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!

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.

The training benefits of running with a running stroller

I was motivated to write about this topic because my younger sister has just entered the stage of being able to (needing to?) run with her baby in a running stroller.  Until now, he has been too little, and she has been going to the gym or finding someone to watch him while she runs.  But the time has come, and she has realized as most running moms do, that time is her most valuable resource, and in order to maximize her available time and opportunity to run, it works best to just bring her baby along with her.

(my inspiration for this post – cooling off post-run.  How cute is he??)

As with many stages gone by, I may be romanticizing how great it was to run with my kids in the stroller, but if you’re begrudging not being able to run alone, just remember;  like everything else, it’s just a stage.  Meanwhile, take advantage of the fantastic training opportunities, as running with your baby can add some great spontaneous training benefits to your running routine.  Some examples:

Tempo Runs:  I can recall like it was yesterday one of my earlier stroller runs with my first born.  He was new to it, and generally liked to be held better than being in the stroller.   He fussed a bit at the beginning but at the halfway point he started to FREAK OUT!  There was not much I could do other than sprint home for 20 minutes with a shrieking baby.  This will happen to most stroller runners at some point for some reason or another.  It is not relaxing, but boy it gets your legs moving!  (try to ignore the judging stares of people as you fly by)

Long Runs:  Later on both of my kids found the running stroller relaxing, and if I timed it right I could use it for one of their naps.  However, it was always the case that if I stopped for a prolonged period, they would wake up.  If I wanted them to have a good long nap, I had to keep moving.  This resulted in some unplanned extra-long runs, especially if they fell asleep near the end of the run.  I recall doing loops around blocks in my neighbourhood with a sleeping baby trying to decide whether I’d rather be exhausted from an extra-long run or deal with a cranky under-rested baby.  I usually erred on the side of running longer.  (just make sure to go to the bathroom before you head out as there is no stopping!)

Strength work:  Really anytime you’re pushing that thing it’s working your arms.  I have tried many different techniques to avoid working my arms too much, but it always ends up being a good upper body workout whether you like it or not.    If you really want to maximize the strength benefits, find a good hill and do some repeats – just remember to hold on tight and keep that leash on your arm for the downhill part – you don’t need to incorporate sprint training into this workout day.

Fartleks:  This type of run happens quite a lot with a baby who is not asleep.  Here is a typical stroller fartlek run:  Start running with your baby.  Baby kicks a shoe  out of stroller.  Stop to pick it up.  Start running again.  Baby needs help getting his snack out of the container.  Stop to help him.  Start running again.  Baby’s hat has fallen over his eyes and he can’t fix it.  Stop to readjust it.  Start running again.  Baby’s drink has fallen just out of reach.  Stop and retrieve it for him.  Start running again.  This cycle can repeat itself endlessly for your entire run.  Just remember to run as fast as you can between stops and you’ll get some great random intervals of work and recovery.

So enjoy this phase and the training benefits it brings.  It’s like having a little coach there with you all the time.  Just be open minded and flexible about the prescribed workout for the day – you never know what the coach has up his sleeve!

Running when there’s nowhere to run

As per my last post, I am now committed to a formal training schedule.  This means that I do not take days off when it is not convenient to run.  If there is little opportunity and a run is called for, I’d better start getting creative.

Last weekend I spent three days at my parents’ wonderful cottage.  It is so fantastic and relaxing and comes complete with sisters, brothers-in-law, cousins, parents and nephews with whom I love socializing.  The only problem: it’s on an island.  The island is filled with trees and does not contain any paths suitable for running.  It is not far by boat to the mainland where I can run on roads, but the extra time and effort required take me away from my pleasures at the cottage which is always a bit of a nuisance.  Not to mention, heading out for a run always means someone else is put in charge of looking after my brood.  This is not always a hard task, and many are happy to do it, but I just like to stay close if I can.

Luckily I’ve come up with the perfect solution: deep water running.

