Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 Year In Review

Here we are, days away from welcoming a new year again, 2014. I thought I would take some time today to review 2013. It was an incredible year for me and while it ended with a poor race and an injury to come back from, I have many reasons to be proud of all I accomplished in 2013. It was my most active year yet when it comes to races, participating in a total of 14 races: 1 marathon, 7 half marathons, 2 x 10km, 2 x 8km, and 2 x 5km races. In addition to that, I totaled about 2000km in running mileage, I made some amazing new friends through running, started training with a coach, won a fitness contest, and just recently launched a new career. It's been a great year! 

Here are my 2013 highlights, in chronological order

Sunshine Coast April Fools Half Marathon - April 2013:This was my best half marathon of the year when it comes to finish time, setting a new personal record of 2:00:48 (gun time). I did this race for the second year in a row, with friends there to join in on the fun. I'm back again in 2014. Read more...

Training with John Hill 
I met John at the April Fools Run through my friend and elite runner, David. I knew that John coached both elite runners and "serious recreational runners" like myself, but when I was at first told about his group, I wasn't sure it was suited to me. After meeting John and talking with him about the sessions and the group, it sounded like a group perfectly matched to me, and a great idea to join. He's really pushed me beyond my comfort zone to kick up my training to another notch, and it meant I saw real progress, and along the way, met some excellent running friends! The progress didn't translate to a better half marathon in 2013 after April Fools, but I had my strongest marathon, some great achievements at shorter distance races, and I hit some incredible milestones in training too that I didn't know I was capable of, inspiring great confidence in what I can achieve in 2014.

Social running! And lots of it!
This is something I didn't do enough of previously. Before, I trained for most of my races by myself. And while in many ways I love running solo, running with a friend or a small group adds a whole other level of enjoyment. It's quality time with friends, a chance to push one another, and try running in new neighbourhoods and trails. I spent lots of time this year running with friends, and I feel so blessed to have this community of active living enthusiasts in my life.

Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon - June 2, 2013
This was my 3rd, strongest, and most fun marathon. While I had the issue of cramping come up again, resulting in a slower finish time than I'd like, I had a blast at this race running the entire way alongside my friend Humphrey.  And the memorable vacation attached to it with time spent with my friend Megan, with my sweetheart Cam, and family members I'd not seen in years - few experiences compare with this. I did this race with Team In Training, although I trained my own way for this. I wanted to get the experience the TNT participants get on race event weekend while being a member of TNT staff It was indeed memorable and special. Read more...

Winning my first race!
Less than 2 weeks after the San Diego marathon, I ran my first ever 5km race for time. I registered at the last minute and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to do as well as I did despite very sore legs. I had also neglected to remember that I'd signed up to participate in a fundraiser 8km run only 2 days later, and seeing that there was prizing for the top finisher, I decided to give it all I had, and finished in first place! What a great ego boost it was! Read more...

Eastside 10K birthday party
A brand new race came to town 3 days before my birthday. I decided to make this race my birthday party, combining my love for running with friends with my love for community races. This was a very memorable race for me, being there to see my sister finish the race in under two hours as a walker (her fastest finish in a 10km event) and present her with her medal, as well as enjoying lots of laughs and memories with friends both at the race, and at the post-race-birthday brunch. Read more...

Winning the Steve Nash Fitness Clubs Success Stories contest
This here is still rather surreal! I was selected as one of 15 finalists in a contest by Steve Nash Fitness Clubs about fitness success stories. My good friend Kristy was also part of this. The experience included an amazing photo shoot, a marketing campaign featuring these photos, and then the big launch event on my birthday where I was announced the winner of the contest. It's been the most incredible experience, acting as a spokesperson for the company, and I've now launched into a new career with Steve Nash Fitness Clubs myself. Read more...

James Cunningham Seawall Race - Oct 27, 2013
This 9.5km race was my fastest race ever, and one of my biggest running achievements of 2013. Finishing in 49:08, this was the fastest average pace I've ever maintained over such a distance, instilling a new confidence in my running. I'd never seen myself as a fast runner before, just one with good endurance for distance. After lots of hard work this year with coach John and progress seen in training, I knew that I had the ability for a great finish time. At this race I not only discovered potential for me to do very well in shorter distance races, but a real enjoyment for them. I'm going to run less half marathons in 2014, only 1 marathon, and then focus on these shorter distances because hey, I'm good at it! Read more...

Launching a new career with Steve Nash Fitness Clubs
I made the difficult but important decision to leave my career at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (Team In Training) and accept a job offer with Steve Nash Fitness Clubs. I have only worked one day so far, all in training at head office, but I'm thrilled and excited to begin 2014 in the role of Operations Manager at the Downtown Sports Club, and be surrounded by a healthy environment where I can grow, learn, and hope to inspire others to achieve their fitness goals.


Thank you so much for reading this review, but most importantly, for your support and encouragement throughout 2013. Here's to a strong, fit, fun, and successful 2014! Happy New Year!

<3 Zahida

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Staying Motivated Over the Holidays

We all know what happens in December. The weather turns colder, daylight decreases to an all-time low, work commitments lessen while socializing increases, and it's very easy to fall off the fitness bandwagon. We all joke about holiday eating, how we're likely to need our stretchy pants, and of course, how right after Christmas we plan to hit the gym harder and/or set a new year resolution to lose the holiday weight.

In my opinion, it doesn't have to be exactly like that. December can definitely be a break from serious training, but it doesn't have to be a break from feeling good physically. If you maintain healthy habits in December, you're ready to hit the ground running in January to conquer those fitness goals you have. For me, getting active this December started a bit late after 3 weeks off completely due to my hip injury. But now that I'm back, it's been that much more important that I make fitness a priority, so I could get back to feeling like me, be energetic and able to be social over the holidays, and be ready for January and my plans to train for my 2014 races.

Here are my tips for staying motivated during the holidays. Perhaps I'm writing them a little late, but with Christmas dinners around the corner, and still a week away before New Year's resolutions are written, perhaps this is still relevant to you.

Schedule your workouts in advance
With December being a month of "active rest" for me, I have deviated from my usual Sun-Sat training schedule with long runs always being on Sundays, interval Tuesdays, weight-training Wednesdays, tempo Thursdays, etc. But even though I'm not following a strict regime, I'm scheduling workouts in to make sure staying active is actually happening. I'm just not freaking out about the quantity of runs versus weight training versus other activities. As long as I see there's a good amount of activity planned each week, I know I'm being good to my body. It helps if they are scheduled, in my calendar, and respected in the same way as social engagements. It's quality "me-time" and something not to neglect during a time where smiling and being the best version of myself for my loved ones is important.

