Saturday, February 22, 2014

Race Report: Pacific Road Runners "First Half" Half Marathon

This past Sunday, I completed my first half marathon of the season, with the race with the most fitting name - the "First Half." This is indeed the First Half locally in Vancouver, a small race, but one of very high demand in the running community. It's the only race I know of where you have to set your alarm to register in advance before it sells out. It certainly adds to the anticipation and excitement of the race, knowing you secured a coveted spot. And while my finish time is mediocre by my standards, I'm pleased with how things went, and I had a very enjoyable time at the race.

Leading up to this race, I had this paradoxical combination of fear of suffering during the race and feeling miserable mixed with a cool sense of confidence in my abilities. I've run several half marathons now (I believe this was my 15th), but my last two had been rather difficult with those dreaded marathon quad cramps attacking. They had no right to find me in a half marathon, let alone two, and fear of them coming on again was something I had to silence. Was this the new future of my half marathons? This was something I refused to believe. And with the injury I've dealt with recently and achiness I have to work through before running gets comfortable...I worried trying to push myself for 21.1km would be a bad idea. But then again, every day I feel stronger and closer to where I was before. I've been working with my personal trainer and she's helping me strengthen my problem areas, I've had some successful interval sessions, and I did very well at the Icebreaker 8km. I certainly had it in me to achieve a personal best. Considering my mixed feelings, I decided it best to keep my goals conservative - give it my best but goal number one was a strong, pain-free finish, and goal two was, simply, having fun.

I had some unexpected excitement before the race too, with Cam proposing to me Friday night on Valentine's Day! An engagement on my mind was definitely something beautifully distracting to focus on during the race to keep me smiling, but it also meant I had perhaps a little less R&R before the race than I would usually endeavour to take. I did my best to rest, and hoped that the cloud of happiness I was floating on would will me to the finish line.

As usual, it was a beautiful sunny day for this race, but some major headwinds were a real reality we had to face. I arrived downtown at an hour before the race, parked at work so I could use the washroom and do a little warm-up, then took the train to the Yaletown Roundhouse - the start and finish area to this course. It was nice finding some of my friends beforehand to catch up with and continue warming up with before lining up. I started out slow to let the crowd thin out and not get caught in their momentum, and kept my eye on my pace making sure I went no faster than 5:30/km.

At approx the 5km mark

I was very pleased to be able to keep that 5:30/km consistently, a pace that's quite easy for me, yet fast enough that if I were to maintain over the distance, would easily give me my best half marathon to date. For the first 16km of the race, everything felt very good and I had the confidence it would be smooth sailing to the finish. 

This run is such a great running community run - lots of familiar faces out there running, and friends that weren't running were on the course cheering (thank you Monica, Rose, Miles, and Alexa...) and giving me a boost along the way. It's so nice to be surrounded by this community! I also spotted Olympian Dylan Wykes on the course cheering. Sure he had friends running this race, but they would have been at the front of the pack, and I was humbled by seeing him cheering even those of us mere mortals passing by. All the volunteers along the course were friendly and helpful, aid stations were perfectly spaced, and everything about the race was awesome. Well done Pacific Road Runners, putting together such a great event!

After the 16km mark, I started to feel achiness in my hips and that tingling sciatic awfulness I've been dealing with. It wasn't unbearable, but keeping my pace up would have been too much, and I made the judgment call to pull back and jog it out for the last kms to avoid hurting myself or suffering at the finish line. I wasn't doing this race for a personal best knowing I've not been at 100%, so I decided just to finish strong, in whatever time it would take. I knew that I was super close to getting under 2 hours and I was sacrificing this, but I also knew this was the best call for me. I need to focus on getting stronger so I can be at 100% and do well in my upcoming races. If I take risks while I'm healing, I risk further setbacks. I did not want the ache to turn to real pain. I felt good about my decision and crossed the finish line with 2:05:21 as my chip time. No cramps, no bonking, no pain. When I came home, Cam reminded me that 2:05 is pretty remarkable for a bad race. I need to stop being so hard on myself.

Finishing strong!

After the race, I reunited with some of my friends at the finish line. Unfortunately, I didn't see everyone I wanted to but I stayed for the awards ceremony and enjoyed some food and company of fellow runners. This is one of my favourite parts about these races - that community spirit.

Getting into the Olympic spirit with Sigrid - 2 medals for Canada!
After the race festivities, I made my way home to my sweetheart and we picked out an engagement ring for me. What an amazing weekend it was, and one I won't soon forget.

What's next? The St. Patrick's Day 5km on March 15th.

Then my next half marathon at the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run on April 6th - join me and register by March 15th before the next price increase.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Race Report: Kajaks Steveston Ice-Breaker 8km Road Race

A week ago today, I ran my first race of 2014, and my 3rd ever 8km race at the Kajaks Steveston Ice-Breaker 8km Road Race. It was a great day, and I came out of this unexpectedly with a new personal best for an 8km race.

This race is described as a great speed tuner before the First Half Half Marathon that takes place 2 weeks later. It's also the first race of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series, attracting quite a fast field of runners. Being an out and back race on a flat course, it's both fast and inspiring as you get to see the elites zip past you after the turn around point and get a sense of who is competing.

