Monday, October 1, 2018

Race Report: North Van Run - Oct 1, 2018

I've gone and done it again - not posting since my last race. I've got to tell you, it's been a very very busy time. No, not that regular busy that all moms face, but actually super stupidly busy. Since we last talked, I found a new job to start at the end of my maternity leave (two weeks from today), which has meant we can finally go ahead with our plans to move home to something bigger to accommodate all members of the family. My almost 1-year old daughter has been sleeping in the living room since pretty much day 1 and we needed a longer term solution than this! Moving home actually means relocating to another city,  and we're doing this only 10 days from now. The last month or two has been a major blur, managing the logistics of all this change while still parenting and still trying to take care of myself and keep fit.

So that's why I haven't written in a while. But I also explained that all to you as it's relevant to the topic of this post. It is so you can understand further the significance of the race I ran yesterday. My daughter and I ran the North Van Run 5km yesterday and it was very special, and so much fun!

5km is pretty much the minimum distance I run on any training run, and because I do this about 3x a week pushing a stroller; it's something I am very used to. But no matter what, I will always argue that it's a respectable distance to race, even if the distance itself isn't a big deal. On race day, many run their hearts out to push for the best finish time they can muster. Over 5km, that's often pain, hell, and definite challenge. That hasn't been my approach to recent 5km efforts, as you know. It's instead recently been about maintaining fitness through pregnancy, regaining it again after childbirth, getting past injury, and so on and so forth. All of those things are a big deal to me. Yesterday was all about doing something special. Also a big deal. Mission accomplished.

A year ago today was the inaugural North Van Run. Given that I've lived here for close to 10 years and had never raced here, I didn't want to miss out. I was 37 weeks pregnant and little did I know, I only 12 days away from giving birth. It was a great last run before taking a 6 week break from my sport. I felt good on race day, felt proud of my accomplishment, and knew at the end that I was ready to take a break. Like Forrest Gump, I was just ready to stop.
Finish line photo from 2017 - you can't really see my belly in its full glory.
Fast forward to this year, I wanted to run this same event again, but for the longest time didn't know if I was going to be able to. Our move date was a question that only became clear the last few weeks, and I wanted to not plan my weekends too far ahead in case we needed to take a trip to our new hometown to go house shopping. Even when we put an offer on a house, until subjects were removed and all was finalized, there was a possibility of us needing to work out a plan B. So as soon as it was clear, I registered.

The North Van Run was special to me last year not only because it was my last run before my daughter was born (and me feeling rather badass running 5km so comfortably despite my very very round shape), but also because it's sister race, the West Van Run, was the first race I did after learning I was pregnant. The West Van Run crew are a group of wonderful people that I have gotten to know over the last few years. I didn't run with them frequently, but regardless, I was family to this group.

With a few members of the West Van Run crew at the Summerfast 10K in July this past summer.

So this year, when I realized that the North Van Run could potentially be my last race while living in Vancouver (where I have lived all 38 years of my life), I had to make it happen. Add to this that if I went with my daughter in the stroller, it would level up the awesome significantly. We had never done a stroller race together, even though we run with the stroller about 3x a week. So to do our first race like that a year after my last race pregnant sounded cool. And if you know me well, you will know that I am a bit of a sentimental sap. My daughter was born in North Vancouver and we are leaving here two days before her 1st birthday. The race was offering a finisher medal this year, which usually isn't a draw for me unless it's a half marathon or more. But with "North Van" emblazoned on the front, I thought this would make a wonderful keepsake for her to hang onto and hopefully inspire her own running or otherwise athletic pursuits as she grows up.

Last year this race offered a stroller division - you actually specified on your registration if you were bringing a stroller. I remember this as I was cheekily suggesting that carrying a full term baby in utero was just as hard as pushing a stroller (or maybe harder!) and that I deserved to be in the stroller division. But this year, this was not the case. The route changed too, so I wasn't sure if I could bring baby or not. I messaged the race director and was told it was fine, so I went ahead and registered and told my husband he didn't need to take the day off so I could race. Baby was coming with me!

Saturday night, my daughter fell asleep much later than I would have liked, and I found myself unwilling to wake her up early enough so she could have a full breakfast before the race; she needed her sleep. Her current routine is a bottle upon wake up, and breakfast an hour later. No, this was not happening. It was also super duper rainy outside. When you have a race to do and it's just you, all you have to do is worry about yourself - waking up at the right time, having your pre race meal, and getting out the door with all the stuff you need for the morning. Add a baby to the mix and a plan for what to do with her that morning that quickly went out the window, it makes it complicated. I opted to warm a bottle and pack it along with snacks and wake my daughter about 5 minutes before I wanted to leave home. I made the right call!

We arrived and parked at Lonsdale Quay. I put the running stroller together and loaded it with our gear for the day - my daughter's food, dry clothes for me, my phone, and the rain cover. I popped her in and wondered when she'd have a meltdown since I woke her up from a deep sleep to bring her outside into the cold and rain, and she hadn't had anything to eat yet. We made our way to the start line area, said hi to some friends, and then found shelter from the rain so I could take the rain cover off the stroller and let her drink her bottle. Super Mom level 6 achieved!

Knowing the bottle would be enough for her for likely the next 45 minutes or so, I decided it was OK to not stress about giving her food until after the race was over. We hung out in the Shipyards area to talk to friends and hide under vendor and food tents, and while I was at it, I scoped out the snack situation. Races always provide wonderful snacks at the finish line and I rarely partake as I have a hard time eating immediately after a run. I looked around though so see what there was and what could I potentially share with my daughter. Knowing the finish line was in a different spot and it might be a little while before we come back to this area, I grabbed a banana and stored it in the stroller. Yay for storage during a race - something I never have really ever had to my disposal. But I wasn't thinking of myself - this was part of my next-level super-mom thinking.

