Friday, April 29, 2016

2 days until the BMO Vancouver Marathon!

I'm 2 days away from running another half marathon and I am seemingly not freaked out at all about it. It feels good. Perhaps I'm in denial about my fitness, or perhaps I am actually ready.

The BMO Vancouver Marathon is coming up this Sunday, May 1st. This is an awesome event in Vancouver, bringing together so many community members -- thousands of runners and walkers of all levels, kids, volunteers, and spectators. This race will always be special for me as the first time I participated in the event was also my first ever marathon, 4 years ago. This year, for the 3rd year in a row, I'm running the half marathon. It's a great event, a great course, and because it's so BIG, it's like a runners' party. I went to the expo yesterday after work, and as always I bumped into lots of friends and running community contacts I only see at events like this. For me, going to a big race expo is like going to a social event. Lots of meet and greets, catching up, laughing, sampling food, etc., and you leave with a goody bag!

My only complaint about this event would be the 7am start time, but that's just me being fussy because that's much earlier than I usually start my long runs. I often run at that time or earlier for a short weekday before-work run, but a 21.1km effort is a little different and requires prep. With breakfast and getting to the start line in another city, with road closures along the way, needing to allow enough time to navigate thousands of people and line up at the port-o-potties, etc. In short, one must wake up EARLY! But Saturday is wide-open for relaxation and hopefully a good sleep-in so an early wake up call the next way will be less of an issue.

The start time is also a positive though, as the marathon starts a good 90min after. So by the time I finish the race, there's time to shower and eat a meal and still head back onto the course to watch the marathon, even catching the front of the pack and their inspirational sprint to the finish. This is a highlight, as rarely do you actually get to see such incredible athleticism when you're participating in a race. You may see the elites line up, but at the gun, they are off faster than you can say "marathon" and not to be seen again until the post-race festivities. This event allows me to be both a race participant and a spectator and make a full day's experience out of it. There's something so inspiring to see marathoners and their proud journey to the finish line. The trouble is it tends to get me emotional, thinking of what the accomplishment feels like, and making me think that one day, I want to run a marathon again.

The last few weeks since the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run have been great for me as a runner. Finishing the Fools Half was all about finishing. I hadn't accomplished that distance in a long time, and honestly, every long run in preparation for the event was hard. A slog even. Somehow since then, long runs have been easier. A week after the Fools Run, I did a 16km, and followed that up with a 19km effort the following week. I was excited every step of the way, felt strong, with legs on auto-pilot. I've been resting since, only doing an 11km last weekend, and just short easy stuff in between. My body feels strong and healthy. I have lost a bit more weight since the Fools Run and am even more like my old self, feeling light on my feet. For the first few months of running since my injury last year, I made sure to never run on consecutive days to aid recovery. Now I can run any day or any time I want and bounce back like a super hero. I now run 4 to 5 times a week, still do things like gym sessions weekly, hiking and/or very long walks, yet I don't ever feel tightness or inflammation hanging around for long after an effort. I feel about 6.5 years younger than I was in 2015.

I have not done any speed work whatsoever. I think I may try that after BMO to give me a different training focus for the summer. Stupidly long runs aren't as much fun in the summer heat, but a kickass track session feels great. And now my body actually feels ready for that. No fun to try going fast when you feel heavy, sluggish, or in discomfort. So I expect to race some 5km, 8km, and 10km events over the summer to put this to the test or at least track progress. I have yet to make a decision, but this year could see me return to run the Scotia Half Marathon in late June - this was my first half marathon back in 2003 so one I like to return to every now and again for sentimental reasons.

So without speed work under my belt now, leading up to BMO this weekend, I can't expect this event to be a fast one for me. But with improved fitness, more training time, and an easy / relatively flat course, I can expect this one to go better than the previous one. A half marathon won't feel like a new distance for me but just the next logical step. In any event, I will not be wearing GPS because no sense in obsessing over numbers. Just going to listen to my body's cues and see what it can do with no external feedback.

To everyone running this weekend, have fun out there. It should be a beautiful day to celebrate the wonderful sport of running!

<3 Zahida

Monday, April 4, 2016

Race Report: BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run - Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Well, the moment I'd been waiting for was a success. Yesterday was the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run. It was a wonderful excursion to the Sunshine Coast, a great chance to socialize with friends, perfect weather, another flawlessly planned event, and I accomplished what I set out to do. I finished the race without any pain! I feel as though the injured version of me that I knew is working itself slowly but surely into my past. I completed my 21st half marathon, and my 5th April Fools Run event.

My day began at 5:30am when my alarm rang. I got my gear on, double checked the bag I packed the day before, made breakfast to eat on the ferry, and had my morning coffee. This was a good chance to breathe, and remind myself to be kind to me that day. This was not going to be a half marathon for breaking any personal records. My one goal was to cross the finish line comfortably, upright, and smiling!

I met up with my friends Mary and Christian in West Van at 6:45am to travel together to Horseshoe Bay together to catch the 7:20am sailing to Langdale. Like I've said before, I love that this race is out of town but can comfortably be accomplished as a day trip. These dear friends decided to join me this year for their first time after hearing me regularly promote the race. I guess I can be rather persuasive! The ferry ride was fun - beautiful views, a lot of familiar faces of fellow members from the running community, great company, and a chance to enjoy my carefully packed peanut butter and banana sandwich - a true runner's breakfast!

