Friday, December 26, 2014

2014, You Were Kind!

I can't believe it's already that time of year. Another memorable Christmas is over, and the year is winding down. Dreaming of 2015 and what it holds has already begun. So along with that, comes reflecting on the year 2014 was and has been. It was quite a year for me. I'm almost sad to wrap it up. But with every chapter ending, a new one begins. I am hungry for a new year along with all the milestones I'm expecting it to carry plus all the ones that remain mysteries and surprises for now.

My year was one of personal and career milestones. My soulmate asked me to marry him on Valentine's Day and I spent much of the coming months planning what would be the most memorable day of my life - our wedding day on September 6th. It was a magical time as I somehow got even closer to and more in love with those family members that helped make that day magical for us. And I don't want to make any of my readers queasy by saying how getting married deepened the love shared between me and my husband - oops, sorry I just did. 

On the career side of things, exactly a year ago tomorrow, I started working with Steve Nash Fitness Clubs. I felt like I was taking a big risk by applying for and accepting this position as I'd never done anything like it before and I had a pretty stable job. But I was stressed in the role I was in and not completely satisfied plus super confident in my ability to succeed in something new. I was also eager for the opportunity, and passionate about what the company stands for - making fitness the best part of one's day. The year there has been great - I have met the most incredible people through this position, I'm inspired every day by like-minded colleagues and club members, and it's a positive environment to be in everyday. But most excitingly of all, I was given the opportunity to pursue my personal training certification on the side of this while working for the company. I've just completed the course and 2015 will take my career within this company to the next level. I will actually be working with clients who want to change their lives through fitness and I really can't wait!

At the 2014 April Fools Run- photo credit Leo Lam
2015 was also quite a year for me as a runner. It wasn't what I imagined the year would be, but still quite a year! I was originally signed up to run a marathon, thinking I might actually run 2, but I ended up not doing any at all. After some really grueling half marathons due to my hip injury and muscle cramping in my quads, I switched my marathon plans to more half marathons (4 for the year) and all during the first half of the year. I was honoured to be an ambassador for the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run as I was running this for the 3rd year in a row. While I had a lot of fun at this race being it is my favourite race, I didn't race well at all. After about 15km, I cramped and completed the race in considerable pain. My next couple halfs were thus both run without any intention of timing a certain way, but I ran them for fun as a reminder that I have the endurance to run long, but perhaps it was time I rested my body from racing that distance for finish time achievement. 

At the Calgary Marathon with Sheila and our giant medals!
The next couple half marathons I ran were just that - running a respectable distance as a reminder of how far my body has come over the years without the stress of trying to achieve something it needed a break from. I did well in both those races and had a blast doing so. Running the 50th Anniversary half marathon race at the Calgary Marathon was a particular highlight as it was a race in another province, a big milestone party for that race and community, a chance to visit my dear friend Jennifer and her family, and I ran the whole race side by side with my friend Sheila.

For the second half of the year, after running Calgary in June, I changed up my goals and started signing up for more short distance races including 5km, 8km, 10km and a 1-miler race. This was such a great experience for me as I discovered how racing these shorter distances is a completely different sport than endurance distance racing. I was hungry to learn more and push myself more in these distances. In many ways, training to get faster at these times is harder work than training for a marathon. You don't need to do the stupidly long training runs, no, but the intensity of the workouts are indeed turned up. You can't get faster without training fast. And I had to change things up in my resistance training too at the gym.

With Kirill, Ambleside Mile race director
The result of this were some unexpected achievements. I achieved a new personal best in the 5km distance at the St. Patrick's Day 5km race which is a race with a very fast field. 

I also finished the Ambleside Mile in 1st place for my age group in what was one of my favourite races of the year because my lungs were burning the entire way (I felt like a true athlete racing hard). It was my first time winning an age group and although this was a small race, this was a huge ego boost anyway!

And then there's my biggest achievement in running this year - winning my age category for the Lower Mainland Road Race Series (LMRRS). I have been wearing my watch I won as a prize for this every day as a reminder of the achievement. In case you missed it, here is the blog post I wrote after winning this award. I am going to run a bunch of the races in this series next year to give it another shot, starting with the Icebreaker 8km in February.

After the Squamish Days 10km, my final race part of the LMRRS, I tore a muscle in my calf and had to take time off to heal. In addition, the wedding was getting closer and closer and I had lots to do to get ready for it. My fall races were thus just about getting back into it and completing the races. After a few months of getting back into running and regaining strength and endurance, I'm eager to take my training to the next level. Once I pass my PT exam, I'm going to make this happen!

My first really important race will be the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run (half marathon), returning as ambassador again and running this for my 4th year in a row. You should absolutely join me as this race is one of a kind! That's why I keep going back. What a wonderful way to see the Sunshine Coast and enjoy a daytrip away, plus the race seriously rocks. There's also a sweet discount if you register before Dec 31st - only $30. Sign up here today and tell them I sent you!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

BCPTI Graduation and Two Awesome Races in 2015

I've not posted since November 1st. My goal for this blog is to be done with such long gaps in writing. I have just finished what was the busiest 6 weeks I've had in a long while as I enrolled to complete the certification course at the British Columbia Personal Training Institute (BCPTI) which started November 10th and wrapped up only yesterday. I suspected I'd be challenged at finding time to write with still working full time, taking the course, doing my readings, assignments and practicum, while still finding time to work out 5x per week and spend time with family. But I'm done now, and what a great ride it was! I'm a little sore from yesterday's workouts, but not at all exhausted or drained from all the hours I spent "on" with little break these last 6 weeks. In fact, it's the opposite - I feel inspired and excited for my future and the next step of my career. It was a great course where I learned a ton from experts in the fitness industry. I write my exam in early January, and pending all goes according to plan on that day, I will then be officially certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a Personal Trainer! 

With one of my amazing teachers, Shelley

I took this course for many reasons, but mostly because I really want to enjoy the rewards of helping others change their life through fitness, in the same way that fitness changed my life forever. I still look in the mirror at times and can't believe who I see. I get absolutely inspired every time I learn of someone who wants to make their own change, and I know how hard and scary that journey can be. I know I can assist others, but the missing piece was the knowledge. I'm well on my way now and I'm hungry to learn more and more so I have more tools and knowledge at my disposal to assist others. 

And also as a runner, I know full-well about muscle imbalances that can be caused from running alone, and I also know how a strength training routine has improved my running form, posture, endurance, and not to mention, it's helped me sculpt a body I never thought I could have to make me feel confident wearing short running shorts! 

So what's next for me as an athlete? I've been working hard to restore the strength in my calf at the gym and its endurance to run long after a muscle tear this summer and I am ready to up things again. The longest I've run is 16km, but part of that has been restrictions on time rather than anything else. So with January around the corner and my course complete, I will have more training time again. I've started to register for races in 2015, starting with the Icebreaker 8km in Steveston in February. 