A couple minutes before race start, we came out from behind the shelter and lined up for the race. We took a spot in the back and it became clear at this stage that I was the only one there with a stroller. My daughter continued to be in good spirits, but after a few minutes of sitting in one place in her rain protection bubble, she started fussing. Oh no! We're just about to get going, and now she gets upset? I had confidence though that once we started moving, she'd be fine, and the experience would be positive. I tried to entertain her with peekaboo and other baby nonsense until the gun went off. This girl of mine, she likes moving, and she loves going fast in the running stroller. She doesn't like sitting in one spot. You'd know this if you saw the way she crawls at full speed all over our home.

So off we went, starting very slowly at the back of the pack, to allow space for us to move and turn corners in the beginning of the race where there are lots of turns. It took several minutes and about 1km to get into our groove as there was a lot of weaving and waiting for people who were jogging at a much slower pace and didn't notice us to move out of the way so we could pass. Knowing that this event wasn't about achieving a time, I was mostly relaxed about this. But at the same time, my pace is where I am happy, and move the most comfortably, and it took a while before I could achieve that pace rather than shuffling my feet and walking. Being in tight quarters with a stroller without room to maneuver is challenging and in order to achieve a feeling of safety for my daughter, I wanted to get us more room away from people who might trip over the stroller if they don't notice us passing and dart in a diagonal at the wrong time.

It was definitely tough to navigate the crowd, but soon we got to a point where we had space to move and freedom to go our pace. It was awesome! I could hear my daughter giggling and babbling and clearly enjoying herself. I had a blast too. I always love the energy of a good race. The rain didn't bug me even the slightest. There was one bigger hill which I walked up and down because with the stroller that would be too difficult to manage. But aside from that, we kept moving at a decent pace all the way to the finish.

We reached the finish line, on the beautiful pier overlooking the Burrard Inlet and downtown Vancouver, in just over 35 minutes. This was great because normally when I do 5km with a stroller, it takes a bit longer than that; the added effort of pushing adds up to 1 minute/km to my pace. The energy of the race definitely always adds pep to the step though, and I know that if that first km wasn't so slow, we could have been even faster. I was almost in disbelief that we crossed so fast. My daughter is indeed my favourite training partner, and maybe there's something to racing with her.

At the finish line with my daughter in her rain bubble, me holding my medal awkwardly.

We hung out at the finish and socialized with friends a bit. My daughter ate the banana I saved for her, so I knew we'd keep the hunger away a bit longer.

Selfie at the finish to show off the medal, baby eating her banana, good friend photobombing!
After some socializing at the finish line, we headed back to the Shipyards where the food and vendor tents were and grabbed some snacks, which ended up being my daughter's breakfast which I took only a few bites of. Ha! She loved the scones from Cobs Bread and the Teff bars. Mmmm! It was great to see so many smiling familiar faces, despite the rainy weather. After I knew baby was full from her breakfast, we made our way back to the car to come home so we'd be back for first nap.

It was a special first race together, and hopefully the first of many more to come. It was also part of a lovely send-off for myself, leaving North Vancouver which has been my home for so long. In the afternoon, my daughter and I spent time at my aunt's home for lunch and to celebrate her 1st birthday a little early. Then in the evening some of my girlfriends threw a little farewell dinner party for me, and I left baby home with her dad. It was such a very special day which I will remember fondly.

What's next for me as a runner? Well, exploring my new home of Victoria, BC for sure. It's a great runnable city and lots of trails near our home to explore. It's also home to many great races which I am excited to run for the first time. Stay tuned to learn about our upcoming adventures.

As always, thanks for tuning in!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Race Report: Summerfast 10K

Yesterday was the Summerfast 10K, the annual flat and fast 10K around Stanley Park hosted by the Vancouver Falcons Athletic Club. Their fearless leader, Coach John Hill, coached me once upon a time, so I like to support this race as often as I can. I had to miss it last year because we were out of town, but I was pleased to be able to run it again this year. As always, it was a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the scenic race route, the race was flawlessly organized by the club members and the post race party was not only fun, but included delicious home baking!

With my team mates with our 2nd place cake (gifted to us by the 1st place team)
Running this race yesterday for me was all about completion and very little about finish time. I achieved my goal of finishing strong without any suggestion of pain in my knee or anywhere else in my body for that matter, and with plenty of steam still left in me. This was not a race about pushing my body to its maximum to achieve the best time. It was just me wanting to complete 10K 100% strong, and all me. I achieved these things indeed and I am so happy about that.

My return to running after my daughter was born started at 4 weeks post-partum. I was slow and sluggish but running felt good. If I am honest though, I pushed myself to do distance work a bit too soon as I hadn't completely healed from child birth. I should have stuck to shorter runs. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I completed a 10K in March and likely shouldn't have done that. That race was a struggle the entire way and I don't think there's any denying that pushing myself through this race and in my training leading up to it is likely what led to my knee injury soon after that benched me for another 6 weeks.

I hated that 6 weeks off running, but now that I look back, it was perfect. Again, that hindsight! This time off forced me to rest my body and while I was healing my knee, the rest of me got a chance to heal. When I started running again in May, I was starting from scratch, taking baby steps as a beginner would. This process was really tough on me mentally and emotionally, but I also knew that it would be temporary and I'd be running for real soon. My approach was gentle and gradual, which bored me, but also motivated me. I was seeing progress rapidly. Summerfast was always an idea in my mind, but I did not register or commit to the idea until I was absolutely certain that I was ready. My first realization that I was ready was when I ran 7km with the stroller. Stroller runs are always harder, and this run was particularly hilly, and I did it without any hint of struggle. The following week I planned an 8km, but ended up doing 9km with my sister-in-law in Victoria. I registered for Summerfast after completing this run, only a couple weeks before the event took place.

When it comes to finish time, the thing is that I didn't know what goal time to set. This wasn't a typical race for me as I would have set out to do pre-baby. I hadn't completed 10K+ distances multiple times in my training. I hadn't done any speedwork. I had no recently completed race efforts to gauge my fitness. All I had done were a few training runs, all shorter than 10K, all at an easy pace that gave me the confidence I could do 10K. The closest I got to 10K was my "dress rehearsal" run the week before, running around Stanley Park with my daughter in the stroller (9.5K total).

