Monday, October 10, 2016

Race Report: GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon - October 9th, 2016

I did it! I completed lifetime half marathon #24 yesterday at the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon. It was a great day, and if you've been following along, you'll know that it was a special one for me. If you know me, you've likely figured out that at times, I can be a bit of a sentimental sap. You will also know that lately, I have not been friends with the half marathon distance, as for some unexplained reason, my legs seize into cramps. So I have been hesitant to do more half marathons this last while. I still do them, but my enthusiasm for them has been waning. I love the achievement and I love training the distance, but the pain of the cramps and the discouragement of being slowed down to a walk and to poorer and poorer finish times has been too much.

But when I realized that this half marathon was marking a milestone, I had to sign up. 5 years ago, this same half marathon was my "comeback". Crossing that finish line in 2011 was one of the biggest achievements of my life. This is despite the fact that it wasn't my first half marathon, and despite the fact that I would go on to run 3 marathons after. This was my "comeback half marathon" that would set the course for a long term, sustained, healthy lifestyle. It was so much more than just 21.1km of running.

My first half marathon in 2003.
I had run 2 half marathons previously, in 2003 and 2004, but I almost don't even count those ones. Those were when I first lost weight, about 100lbs in a year (too fast), and wasn't able to keep it off. I put it all back on, and more so still, in a short amount of time. When I was slim back then though, I for the first time in my life saw myself as beautiful and capable of athletic achievement. But none of that lasted. Even though the accomplishment of finishing those races is no less, I feel ashamed that I couldn't maintain my healthy self. All that work, and for what? Did I do my body good or more damage? I sometimes don't even mention that those races happened because I then have to explain what happened between 2004 and 2011.

When I made my comeback to health in 2008, my secret goal was that I could lose enough that running would be possible again. In 2010, I was almost at my goal weight, and running was possible again. After a few health issues I had to get past (that included two surgeries), I was ready to train seriously again, and I picked the Victoria half marathon in 2011 because of my friend Patti's recommendation. By this time, I'd lost around 120lbs, and I was the healthiest version of myself yet because I had lost the weight in a healthy, sustainable way. In the 7 years between 2004 and 2011, I had come a long long way. 5 years later, I am still running, and I'm at my healthiest weight, I keep getting fitter, (and I'd like to believe, I'm looking younger than ever)....But very importantly, I'm also no longer ashamed of my past. I embrace it, it's my story, and I've grown because of it.

At the Victoria Half Marathon in 2011
2008's health comeback was very much inspired by my father. I had just gotten to know him again after a difficult past and years apart. We lived together for 4 years, and it was the start of what I thought would be a long friendship. Unfortunately, life had other plans, and he was taken suddenly from me: a heart attack he couldn't survive. It shook our family, and it was a wake up call to me. How healthy was my own heart with my weight issues? After a year of grieving and recovering from this loss, I was ready to change my life. Initially it was about being heart healthy for my Dad, but I soon realized it was about being healthy for me.

And so you know, this blog was born, about 5 years ago, when I started training for this half marathon.

What's neat though, is that it didn't even occur to me that this race also coincides with a few other important dates. Dad's birthday is on October 6th and this race is always right around that date. The race also happens over Thanksgiving weekend too. So every year, when it comes to remembering Dad on his birthday, I'm somehow participating in this event. I wear his memory on my heart every year I run. And after I run, I spend the day with family to celebrate a holiday about giving thanks. I think about how thankful I am to have both the family I was born into, as well as the family I married into. But as I run and move my healthy body and cross the finish line, I also think of how thankful I am to be healthy, and to finally feel what it means to be alive. I am not a prisoner in an incapable body anymore. My body doesn't prevent me from experiencing my world anymore. It doesn't hold me back from confidently or boldly pursuing my dreams. It is strong and capable. It enables me to explore the world on foot and achieve greatness. Yes, any race, any training run for that matter, no matter what distance, is greatness.

And that there, this realization, is what achievement really means.

I could get all wrapped up in my personal battle with how I define "achievement" when it comes to running. My half marathons haven't gotten any faster. In fact, I have slowed down a lot. But I think I'm reconnecting with my love for the sport and with realizing that every step is a step forward. Every healthy action I take, is success.

