My running fantasy

AF3

I had a day the other week where I was recovering from an illness and didn’t have any planned or scheduled runs to do as part of my training. But I did have a few errands and appointments to get to, didn’t have a car, and I happened to have time. So I put my bag on my back and ran (or more aptly, jogged) all around town. It was such a great feeling, and led me to a premonition (or fantasy?) of myself in my later years.

It’s an image of a 60-something woman who just runs everywhere she goes. She no longer cares about races, or times, or proving herself or trying to remain young and fast. She doesn’t care where she falls in the rankings nor what is said about her as a runner. She doesn’t track her time or count her miles. She doesn’t have hard days or easy days. She runs where the patterns of her day and energy take her. Sometimes she gets a good stride going, but usually she just jogs along. She runs with a little knapsack which holds her wallet, phone and maybe a book in case she feels like stopping to read. She runs to visit friends, she runs to appointments, she runs her errands. If she needs to be somewhere which doesn’t require highway driving, she will plan to be there in the amount of time it will take her to run there. On some days she doesn’t have to go far, and on those days she doesn’t run very much. On other days she runs across the city and back. It’s never a bother for her to go to the bookstore to pick up a new book she’s been meaning to read, or to meet a friend uptown for lunch – she likes looking for new running destinations. She’s always running but she’s never in a rush. Whenever she sees someone she knows she stops to chat, and if her phone rings and it’s someone she’d like to speak with, she answers it. She doesn’t stop her watch when she stops to chat since she isn’t timing her run anyway. If she gets hungry she might stop at a cafe and sit down for a sandwich and coffee before resuming her run. Some people who don’t know her well call her “that lady who runs everywhere”. She doesn’t mind. She knows she’s a bit eccentric. Most people call her “that happy lady who runs everywhere” because she is almost always smiling.

I’m not there yet. I’m still fitting my runs into busy days and I’m still timing and measuring myself – trying to get as fast as I can in the limited amount of time I have. I’m not at a stage in life yet where I’m calm or at peace. I’m striving and working and pushing. And I’m enjoying it! I just think this pace may not last for another 30 years, and when I stop struggling, I hope to be that lady.

Running Gently

Grete Waitz

Grete Waitz

Grete Waitz has been a hero of mine since I was a teenager. I was lucky to meet her once. I think I just stared in awe until I blurted out awkwardly “I love you!” and snapped her photo while she smiled in a friendly way.

I love her smile and gracefulness especially as she held onto them while running incredible speeds and obliterating records. I love the fact that she had started as a track athlete as a teenager, and just kept running, racing and loving it throughout her whole life. I love the story about her first marathon where she had no clue how long the distance actually was but kept running at a torrid pace, sure that the finish line had to be somewhere. When she finished (in a world record time) she took off her shoes and threw them at her coach/husband and said “I’ll never do that again!” Of course she went on to run and win many more. She was tiny but tough as nails. And she was very wise. I’ve read a lot of her writings about running. One thing I will always recall is a phrase used by her in one of her training logs – Gentle Run. As in: “Tuesday a.m. – 45 min Gentle Run”. I love that term. It doesn’t say Slow Run or Easy Run, it says Gentle Run, which is a very different term.

To me ‘running gently’ means running by feel and being in-tune with my body. During hard training sessions, I shut out what my body is telling me so that I can push through to higher fitness levels. Obviously Grete did that as well, or she wouldn’t have had the amazing results that she did! However, she clearly saw the benefits of listening to her body on “gentle” days so that she could recover.

Right now I am slowly feeling my way back from an injury, so all of my runs are gentle. I’ve been running gently for three weeks and am feeling stronger, so soon I will add some “not so gentle” running in. However, I will always keep gentle running as a key ingredient in my training schedule.

A few tips on running gently:

* Park your ego – no “racing” other runners who pass you (ugh – I totally did that the other day)
* Don’t think about an upcoming race while running – that always leads to a faster pace
* Outside is better than treadmills – I find it really hard to keep a ‘gentle’ pace on a treadmill
* Either know the approx time or distance you’re going for, but never both
* Stop and walk if you feel like it
* Pick it up if you feel like it
* Don’t wear sleek racing clothes or trainers which make you feel like you should be running fast
* Run for as long as you’re enjoying it, and stop as soon as you’re not

“I don’t think I would have been such a good runner if I hadn’t enjoyed it.” – Grete Waitz (1953-2011)

