My time saving superpower

I often recall a friend of mine in University telling me that she always ran between classes on campus. Yes, she was a runner, but that wasn’t why she did it. “Why would you walk?” she asked, “Don’t you want to get there sooner?” Good point. I found myself following the same train of logic whenever I drove (I mean really, I still do not understand people who drive the speed limit – aren’t you trying to get somewhere??) but I hadn’t yet applied it to my transportation by foot.

Now it is a different story. A few too many speeding tickets have led me to restrain myself behind the wheel. However, I always seem to be in a rush and am fitting in one last thing before I head out the door. The result of this is that when I am “walking” somewhere, I always want to get there faster, so I often find my fast walk turning into a run. It doesn’t matter that I’m wearing street clothes and carrying a purse. I’m comfortable running, and I would rather not be late, so I run. I know it may look strange, but I now wonder why more people don’t do it. I mean, if you’re a runner, you have this superpower of being able to get places more quickly. The only problem is that it becomes addictive. Once I’ve made it to a certain destination in, say, ten minutes, I will only ever give myself ten minutes to get there. So if I’ve run there once, I will always have to run if I want to be on time. I am not sure why I do this to myself – I just cannot seem to give myself a time buffer. So I am now destined to run to my dentist and hair appointments, run to pick up my kids from school, run to the restaurant to meet my friends, etc…

Since I am now an expert, I will share with you a few tricks to running in your street clothes.

Depending on the distance, footwear can really be a factor. I don’t recommend running more than a few blocks in heels (I’ve done it while pushing a stroller and although it may garner sympathetic looks from passers-by, it can also induce painful toes).

I would kick butt in this race

I would kick butt in this race

If you have a hand-bag, make sure it is closed. Knapsacks are the best, but purses are fine. Just make sure the strap is crossed over your shoulder.

Keep your pace conservative. All out sprinting will invoke suspicious looks. A gentle jog is really all you need to get you to your destination up to 50% faster.

Make sure you’re wearing deodorant or have some on hand. You may not think of it when going for a normal run, but it is crucial for when you run in street clothes.

If your destination is far away, take walking breaks. Stop and compose yourself every now and then – you don’t want to look like a disheveled sweaty mess.

Make sure you stop and walk at least fifty meters from your destination. Catch your breath, straighten your clothes, then breeze in the door gracefully. No one will be any the wiser and you will have used your running superpowers to save yourself your most precious resource: time.

Rachel McAdams - showing how it's done

Rachel McAdams – showing how it’s done

I’ve discovered my true identity

sunrise

It’s one thing to identify as “a runner”. There are a lot of us out there. But there are sub-categories among runners, and we can relate to each other a bit better when we belong to the same tribe. I have realized I belong to the category of Morning Runner.

I admit – I haven’t always run in the mornings. When I was in high school and university, although I liked the idea, my circadian rhythms and daily patterns did not fit the morning running schedule. Not many people I knew in those days ran in the mornings, and I just followed suit with my friends and team mates of running in the afternoons. I have always loved running, and would rather run at any time of day than not run at all, but in hindsight I realize that in those days I was denying my true identity.

It wasn’t until after I had kids that my destiny revealed itself. If I wanted to run it had to be either before everyone woke up, or after they had all gone to bed. That left either the windows of 5 a.m. – 6 a.m. or 9 p.m. – 10 p.m. I tried out both, but soon found myself falling in love with the early morning slot. I had stumbled across the running schedule that fits my true personality. Yes, it took being forced into it, but now I feel like I have discovered the real me.

A few reasons why I love running in the mornings:

Heading out in the mornings, I don’t expect it to be either warm or light out. It may become lighter and warmer by the end of my run, but they all start out the same way – relatively cold and dark. It’s all about managing expectations. In contrast, if I wait until the afternoon or evening and it happens to be cold and dark out, I find it the hardest thing in the world to get out.

Early in the mornings, I don’t worry too much about traffic. I own the streets and rarely have to slow down or stop for streetlights or car traffic. Later in the day I get annoyed at the cars driving on my route, and my runs take way longer as I have to stop for the full duration of traffic lights.

