. I held back when I felt like I could go faster. One of the perks of this race is that it's a small field so despite running with lowered expectations, it was enough to get me 4th in my 5-year age category :) Sure, if I was feeling well and able to run my race pace, I might have got 3rd place and a medal. But I'll take 4th on a day I certainly felt sub-par.


What's next? A fun run event this weekend with some girls called YVRun and then the Hypothermic half marathon at the start of Feb. I'll take it easy this week until the event to ensure I feel good to go.

With members of West Van Run Crew at the finish line festivities.
Thanks for reading, and for your support!
<3 Z

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Polar M200 Review

Hi friends. I've been very bad about keeping this blog up to date this last little while. I have plenty to say all the time, but I could come up with hundreds of excuses for not committing those ideas to paper. So I apologize, and I do hope to write plenty more this 2017. In fact, I wrote this post over a month ago but as I hadn't taken any photos to complement it, or had a chance to edit the text, I kept forgetting to post it. Then Christmas busy-ness and the flu came along.....But I need to write more so I might even start my next post today and post it later when I have it edited. Wish me luck!

Anyway, I decided that I wasn't going to wait until I had a chance to edit this text before posting it. I wrote this in early Dec and so this is a bit out of date (ie., I have used it more and learned more about it since), but what is said here is still relevant. Here goes:

Product Review – Polar M200
First of all, Polar did not ask me to write this review; it’s of my own accord. Considering it’s a newer product on the market, I thought I’d be a helpful running citizen and offer my opinion. I also find that much of what I have read suggests that this watch is perfect for the beginner athlete. While I agree it’s great for beginners, I believe there’s more to it than that. So for other “not-so-newbie” runners out there who are like me and take your running pretty seriously, perhaps you will appreciate my perspective. This watch is pretty great for you too.

Photo credit: Polar
I can see why it’s targeted to beginners; the watch shows minimal stats for running workouts and also features a 24/7 activity tracker to help motivate you to be active. I don’t need the reminder to be active personally, but I don’t mind a bit of a virtual high five when I’ve kicked ass on a particular day!  And truly anyone can benefit from a watch that has wrist-based HR, accurate GPS, long battery life, and the unbeatable price-point retailing around $189. A serious yet recreational runner like myself can certainly benefit from this product too and I’m thrilled I made this purchase. In the same way that one size does not fit all for shoes, a runner’s watch / activity tracker’s complexity should also match a personal preference. I like that the watch itself gives me little feedback, but when I want to see more information, there’s a whole bunch of stats for me to sink my teeth into on the Polar Flow app (both mobile and desktop platforms).

Polar Flow mobile app - FYI, my heartrate was high for this workout as it was very cold outside and I was recovering from the flu.....perhaps I should have shown you other stats instead,  :)
First off, a caveat: I am not an expert at the more fancy-schmancy running watches out there. No, this watch is not going to track every detail of your workouts like those high-end Garmins out there. But for me, this is an absolutely perfect attribute. I mentioned it already, but I take my running pretty seriously. So if there’s any feedback, insight, or statistic that talks about my running, I am likely to obsess and stress about it. I used to run with something that told me too much info and it got to a point where that got me down, particularly when I was returning from injury and not quite as fit as I used to, and I was therefore not seeing the numbers I wanted to. I was at risk of losing the joy of the running and the ability to get lost in the meditative / thinking-of-nothing state because I kept staring at the numbers and wishing they were different. So once I could justify buying a new watch I opted for the simplest of the simple watches and got a Garmin Forerunner 10 which is a bare-bones GPS watch which I love. It tells me how far I went and how fast. Not much else (yes, I’m oversimplifying). For the most part, this is perfect!

But I have come to realize that a heart rate watch is a benefit to me to ensure I am indeed training my long slow distance runs at zone 1, rather than zone 2 (i.e. for me the zones I speak of relate to lactate thresholds and that other sciency stuff from past assessments - I should get an updated assessment to be sure of it). I know the science behind it, so it felt like time to start monitoring this again. I wanted a watch that had both GPS and heartrate, but I want to save my running budget for things like shoes and races. I also really didn’t want to have to wear an uncomfortable heart rate strap (to me it feels like wearing two sports bras; no thanks) and I was leery of wrist-based heart rate monitors and their accuracy. After reading positive reviews of the new technology behind this watch, learning of the price point, and trying the watch out for myself on a workout (thanks to my coaching gig at Running Room and thus meeting a rep from Polar), I decided it was the right choice for me and so I went for it.

