Friday, November 22, 2013

No, it's not going to happen this weekend

I think I've mentioned at least a few times about how my body likes to send me messages - loud and clear messages. It seems like my ambition sometimes forgets about moderation, and limitation. The last couple of times, it's been at approximately the same time I made the exact decision for myself, to slow down and take some recovery time off running, that my body makes a bold statement.  A prominent example is the very next day after I decided to drop from the marathon to the half in Victoria, my shoulder went out and I was off of running for weeks. And now again, this weekend was supposed to be my last race of 2013, a fun little 5km for me to test my speed, and my body gave up on me yesterday. 

I woke up with a dull lower back pain yesterday morning, and out of caution, I stayed home from work and worked remotely on my laptop, knowing that the drive to the office would be taxing on the body. All I needed was one sneeze to send my back into spasm. It's not the worst back pain episode I've had, but it has still been rather unpleasant. I'm mobile but I need assistance to put on my socks, and any task that requires bending or sitting for extended periods of time are ones I cannot do with the ease I should. Thankfully I believe I'm in the final stages of it. My back is sore, but not in pain, and the worst of my discomfort is in my hip joints. I'm sure I'll be running again in a matter of a few days. It's quite possible I'll be feeling better as soon as tomorrow but I'm being wise and not racing this Sunday. It's simply not worth aggravating things if my body is sending me a message to take it easy. If I feel ok, I might do a light jog, but only if I feel 100% sure it's a good idea, and I'm not showing up to a race where I'll be tempted to run harder than I should. I'll play things by ear about going to intervals on Tuesday too. The funny thing about all this was that I told myself that after this weekend's race, I'd cut back a little on mileage for a few weeks, limiting my harder workouts to Tuesday interval sessions and shorter tempos, rather than also doing big long runs on the weekend, and treating myself to more cross training. Again, I did not need my body to make the decision for me.

Well, I guess my body wins over my ambition this time, and this weekend's race is a wash. I called in a favour to the race director so I can make up for missing this one with an entry to a race in 2014, making this not a total loss. It helps that I recruited a squad of volunteers for the event so he's happy to do me a favour in return. Now if only I could get my body and my ambition to communicate with one another and do one another favours too.

A poor half marathon performance last weekend followed by me bailing on a 5km race this weekend was not how I pictured ending my 2013 race calendar. But if I look back on the year overall, really, it has been one heckuva year, and I really have a lot of incredible successes to reflect on and be proud of. 

Stay tuned for my review of 2013.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Race Report: New Balance Fall Classic Half Marathon - November 17, 2013

Today I ran my 7th and final half marathon of 2013, the New Balance Fall Classic half marathon at UBC. The number 7 did not end up being my lucky number today. I had a very bad race today, on what was otherwise a very fun morning, of course. No matter what happens in a race, I always enjoy the experience, being part of the running community, and out celebrating the sport I love. 

I carpooled in with my friend Sigrid. It was lovely having a chance to catch up with her and do a little warmup jog with her to get ready for the race. 

We bumped into our friend Rose near the start line and had time for a photo opp before some 100m strides to get our legs race ready. I think our coach would be proud!

I came into the race today with confidence I could do well. It was confidence founded in the fact that I am fitter, stronger, and faster than I ever have been in my life. At the very least, I should finally break the 2-hour barrier. But if I run at my goal pace, I could easily finish well under that. From the way training has been going the last few weeks, paces that have been unmanageable are now much easier, manageable, and totally sustainable. My most recent race prior to today, the James Cunningham Seawall Race, proved to me that I am indeed faster than ever. My interval workouts of late have surprised me. Everything leading up to today had the descriptor of "best ever" attached to it. Surely, getting under 2 hours should be inevitable. In fact, I should get well under that.

I don't expect a personal best (PB) on every effort. So I'm not disappointed about my finish time, per se, even though a 2:05:43 is much much slower than I am capable of. It wasn't my slowest time, and in perspective, I'm still pretty stoked that I'm even capable of running these races. But at the same time, knowing how well everything has been going for me this last while, I feel a bit ripped off that my performance was so poor when it really counted.

The part that's so hard to deal with is that the leg cramps came back again. I was running a very good race and feeling strong. I was mentally in charge too, completely focused and poised to finish well. My target starting pace was 5:20/km and it was a pace that was feeling very easy and would give me a finish time of somewhere around 1:52-1:53. Even if I had to slow down at some point, I should easily finish under 2 hours. And then it happened at the 14km mark - those awful quad cramps hit me on my left leg. I stretched it out as best I could which allowed me to at least jog a few more kms before they hit again, this time in both legs. I again stretched, took my time stretching in the way my coach advised, but it didn't help much. My pace slowed right down to a jog at somewhere around 6:30/km (at most, I was definitely slower at some points) and there was no way I could go any faster. The pain was excruciating. I was in tears of pain. I was disappointed too, but was not going to let the tears of pain turn to tears of sadness. I did everything I could to try to quell the negative thoughts. I admit I did consider quitting. I admit I questioned why I have registered for a marathon next year. But I soon realized that I AM a marathoner, and I am NOT a quitter. I was going to finish this race. I didn't care if it would completely suck, or how much it would hurt after, I was getting this thing done. 

