Thursday, May 31, 2012

Finding My Form

When I started running, I never really thought much about my running form.  It wasn't until I started training for Ironman that our coach at the time had me start doing running drills and working on my running cadence.  Apparently running off the bike was easier if you kept your turn over higher and your strides shorter.   The goal was to be as light on your feet as possible.  Given that fact that I was a heel striker and a shuffler, this was a challenge for me.  I tried and tried to get my cadence up to the ideal 178-180 foot strikes per minute range but I couldn't.  Not without spiking my heart rate.  So I continued my shuffling, heel striking ways until I found out about a company called Newton Running.   Triathlete Craig Alexander was one of the first supporters of the company, which is ironic given that he already has amazing running form.  But whatever, to have an athlete of that caliber wearing your gear is a huge coup.  The majority of triathletes I know are always game for gadgets and gear that will make them faster and more efficient so it wasn't surprising to see these flashy shoes on the feet of many an age grouper.  Newton claimed that their shoes aided your ability to run "more naturally.  You can read about their technology here.
Needless to say my interest was piqued.  It took a while for the shoes to become available in Canada and thankfully it was Running Free that ended up carrying them so I got a nice little discount on them.  I do believe that they are still the only place in Canada that you can get them.   I got my first pair for Christmas in 2009.  The Newton Motion All Weather.  I was so excited.  I wanted to go out and run in them right away but because they are so different than a regular running shoe, you need to ease into wearing them.  Newton has a list of instructions that come with the shoe and there are a multitude of resources on their site and on their You Tube channel. Much like breaking in a new pair of orthotics, you gradually increase your mileage in them until your body is used to them.  One thing I noticed immediately was that I felt lighter on my feet.  I wasn't shuffling anymore because I physically couldn't.  The shoes have lugs on the sole of the shoe at the mid-foot / ball of the foot area that force you to land there and push off, thus hypothetically eliminating the need to heel strike.  I say hypothetically because even though my running form has improved immensely since I switched to these shoes, I still find myself heel striking a bit.  I can see it in the wear on my shoes and I have photographic evidence from various races (see below...look at that!!)

So what's the big deal about heel striking?

Well, other than the fact that it's incredibly jarring on your body, it's like having the emergency brake on while driving.  In aerodynamic terms it creates drag.  Drag=more energy required to move forward.  This is not what you want when you're running, especially when you're racing.  You want your motion to be easy and fluid.  Don't get me wrong, there are some really fast runners who do heel strike but you if watch an elite runner, you'll see that their feet barely touch the ground when they run.  They are incredibly efficient. 

I don't seem to be slowing down any but I do have to wonder, if I could eliminate any heel strike, could I go faster?  Given that I won't start ramping up my mileage again until mid-July, I'm thinking now might be the time to take a look at fine tuning my form even more and banishing that heel strike from my running repertoire for good.  I've ordered Danny Abshire's book Natural Running and I can't wait to get it so I can work at finding my form.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Double Bonus: The Toronto Women's Half Race Report