We ran around Stanley Park together the week before the race!
I did this run with her at Stanley Park for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to give her the experience of seeing the entire seawall. Boy did she love it!
  • I wanted to push myself and see if I could run that far pushing the stroller - it was hard work, but the right amount of challenge!
  • I hadn't run the entire seawall in some time and thought some visual reminders before the race would benefit me (and they did). I knew what was around every corner, and I had the added bonus of cute memories of my daughter to help me through on race day.
When the race started, I didn't know what pace to aim for. In all my training runs in the last two months since I started running again, I have not been paying attention to pace because it's all been about just getting it done. I've been in the "easy miles" mindset the whole time. Of course that's all relative, because I can run a good minute/km faster when I am not pushing the stroller (or something like that). But it had been some time since I had run without a stroller. I had also not run so early in the morning in a long time when the temperatures are cooler and friendlier as I run according to my daughter's schedule. I thought to myself to aim for a 7:00/km. I fell slightly short of this at a 7:04 average pace, but this is OK considering it was just a ballpark projection, rather than a goal I had any investment in sticking to. The only reason to set a projection was to ensure I didn't push myself too hard at the race. I feel I pushed just the right amount.

I finished in just over 71 minutes. In case you're wondering, my best 10K is about 20 minutes faster than this. But I am super proud of my 71 minute finish. Why? Because 71 is a whole lot faster than the 78 it took me to complete that race in March that I struggled through. Because I defeated odds against me to get to this result with my comeback from childbirth and a knee injury. Because I finished strong and with plenty of gas left in the tank. Because this race gave me the confidence that I can now take my training to the next level. I can be a distance runner again, and I can turn up the heat and be faster than I was today, but all in due time.

I feel different today than I did when I first returned to running post-partum. I was running then because it was familar and ultimately what I wanted to return to. But it was hard and my body felt foreign to me. I feel different today than I did when I returned to running post-injury. I was deflated and hated to return like a beginner. Today I can run pain-free. Even though I am slower than I used to be, I don't feel slow. I feel strong, empowered, and like I can do anything I put my mind to. I'm also getting closer to my pre-baby self. Since I have stopped nursing, I fit into my pre-baby sports bras again and running is so much more comfortable without the added weight up top. I am noticing that I am regaining muscle that I had lost and slowly and surely leaning out. My legs are starting to look and act like runners legs again. 

I will be cautious about pushing too hard; I don't want to make that mistake again. But I want to try increasing my distance gradually and soon start incorporating a small amount of speedwork into my training week. Perhaps my next half marathon is in my not-too-distant future. Perhaps even by this fall, if all goes well. I'll keep you posted!

I registered to complete this race as a member of the West Van Run crew as there is a "crew challenge". I don't normally join teams when I race as I train mostly on my own, but this gave me a nice social aspect to the race to look forward to. Our crew isn't the fastest, but being a big group, we managed to come in 2nd in the challenge.

I also scored some sweet swag as I won one of the draw prizes at package pickup - some sweet new Sundog sunglasses! I loved wearing these at the race as they did not slip off my nose at all! They will be awesome training this sunny summer. And at the post-race party, one of my crew-mates won a voucher for Moveo Physiotherapy clinic here in North Vancouver which he said he had no use for. I sheepishly told him that I'd use it if he didn't want it. So he handed it over and I am excited to use it. I love my PT, but a freebie and a second opinion is never a bad thing. I plan to get my knee re-assessed now that I've been running a while, and ensure I do what I need to do to ensure it remains strong in the long haul.

Monday, July 9, 2018

They See Me Strollin’ - 5 Tips for Running with a Stroller

The moment I knew I was expecting a baby, I got rather excited about the prospect of running with my child. I ran through 37 weeks of my pregnancy, running with the baby in the stroller only seemed like the natural progression of things. Since I most often run on my own, having some cute company would be super welcomed. I hoped that I would have a little one who would be patient with me or even enjoy going out for workouts with me so that I can continue with my training schedule even if I am on parenting duty. I always admired the moms and dads at races lining up to race with their babes in a stroller and thought to myself, I hope that will be me someday.

So I was pretty pleased to have found a really great jogging stroller on sale second hand on one of my social media running groups. The dad who sold it to me even delivered it to me since he didn’t want me to have the hassle when I was pregnant and ensured I understood how it all worked. Gotta love the running community: it’s full of such friendly people. I pounced on the good deal but knew it would be a long while before it would get any use. So it sat in the corner of our condo dismantled for months as I waited to have a baby who was old enough for it. I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it until at least 6 months of age and not before baby could sit up unassisted.

When we finally reached those milestones, I was out with an injury. Upon my return to running, I wanted to return to running on my own before going out with a stroller. My daughter was about 8 months old when we finally got the stroller out of storage and were ready to hit the road. Now I needed to know that she’d like the thing, and all this waiting was worthwhile. So I first took her for a walk to our local bike shop to get the hand brake adjusted and air put in the tires, and she screamed her head off as I strapped her in. Thankfully once we got moving and out the door, she was fine and clearly enjoyed her new ride. It just took a little getting used to. Yes!

Now we run at least twice a week using the stroller and I am so very happy to report that my daughter loves joining me for workouts. I am so grateful for this because it allows me to have a bit more control over my training schedule as it doesn’t require someone else to watch over her every time I want to hit the road. I can go whenever I have an appropriate opening in my schedule. I also see this as setting a positive example for my daughter on how I prioritize and value an active lifestyle. And over the years, this time together will evolve. I can already imagine running with my daughter riding her bike beside me, and then one day when she's ready, RUNNING with me!

All smiles during our workout this morning!
There are a few things that I have learned along the way, so I thought I would write my 5 tips or nuggets of wisdom when it comes to stroller running that I have discovered over the past few weeks. These are in no particular order:

1) Allow time!

