Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Perfect Storm

Resigning from old job.  Starting new job.  Relocating to Regina.  Packing my life into boxes.  Looming Hurricane Sandy.  Stressful.

The perfect antidote?  Run a marathon.  In Washington DC, no less, with 35 000 other members of the running tribe.

On Sunday, I took to the mean (which are not mean at all, and in fact, are quite friendly and lovely) streets of DC for the 37th running of the Marine Corps marathon.  This was to be my first full marathon in almost a year after complete training derailment with illness last winter and spring.  To say that I was excited is a complete and utter understatement. I was practically vibrating I was so excited.  Mind was ready.  Body was ready.  Heart was ready.  What I was NOT ready for, however, was the weather on this particular marathon race day.  In case you live in a cave with no interweb, TV or other various news media and missed it, Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Sunday evening and Monday for this region of the northeast coast.  And while I was not running in brutal rain or cold temperatures, I was facing some pretty darn spectacular winds.

Rewind to the starting line of said marathon.  The Marine Corps marathon is unique in that you not only run Washington DC, you also run some parts of Arlington, Virginia.  The start line is in Arlington and much like the other large races I've participated in, this means an early wake up call and camping out in the dark in a large parking lot until the official start time of the race.  Definitely not ideal for running fast, but super fun in its own right.  I met some lovely people that were a nice distraction from the pre-race jitters.

As for the course itself, the first 15k of this race are spectacular!  It is run on the back roads in Arlington, which meant protection from the wind, beautiful fall colours lining the course, winding roads and rolling hills.  To be honest, my legs weren't feeling it right from the start.  Although I was running with control and maintaining my goal race pace without labouring, it still felt a tiny bit foreign.

And then I hit the wind.

For those of you reading this (wouldn't it be awesome if my blog went viral?  Just saying :) , maybe send me some interweb love and share this post) who haven't had the pleasure of pounding out a 26.2 mile road race, it is an amazing, if not incredibly challenging feat in its own right.  When you throw in an added complication like this brutal wind, a tough situation just gets that much tougher.

I have never experienced a wind quite like this.  At times it was so strong it was like running on the spot, which, when you still have 27km of running left, is not an awesome feeling.  I had a few fleeting moments of  anger and frustration, but I let go of those quickly and remembered why exactly I was running this marathon.

I was running it because I love running.  Simple.

I was running it because running allows me to feel a level of freedom that I don't experience doing anything else.  By freedom, I mean the feeling of leaving behind, stress, worry, anxiety, life, the feeling of being in and appreciating the moment, and the sense of feeling completely alive.  Simple.

And although I had a pretty ambitious time goal in this race (2:59 in case you don't know or I haven't put it out there into the universe enough) I had to remind myself that in every single race that I run, the first and most important goal is to enjoy it, to love it and to have an amazing experience doing it.

Perception really IS everything.  Once I remembered these small things, my body felt lighter.  I smiled and laughed.  I started to notice more my beautiful surroundings and the wonderful spectators and volunteers who, despite the cold and wind came out to support all 35 000 runners on a day when they likely should have been preparing for the disaster that was about to strike their city in hurricane form.  What amazing generosity, kindness and spirit.  I enjoyed each and every step, even the last 10k which were incredibly painful and tough.  And although I was physically in DC alone, I felt the spirit, energy and love of my friends and family who I KNOW without a doubt were thinking about me during those 3 hours of time.  When they read this they should know that I felt the love and energy and used it.  A big, BIG hug to those people- you all know who you are.

This is what mile 23 of a 26.2 mile road race appears to look like.  Special thanks to Bobby Gill, friend and lululemon run ambassador extraordinaire who provided amazing runner support at the lulu cheer station and also takes fabulous pictures.  I'm thankful he caught me smiling.  :)

What am I doing?  Running a marathon and a doing a moving sun salutation in appreciation for the amazing cheer station  that was provided at mile 23 by lululemon.  Photo Courtesy of Bobby Gill.

