Thursday, May 30, 2013

San Diego, here I come!

This time tomorrow, I'll be en route to San Diego! I thought before taking on the big task of packing for this trip, I'd write a quick blog post. I am so excited for this race, this trip, and everything about the experience, yet somehow it doesn't feel real. Perhaps it won't until the plane touches down at the San Diego airport tomorrow. I don't even think packing today will help. Although I must say, after months of thinking about this trip, I'm excited to finally pack. Packing for a trip that involves a race is much more complicated than packing for any other trip, as there's a few more items and considerations to make. Everything I will need for race day needs to be in my carry-on bag. And then whatever else I'll need for the week and my vacation, in the other bag. I'll be making my list, and obsessively checking it twice before packing my bags and then checking them thrice.

My third marathon is around the corner, and I'm ready! The training is all in the bank - time to go spend it on Sunday morning!

In case some of you missed it, Megan and I were featured in last weekend's North Shore News. Take a look here.

I want to quickly acknowledge my supporters today. I have been absolutely overwhelmed with community and love leading up to this moment and I can't thank you enough. This race has meant so much to me on multiple levels, as it's both another try at a strong marathon finish as a race, but also the event itself, the Team In Training experience, the fundraising for LLSC, and the pending reunion with family in San Diego, and the California vacation with Cam. It's going to be a special trip on so many levels, and so many wonderful people helped me get there. You can all expect a much more personal thank you upon my return, but in the meantime, I don't want to get on the plane without acknowledging you here:

  • To every single one of my sponsors, to all who attended the fundraiser, who purchased art prints, or who generously made a donation toward my fundraising efforts, thank you! With your help, I raised over $5000 for blood cancer research! Some of you, I haven't (or hadn't at the time) met in person before you opened up your hearts and wallets to this cause. Thank you for being part of this TNT journey with me.
  • To my Team, while I may not have trained with you much at all, you were very much my Team, my crew, and such huge moral support, and such fun people to be around. Megan, it's been so fun going on this entire journey with you, one of my dearest friends! And Chrystal, I loved working all those craft markets with you. We're going to rock it this weekend! And I look forward to our after-party!
  • To my coach John, my personal trainer Lindsay, our TNT coaches Albert and Sherry, advice-offering friends such as Joe, David, and Humphrey (the bestest pace-bunny I could ask for), and to everyone in my Tuesday interval group  - thank you for pushing and challenging me, and for helping me feel more physically and mentally prepared for this race than any other race I have trained for. I have never felt fitter, younger, physically stronger, mentally tougher, or more capable in my life. While nothing can ensure all variables of a marathon will go in your favour, I have a "quiet confidence" about this one.  
  • And to my beautiful family, friends, and blog followers, for always believing in me, no matter how big a dream I set my eyes on. I seem to always make these dreams come true, thanks to you! I hope in some way, I have been able to return the favour.
Love Zahida

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2 weeks to go and it's beginning to feel real...

...but not entirely. 

Two weeks today, I'll be running my third marathon. In fact, by this time of day in two weeks, I'll be sipping some cold refreshments somewhere, nursing my aching muscles, enjoying celebratory company with my teammates, taking in the feeling of my medal weighing heavy around my neck, and reflecting on the whole experience.

This marathon has been a long time coming. I thought up the idea of it last fall, with my 2nd marathon on the horizon. Since then, it's been an idea that transformed into a commitment, then a goal, a dream vacation, and now a very real reality on the horizon. I'm almost there.

I admit that most of my previous races have been mostly about me, my athletic goals, and little else. Yes, I do often race with friends, but it's still been about all of us going into those races with individual goals. I do indeed have an athletic goal attached to this race - I have worked real hard and expect a personal best. In fact, I expect to blow it out of the water. I know I can and will achieve this and make myself proud. But this one is so much more than just about athletic achievement. And I admit that I am very much looking forward to the vacation aspect of this trip. It's been a very long time since Cam and I got away anywhere, and this will be the furthest and longest we've ever traveled together. I am excited to share this time with him. Boy are we ever going to have fun! But yes, this is so much more than just a race and a vacation.