I went into this race with very little expectations.  I didn't really have a solid time goal, but I did have a couple of other goals.  I wanted to beat my time from last year's race which I figured I'd do and I wanted to get on the podium in my age group.  I was 5th in my age group last year so I figured there would be a decent chance I could at least get a third place finish depending on who showed up and how well I raced. 
I got to the start with about 25 minutes to spare and noticed the insanely long line up for the porta potties.  Ugh.  Oh well, I had to pee so I got in line.  By the time I got out and checked my bag, they were calling all the blue bibs to the start line.  So much for a warm up run!  I got into the start corral and did a bit of a dynamic warm up but I didn't actually get to go out and run.  Whatevs, I'm sure I'll be fine.
As I was warming up my friend Kirsten came over to say hi.  I was glad I got to see her before the start.  She was nervous and I know she was suffering from the same thing I usually suffer from; the WonderifIdidEnough Syndrome.  Funnily enough I knew she would be just fine.  I wasn't 100% sure about myself.  I had a couple of small concerns.  One, I wasn't sure if I was fully recovered from my marathon and two, I was wearing brand new shoes.  There was nothing I could do about number one but had I been more organized number two would never have been a concern.  At this point there was no turning back so I just hoped that I get through the race injury free.
The countdown began and we all shuffled up to the timing mats.  There seemed to be a lot more keeners this year vs. last year as a lot of women jostled for position at the front.  I didn't bother.  I was close enough to the timing mat that I figured there would only be a few seconds between my gun time and chip time.  I stood a bit off to the side and actually had a fairly clear path ahead of me.  Perfect.
The gun went off and in typical fashion I started running like a mad woman, passing people left and right.  The pack thinned out fairly quickly.  By the first kilometer there were about 15 women running in a loosely knit group.  By 2km, 3 women had managed to pull away a bit.  At this point I was running about 4:12 km's and I thought to myself "Don't be stupid, you've got a long way to go, chill out."  Once we got over the bridge at Don Mills, I eased up a bit.  We were heading into one of the more desolate areas of the route, going south along the trail towards the Bayview Extension.  I didn't particularly like this part last year because I was running by myself for a large part of it.   I caught two women at about the 4km mark and decided to run with them.  They were chatting a bit so I joined in the conversation.  We were running between 4:25's and 4:35's which was a comfortable pace for me so I settled in and figured I could pick it up later if my legs felt good.  The 3 of us ran together for the next 5km.  It was nice to have the company.   By the time we turned around the next wave of women were making their way out so there was a lot of cheering and woohoos! as we made our way back from the turn around.
The 3 of us yo-yoed back and forth along the path for a bit until it was eventually just myself an another girl, Jenn.  I recognized her from some of last years races.  I think she won the 10km last year so I felt pretty good about being able to hang with her.  At about the 9km mark, I started to pull away from her a bit and I also managed to pass a couple of ladies.  I passed the fireman aid station for the second time (they still weren't shirtless to my chagrin) and headed under the DVP towards Taylor Creek Park.  I was coming up on 10km and I was feeling pretty good.  It was quite warm so I made a point of trying to stay hydrated.  The path became fairly narrow and it was tough to know how far ahead the next runner was.  I didn't see anyone for about a kilometer.  Once things opened up, I could see a couple of women spread out ahead of me.  I had really started to pick up the pace.  I was running about 4:20's.  I started to play the reel 'em in game.  Girl in the red tank, here I come.   I thought was alone but Jenn must have been right on my heels for the entire time because all of a sudden she was right there beside me again.  We chatted some more and she said we were running about a sub 1:30 pace.  Whaaatt?? I couldn't believe that.  I said I'd be happy if I could beat 1:32.  Sub 1:30 would be amazing.  We caught the girl in the red top who said she was impressed that were actually able to talk while running the pace we were running.  Ha.  Guess we weren't running hard enough?
We could see a couple of other girls ahead of us.  I didn't think we'd catch them but Jenn figured we would.  We saw the leaders who were making their way back, still in a tight group of 3.  Jenn knew them all and figured it would be an interesting finish.  They all looked really strong.  We motored along to the turnaround at 14km where there was a lone volunteer directing traffic.  We thanked him and made our way back along the path.  At this point I figured we'd be able to get a good idea of who was behind us.  The girl in the red top was the first person we saw and she was a bit of a ways back.  Perfect.  There were a few other women that were looking strong but they had a fair bit of ground to make up if they wanted to catch us.  Still didn't want to discount anyone at this stage.  There was 7km to go, anything could happen.
As we rounded a bend I could see one of the girls ahead of us.  That was all I needed to kick it up a notch.  I started to put the hammer down.  I caught her and said good run as I passed her.  I felt like I was flying and I felt amazing no less.  I figured that wouldn't last long so I should take advantage of it while I could.  When I looked back at my splits I averaged 4:11 for km 15, 4:14 for km 16 and 4:13 for km 17.  That's a big jump from the 4:20's I had been averaging.  No wonder I felt like I was flying.  I lost Jenn at this point and I also managed to catch the other girl in front of me.  I realized that I was now in 4th place overall and I figured I was probably going to win my age group. At least that's what I hoped.
I hit the Don Mills bridge and the chute came out.  I couldn't make myself go any faster up that hill.  I knew that the girl I had just passed (Sarah) wasn't that far behind me.  Sure enough, she caught me on the hill going up to the bridge.  I got closer as we started to descent but then got caught in a log jam of bikes on the narrow path.  Luckily I didn't have to slow down too much.  The path opened up and I proceeded to try and reel Sarah in.  We had another little rise to climb where she gained a bit on me (guess I need to do some hill training!) but I managed to catch her on the downhill.  We had just passed the 18km mark and I was starting to hurt.  I figured once I hit the chocolate aid station and saw all my hubby and all my friends, the adrenaline would take over and I'd forget about the pain in my legs.  Sure enough as I came down the hill I could see Maureen.  She saw me and alerted the gang and I could hear the cheers.  As I ran through I threw my arms in the air and said "I can't hear you!!!"  So they yelled louder.  My friend Teresa had her hand out so I high fived her as I ran by.  I saw Babs with a camera so I smiled and waved.  That was just the boost I needed.  I grabbed some eload through the last aid station and sucked what I could back.  The rest ended up all over my left arm.  Oh well.  I was sucking wind at this point.  I was pretty sure the lead ladies were done so I had officially become the bunny.
Just past the 19km mark I finally noticed the race official on a bike.  Sweet!  Another bike marshal just like last year!  He rode ahead of me and cleared the way.  I was busting my ass at this point.  My breath was coming in ragged gasps.  I desperately wanted to stop.  I could see the sign for the 20km mark up ahead.  I didn't dare turn around.  I didn't want to know how close anyone was.  The path was starting to get peppered with more spectators.  I turned my shuffle down so I could hear their cheering.  I figured if they kept cheering after I passed them then someone was right behind me.  They didn't.  That didn't mean I could ease up.  This is racing, you never know who is going to have the finishing kick of the day.  Once I hit the parking lot, I knew that I could suffer through the last few meters.  Just make it under the bridge and you're golden.  I rounded the bend, into the dark under the bridge and emerged to the cheers of a whole lot of spectators.  I could see the finish line clock and it was counting down 1:32.  I didn't have anything left in my legs to go any faster.  I heard Cory announce my name as I came up to the line.  I glanced at the clock as I crossed the line:  1:32:09.

So close.  I missed a PB by 13 seconds.

