Do you speak in miles or kilometers?

I recently realized that I have a first language when it comes to understanding running, and I’m very weak in my second language. My first language is in miles and my weaker language is in kilometers.

I developed as a runner with a sense of pace and what various distances meant (in terms of runs and weekly mileage) at University. While there, we all spoke the same language: Miles. We talked about pace in minutes per mile and we tallied up our daily and weekly mileage in miles. Over those four years and beyond, I only ever thought in those terms and understood inherently what each number represented. I liken it to understanding temperature in Celsius as opposed to Fahrenheit. If you tell me it’s 14C out and I need to run 8 miles at 7:30/mile pace, I get it. If you tell me it’s 57F and I need to run 12 km at 4:39/km I have to enter all the calculations online and do the conversions (which I just did) in order to understand.

Normally I don’t have a problem with not being bilingual in my running. I’ve become fairly good at doing conversions in my head so that I can understand people who are speaking in kilometers. However, recently I miscalculated. You see my coach provides my training schedule in kilometers. Every day I read what I’m supposed to do in kilometers, I go out and run it in miles, and then I report back in kilometers. You’d think I’d adapt, and so would I, but I always tend to revert back to my first language. The other day I had a long run to do of max 24 kilometers. No problem. Quick calculations in my head: 6 x 4 = 24, 8 x 3 = 24, 6 x 3 = 18 ; therefore I should run 18 miles. (I actually have no idea how I came up with 18 miles when it should have been 15 – it was Saturday morning – give me a break!)

On top of my miscalculation, my GPS watch (which by the way, also records my distance in miles) was not linking up because it was raining, so I set out on an estimation of distance. At about what I figured was 11 miles, I thought to myself, “wow, 7 miles to go. I’m usually so close to home at this point!” But I was feeling good, so off I set on another 7 mile loop. It was in the middle of this loop that it dawned on me (when you’re running for 2+ hours you have time to think about simple math problems): “24 kilometers is only 15 miles!” By that point I was committed however. In reviewing my route it turned out that I actually ran 19 miles (30.5 kilometers, for the record).

They say the best time to learn a new language is when you’re young, which unfortunately I am no longer. I may pick up on running in kilometers one day, but for now I think I’d rather brush up on my math.

Dealing with doubts

I’m suddenly feeling insecure about my ability to reach my racing goal in four weeks (1:21 in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon). Normally I’m pretty confident with my training and the effort I’ve put in, but I’ve had a few set-backs which have made me start to doubt myself.

The first was a required change of “tempo” pace from what was prescribed by my coach. My tempo pace turned out to be my flat out 5 km racing pace, so once the runs got longer than that distance it was not a pretty sight. We ended up revising my tempo pace to something more manageable, but they still feel tough – I guess they’re supposed to.

The second confidence buster was a completely failed attempt at a quality long run the other week. I was supposed to run a portion of my long run at my revised tempo pace and then move onto race pace. Then I was supposed to go “hard”. I made it two-thirds of the way through the tempo before bonking and calling it quits. I barely made it home and just managed to limp into a Starbucks at the bottom of my street where the barista took one look at me and immediately said “Water?” I could have kissed him. Refueled with ice water I was able to drag myself the final two blocks home.

Thank-you Starbucks!

Thank-you Starbucks!

Because of that fiasco, I decided I needed to run a race to see where I really was fitness-wise. I found a local 10K for the next weekend and registered. The race felt good. I ran almost solo the whole way and finished in 37:29 – a time I was very happy with given the effort I felt I’d put in. Then, after noticing a discrepancy between the 10 km distance and what my GPS watch said I’d run, and after speaking with some other top finishers, it was generally agreed upon that the course was about 400 m short. Ack! One time in my life I’ve run a 400 m in about 65 seconds, but I think it’s safe to assume I should add a little more than that to my 10 km time. Suddenly my “time” was a confidence buster.

10K Results
Place – 1 Top Fin
Name – Seanna Robinson
Gender – F
Bib No – 12
Chip Time – 37:29.6
Gun Time – 37:29.6
Actual 10K time – sub-39???

Then, in my last two workouts I made slight modifications at the end because I was physically incapable of keeping up the pace. I turned longer intervals into a few shorter ones at the same pace in order to continue putting one foot in front of the other. Good enough? I doubt it.

Finally, I’ve been advised by my coach that my mileage is too low. Granted, I haven’t been focusing on overall weekly mileage as I’ve been trying (and failing) to hit my times. I wonder if I can count running 800 m to my kids’ school three days a week (average number of days I’m late) dragging along a bike on training wheels as extra mileage? Probably not.

Now for the good news: I still have four weeks to pull it all together. Time to pull up the bootstraps and get down to business. No more wimping out part-way through workouts, no more excuses, and no more making up my own workouts on the fly. This is why I have a coach! Time to trust her, put my head down and get ‘er done. I will not modify my goal or listen to my self-doubts. Time to see what I can do!

My new running buddy

Since having kids, running has always represented my time to get away. It’s the only time no-one can follow me with questions/requests/constant chatting. I do love being a parent, but I very much cherish my little solitary windows to focus on myself.