Here are some benefits of this watch:
  •        Combination GPS and HR for a great price. It retails in that $189 (CAD) range, but I got an even better deal because of my work at Running Room
  •           Wrist-based heart rate monitor, and it turns out, this is very accurate
  • -         Interchangeable straps, you know, to match outfits! Simply pop the watch out and load it into another strap.
So many colour options!


  •      Waterproof design so you don’t have to worry about rainy workouts, and so you can give it a  rinse after a sweaty workout. I believe you can wear it in the pool too (don’t quote me on it), although it doesn’t track the stats a triathlete might want.
  •       What I’ve already shared regarding the simplicity of the watch and stats you see on screen. You can set up different screens and customize what you see when.

-          Loads of additional data can be seen on your activity and workouts on the Polar Flow app (e.g, maps, heart rate charts, graphs, etc.). It is super easy to sync with your phone via Bluetooth or on a desktop computer’s browser with a USB connection.
Desktop platform

-          Additional benefits of a fitness tracker, which, along with the simplicity of the watch, make this one marketed more for the entry level athlete. For me, I don’t consider myself entry level (I take things pretty seriously), but simplicity and cost-effectiveness are important to me, so this watch was the right choice for me.

All the benefits, the expected ones (mentioned above) and additional ones (which I’ll get to in a moment), made the Polar M200 worthy of a blog post! So here we are. In attempts to understand how this watch works, I have worn the watch in these conditions:

  •           As a watch, allowing it to track my daily activity on an “inactive days (day without a workout), days where my primary activity is going to the office to work, and a rest day from exercise
  •           As an outdoor GPS running watch, wearing it to track my distance, pace, heart rate zones
  •           Overnight to check sleep quality
  •          For an indoor treadmill workout (don’t judge, it’s winter and it was icy on the sidewalk) so I can see how it tracks my distance based on steps and continue to monitor heart rate
I have yet to try this watch for these activities
  •           A track workout where I want the watch to time hard run/recovery jog intervals – I am not sure what capabilities this watch has for this type of workout
  •           An 8-hour shift working at my running store job where I’m on my feet all day. I’ve always wanted to know how much walking I end up doing on one of these shifts because I always return home super hungry!

Additional Features of the watch that I’ve noted in my first week with the watch:

Activity tracking
  •  Bonus to the watch, thought I’d give it a try out of curiosity. This watch comes with a step counter. The concept of 10,000 steps is a popular challenge many try to get to as a daily goal. I am pleased to see that even on my “inactive days” (days without a workout), I get in this many steps or close to that anyway. Perhaps I don’t need the tracker and its gentle reminders to get up and move, but it’s been nice reinforcement that my already automatic tune of getting up regularly and taking the long route, or the walking route somewhere works.

-           24/7 tracking
  •            shows time spent lying down, sitting, standing, walking, and running as well as total distance covered (based on step counting + any workouts where distance was calculated based on GPS) 
  • -          neat feedback because I thought I’d only care about my actual workouts being tracked, but it’s nice seeing how much additional activity I was getting in a day. Every time I get out of my desk and walk to the office kitchen or washroom, the walk to/from the parking lot to the office, walking around at home while doing housework, out and about running errands, etc., this daily mundane activity all adds up and ‘counts’ but it’s activity I tend to forget about
  • -          Sleep activity – I wore it once overnight. Wasn’t uncomfortable, but I don’t like wearing jewelry of any kind to bed so likely won’t repeat. But again, I found the feedback interesting. I happened to wear the watch on a particularly long sleep. But I did get up a couple times to use the washroom and needed a bit of time to fall back to sleep after each instance. My watch was able to tell me that I was in restful sleep for 7.5 hours and restless sleep for 1 hour. What this tells me is that maybe simply shutting my eyes for 7-8 hours isn’t enough, because of periods of restlessness. 
Activity goals

You can set a goal for how active you wish to be daily, and the watch will suggest how to achieve it. For me, I picked a pretty high activity level as my goal. As a result, I don't get there on non-workout days, although I will still reach between 8,000 - 10,000 steps. 