But I would LOVE for you to run with me at a race or two next year. There's a couple special runs out there I want you to register for TODAY!
  • Whether you are new to running and want a short distance race to set a goal toward or you are a seasoned runner and you want to race 5km or 10km fast, the West Van Run is a great option! Race registration is very reasonable, and if you join my team, Run With Zahida, you can register with a 15% discount! Just enter discount code "@artbyzahida" (my Twitter handle - don't forget the @) and voila!
  • I'm back again as Ambassador for the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run, my absolute favourite half marathon. Register before Dec 31st to save and set a resolution to start training for this in January. This will be my first half marathon since June 2014, and I'm so excited to return to this race for my 4th year in a row. It's a race that's super scenic and an absolute blast to run! You do not want to miss this!
So what are you waiting for? Register and come join me!!!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Race Report: Rock N Roll Vancouver Cunningham Seawall 10K

Approximately a week ago, on October 26th 2014, was the inaugural Rock N Roll race event in Vancouver. I opted for the 10km option over the half marathon when I first registered as I had planned to take this season off of long distance races to focus on building speed on the shorter distances. Of course the 10km option was building on the tradition of the old James Cunningham Seawall Race, where in 2013, I ran the 9.5km distance in 49:08 which if adjusted for a 10km distance would have me finishing in just over 51minutes - my fastest 10km. Part of me hoped I could actually get a 10km PB here now that this race would become an official 10km. But of course after injury, I was not in my best racing shape this time around. The 10km distance was the right choice still for me as my legs weren't ready for more.

Despite not being in my best racing shape, I very much looked forward to this race. My most recent marathon was the Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon in 2013. San Diego is of course where the Rock N Roll series started, so it's the biggest and with the most tradition. But this race, even though it was a marathon, felt like a party from start to finish. Until the pain of the marathon set in, I almost forgot I was running, as the atmosphere was so incredibly positive. I looked forward to the Vancouver equivalent. This would be my 14th race of 2014, and likely my final one until next year.

Leading up to the event, more excitement built up for me as the weather forecast promised sunshine, my legs showed signs that I could run well, and the expo had some exciting surprises in store. As always, these big races end up being a big party and reunion with the many friends I have become acquainted with through the running community. The expo was no different and a great start to kicking off the event. It was well organized with lots to see and lots of space to allow comfortable browsing and socializing. I went with my friend Patti and her little daughter and we had a blast. Upon arrival, I bumped into my friend Sigrid who won a VIP race day experience for two and chose me as her +1 to join her for the experience. At the time, I didn't really know what the envelope with my VIP goodies meant, but it sounded like it would be lovely, and I excitedly tucked it away into my bag to browse when I got home. I don't know if she yet knows how much much it meant to me she chose me. So if you're reading this, Sigrid, thank you :)

October 26th has a history to it, being the date 7 years ago that my father passed away suddenly of a heart attack. The race falling on this day was significant because Dad's passing was very much my motivation to get myself healthy. This race, falling on this day, would be a way to quietly honour him, and I wasn't surprised that the sun decided to shine this day. This was no coincidence.

I wasn't as well rested going into this race as I had wanted to be, but I have no regrets enjoying a friend's birthday party on the Friday before and a Whitecaps game the night before. But perhaps the fatigue in my legs contributed to how I felt at the race. I was able to run well without any discomfort from whatever lingers of the old calf muscle injury. But I couldn't push hard the way I normally do on a 10km because I don't yet have the strength I once did. Instead I took it at about a 5:30/km pace which is one that's very easy on my lungs and just under the limit for the current state of my legs. I managed to keep this pace pretty evenly through the race and finished in a respectable 56:20 - not bad for my current state. I was pleased with the result even though far from a best.

It was an early start to this race and because of my evenings out previously, it was particularly hard to get out of bed. I almost forgot why the alarm was set. I jumped out of bed, got my gear on, and was out the door. I felt very fortunate that my VIP package included parking right by where the start line shuttles were lined up and I could check my bag at the VIP private bag check inside the Renaissance Hotel after freshening up there.

The start line area was crowded and difficult to find the ideal spot for a warm-up as crowds and crowds of runners were arriving in all directions. I started to wonder if I should've skipped the shuttle and warmed up by running the 2km over. I also worried the course would be very crowded with so many people. But I managed to get a warm up in, and the race corrals were very well executed ensuring the narrow seawall never felt crowded even though almost 3000 people were running it at the same time. There wasn't a ton of on-course entertainment (probably more was focussed on the half marathon route), but it was a very positive atmosphere and I enjoyed every step of the journey. The highlight was the drumming group and just some individuals out there cheering with entertaining personalities and signs to smile at.

I crossed the finish line feeling good and collected my medal - quite an impressive one indeed. I was very pleased that the design honours the tradition of 44 years of the Cunningham Seawall Race. Although it would have been cool if it somehow also mentioned the fact this was the inaugural Rock N Roll race. Regardless, it's a beautiful souvenir, and I won't forget what it means.

After crossing the finish, I headed over to the VIP tent to stretch, grab my bag, change my clothes, and grab a bite to eat. I was pleased there was hot coffee available to hold in my chilled hands. I took a quiet moment to myself here and reflected on the race and on Dad, and then I headed over to the finish line area to look out for my friends who were running the half marathon. I was pleased to bump into my friend Mary and her daughter and we caught up and watched the race together. I saw a few familiar faces among the crowd, but with so many racers finishing around the same time, I was sure to have missed most people I knew. Fortunately, I saw Sigrid finish, and once I did, I headed back to the VIP tent to meet her there. Since she invited me to join her, I didn't want to delay by waiting out on the course for too long.

We had a blast here. I will say that the VIP experience was incredible. It wasn't just the private bag check, free parking, and limitless hot food and cold beer. It was also a great social experience and a chance to catch up in a social setting with old friends and contacts in the running community and a chance to make some new friends too. 

I'll definitely be back in 2015 if I can, but I might opt for the half marathon.

What's next for me? No more races in store for 2014, but I've started planning for 2015. The only race I'm officially registered for is the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Half Marathon. I'm ambassador for the race for the 2nd year in a row, and this will be my first half marathon of 2015 and first since running Calgary this past June. I'm excited to train for distance again in the new year. Until then, I'll continue to work on building strength.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I need to blog

Let's begin by stating the obvious - I need to blog. It's been well over 2 months (close to 3). I have been looking to get writing again, but it's been tough. My list of excuses began with getting down to crunch time in planning the wedding and every moment of spare time was needed. Then injury hit and I was in need of time off so running wasn't happening. Then the wedding happened (yay, I'm a married woman now!!!). Once I began running again, it took a while for a running event to come up to write about, although I had several other topics I could write about. I started to feel overwhelmed by all I needed to say, I decided to not say anything at all.....