I got my finishers necklace and turned around to see Jenn cross the line a few seconds behind me.  I went over to congratulate her and she asked if I got a PB.   Nope but I was close.  Shortly after, Sarah crossed the line and we both congratulated her on a great race.   I grabbed some e-load and water and thanked the volunteers.  I wanted to go back out to the 19km mark and wait for Kirsten so I turned around and ran back out, cheering runners all the way back.
I got to the chocolate aid station and got a big hug from my hubby and Babs.  Gary was surprised that I didn't beat my PB.  He said I looked like I was flying.  I explained my "doggin' it" between 4km and 9km set me back a bit.  I hadn't really thought about setting a PB here, nor did I really expect to as it's a somewhat challenging course.  All I wanted was a podium in my age group which I figured I had.  Turns out I managed to land 1st place in my age group and 4th place over all.  A nice little double bonus given that last year I was 5th in my age group and 22nd overall.  
I chatted with my friends and cheered the rest of the ladies on.  It was so awesome to see their faces light up when they realized they were at the chocolate aid station.  I spotted Kirsten coming in a bit later than I had hoped.  She looked tired.  She managed a smile as she saw me and happily grabbed a chocolate bar.  I joined her as she slowed down to walk through the 19km aid station.  She wasn't feeling great.  Her legs were hurting and her ankle was staring to bug her.  The uneven footing on some of the paths was less than ideal.  Still she seemed to be in good spirits.  She finished her chocolate bar and we started moving.  She was moving at a pretty good pace as we seemed to be passing a lot of women.  I kept my babble to a minimum.  I know when I'm hurting the last thing I want to hear is someone chirping away incessantly.  I offered up the occasional word of encouragement.  Just as we passed the 20km mark I said less than 1km to go.  Maybe 5-6 minutes?  You can do anything for 5 minutes!  She nodded.  I said that once she got to the parking lot, she only had a few hundred meters.  I know that she has a pretty good finishing kick so I said that once she hit that parking lot, to just lay it all on the line and give 'er.  Sure enough as we got into the lot, she started to pick up the pace.  As we approached the bridge I told her as soon as she came out she'd be able to see the finish line.  As soon as she could see the line she took off.  I jumped on to the grass yelling Go Kirsten and she took off, saying she'd see me on the other side.  When we met up outside the finishing chute, she checked her watch:  2:20:11.  She had missed her PB by only 25 seconds, which on a course like this was impressive.  I was happy for her.   With some more speed work, I think she'll definitely get to a 2:15 half at her A-race in October.  I may join her there as well in my quest to run a sub 1:30 half.  Hopefully next time I'll be organized enough that I won't be racing in brand new shoes.
Happy Finishers!
 This years race seemed to be a little more chaotic than last years for some reason.  Perhaps it was because I got there late-ish, I don't know.  There just seemed to be a lot more people milling about an it was a bit more difficult to get myself sorted.  I didn't have any issues on the path this year like I did last year, other than the little back up at the Don Mills Bridge.  The volunteers were great as usual, my only complaint (and it's a shallow one) was that the firefighters never managed to get their shirts off while I was out on the course.  No matter, there's always the 10km in August.  Race director Cory Freedman has definitely put together a great race series and I think it's safe to say that as long as she's putting these races on, I'll do them. 

(Race photo courtesy of Barbara Goss)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Breaking the Rules

I'm usually a bit of a stickler for rules or guidelines, especially when it comes to running.  One of the golden rules of running is not to experiment with anything new on race day.  Which is something that I've followed fairly religiously.  Until now.

Tomorrow I'm breaking that rule.  Well maybe not totally breaking it but close enough.

I'm going to be wearing a brand new pair of running shoes to race in.  Granted they are the same model I've been wearing for the last year, they are just the newer version.  Apparently there has been very little change to the shoe other than the colour and the fabric.   But, they are still brand spanking new shoes with zero miles on them.  I'm just about to rectify that and take them for a spin around the block to get them a little dirty.  They are a bit on the obnoxiously bright side.

I'm a little apprehensive about wearing new shoes but my other ones are completely shot and I can't imagine running a half marathon in them let alone another 5km.  So tomorrow morning I'll be lacing these babies up and going for broke.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Get 'Er Done!

Given how crappy I'm feeling, perhaps this post should have been entitled "How Not to Taper".  Obviously I won't know until Sunday if my 5 days in a different time zone will have negatively affected my race.  As of right now, I'm feeling like a sack of hammers.  I'm feeling very lethargic (maybe because I haven't worked out in 3 days??) and I can't seem to shake the congestion in my nose (potentially allergies but claritin isn't really helping, might need something stronger). 
So, I don't have high hopes for Sunday but, I will go out and do what I always do:  give it 110%.  I did contemplate bailing on it...for about a second but then I figured that would be a waste of $85 and the loss of another cool finishers medal.  I'd also miss out on all my friends and my hubby manning the chocolate aid station which would be a real bummer.   And most importantly, I wouldn't be there to cheer on my friend Kirsten who enlisted my help in developing a training plan to help her get faster.  She has had PB's in the 2 races she's done so far this year so I have high hopes for her this time around.  I want to be there to see her cross the line.  If I have to run her in to provide that extra kick in the pants, I'll do it.

Sometimes the races or runs that you have the least interest in doing end up being the best ones if you just go out and get 'er done.   Here's hoping that's the case this weekend! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

I've just come back from the recreational athlete's equivalent of Nirvana and I have to say, I'm feeling a little blue.  I thought it might be jet lag but I really do think I'm missing the ocean and the mountains. Where did I jet off to this time you ask (as if the title of this post didn't give it away already)?  The beautiful state of California, specifically San Francisco.  We have friends that moved out there last year so we figured it was high time that we paid them a visit.  What better time than the first long weekend of the summer?  We headed out early on Wednesday morning and with the time change, we were in San Fran by 9:30 PST so we had a full day.  Our first day was spent hanging out in the sun at our friends place, which is in Tiburon about 25 minutes north of downtown San Francisco, in a beautiful spot called Paradise Cay.  They have a yacht club at their door step and Robin Williams lives around the corner so to say it was nice was a bit of an understatement.  No complaints about the view, that's for sure!
Morning View from the U.S. branch of Cabana Cadman
I couldn't wait to get out and run so Thursday morning Gary and I drove over to a little waterfront trail called Blackies Pasture.  The trail was short but I didn't care.  It ran right along the water and it was packed dirt and gravel.  Bliss!!  Out and back was just over 8km.  8km of pure joy.  The air was fresh and the breeze was cool.  I was completely energized by the time we were done.  And it was great to run with Gary.  We don't get a chance to do that very often.
Gary running through Blackies Pasture

