Saturday, August 17, 2013

Listen To Your Body

If I could offer any one piece of advice to a runner, it is this - listen to your body. It's a piece of advice I also need to learn to take; yes, Zahida needs to learn how to practice what she preaches. I am very good at hearing what my body tells me, but sometimes I'm too stubborn to listen. My ambition and ego get in the way. They forget that my body is the best judge of what my body is capable of taking on. My ego hates being told what it can't and shouldn't do. It had spent the last several years defying its own low self-confidence and achieving whatever it set itself to do, even when it didn't believe it could.

After completing the Victoria Marathon last year, I decided I was going to run it again this year. In fact, I registered at pretty much my first opportunity. I completed two marathons last year, so I assumed with full confidence that two again this year was a realistic goal. I had numerous people remind me to take a break between races, and I explained how I was doing that. In reality, those breaks weren't all that long. Two marathons a year is possible yes, but not really the norm, nor a sustainable model for my future running career. I don't have a magic number of marathons I need to run to feel accomplished so it's not like I need to cram a bunch in and exhaust myself. I am young and have several years of running ahead of me.

The reasons for wanting to do Victoria so desperately are twofold. First of all, I have yet to achieve a marathon finish time that meets what I know I'm capable of based on fitness. Something always goes wrong on race day, and my finish times are a reflection of this. I've been telling myself that if I run another marathon, it'll be easier than the one before (I've bettered my time by 7 minutes each time), and eventually I'll achieve a finish time I can be really proud of. I'm going to get to the bottom of why my muscles cramp, and have it not happen at the next race. I need to keep running.

And secondly, I think it's just the way I'm currently programmed. Since taking on this fitness journey, it's always been about the next bigger and better goal I can achieve. I went from 5km to 10km. Then from there to half marathon. Then from half marathon to marathon. Then from marathon to improving time in a 2nd marathon...then a 3rd. The next logical step is another marathon, according to this model. To prove I'm achieving something, I must prove I can run longer and stronger. But I am learning to reframe how I'm seeing things. "Downgrading" the distance for the Victoria race to a half marathon is not "downgrading" my achievement. What it is is simply a different goal. I can work on running a really strong half marathon, maybe even my fastest. Running stronger, faster, and smarter are just as much an athletic achievement. 

In 2012, I ran 6 races - 2 marathons and 4 half marathons. I didn't even bother with shorter races as for me, I wanted to prove I had what it took to run the distance. Maybe it was because of all those years as an overweight girl, that girl in gym class who'd fake injury or illness to get out of the school's annual run because she knew she couldn't run even a block, let alone a mile. Proving I can run long has boosted my ego out of a dark place to this happy confident place it finds itself in now. The further I go, the bigger the difference between who I am now versus who I was back then.

This year has been my most active year of my life, having already run 10 races this year by the end of July. I chose to take on a series of shorter races this year, unlike last year. It started with the Steveston Icebreaker 8km early this year, which I registered for just for fun to see what I could do in a shorter race. I had so much fun and experienced such a high finishing that race in just over 41 minutes, I realized I was onto something. I maintained a pace I didn't know I could over a respectable distance. Since then, I've had a strong 5km, another strong 8km, a decent 10km, and some half marathons I'm pretty proud of too. Running different distances offers different challenges, they require different strategies, and they involve pacing yourself in ways you wouldn't dream of trying on a full marathon. It mixes things up and keeps things interesting. Your body has to work in different ways. I had always said I was not fast so I had to focus on running longer. But I'm starting to see that I am capable of being fast, capable of getting faster, and short fast races are something I might be good at. Freeing up training energy to focus on shorter races in the coming months is an exciting prospect. I've got goals in these shorter distances too, and hitting those milestones will be just as much an achievement as any other goal I work toward for longer distances. And perhaps those goals are more within reach than the marathon improvement goal. I just have to remind myself of this. Not running a marathon this fall doesn't make me any less of a marathoner.

So yes, my body has been telling me to not run the marathon this October and it took until a week ago for me to finally listen. I had a momentary lapse today where I thought, maybe I can do it afterall (the results of a very encouraging ferritin test) but then realized what my body told me all along.

It first hinted there was something up a month after the marathon when I realized I must be iron-deficient and noticing how slow and sluggish my running was getting and how I was feeling after a run. I convinced myself that if I get on supplementation and continue to work hard and follow a plan, I'd get 'er done. But my long runs were feeling really hard. I was running out of gas early, and cut the last two long runs short and went home early, something I never dreamed of doing before. I had a very slow finish to the Kamloops half marathon too, there also running out of gas really early on in the race, not being able to maintain my pace beyond 14km and had a slow slog the last 7km, finishing in one of my slowest times ever. Again, I told myself to not give up, to continue to work hard, stay fit, and eventually my energy would come back and all my base mileage would be in place to make the marathon within reach. My shorter runs were getting stronger and my intervals getting faster, it was a matter of time my long runs would see improvement too.