But I'm back now and I'm not going to attempt to do the race reports that I used to do here, at least not today. I'll simply commit to getting back to that rhythm for future racing seasons. Perhaps as 2014 comes to a close and I reflect on this year, I'll have more time to write more. For now, I'll simply update you on what I've been up to.

I absolutely should have written again in August. After running the Squamish Days 10K, there was only one race left in the Lower Mainland Road Race Series. This was the Richmond Oval 10K in mid-August. I wasn't running but was monitoring the results to see how others in my age category would impact my ranking. I was thrilled to learn that the two girls I was looking out for were not running that race, so I ended up winning my category for the race series and a brand new Timex watch. I am very pleased with this outcome. There are many runners out there far more capable than me that could have won this award. This is what I tend to focus on as I work hard to get faster and faster and I go back and forth between being inspired by and discouraged by this fact. I forget that despite this fact, there have been races where I've come in the top 10% or better, and when I am doing my worst, I'm still in about the top 25%. Somehow I forget that I'm well above average - in fact, if I may dare say, I'm pretty darn good at this sport. My results in these races were good enough to earn me points in 5 races, that means finishing in the top 20 in my age category.  When I think of where I started when getting healthy and becoming a runner, I have a lot to be proud of. How could I forget that it took a lot of hard work and dedication to get where I am and to have achieved what I did this year in running. This race series win marked that achievement in a meaningful way for me. Wearing the watch has been a great reminder of all I've achieved. I need to stop getting frustrated when I plateau in progress and remember what I have achieved. I have many years of running yet ahead of me to continue that trend. So I was sad that I had to miss the awards ceremony, but luckily I had friends there that could collect my prize for me.

Yup, it says "1st place"!
A great reminder, every time I look at the time.

August continued and as I was in a period of "active rest" rather than "training mode" leading up to the wedding, so I allowed myself to say "yes" when invited to work out with others and do new things. Unfortunately, this lead to a pretty brutal injury. It could have been so much more worse, but it was pretty bad anyway. I felt a part of my calf muscle (soleus) literally pop while doing this workout and the pain was excruciating. I was hobbling and had limited mobility for a few days, I couldn't even drive my car. There was a hole torn in my calf that I could feel, but thankfully I didn't do anything worse like hurt my Achilles. After 3 weeks completely off and lots of physio, I was ready to come back again. It was a frustrating time, but if I could pick the timing of an injury, it might as well be when I was not really training and was otherwise busy with the excitement of the wedding. I didn't have time to be upset about being injured, and I had plenty of awesome going on in my life that I couldn't be upset about anything if I tried. Life is good. The wedding took my mind off the injury and the lack of physical activity. I was getting married and was on top of the world (I'm still here and the view is great). I was also confident as I did physio that dancing at the wedding would not be hindered. In fact, I like to believe that the hours and hours of dancing at my wedding strengthened my calf and enabled me to come back to running strong. 

But coming back to running wasn't easy. It was a long frustrating road that involved run-walking and gradually adding minutes to my run time. My first run was me running 2 minutes, walking 1 and repeating this 5 times. Yes, I was on my feet 15 minutes before I was exhausted. 15 minutes is my usual warmup time, NOT my workout time. I was only running on flat surfaces, never 2 consecutive days, but I was regularly adding 1 minute of run time to each interval and increasing the number of intervals and after a few weeks of this, I was able to run without stopping again. And in each of my training runs, I wore my new Timex watch to time my intervals. It served as a great reminder that I was a capable, winning runner, coming back and would soon return to kicking butt again.

I was registered for the Eastside 10K race in mid-September but this was too much too soon for me so I opted to stay home. I was quite upset by this as I looked forward to this race, and I wasn't even in good enough shape to even consider race-walking it. But the Energizer Night Race was coming up in late September and I knew there were going to be a lot of people from the Running Room I know doing it so I was sure to have a good time. There was a 5km option and I thought trying this race for completion sake only would be a great boost to my motivation. It would be a chance to just be back in the community again - a run all about fun and glowing in the dark with friends and not about time at all.

At the Brooks "Run Happy" booth before the race.

I was up to running 12 minutes at a time by this time so I challenged myself to taking it up to 15 minutes for this race. I'd allow myself one minute of walking after hitting 15 min running, and then run the rest of the way to the finish line. I know this one wasn't about time but my strategy enabled a strong finish in 29:41 and 90th place overall (out of 415) and 10th in my age category (out of 82). Not too shabby. It was a confidence boost when I wasn't really looking for one. The race was extremely fun and the after party at the Stanley Park Pavilion was amazing!

Next up was the 8km Road Race part of the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. This would be my 4th year in a row participating in this event, but the first time running the 8km event. Previously I'd done the half, the marathon, and then the half again. With the injury recovery situation, my goal was simply to finish without having to walk and only when we approached the race did I imagine a completion time goal. As I continued to add minutes to my continuous running time, this goal was very realistic and some speed work that went OK gave me the confidence to boldly set a time goal.  I wanted to break 45minutes and run without stopping. It was a great day and a wonderful weekend away in Victoria with my husband and our family for Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law, Michele, and our friend, Joe, ran as well so we hung out before and after the race. They both did well too and our post-race brunch and then turkey dinner were welcome treats!

Feeling crazy after the race and pre-pancakes!
The race, as always, was flawlessly planned - a definite favourite among the big races in BC. We had a beautiful sunny day and lots of great on course support. I achieved my goal, squeaking in under 45 at 44:51 so I was pleased. I'm far from where I was before injury, but doing quite well for someone coming back. I'll get there soon and I'm encouraged.

And where does that leave me? To today's race, the inaugural Rock N Roll race in Vancouver. But I'm going to stop writing here so I'm forced to write another blog entry again soon. So stay tuned!!!

Thanks for being patient with me :)

-- Z

Sunday, August 3, 2014

4 Races and 1 Blog

I mentioned in my previous post how difficult it's been to stay on top of blogging recently. The wedding is only a month away now, and it seems much of my free time where I'm not running has been spent in preparation for the big day. It's amazing how much of that takes place behind a computer screen - looking up information, contacting contractors, writing and responding to emails, and so on. Blogging has taken a back seat. Sorry :(

I have a wee bit of free time given it's a long weekend and I don't have to work. I'm excited to finally write. But I'm not going to attempt to recount the last 4 races I've done in enough detail to do 4 complete race reports. Instead, I'm endeavouring to summarize them all here in this one post. Here we go...