Friday was spent shopping in Union Square in downtown San Francisco.  So many stores I thought my head was going to explode.  We lunched al fresco and wandered through various shops and department stores.  I scored an amazing pair of shoes (surprisingly not the running kind!) at 50% off.  Gary finally bought himself a non-baseball hat (this is a big deal!).  It was a lovely day.  We covered a lot of ground, some of it incredibly hilly.  Like almost straight up and down hilly.  I couldn't believe the sheer angle of the roads.  With roads like this, these folks are darn lucky they don't get snow.  They'd be screwed.
This is not an optical illusion.

Saturday morning was a lazy one.  The boys went riding and I went for a short run around the Cay and then hung out with Sue.  Saturday afternoon she introduced me to the shopping wonder that is T.J. Maxx.  Oh my.  It's like Winners on steroids.  We spent 4 hours in there.  4 HOURS.  I tried on no less than 30 pieces of clothing.  I kid you not.  I guess my love of endurance events carries over to shopping as well.  It was well worth it as I scored a bunch of great things, my favourite being a dress that just so happened to match the awesome shoes I bought the day before. 

Sunday was our busiest day.  We got up very early so the boys could hit the road for a ride and I could get a long-ish run in before G & I headed off to Alcatraz and Pier 39.  Gary dropped me off at a rec centre in the middle of a gorgeous town called Mill Valley.  The boys were going to climb up to the Headlands and I was going to run the trail into Sausalito.  It was a very warm morning, even at 7:30 am and I was wishing I wore my tank top.  The run was lovely.  I kept seeing a blimp circling the bay in the distance and I figured it was aerial coverage for the 100th annual Bay To Breakers race, which is something that I've always wanted to do.  Had I been thinking I would have actually checked to see if the race was sold out before we left.  But alas, I wasn't thinking and as I found out later on that morning, it wasn't sold out so I could very well have run it.  It would have been the perfect taper run.  Running 12km across the bottom of San Francisco in a sea of 50,000 runners, most of which are dressed in costume.  How much fun would that have been?  It just means we'll have to go back again.  I'm sure I won't have a problem convincing Gary to do that.  There is still so much left to explore there!

For now, this little jet-setter is done traveling for a while.  At least until November when we head to New York.  I think I've gotten over my jet lag so I'll lace up my shoes tonight and go for a run.  The view won't be the same but that's ok, I think I'll live.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How to Recover Like a Pro

 Here are the top 3 ways to recover like a pro as observed by me:

1.  Have a team of sports therapists at your beck and call.
2.  Have a personal chef to create an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant filled post race meal.
3.  Be lucky enough to have superior recovery genes in comparison to 99.9% of the population.

What's that you say?  You don't have a team of sports therapists to take care of you?  No personal chef?  Not a freak of nature?  Well, I've got none of the above either but yesterday,  I managed to get out for a 15km run just 1 week post marathon.  15km was pretty ambitious but I think I could have comfortably managed 10km before I wanted to sit down.  Needless to say,  I was pretty impressed with this "old" bod.  I also think that fact that I wanted to get out and run was huge.  I'm obviously not mentally scarred from this last marathon, which is a good thing considering I'm running another one in November.

I'm chalking my decent recovery up to the things I did immediately post race and in the days that followed.  Since you've read this far, I'll let in you in on what I did:

1: Stretch it Out:  This is no easy feat after running 26 miles.  Your legs are moving much like a newborn fawns and any sort of bending could result in you falling flat on your face.  Find a bench, a tree or a burly dude and gently stretch your hamstrings, glutes and calves.  Walk around a bit and stretch some more.  You'll be glad you did.

2:  Drink Up:  Drink a lot of fluids.  D'uh.  You just ran 42.2k and sweat for over 3 hours straight.  You need water. Or beer.  Or both.

3.  Re-Fuel:  You may not feel like eating when you're done but do your best to at least eat a banana.  Once you're able to eat get a good balance of protein and carbs into your system.  The protein will help repair all the damage you just did to your muscles and the carbs will help replenish the glycogen stores that you just depleted.   Ideally you're eating something that is somewhat healthy (i.e not a Big Mac).   But if you're not, whatever, you just ran a marathon, I'm sure whatever it is you re-fuel with will get burned off relatively quickly as your body heals.  I can't say that I was a shining example of healthy with my post race food.  Immediately post race:  1 banana, a couple of handfuls of triscuit crackers (got a box at the finish line!?), water.  In the car:  protein shake.  At home:  water, coffee, 2 slices of bacon, 1 blueberry ricotta pancake, a burger with cheese, mayo, relish & ketchup.  1/2 a light beer.  Nap.  1/2 cup of cottage cheese with peanut butter & chocolate protein powder.   Dinner:  2 pieces of pizza, 3 garlic toast bites, 2 chicken wings.  More water.   Go with whatever your body is craving.  I wanted fat and salt so that's what I ate.

4.  Chill Out:  Have an ice bath.  This is seriously unpleasant at the beginning but once you lose feeling in your legs it's great!  I recommend keeping your stinky running shorts on and wrapping your upper body in a nice thick hoodie.   Think of it as a pre-wash for your running gear. 

