Saturday, November 7, 2015

4 Weeks Into My Comeback

It's hard to believe, but we've been back from our memorable holiday 4 weeks, meaning I am 4 weeks into my new job and therefore 4 weeks into my new lifestyle.

My new schedule is that of a normal working person - 7.5 hours of work a day - but since I usually work from home, I can often flex my schedule to accommodate my workout plans. This lends well to taking advantage of daylight hours for a midday run or hike, or to fit things in like fitness classes and lap swims that are on a set schedule. I simply schedule it in, and then schedule in when/how to make up the work time afterwards. The result has been that I get in 5 or 6 workouts a week, but also there has been a lot of variety in those workouts.

While I'm working out 5-6 times a week, I've been cautious in my comeback to not push myself too hard too fast. That's often my problem - I am way too competitive with myself and I have a hard time relaxing. It was the secret to my success losing 130lbs by myself, because I didn't need anyone to help me do it. I simply pushed myself, monitored my progress, pushed harder when needed. I trained myself to run marathons the same way - just go harder, do more, learn more, all in. But this work ethic has also been a factor in me injuring myself a few times - I often don't listen to my body's cues that it's done and needs a break. I keep pushing and then my body breaks down. I am not going to make this mistake again. Well, at least I'm going to try very hard not to. Variety has allowed my body to not suffer any overuse issues, but I also am cautious about what I plan to begin with.

The challenge this time around is that after 6 months of being in a much-too-stressful job meant that I put on weight. This was my first time gaining weight since I lost it all. That was honestly the first sign I needed a change in career - I was undoing all the hard work I had done. How do you lose 15lbs of weight without going "too hard"? My big dilemma.

I don't believe in dieting to lose weight rapidly, so my approach has been all about proper planning. What this means is that each week I plan my entire week's workouts before the week starts so I know exactly what I need to do every day. I schedule my 3 runs depending on weather forecasts, weekend free time, or when I know I am working from home and can get a daylight run in without the early wake-up call I hate, I schedule my two gym workouts and use my personal trainer brain to plan the workouts too so I have a plan before I arrive to the gym. And then each week, I schedule at least one fun workout just "because". The runs are to make me a better runner. The gym is to balance out the running to ensure I stay, well, balanced. And the "just because" workout is to keep my soul happy. I've done a few cool things for the soul workouts, including lap swims, fitness classes, boxing, and hiking. I'm loving this idea!

The other part of the planning process is nutrition, and this is key. Nutrition is often the thing that goes out the window when you're stressed. I wouldn't say I was stress-eating or binging etc., not the things I used to do when I was that fat girl I once was. But it's more the thinking through the food or meal-planning wasn't happening for those 6 months. I would get home late in the day and eat whatever I felt like it just because I was both sleepy and starving. They weren't necessarily unhealthy choices, but perhaps not the right choices based on what I'd already had that day, and often quick choices because I was anxious to get to sleep. Now I plan the week's meals in advance and buy groceries accordingly. And with each day, I make conscious choices on what to eat and when to eat rather than just grabbing what's on my mind or what is available when I'm already too hungry to see straight.

The result of all this planning and healthy living has been a loss of 6lbs so far. Most of that was right at the beginning, but I'm still dropping inches all over. I suppose some muscle I'd lost before is getting a second chance to shine too. My body is changing even if the scale isn't moving as rapidly. I still have 10lbs I want to lose, but I'm not worried about losing it too fast. I don't have a timeline I want to lose it by either. I know it will happen naturally with continued healthy choices. I've done this before and I can do it again (but this time it's just 10lbs) with an approach that will be sustainable moving forward.

The big key isn't the diet or the exercise really, but the fact I've eliminated stress from my life. I have time and energy to give to my relationships. Going on dates with my husband is a reality again. I sleep well and wake up without an alarm most days. I wake up refreshed and ready to take on each day. I have a smile on my face and I am slowly regaining my self-confidence.

Yes, I said it - I lost my self-confidence. I am regaining my self-confidence. I got to a point where I was very low and was seeing my doctor not only about my back injury but because I was feeling low. Now things are changing, slowly. I have my days where I feel awesome, athletic, strong, and confident. And there are days where I feel fat, ashamed for putting weight on and losing my athleticism, days where I hate what I see in the mirror. But the days of awesome are slowly starting to outnumber the unawesome days.