While many of the amazing people I have met through Team In Training (TNT) often join for their first or second race, I came in perhaps with different motivation having many races under my belt. Having worked with TNT for over a year and being someone who lives and breathes running, some find it surprising that this is my first ever event as an official member of the Team. I couldn't be prouder to wear my purple at this race. I wanted to do this with the Team because of our mission, because I want to make a contribution toward our fight for a cancer-free world. I have plenty of motivation to do just that. And I chose to do this because I wanted to have a team experience. I continue to meet incredible people and make close friends every day I am involved with TNT. And while I didn't train a whole lot with my teammates or follow our team's coach's schedule, I was somehow still very much part of the team because of our collective goal. We all have reasons why the LLSC mission means so much. Collectively, our reasons unite us. When our Team jerseys arrived in the office, I was so excited to crack open the box and claim one for myself.

I took my jersey home and wore it for Thursday's tempo run around the seawall so I could get a feel for the fabric and give it a good wash before race day. I was pleased with the attention wearing it that day got me - lots of smiles, nods, and respect. The purple jersey is earned for your hard work training for an endurance sports event and fundraising for an important cause. It was a reminder that race day is pending. It's almost here, but yet somehow doesn't feel entirely real. I talk about it every day, yet it feels so distant and not quite true. It probably won't clue in for real until our plane lands in San Diego and not a moment before.

I took some time to iron on some lettering and paint the back of my jersey today. I'll probably do a bit to the front too once the other side dries. This was a wonderful experience - reflecting on the people that this whole experience has been dedicated to and remembering why I have been doing all this to begin with. I was likely smiling like a young child version of me in her grade school art classes, while I worked on this project. My finishing touch today was me writing "cancer sucks" on the bottom of my jersey. I had much meaner things to say about cancer, but decided to keep it somewhat family-friendly. I wrote that very much for me.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Turning It Up To Eleven

One more long run this weekend, at the peak of my marathon training, and then I'll be officially 3 weeks from my race and at the start of the taper. I've spoken about the taper before and how its both something I look forward to and hate all at the same time. I look forward to getting rest and getting back some of my time as training volume will decrease. But decreasing the volume also messes with your mind. I admit I get a little addicted to my training at times. And when I am taking rest days (like today even), or running shorter distances, I feel like I need to do more or I question whether I'm slacking. That all being said, I know what I need to tell myself in those moments of doubt, those moments the taper gremlins try to mess with my head - I have worked harder than I ever have to train for this marathon so there is just no questioning my readiness allowed.

When I first set my schedule to train for this marathon, I set it up to be very much like what I did leading up to Victoria last year. I allowed for 4-5 days of running and 2 days of weight training each week. I felt quite prepared for Victoria, but of course, much went wrong on race day, most of that I am sure I can attribute to getting sick rather than being ill-prepared. But really, it's hard to know. I just know that neither marathon went well last year (in terms of finish time or pain experienced), and if I plan on doing another 2 this year, I have to do everything it takes to make sure I'm as prepared as I can for them to go better. If I can comfortably run a 2-hour half marathon, there's no reason I should need any more than 4:30 to complete a marathon. In fact, I should be able to do it in less. But I haven't yet proven that to myself. What I have learned in the few years I've become a runner is that I have to work a bit harder than the average bear to see results. I am not naturally fast. But I also know that I have above average endurance, patience, and drive. I'm literally willing to do whatever it takes to achieve my goals. Perhaps my history has a lot to do with that. Perhaps if I were always fit to begin with, I wouldn't be so determined to do this and to improve my performance. But since I've worked so hard to get to where I am today, I insist on myself that I continue to work hard. I want to see where I can get to tomorrow. I didn't run one marathon to scratch it off a bucket list. I plan to run several and see where it leads me.