So when asked if I had a time goal for this event, I joked and said, "somewhere between 2hours and 2.5hours, depending on if I cramp"..... I have to be mentally prepared that it might happen, that way I'm not overly disappointed if it does. I am fit enough to run it in that 2 hour range, but I took it slow yesterday, treating it the same as I would a training run, with a pace around 6:15-6:30/km. I crossed the 10km split in 1:03, so I knew I was in good form to finish in around 2:15. I did what I could to maintain this, held back when I wanted to go faster, sped up when I wanted to slow down, and checked my pace regularly on my watch in case I wasn't being a successful "body-whisperer".

My sister-in-law and niece were volunteering at the 13km aid station, so that gave me something to look forward to - some familiar faces and cheers. It helped a lot and gave me a boost at a very appropriate time. I made a silly face for a photo and kept going, and it took a while to wipe the smile off my face.

I should point out, I'm wearing my finisher shirt from 2011 here.

It was smooth sailing to the finish line, and I almost didn't believe it. Don't get me wrong, I was still uncomfortable, but there was no pain, no cramping, none of the stuff I have been experiencing in the longer races. It's like the universe was giving me what I needed to get through it positively. The stars aligned? Dad was watching over me? I did something right in my training that I didn't do before? Who knows what happened. But it was awesome. I even had the energy to laugh and socialize with fellow runners on the course. And now that I finished a half without pain, I'm hungry for more.

I know the course turn by turn, having run this race a few times now. So it gave me confidence to know for sure that the end was near. And just when I got around the final corner and could see the finish line, I knew I was there and I'd done it. Before that point, I kept thinking "don't get cocky, you could still cramp! Don't go all out, just in case" But then I could see the finish line and it was getting closer and closer. I started saying, quite out loud, "yes, you've done it!" and "Zee, you've done it!" . So when I crossed the finish line and was greeted with "congratulations Zee" (i.e. I personalized my race bib), I was almost delirious with joy. No tears though! :)

I didn't even look at the clock on the way in because I knew it had to be much better than my 3 previous half marathons of 2016. In all three of those, I cramped up. Here I didn't, and I had done a great job of pacing myself. I knew it had to be good. I crossed the line in 2:18:06, and while I still feel the need to explain that this is far slower than my best, I could not be any happier with my result.

She did it again!
So I am thrilled. I'm thankful. I'm not just thankful for this race's outcome, but for the gift of movement I have been given. I am thankful to be able to run, to be able to call myself healthy, to call myself an athlete. I am thankful and proud of who I am. I am thankful for the strength I have had to overcome all I have to get to where I am today. I am thankful of 5 years of long distance running, and many many more to come. 

At the finish line I reunited with my husband and my nephew (who ran the kids run), and spent the rest of the day with family celebrating Thanksgiving. How perfect! It was such a great day.

Thank you for your love, encouragement, and support through the years
<3 Zahida

Sunday, October 2, 2016

For the LOVE of the Run - 5 Years and Counting

Oh no, I've done it again, waited too long to write....again. My excuse this time is that school is back on, so my work/life routine hit a reset at the end of August. I kept calendaring "write a blog post" but something would always get in the way. Finally, I am here.

It seems senseless, now that two weeks has passed, to write a full on race report for the Vancouver Eastside 10K that I ran on September 17th, on my birthday. But I thought I'd fill you in on that run and some other run related reflections (excuse my alliteration) from the past month-and-a-bit, and an important 5 year milestone that's around the corner for me.

And that's where the title of this post comes into play. This last while, I have certainly reconnected with my love for running. I have never stopped loving it, don't get me wrong. It's just that at times, the focus of running has been on other things - achievement, weight loss, getting faster/fitter, recovering from injury, a goal race, etc. But right now, simply LOVING to run has been enough. Here's what I mean by this.

1) Vancouver Eastside 10K
This race fell on the very same day as my birthday this year. So naturally, I chose to run this as my way to celebrate my day. If I didn't love running, I wouldn't have chosen to wake up early and do this on my special day. And to boot, I invited all my friends and some chose to run with me, others chose to just join me for brunch. At one point I realized how funny it is that I see running as a party now. The old me wouldn't believe that this is who I've become. Ha!