 Running through mile 23.  Please note the sign.  And also note that I'm losing 2 toenails..  Badge of marathon  honour.   Photo courtesy of Bobby Gill. 

So?  Where did it all leave me?  With 3:12.  Certainly well off my personal best and certainly well off my desired goal time, but I am happy with my effort nonetheless.  I really did leave it all out there on the course and  couldn't have run any harder than I did.  And given the stress that has been my life for the past month, running in this marathon provided me with something so valuable and precious, that money could never, ever buy it and nothing else could ever replace it.  And that is, like always, peace in my mind and happiness in my heart.

Thanks DC.  Thanks Marine Corps marathon.    Thanks so very much volunteers and spectators.  I hope that your recovery from Hurricane Sandy is as quick as my recovery from the race.

And as for the 2:59, I'll get there.  I know I will.  And knowing is half the battle.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

There is ALWAYS Running

Did you ever read something that inspired you? Made ya think? Forced you to wonder? Kicked you in the gut?

The following is a guest post. Obviously, I didn't write it, but I sure felt compelled to share it here for many reasons. In a nutshell, I am so honoured to have had the opportunity to train with this individual on Thursday nights. Not only is he an exceptional runner (super fast, I simply cannot keep up to him on interval nights no matter how hard I try or how fast I may run), he is an exceptional human being. While I don't claim to know him well, I do know that he is tenacious, dedicated and focused. I like it.

And he nailed it. Not just the amazing race he had in Victoria, but this idea that no matter where we are in life, no matter where the journey may take us, there is ALWAYS running. Through joy, through pain, through the ultimate highs and through the absolute shit...

There is ALWAYS running.

Please read. And enjoy.

This is a report about a race in which everything went right after a year in which a heck of a lot
seemed to being going wrong. If you’re training for a marathon, you may want to stop reading at this
point since I only ran 21.1 kilometres, or as my good buddy JB so eloquently put it in his Victoria race report, "Oh you ran a half marathon? Ask me if I give a f@%k!"

Having said that, I’m hoping my teammate JS reads this, because I’m thinking of him as I write, knowing he’s had a challenging few months and has just picked up what we all hope is a minor injury. He’s spent all summer training his ass off to be ready to run a sub-three marathon in New York. If he can make it to the start line in one piece, I know he’s going to have an amazing race
because he will want it more than any of the thousands of runners who line up worrying about the
multitude of things that can go wrong in a road race and especially a 26.2-mile road race.

In order to get to the ‘shit runners say’ analysis of how my race went down – you know, all the info on splits and everything else we runners talk about ad nauseam – I want to put how I felt at the start line into perspective.

Twelve months ago, I made the ill-fated decision to race on a bad ankle in Victoria and ended up
pulling out at the 15k mark. I later found out I had snapped my fibula. What followed was five long
months stuck in a walking cast, followed by a few months of battling shin splints as I stepped onto the comeback trail. As an aside, what ended up curing that problem was running more, not less, kind
of counter-intuitive. I discovered the value of recovery runs and was eventually able to follow coach
Janice McCaffrey’s program, more or less, which was always my hope. Surrendering to the program
and my coach was a major goal for me this year … as opposed to listening to my ego and trying to
come up with harder workouts or adding mileage, or racing injured...but that’s another story!
While this was going on, I had some pretty interesting things happen in my personal life. Without
boring you with the gory details, this included: a divorce, house sales and condo purchases, two
friends dying and my sister battling breast cancer. Why is this relevant? Because through it all,
running became more than just a hobby – it was a lifeline. Even when I couldn’t run, which was for a
long time, I promised myself that this wouldn’t be a comeback year, that this would be a year in which I would shatter my personal bests in the 10k and half. It was a very healthy and welcome distraction for me even if, in all honesty, it didn’t really matter whether I achieved those goals.