As with all things with a baby, they are predictable in their unpredictability. I assume I will get out the door at least 2 hours after I've woken up in the morning. I have to make sure that both of us are fed and dressed, and that I have all the baby gear available in the stroller basket should something come up along the way. Bottles, diapers, food, toys, soother, hat, sunscreen etc. If I time it well, our workout will lull her to sleep in the stroller and that morning nap has taken care of itself.

I've come to realize though, if I tried to squeeze a workout in on an already busy day, it likely won't work. So even if it's just a quick half hour workout planned in my training schedule, I will only go about it with baby in the stroller if we have the whole morning available. Because I have to ensure she's fed and possibly tired enough to fall asleep on the ride (rather than so tired she'll be cranky), timing has to be right. And I also have to factor time in as when we get home, it might be a while before I can get her settled down enough so I can have a shower and a recovery meal without stress. If I'm lucky, she'll fall asleep near the end of the workout and I can shower and even prepare lunch right when we get home in complete silence. Or it might be like today where she was wide awake and giggling the whole workout but cried and cried when I showered because I left her alone in her crib and she was not yet sleepy. Don't worry, we resumed playtime as soon as possible after! These are all considerations that are new when running with a baby rather than running solo. She's the boss over my time.

2) Keep expectations low.

Pushing a stroller while running is hard work! I expect to go a lot slower as a result. And because of what I described above, I am prepared to have to stop during a workout even if I don't need a break because baby needs a bottle or something else from me. I expect when she's older, I might need to stop a workout to let her play in a playground a little while. The outing is for both of us, not just my own training purposes. So it might not be the longest, fastest, or otherwise most ideal workout. But it is indeed a GOOD workout no matter what and a great way to spend time in the fresh air with my little one. I pay no attention to my pace or elapsed time on a workout when I look at my workout stats because I know that the stroller makes me slower and that I likely made stops along the way that I wouldn't have otherwise. It is not an accurate gauge of my fitness. I only look at the distance we covered.

3) Run without a stroller at least once a week.

I have noticed that since I have been running with the stroller most workouts now, whenever I go without, running seems so much easier, and so I can push myself harder. It's great for my confidence indeed, but I also realize that running with a stroller and also without a stroller, doing both of these things is making me stronger. Running without the stroller is a good gauge of where my fitness actually is. Without the added weight to push or unplanned stops along the way, it's on these workouts where I pay attention to all my stats. Ensuring I do this at least once a week allows me to see the progress I am making and to adjust my goals along the way. Also, with a stroller, your gait is different than without, so it's good to mix things up so ensure that you're getting the balance your body needs. I have generally been doing shorter workouts with the stroller and saving long workouts for when my husband is home to take care of the baby so I can go out alone. But that's not always the case as we're planning on doing a long one this weekend with the stroller.

4) Pay attention to your gait.

No question, your gait is different when you run with a stroller. I am very conscious of this as I want to be as balanced as possible and avoid injury. I want to ensure that running is still as natural as possible despite pushing weight ahead of me. I have a tether attached to the stroller which I wrap around one wrist and I alternate between pushing the stroller with two hands or with one. When using two hands, I tend to have to lean forward a bit more than normal, whereas using only one hand allows me to straighten out a bit and run closer to the way I would without a stroller. I use two hands when we are going uphill, when we are needed to slow down or stop, or when there are turns that require steering (rather than natural curves to the road). I use one hand only when I have some good momentum going, knowing that the other hand is still holding on using the tether. And I alternate which hand I use on the stroller vs. off the stroller so I'm not over-swinging one side of my body. Again, trying to achieve balance as best as possible.

5) Pick your running route carefully.

One of the things I love about running is the ability to do it anywhere. You can literally step out of your front door and go. With a running stroller, it's not so simple. Sure you could run along your neighbourhood sidewalks, but I don't particularly like this approach. It's not so much about all the ups and downs of the curb, as my jogging stroller has good suspension, but it's because of the narrowness of the paths and having to share with other pedestrians that aren't expecting us to be coming along at some speed and requiring space to get by. It's also things like untrimmed hedges, sidewalks that end, hidden driveways, drivers that aren't paying well enough attention, and so on. So I've been mostly using the paved green-way near home. I can access the green-way by walking a couple blocks and then going down a steep ramp, so our workout starts after a little 10 minute warm-up walk. We've also run on our local track. Or I pull the wheels off the stroller, throw it in the car, and we pick a paved path elsewhere to run like the miles of seawall available to run in Vancouver. The benefits of this approach is that there is width to the path we run so we can easily and safely pass other pedestrians, and we're likely needing to get on and off a curb or stop for traffic a lot less often. Less stopping means better momentum for a smoother, faster, and overall more enjoyable ride for both parent and babe.
Post-workout selfie (and bottle) with baby after our first track workout together.
We have a big stroller run planned for this weekend as I prepare to run a 10km race on the 21st (without the stroller). Wish us luck!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Why I Quit Breastfeeding

I know what you're thinking. What does breastfeeding have to do with running and why am I writing about it on a running blog? Well, running and breastfeeding have something in common - they require my body and require effort. And I never knew until I started my journey into motherhood that they actually impact one another. Also I know that a lot of my readers are women, some are mothers, some may be mothers some day. Perhaps you might appreciate my insight and learning about my journey. But really, I need to write about this topic, use my blog as an outlet, and document how I am feeling today. I need to do this for me.

My daughter is now 8 months old and thriving. She is crawling, standing, babbling, and showcasing her hilarious sense of humour. Our 8 months together have been blissful, but challenging. Nobody can possibly prepare you for the challenges that you'll face in parenthood. I never realized how hard breastfeeding would be. I thought about it before and couldn't understand why women struggled with it and almost dismissed breastfeeding struggle with a "so what?" shrug. I just didn't get it until I was neck deep in the struggle, wondering if I would drown. It almost broke me on several occasions. It was the hardest part of parenthood so far. Why? Because I couldn't do it. Well I could, but only a little.