I have to step back and realize that I am human and it's OK to struggle from time to time. I was strong enough to make the changes I needed to enable a healthy life again rather than settling for my status quo. I have a plan and a fire within me, and I will be my old self in no time at all. And I also know I have a tendency to be harder on myself than I need to be. I am still awesome. That hasn't changed. As I said, I am now having more days of feeling awesome than days of not feeling awesome. I may not be as fit as I was, but I'm still damn fit, and that's only after 4 weeks of giving it my all. Imagine after a few more months! I'm going to be a force to be reckoned with.

So here's the plan....

  1. Keep being awesome! Keep smiling, keep planning, keep making smart, informed choices about my workouts and nutrition.
  2. Keep the variety! Keep scheduling soul workouts in addition to the ones that are needed to make me a better runner. Gotta keep it interesting! And if I enjoy a variety of healthy food too, I'll be excited about making each meal.
  3. My workout plan ... bear with me, I'm writing this out for me mostly, but perhaps you'll find it interesting :)
    • October the focus was on getting back 
      • stabilization at the gym for my silly hips, working on lessening the imbalances in my body, mobilizing what I need to, stabilizing what I need to.
      • slow running only, nothing timed, working on re-building my endurance and ability to run pain-free. My goal was to get to the point where I could run 10km without stopping and without pain, and I have gotten to that point with success!
    • November focus is strength / endurance
      • Gym work now more strength based, but with lower weights and lots of reps. I'll continue some stabilization work on the areas I still need it
      • Running will be about gradually building my weekend long run up to 16km and 1 weekday hill training run to build strength. Still running without timing myself. It's just about getting it done.
    • December focus is strength
      • Make the weights heavier at the gym! I love working with the heavy stuff!
      • Keep my weekend long runs up at the 16km range, allowing off-weeks where I max at 10km. I will start using GPS again so I can focus on pacing again. I will also take my hill training up a notch and introduce some track work.
    • January!
      • I should be ready to start running with my group for our Tuesday interval training again (I miss it so much) and hopefully more power-based gym workouts to complement. My goal is to have a 2016 of peak fitness and awesome racing! When my first half marathon in April comes along, I want it to be about doing well, rather than about just doing it to finish.

So there you have it! I have already registered for a few races in 2016 and have planned out the others I wish to do. I couldn't be more excited, but part of this is doing the April Fool's Run again for the 5th year in a row. And for the 3rd time, I am blog ambassador. Come join me in this awesome run! Visit for more information and to register!

Friday, October 23, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaack!!

Hello world, it's Zahida. Remember me? You know - that girl who talks about running all the time - it's me. I know it's been a very long while, but I assure you, this isn't going to happen again. I haven't forgotten about you, even if maybe you've forgotten about me?

I could go on about where I've been the past 6 months, but I won't. I will just say that while those 6 months were challenging on a lot of levels, they weren't entirely bad. A lot of good happened in that time. But part of the bad was a lack of running, a lack of talking about running, a lack of writing about running, and therefore a lack of Zahida being "Zahida the runner-girl".

What's more important to discuss than where I've been is WHERE I AM. Like I said, I AM BACK. Zahida, the runner-girl that once was, is once again. She has returned in all her glory. She has some catching up to do, but she's ready and eager to do it.

The results of the last 6 months means that I began October with some setbacks to overcome. Thankfully my first task of the month of October was going on an amazing holiday with my husband to Disneyland. It meant lots of walking, every day, miles and miles of walking, which was more exercise than my legs had seen in weeks. It also meant constant fun and quality time with my husband which was so healing for my soul. While I was there too, I received a job offer for something entirely new to do in my "grown-up" life, which I excitedly accepted. With that, the mouse-ears on my head, the good company in my corner, and the screamin' my guts out on thrilling rides, stress that had been accumulating and leaving a heavy weight on my shoulders magically lifted off.

