Sunday, April 21, 2013

6 more weeks, and reflecting along the way

Two weeks ago, I ran my last race. It feels like forever ago now, given the very eventful past week with the Boston Marathon bombing occurring almost a week ago. Today was the Vancouver Sun Run, Canada's biggest 10K race, attracting about 50,000 runners and walkers every year. While it was the first race I ever ran (I can't even remember when this was, it was so long ago), it is one I typically miss every year in favor of smaller races, as I don't particularly like big crowds. But somehow today was very different. I woke up wishing I was running it today. I've always thought of the Sun Run as not the ideal racing condition for an athlete of my calibre. It's great if you're much faster and at the front of the crowd. And it's perfect if you're relatively new to the sport and finish time isn't the goal, as it's very much a large-scale community event and celebration of active living. Given the happenings in Boston, this last statement was so much truer this time around, and I was saddened by missing out: missing this massive movement of celebration of the sport of running and solidarity for Boston. I would have gotten myself a last minute entry when I was at the expo this weekend, but I had my last art market to attend today that I was committed to. I think I will have to give serious thought next year to registering for the Run. 

I am so proud of everyone I know who participated in the Sun Run today. For some, this was a first race experience. And I know how special that feeling is, finishing a first race! Congratulations to those who achieved a first today! Hope you feel inspired to keep going!! And then there are several others I know who achieved a personal best today! Big congratulations to you too! When I got home from my art market, I promptly logged into Facebook and Twitter to see what my friends were saying and I was so pleased with the number of happy posts and photos. 

I was most curious about my friend Kristy, who a number of months ago contacted me for advice in training for the Sun Run. Somehow I convinced her she was ready for more (but I suspect she already knew that for herself) and signed her up to run a half marathon this summer with Team In Training. Sounds like she and her husband, Marty had a great race today! I also saw a post from Zahra, who I bumped into at the race expo, so excited to run this race again. The last time I saw her, she had just crossed the finish line at the Coho Run last Sept, biggest smile I had ever seen on her face. So seeing her finish time today, I sure hope she's pleased as she did awesome.  Then moments later I saw a post from girl I went to high school with and haven't seen since, Michele. She's on her own health journey and doing amazing with it:  absolutely amazing! She kicked butt today and when I commented on this, she told me she was inspired by this blog. I was floored! Humbled. Grateful. I had no idea she was one of my readers. In fact I know I have hundreds of readers, but most don't tell me they read. So when one reveals to me what reading my blog has done for them, it really feels good. I'm loving watching people become running converts. Reminds me of when I turned onto the true joy of this sport for myself. Remembering that never gets old.

I started this blog in hopes those who need inspiration might find something here they can relate to. I hoped me expressing myself as an ordinary woman with all the insecurities that come with that, attempting to turn her life around and accomplish extraordinary things would offer readers something uplifting. I worried I would seem self-centred and it would appear I was blogging to brag about my success. But I believe I've made my intentions clear. I'm so pleased every time I see evidence that I have done what I hoped to do with this blog: that it has in fact been something that not only gives me a place to share my story, but that in doing so publicly through a blog, people who may not have tried running before are falling in love with the sport themselves. It feels good to be part of someone else's journey. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your inspiration. To Kristy, Zahra, and Michele, you are three amazing women - be proud of what you've accomplished through your own determination and strength. Keep it up!!!

I find myself now 6 weeks away from my next race, my third full marathon on June 2nd in San Diego. It almost feels somehow untrue that this is in fact my next race! But flights are booked, race entry is in, itinerary is getting planned, and training is going strong. I'm just a few short weeks away from my taper. I am feeling really good about where I am at with my training. I am very confident about finishing that race stronger than the last 2 marathons. My weekly mileage is higher than it ever has been in my life, and I haven't even reached the peak of my training yet. The best part is that I have been recovering so nicely from these runs, and not slogging through them at all. The higher mileage hasn't been a stretch of the imagination or my body at all. It's all been attainable, just enough of a challenge to stretch myself to new heights. The results have all been very positive and I continue to surprise myself. And unlike during the previous marathons I've trained for, I find myself energized every day (not tired) and craving my next run. 

