Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Speediness

With the summer heat now upon us, it's been wonderful to have a different training focus aside from training for distance. My weekend long runs are still long enough to keep my endurance up (14km or so), but I'm not planning a 20km+ run any time soon so being outside running for a couple hours in the heat is not necessary at the moment.

I had planned to write soon after running the Summerfast 10K on July 16th, but you know how it goes with summer. 1000 competing priorities get in the way, and most of them taking you outdoors. My indoors pursuits became all about a painting I was working on, my first in about 4 years. It was very important that I finished it, and that I had a chance to write about it. If you're interested in reading my blog post about it, click here (when you're done reading this, of course).

So, when it comes to the Summerfast 10K, I'm pleased with how it went. I've been running this race for the last few years. Well, last year I was registered, but didn't end up running because of injury. But I do make a habit of participating as it's an awesome event and benefits VFAC, whom I am happy to support - a group of awesome elite athletes coached by John Hill, who, for a time, coached me too. Hopefully if I continue along the path I am on now of getting fitter, I may sign up to have him coach me again in the future.

The thing with this event, is that I never get close to my PR at this race, even when my fitness was at its best. My 10K efforts where times were better were always elsewhere. I don't know if it's the summer heat come mid-July? The flat monotonous course (my legs like some hill to mix it up)? The fact that the Stanley Park seawall, as beautiful as it is, messes with my head (there is too much visual - I can see far ahead the whole time and I know what's around ever corner since I run there so much)? I don't know.

The other thing about this race, the one thing I truly love (aside from the home-made baked good at the finish line), is that it's fairly competitive. Essentially everyone who signs up is serious about their finish time. In many other 10K runs, there are droves of people coming in after the hour mark, including walkers. At Summerfast, the vast majority of runners finish under an hour, and once that 60-min mark hits, there are very very few people still crossing. My mention of this is not to take anything away from the runner or the walker who needs more time to finish. They too work hard and their goals are every bit as important. But what I mean by this is that going to a race where everyone is at a higher competitive level with themselves and with others puts you in a certain mindset. It drives you to achieve, or to give it all you have. It makes you feel pretty badass to be part of such a group; you have to be pretty serious to be running this event. This isn't meant to be a fun-run with costumes and a party on the course. This is about running your best.

I can't even remember when prior to this event that I ran a 10K race. My habit has been that if an event offers a 5K and a 10K, to choose the 5K because it's my favourite racing distance. You run hard but only have to sustain it for a little while. A 10K on the other hand, you should go a bit slower than the 5K (say 15sec/mile for example) because you have to hold it for twice as long. So yes, the pace feels easier but it's still hard enough and for much longer. If you are running hard and running for time, doing so for 10K as opposed to 5K is kind of hell. So I think part of me has been avoiding a 10K, and my lack of recent experience racing this distance really showed itself this time around at Summerfast.

The good thing though is that I've been really good about getting my runs in this summer, including 1 weekly speed session without fail. I've been doing these all at the track, even if my intervals are longer, just because measuring distance is easy, it's all flat, and then I am not dealing with traffic, dog-walkers, or other factors that slow you down road-running. With Summerfast though, I had a week of slacking a bit when I was camping in Salt Spring at the start of July, because I didn't want to run that much if I wasn't able to shower as much! But when I did have access to a shower, I had a killer track workout. So I didn't miss my speed work, but I had no slow steady stuff that week.

I set the goal of completing Summerfast this time around in about 56min. My thinking was that I was able to do Longest Day 5K in just over 27min, so this is twice the time + 2min. I started out on pace for this, and the pace felt good and like something I could maintain. I was pleased with my 5K split time, but it proved to me that I was actually pushing a bit harder than I had planned to. I reached 5K in just over 27min, although that 27min felt much much easier than it felt at Longest Day. I was both pleased and displeased to see this. It meant that if I were racing a 5K that day, I would have been pushing way harder yet and I would have crushed that Longest Day time. It meant that my work at getting faster was indeed working! But I was disappointed because it meant that I likely went out a touch too fast and that would make itself known in the second half of the race. And it did. I slowed down gradually, and couldn't find a second wind until about the 9K mark. I came in at 58:23. Not the time I was going for, but a good result still considering.