Make it social

You're not following a strict personal workout regime, you need to schedule workouts, and the holidays are all about socializing, so why not combine them all together and make your workouts social. In planning your week's workouts, reach out to a friend to see if they want to join you, or find out what they have planned and ask if you can tag along. Working out with a friend or a group is a great way to catch up with one another and try something new. This month I've had the joy of running new routes, running with people I've never run with before and getting to know them, trying out new strength training circuits, and it's all been an absolute blast. I've been pushed in new ways, I've also pushed my workout partners, and I've not stressed about what distances I'm running or if it meets the requirements of a strict training calendar.

Wake up early and go early
For many, over the holidays work commitments lessen, and it would be very easy to have lazy mornings before busy days of shopping and socializing. When I'm scheduling my workouts, I remember that waking up early before was never an issue, so doing so now to make sure I get my workout in and start my day off right, is the way to do it.

The portable gym
You may be too busy to get to the gym or you're traveling over the holidays and don't have access to equipment. Putting aside a half hour for a body weight workout is a very good option. It's often easier to do this than plan runs while traveling: some winter climates aren't conducive to running outdoors, there aren't always available daylight hours when you have time, or you might not know where you're going. For a great workout, as all you need are your runners and some room indoors. Pump some tunes if you can. Do sets of pushups, burpees, jump squats, lunges, crunches, leg lifts, planks, etc., and boom, you have yourself a great workout.

Make it fun
Yes, a great way to make a workout fun is by doing so with a friend (as I've mentioned above), but it's important to make solo workouts fun too. For me, this has meant ditching the Garmin on my runs. I have a basic idea of how far I'm going, but without technology, I don't have any clue about how fast I'm going or how long it's taking me. I'm running because I love the sport and it feels good, not because I have to run a specific pace or distance to meet a training plan. I never run with music, but if you are one who does, consider swapping your playlist for some holiday tunes to get you in the spirit.

Moderation, not guilt
'Tis the season of baked goods, chocolate, restaurant meals, fine wines, and dinner parties. I am frankly tired of some health writers vilifying foods and saying you should "stay strong" not consume certain foods at all because of the type of flour it's made with or because of the sugar content, etc. This is where moderation comes in. Don't feel you have to be the one who says 'no' to everything your gourmet baker aunt has worked tirelessly to prepare for you. Having one cookie isn't going to break you. You can be polite and enjoy without indulging. Choose carefully, and enjoy every bite to their fullest so a small portion satisfies you. I take account for what I've eaten or plan to eat, not by counting calories exactly, but by recognizing that there will be some meals I have less control over. When I am the one in control, I plan to eat clean and leave home satisfied, so I don't over indulge at meals out. When I'm not in control of what I'm eating, I make myself very aware of how big my portions are. And it's hard to do this, but I do what I can to not feel guilty about enjoying my small treat. Enjoying food with loved ones is a big part of the holidays, and you don't need to feel like your goals have gone out of the window for partaking. Food is enjoyable for a reason, so enjoy it. Just don't overdo it.

For me, getting up early when it's cold outside and the warmth of my bed covers compel me is much easier when I keep in mind why I'm doing this. I work out because I enjoy it. I work out because I always feel better after I've completed a workout. I work out because I'm a priority. I work out because focusing on health allows me to be better in all aspects of my life. Why would I stop making this a priority just because it's harder to fit it in?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Getting closer and closer

So I've been a little quiet. I have found that when I'm not running, I have little to say about running as it's not on the forefront of my mind and daily activity. I've also been wanting to avoid saying anything that might sound remotely negative. It's rather difficult to talk about being injured and unable to run without it sounding negative, even if you try. Truth is, this has sucked, a lot. But despite the suckiness, I've kept my head cool about the whole thing. I'm not at all discouraged.

It's no secret I have a bad back. This is not the first time I've had an issue with my back and had no reason for it to freak out on me. This time it was a sneeze that brought it on. Yes, a sneeze. Past issues had been so severe that I needed assistance to get out of bed in the morning, and had I not had Cam to help me with daily functions like getting dressed, to the bathroom, cooking, etc., I would have been in big trouble. I've worked really hard to strengthen my back and core muscles to prevent this, or to at least lessen the severity of this. In fact, the biggest reason for me to join the gym was to learn how to strengthen. I believe it's worked wonders as I've not had a single moment of being in that kind of pain and uselessness with this current injury. I've been very independent still (despite needing help putting on socks a couple days) and I'm very very pleased about this. Perhaps with time, I can get strong enough that these moments will be a thing of the past. I'm confident I can get there.

But this time is a little different, as the issue is more my right hip, and my back is sore because of this hip's tightness. The moment I'm able to fire up the relevant muscle groups and/or stretch it out, the pain in my back is relieved. Most daily functions are fine. I can do almost anything, unless it requires prolonged sitting. This does mean that certain activities are not comfortable anymore - going for a coffee with a friend, getting a haircut, watching a movie in the theatre, or driving my car more than a few blocks. Yes, even writing this blog post has required shifts - type a bit, get up, walk around, come back and type some more. Again though, it's not a secret that my right side is my weaker one, and it hasn't been all that long that I've worked to address this imbalance. For the longest time I didn't even think it was an issue. But if I am honest with myself, I can't be surprised that my weaker hip is the one causing all this ruckus. It's telling me loud and clear that I need to work harder to address it. With time, I'm confident I can get the right side to be as strong as my left side and they can work together as equals.

So what about running? I haven't run in almost 2 weeks so surely I have mixed feelings about this. It's again, not because I'm discouraged, but more that I love running and simply miss the pleasure it brings my life. I love how running feels. I love how it feels after I've run. And one of the biggest reasons for missing running is that much of my social life is wrapped around running. I rarely do things like go out in the evening with friends, but I often train with friends or see them at races. I once joked with a friend how I've never seen her eat, yet we've had some of the best conversations - all on long runs together because that's a solid 2+ hours of quality time together talking. I missed a race last weekend, I've missed intervals with my group on Tuesday nights, and I've missed Sunday morning long runs with the girls. Being injured has been somewhat a lonely experience, although it hasn't been all that long and I've managed to find a few moments to socialize and energize myself.

Then there's progress. I could easily get upset about getting hurt right when I started to make progress again in my running. I was the fastest I'd ever been in my life and now it's been almost 2 weeks of no running at all. Surely I've lost some running fitness and it'll take work to get back to where I was before. But if I got there once before, I can get there again. And this time, it won't be as hard, I'm sure of it. Sure yes it sucks that I ended my race calendar with a very difficult half marathon, followed by not even lining up for my 5K race. But again, if I look at things honestly, I had a lot of great races in 2013 and there will be lots of opportunities for greatness in 2014. Time to be patient, stay focused, rehab my body, and come back strong. I'll be running again in about a week, and will have loads of time to get myself strong and ready to kick off 2014 successfully. I look ahead at those possibilities, and can't help but smile.