Grete Waitz

Excuses

When I was a competitive runner in high-school, there was a lot I enjoyed about running. I liked the social aspect of my training group, I liked the competition, I liked being fit. But I didn’t always like training. There were days when I would actually make the journey by public transit through the city to arrive at the track after school, and just offer an excuse to my coach as to why I couldn’t train that day. I wasn’t the only one. Invariably there was someone who had a good excuse lined up, and they got to sit and watch while the rest of us ran in circles. Most of the excuses we offered give me a new respect for my coach, looking back, for having patiently put up with teenagers for so long. Here were some of our excuses:
“I can’t run today – I brought two left shoes”. Coach’s response: “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”.
“I can’t run today – I’m too tired from swim practice this morning and we did the Terry Fox Run at lunch”. Coach’s response: “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”.
“I can’t run today – I have sour burps”. This wasn’t me, but I remember the excuse so well. How did she get out of practice for Sour Burps?!? Coach’s response (after a barely audible sigh): “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”. I don’t know where he found the patience.
“I can’t run today – I forgot my sports bra”. We used this one a lot because it was our trump card. We knew he couldn’t say “but you’re all flat-chested runners – you don’t even need a bra!” which was the truth. He just rolled his eyes and repeated his “Fine. Do your run tomorrow” line.

Now that I am an adult with serious time-constraints who still loves to run, I am an excuse crusher. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get out and run. Not enough time? Wake up earlier. Too cold? Wear more clothes or find a treadmill. Feeling sick, bloated, tired? Go for a short one. You get the idea.

However, this past summer I had an experience which put my excuse-crushing to the test. I was at work in an office and had about one hour for lunch. That was the only time in the day I had to run, so that was my plan. However, in looking through my bag at work I realized I had forgotten my running bra. The issue here was that I didn’t have the fall-back of wearing my regular bra because I happened to be wearing only a supportive tank-top under my shirt that day. Luckily my office was above a mall, and I was sure I could just nip down and find something – anything that would work. The only store I could find which could help me out was a lingerie store. No problem – I just needed anything, and my precious running time was being eaten away. I dashed in and grabbed a bra from the bargain bin (I wasn’t prepared to pay more than $10 for a 45 minute run) brought it back up, ripped off the tags and got changed.

And then I realized. It was WAY too small and SUPER uncomfortable. But – no excuses! I slipped my t-shirt on over top and headed out. It was the most miserable five miles of my life. My new purchase was digging in at the back, the front and the sides. For the first mile it was just very uncomfortable, but I thought I could suffer through it. Then it became painful. And by mile three it was unbearable. Metal wires were digging into my ribs and straps were rubbing my skin raw. I readjusted it every two steps trying to find some relief but there was nothing I could do. I needed to get it off me but there was no way I could wear just a thin t-shirt! So I suffered through it and regretted it the entire way. Some people say any run is better than no run, and I used to agree, but now I think otherwise. That run was not worth the pain. Next time I’m in an excuse-worthy situation, I’ll try to channel my wise, ever-calm coach, take a deep breath and say “Fine. Do your run tomorrow”.

my harmless looking torture device

my harmless looking torture device

Learning to love winter thanks to some great role models

I’ll be the first to say that as a dedicated runner who likes to train to compete at my best, the winter months have not typically been my favourite. Everything from tempo runs to long runs to intervals are just that much more difficult and uncomfortable when you’re struggling with icy footing, multiple layers of clothing, frostbitten skin that you forgot to cover and numb fingers which can’t press the buttons on your watch. However, I realize, it being only December, that we’re in for a fairly long winter, and if I don’t learn to love the snow and ice I’m destined for some frustrating months ahead. So I’ve decided to re-frame my attitude. Instead of pining for warm summer days or wishing I lived in California, I am going to enjoy this – even if it kills me! To start, I am taking a lesson from my family members.

My husband’s sport is water based. Here is a shot of him in his ideal conditions:

Hawaiian ocean in the summer

Hawaiian Ocean in the summer

This is what his playground looks like these days:

Lake Ontario in December

Lake Ontario in December

But he doesn’t complain. He goes out and enjoys his sport.

Getting in and out can be a bit tricky, but after that it's a breeze!

getting in and out are the tricky parts

Then there are my kids. To them, winter is “the most fun season of the year” (that is actually a direct quote from my 6 year-old yesterday).

Walking to school is never boring. There is always a new adventure in scaling various snowbanks.

walking to school via snowbanks instead of shoveled sidewalks

walking to school via snowbanks instead of shoveled sidewalks

And now their weekends are spent doing this:

skating outdoors

skating outdoors

And this:

tobogganning!

tobogganning!

Obviously my family members have no problem getting out and enjoying themselves in this weather, so I am determined to have as much fun as anyone. It’s all about how you look at it.

So this will be my playground for the next few months, and I will appreciate the beauty and stillness, I won’t worry about my pace or times, and I’ll reap the benefits of stronger legs for bounding through snow.

My snowy running trail

My snowy running trail

Here’s to playing outside this winter!

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.

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

Returning to a favourite run

I recently traveled back to Maui – a special place for my husband and me as we’ve visited and lived there for various lengths of time starting back in 1999. My trips to Maui have occurred during various life stages – from aimless, wandering free spirit to responsible business person, wife and mom. However, one thing has remained constant throughout the years, and that is the 7 mile loop that I run when I’m there.

