Thursday, June 27, 2013

When Forced Not To Run

This past Monday, I had a minor surgical procedure. No, I didn't mention it before, mostly because I didn't want questions about what it was all about and I was at times emotional and stressed about the whole thing. Don't worry, this was indeed minor with a relatively short recovery period. And yes, before you ask, I'm ok. And in case you're wondering, I still don't want questions asked about this, and I appreciate your understanding. I've let close friends and family in on this, but I'd rather not share too much here.

After I came to terms with the fact I needed this surgery, the hardest part about the whole thing has been coming to terms with the recovery period and what it means for someone who takes their training as seriously as I do. It might seem childish or silly that I'm dwelling on what I can't or am not allowed to do, when if I were to look at this in perspective, I'm lucky that the problem was detected early, before it became a real problem, that I was able to have this surgery done to rid me of future complications. My health will be better because of it and I have my lucky stars to thank.

When I learned about the time off all physical activity I was going to have to take, I secretly hoped it would all happen right after my June 2nd marathon. I mean, if you're going to have to take time off running, right after a marathon is perfect. Of course, it didn't get scheduled that way. Again, if I take a step back, now is not the worst time to have time off. It takes a good month to shake a marathon out of one's system. It'd been about 3 weeks for me and though I was getting back into running again, I wasn't quite back. Perhaps some added forced rest will be just what I need to turn the corner. But then some added forced rest could be what I don't need as it will make me lose some of my fitness no doubt. I was just starting to find my groove again after the marathon and here I am about to lose it again and start from square one.

Ok, so how much time off are we talking about? And is Zahida being melodramatic? The answer to both questions is "a little bit". 

The informational materials I read about the procedure all suggested that there were some activities I'd need to take at least 3 weeks off from, but things like running, 1 week will do. But the doctor told me she wants me to take more time off than that. Why? When you do something a bit more strenuous, it increases the risk of wounds that are trying to heal coming apart and not healing.  I think she realizes that my definition of running as a marathoner is a bit more intense than what most people do so she wants me to be more cautious than what the leaflet suggest. But I don't think she fully understands what she's asking me to do. Or perhaps it's me who doesn't understand; I don't understand how important it is what she's asking me to do. But what I can tell you is that what I've been told about the healing process and what it should look like, mine's going really well. I also know my body really well and have always made smart decisions about what's too much too soon. I have plans to run next week, but it will be shorter distances and a transition-back kind of week. I'll get back to the serious stuff the following week and be kind to myself until then. Of course when next week comes around if I have any doubt, I simply won't run. I know it's not worth it to push too soon, as it'll only lengthen the setback and time off.

But while I realize that I need rest right now, resting right now is really hard. It's only day 3 of at least 7 days of no running, and I already feel like something's not quite right. I'm used to 1 day off, maybe 2, but not 3 or more unless it was right after a big race. This isn't right. Yes, of course, I'm tired and blah from the procedure, but I'm not running which is something that's hard not to do when it's such a habit. And I think my mind exaggerates how my body feels after only 3 days because it's imagining at least 4 more of the same and how I'll feel then rather than telling me how I feel today. I'm catching myself feeling punchy every time I see a post on social media about other people running or someone asking "how far did you run today?" I want to tell those people to shut it. Of course I'm sure there are days when those same people are thinking the same thing about me - does she ever stop talking about running? The answer is no.

Here I must clarify - I really don't think it's an addiction to running that I have.  Running is simply a big part of my life, a big part of my daily routine, and my identity. It's the sport that turned my life around. When there are days I don't run, there's all this extra time on my hands (which trust me, does fill up quickly), and it feels like something is missing from the day. It's kind of like if I were to go a day without brushing my teeth, or something super routine like that.

I often get told by non-runners when I describe how much I run, that they've heard how runners get addicted to the adrenaline rush running gives you. These people are what I call "misinformed". I kid about it being an addiction but I don't believe it's true (although it isn't the worst habit to have). I run often because it brings me joy, and who doesn't like being happy? I run because I'm driven to achieve in my sport and running often and with discipline is a requirement to achieve the goals I set. Sure running does make me feel good after and energizes me, but that's not what it's really about. It's so much more than being about a good feeling. It's about what running has brought to my life and how it has transformed me. And so when I don't run, I feel blah, I feel bloated, my legs feel heavy, my thoughts are cloudy. My body doesn't feel right. I haven't had that time to decompress my day or that alone time to think about everything or nothing at all. Running is what I need to do to help me cope with all the transition and stress life has thrown my way - to help me make sense of it all. I can't run and enjoy these benefits. But this off-feeling from not getting that time and space will eventually pass. I can get through it no matter how much I don't like it. 