5.  Turn up the Heat:  After the ice bath, have an epsom salts bath.  This will feel like heaven.  You'll probably want to fall asleep.  I'd advise against that unless you don't mind looking like a prune.  You'll want to make sure you drink lots of water while you're sitting in the tub.

6.  Squeeze it:   If you've got any compression gear, put it on!  I went a little overboard and put on my zoot compression knickers and my compressport full socks on after I got out of the tub.  It was a good look.  Super hot. All I needed was a pair of sandals and I would have been ready to hang with the blue hairs.

7. Get Your Rub On:  Even if you don't have a benefits plan that covers massage, I highly recommend you pay the $90 or whatever it costs and get a post race rub down, ideally a couple of days after the race.   I can pretty much guarantee that it won't be a relaxing experience but it will definitely help put a bit more spring into your post marathon shuffle.

8. Keep Moving!   I know this sounds incredibly counter-intuitive but it's the best thing for you.  Trust me, all I wanted to do after the marathon was be horizontal but I found that the longer I stayed still, the harder it was for me to get back up.    I made a point to move around as much as possible in the days that followed even if it meant going down stairs backwards.  

9. Work it Out:  This goes hand in hand with #7.  You may not be ready to go for a run yet but there are other things you could do to help facilitate the removal of lactic acid.  A walk / shuffle around the block.  An easy spin on your bike or, a nice easy swim.  I went for a swim 3 days post race and while pushing off the wall and kicking didn't feel great for the first few laps, by the time I got out of the water, I was definitely walking a bit better.

10.  Stand Tall:  I don't think I have to tell any runner twice, but just in case...give yourself a pat on the back and BE PROUD of yourself and your accomplishment.   You've done something that less than 1% of the population has done and that's no small feat.  

What are your post race recovery strategies?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Back in The Saddle

The weather is nice, my marathon is done and my legs are almost recovered so it's high time I got back in the saddle and got on my bike.  Never mind that it hasn't had a tune up in 2 years, I'm going to take it out for a spin this weekend anyway.  There are tri's to do and a duathlon title to defend so I can't let my riding take a back seat any more.   My Saturday run is going to be replaced by a Saturday ride, that I will inevitably do on my own given that I'm as slow as molasses and can't keep up with the boys, but whatever at least I'm out there.

We're heading up north this weekend with some friends, most of whom are riding so I've been gently goaded into participating.  I only hope that my legs can handle the hills in Dorset.  I suppose that if I'm just not feeling it, I can always get off and go for a run instead.

photo courtesy of Sue Cadman.  This is actually her bike. I just happen to have the same one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Journey is the Reward: Mississauga Marathon Race Report