When I head out on that loop it is always like re-visiting my past with all of the memories of the runs I’ve done there over the years. Regardless of which way you run it, it’s about a 3 mile ascent with a 3 mile descent and one mile of rolling hills. The scenery varies constantly throughout the run, but the fascinating part is that none of it has changed one bit in fourteen years.

I start out by running a short stretch along the highway overlooking the surf before heading up a quiet road lined with trees.

keyhole

This the most shaded part of the run. Although it’s uphill, it’s a nice way to ease into it. The wind is often at my back going up here as well.

Then I pass the old abandoned high school.

maui-high

This marks the end of the shade and the paved road but that’s ok as it also signifies that I’m about two-thirds of the way to the mid-point. I can keep pushing as the the mid-point marks the beginning of a long downhill section.

As I run out of the cover of the trees onto a dirt road through the cane fields I now have a great view of the ocean.

view-from-the-top

I can recall times when I would stop to check the swell here to give an accurate report to my husband and his friends for the surf that day.

Then I make it to the end of the dirt road and the top of my climb and turn to let my legs cruise for three miles into town.

As I relax and run downhill, I’m reminded of my earlier visits here when I was in my early twenties. I now imagine myself running beside my younger self from then and try to compete against her. I wonder if I’m also racing myself from 10 years in the future doing the same loop?

I know I’m getting close to the bottom when I reach the sign for the town limits.

paiawelcomesign

Signs of human activity become more abundant as I pass chickens and cats wandering through the streets.

Then I start to smell the familiar smells of breakfast cooking and I know I’m almost in the heart of the town.

hana_and_beyond_001

It only takes about a minute to run through the town. Then it’s the final hilly mile home – not my favourite part, I’ll admit, but it’s only a mile.

THEN, my favourite part: the jump in the tide pool to relax and cool my legs.
keiki-pool

It’s hard to top this run. I can and do run the exact same route every day without boredom. And when I return, whenever that may be, I’ll do it all again.

Le Slump

I am aware of the fact that I haven’t posted in a while.  The truth is that I have nothing great to write about.  I now realize that I’ve overdone it and am in a bit of an over-training slump.  How did this happen???  I’ve been able to handle this volume and intensity before.  The answer, I now realize reluctantly, is that I am under-recovering.

I need to do a bit less of this:

And a bit more of this:

(yes, he’s mine – and he never feels guilty about sleeping in)

This is a difficult concept to fully embrace when you want results and you’re motivated to work hard.  I realize that I should have planned way more of a recovery block after my marathon in March and my attempted double-peak with the 30K two weeks later.  Instead I just kept pushing and trying to build on my fitness.  What manifested was weeks of so-so training with some days of great runs or workouts which would fool me into believing I was recovered with many days of fatigue and lack-luster workouts in between.  Oh hindsight!

Here is a sample of some of the pages in my training log from the past month:

… you get the idea – there is a definite trend here.

I am obviously not to be trusted to be in charge of my own training schedule.  Oh, I know completely the concept of rest and recovery, and always build it in to training plans I write for others.  I, however, have not been working on a training cycle, rather the concept that I should run as hard and for as long as I can whenever I have the opportunity because my opportunities are so rare.  Clearly this plan is not working.

My planned solution is to hire a coach who can oversee my training cycles and phases.  One thing I do know about myself is that I’m very coach-able.  If it’s written down I tend to do it.    This is what was discouraging me from adhering to a formal plan, as I get very stressed if I can’t fit in something that has been planned.  Running whenever it suits me works for me psychologically, but maybe not as well physically.  So here we go … let’s hope for a more successful fall of racing!

Curse these perfect running days!

Here is my latest struggle.  The weather is perfect for running, and I mean perfect.  Even my kids have not been complaining that it’s either too hot or too cold which must mean we’re in the perfect temperature sweet spot for human beings.  Here is the weather forecast for the week:

Perfect.

So what’s wrong with this?  Well, there was one thing I could count on when running through this past winter – that was that I’d be toughing it out and could always feel like a bit of a hero regardless of how far or hard I ran.  Running through ice and slush in negative temperatures is not always fun, but just knowing you’re out there is pretty satisfying.  You don’t have to do much to give yourself a check mark.  Now I find myself overly exuberant about the weather and I think, if I ran 60 miles a week in dark, brutal conditions, I can certainly run more than that now that it’s actually thoroughly enjoyable!  There is no way I’m taking a day off if it’s nice out especially when other people (who weren’t out running all winter) are out running in droves.  Nature isn’t conspiring against me or slowing me down – in fact it’s luring me out to do more … and more!