BlueShore Financial Longest Day Road Race (5km)  - Friday, June 13th, 2014
This was my 2nd year in a row running this race.  Last year I registered somewhat last minute but ended up having a great time. It's an evening race to celebrate summer with an incredible post-race BBQ/party that has become very well-known amongst the running community. It was also race #7 in the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and one I was very much looking forward to. My goal was to beat my previous 5km time of 25:17 (personal best), maybe even get under 25min, but it was somehow very hard. The route returned back to its usual direction, which was reverse from last year, the one time I did it. I went out way too hard on the first downhill and had trouble holding the pace, then came this one particular difficult uphill that I thought would be the death of me. Disappointingly, I came in at 25:57, just squeaking in under 26 min. I know I shouldn't be disappointed, but I know I am fit enough to do better and the short distance is where I have been excelling in recently. Regardless, it was really fun. I had a number of friends there with me to enjoy the post race festivities with. I'll definitely be back again next year as it's really a good time.

Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon (5km) - Sunday, June 22, 2014

There seems to be a shortage of worthwhile 5km races to run, but it's a distance I really wanted to try a few times this year (and hope to try again even should I find another opportunity). This race, of course, is known for the half marathon really, and the 5km is somewhat "less serious" in nature. That being said, it was chip timed and I decided to give it a go given the timing of the race. It would allow me to participate in the Scotia event again, one I love as the half I've done 3 times including my very first half in 2003. And knowing it was just over a week after the Longest Day, it would be another try at the goal 5km time with the memory of the previous race still in my racing legs. This race went so much better. I went out at the right pace and held it. There were a 2 roadblocks that surely added seconds to my time, which was disappointing, but something I can factor into my time and wonder if a PB effort could have happened here at this race - (1) a driver who took their car down a closed road and I had to wait my turn among runners to get around it and (2) a wheelchair athlete that lost control down a hill that I had leap off course to dodge (don't worry, he was OK). I finished much stronger than the Longest Day at 25:31, giving me 4th in my age category and 25th female overall out of 1211 who laced up. That's right, #25 out of over 1200. Ego boost? I think so! Sure it wasn't sub-25, but I did very well indeed.

Sure my high ranking isn't typical for a race and it has much to do that the more serious runners were doing the half marathon that day and this race was classified as a "fun run". But I came out of this race feeling very good about how far I've come and with a good dose of perspective. This event had many first time racers lining up. I smiled when the race announcers asked who was running their first and I saw the number of hands going up. I recalled when I made my comeback to running and ran a 5km in 2010 to start it off, finishing in about 36 minutes. I felt so good about my accomplishment. That really wasn't all that long ago. Regardless how seriously I take myself and my sport, I'm new to it relatively, and I'm very young in terms of the years of being active. I have a lot of experience yet to gain, and hard work I can do yet. There were some very respectable finish times at this 5km race, even if the less serious of the two races that day, so I felt this race was a better sampling of the active community than many of the other runs out there where the finest athletes line up with other serious runners. Being 25th out of 1211 women is not typical for me in a race, but maybe where I should be should if I remember that most of the community aren't runners and what I can do as a runner is far above average. I have every reason to be proud.

And naturally, this race was another opportunity to catch up with friends - one of the biggest reasons I keep coming back to race over and again.

VFAC Summerfast 10km - July 19th, 2014
This was my first 10km event of the year, and my 5th event as part of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series. My previous 10km best was if were to adjust how I did in the Cunningham Seawall Race in 2013 (9.5km) to add the extra 500m. I knew I wasn't fast enough to catch that time (51:08), but I still hoped to break 52. It was a very mild morning, overcast, with a threat of big rain to come - and did it ever, right after the race. I started this one strong but simply couldn't hold my pace over the distance and progressively got slower, coming in at 54:46 and giving me 11th in my category. I also know I did much better here than I did last year.

Talking to other runners, we seem to agree that the 10km race is one of the hardest. You're attempting to hold a faster pace over a much longer period of time, and there's at least one point where you feel a bit of hell as a result. The 5km you push yourself harder, but it's over such a short distance, you can easily see beyond it, knowing you're "almost there" the whole time. A half marathon, you go hard, but with breathing easier, meaning that if all goes right, you can remain relatively comfortable for most of it. The 10km is a hard place somewhere in between - the pace you expect of yourself is still pretty intense, and every time, somewhere between the 6-7km mark, I contemplate quitting, with lungs burning and the finish line still nowhere in sight. I was OK with the poor finish this time knowing it was my first time racing this distance in 2014. But I went home thinking I'd want one more go at this distance before taking a racing break and "active rest" period leading up to the wedding. After seeing that my 11th place finish in my category put me in position to guarantee ranking in the Lower Mainland Road Race Series, I thought it'd be nice to try to better my position and point total by registering for one of the last 2 races. Perhaps it'd be like doing the back-to-back 5km races where the 2nd one goes way better.

Squamish Days 10km - August 3rd, 2014
This race was this morning, a very hot day in Squamish, and what a fun time I had. This race, although the result was slower, was a much stronger-feeling effort than Summerfast. Running Summerfast did prep me mentally and prime my legs for the effort. While energy certainly waned later in the race, I felt like I could squeeze effort out. I think it was just hot and I was very tired going in. I came in at gun time 55:14 (55:06 on my watch) which was 8th in my category, helping my LMRRS ranking, but far off from where I wanted to be (by a good 3 minutes). I was surrounded by people I know getting PBs and getting age category awards, I had to hold back any negative thinking about how I did in this race. I am pleased with today as I've come to realize that I need to stop comparing myself to those who've been running for years and years and those who are faster yet than me. I can aspire to what they achieve but I have to remember that where I am currently at is much more capable than I ever imagined myself to be. What I achieved today is actually very good and with continued hard work, I will see improvements.

After the race I got invited to a BBQ with members of VFAC, coach John's "other" running club - the one with whom many of Vancouver's finest athletes run with (including the overall winners of this race today). I had some lovely and encouraging conversations with club members and coach John, and it reinforced my very positive thinking after a difficult race.

The race was also a lot of fun as the course took me to our old stomping grounds of Squamish. I love the drive up the Sea to Sky, and I loved passing Cam's old "house" twice in this out and back course. It was a little run down memory lane and although he wasn't there to cheer me on as he had to work, I very much felt him there with me.

What's next for me?

A month of "active rest". That means no racing goals, just working to maintain my fitness and have fun doing so!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Running Happy

It's been over a month now since my last blog post. I got one of those Facebook reminders yesterday, essentially asking me why it's been so long since my last Run With Zahida status update. I thought to myself, "aw crap" because time is ticking and my regular blog posts and status updates just have not been happening. It's been over a month since I ran the Longest Day 5K, and a week after that, I ran yet another 5K race (stronger and 30s faster), but my usual day-after-race-day race reports did not happen after either race. In fact, I have the Summerfast 10K this coming weekend, and still no blogs to show for it. I'm far behind but I have not forgotten that I'm a run-blogger. My only excuse is that my free time is taken up quite a bit with wedding planning. Until the big day, I can easily find time to do the running bit, but the writing-about-running bit is a time commitment I am not always able to give.