I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I was failing at a basic function of motherhood. I was not able to do what was "best" for my baby. Sure I had a lot of factors that were working against me. My late start at breastfeeding when my daughter was getting phototherapy for her jaundice after birth didn't help. My age and health history didn't help. And other things I won't get into here, they also didn't help. I had a lot going against me. I tried everything from seeing a lactation consultant, prescription medication, power pumping, expensive herbal supplements, lactation smoothies, lactation cookies, lactation blah blah blah.... nothing worked. Well, the medication helped a little but I never got to a place where I could breastfeed exclusively. I felt good knowing that she was getting some milk, but the rest of her sustenance had to come from formula and I had to be OK with that. I had to remind myself daily that my body didn't fail. It made the best thing in the world that I have - my precious daughter. I am no less a mom.

So yes, my girl was being fed and growing, and developing, and being amazing. In my head, I knew and know today that the fact that she's being fed is all that matters. But every time I made her formula, my pride and ego would take a hit. I felt guilt or wondered if there was something I could have done differently or better so she could get her nourishment from me. Or I'd feel good about our journey and then go out to a mommy and baby activity and see other women so effortlessly breastfeed their child, while I had to deal with mixing formula and heating a bottle to the right temperature for my babe. I would feel shame and imagine judging eyes on me. I know now that it's all in my head. Maybe the looks were just out of curiosity or admiration. I was feeding my baby and being the best mom I could be.

My attitude changed when my baby turned 6 months. I finally realized that she was fine despite our challenged journey. I made it to 6 months and felt so proud of myself. While I in no means achieved exclusive breastfeeding, I was able to provide about 1/2 of her nutrition for 6 months. I realized, though, that there was a cost to me, and I had to do something to back off and be kinder to me. We started to change our feeding relationship, only nursing in the morning and I pumped the rest of the day. It was lovely to still have that bonding in the morning that only nursing can give. However, it proved difficult to maintain that routine when we went on our family vacation to Maui. With the time difference, her feeding schedule and my production schedule didn't seem to sync up nicely anymore, so we moved to pumping throughout the day. This included pumping on the plane and in the passenger seat of the rental car, in order to keep with my schedule. The last time I nursed her was in bed in Maui one morning at around 5am, and it was one of our most lovely experiences with this relationship. I will always remember that time fondly and I am at peace with that being our last session.

Pumping for your baby is no joke though. Every half hour spent connected to a machine means time you can't parent fully. You can simply put your baby somewhere safe and engage with her at a distance. When you have an active baby who wants to hang out and play, this can be hard to achieve. You have to sing when she starts to cry, ignore her when she's clearly pooped her diaper or is asking for something you can't provide, all the while try to relax so your milk will flow. Then when you make plans for your day but realize that you're approaching the deadline to pump (or be uncomfortable), you cut your perfectly good outing short to come home. Despite these challenges, I continued this routine for 2 months.

I would have continued to do this right until I returned to work, perhaps, but I had a scare about a week ago. I have been on prescription medication from the beginning, and apparently the effects of the medication can be multiplied if you eat grapefruit. I have been avoiding the fruit although it's one of my absolute favourites (I consumed it daily when pregnant - no joke). I accidentally ate some when visiting a family member who made a beautiful salad and this resulted in frequent heart palpitations for two days. I made an appointment with my doctor and she reassured me that my heart was OK, but this might be a good time to consider weaning. At 8 months, my daughter is a champion eater and will rely less and less on milk over the coming months. If I have to take drugs that can impact my heart to feed her, is it worth it? I think not. So we've started the process and so far so good. Well, except for the mood swings and meltdowns (on my part). I am almost there.

It hasn't been easy to make that decision. Breastfeeding might seem trivial to those who haven't embarked on the journey. It certainly did to me, admittedly, until I became a mom and the challenge hit me square in the face. I think the reasons why the journey is so challenging if it doesn't go according to plan is twofold: (1) we want the very best for our babies and breastmilk is excellent nutrition and full of a mother's antibodies to help baby develop their immune system and (2) after growing a baby in our bodies for 9 months and then giving birth, breastfeeding is the one remaining way of keeping our bodies connected. My daughter is literally part of me.

I have many helpful mommy friends who have said the right thing at the right time to help me through this journey. I hope you read this and see how much your support has helped me. To my dear friend who couldn't breastfeed and chose to exclusively formula feed, thank you for helping me understand from the very beginning that "fed is best" and that formula is wonderful nutrition for a perfectly healthy baby. I thought of her and her beautiful son every time I struggled with preparing formula for my girl. My sister-in-law who was able to breastfeed her three babies (perhaps with struggle of her own that I don't know about) reminded me that breastfeeding is not better than combo feeding or formula feeding. It's simply different. And my best friend who is a mother to three as well told me that even though I could only feed my daughter partially for 8 months, my effort to do the best for her was the furthest thing from partial. Thank you!

So I suppose saying that I "quit" is too harsh a comment. I made a choice and one that is right for me, and as a result, best for my child. Quitting suggests that adequate effort wasn't put forward. It connotes that perhaps I should have tried harder. Although sometimes my heart pangs with these inaccurate sentiments, my mind knows better and tries to correct it. I indeed tried and tried harder at this than almost anything in my life. And that says a lot since you know me, my work ethic, and my journey to become a runner. Don't tell me there's something I can't do, because I will do everything in my power to prove you wrong.

What does this journey have to do with running? Everything, really. Imagine my breastfeeding journey as a race, an extra-grueling, ultra-marathon, with absolutely no finish line in sight. During the race there are sleepless nights, physical pain, and a young child who you love more than anything needing you, begging for you, but you're not able to be there for them, because you're busy running a race. And it's not like you're winning the race; you're somewhere in the back of the pack, struggling to hang on, wondering if you're going to finish last. It's no wonder that 8 months into this race, I would want to start walking, or perhaps, take a seat on the curb for a while. Or call someone to tell them to pick me up and take me home. And tell me it's OK not to "finish" because my journey had already been admirable enough. Scoring a "DNF" in this journey (Did Not Finish) is too harsh here because I believe that the part of this race I completed had a very positive impact on my daughter's health, and it's an accomplishment I should feel proud of. Someday I will be ready to be proud of myself, fully.