Aside from stress, I have had some injury to deal with and a tad of weight-gain. In September I had some of the worst back-pain I've had in years. This time the pain was caused by my hips because of being seated for too many hours at work. I was in a pretty intense rehab regime, spending hundreds of dollars I didn't have on therapies my health insurance couldn't cover, and wearing an uncomfortable compression belt 24/7 to mimic the hip stability I no longer had naturally. But it all helped and after 8 weeks of being "on the mend", I'm just about there! My twice a week resistance workouts at the gym have been focused on stabilization and rehab rather than strength/muscle gain, but I'll get there in due time.

I'm about 12lbs heavier than I'd like to be, and losing this will boost my energy even more plus make me faster as a runner. It's not so bad because it was originally 15lbs I had to lose when my new journey began 2 weeks ago, so clearly progress is now underway. I will uncover my fit self soon.

My new work gig has me working better hours (37.5/week like a regular person), plus I can set my own schedule really since I work primarily from home - it is not a typical 9 to 5 if I don't want it to be. I have been at it only 2 weeks now but I have taken advantage of my new arrangement and sudden onslaught of free time to make a training schedule for myself. I'm determined to get Zahida back, so I am not going to waste this precious time I now have. My schedule is all the workouts I plan to do each week, and I am now filling it up with races I may run starting in 2016. I have joined a gym close to home I can walk to and I go there twice a week, I am running 3x/week now, and I am starting to schedule a 6th weekly workout which is just for fun - whatever I feel like in the moment, whether it be a swim, a hike, a fitness class, or another run or gym workout.

This week I went for a lap swim at the rec centre across the road. This is where I swam 3x/week for the few years of my weight-loss journey and is what I credit my weight-loss to. Once I started running, I cut back on swimming. When I started going to the gym, I didn't need the swimming anymore (or so I thought). But I have missed it. It felt so good to be back in the pool this week, physically and mentally, a reminder of where my fitness journey began, that I think I am going to go more often. It's also a fantastic workout for rest days as there's zero impact, but a great cardio-vascular and upper-body workout.

Today I ran 6km without any discomfort, and without any need to take a walk-break. I am back indeed. So I'm starting to schedule out my workouts for the rest of 2015 to help me build up my base mileage and get my Sunday long runs LONGER. But I am also starting to think through my plan for races I might do in 2016. No races for 2015 as I need to focus on regaining my fitness and endurance and losing the weight I have gained. When January rolls around, I can re-join my interval clinic, focus on getting fast, and let racing season begin!

What I need to figure out is what distances I want to focus my training and racing on. But I have lots of time to figure that out. Gut instinct is to stick to 5km,8km, and 10km races (my favourite!) but have a couple halfs in the year to work up to - count me in for the April Fools again (of course). I'll definitely be doing more races from the Lower Mainland Road Race Series. It's a great way to challenge oneself to do your best and this year, I placed 4th in my category for the races I completed between Jan-Jun 2015. I placed for the 2nd year in a row and maybe I could again if I work at it. :-)

Now I want to hear from you - what are your plans/goals for the remainder of 2015's racing season? Have you started to think about 2016?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Race Report: BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run - April 12, 2015

Today was the 38th Annual BMO Sunshine Coast April Fool's Run - my 4th time running the event and 2nd year in a row as blog ambassador. I was a fool this time around and didn't snap any photos for my blog post.

As always, it was a great time out there today. I can't think of any other race of it's scale that's so flawlessly planned. And despite the front of the field being quite competitive, the race has a very unique small town feel and family environment. Offering a half marathon, half marathon relay, an early start for walkers, and a kids run, every member of the family can participate, no matter the fitness level. For me what really stood out today was the friendliness of not just the spectators and volunteers all over the course (who were SO encouraging and awesome) but also fellow athletes. Even with running hard, there were so many empowering remarks made on the course. I passed a group of ladies who were early start walkers all wearing matching outfits. I called out "way to go team and awesome colours" and they commented that my form was strong and inspiring to them. While the running community is generally supportive, I don't think I've ever heard so many "good job" and "you've got this" type of remarks from fellow runners at any other race. It made it impossible not to run this entire race smiling.

Cam had to work today so I went to the Coast solo, giving a ride to the ferry to a friend Karin. When we got to the terminal, we bumped into a few others we knew and even more on the boat. That is one of the things I love about these races - I go in not really knowing who will be there, but it always feels like a big party once I get there. When the boat landed, there were shuttle buses waiting to take us to the start line with enough time to grab our bibs, organize our gear, check our bags, and head to the start line.