But this morning, as I went through my drawers to track down something to wear for my Sunday morning long run, an idea came to mind.

This idea has been brought to you by....dirty laundry.

For the last few months since the weather got warmer, I've been cycling through 3 pairs of running shorts. Given that I run 3-4 times a week, it requires me to do running gear laundry at least once a week to make sure I always have a pair of shorts ready to go. I have been busy, laundry hasn't happened of late, and so all 3 pairs were in the hamper this morning. And so the search for a suitable alternative began.

I came across my pair of Brooks "Run Happy" running shorts that I won at a Brooks product knowledge event for Running Room staff by answering a trivia question correctly. I remember when I received them I loved them, given how fun they were, the fact that they were littered with the "Run Happy" slogan (a motto I think we all ought to live by), and the gorgeous blue colour they were. I tried them on when I got home and thought to myself, "so darn cute, but gosh they're short" and promptly put them in my drawer to be forgotten about.

You see, being overweight so long, it took time before I felt comfortable wearing shorts. I've finally realized that shorts are not only comfortable, but they look good on me. There are days though even today where I'm self conscious about my legs. I have big legs. I for those reasons tend to choose the shorts with longer inseams and that are often labeled "for the more modest woman" or "for those who like more coverage". But when I tell myself I have to cover up, it's actually me thinking negatively about myself; I'm not doing myself any good. I have to realize that my legs are big because I have muscle. And lots of it. My legs are big because they run a couple thousand kilometres each year. I shouldn't have stick legs, nor do I want them. Muscle is beautiful. These shorts that I once categorized as "too short" weren't looking so short this morning. Perspective (and dirty laundry) changed everything. They were looking quite perfect. I put them on and they made me feel good. Like an athlete. I liked what I saw in the mirror and I decided that I was going to run my long run in them today and I was going to "Run Happy"

In-the-mirror selfies, a type of "photography" I usually avoid. But here I am. See the shorts really aren't that short. And my legs are actually pretty awesome. I ought to stop having such mixed feelings about them. They've carried me for miles after miles, over several finish lines. I should celebrate them.

Run Happy....That really is the point of running, isn't it? To be happy? Yes, I consider myself an athlete. Running is my sport. I train hard to achieve more and to improve my endurance and speed. I run to stay healthy and to spend time outdoors. But really, the whole reason I love this sport so much is because it makes me happy. Really genuinely HAPPY. A run is the one place I can let go of all stress and all responsibility and just be. The feeling of moving so freely is liberating and really nothing else compares to it. Not even close.

I decided to plan my route and leave the GPS watch at home. Sunday long runs are not about pace, but about getting the distance in. So I opted to do something I never have done before - take my phone with me so I can stop frequently to take pictures. I'm going to enjoy the whole running route and remind myself that the routes on the North Shore that I frequent are stunningly beautiful.  I tend to take them for granted because it's just, well, normal. But on a beautiful sunshiney morning, it's worth sharing. So I packed my phone with me so I could share my morning run with my blog readers: the sights I see and the thoughts I think of when out for a long run. I was excited with my idea, and actually quite impressed that I came up with such brilliance at 7am.

Off we go, pre-run selfie! 

I only have to run about a kilometre from home before I see this stunning view of the downtown Vancouver skyline. Pretty amazing!

A couple kms later, and here we are, at the Boulevard - about a kilometre of gravel trail in a gorgeous residential park, all on a hill. Somehow I usually end up running this darn thing uphill instead of down. I think it's view of Grouse Mountain that captivates me and keeps me coming back.

Oh good morning, Lynn Valley. Where is everyone? It's almost 8am. Why aren't more people awake and enjoying this amazingness?

Hahah, you call that a hill? I eat hills for breakfast. RARRRR! But come to think of it, I'm not really hungry at the moment. I think I'll turn left at this stop sign instead. You know, because if I do, I might see some horses that live down this road and horses are cute. :-)

It's approaching 9am and the sun is starting to get VERY hot. WAIT A SECOND...this park has a water fountain. AGUAAAAAAA!!!!!! I'll be having me a drink and dunking my head in the water too. Thank you!

When I reach Victoria Park, I always smile. It's so beautiful here, and always so nicely landscaped. It's also a reminder that I'm one short mile from home (with minimal hill to get there) AND there's more water here too!

Mission accomplished, I indeed Ran Happy! It's amazing what a pair of shorts can do. I think I know what I'm wearing at my next race!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Race Report: Ambleside Mile

This past Saturday I ran the shortest distance race I have run to date at the Ambleside Mile. It was such a great experience. 

As I've said before, I'm taking a break from the long distance races given that I've plateaued in making progress there and that recently in distance races if I do push hard to get the time I want, I end up suffering from severe leg cramping later in the race. Meanwhile, every time I run a short distance race, something really great happens. My times keep improving and it's such a great ego boost. I always feel like a million bucks after a short distance race, regardless if I make a time improvement or if my improvement is minor, likely a bit of that runner's high I only seem to experience after running hard and fast. So in talking about my goal to improve my 5km, 8km, and 10km race times, coach John suggested I try this 1 mile race. It seemed like a ludicrous idea to register for something so short in some ways (don't you somehow get more for your money when the race is 26 miles long, not 1?). But in other ways this was the absolute perfect idea. I can try to run my fastest mile any time I want as it only takes a few minutes of my time and you don't need to be a genius to figure out a 1-mile route. But nothing beats the conditions and the adrenaline rush of race day. Being surrounded by athletes all with their own goals, all with their own achievements, all geared up to go - there's something about it that motivates you to give it your all. I was excited about trying and seeing what I was capable of.

My mile times from interval nights have hovered around the 8min mark for some time, so I was not sure what I could do in a race setting. Again, a bit of plateauing, or because I'm finally recovering from being down and out several weeks could be what made those times slower than what I know I can do. My last few weeks were bad too because of poor sleep or other lame excuses. I really didn't know what kind of mile time I could do on race day because my mile times just weren't budging on Tuesday interval nights. And on interval nights, if we were doing 1-milers, I'd run each knowing I have another 1-miler to do after, and I'd be probably somewhat tired from whatever I did before. Here on race day, there was just the one mile to contend with. You warm up well, and then when the gun goes off, you have to give it all you've got because it'll soon be over.