On a run day, I often reach 300% or more of the goal, but whatever. I move my feet a lot, but of course, stride length is longer than walking. The goal tracker knows that even though you're stepping less, when you're running, you're covering more ground so it doesn't penalize you based on steps alone. It calculates how well you've done in relation to your goal, accounting for walking steps and running steps as different types of steps. I appreciate this! You can also set an event goal (ie., complete a 10K or marathon) and the Polar Flow will suggest a training plan – haven’t tinkered with this yet.    

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Racing 10Ks to finish off 2016

Wow, I am slee-peh! After a wet and chilly morning at the Fall Classic 10K at UBC, I warmed myself up with a hot hot shower at home, some leftover pasta, my fuzzy slippers, and even turned on the gas fireplace a few minutes. A bit of overkill, but as I sit on the coach in comfy pants watching the CFL playoffs (Go Lions!), my body is melting away, thinking of a nap, but my mind is buzzing excitedly after a great run today.

10K races have never been my favourite. The distance in of itself isn't a big deal and a distance I run quite regularly. But in a race environment where you want to run it in as fast a time as you can, it's what I call "a little taste of hell". I tend to avoid these races as a result, in favour of either shorter or longer races. A 5K, one can run at quite a high intensity and push quite hard, but it's a quick and dirty distance, done only a short while after it's begun. You might feel like you're going to die, but the finish line isn't far away so you get through it. When you're done, recovery doesn't take long at all.  As a result, the 5K is my favourite racing distance, and normally what I choose when given the choice between a 5K and 10K. A half marathon is much longer, but because of this, you pace yourself accordingly. The hell of this distance isn't breathing or heart rates going up and up, but the distance itself. If you train the distance, it's not a big deal to do this at the event. But a 10K is a piece of hell in between. You have still quite a ways to go to get to the finish line, yet you don't get to let up that much on pace. You are just a gear slower than a 5K pace, over twice the distance; it's both a challenge of high intensity and endurance.

My best 10K efforts were in 2013 and 2014. I actually don't even know what my personal best is because I always look at my 2013 Cunningham Seawall as my best. This race was 9.5km before it became a Rock N Roll event, and my best finish when adjusted for the extra 500m would be 51:08. But of course, I never actually ran a 51:08 10K. In 2014, I ran a 54:46 10K at Summerfast, so that's likely my actual best - it just doesn't feel that way because of that epic Cunningham result.

Then if you remember, I tore my calf in August 2014 and had a comeback to take on. It didn't take long to get my endurance back, but my speed took a hit. I won't rehash what a challenging year 2015 was for me, but since then, I've been working super hard to improve my fitness. But I also know I haven't done enough specific 10K training, you know, running longer intervals etc., as again, I prefer the short speedy stuff or the long comfy stuff and don't like the in between. I know that if I do this work, I will see the returns. I just have to decide what I want to achieve and then go after it. Don't get me wrong - I am still working hard as heck, but I could make that work more specific and see better returns in a 10K. I believe though that the work I've been doing would make for a quite good 5K. So I'm going to keep that up and try for a good 5K before 2016 comes to a close.

After registering for a few 10K races in 2015 and skipping them all due to injury and my bad year, I just ran 3 10K races since September. All went quite well and I'm thrilled.

There was that rainy rainy birthday run at the Eastside 10K, and I did quite well here, finishing in 57:38. Probably because I was eager to get out of the rain, or because I tried a new warmup routine called "hide in your car and whine about going outside" as opposed to my usual dynamic warmup + 2km jog.

Then I tried again at the Rock N Roll 10K in October, but I had a hard time after some recurring migraines leading up to the race. I was slower at this event, but was pleased with this finish considering the circumstances. I felt quite badass that I could do as well as I did considering I felt like absolute crap that week, coming in at 57:54. I originally thought I finished well over 58minutes, but it appears either I misread my watch (didn't stop it on time) or the official results were adjusted. I dunno!

I keep meaning to buy this photo and keep forgetting....

And then there was today's race, the Fall Classic 10K which was my best 10K finish since 2014, coming in at 57:05. I think I look rather cute in my blurry selfie with a combined sweaty and rainy mess of hair in my new pixie do. What an excessively large medal for running 10K, but I'll take it. I worked hard and it was a good race!