When my six-year old started asking to come on my runs with me a few months ago, I dismissed him saying he wouldn’t be able to keep up and that I go too far for him. I was sure his interests would change, so I kept putting him off and told him that “one day, you’ll be able to”. Well, the other day I finally relented, and told him we could run together. I had no idea what to expect. Good thing! It turns out he had his own rules to follow when going for a run:

1. You MUST look the part. Here are the back-to-school shoes I’d bought for him a few weeks ago. He had his choice of any style for his one pair of shoes (skate, retro, blinking lights) and he chose these:

back-to-school shoes

back-to-school shoes


He also insisted on wearing my GPS watch.

2. Show full confidence and act like this is something you’ve been doing for your whole life. Every time I uttered some words of encouragement I was hushed with “Mom! You’re embarrassing me. People will think I’ve never done this before!”

Heading out

Heading out

3. If you see a bench, sit on it.

first rest stop

first rest stop

4. Whenever you see a hill, run down it at full tilt.

enjoying a downhill

Enjoying a downhill

5. Don’t be afraid to fully express how hard it is to come back up the hill.

reaching for the top

Reaching for the top

6. Don’t worry about how far you’ve gone or when you might want to turn around. You’re exploring! Follow every path of interest no matter how far it goes.

following a new path

Following a new path

7. Just because it’s called “a run” doesn’t mean it can’t also be an obstacle course.

mid-run balance beam

mid-run balance beam

8. Or an off-road bush-whacking adventure.

His idea of a running path

his idea of a running path

9. When you get tired, just sit down!

resting

resting

10. When you’re close to home, sprint for all you’re worth.

finishing kick

finishing kick

In the end we covered nearly 5km. We both enjoyed it, and have gone out again since. I know that the amount of time I have left where he wants to spend time with me and thinks that my activities are cool is limited, so I’ve decided to go with it for now. I’ve even caught myself saying “if you continue acting like this there will be no running for you!” Pretty severe punishment. But really, how can you argue with the post-run endorphins shared with a love one?

Post-run happiness

Post-run happiness

Some elite runners who inspire me in odd ways

Every now and then in my running and training, I like to compare myself to elite athletes. I like to see how far and fast they run in training, just to put my little regime in perspective. I’m fascinated by the amount of running some of them can do and I love looking at weekly or monthly training schedules. Usually I find inspiration in their mileage and running work-load. However, there are a few stories which I’ve come across which inspire me for other reasons and make me believe that my lifestyle habits are no excuse for poor performances. Here are some of my favourites:

Toshihiko Seko.

Toshihiko Seko

Toshihiko Seko

Between 1978 and 1986, Toshihiko Seko won the Fukuoka, Boston, London and Chicago marathons, and set records in the 25 km and 30 km distances which stood for 30 years. He was renowned for running high mileage, averaging a marathon distance a day and getting as high as 50 miles in a day. However, what I find fascinating about Seko was his beer drinking. According to the book Running with the Legends, he often ran so much in a day that his stomach would be upset so he couldn’t eat. Instead he would drink up to 10 beers for dinner! Are you kidding me? He didn’t one time drink 10 beers – he often did it in the middle of his heavy training weeks! No longer will I feel guilty when I have an extra pint when out with friends. Nor will I feel sorry for myself when doing a long run the next day!

Bill Rogers.

Bill Rogers - 1980 New York Marathon

Bill Rogers – 1980 New York Marathon

Rogers was a dominant marathoner in the 1970’s. He won the New York Marathon and Boston Marathon four times each. He ran 59 marathons in his career, 28 of them in a time under 2:15. And according to an article from People from 1978, his diet was atrocious. His diet was “made up of large amounts of milk, soda and fruit juice, plus such junk foods as chocolate-chip cookies, olives, pickles, Fritos, ketchup, horseradish, tartar sauce, potato chips and various dips involving quarts of mayonnaise.” I’m no purist when it comes to eating, but I think I would have a very hard time trying to eat that badly. No longer will I feel guilty about the odd chips and cookies in my diet!

Priscilla Welch.

Priscilla Welch

Priscilla Welch

Priscilla Welch was a 35 year-old out of shape pack-a-day smoker in 1979. That was when she met her husband who wanted to coach her to run a marathon. She took on the challenge and four years later made the British Olympic team. She went on to run many masters’ world record times for the marathon including a 2:26 in London. What I take from this story is that I can never let myself feel like I’ve wasted potential or gotten left behind with missing some years of training. Obviously you can start from pretty much anywhere and become great!

Roger Bannister.

Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister was the first person to run under 4 minutes for the mile, which he did in 1954. What I love about Bannister’s story is that although he placed a big importance on running, it never consumed his life. He fit his training into his lunch hours while studying at medical school. Often he only had 30 minutes to train. This makes me believe that I can fit my best efforts into my life which has other priorities. If Bannister was able to break through what was believed to be the limits of human achievement during his lunch breaks, I’m sure I can find time in my busy days to make my own small improvements.

My take-away from all of these stories is there is no perfect model and there are no excuses. And that runners are some pretty crazy characters.