Deep water running is just that – going for a “run” in deep water (feet not touching the bottom).  I was introduced to this cross-training method in high-school, and relied on it to maintain fitness through an injury in university.  I’ve seen the effective results of water running – athletes often return from an injury after having trained in the water and set PB’s.  For a more in-depth review, here is a great article and training program outline for water running by Pete Pfitzinger.

I won’t lie – water running feels tough.  I always feel like I’ve done a lot more than my watch would indicate.  And it can be a tad boring.  Or very boring.  Before my run on the weekend I think I was gearing myself up for a good two hours – unlike my land runs where I don’t even think but just head out the door. The nice thing though is that this was my setting:

The water temperature was a perfect 17 degrees and the view was unbeatable.  So why did I keep looking at my watch every two minutes??  Somehow I can’t seem to let my mind wander as it does when land running.  This was my total effort:

I will usually do a water run to mix up my training or for convenience.  If I have to do more than one in a row however, it becomes more arduous, and one of them must be an interval workout to stave off boredom.

I’m not sure if I’m actually selling this idea to readers or turning you off.  So let me end with these three images:

1.  My endorphin-boosted self-satisfaction after a mere 35 minutes start to finish:

2.  My well deserved post-workout recovery drink:

3.  My view of the sunset – less than 100m from where my workout took place:

Final analysis – injured or not, I say give water running a shot.  It is summertime after all – get into it!

The benefits of a coach – I’m back on board!

At the risk of aging myself, I will reveal that I’ve been a competitive runner for 23 years.  Throughout most of those years I’ve had a coach who has guided my training and prescribed workouts which would lead me to my goals.  There are many benefits to having a coach, which I will get to in a minute.  However, I’d moved away from formal coaching over the past few years because it represented a commitment and structure which I did not want to maintain.  When I have a prescribed schedule, I can become compulsive in doing what is written.   I can recall cottage “party” weekends with friends to which I would lug along my bike, go to bed early and wake up early to get my prescribed workouts in on the prescribed days.  I’m sure I was a bundle of fun to party with.

Since having my first child six years ago and my second two years later, I knew my family would be my top priority and I never wanted to feel conflicted.  I couldn’t have TWO priorities at once, right?  So I moved into training whenever my schedule would allow.  I  know how to prescribe and perform my own workouts as well as the formulas for training and getting fit.  The flexibility of working hard in micro-cycles when I had time for it it suited me well for a few years.

HOWEVER… I’ve found recently that there is room to add ME to the top of my priority list without jeopardizing any quality time with my family.  (Another stage in life thing I’m sure – when they’re teenagers and want nothing to do with me I may have to take up Ultrarunning to occupy my time!)  I’ve also found that without a plan to guide me, I tend to overdo it when I shouldn’t.  (I always like to put big efforts in the bank “just in case” I can’t get a run in over the next little while … not a great long-term, thoughtful training philosophy)

SO… I’ve enlisted my good friend and mentor  Nicole Stevenson to coach me and I am super excited.  Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to in having a coach:

  1. A shared commitment to a goal.  There is a feeling of being in it together which takes a bit of the individual pressure off in a very individual sport
  2. A training plan which looks ahead and acts as a map, rather than a log which always looks back.
  3. Confidence in knowing I have planned effort days so I can focus on relaxing and recovering on my non-effort days.
  4. A wise voice to help to guide me over trouble spots rather than always relying on the one in my head (that voice has been relegated to the back seat)
  5. An alibi for the time I’m committing to training.  I’m not running for an hour and a half to escape dishes and laundry — my coach TOLD me to!
  6. Shared joy and credit in the victories – and I’m sure there will be many 😉

I can’t wait to get going, although my first hiccup has already arisen.  Day 1 of the training plan is tomorrow and my husband is away which means I can’t fit in my run before or after work (and likely not at all).  I will try my hardest not to develop a nervous tick all day for not being able to complete what is written down, and will instead roll with it and focus on  the big picture.  Deep breath … here we go!!!!