I woke up at 4:30 am with butterflies in my stomach.  Today was the day I had trained for for the last 16 weeks.  Was I ready?  Yup.  Was I confident I'd meet my goal?  Maybe.  I got out of bed and jumped into the shower for a quick scrub down.  The hot water felt nice and relaxing.  I wrapped myself in my fluffy robe and went to the spare bedroom where I had laid out all my race clothes the night before.  I wriggled into my cw-x compression shorts, put on my sports bra and hesitated a moment before grabbing my t-shirt.  Should I just wear my singlet?  My doubt got the better of me so I picked up my t-shirt, put it on and then put my singlet on over it.  It was the same outfit that I wore for my A-race last year when I crushed my half marathon PB so I hoped there was still some good race juju left in it.
I ate my pre-race pumpkin protein oatmeal, made a few moves in Words with Friends and then packed up the rest of my post race stuff.  At 6:10 am, my friend Kiki came by to hitch a ride up to the start.  It took us all of 15 minutes to get up to Square One.   Gary drove around trying to find the best place to drop us off.  He pulled up to the lights at Hurontario and Burnhamthorpe and said "All right ladies, time to get out."  We scrambled to get ourselves ready and got out of the car into the bright sunshine and a cool breeze.  I was glad I had decided on a t-shirt under my singlet.
We made our way to past the start line to the baggage check area.  We hung out there for a while looking for people we knew.  Kiki mentioned that Bob Weeks was running the half so we kept our eyes peeled for him.  I found him about 5 minutes later.  Now we were 3.  A few minutes later
 Kelly Webb from the Milton branch of Running Free came over to say Hi.  There was a big contingent of Running Free folks at this race which was so nice to see.
We noticed that the starting chute was open so we made our way towards the start line.  There were no actual corrals, just signs along the side of the fences that had varying pace times in them.  I spotted the 3:15 pace bunny and figured I'd situate myself a bit of a ways behind him as my goal was sub 3:20:00.  My plan was to keep him in my sights for as long as possible.  I hung back a few hundred meters and milled about with Kiki and Bob, fiddling with my necklace and thinking about everything I did to get me to the start line. On Saturday I took off my Tiffany necklace that Gary gave me for Christmas a few years ago and replaced it with the necklace I bought myself after Ironman Switzerland as a reminder of that amazing journey.   It is a sterling silver pendant with the words "The Journey is the Reward" written on it.  A reminder to me that it's not always about the end result, it's the steps you take to get there that are what really matter. 
 Michael Burgess sang the National Anthem and then the countdown was on.  Two resounding bangs denoted the start of the race.  They scared the crap out of me but they definitely got me off and running.  I crossed the start line and made sure I hit start on my Garmin.  The first 6.5km were going to be unfamiliar territory for me.  I tried very hard not to go out too fast.  I kept checking my watch.  4:19's, 4:24's.  Slow down!  People kept passing me and I had to remind myself that I had a long way to go and that I should run my own race.  I checked my watch again an saw 4:38.  Better.  I tried to keep this pace but it felt slow.  I ended up speeding up again.  In fact, I yo-yoed all over the place for the first little while.  My legs didn't feel great but that's probably because I didn't really do any sort of warm up other than a few drills and stretches.  I figured I probably wouldn't start to feel good till about 6 or 7 km in.
We ran along Robert Speck Parkway to Burhamthorpe and then west on Burnhamthorpe to Mississauga Road.  I could see the 3:15 bunny about 500m in front of me.  Perfect.  There was no wind along here and I could really feel the sun beating down on me.  I began to think that perhaps the t-shirt under my singlet was not such a good idea.  Especially a black t-shirt.  Oh well.  I was only carrying two 10 oz bottles with me so I made a concerted effort to get something at every aid station I passed.  I used the GU Brew/X-tend mix in my bottles to wash down my chocolate raspberry Roctane.  This seemed to work well and I figured my bottles should hopefully last me till about 32km or so.
Before I knew it, we were at the U of T Mississauga Campus.  I knew my way from here, for the most part.  I knew there were going to be some spots along the Lakeshore that I didn't quite get right on my course recce a month ago but I knew most of the course.  Mentally this was huge for me.  I felt like I didn't have to worry about what was coming up, I just ran.  At the 8km mark, I noticed that I had gotten a fair bit closer to the 3:15 bunny.  I knew I was running faster but we were also going downhill.  Sure enough at 9km, I caught the 3:15 group.  My legs were feeling amazing.  It just felt easy.  I thought "This is exactly where I want to be".  I ducked in behind the last folks in the 3:15 group and ran with them for a while.  I felt like it was a pace that I could manage until I looked at my watch.  4:27's.  Hmmm....maybe not.  I think I should back it off.  I went through an aid station and slowed down a bit.  As if on cue, the 80's hit Relax came on my shuffle, and I let the group go ahead of me but made sure I kept them in my sight. 
We hit the turn off for the marathon route and I chugged along.  I noticed a wind had picked up and was blowing from the south.  That would mean that our run down Southdown Road was probably not going to be good.  I saw a lot of cyclists riding around and I happened to look over at one guy that was riding along not far from me.  To my surprise it was Gary.  My heart melted.  I figured he would have gone to Sunday morning swim practice but instead he went back home, packed up his bike, drove to the finish line and then hopped on his bike and rode out onto the route.   I'm such a lucky woman to have an amazing husband that supports all my insanity.  He asked me how I was feeling and I said pretty good.  I think I was just coming up on the 15km mark.  We were heading into a few rollers.  My legs didn't seem to like those but I still managed to keep a good pace.  The 3:15 bunny was still within my sights so it was all good.  Gary took off to find another viewing spot and I motored along.  I couldn't believe how quickly the time had passed.  Before I knew it we were turning on to Southdown Road.  Sure enough it was windy.  Not terrible but enough to be annoying.  I caught up to a guy in a white t-shirt and ran behind him.  We were coming up to the halfway mark.  Down the hill, under the bridge and up another small hill.  I saw Gary with the camera.  I hit the halfway mark in 1:37:40, just slightly off a 3:15 pace.  Excellent. 
I started to feel really good along here.  It was slightly down hill so I motored along, listening to Rush and turning over 4:35's.  It was definitely getting hotter as well.  I was sweating a lot.  But I was also drinking a lot.  I couldn't believe how good I was feeling.  I passed a few runners along here.  We were heading into what I called "No Man's Land".  It was an industrial area with not much around but I knew there was a really nice park that we ran through at some point on the way back.  The km's clicked by and then I started to feel it.  The ache in my legs.  I was getting close to the 25km mark.  Then it hit me.  I didn't feel good.  I saw Gary again and I waved but didn't say anything.  He could tell I was struggling.  I was thinking about the last marathon I ran and how I totally caved at the 26km mark.  I was hoping and praying that wouldn't happen today.  I grabbed some Gatorade at the aid station just after the turnaround.  The wind seemed to have changed direction a bit and I was now running into it.  Great.  I heard my name and looked up to see Linnea.  Heyyyyy!!!!  Shortly after I saw her, I saw Kiki.  Heyyyy youuuuu!  I could see Gary waiting for me at the entrance to the park but he couldn't see me because I had ducked behind another guy to block the wind for a while.  Ahhhh..that felt good.