Friday, November 22, 2013

No, it's not going to happen this weekend

I think I've mentioned at least a few times about how my body likes to send me messages - loud and clear messages. It seems like my ambition sometimes forgets about moderation, and limitation. The last couple of times, it's been at approximately the same time I made the exact decision for myself, to slow down and take some recovery time off running, that my body makes a bold statement.  A prominent example is the very next day after I decided to drop from the marathon to the half in Victoria, my shoulder went out and I was off of running for weeks. And now again, this weekend was supposed to be my last race of 2013, a fun little 5km for me to test my speed, and my body gave up on me yesterday. 

I woke up with a dull lower back pain yesterday morning, and out of caution, I stayed home from work and worked remotely on my laptop, knowing that the drive to the office would be taxing on the body. All I needed was one sneeze to send my back into spasm. It's not the worst back pain episode I've had, but it has still been rather unpleasant. I'm mobile but I need assistance to put on my socks, and any task that requires bending or sitting for extended periods of time are ones I cannot do with the ease I should. Thankfully I believe I'm in the final stages of it. My back is sore, but not in pain, and the worst of my discomfort is in my hip joints. I'm sure I'll be running again in a matter of a few days. It's quite possible I'll be feeling better as soon as tomorrow but I'm being wise and not racing this Sunday. It's simply not worth aggravating things if my body is sending me a message to take it easy. If I feel ok, I might do a light jog, but only if I feel 100% sure it's a good idea, and I'm not showing up to a race where I'll be tempted to run harder than I should. I'll play things by ear about going to intervals on Tuesday too. The funny thing about all this was that I told myself that after this weekend's race, I'd cut back a little on mileage for a few weeks, limiting my harder workouts to Tuesday interval sessions and shorter tempos, rather than also doing big long runs on the weekend, and treating myself to more cross training. Again, I did not need my body to make the decision for me.

Well, I guess my body wins over my ambition this time, and this weekend's race is a wash. I called in a favour to the race director so I can make up for missing this one with an entry to a race in 2014, making this not a total loss. It helps that I recruited a squad of volunteers for the event so he's happy to do me a favour in return. Now if only I could get my body and my ambition to communicate with one another and do one another favours too.

A poor half marathon performance last weekend followed by me bailing on a 5km race this weekend was not how I pictured ending my 2013 race calendar. But if I look back on the year overall, really, it has been one heckuva year, and I really have a lot of incredible successes to reflect on and be proud of. 

Stay tuned for my review of 2013.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Race Report: New Balance Fall Classic Half Marathon - November 17, 2013

Today I ran my 7th and final half marathon of 2013, the New Balance Fall Classic half marathon at UBC. The number 7 did not end up being my lucky number today. I had a very bad race today, on what was otherwise a very fun morning, of course. No matter what happens in a race, I always enjoy the experience, being part of the running community, and out celebrating the sport I love. 

I carpooled in with my friend Sigrid. It was lovely having a chance to catch up with her and do a little warmup jog with her to get ready for the race. 

We bumped into our friend Rose near the start line and had time for a photo opp before some 100m strides to get our legs race ready. I think our coach would be proud!

I came into the race today with confidence I could do well. It was confidence founded in the fact that I am fitter, stronger, and faster than I ever have been in my life. At the very least, I should finally break the 2-hour barrier. But if I run at my goal pace, I could easily finish well under that. From the way training has been going the last few weeks, paces that have been unmanageable are now much easier, manageable, and totally sustainable. My most recent race prior to today, the James Cunningham Seawall Race, proved to me that I am indeed faster than ever. My interval workouts of late have surprised me. Everything leading up to today had the descriptor of "best ever" attached to it. Surely, getting under 2 hours should be inevitable. In fact, I should get well under that.

I don't expect a personal best (PB) on every effort. So I'm not disappointed about my finish time, per se, even though a 2:05:43 is much much slower than I am capable of. It wasn't my slowest time, and in perspective, I'm still pretty stoked that I'm even capable of running these races. But at the same time, knowing how well everything has been going for me this last while, I feel a bit ripped off that my performance was so poor when it really counted.

The part that's so hard to deal with is that the leg cramps came back again. I was running a very good race and feeling strong. I was mentally in charge too, completely focused and poised to finish well. My target starting pace was 5:20/km and it was a pace that was feeling very easy and would give me a finish time of somewhere around 1:52-1:53. Even if I had to slow down at some point, I should easily finish under 2 hours. And then it happened at the 14km mark - those awful quad cramps hit me on my left leg. I stretched it out as best I could which allowed me to at least jog a few more kms before they hit again, this time in both legs. I again stretched, took my time stretching in the way my coach advised, but it didn't help much. My pace slowed right down to a jog at somewhere around 6:30/km (at most, I was definitely slower at some points) and there was no way I could go any faster. The pain was excruciating. I was in tears of pain. I was disappointed too, but was not going to let the tears of pain turn to tears of sadness. I did everything I could to try to quell the negative thoughts. I admit I did consider quitting. I admit I questioned why I have registered for a marathon next year. But I soon realized that I AM a marathoner, and I am NOT a quitter. I was going to finish this race. I didn't care if it would completely suck, or how much it would hurt after, I was getting this thing done. 

By the time I finished, I was in extreme pain and in tears. I fought through the crowd to the medical tent, but unfortunately, the personnel working at the tent had absolutely nothing to offer me. I told them what was going on and all they could do was stare at me blankly and say "have a seat" - probably the worst thing I could have done at this time. They wouldn't even move the bag off the bench I was sitting on so I could stretch out. My friend Mary came by to see me and I asked her to help me stretch my legs. It helped a little, but I was unsure what to ask her to do, and she didn't know what to do, and the medical staff were still clueless and offering zero feedback. Luckily my personal trainer and friend, Lindsay, ran this race, and she so kindly offered me real help in stretching my legs out and calming down the screams of spasm they kept letting out. Thank you, Lindsay! :)

I went inside, changed into dry clothes, and headed over to where there was food and where friends were waiting to see me. I was so excited to see so many familiar faces, including the lovely Monica, one of my biggest motivators.