I am really fortunate to have really incredible athletes in my life that I can talk to and who are really happy to offer me advice. What Nancy told me the last time we worked at Running Room together really stuck with me (although I likely don't have it down verbatim so it won't be in quotes) and she said some of the same when I saw her pre-race -- run hard and be prepared to feel quite uncomfortable by the 400m mark, but keep going, because the discomfort will be over in a few short minutes. Receiving advice from a former Olympian runner, well that's something you listen to. I also received good advice from John on approaching the race when it comes to cadence compared to our previous track workout. Of course, the point of having a coach is to listen to his advice (even if sometimes I don't do all of my homework). The times he calculated for me were a little bit conservative though, and I knew that despite a few bad workouts a few weeks in a row, they were all bad for a reason (not fitness) and I had more in me. I started out the race just as he said, getting the feel of the cadence of our last track workout and how I ran those 400m repeats. But knowing I only had 1200m more than that to run total, I pushed harder and told myself, just a few minutes more.

I did quite a bit of mental prep for this race too that morning, being a later race start. I thought about the fact that this was such a short race and how that feels more like an athletic competition than some of the other races I've done where in some ways, it can be seen as just about showing up and finishing. I thought about all the years athletic competition was something I never imagined myself being part of. I remembered all the years of track and field in school and how I was never considered to compete in anything at the track meets except shot-put - presumably because it's the one event you're practically standing in one place to do so fitness is not required. The one year I was on the C-list to run a leg of the 4x100m relay was both exciting and ego-shattering at the same time. The prospect of running 100m was exciting, but the only hope I had of competing was if all 8 runners in the A and B lists all got sick/hurt at the same time so it was a safe bet I'd spend the entire meet sitting in the bleachers. But times have changed for me. Now I compete. I legitimately have the ability to be fast and I was there at this mile race to achieve. I have indeed become an athlete. It was a nice feeling to remind myself of this.

The Ambleside Mile is a mile race with a long history but was traditionally called the "Masters Mile". Only in the last couple years has it opened up to include other age groups. It was great seeing how many families came out and how many kids were excited to run the mile. I also knew this meant there would be few people my age at this race, and in many ways, this was a refreshing change. I had a great time during my warmup crossing paths with many seasoned runners. The speed and fitness that many of these runners still have despite their years was absolutely inspiring. It was an honour to run this race with them and to recognize how few years I've had in this sport myself and how much more I can learn and achieve as I keep working at this. It's a sport I hope to be part of for many years ahead.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and every detail of the race experience was well organized and thought out by race director, Kirill. He takes great pride in making his races exceptional and I was thrilled to be able to support him by signing up. I was also pleased to see him take 5 minutes out of his morning to race his own event (he's freaky fast). Thanks for such a great race experience. I'm definitely signing up next year!

With race director, Kirill
The only detail that wasn't perfect, was the race timing. For any race, accurate timing is important. But such a short race like this, every second means so much. I won't get into the problems the timing caused but for my race, I'm confused to this day how my time changed from what was published on day one to something faster, but my time now shows as 7:04 - a good 30+ seconds faster than I was aiming for. I'm thrilled, of course wondering if I could have broken 7 min. I'm thrilled because while I have a 5km personal best this year, the rest of my races have been somewhat mediocre, at best. This was a huge ego boost for me. And the neatest part about it was that I not only crushed my goal, but I was the fastest in my F30-39 age category. I mentioned before that this race only recently opened up to different age groups but my theory is you have to show up to win something, and I showed up and won :) I'll take it!
Clock reading the time of day, not the runners' finish times. How confusing...

So what's next? The Blueshore Financial Longest Day Road Race at UBC on Friday, June 13th. I'm taking on the 5km and am excited to try to beat my best time from the St. Patrick's Day 5k

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Race Report: Centaur Subaru Calgary Half Marathon

Not quite my usual speed in posting after a race, I apologize, but boy has this runner girl been busy since running this half marathon a week ago. I had originally signed up to run the Scotiabank Calgary Marathon last weekend, June 1st 2014, as this is Canada's oldest marathon and this year celebrated it's 50th anniversary. The race experience and the commemorative belt buckle finisher medal promised to be epic, and the idea of doing a marathon in another Canadian province had large appeal. Friends agreed and next thing I knew, several running friends signed up too. It promised to be a great weekend participating in a big race with many familiar faces, and also a chance to travel with Cam to spend time with our dear friends Jennifer and Casey (and their cute little boy) who live in Calgary and we don't see often enough.

With some running friends from BC doing the marathon and 50K

With the hip injury and other setbacks, I decided a few months back that another marathon was not what my body needed in 2014 and downgraded my race to the Centaur Subaru Half Marathon. This was a very wise move, and the moment I took this step, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. After running the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon strong about a month before (that is, running without a watch and without caring about finish time, yet doing OK anyway and not cramping), I wasn't sure how I wanted to approach this race. It was going to be the last planned half marathon for the calendar year so perhaps one last chance to try to get my best finish time and finally break 2 hours. Then I realized that I haven't fully addressed my cramping issue and I was traveling to a race in a high altitude city which could make it challenging. I knew I wasn't in prime form to go hard and not cramp, so I took the easy road of running for completion instead. I didn't want to risk having a bad race and being in a bad state after when the real point of this race was to enjoy the experience and spend time with friends. I also knew there was a chance I could run with my friend Sheila who I hadn't run with in almost 2 years, and enjoying her company at a race was absolutely the way I wanted to run this one. We had a blast! Just forgot to properly coordinate our outfits :-)

Race day conditions were perfect. The sun was out but there was a nice breeze so it stayed cool enough to be comfortable throughout the race. The course was beautiful and flat, and the community was out in full force cheering with some of the most creative race signs I've ever seen. What a fantastic race experience! Although the course was flat, I struggled with my breathing. It surely has much to do with the altitude and the dry air. In the end it was one of my slowest half marathons ever at 2:14:29, but I had such a great time running with Sheila. We met through running, and I hope that we can run together for many years to come, despite our geographic distance. Her husband Shaun, my fiance Cam, and my best friend Jennifer were out on the course cheering for us and met up with us at the finish line. After some post-race massage and time hanging out at the race after party, we headed out for brunch and drinks. A very memorable race experience indeed.


It was very much a reminder too that the half marathon distance is one that I can easily do, but I'm not as excited anymore about it given the lack of progress in the distance. I'm excited though about short distance races, and have a bunch of them coming up this year that I know I can do well in. First of these was the Ambleside Mile yesterday. I'll write a race report for that shortly (stay tuned).

A big congratulations to my friends Humphrey (who did the 50K in just over 5 hours) and Kristy, Sherry, Kathy, Kara, and Chelsea, who all completed the marathon. Congratulations on your exceptional achievement! Thank you again, Sheila, for running this one with me. Let's do it again, closer to sea level next time.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Race Report: BMO Vancouver Half Marathon

Another half marathon in the books, my 17th to be exact, at today's BMO Vancouver Marathon. I can't believe it's been a month since I last blogged (yikes), as I meant to write a pre-race post. But today's race is one I feel really good about. I achieved exactly what I set out to do, and I feel good. Really good.