Once the ferry docked and we off-loaded, shuttle buses were waiting along with a race volunteer or ferry-greeter dressed as a fairy  - the ferry-fairy (how appropriate! and she was very very sweet). The buses were waiting to take us to the start line. The transition was seamless and we arrived at the Gibsons Community Centre with lots of time to change outfits, check bags, use the bathroom multiple times (runners' nerves!!! C'mon, we all experience this!), and wish fellow runners well. In addition to the friends I traveled with, I knew a number of people taking part in the event, including many who are much faster than I am and it would be unlikely I'd see them during the event or even at the finish line if they weren't to stick around.

I even had a very kind lady stop me to ask if I was the one who writes the blog. She thanked me for writing and made me very happy in the process. At this point though I was in a bit of  rush to get back to my things as we were nearing the start of the race, and admittedly, I was also left a bit shy and speechless in the moment, so my socially-awkward side came out and I didn't stop to talk to her further. But in case you are reading this, I hope you had an awesome day yesterday, and thank you for your kindness and for reading this modest blog.

9:17am rolled around, and it was game time! Thanks to Mary's convincing, I ditched my gadgets. If I wasn't running for time, and every km of the course was marked, I had no need for my watch. It would only get in the way of running by feel. If I were to be slow, my watch would only make me aware of it. And this way, I could be surprised by my finish time.

My goal was to finish, and I estimated it would take me about 2:30 based on my training runs. The plan was to go no faster than I did in training. Since it was my first half marathon in a while, I wanted it to be about completing the distance, and training was merely about regaining my endurance. Should I feel I'm ready again in the future, I can then think about working on speed and bettering times. But I wasn't sold on 2:30 anyway. If I needed longer, no big deal. I also knew I was capable of faster if I felt good. 2:30 was to offer me a walk break or slowness buffer.

And I felt great, enjoyed every step of the way, enough to spark conversation with fellow runners as we passed one another, enough to say hi to every volunteer. Well, this was fine, until the 13km mark. My left leg started to cramp, from my calf right up into my quad. I quickly grew very intolerant to the slight camber of running on the left side of the road. Every stride was greeted with an ouch. My first thought was immediate frustration. Cramping AGAIN? I thought I was over that? I thought one possible reason for cramping was running too fast and fatiguing? But I crossed the halfway post in 1:08, so I was clearly NOT going too fast. I didn't do anything different during this run or in the days leading up to it that differed from my training. Was it the recovery period I had? Was it too much? Was it insufficient? Or was it simply the amount of downhill before this point in the course and/or the camber in the road? Neither of these are really factors in the routes I regularly train on.

I'm proud of myself because even though my first thought was immediate frustration, I didn't allow myself to go there for long. I slowed to a walk and when I was ready, hastened that walk to a brisk walk that was fast enough to pass other walkers I saw ahead of me. I would think of my friends and how they'd definitely get to the finish line before me and be forced to wait a while for me, and then I'd quickly return my focus away from feeling bad, and toward the moment at hand. I could tell that brisk walking was doing my legs a world of good and giving them a nice gentle stretch.

I made a decision after walking from the 13K to the 14K mark that I'd keep walking. I wasn't fully ready to run continuously, my left leg was still rather sore, but improving surely. The next 3 kms would be uphill and a slow jog at best anyway in the shape I was in. Would my nice brisk walking pace be that much slower at this point? Likely not considerably enough to risk the end of my race. I walked and walked and paid attention to who was passing me. I walked until I could see the 17K sign and by this point, my legs were feeling nice and "fresh" (it's all relative...). I found something to lean up against and stretched my calves and quads and could see some cheering spectators ahead. It was time to get moving for real and give them a high five as I flew by. I made it my mission to catch up to as many of the runners who passed me. While I wasn't in this for any level of competition, my competitive side fuels me. I needed to pass these folks for my own sake at this point, and I am happy to say that I did. I got my form back, my confidence, and my swagger. From the 17K mark to the finish line, I let nobody get ahead of me. My ego had been hurting a bit and it got its needed boost. I trained so why did I have to walk so much? I proved to myself in the late kms that I was fit and was ready for this event.

The good news is, despite this ego bruising. I did not get me down. In fact, earlier today I registered for the BMO Vancouver Marathon's half marathon event on May 1st. I'll be even more prepared for this one, and the long runs and work I need to do between now and then do not intimidate me in the least. I'll use the same approach though - just finish and have fun.

When I got to the finish line, at about 2:36, Mary and Christian were there on the sidelines cheering me on. Both of them had great performances at this race, and I'm very pleased that they had a great race. Christian had a personal best of about 4 minutes, finishing in about 1:33. He had about an hour extra at the finish line to enjoy the festivities to wait for me! I find those who can run that fast so inspiring. I just teased him about how his race wasn't very long so I had more right to be tired!

After stretching, catching the kids run, enjoying some refreshments, enjoying the views at Davis Bay Beach, and using the changerooms, we hopped on the shuttle bus back to Gibsons.

The shuttles stopped in front of one of the hotels many runners who stay overnight at. We opted to get off there as we saw there was a pub across the street - the Blackfish Pub. The idea of brunch went out the window when we saw the array of other tasty treats on the menu. We had a great celebratory meal filled with laughter and caught a cab to the ferry terminal with moments to spare - we barely squeaked onto the 2:30pm sailing, but we made it on time.

I'm really happy with how yesterday went because I think of how I felt at the end. I wasn't completely spent. In fact, I could have kept going. So the little cramping hiccup happened, but it didn't stop me. And most importantly, I kept a cool head about it, and didn't do anything stupid like drop out, or try to run through the pain and hurt myself as a result. I was smart and listened to my body.

I'm fit, I'm happy, and truth be told, I can't stop looking at the photos we took at the race because they look like me -- a version of me I haven't seen in about a year. I'm officially down 9lbs now and I just ran a half marathon. Zahida is back!

Thanks for indulging me by reading this post.
<3 Zahida