I could easily beat myself up about my result or about my pacing (or lack thereof). But I had a really good word with myself on course. At about the 7K mark when I realized what was happening to my race result (sometimes my good math skills are not a blessing), I had a word with myself. I could have taken the opportunity to be hard on myself and beat myself up. If I did that, negativity would have taken over and likely completely spoiled my experience. Instead, I was able to will myself into positive self-talk here, even though my legs and ego were hurting, and my inner engine was finding its will to go harder the next 3km. 

I remembered when I first got into running, and how impossible a task it was before then. I remembered the day I ran 10K for the first time and how it was a major victory. I didn't care about time at all, just about getting across the line. I remembered how I am much older than I was then (I ran the Sun Run in my early 20s when I lost my weight the 1st time and didn't keep it off like I have this time) but I am much much faster now. I reminded myself that I always try to forget where I came from when I shouldn't. I also reminded myself that earlier this year, coming back from injury, I ran the Icebreaker 8K in an awful 51:31, so no matter what, this race result would be a massive improvement for 6 months of training. I reminded myself that just being there and part of this event, running 10K without stopping, these are all huge feats that I should be proud of. I haven't always been capable of this. 

Why do I forget this and get so competitive? Why do I forget who I was so easily and focus so hard on who I wish to be? No I don't think I should dwell on the past because I like to believe that who I was doesn't define who I am. It makes who I am now that much more awesome, yes, as it shows strength in my character. But who I am today is just as capable as someone who's been fit their entire life and I don't want "her" (the old me) to ever be an excuse or someone who holds me back. Yet I think it's important to not lose sight of how far I've come or to forget who I was entirely, so that I can give myself a healthy dose of perspective in those moments when I start to beat myself up.

When I reached the finish line at Summerfast, I also reunited with a bunch of my running friends, most of whom are still running with Coach John on Tuesdays. Seeing them was good perspective too. I run, in part, because of this community. The running community is one of the most supportive communities out there. There's no judgement, even from someone who is way faster than you. Everyone can appreciate your own goals and your own efforts and be happy for your own achievements. And I'm truly thankful to have such awesome friendships within my running community.

So what's next? The Squamish Days 8K this coming Sunday. I'm thankful it's 2K less! :)

Monday, July 11, 2016

So Far So Good

That is how I would describe summer running so far - it's been SO GOOD!

I had written previously about my plans to run the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 26th and then spend the rest of the summer focusing on running shorter distances and building speed. The Scotia Half wasn't to be treated as a "race" with a time objective, but rather a fun event with the goal of completion with minimal discomfort and cramping. Races from then onward would be shorter and about pushing myself to see what I'm made of. I am happy to report that we're on that path.

I didn't get a chance to write a blog post right after Scotia because of the busy-ness of the final week of work and preparing for our first summer holiday which we just returned from a couple days ago. After Scotia, I ended up running a second race, the Canada Day 5K on July 1st, and there was even less time to report on that. So I thought I'd quickly summarize both here today; both events I am very pleased with the outcome.

So yes, if you haven't guessed, the Scotia Half was my 3rd half marathon of 2016 and another attempt at running without cramping. I was not entirely saved from this experience, but I never got myself to the point of pain as I took the entire race easy-does-it, took all pressure off myself as best as I could, and walked as soon as I felt the first signs of what was to come. I walked likely about 2km (if one were to combine my breaks), but was able to run across the finish line strong and with a smile on my face. I was a good 27-odd minutes slower than my best finish time, but somehow I couldn't be happier with the outcome because there wasn't that familiar discomfort I have grown accustomed to.

The race was also a really fun time as I got to run with two girlfriends, Patti and Sigrid. Neither of them were in it for time either, so we ran the majority of the race together. We had an understanding though that we weren't committed to running the entire thing together, and if at any point someone needed to stop or slow down, the others could run ahead.