My results in my last several half marathons have been quite frustrating, and it's taken some work to flip my attitude where it should be. I am driven and stubborn, and when I don't see progress and improvement, I tend to allow it to discourage me, but also to drive me to obsession - I have to get what I want. Perhaps that's why I have done so many half marathons, my undying goal to beat that 2 hour barrier. Something would always get in the way of getting there, whether it be injury, iron deficiency, bad luck, GI distress, or more recently, intolerable quad cramping. But instead of re-framing my goals, I would try something new to see if it would work, and then try again to hit the goal. 17 tries later, I still haven't gotten there. I got very close a few times, but something would always go wrong. Zahida doesn't give up.

I went into today's race with the conscious decision to not try for the time goal. Part of me wonders if I did try harder could I have gotten it as I felt well rested and charged today, and 100% free of soreness. That said, my fitness took a bit of a beating as I rested well in April to focus on getting healthy again, and on relaxing at the beach in Mexico, so the likelihood of being at my prime was not high. But even if I was physically ready to get the time, I didn't want to try. My quads exploded into cramps in 3 of the last 4 half marathons and I was terrified of it happening again. Those last 4 half marathons were terrible for my ego and what I needed more than anything was an ego boost and a race where I wouldn't be running in excruciating pain for miles on end. If I try again to go faster, it could happen again. I needed a stress-free and pain-free race. I needed a race where obsessing over time or pace would have no part. I needed to be free of the gremlins in my head who try to tell me I'm not worthy of time goal achievement in long distance races. I just wanted to finish strong, enjoy the race, and every km., and completion time would be irrelevant. So, I left the watch at home. 

I had no idea of my pace or time the entire way. I was running with a naked wrist and a freed mind and spirit. I was in a very happy place. A 2:08.09 finish is good considering I felt like I was doing an easy pace, able to hold conversation the whole way, not pushing myself for even a second. This was 100% intentional. I wanted this to be a solid training run, considering I have one more half marathon to run in a few weeks. The kms just flew by, probably because I wasn't tracking them or my pace. I was in disbelief when I crossed the 10km mat, and even more so when I reached the 18km marker and had none of the tell-tale signs on oncoming pain, but had a visual on the home stretch instead and a store of energy in my legs still unused. Without the stress of looking at or thinking of numbers I was free to simply run and run strong.

This was my first time running the half marathon at this race; I had run the marathon in 2012. So I was not familiar with the course, although it was mostly places I'd run before at some point. It was a pretty flat course, with only a couple of small-ish hills to keep you honest. The biggest challenge was the unrelenting rain, pouring down on us and soaking us to the bone even before we crossed the start line at Queen Elizabeth Park. This was easily the largest scale half marathon I've ever run, with about 10,000 participants. So there were crowds to run among the whole way, but a wide enough path that this wasn't really an issue of playing Frogger for long. The part that sucked was that I knew several people running the half marathon but somehow only bumped into 2 familiar faces as the crowd was simply too large. It's one of those races that you feel like you have to do because everyone you know is doing it, but in some ways, it's almost too big. 

The positive of a big race is a big race expo. I spent a good 2 hours on Thursday evening enjoying the expo and came back the next day even, trying samples, signing up for contests, and getting freebies galore. I signed up for two fall races at mega discounts. I don't think I've spent this kind of time at an expo before because every time I had an opportunity, I wanted to stay off my feet with a marathon around the corner, or I was there working a booth for my old job and had no time to look around. The expo was excellent, I had a lot of fun geeking out looking at gear and learning about products, and it was a great opportunity to catch up with friends.

Sigrid and I with our bibs next to the wall with all racers' names.

Had an early start this morning, getting up at 4:30 to gear up and breakfast, then I was off to the race. I had my usual bagel with PB, coffee, and coconut water, but on the advice of Logan, had 4 multi-vitamin tablets too (and 6 yesterday) as part of my "operation-stop-the-quad-cramp" experimentation. I parked downtown at work, leaving clean dry clothes in my car that I could dream about during the race. I hopped the train to King Edward and bumped into my friend Sydney. That was a nice treat, and we got to hang out and commiserate in the rain before the race and then ran much of the race together. I felt strong the whole way, and crossed the finish line with a smile and a feeling of accomplishment and confidence. One should never feel discouraged after finishing a half marathon - today was a good reminder of that. Completing that distance is an accomplishment. 

I wanted to wait in the finisher area for some of my friends who might be finishing behind me, but I was soaked by the rain, very chilled and had started to shiver so I opted to get warm and return afterwards. I walked back to work and hopped in the sauna a few minutes, then took a nice long hot shower. I headed back to the finish line to catch up with Nancy and Sean, Nancy having just completed the 8km. We watched the top marathon finisher cross at 2:21 or so (crazy fast), then grabbed a coffee to tide us over until our return back to the finish where I got to see my friends (another) Sean, Yuri, Tim, and Humphrey finish their marathons. That was awesome.

We finished before the Kenyan marathoners (but we didn't run nearly as far.....).
So what was my change in attitude? It's that cliche "attitude of gratitude", that's what. I've taken a step back and reminded myself that a 2:08 half marathon is "easy" for me. I am proud that I can do this. I used to be practically sedentary and now the 540km I've logged so far in 2014 is what I would consider "light training". I have come a long way. I really have no right to be so hard on myself. I should be bursting at the seams with pride in what I can do.

I've also identified an issue to "work on", rather than just simply "live through". I don't just want to survive the quad cramps, but figure out why they happen and make them stop ruining my races. There's no question I can complete a half marathon, so I don't need to keep running them at official races to prove it. I am going to keep training, but for achievement in short distance races, since that's where I'm seeing real gains, and I'm going to spend more time in the gym working on strengthening my legs so they can handle the work it takes to run faster. There's no question when I'm at my fittest I can will myself to run fast with energy to spare, but my legs are having a hard time keeping up. Most of me is ready to run a really fast long distance race, but my legs have some work to do.

So what's next? One more half marathon, then a series of shorter races. I'll still train higher distances for endurance, but race the short distances. Some races I've yet to choose/register for....but this is what I have in mind:

- Calgary half marathon (June 1)
- Ambleside Mile (June 7)
- Longest Day 5K (June 15)
- Summerfast 10K (July)
- Olympic Oval 10K (August)
- Eastside 10K (September)
- Victoria 8K (October)
- Rock N Roll 10K (October)

Until next time, keep on running, and thank you for your cheers of support! 
<3 Z

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Race Report: BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run

A beautiful day today on the Sunshine Coast, and another half marathon complete at the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run. This was my 3rd year in a row lining up for this race, and as expected, I had a really enjoyable time. Everything about this race is great - the seamless organization, the fantastic volunteers, the beautiful course, the souvenir garments....I really could go on and on. I guess there's a reason why I have run this 3 times now and will very likely be running it again in 2015.