And soon, my body will be entirely free of this, my hormone balance will regulate again, and certain characteristics of the woman and the runner I was before I became a mother will return. I will not be the same, nor do I have any desire to "get my body back" (I never lost it!), but I do expect that over time, having a balance in hormones will allow some changes back to what's familiar. It will allow me to lose that last bit of "baby weight" I haven't been able to as the body hangs onto fat stores in order to make milk. No, breastfeeding isn't the miracle way to lose weight folks. That is a lie (at least it isn't true for every woman). My body will still have a different shape and evidence that it housed a baby at one point, and that's OK with me. I've never had flat abs anyway, so why stress about something unattainable, and frankly, entirely unimportant. But losing weight will help me as a runner, both because it'll put less stress on my joints, and because I will be able to go a bit faster than I can now. I am most excited about relaxin working its way out of my body, the hormone that allows the body to change shape to accommodate and birth a child. It's likely what was responsible, in some way, for my knee sprain that benched me for 6 weeks. I have heard from other mother runners that after they stopped breastfeeding, their joints gradually began to feel stronger and more stable again.

But it'll also free me up from something that has been so hard on me emotionally and taken up so much of my time. I know longer have to schedule pump sessions and factor that in as something to do before any scheduled run. With my mind freed of this burden, running will just be so much better!

We did indeed reach the finish line!

My daughter crawling across the finish line at our local track.
So there you have it - I hope you have appreciated my candor here. I have appreciated all the positive comments, private messages, and emails I receive about my blog posts where I speak about such personal topics. Thank you for being an audience and a support.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Baby Steps

After 6 weeks being off with a knee injury, I am back to running. I'm not back to my pre-injury status as I am taking every precaution and gradually progressing the difficulty of my workouts as my knee strengthens. Last thing I want to do is too much too soon and hurt myself again. 6 weeks off sucked. Not being able to run while my family was away on vacation in Maui also sucked, as I love running in tropical climates and I love exploring on foot. But I'm back and the entirety of a Vancouver summer is ahead of us. I plan on running through it all.

If you missed my blog post written in the depths of this injury-caused despair, read it here.

If I may speak candidly for a moment, I will tell you that I was not entirely kind to myself through those 6 weeks. I find that when I'm active, I am more likely to take care of myself more. This is most noticeable when it comes to nutrition and hydration. I am more aware of my need to drink water when I am sweating it out and when I return from a workout thirsty. I also tend to crave nutritious foods when I'm active. But if I am really honest, I also know that when I am active, I feel more empowered and confident in my body, and somehow that leads to being kinder to myself in the choices I make. On the flipside, when I'm not active, I'm not feeding my body with positivity or endorphins. I am not feeling empowered or confident. And often that missing positive feeling becomes a feeling of blah, laziness, and resentment which then leads to poor food choices, and poor attitude choices. I stop craving healthy whole food and opt for quick and easy meals. And I start picking on myself and seeing faults in my body that I accepted or embraced once before.

Not being active and making poor choices takes me down a rabbit hole of negativity. I was feeling really upset about what I was seeing in the mirror and photographs. I haven't felt this way in a while as for years, I was excited to see an athletic body looking back at me in my reflection. Post-baby I was OK, but then through this injury-time, I started to worry I'd never get my pre-baby body back (I don't care if it changes shape, I just want to be a healthy, athletic weight again). And then when I'd stop to realize that this body image garbage was getting to me, I'd feel bad for letting it get to me. That negativity is what spiraled into years of poor health in my past. That is not me anymore. I will not go down that rabbit hole. None of that serves me well. It only serves to fuel further negativity. And so I pledge to change that attitude one step at a time.

Now that I'm running again, albeit slowly, I am active again and feeling positive endorphins flow into my body and mind. Now that I'm active again in a way that's familiar and empowering, my confidence has increased. The woman I see in the mirror is one I accept and love today. Sure, she may have some work to do, but she's the same woman with the same strength, badassness, and courage to do extraordinary things. I pledge to myself that even if I should get injured again, I won't let lack of activity make me think anything less of the woman I am, of who I see in the mirror, nor will I let it impact the kindness I treat myself with.

As I am full time taking care of my baby daughter and I am witnessing her reaching milestone after milestone, the analogy of baby steps seems very appropriate for how I will move forward with my own journey of progress:

  • I cannot expect to return to my pre-baby fitness in a blink of an eye. I need to take baby steps and get there in appropriate timing.
  • As I recover from my knee injury and start to run again, I have to go gradually into it with run/walk intervals to start, slowly increasing my run time until I can eliminate walk breaks, and only when appropriate can I increase distance and speed. I have to take baby steps and learn to do this sport again. Luckily I am not a true beginner, and my body will re-learn, thrive, and achieve in my sport once again.
  • I need to make more positive choices but I can't expect to change everything overnight. Here's to making small but meaningful steps in the right direction. I've started with drinking more water, slowing down when I eat, always having lots of fresh produce handy, and meal-planning with intentionality.
  • I need to see myself as others see me, as an athlete, an inspiring woman who changed her life, an awesome mom, and a beautiful friend. I pledge to stop seeing the negative when I look in the mirror or at photos of me. My body has done amazing things and I cannot express hate to something that has served me so well or that created my daughter.
  • I will practice kindness to myself. So even though my focus is on my daughter and providing for her needs, I also have to insert things into my day that are for me and only me - my workouts, my meal planning, breaks for creative pursuits, self-care, and making myself look and feel pretty rather than being stuck in my "mommy-uniform" all the time.
So there you have it. I'm back to running, although slow and gradual. And I'm back in attitude, mind, and spirit.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


My last post was written almost exactly one month ago and was titled enthusiastically about my return to racing after an awesome month of March. Now here I sit at my computer injured. In fact, I have been hurt since about two days after that last post was written. I was in denial at first, and optimistic that it would be short-lived. I thought for sure that I would not miss the April Fool's Run, as I never miss that race. I've been doing it every year since 2012, including last year when I was pregnant. So what was a little injury? I didn't realize how hard I hurt myself until I went to see my physiotherapist and the simple exercises she assigned me to do were so very hard. If I can barely balance on the hurt leg for more than a few seconds, how do I expect to run 10K which is essentially thousands of repetitions of balancing on one leg over and over with no break?