I firmly believe I am capable of a 55min 10K at this point in my fitness, again, and perhaps I could have achieved this if I had thought it through sooner and been training with longer intervals. A 5:25-5:30/km pace is pretty comfy and I held it for a good 7km. I had 2 sloggy kms after that before my 10th km wake up call. Up until that point of slogginess, I was with the 55min pacer and holding conversation comfortably. Then a hill came that I couldn't get my breathing right on and found myself playing catch up trying to find the pacer again, more and more runners getting between us. He slowly disappeared from my sight, but thankfully I quickly rid him from my mind too and focused on myself and the task at hand. Once I caught my breath and reset my pacing, I had a heckuva quick last km and finished running strong and proud.

Lesson learned today, and as I look ahead at future races, I'll be more intentional in my planning. I was a bit of a last minute planner with many of my races this year, and this was on purpose. My philosophy was built around the many missed races of 2015 that I didn't want to overly advance plan and face disappointment if I had to give a race a miss. I wanted to be spontaneous and enjoy myself at races rather than being super competitive. My attitude was "sure I'll run that one next week" rather than training for that one the whole time. But I've been injury free this year (touch wood) and my fitness is at its best in a long time so I think now I start advance planning a bit more. If I pair that with being intentional with my weekly speed sessions and how I tackle them, I can ensure they are preparing me strategically for the races I've selected. That prospect excites me. Let's see what 2017 brings!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon - October 9th, 2016

I did it! I completed lifetime half marathon #24 yesterday at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. It was a great day, and if you've been following along, you'll know that it was a special one for me. If you know me, you've likely figured out that at times, I can be a bit of a sentimental sap. You will also know that lately, I have not been friends with the half marathon distance, as for some unexplained reason, my legs seize into cramps. So I have been hesitant to do more half marathons this last while. I still do them, but my enthusiasm for them has been waning. I love the achievement and I love training the distance, but the pain of the cramps and the discouragement of being slowed down to a walk and to poorer and poorer finish times has been too much.

But when I realized that this half marathon was marking a milestone, I had to sign up. 5 years ago, this same half marathon was my "comeback". Crossing that finish line in 2011 was one of the biggest achievements of my life. This is despite the fact that it wasn't my first half marathon, and despite the fact that I would go on to run 3 marathons after. This was my "comeback half marathon" that would set the course for a long term, sustained, healthy lifestyle. It was so much more than just 21.1km of running.

My first half marathon in 2003.
I had run 2 half marathons previously, in 2003 and 2004, but I almost don't even count those ones. Those were when I first lost weight, about 100lbs in a year (too fast), and wasn't able to keep it off. I put it all back on, and more so still, in a short amount of time. When I was slim back then though, I for the first time in my life saw myself as beautiful and capable of athletic achievement. But none of that lasted. Even though the accomplishment of finishing those races is no less, I feel ashamed that I couldn't maintain my healthy self. All that work, and for what? Did I do my body good or more damage? I sometimes don't even mention that those races happened because I then have to explain what happened between 2004 and 2011.

When I made my comeback to health in 2008, my secret goal was that I could lose enough that running would be possible again. In 2010, I was almost at my goal weight, and running was possible again. After a few health issues I had to get past (that included two surgeries), I was ready to train seriously again, and I picked the Victoria half marathon in 2011 because of my friend Patti's recommendation. By this time, I'd lost around 120lbs, and I was the healthiest version of myself yet because I had lost the weight in a healthy, sustainable way. In the 7 years between 2004 and 2011, I had come a long long way. 5 years later, I am still running, and I'm at my healthiest weight, I keep getting fitter, (and I'd like to believe, I'm looking younger than ever)....But very importantly, I'm also no longer ashamed of my past. I embrace it, it's my story, and I've grown because of it.

At the Victoria Half Marathon in 2011
2008's health comeback was very much inspired by my father. I had just gotten to know him again after a difficult past and years apart. We lived together for 4 years, and it was the start of what I thought would be a long friendship. Unfortunately, life had other plans, and he was taken suddenly from me: a heart attack he couldn't survive. It shook our family, and it was a wake up call to me. How healthy was my own heart with my weight issues? After a year of grieving and recovering from this loss, I was ready to change my life. Initially it was about being heart healthy for my Dad, but I soon realized it was about being healthy for me.