And to make it even that much more hardcore, we did all this in the absolute most pouring rain imaginable. If I didn't love the sport, I would have bailed! But I am so glad that I didn't, because I ran really well that day, meeting my goal for the event. Despite the rain, I had fun!

Getting drenched running with my "birthday girl" bib, and feeling hardcore.
With some girlfriends who braved the rain with me, all of us drenched at the finish line.

2) Lower Mainland Road Race Series
For the 3rd year in a row, I made the effort to participate in multiple events as part of the Lower Mainland Road Race Series, and I managed to squeak in an award too, also for the 3rd year in row. So again, when you think about it, the old me would be shaking her head - I did all kinds of races this year and ran well enough to get an award? And I chose the location of my birthday brunch to be the same location as the awards ceremony so that my friends who were also getting awards and I could collect them more easily. I am good at running? I love it enough to do it voluntarily and pay to race often? And my friends run too? Who am I?! 

But really, what I love about the LMRRS is that it's about competing with oneself and with our peers. It's not about the speedy elite runners I can't ever come close to. It's about recreational runners here who are good enough and serious enough to be well above average, and for us to have incentive to do our best in multiple events. I definitely chose my events carefully, knowing which ones I could score points in, and which ones I didn't have a chance in because of the competitive field. I always ran the best I could, and am proud of my year in running. The awards are in September, culminating the races you've done so far in the year, and forcing you to reflect on how you've done. It's nice to be rewarded for all the work put into it since January, at the end of the summer season! Makes me feel good and ready to tackle my next events.

Friends posing with LMRRS awards and Eastside 10K race medals
3) Run Clinic Instructor
I have been working part time at the Running Room for about 5 years now, but had not previously ever signed on as a run instructor. A lot of it had to do with time commitments being focused elsewhere. But this summer, a 10K clinic instructor was needed and I stepped up the plate. It was a small group, but I had fun, fun enough that I have now signed up to coach the 5K and Learn To Run clinics this fall. There are many things I love about coaching. You get to share your knowledge, get in some extra workouts, etc., but the most pleasurable part of it all is the energy return you get from the participants. When I get feedback about something they learned, the improvement they've noticed in their own ability, the fun they are having in a session, how activity is impacting their life, this gives me great joy. It's incredibly rewarding and I hope that I have something to do with, some sort of lasting influence, however small, in someone remaining active and healthy, and with a long-term love for running themselves. Maybe someone I coach ends up reading this!

4) The Victoria Half Marathon - 5 years and counting!
And a week from now, I run the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon. This is the very event, 5 years ago, that started this whole blogging adventure. I was training for this half marathon and was encouraged to start this blog. It was this event 5 years ago that I trained for after losing all that weight (the 130lbs) and getting my health on track. It was 5 years ago that I crossed that finish line and my passion / addiction for this sport was born. I can't believe it's been that long, or that it's only been that long, but you know, regardless of how long 5 years is, I have to acknowledge it. You may recall reading my post on my blogiversary - the milestone marking when I starting writing. This to me is even bigger though, because this marks when I actually DID IT!

At the finish line of the Victoria Half in 2011.

Since starting out in 2011, I have participated in this event in Victoria every year. Well, last year I didn't, although I was registered to (we were in Disneyland....). But I have run the marathon once, the half marathon twice, and the 8K once. I love the event as it's at Thanksgiving so lends itself nicely to a visit with family. It's also big, exciting, with a huge turnout, nice swag, and big expo, etc. It was a no-brainer to sign up this year, although I wasn't sure I wanted to do another half.

But when I realized that this event would mark a 5-year milestone, I had to sign up and train for it. For reasons very personal and very real, I have to mark my milestone. And now, this event will be my 24th lifetime half marathon. To me, that's pretty darn awesome, and I am very proud to acknowledge how far I've come in these 5 years. 24 halfs. 2 dozen! And when I cross the finish line this year, I have a feeling it might get emotional! :) If I remember to, I plan to wear my finisher shirt from this event in 2011.

Thank you, always for your kindness and support. 
<3 Zahida