So yes, I've turned my training up to eleven. Why go to ten, when you can go to eleven! 

It all started a few months ago when I accidentally ran a mid-week long run. I didn't map out the route I wanted to do in advance and just thought one up in my head. I ran way longer than I had planned to and then worried I'd be too tired to do my workout the next day. I was a little tired, but nothing that alarmed me. I know my body and since I quite literally hate taking rest in my training, I always know when I need it. I didn't need it then. In fact, doing a longer run mid-week made it somehow easier to do my weekend long run. Perhaps I was onto something. I was starting to question my training schedule. It was based on what I'd done previously, based on beginner marathon training schedules I'd become familiar with through working with Running Room and with Team In Training - both that offer clinics for those with less experience who might be training for their first or second marathon. I hadn't taken into account that I'm not a beginner marathoner anymore. I've run 2 marathons now, so really, I am ready to take it up a notch. And since I have to work harder than the average bear to improve speed, I need to take it up that notch.

Things got a little clearer after talking running with some friends of mine who are much faster than me and well-experienced in marathoning too. I talked to my friend David about his training schedule and he offered me advice on what I could do better - I thought he was nuts with what he was suggesting and shrugged it off thinking, "easy for you to say, you're an elite runner who wins races". But really, what he was suggesting would work for me - I just go my own pace. I have the endurance to do it, so why not, really? He suggested doing less weight training (only 1 day a week) and incorporating 2 days of speedwork into my week instead of the 1 day I was previously doing. So yes my weekly mileage would also go up as a result. 

David explained how his coach,
John Hill, has him and the rest of his VFAC club doing a long tempo run on Tuesdays and speed intervals on Thursdays. He suggested I try a session with John, since he has a second group he works with (not the elite VFAC crew) that I would fit in well with. I remembered what he said, but didn't think at the time it was for me. But then we went for a run together at a faster pace than I'm used to, and I felt great after. Going faster that day made going slower the next long run that much easier. A few days later, I ran with one of our TNT participants, Derek (an experienced 3:30'ish marathoner) and he told me a bit about what he does in his training. He too does a mid-week long run and takes the middle section of that long run at a faster tempo.

After meeting John at the April Fool's Run last month, and talking to him about his Tuesday interval group, he invited me to give it a try. I took him up on the offer but admit I was quite nervous and not sure what to expect when I arrived. How could I possibly be ready for something called "Advanced Road Running Performance Clinic", I thought, but really I wasn't giving myself enough credit. I knew that I wouldn't be anywhere close to being as fast as the others in the group, but that I am really strong and more than fit enough to try my darndest to keep up and run hard even when I'm tired. The rest of the group was incredibly welcoming and as we went for a warm-up spin around the trails of Stanley Park, they explained how the sessions work. Every week is a little different, and they suspected we'd be doing intervals on the seawall rather than work on the track. They also warned me that John would give me homework and it might scare me a little. I was excited for the challenge! 

So yes, I was one of the slowest in the group, but it didn't matter. Everyone was happy to have me and asked if I'd be back. The answer was a definite yes, because they are such a lovely group of runners to be with and I was so impressed with the experience on every level. John set it up so well so that no matter what ability you're at, you finish your run at the same time (using staggered start times). He's a whiz with numbers and knows every athlete individually - their abilities and their goal races, so he knows what pace and time he wants each runner to complete each interval. The time he suggests for you is slightly above your comfort level yet totally attainable, especially because you are chasing runners in the group who are faster than you. He also gives you feedback and shouts your pace at you partway through the interval so you know if you're on target or if you have to push harder/less. I felt really good achieving the targets he laid out and I appreciated the feedback. Other runners in the group told me how they felt when they first joined (also nervous and a bit intimidated) but how it's made such a difference to their training, their speed, and their race results. What was being offered in this group session is simply not possible to replicate by yourself.