I have been working on speed, perfecting my fueling strategy, and analyzing previous races to sort out what I can do better this time around. While I am not running this race for time, per se, I am still confident I can achieve a personal best. I just want to finish strong, confident, and with less pain than the last two marathon races where my finish time did not reflect my capability. And then leading up to the Victoria marathon in October, I can really work harder on the speedwork and try to see what time I am truly capable of at the marathon distance and see what I've got. 

More on that speed work in a future post! Stay tuned!

And speaking of other things to stay tuned for, I have recently applied for a health and fitness success story contest. Here's hoping I get selected as a finalist. If I do, it will be very much to do with my supportive readers. I will let you know how I do, and hopefully the time will come where you can support me with votes! 

<3 Zahida

Monday, April 15, 2013

Running For Boston

Today is a day the running community will never forget. I started my day excited: reaching my fundraising goal for Team In Training, excited about building up my mileage again in preparation for my upcoming marathon, pleased with how my training run went on the weekend, and excited to read up on the coverage of today's Boston Marathon, a race I'd never been as excited for in my life. This time last year, I was not yet a marathoner myself, and did not understand fully what it meant. Today, it was a much bigger deal. I packed my duffel bag this morning with plans to run after work, exhausted after a busy weekend and unable to get up early to go in the morning. I threw in my gear, and when it came to shoes, there was no question about it: I was choosing my Adidas Bostons. This is the race every runner dreams about, and it was happening today. And because I do have a few pairs of running shoes to my name, I hadn't worn these shoes since my race last weekend. They still had the timing chip attached and a memory of a finish line shining on them.

Hard at work at the office, I got an email notification of receiving a donation that put me over the top of my fundraising goal. I put work aside for a moment, and literally minutes after posting on Facebook excitedly about the fundraising success, I started to get a whole pile of messages: texts, tweets, Facebook messages, and emails. Messages of shock, pain, links to photos, articles - more than I could keep up with. The news was out about the tragedy at today's Boston Marathon, and everyone knew to tell me. It doesn't matter if you are a fast runner, a slow runner, a marathoner or a short distance runner, the Boston Marathon is the race that captures our imagination and our respect. For many, me included, having the privilege to run this race may take a number of years to accomplish. I dream of the day that achieving my BQ (Boston Qualification) is realistic to attain. And I dream of the day I enter the race, and get to run it myself. Regardless of how far away that dream is from achieving for oneself as a runner, it's a dream we all hold in some way. And being a member of the running community means that undoubtedly you are going to know at least one person who traveled to Boston looking to realize that dream today. Months, possibly years or even a lifetime of hard work culminating in today's race, a race meant to be a celebration of the sport of running and the community it brings together.

As I read the first article I was sent by a friend on my computer screen, I noticed I was holding my phone and in the process of texting a friend, a fellow marathoner. I realized I needed to share the news with him. Meanwhile I continued to receive more messages, this time from family who had just learned the news and wanted to make sure I was aware and I was OK. While everyone knew I wasn't in Boston, they knew that as a runner, as a marathoner, this news is going to hit home even harder. Cam called me to ask me if I had people around me I could talk to. I explained I was going to run after work and figure out some way to process what happened.

I'm not suggesting that this tragedy is in any way more tragic or senseless than those not happening at running races. It's simply that it happening at a race, something that is such a huge part of who I am, and at the race that has captured my imagination and dreams, this tragedy hits too close to home for comfort. It was a week ago that I crossed a finish line. In about 6 weeks or so, I will be racing in a large scale marathon myself. A tragedy at an event like this simply doesn't make sense. How can we ever process something that makes no sense at all? I scrolled through the news in a trance, very much like I have done so in the past when senseless tragedies like Sept 11th, Sandy Hook, the movie theatre massacre, and so on, have occurred. I don't know why I act in this way - perhaps its fueled by the desire to read something that suggests it's somehow not true, that tragedy didn't happen. Yet in the back of my mind there's fear of seeing the numbers of fatalities and injuries increase, so I want to look away. Yet I worry that if I don't know the accurate numbers, I'm somehow not honouring everyone I should as I hold them in my heart and pray for healing.