I'm home now, and knew I couldn't get on with my day without reflecting on today and writing about it. The big question I ask is WHY?! I pride myself in being positive as much as possible, but there are moments I question things and feel discouraged. What can I say but I'm human. I'm allowed to be upset from time to time. I'm allowed to feel down and out. And yes, today is that day; I'm feeling very discouraged. It's completely unfair that this should happen to me. I work so hard. I have been working so incredibly hard for so long. I'm strong. I do everything I can to get stronger. I'm dedicated and have invested so much of ME to progress. And this setback is so inexplicable. Before the quad cramps only ever happened in marathons, and it's now happened in back to back half marathons. Is this the new future of my endurance races? Or is this something I can get to the bottom of and get rid of for good? Is it my training? Is it nutrition? Is it muscle fatigue? Is it some sort of weird voodoo mojo bad luck thing? Is it something completely different?

I came home and Cam asked me how things went. I burst into tears of disappointment. He did everything he could to comfort me and to remind me that in his eyes, I'm still an amazing athlete. And really, I know that I just have to keep on keeping on. I know that who I am today is someone I should be very proud of. I shouldn't get down on myself because of two bad hours in my life. I shouldn't allow discouragement to take over and diminish all the good things I've accomplished. I simply just have to continue to work hard. I have a few halfs and a marathon in 2014 to prove I am stronger than my finish times reflect. But honestly, behind all this brave macho talk is a little voice that continues to question. I wonder how many of those distances I should do. I wonder how much more pain I should endure. Maybe I should only run long in training and consider only racing shorter distances. I am really lost.

After some food and a shower, I sat down to my computer to see what the goings on online were before setting 'pen to paper' on this blog. I was so pleased to see that Monica had sent me the loveliest graphic and quote by American long distance runner, Kara Goucher. This made me get all emotional all over again, but in a very good way.

My life IS wonderful, and today's poor race performance was simply a setback. Today was simply one day.

What's next? The Vancouver Historic 5K race on November 24th - time for race performance redemption with a nice FAST effort!

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Running "naked", running free, and becoming a body whisperer

I will never forget the moment when Cam came home with a surprise in his hands, my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch. I had recently committed to training for my comeback race, that half marathon in 2011 that began it all for me. He told me that because I was taking my goals more seriously, and running longer distances, I deserved to be treated with a tool that would help me measure my achievements. My Garmin over these last couple years has become an invaluable training partner for me. It's helped me measure all kinds stats of a given run so I can analyze how I did, and then track the stats of a comparable workout, so I can track progress as I become a stronger runner, or learn to be a smarter runner. It's tracked thousands of kilometres I've run, been on my wrist every race I've run, and it's helped me measure out several running routes all over the place. 

In early 2012 when I was training for my first marathon, there came a very scary day where my Garmin absolutely refused to turn on. I recall being rather distraught because I insisted I needed the darn thing. It was invaluable to my half marathon, and I NEEDED it for my marathon, my first marathon too! Nothing could go wrong. Cam was quick to remind me that people had been running marathons for many years, long before the invention of the Garmin GPS running watches. Of course, what he said was true, but a man's logical thinking only helps so much when I had become to emotionally attached and dependent upon this piece of technology. He told me I could go for my run and survive not knowing what my pace was (of course, his phrasing was much lovelier than this), and reminded me that I run because I love running, and maybe a day of running where I'm not in tune with the stats will do me good. I grumbled because sure I might survive that one run, but what about when I have to run 30km in one day? What then? What about the fate of my marathon? I shot Cam my look of disapproval, and with a frown on my face, I left for my run.

I ran a loop I'd run several times before, knowing it was exactly 6km long.  But when I returned to my front door, I decided to keep going. I didn't want to end this run knowing I'd run 6km, when the whole point was to run without stats. I ran a bunch of random loops around residential streets in my area and returned home when I felt like I was done. I have no idea how far I went, how long I had been outside, what time it was, or how fast I was going. It was still a good workout. In fact, it was a great workout; I felt amazing because I had no choice but to just be in the moment during that run, with no feedback to receive on how well I was doing. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're doing something well, just matters that you're doing it. I realized I was onto something. Little did I know that while I was out on this run, Cam was busy on his computer, googling, visiting running forums, doing what he could to troubleshoot how to fix my watch. He managed to reset it, and it's worked perfectly fine since then. (Bless him!)

The thing is though, when you get serious about your goals, the "need" for the watch comes into play frequently. I have 3 runs a week that have a specific purpose for the watch. 1) My long runs, focused on distance: my watch helps me ensure I've run the distance I need to and I've not gone too short or too far (2) My interval runs: my watch helps me track elapsed time and average pace on each interval so I can track if I'm going to achieve my goal time (3) My tempo runs: my watch helps me calculate my distance, my current pace, and my average pace, so I can see how well I am doing at keeping my pace consistent and within goal range.

So recently, I've been trying to incorporate more runs where technology takes a backseat. These are often that 4th run in a week that I do: the "fun run", or the "whatever run". Despite their titles that make them sound seemingly pointless, these runs have been invaluable to me, and their purpose is powerful. They've restored my joy for running, because I get to run just for the sake of it. But they have also helped me hone some skills in running I didn't notice were valuable or that I needed to work on beforehand. These have also helped me not feel so dependent on my watch (or upset if I failed to charge the watch before a big workout) and I honestly believe the secret to my success at my most recent race was because I was comfortable with the idea of not looking at my watch.

These low-tech or tech-free runs take two forms: runs in which I either don't wear the watch at all (a kind of running I categorize now as "running naked" thanks to my friend, Sean), or where I do wear the watch, but switch up my screen so I am only looking at one stat during the run, rather than many.

"Running naked" can take many forms, and as its name suggests, it's about freedom and sheer joy. At times, it feels almost like you're getting away with something! For example, going for a mid-week run with a friend, more of a social call, two people of different paces and abilities who love to run and socialize by running. It shouldn't matter how fast we're going or how far, as the purpose is just having a really good time with another person.  Or say I'm doing my 4th run of the week which frequently is my "10km hilly run". I have a few of these routes mapped out and memorized so I don't need to measure the distance and I could care less how long it takes. I just go, I often go "naked", and I always finish satisfied. "Naked" running is also very valuable when you're returning from illness, injury, or other hiatuses from running where knowing pace would be discouraging because you know what you were once capable of and don't need the reminder of how out of shape you now are; you just want to want and enjoy what it means to run again. And it's fantastic for when you're on holiday and you want to go explore a new area and enjoy all it has to offer on foot. You're exploring first, running second.