But last week was the real kicker. I went out for a lovely run with two of my dearest running friends, Humphrey and Nancy. Both are training for their own fall marathons and both are people I've done plenty of longer runs with before. I couldn't keep up. I ran out of breath at one point and was gasping. I needed several walk breaks. I felt horrible for slowing my friends down. And at one point I just got emotional and broke down into tears. In the company of good friends who understand, I was ok, and they assured me that dropping down to the half marathon is not a disappointment, and they in no way think less of me. It's a solid athletic goal and the right decision for where I am now. If I keep slogging through long runs, I'm going to start dreading them (in fact, I had already started that), and probably even start hating them. The last thing I want is to lose my love for running. Humphrey and Nancy talked me through things and I immediately looked into how I can change my marathon registration. They also reminded me of how much I've been through this year and how many more reasons there are suggesting I need a break. I didn't just run a marathon and 9 other races, I also started a new position at work with higher demand, had minor surgery, dealt with a major insurance claim at home due to a flood, among other things that have caused stress. The more I think of it, the more it all makes sense, and the more excited I am about focusing on shorter distances, and having time to do other athletic activities because I'm not giving my all to training for a marathon. 

I got home from my long run last weekend to a very sore shoulder. It was bothering me slightly before I even left. But after the run, the pain intensified to extremely painful, making mobility to the left side of my body quite difficult for days. I haven't run since and it'll likely be a few more before I run again. It's finally improving a bit, but I chuckle a little at this whole thing. Had my mind and my friends not already convinced me to not go for the marathon this fall, my body had a plan to send me a message. This unexpected injury -- having no idea how I did it, I just woke up with it -- this was my body's way of forcing me to take a break. It didn't realize I just made the decision to do that for myself. I clearly listened a little too late.

Anyway, the good news is that my shoulder is improving. I doubt I'll be off running for too much longer. And my ferritin level has moved up to a 91 in only 5 weeks. I'm thrilled as I've heard from others who can't find a supplement that works for them, and this one appears to be doing the trick. So a few more months of this to fully restore my levels, and I'll be in a good place. Until then, I have a 10km and a couple half marathons to keep me plenty busy.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Success Stories

As you all know, the very reason why I started this blog 2 years ago was to celebrate my success story and share it with you, my story of an ordinary girl, striving to do extraordinary things after living most of her life unhealthy and overweight. I was training for a half marathon and was told my story was inspiring and worth sharing. Since then, I have run 8 more half marathons, 3 marathons, and a few 5k, 8k, and 10k races as well. I continue to strive to achieve more in my sport while I get fitter, stronger, faster, more experienced, and more knowledgeable. My story isn't a secret to you. In fact, sharing every step of my journey with you has been one of the keys to my success. And it was one of the reasons I have felt confident in sharing that story even more publicly outside of this modest blogging venture. I thank you for that!

Recently I entered the Success Story contest through Steve Nash Fitness Clubs, the gym that I work out at and see my personal trainer. This contest is to highlight individuals who have achieved something in their health and fitness goals and who regularly work out at the Steve Nash Fitness Clubs.  I submitted 'before' and 'after' photos as well as an essay detailing my journey back in the spring (2 months before the deadline in pure Zahida-fashion) and waited patiently for word on if I was selected. It was announced only about 2 weeks ago that I was selected as one of the 15 finalists for the 2013 Contest. I couldn't be more thrilled!

Each one of us 15 finalists has a very unique story, remarkable in their own way. It really is an honour to be selected as one of them. As you know, for me it was never really about the number of pounds I lost but more who I've become as a result of my health journey. Many of our stories, those of us 15 finalists, are about weight loss, but there is so much more that goes along with that - taking up a sport for leisure or competition, a new lease on life, confidence, different life choices, impact on relationships, career, and contribution to community. Do take a moment and check these stories out online. They are incredible!

I don't need to rehash my story for you here. And you well know that when I share a before and after photo it isn't to get a reaction of "wow look at all the weight she lost" but more so to show that change is possible. I was stuck in a rut, an unhealthy rut, and now today, I can proudly and confidently call myself a marathoner, an athlete, a role model, and a beautiful woman. I could have never seen myself as these things before, and now it's true. More importantly, I believe it to be true. Yes I said it - I believe I am beautiful!

Before (2008)

Now! (2013)

Today was the photo shoot for the campaign. All of us finalists were treated to a day of pampering. Hair, makeup, and a new outfit for each of us to wear and take home. I got outfitted head to toe in Lululemon gear, which is a real treat as I have never worn the brand before (a bit higher end for those of us with modest budgets). They took a series of photos of me on my own as well as a few with Kristy and Jenn, two of the other finalists that I happen to know! Small world, yes! Kristy is a good friend of mine and Jenn is one of our TNT half marathoners. It was neat having photos done of the 3 of us together as we all wore colours that complemented the others well, and all 3 of us have that TNT connection. And it was a thrill to do this with Kristy as I'm so proud of what she's accomplished in her own health success story. And it's fun to support one another even though we each want to win the contest.