Photo credit: Leo Lam

I was very excited about this race knowing it was my 3rd chance to run this baby, and last time I took this course on, I finished with a personal best time that still holds today. No, I didn't break my own record today, and I admit I am a little more than just a bit bummed about this. But I know this is a course I am capable of running well. In addition to just feeling competitive with my own self, I was also selected as an official blog ambassador for this race, so in thinking that perhaps a lot of people will be reading my race report, I had hoped I could finish this race strong and fast, with a story of success to report. I guess this is where I have to raise an important question and challenge myself - "Zahida, how do you define success?"

So much about the day was perfect. I got up bright and early to get myself ready and met up with fellow run blogger Yuri. We had only met briefly a couple times before, but as we all know, the running community is full of really great people. When he mentioned he wasn't sure how he would get to the race, I messaged him to sort out some sort of travel plan. Yuri got dropped off at mine and Cam's place in North Van, then Cam drove us to Horseshoe Bay so we could walk on the ferry. There we bumped into Brian, fellow blog ambassador for the Fools Run and enjoyed the ferry ride together. Bloggers stick together apparently! We arrived in Gibsons to mild temperatures and the promise of perfect race day conditions, our shuttle buses to the start line were waiting for us with helpful volunteers guiding us on board. Soon after arrival, I found my other good friend Bryan. There was also a bit of silliness in front of Keith Dunn's camera as we geared up and got ready to race. We dropped off our bags in the free gear check, and lined up at the start.

Bryan had mentioned before the First Half in February that he'd be happy to pace me to a sub-2 half marathon. At that time I was still not feeling in top racing condition because of my hip so I turned down the offer. But leading up today I felt like I could do it, and the company of a friend could help the kms go by easier, so I contacted him and asked if the offer was still good. That indeed was the case, and Bryan and I ran well and at the right pace to finish this thing where we should have. With company, the kms were flying by and I felt smooth and strong. But somehow that last uphill stretch was all I could take before cramps set in. It was a bit different than usual, starting with my feet, moving into my calves, then moving entirely out of that area, and straight into my quads where they hurt the most. Those awful quad cramps that ruined my marathons and now have worked their way into a few recent halfs (3 of my last 4), they came back. I stretched a bit and Bryan very sweetly stood by me not really allowing me to apologize. When it was clear my race was ruined, I didn't want to ruin Bryan's so I told him to go ahead and finish on his own. He told me he'd come back for me after he finishes. What a lovely gesture of friendship - thank you!

The last 4km were painful, but somehow a positive journey. I was so frustrated at this point, seeing a strong race turn sour yet again, seeing the impossibility of my goal time being reached yet again, and knowing there was still a respectable amount of distance to cover in the amount of pain I was in and it was not going to be pretty. I took some deep cleansing breaths and jogged slowly, trying desperately to keep good form. I stopped to do a PNF quad stretch to try to calm them down. It did help, albeit temporarily, but enough to get me through a bit farther. When I finally saw the 20km sign, I knew I was in the home stretch, running what felt like the longest km of the century. I turned the sharp corner toward the finish line, and my quads screamed at me - I screamed right back and burst into tears of pain. Bryan was standing there saying, "it's ok, you are allowed to walk it in".  I walked/hobbled a few metres and the crowd along the sidelines started to cheer loudly for me, seeing the discomfort I was in and the perseverance on my face. I was overwhelmed with a jolt of adrenaline caused by such community, I couldn't help but get revved up to run again, and I took the last 30m (or whatever it was) as hard as I could. Thank you running community - you seriously rock!

I crossed the finish line in pain, I caught a glimpse of the clock showing I barely squeaked in under 2:10 (official chip time was 2:09:16), and I could see Keith with the camera rolling to capture my finish, and Yuri with arms stretched wide to offer me a needed hug. I was so overcome with emotion and pain, the waterworks came, tears streaming down my face.

With Yuri at the finish line

But despite the pain, the tough finish, and the completion time, I did say the last stretch was positive. I find that when a tough moment happens, you have two options: either you roll over and succumb to it, or you just do whatever it takes to get it done. As long as getting it done doesn't hurt you in the long run, i.e., run smart and don't get injured, at least you can say you really did give it your best and you worked hard despite adversity. And when you don't hit a goal, again, you have two options: you either give up on the goal entirely and assume you'll never get there, or you assess things honestly, figure out what you did right, decide what you have to work on, and then simply try again. Don't get me wrong - I am frustrated as heck that I've run as many half marathons as I have (16 of them to be exact) and I can't hit my goal. But I refuse to let it stop me from trying. Dealing with situations with toughness and perseverance is something I am proud of. I am lucky to be able to run, and although I'm not hitting my goals, I'm at least running, working hard, being active, and being the healthiest version of me. Most people would say that someone who regularly runs half marathons and at the speed I can is something awesome. It's easy to lose sight of that when it's you, and you're in the circle of runners, all doing the same kind of thing. I don't want to lose sight of it. Goals achieved or not, I am proud of how far I've come, and proud of what I can do.

After a good stretch, I grabbed some food, claimed my bag from the bag check, and caught up with a few more of my friends at the finish line. This is one of the things I love most about the running community - I know so many people in it, and they're all awesome. Any given race I sign up for, chances are I'll know a good crowd running it, and have plenty of company there. Today I got to know some great people better, and due to generosity, found a ride most of the way home (thank you Richard and Chelsea).

At the finish I also had a very encouraging chat with coach John Hill. Somehow he always knows the right thing to say. He reminded me that I am indeed capable of a much faster finish and when I finally get under 2 hours, I'll be comfortably well under 2 hours at around 1:55. He also reminded me that I did not line up today with perfect training under my belt. So while I felt relatively good going in, I've not been 100% for any of 2014. While I go to my Tuesday night intervals religiously, my times aren't as fast as they were in the fall. And overall my mileage is much lower than where I'd like it - I've only clocked 434km to date in 2014. If I continue to feel good and healthy, I can see where my upcoming halfs take me. He encouraged me to rest and enjoy my upcoming vacation to Mexico, not to worry too much about running there, but just about getting home rested and healthy, and ready to try again. That's indeed my plan.
With coach John at the finish line

So what's next? A couple half marathons and then likely short distance races for the rest of the year (well, maybe another half if I desire another try). No, no marathons this year. I recently made the hard but right choice not to run a marathon in 2014. My body just needs a break, and my mind has to recover from associating long runs with pain. I'm fine tuning my goals, working on speed, working on getting stronger and healthier, working on making injury a thing of the past, and I will know when or if I am ready to run another marathon. I'm in no rush. The BMO Vancouver Marathon's half marathon race is the next one I'm registered for. Time to try again.

I earned this one today!!!
Check out Keith Dunn's highlight video featuring me before the race and shortly after I crossed the finish.