Running wearing my watch but only tracking one stat during the run serves a whole other purpose. This is where becoming a body whisperer comes in. It's all about learning to trust your body to tell you how you are running, not some piece of techology. Here are a few examples:

The out and back timed run: 
This is one of my favourite kinds of runs. I choose a route that I know the level of difficulty will be similar in both directions, so a place like the seawall is perfect. I either go 15-20 min in one direction at interval pace, then take 5min to recover before going back in the other direction, starting the second 15-20 min session at the exact spot I ended the first. Or if I'm doing a more moderately paced run, I will simply run the 20 min out, then turn around and head back right away. In either scenario, the goal of the second half of the run is to remember where I began the first half, and try to overshoot it in the time I have left (ideally) or simply get there right on time. This is a great way to work on keeping pace consistent and steady or to practice negative splits. 

Running by feel:
This is exactly what it sounds like. This can be not fretting about pace appearing too fast when it's supposed to be easy....I know these days as my speed is improving, my "easy" pace is getting re-defined. What's easy on a hilly course versus flat is different, but as is an easy pace when I'm fully rested versus tired. So instead of fretting about what the pace is on my watch, I simply go with how it feels. If I can hear my breathing and can't talk easily, I'm going too fast. I only look at my watch on these long easy runs to verify distance. I ignore pace, and then after the run, if I do look at what pace I was running, it generally is in the range it should be. So why fret?

The running by feel idea was huge for me when I was returning from injury and the low iron thing. Everything was slower than it "should" be, but if I would simply get the workouts in at the same quality/intensity as they were before, pace would eventually drop again. And it did. This was particularly important for my tempo runs. For a few months, I didn't track my pace at all during or after the runs, just based it on the effort that a tempo should feel like. I've only started looking at pace again the last 3 weeks, and they are the fastest tempos of all time :)

There's probably lots of great resources out there on being a body whisperer. I'm trying to learn as much as I can by practicing these runs regularly, and I am getting good at it. If you see a resource that I might enjoy, please feel free to pass it my way. Here's one I found recently in Runner's World titled Becoming a Body Whisperer.

What's next? The New Balance Fall Classic half marathon on November 17th

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Please "Like" my Facebook page

Dear readers, I'm excited to announce that I've created a new Facebook page! With all the love and support this blog has received, this seemed like the perfect next step. Please check it out, like my page, share with your friends, and don't be shy about posting directly on the page. I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Race Report: James Cunningham Seawall Race - October 27, 2013

I had a great time today at the James Cunningham Seawall Race this morning. This was a race I only learned about last year, and put on my list for races I wanted to try to get in this year. I'm so pleased that I did because it was a beautiful day, a great race, and I am very proud of how I did.

Over the last month or so, my fitness has seen dramatic improvement after the setbacks that got me in the summer. The last 3 weeks, my interval runs have been at the pace they were back in the spring, but I'm performing better in them as on a given day, each interval gets faster (rather than starting fast and losing steam). My coach has had me doing my tempo runs every week without pace measurement since the low iron issue came about, and have them be about relative effort instead. This past week I cheated and while I still didn't look at pace during the run, I looked at it after, and was very pleased with the pace I clocked as it was the fastest tempo I've had since pre - San Diego marathon. I've also noticed dramatic changes in my performance at the gym in my strength workouts and what I'm able to do with relative ease compared to before. My core muscles are taking shape in ways I am excited about (I catch myself poking at my own tummy and smiling), my legs feel powerful, and I can't find words to describe how strong and alive I feel. I can honestly notice its translation into good posture and a more efficient running stride.  The last few weeks have been a big confidence boost. I'm definitely back to where I was before, but I am also inclined to think that I'm actually slightly beyond where I was before and on the brink of bigger improvements if I keep working hard.

I was very excited about this race as an opportunity to test my speed. This has been my first real opportunity to do so since mid-June when I ran the Longest Day 5K and two days later, won the 8K at my friend's fundraiser race. While it might be that those races were too soon after my marathon to really judge, today's race was a faster performance than both those June races. I was really careful this week about my workouts following my plan and the food I ate being what would make me feel my best today. This morning I had a really good balanced breakfast, more than what I'd typically eat before a 10km effort, to ensure I'd be amply fueled for the day without want of water or sport drink during the race. I was ready for a good solid race and I knew it was destined to happen.

I am really thankful for a 10am start to this race as I had a bit of an adventure beforehand. Yesterday I went to pick up my race bib at the West End Running Room store and meet a friend for lunch. When I was ready to head home again, my car wouldn't start. I gave it some time to think, tried again, and thankfully this time it started; I was able to get the car and myself home without too much hassle. It also allowed me to come up with a strategy for this morning. After having breakfast, I'd try to start the car, but do so early in case it doesn't start. If it starts without trouble, drive myself to Stanley Park, and hope for the best that it starts again after the race. I'd get there early, but I could stay in the car to stay warm until I was ready to start my warm-up run. If the car starts but only after some convincing, consider leaving it at home to avoid it getting stranded in Stanley Park. And of course, if it doesn't start at all, stop trying to make it work, get on with the day, and do whatever needed to get to the race.

You guessed it, the car didn't start. It gave me no indication it wanted to start; it simply coughed and gave up. I'm frustrated to say the least as I just spent a bundle fixing the cooling system on the car and now don't know what is needed to fix it again. But I put that out of my head and followed my plan. I ran back into the apartment, left behind all my things, swapped my keys, grabbed the bus fare I prepared the night before and off I went to catch the bus. I waited and waited and the bus did not come. It may have eventually come, but I knew if it didn't arrive in the next 2 seconds, I'd miss the connection to the bus that would take me downtown, and it was nowhere in sight. The next one would get me to the race much later than I'd want. I wouldn't be late for the race, but I wouldn't get in a warm up. So I thought, to heck with it, let's start the warm up now! I booted it hard down Lonsdale to catch my connecting bus and caught it in the nick of time as it was just pulling away from the curb. I'm sure the driver saw me running down the sidewalk with my race bib on and was kind enough to stick around.

The bus pulled away and I was able to relax. Took a seat, took a deep breath, and planned the rest of my warm-up. I got off the bus on Georgia and Gilford and ran around the Lagoon and the part of the seawall in the immediate vicinity of the startline. I ran a good 3.5km to warm up (if you include the run from bus stop to bus stop in North Van) and felt like my legs weren't quite loosened up. After freshening up, I ran a little bit more, than found a quiet stretch on the seawall to do 4x100m strides to get the cobwebs out. That helped a bunch and I knew then I was ready and primed to go so I headed to the start line to find my friends that were at the race. It was great to get a few laughs in, and ya, complain a little about my car, and check out all the various costumes people were sporting for this pre-Halloween run.