So yes, if I put aside my melodrama, I realize that I will get through this, of course. It's just a few more days, maybe a week. I just need patience and I need to remember that there are bigger things than having to work it to get my fitness back to where it was before. And sure I won't have the same amount of time I had hoped to have to prepare for my July races, so they might not go as well as I would have hoped, but does it matter really? There will be other races to get those goals if it doesn't happen in July. Regardless I'll have fun at those races and there'll be others to set my eyes on for those time goals. This surgery is not a setback but a positive I needed to ensure a long and healthy life going forward. I needed it in order to run for many more years to come.

So please, if you hear me whining in the coming days, remind me to read my own words here. Be kind to me, please, but don't hesitate to turn my head in the correct direction.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Spirit of Racing

There's just something so special about racing. A race is a target to aim for in your training, whether your goal is to complete a new distance, or better your finish time in a distance you've completed before. It's a chance to test your limits, see how you perform under pressure, and how you fare against other competitors. It's a coming together of a community of like-minded individuals for a few hours of good, healthy fun. No matter if I went to a race to watch, to work, to cheer on friends, or to run it for myself, and whether or not I run for fun or run to achieve, I always seem to come home with a big smile on my face. There's really no comparison for the experience. I'm feeling a bit of a high after spending the day yesterday working at the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon seeing so many happy runners, friends, and our TNT team out there with much to be proud of.

The last couple of months, I've been to quite a few races. After 2 half marathons in April, I didn't race at all in May. But I did go to both our local marathons that month. I captained a water station at the BMO Vancouver Marathon and it was loads of fun, cheering on thousands of runners that went by and providing a service back to the race that so many runners stopped to acknowledge despite the blistering heat, and their obvious struggle at mile 16 of a marathon. It was a wonderful reminder to me of the community I'm part of, realizing it was a year ago that I had run that very same race as my first ever marathon, and I was looking ahead to my 3rd marathon that was happening in a month's time. I saw several of my friends and our TNT participants go by and it was incredible to cheer them on and put a smile on their face to help them along. I know whenever I have run a big race, seeing a familiar face on the course has helped me stay relaxed and has given me a boost to keep going strong. I'm never going to forget seeing Humphrey come along to the water station, yelling with excitement seeing me on the course, while running his first ever marathon.

Later in May, I went out to the Run For Water in Abbotsford to cheer on my friend David who was hoping for a first place finish at the race (which he got!). This was such a different race experience for me, a much quieter one, driving the course with Sally, seeing David out on the course almost completely by himself, save his lead cyclist and the 2nd place finisher. I'm used to seeing crowds upon crowds and being part of that crowd when I'm at a race. The lead elite runners are just people you see for a brief flash at the start of a race, or go by you as a race turns around. They are there just long enough for you to remember they were part of the same race as you (but done so much sooner!). Here being out in front following the lead runner, I didn't see any other runners, runners like me, until we went to the finish line. What an inspiration to see what it's like at the front of a race. Much different from my usual experience in the middle of the pack.

June has been a rather busy month when it comes to races. I went into the month with having my eyes on my June 2nd marathon in San Diego. Knowing that this was my goal race, and one that would require significant recovery time, I made zero other racing plans. That was until the Longest Day 5km (& 10km) at UBC came around on June 14th. I hadn't done a shorter distance race since the Icebreaker 8km in Steveston back in January, and this race hadn't occurred to me until I started to hear about it. In fact, I was hearing more about the post-race BBQ than anything, given it's on a Friday night (by the way, the amount of food was indeed epic), and several of my friends convinced me to sign up. I decided to do the 5km as it was a shorter commitment to put on my legs, and a race distance I'd never done before.

Knowing this was less than 2 weeks after the marathon, my legs and lungs just getting used to running again, I promised myself I wouldn't push too hard, and would pace myself somewhat conservatively. The time I clocked was 25:36 which surprised me as my goal was about 27min. Knowing I didn't push myself in the way I could have if the race was under different circumstances (ie., not so soon after a marathon), I was super pleased with this. I'd never raced a 5km before and now I wonder what I could do if I were to try this distance again on recovered legs. Sub-25 is definitely a within-reach goal, maybe even closer to 24:00 - who knows until I find a race to try it out. This was certainly a major boost to my confidence. It was even more so a boost when I checked my results, did some math and realized I had finished roughly within the top 15% out of all women in the race in 12th in my age category when in longer distance races, I tend to finish in the top 1/3 to 1/2. Coach John suggested that shorter races are a great training tool because they give that mental boost during the long slog of training for a big race. Training for a marathon is very much both about training your body as it is training your mind, and a confidence boost will never hurt you.