I looked over at my duffel bag sitting next to my desk, peeled open the zipper, pulled out my shoes and examined them closely; the word "Boston" is written on the back of each shoe. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to dedicate my run today to the runners and spectators involved in today's race and run with them on my heart.  I went onto Twitter and typed in a search "#runforboston" to see what others were saying about the idea, and as predicted, there was more than a lot being said on the Twittersphere about it. I decided then, today's run would be my #RunForBoston. That to me didn't mean running sad, but to reflect on the sport and the community it brings and then it hit me. If it's about running community, I absolutely shouldn't be doing this run alone. And so it began - I started contacting every runner I knew who was in the Vancouver area: those I've run with before, those I never have, even those I'd never met before in person. It didn't take long before the idea and the meeting place I suggested started to get pasted all over Twitter and Facebook. People loved the idea.

I wasn't sure what I had started and started to wonder (with nervous excitement) if just maybe a very large group would form to run together. My phone was flooded with messages, people asking me about distance, planned route, people telling me they loved the idea but didn't have gear with them, or had other commitments. But everyone was pleased to share the idea, everyone considered whether they could in fact make it, and most suggested they'd do their own #RunForBoston in their own way if they couldn't join me in person. I turned up to the meeting spot early, so I could take some time alone with my thoughts, and some silence to attempt to calm my heart. 

As meeting time approached, I didn't see herds of people gathering around me, but I took pleasure in soaking in the sunshine and seeing many runners out along the beach, most of them not alone. Regardless if they were running by my side, they were still running with me. They were still part of my community as runners in Vancouver together. Soon later, my 3 running partners for the evening arrived to join me: Joe who is a good friend of mine, Jeff who I'd met only once briefly but never ran with before, and Kirill who I'd never met before except via Twitter. It was a wonderful run and great conversation the whole way. We ran just over 10km and it was a great reminder of the beauty of the running community: 4 practical strangers able to enjoy an hour of conversation because of a sport, a passion, a lifestyle, we all hold in common. We discussed our running goals and they were all quite different from one another's. Yet we were very much a community held together by running and by a desire to unite for the city of Boston today.

In times of tragedy, we must unite as a community and act in strength. Acts of love and solidarity are far more powerful than any act of horror or violence. While my heart aches for everyone involved, the athletes, supporters, families, race crew, the lives lost, the injuries suffered, the dreams crushed, I am proud to be part of he running community. We're all in it because we love the sport, we love how it brings us together, and we celebrate successes together. And so in times of tragedy, we must come together in solidarity, in friendship, in community. We must unite.

I'm going to end my post today with a quote that was shared with me a few times today, by George Takei who we all love from Star Trek, and his amusing Facebook posts in present day. Today he nailed it right on the head. I didn't know until today that he too used to run marathons, and so he gets it on that other level too:

"When tragedies strike, heroes rise to meet the challenge: the first responders seen sprinting toward the blast site, the runners who changed course to run to local hospitals to donate blood, and the fine citizens of Boston who at once opened their homes to marathoners in need of a place to stay. When we come together, we cannot be brought down."  - George Takei

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Race Report: BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run Half Marathon - April 7, 2013

What a great day it was today! Still living off the high, I thought it just makes sense to write my race report this evening. It was a dry and cool morning, perfect temperature for racing, but definitely lots of wind on the course. While I didn't get the sub-2 result I was looking for, I am incredibly proud of how I finished, and my new personal best time achieved. 

Today I ran my 2nd half marathon of the year, the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run. And yes, my best finish of all the half marathons I've run yet. I headed over to Gibsons yesterday afternoon with Cam and a couple friends, instead of the morning of the race like Cam and I did last year, and it was a nice treat. I got a good 10 hours of much needed sleep and it was wonderful to be able to walk to the start line after a leisurely breakfast in our suite. My TNT teammates Joe and Chrystal joined me at the race after I talked up how much fun I had there last year. We had a great time, and I'm thrilled we all ran so well today!
Leaving the hotel with my teammates
I felt really good and strong coming into this race, being more intentional about my speed work and tempo work leading up to the race. I knew to get my goal time today, I wanted to average about an 5:35/km and that it was a pace well within my reach to maintain for the distance. I believe I made the common mistake many runners make, taking the first few kms too fast out of excitement, adrenaline, the energy of the crowd, and feeling well rested. I tried to hold back, but it was really hard to with the course being rather downhill to start. I was on pace for a 1:55 finish for most of the race, when I was aiming for a 1:58. Bit too ambitious a pace and I learned my lesson.