In order to keep those targets in sight through long periods when I couldn’t run and considered
quitting running altogether (I had a serious injury on the same ankle a few years ago due to soccer),
I did what I could. I’ve been doing core twice a day – almost without exception – since January. I
realize it’s not necessary or helpful to do that much, but having a routine helped keep me motivated
and feeling like I could come back stronger, even when I started to doubt that notion. Before I got
the all clear to run again, I was at the gym 3-4 times a week. And when I came back and couldn’t run
because I didn’t have access to babysitters (I have joint custody of my girls), I took them swimming
and dragged them around with pool noodles while I pushed off on my feet doing a kind of pool
running thing. I have no idea whether it made a difference but it felt like a great workout and I still
do it to this day – 2-3 times per week. Other than two weeks before race day (thanks to another
teammate, Patty), all my long runs were done on my treadmill for three months prior to Victoria. And
I HATE treadmills.

 The point I’m trying to make is that I felt that because of all these challenges – not in spite of them –
it was just a matter of time before I got to grips with my PBs. In my mind, because I’d had the will to
endure all those treadmill long runs, I had already proved how much I wanted it, and I would have all
the motivation I needed to get the absolute maximum out of my body on race day.

 It still took a while. I set a personal worst time in my first race back and got beaten by a 12-year-
old boy, who just happened to be a family friend of a colleague at work (he took great delight
in telling me that the kid didn’t even like running) but by August things were coming together and
I started gaining confidence. The Dino Dash 10k proved to be a big turning point. I decided to do
something I’d been afraid to do before: run without a watch. I still had one strapped to my wrist but I
was aggressive in my approach and ran by feel – without redlining - and didn’t check my Garmin until I hit the halfway point. When I realized I’d set a 30-second 5k PB I thought disaster may be imminent but I ended up staying strong and recording a 1 minute and 30 second PB. Two weeks later I ran by feel at Melissa’s, on a much harder course, and almost equaled that time while chasing down – or at least attempting to chase down anther Adreanalin Rush teamate, DG.

When I told my teammate Dougie the day before the Victoria half that I was going to go out hard,
what I meant was that I planned to be aggressive. Mark, another teammate, described my race strategy as “balls out” but much as I like that analogy - if not the mental picture! – that’s not what I
tried to do or ended up doing. I ran Victoria completely by feel instead of by Garmin. On a course where I wasn’t sure (a) what the pace should be through the early hills (b) what difference elevation would make and (c) how fast Icould go without red-lining, it was – in my opinion – the ONLY way to run. Instead of looking at my Garmin every kilometer, I wrote my desired kilometer splits for 5k, 10k, and 15-18k on my arm so I could compare when I reached those markers. What happened was that I hit 10k about 30 seconds ahead of my ‘dream goal’ pace of 1:18.00 and maintained that through to the finish. I ran the first 10k at an average pace of 3:39 and the next 10k at 3:41. My slowest kilometer was 3:46 and I did that at kilometer 6. My fastest was my last (3:25). My goal going in had been 3:40 to 3:45.

There’s not much else to say about the race. I was looking forward to running with others but ended
up doing the whole thing on my own. It wasn’t windy so it wasn’t a problem. I passed a whole bunch
of guys from kilometres 3-10 and in the second half I passed five people and was passed by one guy,
who later turned out to be a 1:08 half marathoner who was doing a progression run. He absolutely
destroyed me by running 3:15s at the top of the last hill. I didn’t run the last few kilometres that well – the twists and turns were pretty distracting when I was trying to put the hammer down – but it was a good feeling to cross the finish line and realize I had been able to beat my dream goal for the race – and more importantly, attain my goal for the year of crushing my half marathon PB. As I crossed the line I pumped my fists and yelled out what felt like an entire year’s worth of emotion. At the time I thought it was Whitfield-esque but unfortunately, after reviewing the race video I realize I looked kinda like a wooden version of Mr. Bean – story of my life!

 I’m now done for the season and pondering whether to run Boston. Unlike my friend JB, I’m a
terrible marathoner who questions whether it’s really worth training for six months only to be left
hoping that you stay healthy/avoid getting sick/are helped by the weather Gods and then get your
nutrition, fueling and race strategy right on the day. Even then, you might do what I did in my last
marathon and bonk or cramp and walk the last few miles. I admire all of you for doing it; I’m just not sure if I want to!