By the time I finished, I was in extreme pain and in tears. I fought through the crowd to the medical tent, but unfortunately, the personnel working at the tent had absolutely nothing to offer me. I told them what was going on and all they could do was stare at me blankly and say "have a seat" - probably the worst thing I could have done at this time. They wouldn't even move the bag off the bench I was sitting on so I could stretch out. My friend Mary came by to see me and I asked her to help me stretch my legs. It helped a little, but I was unsure what to ask her to do, and she didn't know what to do, and the medical staff were still clueless and offering zero feedback. Luckily my personal trainer and friend, Lindsay, ran this race, and she so kindly offered me real help in stretching my legs out and calming down the screams of spasm they kept letting out. Thank you, Lindsay! :)

I went inside, changed into dry clothes, and headed over to where there was food and where friends were waiting to see me. I was so excited to see so many familiar faces, including the lovely Monica, one of my biggest motivators.

I'm home now, and knew I couldn't get on with my day without reflecting on today and writing about it. The big question I ask is WHY?! I pride myself in being positive as much as possible, but there are moments I question things and feel discouraged. What can I say but I'm human. I'm allowed to be upset from time to time. I'm allowed to feel down and out. And yes, today is that day; I'm feeling very discouraged. It's completely unfair that this should happen to me. I work so hard. I have been working so incredibly hard for so long. I'm strong. I do everything I can to get stronger. I'm dedicated and have invested so much of ME to progress. And this setback is so inexplicable. Before the quad cramps only ever happened in marathons, and it's now happened in back to back half marathons. Is this the new future of my endurance races? Or is this something I can get to the bottom of and get rid of for good? Is it my training? Is it nutrition? Is it muscle fatigue? Is it some sort of weird voodoo mojo bad luck thing? Is it something completely different?

I came home and Cam asked me how things went. I burst into tears of disappointment. He did everything he could to comfort me and to remind me that in his eyes, I'm still an amazing athlete. And really, I know that I just have to keep on keeping on. I know that who I am today is someone I should be very proud of. I shouldn't get down on myself because of two bad hours in my life. I shouldn't allow discouragement to take over and diminish all the good things I've accomplished. I simply just have to continue to work hard. I have a few halfs and a marathon in 2014 to prove I am stronger than my finish times reflect. But honestly, behind all this brave macho talk is a little voice that continues to question. I wonder how many of those distances I should do. I wonder how much more pain I should endure. Maybe I should only run long in training and consider only racing shorter distances. I am really lost.

After some food and a shower, I sat down to my computer to see what the goings on online were before setting 'pen to paper' on this blog. I was so pleased to see that Monica had sent me the loveliest graphic and quote by American long distance runner, Kara Goucher. This made me get all emotional all over again, but in a very good way.

My life IS wonderful, and today's poor race performance was simply a setback. Today was simply one day.

What's next? The Vancouver Historic 5K race on November 24th - time for race performance redemption with a nice FAST effort!

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Running "naked", running free, and becoming a body whisperer

I will never forget the moment when Cam came home with a surprise in his hands, my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch. I had recently committed to training for my comeback race, that half marathon in 2011 that began it all for me. He told me that because I was taking my goals more seriously, and running longer distances, I deserved to be treated with a tool that would help me measure my achievements. My Garmin over these last couple years has become an invaluable training partner for me. It's helped me measure all kinds stats of a given run so I can analyze how I did, and then track the stats of a comparable workout, so I can track progress as I become a stronger runner, or learn to be a smarter runner. It's tracked thousands of kilometres I've run, been on my wrist every race I've run, and it's helped me measure out several running routes all over the place. 

In early 2012 when I was training for my first marathon, there came a very scary day where my Garmin absolutely refused to turn on. I recall being rather distraught because I insisted I needed the darn thing. It was invaluable to my half marathon, and I NEEDED it for my marathon, my first marathon too! Nothing could go wrong. Cam was quick to remind me that people had been running marathons for many years, long before the invention of the Garmin GPS running watches. Of course, what he said was true, but a man's logical thinking only helps so much when I had become to emotionally attached and dependent upon this piece of technology. He told me I could go for my run and survive not knowing what my pace was (of course, his phrasing was much lovelier than this), and reminded me that I run because I love running, and maybe a day of running where I'm not in tune with the stats will do me good. I grumbled because sure I might survive that one run, but what about when I have to run 30km in one day? What then? What about the fate of my marathon? I shot Cam my look of disapproval, and with a frown on my face, I left for my run.

I ran a loop I'd run several times before, knowing it was exactly 6km long.  But when I returned to my front door, I decided to keep going. I didn't want to end this run knowing I'd run 6km, when the whole point was to run without stats. I ran a bunch of random loops around residential streets in my area and returned home when I felt like I was done. I have no idea how far I went, how long I had been outside, what time it was, or how fast I was going. It was still a good workout. In fact, it was a great workout; I felt amazing because I had no choice but to just be in the moment during that run, with no feedback to receive on how well I was doing. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you're doing something well, just matters that you're doing it. I realized I was onto something. Little did I know that while I was out on this run, Cam was busy on his computer, googling, visiting running forums, doing what he could to troubleshoot how to fix my watch. He managed to reset it, and it's worked perfectly fine since then. (Bless him!)