After the 5km mark, I slowed myself down finally and maintained a much more sustainable pace, but perhaps those first 5km were simply too much and I paid the price later. By the time I got to those hard inclines between the 14-17km mark, I was feeling very fatigued. Soon after the 17km mark, I got my second wind and knew it was downhill essentially all the way to the finish. My right quad and my left calf started to seize. I told them to shut up. The quad behaved, but the calf cramped up on me bad - it was not my best friend in that moment.
Thank you, David!
I kept going as best I could and sometime around the 20km marker, I spotted my friend David running toward me. A very welcomed sight for sore legs and discouraged heart for sure. He offered me the encouragement and the coaching I needed to cross the finish line strong. I could have still achieved the sub-2 time I was looking for at the pace I was going when he arrived by my side, but the cramps would not relent. With focusing on breathing, David's helpful shouts of encouragement, and my own stubborn self not wanting to relent either, I kept running as hard as I could, in amongst a few slow hobbles and yelps of pain when it would flare up to its worst. Then I took the turn on the finish and crossed the finish line as strong as I could. 

Here's my pacing for the race. Not even close to as consistent as I would have liked!

Finishing strong at 2:00:48, a new personal best!
1km - 5:14 - too fast to start      
 2km - 5:00 - seriously way too fast
3km - 5:07 - too fast
4km - 5:25 - better!
5km - 5:43 - calmed down :)
6km - 5:50
7km - 5:33
8km - 5:30
9km - 5:17
10km - 5:58 - Hilly section...
11km - 5:41
12km - 5:32
13km - 5:32
14km - 5:42 - 14-17km were hilly!
15km - 6:17 - yup, hilly
16km - 6:47 - hilly!
17km - 6:12 - end of hilliness
18km - 6:01 - first signs of cramp
19km - 5:30 - still convinced I could get sub-2 and trying to ignore pain
20km - 6:06 - trying hard to continue strong!
21km - 5:44
last 100m  - 5:40 pace   

 So no, not the outcome I hoped for, but still something to be proud of. Knocking off 50 seconds from my previous best on a difficult course, on a windy day, with cramping in my legs, all in all, not a bad outcome. It was another learning experience, and reason to race another half soon and get my goal

I'm also very proud of my friends who raced with me today. David was looking to defend his 1st place finish from last year. I hope he realizes his 2nd place finish today is still something to be incredibly proud of. It wasn't the outcome you looked for either, but who could not be inspired by such a speedy performance! I certainly am inspired to keep learning and improving and grateful for your help today.

And then my teammates, Joe and Chrystal, who I traveled with yesterday.... You did great! So proud of you both! Joe keeps getting faster and faster, taking another 2 minutes off his best time that he achieved only a month ago. Holy quick improvements, Batman! And Chrystal, came into the race with a pulled quad muscle and a forgotten set of water bottles (oops), but managed to keep such a positive attitude about the race and had a strong finish and a giant smile the rest of the afternoon. Congratulations everyone!!!! I am so proud to have awesome running friends! :)

After the race, we hung out at the finish area for a while enjoying the festivities, the great food, the awards ceremony, and great company. After we headed off to Molly's Reach to join the VFAC crew for some food and drink before a fun ferry ride home. Overall, a great day spent with my sweetie, my friends, and a fun race where my performance is one I am proud of. I think I discovered my potential here, and now it's just a matter of realizing it after more hard work, training, and learning from lessons today. And when I got a text from my friend, Patti, telling me I got 10th place in my age category, I smiled to myself. I've come a long way! I'm a good 43 min faster than the first half marathon I ever ran. Today was very much a victory for me. 

Thank you to the race directors Teresa and Larry for another great race! I'll be back next year!

Quick Links:
  • Official race report from the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run
  • Finish line video part 1, first finishers up until 2:00 gun time, care of Keith Dunn
  • Finish line video part 2, gun times 2:00 and beyond, also care of Keith Dunn
    • Note the clock on the screen, as it is synced with the race's gun time. You will see me near the start of this video, crossing the finish at 2:00:48 with help from David running me in on the sideline.
  • David Palermo's blog post about his experience with the race, placing 2nd overall