I admit that when John gave me my "homework" after the first session, I did laugh a little to myself. It wasn't so much that it was too much, but it was more that it was so different from what I had been doing. It was going to be a new adventure and a drastic change to my current habits. The mid-week long tempos were quite significantly longer than what I thought I needed to do. The structure of the week was much different than I was used to - intervals on Tuesday and tempos on Thursday. But I've followed John's recommendations and seen the results already. My mileage has increased hugely, but it's been very manageable. I feel strong, confident, and not overly fatigued at all like I worried I would be. After doing two days of speedwork every week, the long runs on the weekend feel easy and much more manageable. My legs are ready for it.

I couldn't go to the interval session the following week due to a meeting, but I came up with my own schedule for that week based on the schedule for the previous one. I had my second session with the group last week and we worked on the track that day. Again, I was blown away - a different type of workout, but equally challenging and empowering. I got two weeks worth of homework (there was no group session this week) catered toward my abilities and my upcoming goal race. I've followed it exactly and I'm thrilled with how I'm doing. My 35km run that I just completed on Monday was strong; the only hard part was stopping! Recovery has been not bad at all. I have a long tempo to do tomorrow (24km total, 21km at tempo pace) and I'm excited about it. And In previous marathon trainings I'd done, I would have never imagined doing a 38km training run, especially not 2 days after running 24km, but that's what I'm doing this weekend according to this schedule and I'm quite looking forward to it. I know I'm ready and I know it'll pay dividends on race day.

So yes, looks like I've found a new coach and a group to train with once a week. It's a huge confidence boost to see I'm ready to take on something with the word "Advanced" in its title. I may have signed up a little late for training for this current marathon, but better late than never! I know that this last month of hard work though will still make a difference. I can already feel it. And I'm excited to see how a full program of this work with John leading up to my fall marathon will impact my performance. Maybe a 4-hour marathon is in the cards!

Thanks for reading! Hope you've enjoyed my enthusiasm. I really couldn't be happier with how things are going!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Race Report: Kamloops Daily News Boogie the Bridge Half Marathon - April 28th, 2013

I'm a little late getting this race report out, and I apologize for that. It's been one heck of a week leading up to the BMO Vancouver Marathon (which took place today) where I was very involved in this year behind the scenes. I'll be writing up a blog post about my experience at the marathon this year, given it was my first marathon one year ago, and a great event to have been a part of today.

In the meantime, I'm behind in reporting on the race I completed last weekend, the Boogie the Bridge Half Marathon in Kamloops, BC. I went up to Kamloops for the event to promote Team In Training as Kamloops has a very strong running community and I have met some incredible people within that community that keep inviting me back there. Boogie is a community run like nothing I've ever experienced before. There's literally something for everyone, from a kids run, 5K, 10K, and half marathon all on the same day. It's all about movement, positive change, being healthy, and community togetherness. And it's become such a big event, one of Kamloops' biggest community events thanks to incredible people like Jo Berry. The expo was such a fun experience too. We all set up our tables and then it was a very social space after that. It wasn't so much about people visiting table displays one at a time like most race expos, but about everyone walking around chatting, exhibitors and runners, everyone hanging out, getting to know one another, and promoting our products and programs. Fun fun fun! I met so many wonderful people and everyone was so welcoming!

Knowing that I had to do a long run anyway, I signed up to run the half marathon. Now this race isn't officially called a half marathon, but is advertised as a 21K. Of course this confused me because I couldn't imagine them cutting a race course short by 100m and maps suggested it was 21.1K route. After talking to race director, Vince Cavaliere, my understanding is that the course had undergone significant changes recently, and it hasn't yet received it's certification to be called officially a half marathon. He asked me to let him know what it measured on my Garmin, and I clocked 21.12 that day. So without the certification this year, it's advertised as a 21K run, but it should meet the distance requirement. Small detail yes, but I wanted to be sure my finish time would compare accurately to other races.