And so you know, this blog was born, about 5 years ago, when I started training for this half marathon.

What's neat though, is that it didn't even occur to me that this race also coincides with a few other important dates. Dad's birthday is on October 6th and this race is always right around that date. The race also happens over Thanksgiving weekend too. So every year, when it comes to remembering Dad on his birthday, I'm somehow participating in this event. I wear his memory on my heart every year I run. And after I run, I spend the day with family to celebrate a holiday about giving thanks. I think about how thankful I am to have both the family I was born into, as well as the family I married into. But as I run and move my healthy body and cross the finish line, I also think of how thankful I am to be healthy, and to finally feel what it means to be alive. I am not a prisoner in an incapable body anymore. My body doesn't prevent me from experiencing my world anymore. It doesn't hold me back from confidently or boldly pursuing my dreams. It is strong and capable. It enables me to explore the world on foot and achieve greatness. Yes, any race, any training run for that matter, no matter what distance, is greatness.

And that there, this realization, is what achievement really means.

I could get all wrapped up in my personal battle with how I define "achievement" when it comes to running. My half marathons haven't gotten any faster. In fact, I have slowed down a lot. But I think I'm reconnecting with my love for the sport and with realizing that every step is a step forward. Every healthy action I take, is success.

So when asked if I had a time goal for this event, I joked and said, "somewhere between 2hours and 2.5hours, depending on if I cramp"..... I have to be mentally prepared that it might happen, that way I'm not overly disappointed if it does. I am fit enough to run it in that 2 hour range, but I took it slow yesterday, treating it the same as I would a training run, with a pace around 6:15-6:30/km. I crossed the 10km split in 1:03, so I knew I was in good form to finish in around 2:15. I did what I could to maintain this, held back when I wanted to go faster, sped up when I wanted to slow down, and checked my pace regularly on my watch in case I wasn't being a successful "body-whisperer".

My sister-in-law and niece were volunteering at the 13km aid station, so that gave me something to look forward to - some familiar faces and cheers. It helped a lot and gave me a boost at a very appropriate time. I made a silly face for a photo and kept going, and it took a while to wipe the smile off my face.

I should point out, I'm wearing my finisher shirt from 2011 here.

It was smooth sailing to the finish line, and I almost didn't believe it. Don't get me wrong, I was still uncomfortable, but there was no pain, no cramping, none of the stuff I have been experiencing in the longer races. It's like the universe was giving me what I needed to get through it positively. The stars aligned? Dad was watching over me? I did something right in my training that I didn't do before? Who knows what happened. But it was awesome. I even had the energy to laugh and socialize with fellow runners on the course. And now that I finished a half without pain, I'm hungry for more.

I know the course turn by turn, having run this race a few times now. So it gave me confidence to know for sure that the end was near. And just when I got around the final corner and could see the finish line, I knew I was there and I'd done it. Before that point, I kept thinking "don't get cocky, you could still cramp! Don't go all out, just in case" But then I could see the finish line and it was getting closer and closer. I started saying, quite out loud, "yes, you've done it!" and "Zee, you've done it!" . So when I crossed the finish line and was greeted with "congratulations Zee" (i.e. I personalized my race bib), I was almost delirious with joy. No tears though! :)

I didn't even look at the clock on the way in because I knew it had to be much better than my 3 previous half marathons of 2016. In all three of those, I cramped up. Here I didn't, and I had done a great job of pacing myself. I knew it had to be good. I crossed the line in 2:18:06, and while I still feel the need to explain that this is far slower than my best, I could not be any happier with my result.

She did it again!
So I am thrilled. I'm thankful. I'm not just thankful for this race's outcome, but for the gift of movement I have been given. I am thankful to be able to run, to be able to call myself healthy, to call myself an athlete. I am thankful and proud of who I am. I am thankful for the strength I have had to overcome all I have to get to where I am today. I am thankful of 5 years of long distance running, and many many more to come. 

At the finish line I reunited with my husband and my nephew (who ran the kids run), and spent the rest of the day with family celebrating Thanksgiving. How perfect! It was such a great day.

Thank you for your love, encouragement, and support through the years
<3 Zahida