Admittedly, running intervals in the mornings takes some getting used to, but I now realize the benefits. My repetitions always get faster as I go. They start out feeling hard, but become easier and faster as the workout progresses. In contrast, one day the other week I had to do an interval workout later in the day. My first repetition was blistering fast (I was obviously too well warmed-up), I struggled to match the time in the next intervals, and barely completed the entire workout.

When I start my days with my run under my belt, I feel alive and full of energy and ready to tackle any challenge. If I wait until later it takes me about half a day to wake up, and the second half wondering when and how I will fit in my run.

I am aware of a breed of people who are Night Runners. I see them out there at various hours, seemingly happy and in their element. I know we are part of the same family, but we a different sub-species. Although I can and sometimes do join their ranks, I will never truly be one of them. Now that I’ve finally discovered my true identity I will embrace it and be true to it, and will continue to run most of my miles before the sun rises.

Where my mind goes when I’m running

The other day I was chatting with my neighbour when she said “hope you had a nice run on Saturday”. I drew a complete blank. What was my run on Saturday? Was it a race? No. Then how did she know I’d been running? I couldn’t recall a thing about my run. It turns out she had seen me and we had smiled and waved at each other. Whew! But this was scary as I have zero conscious recollection of having done that. I think my mind often leaves my body when I’m running and all I can do is hope that I’m acting like a normal human being. When people say they saw me running I often just have to hope it wasn’t while I was doing something strange or anti-social, like blowing an air-hanky or adjusting my running bra. This got me to wondering where my mind actually does go when I’m running, as it obviously is not in the conscious present. Here are some examples of some thoughts I recall having had while running, which may give some insight as to where my mind goes:

“I wonder if we should get a dog?”
“Holy cow, five minutes at race pace feels hard – how will I keep that up for a 10K race??”
“I love running in the fall.”
“I hope the park washrooms are still open!”
“I like this song. I think I’ll just play it on repeat until I hate it.”
“Wow, I’m already three miles into my run – only four to go.”
“I can’t believe how insensitive XXX was yesterday!” And then by the end of the run: “Poor XXX must have been having a hard day yesterday.” (Funny how running changes your perspective on things)
“Aaaagghhh!! Oh, it’s just a Halloween decoration.” (I really did nearly jump out of my skin the other day when my mind suddenly processed a dead-body type thing hanging from a fence)
“There really are a ton of raccoons in this city.”

Other than the odd fleeting thought though, I really can’t recall much. And strangely, even though my mind is apparently blank, I’m never bored. I’m glad I seem to automatically smile and wave to people who wave to me. But please don’t take it personally if I don’t – just assume I’m working through serious math problems or coming up with new ideas which will change the world. Who knows, maybe deep in my sub-conscious this is actually what my brain is hard at work doing while I run. I’ll go with that theory.

My personality change when I’m not running

Whether I’m training for anything in particular or not, I generally run or do some sort of cross-training nearly every day. If I’m not, it’s usually because I’m either sick or too busy and preoccupied with something else. Last week, however, I took the week off of running for no other reason than to give myself a break after my half-marathon in order to come back to running completely refreshed. In my time off running, I tapped into something. It wasn’t time, because I run at 5:00 a.m. so if I’m not running I’m sleeping. It wasn’t physical energy, because I find running tends to give me more energy throughout the day. It was more of a personality change, really, which I can’t quite explain.

Some examples:

My children don’t love vegetables. It is a fairly constant battle to get them to eat them. When I’m in running-mode, I approach it as something to get-done, and force them in however I can (usually at breakfast!) During my running break, however, I decided to take the kids grocery shopping, buy some fresh zucchini, carrots, apples and bananas, and take them home to help me to bake all of the healthy goodness into muffins and loaves. If you know me, you know how uncharacteristic that is and how I sometimes make fun of people who do things like that because really, JUST EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!

Veggie-filled muffins and loaf

Veggie-filled muffins and loaf

I’m a fairly social person, and I love a good party, but I generally have a limited reserve for going out to multiple parties in a row. I call it “doing a double” (similar to double runs) if I go out two nights in a row. It’s a rare occurrence. However, during my running break, I planned, looked forward to and enjoyed going to four social gatherings in three days! Not only that, but I didn’t even worry about wearing impractical footwear.