The gun went off, and it was time for a good race! My goal pace time was to start at 5:10/km but this would be ambitious the first km or so, trying to negotiate the crowds. Instead my first km was a 5:17, then I finally had room to move and I went for it. I made a pact with myself to not look at my watch too much during the race. I have a tendency to do two things when I see my pace on my watch - 1) beat myself up if I'm below goal pace 2) panic and question if I should slow down if I'm going too fast as I don't want to burn out too fast. The thing is though, I've been improving these last few weeks, I don't really know what "too fast" is, and neither thought is productive or positive during a race. Why get wrapped up in the numbers or become a slave to my watch when I'm honing my "body whisperer" skills. If I feel really good while my pace is "too fast" according to my watch, I shouldn't slow down: I should trust how I feel. Not looking at my watch allowed me to be ignorant at my pace and more in tune with me. Sometimes a discrepancy between ideal versus actual pace measurement only equates to a few seconds here or there,  but the negative thought patterns associated with it can be more detrimental to athletic performance. It's way more important to be tuned in to how the effort feels, where my breathing is, how I am feeling overall, and be able to assess honestly whether or not it's sustainable to run at that level for the entire distance. I'm a living being, not a robot, so I should listen to myself, not a gadget.

After that first km of crowd negotiation, I saw room open up for me to find my pace. I went for it, and kept my mind tuned into my body the whole way moving forward from here. I didn't let it wander to any other topic but the course, my race strategy, my breathing, my form, the runners ahead of me I sought to pass...all race-related thoughts the whole way forward. Knowing the seawall so intimately was also an advantage, as I selected visual place markers that I know well to focus on. It helps so much mentally to focus on hitting each place marker than trying to take on the entire overwhelming distance all at once, or again, focus on km markers or "numbers". One thing I'm very good at is finding a pace and keeping it consistent. I looked down at my watch once early on to verify where I was at, then turned my attention away from it; I tuned inwards to how I was feeling to make sure I was maintaining that same pace, rather than letting the watch tell me. I didn't look at it again until I passed the 5km sign, and I was pleased to see I passed it at 25:05 and my body was showing no signs of wavering. I told myself to keep going and not look at the watch again until I got to Siwash Rock. I don't know why I picked this point, probably because I would know then exactly how far I'd have to run to get to the finish line at Second Beach. Again here, looking at my watch was just to verify pace, and I soon turned my attention back on course, back on me, back onto my strength and unwavering stamina, and the runners ahead who were clearly getting tired and I was within reach to pick off one at a time.

Great conversation at my last Tuesday session helped me too. One of the girls I train with that recently nailed an amazing PB at the Victoria Half told me about her strategy and John talked to us both about how we have the "racer" mentality - not allowing the mind to wander from the race during the race. I kept these things in mind the whole way.  I'm very thankful to have community of runners who not only make running fun, but challenge me and add to my running toolkit with every conversation and every training run.

I approached the finish mats and could see the clock still showing well under 50min. I knew it took me a while to cross the start mats so my chip time was going to be much much better than what the clock showed, but I was determined to ensure my gun time would also be sub-50. My gun time came in at 49:46 and my official chip time 49:08 and I'm super proud of this accomplishment. 

After enjoying the awards ceremony and some hot coffee, I ran back to Georgia and Denman to catch my bus to North Van, then from the bus stop home again, making my total mileage for the day a very satisfying 16km.

Next up - the New Balance Fall Classic half marathon on November 17th.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon - October 13, 2013

I completed another one, my third medal earned this past Thanksgiving weekend at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon.

2011 half marathon, 2012 marathon, 2013 half marathon
As I mentioned previously, I was really excited about the race, my 'runniversary', and a half marathon course I know very well. I knew that my training was shorter term due to setbacks, but I sure worked hard enough to have me prepared to run the race well. I was cautious to plan the days leading up to the race to be restful ones. Tuesday was my last big workout, and all I had between then and race day was a little 5km run - which was less than I'd planned even. I should have felt well-rested.

And after last year working both Friday and Saturday at the expo and having tired legs on race day, I was careful again this time to have less time on my feet, and recruited enough volunteer help to make the event manageable. But for some reason, Saturday, I was absolutely exhausted. I was terrified I was going to get sick. Got that itchy feeling in the back of my throat, my nose was runny, and I feared I'd be as sick going into the race this year as I was last year. I stayed in as much as I could, lay down, drank water with electrolyte tabs, and tried to shake the feeling. It simply wasn't going away.

Somehow I woke up feeling refreshed on Sunday morning, ready to take on the race. My legs were still a bit sluggish, but mentally, I was pumped and excited to go. I remembered what coach John told me, what pace to aim to go at, and not a second faster. My plan was to start slower than that until the crowds eased up a bit, find a groove, then go a bit faster. I wanted to keep a good pace the first third but on a conservative side, push a bit harder the middle third, and then once we hit Dallas Road and the course would be flat or downhill (mostly), along the coastline all the way to the finish, kick it that extra notch. Everything was going according to plan. I felt strong physically and I was really in check with my body and my strategy the whole way.  

Then the unexpected happened, my quad muscles in both my legs (more so the left) cramped and bad. I was in complete disbelief as this has never happened to be in a half marathon before - it's happened in all 3 marathons so far, although less so with every one I do. When I've had cramping in my calves, I can almost withstand it, run through it (albeit slower), or deal with it a bit easier. Those I've deduced have been about electrolyte balance, and since the first time it happened in a race, I've figured out my strategy for avoiding those and they've not come back. But the quad cramps, I know it can't possibly be simply a matter of nutrition, but a result of muscle fatigue - afterall, the only other times it's happened was late into my marathons. Somehow whatever it was I was fighting on Saturday that made it hard for me to move my legs, it sucked the life out of them. I could only fool them into running this race about 17km before they quit on me. Quad cramps are almost impossible to run with - absolutely debilitating and painful as heck.

The moment the cramping kicked in, I knew the personal best time I was chasing was a goner. I would have had it if I could have maintained my pace another 4km. I had the energy and the will the do it - I could visualize and taste that fast finish. But my quad muscles had another plan. Somehow, I stayed positive, told myself that with only 4km to go, I can simply deal with the pain, do what I need to do, and still finish strong within a respectable time, even if not a best time. I kept the smile on my face, enjoyed my surroundings, and kept this positive outlook. Getting mad would not improve the situation, so I had no choice but to make lemonade.