Knowing my speed isn't where it once was, and the hectic and tiring week I have had, I wasn't expecting a personal best performance. But I knew my endurance was good since my last few long runs were really strong, especially my most recent 23km. I decided to minimize how often I looked at my watch and run based on feel. The problem with that idea is that my legs remember what my old pace feels like and they thought they were ready when my brain knew there was no way. I went out way too fast and noticed when I got to the 10km mark that I was either in for the performance of my life, or I should be prepared to pay for my legs' hastiness later. My form and stride was fluid and strong and I felt so proud of this. I've worked hard to get to this point. But at this stage, my endurance to hold that pace was only enough to get me to the hill at the 14km mark. I started to slow down at this point, but thought it was because the next 3km were a steady incline. I was still strong. I knew that things would get easy right when the 17km mark was in view, with a steady downhill all the way to the finish.

At this point, despite a slow hilly section, I was still poised for a good finish time but I started to feel a twinge in my foot which is the first sign of Zahida's leg cramping demons. I slowed it down a bit and felt OK and like I could push a bit, but every time I did, my legs would threaten me again. I needed to keep the cramping at bay, so even though I wanted to and the downhill section of the course was beckoning me, I had to cool my jets down. I felt a few more twinges, but thankfully, none of the excruciating cramps I had experienced at previous races until I turned the sharp corner for the last 100m to the finish line. I kept going with tears streaming down my face, left leg completely seizing on me, crowd noticing and shouting cheers for me. I did it.

My official time hasn't been posted yet but I don't really care what time I got in at (I think around 2:10). While the time isn't what I can do, I'm thrilled I did it and felt so strong. My form hasn't felt so good maybe ever, and I was amazed that the cramps threatened me but didn't get me this time - I managed to keep them at bay for the most part. Perhaps it really is true that while I've slowed down, I'm much stronger now and poised for great things. If I had started out a little slower, I may have had a much better finish to this race. I learned a lot today that will be relevant for upcoming races. I have two upcoming half marathons in May and June so a great opportunity to build upon this success.

After the race, caught up with some old friends and made some new ones over brunch and the journey home. Thank you April Fools Run for another memorable day! I'll be back next year!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Consistency is Key!

I am afraid that I have done it again – I have taken way too long to write on this blog. If you’re wondering how this runner girl is doing, she’s great. I am ready to take on all the surprises and challenges that 2015 will bring me.

Since my last post, a lot has happened. The day immediately following that poor 8km race performance at the Steveston Icebreaker, I came down with the flu. I was rather febrile and had to stay home from work to rest. No doubt I was run down and flu-ish at the race and didn't even know it because the symptoms hadn't yet manifested themselves at their worst yet.

Since then I have worked hard and I'm really proud of myself. My goals this year are to get stronger and run injury-free.  So far, I'm doing all the right things to make this come true. I am taking care of my body through a consistent routine of running, strength training, and pro-actively getting regular massage and chiropractic to keep me feeling good (rather than reactively seeing them when I am hurting). Consistency really has been the key. Every week my routine is about the same. I have come up with some fun titles for each day of the week to help the routine stick in my brain:
  •       Runday Sunday = Self explanatory; can't mess with a rhyme! Race days are usually Sundays, but it’s a great day to run long too
  •       Muscles Monday = Spend some time in the gym and lift some heavy things!
  •       Interval (Torture) Tuesday = Well, there is a T in “interval” but “torture” has 2 and these workouts with my coach are hard work. However, I am a glutton for punishment
  •       West and Wecovewy Wednesday = Time to rest up and recharge the batteries (I mean “wechawge”)
  •       Tempo Thursday = Early morning tempo runs as prescribed by my coach
  •       Fighting Friday = The last few weeks I've been doing boxing sessions with Elisha, a trainer at my gym and I'm loving it! Otherwise I’d be lifting more weights, of course!
  •        Doesn’t Matter Day Saturday = This could be pretty much anything such as a shorter run, another session in the weight room, a hike, a long walk, or an extra day of rest if I feel the need

Since the poor performance on Feb 1, I have made a lot of progress. Again, the speed isn't back, but my strength, endurance, and ability to recover from tough efforts has returned. I ran a 21K this past weekend after doing 10km the day before and it felt really easy. Long runs up until then had been challenging at best and a slog at times. Everything clicked this most recent one though and restored my faith in myself.