Then comes the inevitable … I overdo it.  And that’s where I am now.  Sick for the second bout in two weeks (this one’s ear/throat as opposed to last week’s stomach bug), my body is exhausted and sore, I tempoed my last race for which I should have been in great shape, and I don’t even feel like running.  Even though it looks like this out:

How could this scene not make you want to just go out and run?  I didn’t.  I spent the day in bed trying to recover.

So lesson learned – I will take more breaks and rest days.  Maybe.  I’m a hard case when it comes to these things.  But I do have my sights set on the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon in two weekends and my plan between now and then is to really do as little as possible when it comes to running so that I have a chance of maximizing my recovery and hopefully showing some of my fitness gains from the winter of training.

I’m preparing myself mentally for a weekend of minimal running and maximal carb loading and recovering.  I’ve already stocked up on some of my carbs:

So obviously some tough times ahead – let’s hope they pay off!

The mind/body connection – and how I have to work on mine!

On Wednesday I came down with a nasty stomach bug.  Like many things in my life, I realized in hindsight that the signs were there that it was coming – I was just completely inept at interpreting them.  It turns out I’m also very terrible at reading hunger cues.  Here is how my lead-up to sickness transpired:

Saturday and Sunday – I ran fairly hard both days (9 mile fartlek workout on Sat and 13 mile long run on Sun) and felt great.

Monday – I felt very tired and attributed it to recovering from my double-intensity efforts on the weekend.  I didn’t run in the morning and may have been a little more irritable than usual throughout the day (in hindsight).

Tuesday – I ran 7 miles extremely slowly as I still felt inexplicably exhausted.  Throughout the day I continued to feel tired with strange sensations in my tummy.  I naturally interpreted this to mean I had low blood sugar and needed food.  All day.  This is what I ate on Tuesday while desperately trying to self-medicate for my strange feelings (of hunger – I thought):

  • a large bowl of cereal with a banana (my normal breakfast)
  • 6 cups of coffee (really just one mug at home and then a travel mug, but if you’re measuring by the coffee pot it says 6 cups)
  • an orange, carrots, and celery at work as a snack
  • 1/3 of a container of almonds at work because they were in my desk and I thought “how am I still hungry at 10 a.m.? oh well, at least these are here…”
  • chocolate frozen yogourt and a tray of sushi for lunch
  • a (large) handful of chocolate covered blueberries from my work neighbour’s desk in the afternoon (because I still had that weird feeling and needed to fix it)
  • 3 or 4 (I wasn’t paying attention) pieces of pizza for dinner (including my kids’ crusts – I cannot understand why they don’t like pizza crust).  I honestly still believed I was feeling tired and cranky because of lack of food.

That may seem like a lot to eat, especially for non-runners.  For me, I never really track what I eat and just eat according to how I feel.  When I read magazines outlining “diets of the stars” I sometimes wonder if I would survive half a day on their menu plans.  But looking at this, I do recognize that it seems like a lot.

I went to bed at around 9:45 p.m.  that evening to get ready for my last workout before the Sporting Life 10K on Sunday.

Wednesday – I woke up at 4:50 a.m.  Basically you’re numb and zombie-like at that time regardless of how you will eventually end up feeling, so I put on my running clothes and headed out the door to meet my running group.  I met my workout buddies half a mile into my warm-up and immediately told them I’d amended the workout (you can do that when you’re the coach).  The one mile at 10K pace was now at tempo effort, and the 800’s at 5K pace were now at 10K pace.  The 400’s which I had earlier said should be “quick” I changed to “go as you feel”.  Considering how I was feeling, that made perfect sense.  As usual my sister didn’t listen to me and went at the faster, earlier prescribed paces.  Hunh.  How did she feel so good when it seemed so hard to me?

Then I got home and realized all was not right.  I did not feel like my coffee.  In fact I didn’t feel like ingesting anything, including water despite my dry mouth.  My stomach was turning and churning and my workout fatigue became overall intense body fatigue.  I had a presentation that day which I had to get through, but spent the rest of the day curled in my bed.  On that day I ate ZERO.  I tried gum to help my dry mouth but even that made me nauseous.  Definitely not the best recovery recipe for a workout (albeit a soft one).

Thursday (today) – I did not set my alarm to run.  I went through my day normally, but still felt off with my tummy and energy levels.  Taking the stairs left me gasping for air and my legs burning. (nothing like that sensation to play psychological mind tricks on you regarding your state of fitness).  I ate very little but I plan to feel better tomorrow.  I will set my alarm for a short jog.  I’m hoping to feel ok in time for the race on Sunday.

Obviously I was in a good state of denial leading up to my sickness.  Next up … tricking myself into believing it will have no negative effects on my 10K.  The last thing I need is a little niggly excuse working its way into my brain in the last few miles of racing pain.  As I say … Suck It Up, Buttercup!  Hope those are words I will live by on Sunday…