The Phases of Running in My Life

I’m not generally the type of person who looks back sentimentally at old things, nor am I a pack rat so I tend to purge things from my past which I consider “clutter” fairly regularly.  However, my parents are moving and doing the typical “take your stuff or it’s garbage” routine that goes along with that.  To most things I said “dump it” including a pile of old trophies and medals.  But my son wanted them so my dad dutifully dropped them off in a paper bag.  After looking through a few I was reminded of how long I’ve been running and I started to think about the different phases it’s taken throughout my life.

I didn’t keep the “Participant” ribbons from elementary school, but that’s pretty much where the story began.  Then in high school I became more serious in terms of training and racing, and received a few of these:

Most Valuable Player Girls Track and Field Team, Lawrence Park CI 1990/1991

Burlington Road Race Female Relay 14-17 1st 1990

Back then running was a passion, yes, but also a source of stress.  Every effort was about a result and I worried about how I would be judged or evaluated by others.  It would be fair to say it was a love/hate relationship.

Then came my university running years.  Unlike some of my friends I did not go south on a track scholarship (to be honest I didn’t have many appealing offers) and so the track team became a great social circle and did not carry any high pressure stakes as no one knew me.  I would say that in University I ran for fun and mixed it in with a number of other pastimes (ie. studying, partying and meeting my future husband).  I ran well enough and was captain of the team and MVP in various years, but I’ve often looked back and wondered “what if” I had the drive and focus that I discovered later.  My memories from university comprise about equally of this:

Lead pack of women at Naionals in Etobicoke

and this:

Kingston Classic Beer Mile 1997

Post university my running became a little more structured and serious.  It was at this point that I realized I was doing it only for me and I was the only one who really cared about my results, and ironically this is when I became the most motivated to train hard.  There was a 5-7 year period here where I trained pretty religiously and set all of my current standing PB’s including in the Ironman.  I was working full time, but was married to a runner who understood and encouraged me, and basically running filled all of my spare time (that time which I wonder what people do with now that I am so busy with two kids!)

Finishing a race in Australia where I traveled (and ran) with my future husband for 6 mos

It wasn’t having kids which brought on my next phase in running.  I would say it was the next phase which precipitated my having kids.  I got a little bored and tired of the constant structure and chasing of times.  I didn’t want to give up running, but I wanted to scale it back.  My heart wasn’t into putting in great efforts anymore.  “There must be something else to life” I thought.  And so… we moved on to having kids.  I ran throughout my pregnancies and resumed quickly after both births, but never with any more purpose than staying fit and enjoying my runs.  That lack of focus was so freeing.  I had a built-in excuse for not training seriously or racing fast – the fatigue and time constraints which come with having kids.  The reality is that I’ve seen people get back to training hard and racing fast immediately after having babies, so really I just didn’t want to.  I continued to enjoy running as much as I could whenever I could, sometimes hard, sometimes not, just in order to keep myself happy and healthy.

Here are some examples of activities which have been taking up my time where running (and recovering) used to fit:

Skating                                                                Swimming

Indoor games                                                                   Playing at the park

I would say that this past year I’ve entered yet another phase in my running.  I appreciate and love it more than ever as I no longer take the time I get to devote to it for granted.  I make greater efforts to carve out time for it as I rely on it for so much.  Running is my social time, my alone time, my stress release, my confidence builder, my time to focus on problems, my time to allow my mind to wander and dream, and my physical outlet.  It truly is one of the only things I do only for me.  I’ve stepped it up a notch this past year as the competitive desire to race has returned.  Where it came from, I have no idea, and I’m not sure how long it will last, but I do know that there will be many more phases to come.  More than 23 years of running and counting!

Running With Kids

There are a few different angles the title to this post could take.  The first one (and one which I’ve addressed a few times in my posts) is “how on earth do you get out for your runs and train for races when you have kids??”  A big topic with no one simple solution.