I have participated in a couple 5K events but I only really tried in one of them, the West Van Run on March 1st. Again, here my finish time was nothing to write home about when I think of the speed I once was capable of, but I was super proud of my performance. I hit my goal finish time for the day and I ran consistent the whole way and finished strong. Most importantly, I had fun doing so. I wasn't able to do my usual warm-up routine before the St.Patrick’s Day 5K so I wasn't feeling ready at the start line. I made an early decision to run it for fun instead. Sometimes it’s not about how fast you do it, but it’s about the fact that you are doing it.

Tuesday night sessions with my running group and our talented coach have been awesome too. I was hesitant to come back after a season off as I knew I wasn't in good enough shape for the intensity of the workouts. Going to my first couple of workouts with the group and struggling through them was proof that I was not in the shape I needed to be in, but it made me determined to work harder. These last few weeks I've been really happy with how I've run. I don’t feel like I'm out of shape or like I'm struggling any more (although the workouts remain hard as heck). Coach John is genuinely happy with how I'm doing too. He’s commented that my form has improved – I am much more “symmetrical” now, no doubt because of the work I have put in to “fix” and strengthen my body. But there’s also been a consistent improvement week to week in how I perform. I can feel the difference. I even didn't hate the 2 x 2-miler workout this week. I leave the sessions with a smile on my face and a fire inside me to keep going. Eventually the speed I once had will return. It solves nothing to compare myself with where I was before; I will only serve myself if I recognize what I'm accomplishing now and work to keep it up.

I'm about 3 weeks away from the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run now and I'm super excited. Again, I don’t feel like I’ll be breaking any personal records here but I'm confident now that I will be able to run this strong. I can’t wait to give this race distance a shot again. And who knows, maybe everything will click since it’s a course I know so well having run it 3 years in a row already.

Now since you've done all the hard work of reading this post, you might as well take the next step and register for the Fools Run. The next price increase is March 23rd so registering today helps you save. Visit for more information.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Race Report: Steveston 8km Ice Breaker Road Race - February 1st, 2015

Today was my very first race of 2015, at the Steveston 8km Ice Breaker Road Race. This was a personal worst performance at an 8km race by a very long shot - I don't care to share my results here. But I am not at all upset about this. I haven't been feeling quick at all lately, but I cannot and do not expect to be fast given where I am at today. Despite that knowledge my race results today hurt the ego a little bit (my finish time resembled that of old training runs of mine - not races) but overall, I came home today happy. It's always wonderful to get back into the race scene after a hiatus; notable races in the Vancouver area are done by mid-November usually and my last race was at the end of October 2014. After 3 months of no races to speak of, it was nice to line up again. It was great to be part of the community of runners especially given that most of my running the last 3 months was done solo.

It was a dreary start to the day but the clouds decided to pause the rain for the duration of the race. It was mild and comfortable, warmer than I remember the race being the previous two years. I feel like this will be a race I continue to return to for the low price point, the timing to kick off the year, a distance I enjoy running, the fact it's part of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series, and it's an excuse to visit the town where I grew up in and lived about 25 years of my life. Plus it's a great community race that I care to support because it is affiliated with the Kajaks Track & Field club. Growing up in Richmond, I knew about the Kajaks athletes. Had I had any athletic inclination as a kid, I surely would have aspired to be part of Kajaks.

So why was I slow today? The key is that I didn't train for this race the way I normally would. In fact I could argue that I didn't train at all for this race. The last 3 months having no races was a time of "active rest" focused on studying to get my personal training certification at BCPTI and rebuilding strength in my right leg following my gradual return to running after the calf muscle tear last summer. Yes, I ran a couple races last October and was much faster then than now, but that was after a relatively shorter hiatus (about 3 weeks). Even though I was able to rebuild my running and race those events relatively fast, I had a lot of imbalances that needed addressing or I would risk further injury. My left leg was dominating everything and allowing me to power through my workouts. Meanwhile, I could barely balance my own body weight if I were to stand solely on my right leg; I would exhaust myself and fall over. Running requires the use of both my legs so I had to fix the problem before a new one would present itself.