The day after running the Longest Day 5km, I got an email reminder that I had signed up to be part of a fundraiser 8km run/walk that my friend Annie's work was putting on Sunday (as in 2 days after I raced the 5km) at Iona Beach in Richmond. I completely forgot about this, with all the busy that life was throwing at me. Knowing this was not at all a competitive race or an official one, I originally signed on just to go have fun and contribute to a fundraiser to support a friend. But after feeling really good about how I performed at the Longest Day 5K, and then finally reading about what I had signed up for, I realized there was a prize for "Fastest Runner" for this 8km event.  In official race circumstances, winning top prize would be a stretch given how I fare against other runners who are more naturally gifted in the area of speed! But I have to remind myself that my abilities aren't average when I compare myself to the general public. An unofficial running event put together by a community group, is very much a representative sampling of actual people - some runners, some not. I realized here I might actually be the one that stands out as a serious runner. Here I might be accused of being fast. Here there might be others who run, some who run a lot, but maybe not as many who take it quite as seriously as I do. Here I might have a chance to win. And even though I had no idea what the prize was for winning, I wanted it so badly! It wasn't about the prize or the attention I'd get for it, but about the confidence boost. It was all about me showing myself what I've achieved over the years. The girl who was overweight most her life, hated running, and who was always chosen last for teams in PE class has grown into an athlete, and was going to win this race no matter what. From last to first, that's where I was going. Running is something I am good at.

It was a really hot day and a later start for this run. I brought a bottle with me and filled it with just enough for a couple mouthfuls to keep me comfortable, knowing there'd be no water anywhere on the course. The crowd gathered at the start line and I took my place front and centre, feeling a bit sheepish about doing so. I got into my ready-to-run position, which sparked someone to say about me, "oh wow, I have this feeling she's going to be fast." The moment the signal went off to start the race, I took off. I soon realized I had a good lead and I was determined to keep it. I felt rather lonely out in front and admit I wondered a few times if it was a bad idea to be trying at this run. I mean, wouldn't it be more fun to run at an easy pace and have people to talk to? Was I spoiling the spirit of the event by going out hard when the focus here was fundraising first, not running? Should I be walking with the friend who invited me instead? The prize couldn't be all that awesome for a modest fundraiser event? But I soon dismissed all of this, reminding myself that I was invited because Annie knows I love running. And I reminded myself of how good it would feel when asked how I did, to say nonchalantly, "I won."

When I made it around the 4km turnaround point, I finally realized I had company in this race, seeing the next two finishers approaching the turnaround for themselves. My lead in front of them appeared quite comfortable, but knowing they were there kept me honest. I felt I'd be ok if I maintained the same pace and if I felt they were getting any closer, I could pour the heat on toward the end of the race. When I got to the 7km marker, I knew it was mine for sure and just kept running and enjoying my beautiful surroundings. I finished in just over 41min. Not sure what my actual time was, as I forgot to stop my watch, but I do know that the next finisher came in a good 2 min later. I felt like a million bucks after, and a bit like a celebrity too :)
Breaking the Tape for a First Place Finish!
Being presented with my 'prize purse' (gift certificate for dinner!) and taking a bite out of my "medal"

I feel rather proud of this piece of paper :)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Race Report: Rock 'N' Roll San Diego Marathon - Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Sorry for the delay in writing this blog post. The race was just over a week ago, but the memory of it is just as sweet and present in the forefront of my mind. We just returned from California late Saturday night, so I've not had the opportunity until now to properly sit down and write. I did, however, mention in my previous post that I don't have my photos that were taken on my camera available yet. I plan on posting again, a "photo blog" of sorts, once I'm reunited with my USB cord (left at home accidentally when we had to move out to allow for repairs after a flood). I'll then be able to share the images captured on my camera. In the meantime, it makes little sense to wait yet another week for me to get the photos organized before I write.