At the start line with my girls!
Patti needed a break around the 10K mark and Sigrid and I continued on. But I couldn't keep up with Sigrid at a hilly section shortly after this so I let her get ahead of me and she went on to finish strong while I ran alone a while. Patti eventually caught up with me and we continued to run together until the base of the Burrard Bridge. We were quite close to the finish at this point with about 4km to go but it was at this point where I felt the first signs of cramping. I knew if I continued running, it would be trouble for me but Patti was feeling good and we both wanted her to continue. So at this point we parted and as a result finished a few min apart. I brisk walked up the bridge to stretch out my legs, and after a bit of jog/walk, I found the ability to run again continuously with a decent pace when there was about 2km to go. I am positive that having the company of these girls made for an easier run. And there were other friends I just happened to bump into on course. It's so much easier to forget the effort you're giving when conversation and company are this amazing! Running really can be like a party!

Impromptu action-shot selfie with my friend, Karen. We just somehow bumped into each other on course!
So I finished this one in about 2:27. I don't care to look up the exact time, because really it's not important to me here. Again, it's far from the finish times I'm used to clocking, but I couldn't be more pleased with how the event went.

With our earned bling!
So after the Scotia Half, came the Canada Day 5K. It was hard to know how to prepare for this one in the days between events, as there was only 4 days sandwiched in between. I decided to skip any speed work in those 4 days as I had some tightness in my glutes, hammies, and quads. I just did some light recovery jogs on the Tuesday and Wednesday with loads of stretching and rolling. I trusted in the speedwork I had been doing up until then. The Run Canada Day event is really a great run. It's all in the trails out at UBC at Pacific Spirit Park where I almost never run because of the distance and remoteness of the trails (and my lack of navigational ability in these trails). So running there in an organized event suits me just fine. The event is a great way to kick off celebrating Canada's birthday too as everyone dresses festively in their red and white and there is a great BBQ and Canada Flag cake at the post-race party. It's not a competitive race, although some solid runners do show up to play for sure. With the run being on soft undulating trails though, nobody's finish time reflects their true ability. You can't propel yourself in the same way without being able to bounce off solid ground. I think everyone sees a couple extra minutes on their times, but we can't let the ego get in the way. 

I ran it at my hardest 5K effort, you know the "oh my this sucks" kind of pace the whole way. Knowing it would be slower than it felt, I kept my eyes off my watch and just at who was around me. I tried to let no woman pass me unless she looked significantly younger than me :-) If anyone looked close to my age, I would do all I could to keep her behind me. You see, it feels good when you can do well relative to your age group. I won't win a race, but if I can see I am doing well for my age, then I know I'm achieving something extra awesome (as in beyond the awesome already given for just doing the event). 

I crossed the finish line feeling like a gazillion bucks. It's those hard heart-pounding kickass high-intensity paced 5K races that give the strongest runner's high and perhaps that's part of why I love these races. Minimal recovery and maximal rush. And I felt even better after chatting with some fellow runners at the finish line, guys who are super speedy but also saw a minute or two of added minutes on their finish times because of being slowed down by the trails. I had to take off and not enjoy the party in order to get ready for the next item on my Canada Day festivity plans, so I didn't notice until I got home that I actually finished very well. Like I hoped, I came in as the 18th female overall and 3rd in my age category in a time of 28:55. And this was a 10-year category, F30-39. Feels good to know I did that well even though there were young 30 year old punks in my group. This old gal is comin' for ya ;-)

Runner's high at the end of the race (parking lot selfie).
So what's next? There's the Summerfast 10K this weekend. I'm not sure how it will go as running last week was minimal while we were out of town, although I did get in a killer track workout. I'm excited to see how it goes!

I'll be looking for other races to do this summer, but otherwise my plan is to run lots, hike lots, and just be active in general. I'm coaching a 10K clinic at the North Vancouver Running Room too, starting July 21st! Perhaps you'll join :)

Otherwise, I'll see you here soon!