 Given that I was studying to be a personal trainer and had my own issues to resolve, it made double sense to focus my workout time to the weight room over the roads. I could learn better what I was studying by practicing my skills in the weight room; I was taking into account what I knew about my body and what needed fixing, designing my own workouts, and testing them out on myself. I was still running, but mileage in November and December was very low. While I was consistently working out 5 days a week, only 2 or occasionally 3 of those workouts each week were runs and they were all short and easy efforts mostly between 6-10km. It was running to maintain a base level of cardiovascular fitness - but as a result, I lost my racing fitness. When I came back with a vengeance in January after passing my PT exam, I was suddenly hit very hard by the stomach flu. I was knocked right out, couldn't run for a week and I came back with slow legs after days of poor nutrition.

The good thing is that through my focus on strength work at the gym, I have addressed many of my imbalances. I'm not perfectly aligned or anything - still have a bit of a lateral pelvic tilt issue happening which is much improved from before and still being addressed through chiropractic care and specific exercises. But I am much much stronger than I think I've probably ever been and noticeable imbalances are dissipating. I'm quite impressed with how much I can lift, push, pull etc., and feel rather athletic and now knowledgeable too when I'm in the weight room.  

I went for my very first speed workout with my running group in over 3 months this past Tuesday and this was where it sank in that today's race was going to be slow. That was my worst performance at a Tuesday clinic run too. At first I was very angry at myself. But again, how can I be angry at myself? If I truly respect the training I do to get myself in my best racing shape then I can't really expect to be in great racing shape from NOT doing the training. That type of training has value. Without the training, the performance simply can't follow. If it did, why bother with training?

The good news is twofold - on my very slow intervals on Tuesday, coach John was very encouraging. He might have been a bit frustrated with me for being so hard on myself and negative out loud ( was a rough workout) but he managed to encourage me. He told me my running form was excellent - I was running with symmetry. This is very good news for someone working very hard to correct imbalances. I didn't think to ask if he'd noticed me previously running noticeably asymmetrically, but I can assume so.

Second piece of good news is that I am now ready to and have already started to take my training to the next level. With consistency the next few months, my speed will come back. I have the muscle memory and ability, now I just have to build my fitness and endurace back to where it was so I can maintain speed over racing distance. This will come back. This is what I'm made for.

Next race is in a month, the West Van Run 5K, which will be a good test to see where I am at after a month of consistency before the St. Patrick's Day 5K 2 weeks later. The latter is where I currently hold my 5K personal best. I have some work to do, but I have a plan and the determination to get there! I don't expect PR performances in March, but I do think I can get much closer to where I was with a little faith and a lot of hard work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Officially certified!

I did it! I passed my exam last week and I am now officially a Certified Personal Trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. I'm very much excited about the next step in my career with Steve Nash Fitness Clubs but also about how the increase in knowledge will assist me as I continue to work at being a better runner. And I hope that my passion for running, my experience with distance running, and my story of weight loss will have members of the public turn to me for assistance in achieving their goals. It truly is an exciting time! If you're interested in training with me, please don't hesitate to be in touch. :)

The day after I passed my exam I celebrated with an incredible 14km run before work. This was particularly exciting as I limited the distance in my running and this run showed me I hadn't really skipped a beat. Had I fueled up appropriately and had more time to spare, I could have kept going. I was pretty pumped about getting back into full training gear. Unfortunately I woke up this Saturday morning to bad abdominal pains and what would be the first symptom of a really bad case of stomach flu or gastroenteritis, if you wish. I'm recovering and just introduced solid (but bland) food back into my diet as of dinner yesterday so it'll be a few days yet before I can train like I hoped to simply because of energy. But I should be able to do a decent run by this weekend and get back to where I was headed in no time.

My first race of 2015 will be the Icebreaker 8km on February 1st. It will very likely not be my fastest 8km but it should still be a great race. Pending I can run again this weekend, I have 2 solid weeks to do some speed training to give it my all. Time to put these sessions into my calendar!