Like I mentioned before, this race was so much more than just about it being a race. While I trained harder and smarter for this marathon than my previous one, and was very much focused on my athletic goals, I had other objectives in mind. After raising over $5000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, this race was about having my first Team In Training experience, and running a race with and in honour of my cousin Saeed, a lymphoma survivor. After over 25 years, we finally reconnected in person and it was so special being able to spend quality time with him, his wife and kids, his brother and wife, and their parents. The whole family made it to San Diego to share the race with us, to cheer us on from the sidelines, and I couldn't have imagined a better reunion. We both ran a strong race and have lots to be proud of. All my photos of the family are on my camera, except for this one here I posted previously (thank you, Megan), taken at the Team In Training dinner the night before the race. 

What an incredible experience that dinner was, inspiring us all to run a great race the following day, and learning of what our team of 1500 athletes at this race accomplished collectively across North America leading up to the race, raising approximately $4.5 million dollars to fund blood cancer research and patient services. I'm so proud to have been part of this! Here I am with Chrystal and Megan (thanks Chrystal for the photo).

I felt well rested leading up to the race, making sure to be conservative with time spent at the race expo, and time wandering the city on foot. We took in a bus tour on Saturday to save our legs, although we did get off the bus a little to stretch a bit and see the beautiful sights. It was great to preview the city and get a sense of its geography the day before, knowing the race would take me to many of the same places on foot. Both the tour and the race took me to places well-known and beautiful in San Diego including Balboa Park, Old Town and Little Italy. Here's a photo taken on Coronado Island, borrowed from my teammate Chrystal, of us enjoying the beautiful beach briefly.

After getting in early on Friday, I slept a good 11 hours that night, thinking it would be hard to sleep Saturday night. But somehow between a good dinner, a restful day, and a quiet confidence about the race, I slept well Saturday night. Waking up at 3am to start my race morning prep did not phase me at all. I felt refreshed and ready, with limited jitters to note. I had my usual coffee, coconut water, banana, and peanut butter on bagel and met my team down in the hotel lobby at 4:30am to catch our shuttle to the start line. Soon after arriving at the start, despite it being pitch black outside, we found our friend and TNT mentor, Humphrey. I still feel I owe him many thank yous as he decided to come join us in San Diego and run the marathon "for fun", running the entire race by my side even though he could very well finish it much faster than I can. I really do have wonderful friends and this trip away was a reminder of how wonderful a circle I am part of. Here we are, with the sun finally rising behind us, all ready to start our race. The photo might be a bit blurry, but we sure still look awesome and ready (photo credit again, Chrystal!)

And so the race began. Humphrey and I were up first, with the marathon starting at 6:15am, and the half marathon Chrystal and Megan were running was to start at 6:45am. Saeed was also running the half marathon but we weren't able to connect on race day until after the race itself. This was only my second time running a race with someone with me the entire way, and it was so incredibly fun. Humphrey is an absolutely fantastic running partner, agreeing in advance to go with me my pace (he is a wee bit faster!), and then doing everything he could to keep me encouraged and strong when the race got tough. His enthusiasm, positivity, and downright hilariousness kept me smiling and laughing the entire way, and I never doubted our ability to finish the race strong. I don't think I saw a moment of weakness hit him even once during the race, and he kept my spirits high, when my legs tried to give up on me, reminding me of what an accomplishment it was for me running two previous marathons and what it will be to complete my third that day. I went in knowing I was going to finish another marathon, with a confidence I didn't have in either of the previous races. With experience under my belt, training in the bank, and good health to rely on (ie., I ran the Victoria Marathon last year with a very bad cold/fever) I had reason to be confident. Regardless of this, feeling discouraged was only human when my legs gave in, but having someone there by my side when the going got tough helped me to stay tough, strong, and relaxed.

We had so much fun on this course, a race with a great community vibe and party atmosphere with music and enthusiastic cheering everywhere. It was the biggest marathon I've ever been in (30,000 runners between the full and half), and my first ever Rock N Roll event. For the first half of the race, it didn't feel like we were running at all, but that we were attending a party! Highlights included all the community members out on their front lawns, cheerleading squads whose noise and enthusiasm was simply contagious, and of course, the excellent array of live bands pumping music along the way to keep us going. There was even a tunnel we ran through on the course that would have been pitch black had it not been lit with disco lights and a disco soundtrack to match! So much fun!