I was introduced to this race in 2013, choosing to run it on a whim with its low registration fee, the fact it takes place in Richmond, the town I grew up in, and knowing the 8k distance isn't one I had had previous experience racing. At the time, I hadn't really done a lot of higher intensity/speed training, so signing up was for fun to see what I could do if I pushed myself. It was hard, but I had a great time doing it, and left feeling very empowered about finishing in 41:33.

Since then, I started to actually work on speed, but being plagued by injury and illness the last several weeks before the race left me with little confidence about running this race well. In fact, even the drive over to the start line, I was battling negative self-talk, telling me I'd injure myself worse if I pushed too hard, warning me I wasn't ready, suggesting I should have stayed home. I jokingly told myself, "whatever you do, don't be slower than 2013," fearing inside that I wouldn't make any improvement to a race result I achieved with no speed training. I won the battle in the end, and told the negative-talk gremlins to take a hike and told me, "seriously Zahida, just focus on having fun today, but give it your best shot no matter what"

I am really proud of my approach to this race. I recalled my success in the Cunningham race I completed in October 2013, my fastest race result to date. The secret to my success was a lengthy pre-race warmup and minimizing the amount I looked at my watch during the race. I knew there was a possibility my pace wouldn't be anywhere close to what it was at the Cunningham, so why obsess over it and look at my watch, possibly being disappointed by what I see? I arrived at the Steveston Community Centre just before 8am, found a corner and a workout mat to do some warm up muscle activation exercises, then I hit the pavement and ran for 20min. I had 10 min before the gun went off so after finding the washroom one last time (c'mon, we all get pre-race jitters!), I headed to line up at the start, but kept my body moving the whole time.

The challenge I'd been facing leading up to the race was intense sciatic pain every time I'd start or stop running, anytime I'd turn a sharp corner, or go down a hill. So unless I was going straight, I was in discomfort. I wanted to start running this race strong but I knew that there would be challenges along the way and I'd experience pain at least a few times. I refused to let that awareness disarm me. My warmup run felt really good and smooth, and I knew I could get that feeling to sustain itself during the race if I didn't stop moving after the warmup and if I took the first few hundred metres slow and easy. When everything loosened up after those first few hundred metres past the start line, I went for it, didn't look at my watch until the turnaround point, and then again at the 7km mark, just to see how I was doing. I was thrilled to see I poised for a personal best, even though literally every single turn in the road was painful and the turnaround required me to turn the corner practically walking. I allowed myself to express my pain in the moments it came, and powered through the moments I felt strong and smooth.

Gritting my teeth as I pushed to the finish line.

I finished the race in 40:58 which is a personal best for an 8km race. I know I can shatter that time though and I will as I continue to get healthier and be able to run hard without pain. But this was a great confidence boost to start the season. It was also wonderful to be back in the running community with the excitement of a race and the ability to catch up with friends at the finish line. I'm looking forward to a fun 2014 of achievement.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Welcome February

January was an eventful month albeit not the strongest for running. My lack of blogging is probably reflective of that. Starting out, I felt very confident. November and December were a struggle with injury and I finally was beginning to feel strong again and had some really good runs to start 2014. My speed was nowhere what it was in October but I knew it was just a matter of time.

Unfortunately, January had a few challenges. I had some sort of virus for weeks which had me in coughing fits at night, so sleep was a challenge. When I finally started to get over it, and started to feel like my year was beginning, my lower back and hip pain returned with avengence. A week into dealing with that and then I find myself having another day of rest ruined, this time by food poisoning.

But you know what, I'm not discouraged.  If anything I'm welcoming February with open arms.  It's another new start. It's me hitting reset again on my year. And it all begins with my first race of the season tomorrow at the Steveston Ice Breaker 8K. I've not lined up for a race since November and while I'm not in my best racing shape and am still dealing with hip and sciatic pain,  I'm starting to feel excited at last about being at "home", in the running community, with several familiar faces and the true spirit of my favourite sport renewing me.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not whining about my January.  It wasn't all bad. In fact, it was pretty darn good in a lot of ways. It was low mileage at only 133km, but that's still much much more than my pain plagued December. I only missed one Tuesday night session. I worked my first full month at my new workplace, have been thoroughly enjoying it,  meeting great people, and see it as being a very positive move for both career and health. I've starting training with a new personal trainer at the gym I work at for convenience sake. But it's more than just convenience: I'm thrilled at the expertise I'm receiving and excited about having my challenges addressed properly. I am going to strengthen my glutes and address my strength imbalances to decrease injury risk. I've lost those couple of pounds I put on in Dec from all the indulgences and decreased exercise.  And when I really think about it, 133km isn't so bad. I've had a few really fun long runs, some amazing tempos, some short and sweet spins around the block. My wheels may be slow and squeaky, but my fitness and strength are returning.

Game plan for tomorrow: don't take it too seriously and try to have fun. Because of where I am, I don't have a goal time or goal pace. I think that's the wisest plan. Push too hard, endure pain, risk further injury and future races. I'll start with core activation exercises and a nice 3km jog to warm up. With any luck, that'll loosen things up and I'll be able to run my race strong. Regardless, I plan on having fun. I plan on enjoying every moment and staying for the after party.