I was in denial because I don't really know what I did to hurt myself. There was no one defining moment where I fell or twisted wrong. I just didn't feel good during a training run but got through it anyway, and the getting through it anyway thing was the worst thing I could have done. My knee stiffened up more and more as the day progressed, and my whole leg got very angry until I could barely move it. Despite this, I decided that it couldn't be a bad injury because I have never hurt my knee. There's a misconception that running is bad for knees and I cringe when people ask me if running so much has ever hurt my knees. Well, it did now, but this is after running for 8+ years and thousands and thousands of miles with zero previous knee pain. I think the combination of relaxin hormone in my system, a body shifting back to normal post pregnancy, yet still hanging onto a few extra pounds, plus shoes that were maybe at the end of their life worn a bit too long, and maybe a few other factors. There was no one defining moment, but rather numerous variables coming together like a perfect injury-inducing storm.

The first few days were the worst because the pain was debilitating. I could barely walk and so taking care of my daughter was really a challenge. Having a baby is physically tiring with all the carrying, lifting, etc., done throughout the day. Holding her in my left arm almost all the time has meant additional stress to that side of the body, likely another factor in the knee injury. So having to continue to care for her with this hurt body hasn't helped recovery. I continue to stress my knee out every time I lift her or hold her on one side of my body while I do things with the other, dominant side of my body, which places me in imbalance over and over again as each day progresses.

But the worst part of being injured is the missing out on everything part. I missed the Fools Run. I missed a weekend getaway to the Sunshine Coast with my family. I missed running with a friend. I have missed sunny day after sunny day this glorious spring where I could be training and wearing shorts! I have missed hiking invitations. I have missed social running opportunities. I have missed out on my favourite exercise and the ability to burn mega calories (which until now had helped me lose some of my baby weight). But also I find that when I run, I crave healthier food and I treat my body better. I am missing that and definitely feeling guilty about not eating super well this last little while. I have also missed out on my "me time" as I usually run solo and as a way to decompress and promote better mental health. I have missed out on something that is so me in so many ways, and I am absolutely itching to get it back.

It isn't forever, but it's been a month, and while I have made progress and can walk comfortably, I know I still have a little way to go yet until I am running well again. I will have lost so much of my fitness and will have to start back ever so slowly as to not risk further injury. I won't be starting with 10Ks and working up to a half marathon. A half marathon this fall might be too ambitious. I will be starting at the beginning all over again, just like I had to returning to running post-partum. Slow, steady, and boring.

So while I am so discouraged, I also know that running will always be there for me. I didn't ruin my knee. I have an injury that I will overcome. And when I can return, it will feel oh so very sweet. I will do all the wonderful things I wish to do as a runner. It just might not be in the timeline I had hoped for. But it will all still happen. Until then, I just need to find other ways to keep myself grounded and better focused on healthy habits. Until then I simply need to keep my chin up and keep working at getting stronger. Eyes on the prize!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Return to Racing!

Oh dear, it's been over two months since my last post. Time really does get away from you when there's a little one at home! I am very pleased to report that I have completed two races since my last post, and I have one coming up soon. I regret not writing a race report after each of the last two races, so I will do my best to recap here. My next race will be the April Fool's Run that I do every year on the Sunshine Coast. Because of my history there and my relationship to that race, I will do my darndest to write a blog post after that run as quickly as I can. My apologies to my social network that would have appreciated more timely reports on my other two races.

West Van Run 10K
The first of the two races was the West Van Run 10K on the first weekend of March. I love this race and this was a must-do event because of my friendship with the race director and my membership with the West Van Run crew. This race was my first 10K completed post-partum, and it was a "big long run" type goal. It was quite fitting that this event was my return to racing post-baby because of the way it book-ended my pregnancy in 2017. The West Van Run of 2017 was my first race after learning that I was pregnant, and its sister event, the North Van Run, was my last run completed during my pregnancy at 37 weeks. My daughter was born 2 weeks after that race, and I set my eyes on the West Van Run as a goal to achieve in 2018.

I did it, but it wasn't easy. It wasn't easy because it was indeed my longest run completed post-partum. I had intended to complete the distance at least once in my training but things got in the way such as the flu, a lingering cough, and an unexpected snowstorm! But I had done 8km a few times and knew I had it in me to push a little further on event day. It was also not easy because of sideways rain that day! And I also had a very tough night the night before the race after a very difficult day before. This is what happens when you're a new mom - sometimes you have an insanely hard day. I LOVE being a mom and I feel so incredibly blessed to be experiencing this journey and to have my beautiful daughter in my life. There are some elements though of motherhood that are challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally. And that is putting it very lightly.

I do not feel like publicly detailing the challenging day that I had, but it was ugly and I could not sleep after all the negativity and many many tears. In fact, I almost skipped the race entirely because I didn't feel like I could fake a smile when I would bump into my friends. But this race was a goal of mine and I knew that not doing it would make me feel worse. I had to show up and prove to myself I could do this. And so I did. And it was hard. And when I got to the finish line and saw my loving friends there cheering, I burst into tears. I was so very very embarrassed too for my emotional outburst, but my friends were so full of love and understanding. Thank you ladies! I avoided seeing other friends, especially those with cameras, and dodged nearly all small talk. I avoided socializing. I avoided all the things I normally would do after a race and I promptly returned home. Running did make me feel better about the situation I was upset about, and don't worry, it's now all completely a thing of the past and I am just fine. And I have this bad boy in my possession!

My finish time has long been forgotten and it's nothing exciting to report on. It was my 2nd slowest 10K race (I was slower when I ran the Eastside 10K at 35 weeks pregnant, of course). The race was organized impeccably and it was great to be out there. Thank you to Kirill and all the amazing volunteers for the hours of work put into making this event happen. Hope to be back for the summer event in June!