My party footwear of choice when not running

My party footwear of choice when not running

Usually for Halloween, we appreciate the neighbours’ done-up houses, but we aren’t really the ones who do more than a pumpkin or two. I generally don’t see the point in buying dollar-store junk which will then take up space in our house for a year and will eventually end up in a land-fill, all for one night. But for some reason this year I got a bit more into it. We did the dollar store trip, went to the park to find sticks to use as gravestones, and I let my kids decorate the house how they wished (which included them climbing our tree with all sorts of caution tape wrapped around everyone’s limbs).

What happens when you let the kids decorate

What happens when you let the kids decorate

Happily, I am now back to running. I’m hoping I haven’t done anything permanent, and I’m assuming my normal personality will return. My friends and family will have to wait for my next running break to see a return of the veggie-muffins, multiple late nights and tacky house.

First PB since kids!

It’s true. I just posted my first Personal Best time in running since having my first baby over six years ago. I ran 1:21:43 in the Scotiabank Toroton Waterfront Half-Marathon last weekend, which is sixteen seconds faster than I’ve ever run that distance. In fact, since I’m writing about it I just did a little bit of research and discovered that despite having been fairly consistent in the racing scene for over fifteen years, I hadn’t posted a personal best time in the last nine!

Last few meters in the STWM Half

Last few meters in the STWM Half

Since I’m comparing, I thought I’d take a look at what I do now vs. what I did nine years ago:

Interval workouts:

Nine years ago I did interval workouts twice a week with a competitive group of runners. We showed up after work, and began the ritual of warming-up, doing drills, and preparing our minds and bodies for the workout to come. After completing the workout we would do some more running at a relaxed pace, and often included core work. The entire process could easily take two hours.

Today, I do interval workouts at 5 a.m. I have somehow managed to convince a group of similarly time-pressed parents from my neighbourhood that this is a fun activity and a good idea. We have a group of around seven people, ranging from run-walkers to competitive runners who meet every Wednesday at 5 a.m. prepared to take on whatever hills or intervals I have planned that day. They are amazing, inspiring, dedicated, and definitely get me out there! However, there is no waiting for stragglers, not much of a warm-up and no time for drills. The entire process takes no more than an hour.

A loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5 a.m. in January

A loyal workout buddy doing hills at 5 a.m. in January



Long runs:

Nine years ago I often did my long-runs with my boyfriend (now husband). We would run once we’d eased into our day, had breakfast and read the paper. After the runs the rest of the day was often spent relaxing and recovering.

Today my husband and I coordinate schedules around kids and various activities for me to plan my long runs. They do sometimes still include him, but those ones involve a baby-sitter. Sometimes they involve a baby-sitter and not my husband, and on those runs I tend to break down how much I’m paying per-minute to run and work my hardest to get my best value!

Races:

Nine years ago when I raced I focused on nothing but how to set myself up to run my best times. I made sure my logistics and warm-up were timed perfectly for the start, and during the race I was completely focused on my performance.

Today, I often manage my kids’ support-crew experience (food, warmth, transportation) in cheering me on as much as my own race logistics. It’s important to me that they see my running and racing as enjoyable experiences for them as well as for me. During a race I know they’re looking for me, and I’m just as keen to see them. When I do, I make sure I have a smile and wave – whether I’m feeling good or not.

Typical mid-race pose - regardless of how I'm really feeling!

Typical mid-race pose – regardless of how I’m really feeling!

Post-Races:

Nine years ago after a race I would treat myself to a nice meal, bath, relaxed reading, and usually a nap.

Today that is one thing I’m trying to maintain! I’m part-way there. After my half-marathon the kids built me a “relaxation fort” and proceeded to take turns massaging me. See? It’s all about training them along with you. And I feel like I’m finally getting there.

Relaxation Fort

Relaxation Fort

The next two challenges: a 10K PB and teaching my kids to clean up after fort/playtime. Wonder which will come first??