I turned into the park and caught a couple of guys.  I passed them and forged ahead.  I looked around and didn't see anyone.  I wasn't actually sure where I should go either.  There were no pylons, nothing.  I then saw the orange arrows on the ground so I followed them into the park.  I had missed this turn off when I did the course recce so I was in slightly unfamiliar territory.   I wound my way around the park until I eventually started to recognize things.  I was really starting to hurt.  26km had come and gone.  I had slowed down a bit but it wasn't horrible.  I was coming up to 27km and the exit of the park.  I could see Gary sitting there and as I ran by him I said that I was starting to hurt.  I don't remember what he said to me.  I was starting to lose it a bit mentally.  It was time for the head games to start.  If could just get to the 30km mark then I can walk for a bit.  That was going to be my focus. Getting to 30km.  30km came and went and I didn't walk.  I was on a good wave again.  I grabbed some water at the aid station, thanked the volunteers (who were all AWESOME) and motored along.  I was back into the lovely neighbourhood of Lorne Park.  I knew there were another couple of hills coming up.  They weren't terribly big but they were big enough to make me suffer.  I got to the top of the second one just before the 31km mark and I had to walk.  My legs were really starting to hurt.  And my feet were starting to cramp as well.  Not a good sign.  I started running again when I hit the 31km mark.  I turned onto Lakeshore.  I knew there was one other spot along the course that I wasn't totally familiar with and that was coming up.   My legs were starting to scream at me.  I looked down at my watch but the time meant nothing.  I couldn't figure out my pacing any more.  I knew that 3:15 was definitely not going to happen.  I was really starting to lose it.  I desperately wanted to stop.  As I came up to the 32km mark, I grabbed some water at the aid station and realized that I should have filled up my bottle.   This obviously distracted me because I kept running along Lakeshore and somehow missed the turn off the led into the park.  I only realized because I was running with a girl and then suddenly she was gone so I turned around only to hear people yelling you missed the turn.  Crap.  I had to run back up  hill to get to the turn off.  Oh man.  I have no idea how I missed the sign with the big arrow on it but I did.  I was obviously seriously out of it.  The girl I was running with was way ahead of me now and there was no way I was catching her.  We were heading towards the water again and I was on a good wave. Probably because I was running slightly downhill.
The path we were on led into the outskirts of Jack Darling Park, which is a beautiful park along the shore of Lake Ontario.  Once again, I didn't really know where I was supposed to go so I looked for the orange arrows.  I actually managed to pass a couple of people in here which was surprising considering how horrible I felt.  I could see the 34km marker towards the top of the path.  I passed a guy who was walking and thought to myself, "Just get to 34km and then you can walk".  I got to the 34km marker, walked for a bit, took half a gel and started running again.  I didn't want to linger for too long as it generally gets harder to start back up again once you stop.
I got out of the park and back on to Lakeshore.  I distracted myself by doing the math in my head and telling myself that I still had time to make 3:20:00 even if I slowed down to 5 min km's.  The thing is I didn't want to slow down.  I wanted to be sub 3:20.  Period.  My mind started to wander to my other races, other times where I felt this kind of pain.  I thought about Boston in 2003.  I thought about Scotia in 2010.  I wasn't going to crack again and give up like I did those times.  I've worked hard over the last year and I knew I was mentally tougher than that now.  I knew that somewhere deep down inside I had enough guts to get through the last 8km and still break 3:20.  It might be close but I would do it.
As I made my way along Lakeshore, I was caught and passed by a couple that was running together and I was reminded of Gary pacing me to my Boston qualifier in 2002.  This couple looked a bit older and I had the sneaking suspicion that this woman was in my age group.  The competitor in me latched on to them and tried to hold on for dear life.  They were running strong.  I drafted off both of them and actually started to feel good again.  I stuck with them until we hit the aid station just before we turned into the park before the Port Credit Marina.  If I hadn't slowed down at the aid station to refill one of my bottles, I think I could have hung on with them for a while longer.  But alas, I slowed down and they were moving too quickly for me to catch them.  As I made my way towards the park entrance, I saw Gary waiting there for me.  He rode beside me for a bit offering words of encouragement, which I had no problem hearing as one of my headphones had died.  Not only was I falling apart, so was my gear!  I could see the 37km marker at the top of a small hill.  Gary rode with me to the top and then took off.  I stopped at the top, took my last Roctane and hoped that it would be enough to get me through the last 5km.  I passed a guy on the down hill into the Port Credit Park and made my way along the path.  I could hear dance music blaring and I saw a huge group of people that had set up speakers and were all dressed up and holding various signs.  Support like that is amazing and should be acknowledged so I pumped my arms in time to the music and yelled You Guys ROCK! as I ran through.
I was coming up to the Port Credit Marina.  This was familiar territory for me.  I knew the way back to the finish line like the back of my hand.  38km came and went.  I passed a few more people.  39km came and went and the pain in my legs was almost unbearable.  Just 3 more km.  15 minutes at most.  Hang in there.  It's hard to walk when there are so many people around offering encouragement.  I passed some of the folks that were walking the half marathon and they cheered me on.  I hit the 40km mark and the last aid station and I stopped to get a cup of Gatorade.  I quickly gulped it back and started running again.  I felt like I was shuffling.  I was having a hard time picking my feet up.  My left foot kept threatening to cramp.  I could feel my toes starting to spasm.   Only 2 more km...come ON!  From here it was past all the big houses on the water and into the winding path through the small forest and then back into a residential area and then over the wooden footbridge and into Lakefront Promenade Park.  It's not that far.  You can do it.
My body started to operate on a whole other level.  Every fiber of my being hurt and as much as I wanted to stop, I couldn't.  I had to keep moving forward.  I came out of the winding path and headed towards the footbridge.  I could hear Kevin MacKinnon announcing the finishers.  I was so close.  As I crossed the bridge I saw two race photographers and I smiled for both and made some comment about that being a grimace.  Then I saw Gary.  He was grinning.  I said as I ran by: "You realize that every word out of my mouth since 40km has been a swear word".  I'm not sure what he said, because all the other spectators were laughing but I imagine it was probably something along the lines of "Why would that be different than any other day.." 
I could smell the finish line.  My legs started to come to life.  What little adrenaline I had left in my system kicked in.  I spotted a bunch of Team RF jerseys and got cheers from them.  The crowds were starting to get bigger.  I heard my name and saw Kelly and a bunch of other Team RF athletes going nuts.  That gave me such a boost.  I pushed hard as I ran along the path to the finish line.  I came out into the parking lot and could see the clock counting down.  I heard Kevin MacKinnon announce my name as I came up to the finish line.  I kept my eyes on the clock and I sprinted as hard as I could.