Regardless of who wins -- and this will be announced at the campaign launch next month -- all of us 15 finalists have won. Yes, of course I'd love to *win* the contest, but it is truly an honour to have been selected to be a finalist and to have made it this far. We're all being recognized for an achievement, a lifestyle change, and for making the choice to live healthy. And after a day of pampering and feeling like a model, all of us will be part of the marketing campaign for the clubs. So you will likely see my picture up in Steve Nash gyms and on ads in places including transit buses! Feel free to snap a photo when you see one of these and share with me! I'm excited for this opportunity - a huge ego boost, indeed.

At the shoot today with Kristy

Friday, August 2, 2013

My races in July

July was a busy month for taking part in races. 3 different events, 3 different distances, and 3 different goals.

Being goofy at the start line.
My first event of the month was the Run Canada Day 5K out at UBC on July 1st. Being part-time staff at the Running Room meant I got a special promotional race entry so I had to take them up on the offer. It was exactly 7 days after my surgery, so I knew that I had to take it easy. My good friend and running buddy, Patti was running this one with her baby in a chariot, so I opted to take it slow and easy with them. We had a good pace and took a couple breaks when it was uphill (hard to push the chariot) and to soothe a crying baby another time. :-) This was a lovely run, mostly because it'd been since before Patti gave birth that we had run together. It was with Patti I trained for the Victoria Half Marathon back in 2011 - my comeback to running. So great to be in her company again! And an awesome way to celebrate Canada's birthday.

Just before the 5K mark, photo credit: Keith Dunn
It took a couple weeks after this before I realized I was iron deficient. By the time I figured it out, there was only 1 week until the VFAC Summerfast 10K race on July 20th which I had been looking forward to as a chance to see what kind of 10K time I was capable of. But I was able to give myself a good dose of perspective knowing I was slower than usual, that I was just starting to supplement my iron, and went into this race simply looking to have fun.

Leading up to this day, my goal pace of 5:25/km for my Thursday tempo training runs had been impossible to hold consistently. So I was certain that finding the 10K race pace I know I'm capable of might be challenging. I'd run two 41min 8km races this year, and had previously wondered if I could run a 10km in 52:00. But soon I realized this race wasn't going to be where I'd achieve that and I was ok with that. I was excited to take part as I knew a number of people running this race, including lots of the members of my Tuesday interval group, and this race was put on by our coach, John Hill, benefiting VFAC, and organized by my friend Alexa's boyfriend, Steve.  Us girls from the Tuesday group were excited about doing a race together and indulging in baked goods after.

I started the race at a "middle ground" pace of 5:15/km, slower than what I'm capable of but still respectably speedy, to see how it felt and it was OK. But it didn't take long before I realized I couldn't sustain it, especially when we got to the sunny side of the seawall. I caught myself slowing down at about the 6km mark and finished the race in 55:01, averaging at a 5:28 pace. I was very pleased with this given the circumstances. I got very close to a pace that had previously eluded me, my tempo pace. I averaged that over 10km, which is a decent distance, and a confidence boost that I'll get my tempo runs back to where there were. That to me was progress and the signs of a successful day. I have other 10km races in which I can achieve 10km race time goals.

With Kristy at the finish line
So the big question would be whether another week would allow me to sustain a good pace over 21.1km at the Kamloops Half Marathon on July 28th. Knowing this course well from doing it last year, I knew what I was in for. The temperatures had cooled down quite a bit, and I was feeling pretty confident in what I could do based on how some of my shorter workouts were going. My intervals are getting better, stronger, and faster every week. But I hadn't proved the long stuff yet was back on track. My goal was to take this race at a 5:35 pace, so a touch slower than what I averaged over Summerfast. Again, I managed to maintain that consistently over 14km, but then ran out of gas, and slogged on to the finish. One of my slowest ever half marathon finishes at over 2:12 (I haven't bothered to look for official time), but not beating myself up for it. I am not at the top of my game, and it's still a half marathon finish!! It was also really fun as I now know so many people in the Kamloops running community and saw lots of familiar faces that weekend. And some of my TNT buddies were there too and it was great watching them cross the finish line.

Next goal, the Victoria Marathon. I'm starting to wonder if I should run the full marathon given my iron levels and how I've been feeling on and after long training runs. Part of me thinks focusing on shorter more quality runs is better than slogging it out. But I'm not making any hasty decisions until I give it a few weeks and see how training goes. Until then, I will continue to work hard and dream of my 4th marathon finish.