I found a nearby tree and made my way over to it to lean on as I stretched my quads out for a couple minutes. Yes, 2 good minutes added onto my finish time right here. The next 2kms, all my quads could muster was a slow jog, a good 1min/km slower pace than what I had been averaging over the previous 17km. So here, another couple minutes to add onto my finish time. Finishing under 2 hours was now officially doomed. I had a couple kms left and I was ready to push a tiny bit harder after another good stretch walking through the last aid station. I ran hard, despite the pain in my legs, knowing it wasn't too much further to go. Next thing I knew,  the "400m to go" sign was within sight. I flicked the speed switch into the 'on' position and picked off the a few runners ahead of before hitting the finish line at full tilt. My legs screamed at me the moment I crossed the finish and had to come to a stop, but I was pleased that even with all that pain in the final kms, I was able to cross the line in a strong time of 2:03:43.

Flying to the finish
So I had said I wouldn't beat myself up if I didn't achieve my goal. I know full well that had I felt better physically going into the race, I would have done so much better. I don't know what I was fighting off, but it was nasty and messed me up good. Yes, I am frustrated that I was so close to achieving my goal, and I didn't....again. Yes, I am frustrated that something went wrong on race day......again. But I don't expect perfection. I will just try again. I am only starting to be 'back' again, so the results I'm looking for WILL come. It's just a matter of time. With every race, whatever the outcome, there's learning involved, more wisdom and experience to store in my toolkit. And regardless, every race I do is an achievement, especially when I consider where I started. This was only a 2 year runniversary - I'm relatively new to this sport.
I really had fun with the race too. This is a race I'll come back to annually for the foreseeable future, for certain. Part of it is that it's in Victoria, Cam's hometown, so we have an added excuse to be in town, visit with family, and spend Thanksgiving with them. The other part of it is the beautiful medals (see photo at the start of this post) and beautifully designed race finisher garments - all of the ones I've earned I wear with pride. But really, this is an extremely well-organized race that is so positive and when you're out there, you feel like the whole community is out there backing you. There's cheering everywhere, not a corner where you feel alone, music, witty signage, families out to cheer on loved ones, positive volunteers, and so many reasons to smile along the way. I'll definitely be back again in 2014 - just need to decide on the half or full marathon!

I came over on Friday to set up the TNT booth at the expo and Cam arrived the following day to join me. Friends running this race also all arrived on Saturday. This included Joe who'd never been to Victoria before, and had never celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving. So we got to cheer him into finish his race after I finished mine, and then bring him over for turkey dinner with the family.

Finisher medals as an appetizer?
And my dear friends, Nancy and Sean, were out on the course doing the full marathon. The timing of the marathon is a later start than the half so that I could finish my half, go back to the hotel to freshen up, pack, eat, check out, and then head back to the finish to watch them come in. I was so excited to see these smiling faces. Congratulations!!!

Marathon Maniacs?
I admit though, being at the finish line of the marathon brought on some unexpected feelings. I saw some people get emotional as they finished, and while they were strangers, I almost cried watching them. It brought back that emotional feeling I got every time I crossed the finish line of my marathons. That overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. Perhaps I never quite got over the fact that I couldn't do the marathon this year in Victoria. But perhaps it's more that I realize I need to do another one - I owe it to myself!  So here we go, I'm now signed up for my next marathon, given there was a race I had my eye on and there was a 20% off coupon in the Victoria Marathon virtual race bag. On June 1st, 2014, I'll be running the Calgary Marathon - the oldest marathon in Canada, celebrating its 50th anniversary. It should be a great event. Plans for Victoria in 2014 are to be determined - will likely want another go at the marathon, but it all depends on what happens in Calgary. And besides, this race has proven to have an awesome half marathon, and I have a goal to hit on that course too.

Next up - James Cunningham Seawall Race on October 27th.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Runniversary

A quiet evening tonight in Victoria, after an eventful day - day 1 of the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon weekend. This is my third year in a row at this event, and I proudly look ahead at Sunday's race as what I am calling my 2 year 'runniversary'.  Two years ago, in 2011, I ran the half marathon event at this race. It was an incredibly special and emotional day for me, completing my 'comeback race'. It was my first half marathon in over 7 years, one where I beat my previous half marathon finish time from 2004 by 28 minutes. It was a race that set my running obsession on fire, as I worked so hard to get to that moment. It was training for that race that sparked the idea of starting up this blog, to tell the tale of this ordinary girl who struggled with her weight her whole life, lost a bunch of that weight, and then had this crazy idea of running a half marathon. One of the best outcomes of setting this goal back then was that I trained with and raced with one of my dearest friends, Patti. It brought us even closer together as friends, and through her, I discovered what it meant to be part of the running community. And now looking back, having run in 9 other half marathon races and 3 marathons since then, and working and living in the running community, it seems odd that it's only been two years since this all happened. Two very life-altering years.

With Patti after finishing the half marathon in 2011
Last year, in 2012, I returned to this race, this time completing the full marathon challenge. It was a tough race, not just because it was twice the distance (haha!), but because I ran it with flu-like symptoms, and it was also an unseasonably warm day. But it was my 2nd marathon finish of the year, knocking off 7 minutes from my previous finish, and a day I won't soon forget. I also quietly ran this race for Dad, it falling the day after what would have been his 70th birthday, 5 years after his passing. I was very proud of my accomplishment at the race this day on this very emotional weekend.  

A moment of intense pride in 2012
And now, I'm back again for the 2013 event. I signed up for the marathon option again the moment registration opened, I can't even remember when. Given I had such a hard go at it in 2012 and I was now familiar with the entire course, I had to try again. I'd been excitedly looking forward to the race ever since. It was, as a result, a very difficult decision to make when I had to drop down to the half marathon distance after the training setbacks this last while. If it were any other race, it might not have been so hard. But this race, there's a whole other pile of sentimentality tied up in it. But considering the journey these last 2 years has taken me on, perhaps returning back to the half marathon distance is in fact what I should be doing. I have many future opportunities to do the marathon, perhaps even in 2014. Sure in 2012, I completed 2 marathons and 2013 will only give me the one I did in June. But last year I ran 6 races, and this effort on Sunday will be my 13th race of 2013 (with at least 3 more to come). I'm quite pleased with the diversity of race distances I'm now challenging myself to, trying to discover a faster runner that must reside somewhere within me.

This race has become a bit of a tradition, and perhaps something that will continue to be so every year (or many years anyway). The fact that Victoria is Cam's hometown means that participating in this race makes for a very special weekend where we can visit family for Thanksgiving as well. I'm here in our hotel room, in the same hotel as the previous two years, right near the start and finish lines. In fact, the room is identical to last year's (maybe the very same room!) and feels very much like home as a result. I just returned from the same grocery store in James Bay I bought my pre-race groceries at the last two years. But this year, it's all very much different. 2011's race I did with my friend (and training partner) Patti, but last year's race was a solo run. This year, I can't even count how many people I know who will be there running on Sunday. My friends Nancy and Sean (running the full) will be sharing our suite in the hotel tomorrow, Joe (running the half) will be joining for Thanksgiving dinner, several people from my Tuesday interval clinic are here, including our coach, and there's a whole pile of TNT people here too. I'm that much more into this running culture and running community now. This runniversary is to celebrate that too.