My plan for the day was originally to run this race slow and easy, as I would for a training run for two reasons: I wanted to clock a second run that same day to get my long run mileage (I'm nearing the peak of my marathon training), and the fact that after the run, I'd have to get into my car and drive for close to 4 hours to get home. I didn't want to do anything in that run that would make that drive home challenging or make me stiff after the drive. But as I neared the start time of the race, I decided I wanted to push a bit harder. 

I decided not to try for a PB knowing how I was not well rested at all (I think I did about 70km in the week leading up to the race), and that my most recent run before was a long tempo run (which was almost a half marathon in its own right)...and I likely hadn't fully recovered from this. My thought was to take it like it was just another tempo run and see how it felt, then decide if I'd keep on that way knowing doing two back to back tempos of the same distance was a little silly.  And given it was a day I was allowed to go slow, I didn't allow myself to get caught in the idea that I needed to do that. My game plan meant running my first 3km nice and easy/slow then if I felt good, to pour on the heat for as close to a 5:30/km pace I could maintain for much of the way forward after that. 

I went with feel and ignored my watch most of the way. When I did look down I was pleased with my pace. Somehow the faster pace is feeling much more natural and easy these days (more on that another blog post). There were some kms where I felt particularly good and pushed myself harder. And there were some where I just wanted to relax a bit and found a comfy groove from which to enjoy the experience and the surrounding scenery. It was somehow a race and a training run all mixed in one. While I wonder how I would have done had I pushed harder, I'm pleased with how I decided to run as I was able to drive home to Vancouver comfortably after and go for a second run as planned.

There were some real highlights to the run, and some real tough bits too. The highlights were for sure, all the community does to make it special. The first 5km was covered in sidewalk chalk, handwritten motivational sayings all over the place. There was also lots of folks out cheering and great musical entertainment. After the point where the 10km runners would turnaround, it got a little quieter for us half-marathoners. But it was such a beautiful course. I loved running along the river and taking in the gorgeous view! There were a lot of parts that were also covered in the Kamloops Marathon (I did the half there last July) so some familiarity I could predict. But while the part of the course that went out on a dyke was beautiful, I really didn't like the gravel. In fact, I heard that in the past there was an out and back on that gravel trail and runners complained how much they hated it as it's hard to keep pace there. Part of the course changes made for only one way on that trail on this current route. The gravel paired with the gusty wind in that area, made it tough to keep under a 5:45/km pace for those few km there. I got back some time with a long downhill section, but it got tough near the end again. 

The half marathon starts an hour before the other distances so by the time we got to where the 10km runners turn around (ie., with 5km remaining in the race), we had a lot more people on the course. I appreciate the reasoning behind this set up - so that every runner, no matter what distance they run, finishes near the same time. This way family, friends, corporate teams, etc., can all reunite at the finish easily and enjoy together their accomplishment. Most people run this race for fun, but I could tell a lot of the half marathoners, like myself, were at least somewhat concerned with time. Passing all the walkers and slower runners for 5km made it really challenging to finish the race like we would have wanted. That's a long way to go with a crowd. And it got really crowded near the end on this one section along the river where there was traffic going in both directions and very little room to pass... it wasn't ideal. I had to slow at times to avoid collisions and I wasn't excited about it as I was feeling good to run harder. But once I got over the bridge nearing the finish, I didn't care, I ran as hard as I could and parted the crowds with my speed (or so it felt like I did....). I finished in 2:02.15 which absolutely astonishes me. It's really not all that far off of my most recent finish time at April Fools (my PB of 2:00:48) when I really didn't try as hard as I could have at this race. Working on speed lately is working!

My weekly tempo runs are getting longer and the pacing is feeling much more natural (like I said before, more on this in a future post). So I think I'm clearly ready to rock a sub-2 half marathon. It's just a matter of picking a race and making it happen! First thing's first, a full marathon in San Diego in 4 weeks! Then I seriously need to find a half marathon to run. Any suggestions?

I'm awaiting photos from the race and will post them when I have them!