But in this one I’m talking about how to get your kids running too.

I’m a firm believer that (like adults) kids need to run (or do other exercise) regularly in order to be healthy.  In truth, I think kids intuitively know this too.  They are inclined to run.  It’s natural for them and it makes them feel good.  However, it’s not as simple as it may sound to just “let them run”.  What does this mean, really?  If kids are not in a specific time and place where running is encouraged then they are generally being told for most of their days “Don’t Run!” Don’t run in the school, don’t run away from us in the playground, don’t run in the house, don’t run in most public spaces where adults are, etc…

Of course the easiest solution for allowing or getting your kids to run is to sign them up for programs which they enjoy which include running.  For example, soccer, basketball, tennis, sports play, etc… There are a host of these types of programs for pre-school and school aged children and they work wonderfully in incorporating fun into running.

There are also some kids who just love challenges and if you say something like “I bet you can’t run around the playground 3 times” they’ll be off before you’ve finished the sentence.

My son H doesn’t take to either of the above scenarios.  Not a team sports guy and not a “pleaser” by nature. (I swear he does have his redeeming qualities!)

So how does running fit into H’s life?  Basically it has to occur on his terms.  This is tricky for a busy, scheduled, time-conscious, task oriented parent, but I know this is one area where I have to be patient.  So if I pick him up from school in a rush to get us home and get dinner on and H is running in the playground having fun in his own game, I try to let it play out for as long as I can.

Today was another good example.  We were at the park where I had planned to watch my kids in the playground while catching up with my sisters.

Here is where I envisioned spending my morning:

But that was MY idea.  (Silly me – why would I think my plan would be followed?)  Instead, H took off on an “adventure” through the woods.  I followed as well as I could along with his cousin.  This “run” took us through muddy trails, up slippery slopes, down ravines and through brambly trees.  My footwear was not appropriate and I wasn’t really in the mood for a mucky adventure.  But I could see the exhilaration on his face and I recognized that it would be hypocritical of me to tell him not to run on his terms when that’s pretty much all I ask for in life!

In the end, we had a fun adventure, and the kids got a lot more exercise than I had planned.  This was the post-run walk back to the car:

The afternoon consisted of a hot bath and indoor play time.  They are so much calmer once their bodies have had the exercise they crave and everyone ends up happier.

Check out this article on other tips by me on running with kids by The Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Snow Run

Just a quick update on my long run this a.m.  Just realized I only have one more (next week) before I need to start taking it down for the marathon.  This one was a bit more about quality than quantity.  I was going for 1hr 45 min, with the last 45 min being tempo.  As those of you living in the Toronto area know, we’ve just had a ridiculous snow storm with around 30 cm of freshly fallen, sporadically shoveled snow.  So I did my first 55 minutes outside, contending with hurdles at every sidewalk break.

Typical snowbank of which I scaled about 30+ in that 55 mins – Hip Flexors!!!

Normally I say under these conditions, it’s effort, not pace that matters, but I really couldn’t get a quality tempo effort in, so I ended my run with 50 minutes here:

I averaged 6:35 miles for 7 miles.  That’s the English Premiere League I was watching.  My gym had a very sparse selection of channels that early on a weekend morning, and the boy-band videos I was watching made me think I was more tired than I was and I realized they were making me want to stop.  Things got better when I switched to soccer.

Total: 16.5 miles

Next up: my interview with a good friend, very accomplished runner and super cool lady.  Check it out in the next post…


It’s the second week of February – the deepest we can get into the depths of winter, and I find myself uncharacteristically unmotivated to run.  At least to run early and long and hard.  My last two mornings have been a struggle to wake up at 5, and on one day I actually didn’t and had to make-do with an emergency lunch time run from work.  I’m checking myself for all possible reasons:

  • Am I tired from my 70 mile week last week?
  • Am I unable to enjoy my runs anymore while struggling with windchill and freezing skin?
  • Am I still recovering from my lingering cold?
  • Am I … Bored???