My goal this Sunday is simply to have fun. Yes, I have a quiet finish time goal in mind. I know I can achieve it based on current fitness and how recent training runs have gone. But I also know that I didn't put in a complete training cycle, I only really started focusing training on this race again in early Sept, so I can't expect all the pieces to be in place. I am not letting any of that get in my head though. I'm going to give it what I got, but if things don't go well, I won't let that get in my way of enjoying myself and I won't beat myself up. But I have every confidence I can and will do well. I know the course inside out, every turn, every hill, up or down, every milestone, and where exactly I can push hard because I know that finish line approach oh so well. And I also know the emotion and excitement of the event will be something I can feed off of positively. Coach John gave me some great tips for the mental game for this race. With every race, there's more strategy to learn. Every effort, I add a little something extra to my toolkit. Experience and maturity have every bit to do with success as training. I'm ready to take this on.

After setting up the TNT booth at the race expo and working my first shift there, I went for a quick run this afternoon. I didn't get my run in yesterday because we got last minute free tickets to the Canucks game.  I was feeling rather exhausted after a late night last night, an early morning this morning, and then the physical labour of setting up a race expo booth alone. So I figured a short run was the perfect remedy for this (followed by an excellent 90 minute nap!). I headed toward Beacon Hill Park and then down to Dallas Road, following that all the way back around the final 3km of the marathon and half marathon route, to where the finish line will be in front of the Legislature on Belleville. I wore my finisher shirt from 2011 with pride, and took a trip down memory lane of this race. I was pleased at the number of runners out doing the same route, smiling to acknowledge me, perhaps on their own journey to mentally prepare themselves for the event on Sunday

I passed the point on the course where last year I had lost hope after many kilometres of fighting muscle cramping. I remembered what it meant to see Cam there, smiling and cheering for me, and how that turned my outlook around. I passed the mark where 2 years ago, Patti asked me if I was ready to turn it up a notch with only a couple km to go and together we went onward to a strong finish. And I passed the corner where last year, delirious from the marathon, I got way too excited over a group dancing to Gangnam Style (I don't even like the song, but in that moment I did...), one jumped out to cheer me on and high five me, and from that point forward, I ran hard and fast, picking off every runner ahead of me I could still see on the course, one at a time. And then I passed the finish line area, quiet this afternoon with a only a few strolling the Inner Harbour, recalling the emotion of crossing the finish line the last two years, and visualizing the crowds around me: the cheering, the cameras, and all the post-race fun awaiting me.

Sunday, I'm ready to take you on! Stay tuned for my race report. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Race Report: Surrey International World Music Marathon - Sept 29, 2013

This past Sunday, Sept 29th, I ran my 12th race of 2013, the 5th half marathon for the year too. What an awesome day it was, at the 2nd Annual, Surrey International World Music Marathon. This wasn't a race I had originally planned on doing, but one that piqued my interest as I'd heard a lot of good things about this race from those who ran it in its inaugural year. And among my network of running friends, I was hearing about more and more people who wanted to join the fun this year. I decided the half marathon in Surrey was the perfect race to do leading up to Victoria, when I had in mind to do the full marathon there. But after it became clear I was doing the Victoria half, I realized it was somewhat unconventional to do two half marathon races within two weeks of each other. Not so much about the distance as it is the recovery after taking that distance at race effort. My hesitations about the timing of the event meant that I procrastinated and hummed and hawed about signing up for the longest time.

I was generously offered a sponsored entry into the race from Bosa Properties who were looking to promote their new condominium development coming this fall in the Surrey Central/SFU neighbourhood called University District. I accepted the offer, had them register me in the race, and quickly changed my plans to make this race fit. I was happy and excited to run and wore their shirt for this race with pride. 

Flying to the finish line.

Knowing that Victoria has always been seen as my fall "A race", Surrey was a race with a different sort of goal attached. I'm proud to say I achieved that goal. 

After several weeks of not training up to the mileage I had wanted to (injury, low iron, that stuff I've talked about here before), I had only done one training run above 18km in about 6 weeks. Most long runs hovered in the 12-16km range before I ran out of energy or was in too much discomfort to continue. But in the 2 weeks leading up to Surrey, I took a turn (for the better) and went into the race with the confidence I would do well, but with a plan to not run it too hard: take it as a tempo effort, enjoy the run, enjoy being there with lots of friends and the TNT gang, but don't try to run it with all my gusto and try to get a personal best. It is hard to go to a race with this mentality and maintain that mentality the whole way. I mean, I was feeling good, I lined up excited to go. Anytime you line up at a race, in the company of super charged athletes, and adrenaline in the air, there's a chance to try for a new PB. But I remained true to the original plan. This was not about time - I hadn't trained for that, and that was not the point. It was about getting through all 21.1km comfortably, strong - an opportunity to remember what a long run feels like and to run a longer tempo effort. I did take a couple short breaks (one to even take my shoe off to remove a pebble), and didn't shy away from diverting my attention to other runners on the course that I knew and wanted to cheer on.

I achieved my goal, found a groove at a comfy pace, and finished in a strong 2:06:35. Although this result is slower than I am capable of, it is a result I'm very pleased with. It confirmed to me that I'm back! I'm back, I'm strong, 21.1km is a comfortable distance for me, and I'm ready to give that distance a harder effort at my race in Victoria next week. And since I didn't take the race too hard, I didn't need any more than a day of rest to recover and was able to resume training right away.

The race itself was super fun. It poured rain before and after the race, but was somehow just a light drizzle or even dry for the time of the race, and the temperature was very comfortable for running like an early fall morning should be. So while I got wet, I stayed comfortable and warm the whole run.  But yes, eager to change into dry clothes right after finishing. The route was great, challenging with some rolling hills, but interesting with a mix of green space and residential neighbourhoods, lined with cultural music, dancing, and cheering. There was a lot of unique sounds, diverse musical style, dancing, costume, and so many reasons to smile. And at the finish line, the biggest medal I have ever seen (and ever earned) awaited me!

Dry clothes, friends, and big heavy finisher medals.

This is definitely a race I'll return to and run again. It was a great race, followed by a fun lunch with friends after, and a day filled with great memories.