Secret Demon Training

I’m not sure where it originated, but on our university track team we used to use the term “secret demon training”. Secret demon training referred to any running which was done in addition to what was done with the rest of the team. This additional training would always be done on the sly, as trying to get a leg-up on your team-mates was not cool, and it never looked good to seem like you were trying too hard to get the results you showed. It was pretty hard to actually pull off secret demon training in secret, as all of our runs started and finished at the Phys. Ed. Centre in the middle of a small campus in a small town, but that didn’t stop us from frequently suspecting others of having pulled it off. For example: “John is suddenly way more fit than the rest of us. I think he’s been doing some secret demon training!” or “I think Paula did an extended cool-down instead of running home after workout – total secret demon!”

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of secret demon training. I picture someone leaving their house in darkness to “sneak in” extra miles or a track workout all alone with no one to offer support or praise. The only vindication comes after a race, when their stellar results belie the training they seem to have done. I have no problem with people doing extra work – it is inspiring to all of us. The trick, however, is to spot the secret demon training behind it, so you don’t feel badly about the results you’re getting for the work you’ve put in.

Luckily, I have a trained eye, and I know these secret demon trainers are out there – in running and in other areas of life. Here are some examples:

Your training buddy who shares your ten year old PB’s and with whom you’ve been doing every run for the past five years suddenly has a shiny new 10K PB by over a minute: secret demon training.

Your mom who has a gourmet, three-course, all food groups included dinner prepared for you when you drop by, and claims she’s just “tossed together whatever was in the fridge”: secret demon cooking.

Your acquaintance who you meet for drinks and shows up looking ridiculously well put together with accessorized hair, make-up and outfit but claims to have just “thrown something on and walked out the door”: secret demon primping.

Your friend with four kids, two cats and a dog has a spotless show-room ready house every time you go over, but always apologizes for the huge mess: secret demon all-night house cleaner.

So be awed, and be inspired by other people’s great achievements. But just remember – if their results seem too good to be true, there is probably some secret demon training at work.

Every now and then, my “runner” shows through

Most of the time I go about my life thinking, feeling and acting like I’m a normal person, easily blending in with the non-runners around me. But every now and then I find myself in certain situations acting “out of the norm” and I remember: “oh ya. I’m a runner”. Some examples from a recent experience at a child’s birthday party:

The birthday was a swimming party. All went fine until I found myself wincing, and easing into the pool ever so gingerly anticipating the stinging which would tell me how badly I was chafed from that morning’s long run. Not too bad, although I got some odd looks from the marks I seem to constantly sport and tend to forget about.

somewhat permanently present chafe area

somewhat permanently present chafe area

Then I attempted to start up conversations by talking about the most current world issue: the men’s marathon world record of course, which had just been broken that morning! In my mind, the world had changed just a little bit as the limits of human potential had been stretched. I was received by either blank stares or pleasant nods and a change of subject. I made mental note to brush up on non-running related current events to increase my ability to maintain interest in a conversation for more than thirty seconds.

Wilson Kipsang sets a new World Record

Wilson Kipsang sets a new World Record

After the pool, it was on to the party room. It was a warm day, and almost everyone was in sandals, but I was working my fall footwear, hiding my callouses and damaged toe nails. I have been told by some pedicurists that my feet aren’t that bad. For a runner. But I was paying those people. I think I should take it to mean they are that bad. For “normal” people. On with the fall weather and close-toed shoes regardless of the summer temperatures!

my party footwear

my party footwear


everyone else's

everyone else’s

Then it was pizza time. I tried to calmly graze on my one slice of pizza, but I was hungrily eyeballing all of the crusts on the kids’ plates which were left un-eaten. Oh, sweet carbs! I wondered if it would look too strange if I did a tour of the room, scooping up and eating all the left-over crusts.

how can you resist?

how can you resist?

In the end, although I’m different, most people are very accepting of my running-quirkiness. In fact, despite my odd actions and appearances at that party, I ended up with a few more recruits to join me on my early morning runs. Just a warning: once you become one of us, you will never quite be the same!

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.

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.