St. Patrick's Day 5K
And as per tradition, I ran the St. Patrick's Day 5K again this year. This year the event fell on St. Patty's Day itself which made it that much more special. This was a bit of a spur of the moment decision to run because I saw that my husband had the day off work so his help with our daughter that day was available. I didn't want to make demands of his time so soon after the West Van Run, but of course, he was happy to take on a morning of parenting alone since he was freed up that day. So I contacted my sister in law, with whom I have run this race the last few years, and we made a plan to run together. And I know the race directors for this event too and was given the Running Room staff code to make the race even more affordable and a no-brainer to complete.

This race was, as always, a blast! My friend Monica ended up running the whole race with me, which was a lovely surprise. Michele was feeling particularly speedy and good and we didn't hold her back. We of course sported our festive green and enjoyed Irish stew, some beer in our new commemorative glasses, good music, and good company at the finish line festivities at the Stanley Park Pavilion. A good time was had by all indeed!

And next in line....

So next will be the BMO Sunshine Coast April Fools Run on April 8th. It'll be my 7th year in a row participating, but this year I'm not officially blogging as ambassador. I wasn't sure I would run up until recently when I discussed with Monica and we decided to complete it as a two-person relay team. So I only have to run half of the half marathon distance (so just over 10K). I had this race on my hope list but only confirmed recently that I'd indeed run. It's hard to make plans for my time too far in advance these days when I'm my daughter's primary caregiver, plus I wanted to see if I felt OK running 10K before committing to doing it. Well, a bit more than 10K is fine as my running recently has been a lot stronger, even since the West Van Run. I have a run partner to do the relay with, and my husband has the day off to ensure that I can be freed up from mom responsibilities for a little while to allow me to run. He and our daughter will be coming along and we're going to make a weekend of it, staying the night before in Gibsons. Should be a lovely time! Stay tuned for a timely race report following the event :-)

After that, I am not sure what's in store. But I am hoping for a fall half marathon!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

A New Year for a New Mom Runner

Please forgive me for it being a little over a month since my last post. Baby nap times are precious for getting things done, or catching some rest, so sitting down to blog doesn't happen as often as I'd like. The last month has been very very positive for me as a mom and as a runner. I've been able to run 3x/week consistently and I'm up to 7km now for long run day. I am intentionally progressing my mileage really slowly as my abs are still a little tender (but improving), and I am not exactly at my ideal running weight yet either. Because of both of those factors, running has been really hard work! I don't want to push myself too much too soon. The plan is to get to 10km for Feb 1st so I can practice that distance a few times ahead of the West Van Run in early March. A fall half marathon sounds like a reasonable goal too! Maybe the Victoria Half in October? It won't be the type of running year that's typical of Zahida, but I think still respectable, and all about returning to action and fitting a running lifestyle into my new life as a new mom.

I know a lot of people set fitness related goals as New Year's Resolutions. If you know me well, you would know that this is not my style. I'm goal-driven by nature and set goals constantly. Through and since my health transformation, fitness related goals have moved me forward. I am always working toward something. Now that I have "baby weight" to lose, I have that goal in mind, sure, but it has nothing to do with New Year's Day and everything to do with always wanting to live in the healthiest version of my body that I can. My true goals are more about health and how I want to feel when I run rather than a number on a scale. Despite not setting resolutions, that's not to say that I don't get reflective when a new year begins. I like to think about what I accomplished the year previous and what lessons I learned. I take those lessons to decide on a theme for my upcoming year.

Last year was defined by my pregnancy and the welcoming of my baby girl in October. Long before I knew of my pregnancy, I decided my theme for 2017 would be kindness to myself. My husband and I had been trying for a very long, painful time to get pregnant and I was often very upset at myself and worried it would never happen. The moment I let go and shifted my mindset toward kindness, the miracle we were looking for arrived. It enabled me to maintain a healthy and active pregnancy. It also allowed me to enjoy my pregnancy! Imagine that. You remember though, I ran up until week 37 and completed 10 races with baby in belly.

My daughter is here now, and I'm so full of love and wonder toward her. I can't stop staring at her precious face. So this year, I really want to enjoy every single moment with this miracle. My theme is about appreciating the little things and living in the moment more than I do. My daughter is almost 3 months old now and is indeed already growing up too fast. I don't want this time to slip by because I was in too much of a rush to do the next thing, trying to accomplish something comparatively unimportant, or too focused on bigger details, that I missed the little ones. I want to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Life will get busier once my maternity leave ends, so before it does, I need to embrace the slow life and all those messy, imperfect, quiet, cuddly, sweet cooing, crying in my face, diaper-filled moments.

So it was rather fitting that I began the New Year with the Resolution Run hosted by the Running Room. Being a fun run, rather than a timed event, I decided a while ago that I would likely walk the event with my daughter in the stroller. And since my husband got scheduled to work that day, that was indeed my approach. So I dedicated my bib to her.

It was my first time walking a running event, and most definitely my first event with a stroller! It was rather a special time with my daughter, even though she slept the entire way there, the whole walk, all the way home, and for two hours after that too! She has no idea she was part of this event, I don't think (I'll have to show her photos one day)! Here we are at the start line. Notice my lack of run gear? Odd to show up at a race in regular clothes...

It was a cold 0 degrees (Celcius) morning with lots of fog, but it wasn't raining and Stanley Park is always beautiful. The energy was very positive and I loved the special time with my girl. At the finish line, the Running Room store hosted a waffle breakfast with door prizes from Brooks. It was hard to get around in there with the stroller with all the store fixtures and other people, but I didn't let it stop me from enjoying. I also got to introduce my daughter to some friends who'd never met her before, including my running buddy Karen.

So what's next? The West Van Run in March where I'll be doing the 10K. I haven't decided on other events yet, except maybe the Victoria Half in October. Anything in between is still up for decision as now any race I do requires someone to look after my daughter, likely meaning my husband has to take time off work (he often works weekends). I'll keep you posted on what I decide!!

Thanks for tuning in and Happy 2018 to you and yours!