Whatever happens, though, I’m so glad to be back running again and I’m grateful for every run I’m
able to do these days. I’m convinced regular core and running by feel were big difference-makers
for me this year, but it’s always so hard to figure out what works for every individual. It’s entirely
possible the theories mentioned above are a bunch of bunk and that the biggest difference-makers
had nothing to do with training, diet or exercise. At our pre-race meeting coach Janice summed up myseason with the following words...

 “You’re running with happy feet.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Tribe

I have always maintained that I'm a pretty simple gal.  I work.  I run.  I eat.  I yoga.  I work out.  I hang out.  I love music.  I love baking.  I love my family and friends.  I love the sun on my skin, the feeling of the lake first thing in the morning when I jump in on a spectacular summer day and the sound of my feet on the pavement, the wind in the trees and the water flowing over the rocks on my moonlit morning runs.

Simple, yes?  This is one of the reasons I've always maintained that geography is not super important to me.  Don't get me wrong, there are certain minuscule requirements when it comes to locale, such as being close enough to my family that I can visit when I need some selfish cuddles from wee H and being close enough that I can get to the lake for a chunk of summertime for night boating expeditions and turtle hunting.  Other than that, for me, a place is less about the geography and more about the peeps that allows me to dig in, heart and soul.  It's really about finding my tribe.  My peeps.  My community.  Those people.

Who is it that makes up my tribe?  Who are the people that allow ME to connect, to feel a part of a community, to feel like I've found my place in this crazy world?  To start, the runners, of course must be included in this crew.   Really any and all runners are a part of my tribe, but especially those runners who are in it for the long run; the marathoners and the half marathoners, the ultras and the trail runners.  Those who know that the day is not quite over and all is not quite right in the world until feet have been into shoes and shoes have hit the pavement.  The ones who really understand the need to leave it all behind, tune out of the world and onto the path, clearing the mind, moving the body in one long continuous meditation.  The crazies who know, without a doubt, that the runner's high is real and is most definitely worth chasing.  This is my tribe.

It's also the yogis.  Those who really understand what it means to be brave enough to try, but to be smart enough to try easy and to smile and laugh at the prospect that you TRIED and to let go of the idea that it should turn out any certain way.   The ones who keep breathing and understand the need to breathe in joy, love and kindness and to breathe out fear, worry,  and inadequacy.  This is my tribe.

And let's not forget the fitness freaks.  The gym rats.  The peeps who look at an outdoor space and see the perfect obstacle course for pullups, hill repeats, step ups and anything and everything else exercise related.  Those who love to squat and lunge and pushup and pull up and press and raise.  Those who know their core is ALWAYS engaged and so that their spine is ALWAYS supported and protected.  Form, posture, perfection.  Mind NEVER turned off.  Body ALWAYS turned on.  This is my tribe.

Of course, I can't forget to include my peeps who believe in the power of the universe.  And who believe that one of the best, most awesome feelings in the world is to give or get a hug.  There is nothing in the world quite like being on the receiving end of a hug that someone really, really means.   You know THOSE hugs.  The ones that feel like you are getting squeezed so tightly that you can feel the meaning behind it?  The genuine intention of care, love and kindness?  THOSE hugs.  And those that give out love, unconditionally too, these are my peeps!  I know I try really, really hard to lead with my heart and to let it shine.  My peeps are the ones who are let their hearts shine as well.  There are lots of ways to show love.  You really never know how a simple loving gesture (perhaps re-read the part about hugs) can sure change someone's attitude, day, moment or maybe even life.  The people that think like this, they are my tribe.

I know, without a doubt, that wherever this crazy life will take me, that I will never, ever be alone.  Because there are always runners, yogis and fitness freaks.  Those who hug first and ask questions later.  People who believe that love WILL find a way. 

They are everywhere.  My tribe.