At about the 23km mark, I started to hit a bit of a wall. It was earlier than I normally reach a low, which was somewhat alarming. I realized at that point that while the pace we were keeping was manageable and even easy I'd say, I needed to take it down a notch for the short-term until I could move past that point. While the sun wasn't out, the air was muggy and warmer than I gave it credit for. I was working up a very good sweat, but hadn't been taking measures to keep myself cool in the way I would if it were more obviously hot with the sun on my skin. I explained to Humphrey what was going on the moment I felt my left quad do it's little wiggle, warning me that cramps were on their way. And yes, it happened again. And no, I don't know why it has happened on all 3 of my marathons while it never happens ever in training. The only thing I can think of is that all 3 marathon days, I ran in very hot conditions. While I got discouraged and whined about it, I also knew that I would get past the cramps eventually, and I'd be running across the finish line, earning another medal, and yet another reason to feel proud. 

Humphrey was incredibly supportive and helped me stay focused and positive. He went over and above what I would ever expect of a running partner and among the encouraging remarks, he even refilled my water and dumped water on my head to help me stay cool. He threatened me any time I would try to apologize for slowing him down, so I soon learned to replace the word "sorry" for "thank you", trying to express my gratitude for his gesture of friendship. We walked way more of the race than I would have liked, but I think I walked less this race than I was forced to in the previous races. The most important thing was that we ran the last several kilometres strong, and ran in the finish hard and fast. While I was well above my goal finish time (i.e, much slower) yet again, it was my fastest and least painful marathon yet, and I know it will get easier and easier each time. Finishing in 5:01:05, I'm incredibly proud of how I ran this. And the thought of doing it all again is exciting and not at all daunting. I know I'm capable of so much faster, if my legs would only cooperate and not let my quads seize on me. I have the strength, the fitness, and the mental grit. Here's hoping we get cool weather this October for the Victoria Marathon and the stars align for an improved finish time.

Crossing the finish line was incredibly emotional, as it always is. I've now officially cried after all 3 of my marathons. All the months of training, sacrifice, then the hours of running through pain, struggle, and hard work on race day, plus the intense joy, feeling of accomplishment, and pride of being one of the few out there able to complete the 26.2 mile/42.2km distance, all culminate in this moment. It is hard not to be taken away by it. After some celebrating and photos we continued onto the Team In Training tent where I was able to reunite with Chrystal and Megan, followed by my family, and then shortly thereafter by Cam (who was looking for me desperately at the finish line). 

There were gazillions of photos taken, lots of sweaty hugs exchanged, and many emotional tears in amongst the cheers of joy. Photos with family are all on my camera, but here is a photo of us friends, after we'd cooled down and had a chance to change into dry clothes. 

Notice that us girls (sorry Humphrey) received 2 medals for this race, the second for our fundraising efforts leading up to the race. The Competitor Group who organize the Rock N Roll series has a 16 year history at this race benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society as its partner charity. Being the original race of the Rock N Roll race series, they chose this race to launch the new medals, and we were the lucky first recipients.

After some relaxation at the hotel, we met up for a yummy meal at an Irish pub in the historic Gaslamp neighbourhood before heading off to watch the San Diego Padres take on the Toronto Blue Jays at Petco Park - the perfect way to celebrate our race.

Congratulations team! We might be a little crazy for doing it, but we did it!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

3rd marathon, complete!

Hi everyone!! I have been so overwhelmed with love since this past Sunday's marathon. I am so incredibly proud of myself for finishing my third marathon. It's official! And it was the most wonderful race experience I could have imagined. The only thing that would have made it better would have been a better finish time. But I have every reason to be proud and I am. 

I have had a few queries as to when my official race report will be written. Thank you for this! It means a lot to know that you appreciate reading these reports. I normally try to write it the soonest moment I can following a race but I've been rather busy here in California since the race, and I also don't yet have all my photos. I forgot to pack the cord for my camera where all my best photos are saved. So things will have to wait a bit longer, until I have a bit more time and energy to dedicate to the task. Thank you for your patience and understanding!!

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a couple of the photos I had on my phone that I can access :-)

As you all know, a bit part of this experience was reconnecting with family. My cousin Saeed and his family joined me in San Diego for the race. He ran the half marathon and was my inspiration for fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Here we are at the Team In Training (TNT) dinner the night before the race.

And then there was the race itself, joining my teammates at the start and finish lines with Chrystal and Megan also running the half marathon. And my wonderful friend and TNT mentor Humphrey deciding to come to San Diego and run the full marathon with me, every step of the way. Boy did we ever have fun! Here are all of us after some cooldown time at the finish.

Thank you for reading and supporting. Stay tuned for the full scoop!

<3 Zahida