The thing is though, when you get serious about your goals, the "need" for the watch comes into play frequently. I have 3 runs a week that have a specific purpose for the watch. 1) My long runs, focused on distance: my watch helps me ensure I've run the distance I need to and I've not gone too short or too far (2) My interval runs: my watch helps me track elapsed time and average pace on each interval so I can track if I'm going to achieve my goal time (3) My tempo runs: my watch helps me calculate my distance, my current pace, and my average pace, so I can see how well I am doing at keeping my pace consistent and within goal range.

So recently, I've been trying to incorporate more runs where technology takes a backseat. These are often that 4th run in a week that I do: the "fun run", or the "whatever run". Despite their titles that make them sound seemingly pointless, these runs have been invaluable to me, and their purpose is powerful. They've restored my joy for running, because I get to run just for the sake of it. But they have also helped me hone some skills in running I didn't notice were valuable or that I needed to work on beforehand. These have also helped me not feel so dependent on my watch (or upset if I failed to charge the watch before a big workout) and I honestly believe the secret to my success at my most recent race was because I was comfortable with the idea of not looking at my watch.

These low-tech or tech-free runs take two forms: runs in which I either don't wear the watch at all (a kind of running I categorize now as "running naked" thanks to my friend, Sean), or where I do wear the watch, but switch up my screen so I am only looking at one stat during the run, rather than many.

"Running naked" can take many forms, and as its name suggests, it's about freedom and sheer joy. At times, it feels almost like you're getting away with something! For example, going for a mid-week run with a friend, more of a social call, two people of different paces and abilities who love to run and socialize by running. It shouldn't matter how fast we're going or how far, as the purpose is just having a really good time with another person.  Or say I'm doing my 4th run of the week which frequently is my "10km hilly run". I have a few of these routes mapped out and memorized so I don't need to measure the distance and I could care less how long it takes. I just go, I often go "naked", and I always finish satisfied. "Naked" running is also very valuable when you're returning from illness, injury, or other hiatuses from running where knowing pace would be discouraging because you know what you were once capable of and don't need the reminder of how out of shape you now are; you just want to want and enjoy what it means to run again. And it's fantastic for when you're on holiday and you want to go explore a new area and enjoy all it has to offer on foot. You're exploring first, running second.

Running wearing my watch but only tracking one stat during the run serves a whole other purpose. This is where becoming a body whisperer comes in. It's all about learning to trust your body to tell you how you are running, not some piece of techology. Here are a few examples:

The out and back timed run: 
This is one of my favourite kinds of runs. I choose a route that I know the level of difficulty will be similar in both directions, so a place like the seawall is perfect. I either go 15-20 min in one direction at interval pace, then take 5min to recover before going back in the other direction, starting the second 15-20 min session at the exact spot I ended the first. Or if I'm doing a more moderately paced run, I will simply run the 20 min out, then turn around and head back right away. In either scenario, the goal of the second half of the run is to remember where I began the first half, and try to overshoot it in the time I have left (ideally) or simply get there right on time. This is a great way to work on keeping pace consistent and steady or to practice negative splits. 

Running by feel:
This is exactly what it sounds like. This can be not fretting about pace appearing too fast when it's supposed to be easy....I know these days as my speed is improving, my "easy" pace is getting re-defined. What's easy on a hilly course versus flat is different, but as is an easy pace when I'm fully rested versus tired. So instead of fretting about what the pace is on my watch, I simply go with how it feels. If I can hear my breathing and can't talk easily, I'm going too fast. I only look at my watch on these long easy runs to verify distance. I ignore pace, and then after the run, if I do look at what pace I was running, it generally is in the range it should be. So why fret?

The running by feel idea was huge for me when I was returning from injury and the low iron thing. Everything was slower than it "should" be, but if I would simply get the workouts in at the same quality/intensity as they were before, pace would eventually drop again. And it did. This was particularly important for my tempo runs. For a few months, I didn't track my pace at all during or after the runs, just based it on the effort that a tempo should feel like. I've only started looking at pace again the last 3 weeks, and they are the fastest tempos of all time :)

There's probably lots of great resources out there on being a body whisperer. I'm trying to learn as much as I can by practicing these runs regularly, and I am getting good at it. If you see a resource that I might enjoy, please feel free to pass it my way. Here's one I found recently in Runner's World titled Becoming a Body Whisperer.

What's next? The New Balance Fall Classic half marathon on November 17th

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Please "Like" my Facebook page

Dear readers, I'm excited to announce that I've created a new Facebook page! With all the love and support this blog has received, this seemed like the perfect next step. Please check it out, like my page, share with your friends, and don't be shy about posting directly on the page. I'd love to hear from you!