Sunday, October 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Runniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

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

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

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

Flying to the finish line.

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

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

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

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

Dry clothes, friends, and big heavy finisher medals.

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

And the Success Story Contest Winner is.....

I realize this post is rather overdue, considering the event happened over 2 weeks ago, but today seems like a fitting day to write and share this with you. I've told the story to you, my readers, of how losing my father 6 years ago sparked in me the desire to get healthy. This coming weekend will be his birthday, a time of quiet reflection, a time of mixed emotion, and a time I'll no doubt be thinking, "I wish you were here to see me now". While all I want to do is hug him tight just one more time, I can't help but think he'd be incredibly proud of me too.

On Sept 17th, my 33rd birthday, I had the most incredible day! This was the day of the Steve Nash Fitness Clubs marketing campaign launch, where the winner of the 2013 Success Story contest would be unveiled. It was an awesome day, and a huge inspiration to keep fit for life. I got to meet all finalists, who each shared their story. Everyone who was selected as a finalist has had a remarkable journey and we got to hear about them more in depth at this event. And all the stories are so unique - each person with their own personal obstacles, conquering them, and triumphing with a new positive, healthy, and fit outlook. Congratulations to everyone for all you've achieved! I'm honoured to be in such company. The other finalists include my dear friend, Kristy who I am so proud of. Her journey too has been amazing and it was tough to be in a contest with her. But it was wonderful to experience everything alongside her. Love you, Kristy! xo

Please take a moment to read all the stories here.

I'm still absolutely astonished, amazed, and while still somewhat in denial (don't pinch me to wake me from this incredible dream), I'm humbled to have been selected this year's winner of the contest. As if having the day off work to spend with Cam, Kristy and Marty, then having everyone at the event sing me Happy Birthday wasn't enough to make the day special! The announcement of me as the winner was something that'll be tough to beat on future birthdays, I'll tell you that! Really any of the finalists could have been chosen, and it floors me to have been selected. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to be an ambassador to the Steve Nash Fitness Clubs and be a large part of their marketing campaign. Working out at this gym, the community I'm part of at the North Shore club, and my incredible personal trainer, Lindsay, have made a world of difference to my fitness goals.

Please read the blog article on Nash Center Court which details my story and includes a link to the video they put together where you can hear from me and the other finalists about their journey.

All of us finalists were given a lot of wonderful prizes generously, backpacks stuffed to the brim with swag and money to spend at the New Balance concept store. As the winner, I got a little something extra. Membership for the coming year, and a trip for two to Mexico. Here I am with Cam moments after the announcement:

And since this magical day, I continue to be astonished by seeing the posters in the community. It's a reminder every time of how far I've come. It's a surreal experience and I admit, I'm loving every moment. The outpouring of kindness, congratulating remarks, and encouragement from family and friends has been overwhelming. This moment here this week, seeing my ad on a transit bus really was the icing on the cake. I screamed when I saw this, like a school girl, and did what I needed to do (safely) to get behind the bus for a photo. Yes, this was taken behind the wheel from a handheld device, but my foot was on the brake pedal (no, I don't do this often...).

This is so much more than it being about a contest that I won. In fact, to me it really isn't about ME. This whole experience has been a celebration of fitness, achievement, and triumph over challenge. Winning is the icing on the cake, a culminating experience to mark hard work and achievement. I have openly shared this experience with my whole network of friends and family. And many people I haven't shared with, have contacted to me saying they've heard me on the radio or seen me in the newspaper ads. While I got some negativity (from one person), everyone else seems to be on the same page as me, and see that this is not an attention-seeking plot, but as something wonderful and beautiful. I wanted to be part of this experience for the same reason I started this blog - to share a happy story worthy of sharing and to be an example of what is possible. Even our wildest, most unrealistic dreams are possible. All we have to do is believe and lose our fear of what it'll take to achieve it. There's enough negativity in the world to tell us what we can't do. Let's remember what each of us CAN do.

When I was down and out, overweight, discouraged, and at severe health risk, I did not believe it was possible to change my life. The thought of a marathon was something I would laugh at and say, "hahah, never!" And here I am, the running-obsessed marathoner, coaching others to run for themselves. Sure I'm not fast, yet, but I do it, I love it, and see myself as an athlete. I sincerely hope that this outcome here I'm sharing openly and publicly, is one that continues to spark some inspiration to others who are in a similar place to where I was 6 years ago -  to change their life, to be the next success story themselves.

There have been many wonderful results of this contest experience, admittedly. The best so far have been the private messages, emails, phone calls, from friends and acquaintances who've told me I've in some way inspired them to get (more) active or take on a new fitness challenge. I have people requesting running advice, nutrition advice, motivation advice....I even had one girl I've never met approach me at the gym and tell me she is inspired to be the next success story herself. I see her regularly, working hard, and we exchange smiles and kindness. I'm blown away.

Thank YOU, faithful blog readers for following my journey. You're a big reason why I keep going!

<3 Zahida