Luckily I’ve had a few crutches to turn things around.  One was that my kids stayed at my in-laws last night, so my husband and I took the opportunity to go out.  Here’s some of what I had…

Very yummy.  I find when you indulge it allows you to recharge your batteries and ask more of yourself later.  You have to relax and be good to yourself sometimes.  If life is always testing your will power and limits then you won’t have a difference between “on” and “off” and it all becomes a slow grind.  Work hard, play hard.  They complement each other.

The other thing that helped was meeting my very loyal group for my Wednesday workout this morning.  I had to go earlier in order to get to an early breakfast meeting, but knowing they’d be there doing the same thing got me out the door at my planned time for the first time this week.

Here’s a look at them in action – Hills – (I’m so proud!!!)

(I apologize for the pics – I was a bit shaky from having just done 8×400 m hills at 5 a.m.!)

And this is me and my MOST loyal running buddy – at any time. My sister Tanis.  She tells me I’m crazy all the time but then shows up and gives ‘er and I’m always impressed.  Just LOOK how happy we are at 5 a.m. in -12C weather.  I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

SO, I’m hoping this little lull in motivation has been just a little lull and I’ve shaken myself out of it.  I have my alarm set for tomorrow morning – here’s hoping I get my stride back!


How do you keep yourself going when your motivation lags?  Any good tricks to share?


Then and Now

As I attempt to get back to my former running times (from about 10-15 years ago) it’s interesting for me to make comparisons on how my training and approach to running has changed.  I think I can attain my previous PB’s because I’m now more experienced, smarter, stronger (mentally – maybe even physically) and probably equally motivated.  Some things in my life however have changed – 10-15 years ago I didn’t have two kids and I didn’t have a job which demanded 9-5 Monday-Friday hours.  So here’s my comparison of what’s happening differently, and we’ll see if it can still get me to the same place…


I thought a lot about my big efforts beforehand, and would wait until my body and the timing felt right before tackling them.


I head out whenever I have the opportunity regardless of how I feel.  Sometimes I’m halfway through a workout before assessing whether I’m ready.


Post hard run/workout I would eat a mix of protein and carbs in my 30 minute “optimum recovery window” and rest my body and/or nap to fully reap the benefits of the effort.


After I’ve spent 1-2 hours away from the family I’m usually ON as soon as I get back and we head out for some release of kids’ physical activity (playing in the park, swimming, skating, toboggoning,…)  I usually “recover” with a coffee and leftovers from small plates and hands (grilled cheese sandwich crusts, half-eaten bananas, etc…).  On weekdays it’s straight into a day at the office, so that’s usually the best recovery, although sadly, still no naps.


I cross-trained one or two times a week.  Usually working complementing muscle groups and core.


My life is a cross-training session.  I’m often carrying kids and/or their belongings for what feels like miles.  I hope the muscle fatigue I feel in daily chores will somehow benefit my running.


I wore running shoes everywhere I went.  If I wasn’t running I was recovering from or preparing for a training session.


I vainly try to wear heels to boost my confidence level in the office.  This has led to “mystery” injuries which strangely don’t seem to hurt while running.  In running shoes.  I am trying to shelve the vanity and revert to flats – I’m trying…


I trained for races which fit my training cycle and schedule.  I would seek out the fastest courses and always race for time.  Warm-ups were down to a science.


I race where opportunity presents itself and usually only close to home.  I have been known to try to incorporate my family into the “fun” of the experience – with mixed results.  One event where I tried to incorporate the Kids’ Fun Run with my race ended in me missing the start as I tried to corral my kids to the line, still running and winning the 5 km but passing my husband carrying one upset person and dragging one crying/protesting person 500 m before the finish line in their desperate attempt to finish 1 km.

Despite what it may look like, I do still have confidence that my new approach will net me just as fast times.  There’s nothing like being hungry for the time and opportunity to run as the ultimate motivator.  Time will tell!