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!