3:19:00.1 Woohoo!  That was my gun time.  My watch said 3:18:38.  I did it.  I broke 3:20:00.  And I managed to qualify for Boston again.  10 years after the first time.  That's some good running karma. And the absolute best part of all: I didn't crack.  I didn't give up when it got tough, I dug deeper.  I found a resolve that I didn't know I had.  That is worth more than anything to me. 

I also managed to snag the 3rd place overall Female Masters spot which was an unexpected surprise.  All in all a great day, despite how much I suffered.  I really enjoyed the course and the volunteers were outstanding.  If I had one complaint it would be that they should have had Marshals directing people in some of the less populated areas as well as at the turns going into the parks.  I'd definitely do it again.  And of course, it was so amazing to see all the Team Running Free jerseys out there on and off the course.

Well earned finishers medal.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

I wanted to pick up my race kit after work yesterday but after Friday afternoon chaos ensued, I realized I wouldn't be getting out of the studio in a timely fashion which frazzled me a bit.  I really didn't want to have to go out and do anything today other than put my feet up.  After a very short run I headed over to the Race Expo first thing this morning.  I wasn't the only keener that wanted to get my kit early.  It was quite busy.  Luckily I had my bib number so I didn't have to go to the big list to find it.  I made my way over to the marathon bib pick up and gave them my bib number.  The young guy flipped through all the 600's a couple of times and then said "Ummm, I can't find it."


He then had his friend look through it.  It seemed as though my bib disappeared.  Bib #643 and #645 were both there, but bib #644 was not.  Bizarre.  Somewhat flustered, off I went to the registration table to see if someone could help me.  I was then directed to the Sports Stats booth.  He looked me up and then checked to see if someone had picked up my bib and activated my chip.  Negatory.  Weird.  He wrote me a note and sent me back to the registration table.  Ugh.  I handed my note in and my old bib # to the woman at the table and got a new "nameless" bib and chip in return.  This number was #1179.  Which, to be honest, I actually liked better than #644.  The superstitious runner in me will always tally up the numbers in a bib to get it down to a single digit.  1+1+7+9=18. 1+8=9.  9 is a good number in my books.  Why?  Because it breaks down to 3x3 and 3 is my lucky number.

Ridiculous I know.  But whatever.  There's nothing rational about superstitions.

They scanned my chip in and I went on my merry way, still somewhat flustered, only to start worrying about "what if they don't have my AG info?"  No one physically transferred anything while I was there and I didn't get confirmation on anything.  So, I turned around and went back in to make sure that my age group info was all there.  I'm trying to qualify for Boston, the last thing I want is to have any sort of incomplete or incorrect results posting.  After being reassured by the guy at Sports Stats that he'd make sure it got done, I made my way home with my fingers crossed. 

My wonderful husband stopped by the Expo on while he was out running some errands and double checked that everything had in fact, been transferred over.  I'm happy to report that it has.  I can now officially stop fretting and relax.  Keep Calm and Carry On as the saying goes!  Too bad I didn't realize that I had neglected to pick up my race t-shirt, I could have had him grab that for me while he was there.  Although, truth be told, I need another race t-shirt like I need a hole in the head, and it wasn't really that nice anyway.

***scan of original 1939 poster taken from Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Game Plan

It's t-minus 3 days till the marathon and from the way I'm feeling, you'd think I was getting ready to run my first one.  Every time I *think* about the race, I get butterflies in my stomach like a love struck teenager.  I've also been obsessing about what sort of food and how much of it I should be eating over the next few days.  Why I've suddenly decided to focus on that for this particular race is beyond me.  I've run 6 marathons and generally given no real thought to what I ate in the days leading up to them other than my dinner the night before and my breakfast race morning.  Sometimes that worked and sometimes that didn't.  I suppose if I was a really anal runner, I'd have notes on all this stuff, but I'm not so all I've got are the unpleasant memories of when things didn't work out.  Like my last attempt at qualifying for Boston in 2010 at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon.  What a disaster.  I really really really don't want a repeat of that day.   I've got a few more races under my belt and 2 additional years of "life experience" so here's hoping I know a bit better this time around.  

I normally reserve my starchy carbs for post workout but given that I'm going to be running for over 3 hours, I know that I'm going to have to make sure my glycogen stores are as full as they can be come race day.  That means incorporating more starchy carbs into my regular meal rotation.  I've been reading all sorts of different articles on carb loading and now I think I'm even more confused than when I started.  Some articles I've read say that you should do this the day before the race.  Others say you should do it 2 days before the race.  There is one thing that seems to be consistent and that is the amount of carbs that one needs to consume.  Apparently I should aim to eat 10g of carbs per kg of body weight.  At roughly 125lbs, that translates to 56.8kg, so, doing that math, that means I should aim to eat approximately 568g of carbs.   Given that one whole wheat bagel has roughly 50g of carbs, I'd have to eat 11 bagels to get even close to 568g of carbs.  How insane is that?  That would pretty much guarantee a porta potty stop or two during the race, never mind even trying to get out of the house and get to the start line in the morning.  

So what is a girl to do?

1) Chill out and 2) make it up as she goes along and hope for the best, of course! (much like most of my training this year).  As of yesterday I've been gradually adding more carb dense foods in.  I had quinoa for dinner last night and I had the leftovers for lunch today.  Dinner tonight will probably involve some sweet potatoes and eggs.   Breakfast tomorrow is still somewhat undecided but lunch will also involve sweet potatoes.  Dinner is going to be pasta with veggies and a meat sauce, of course.  Saturday morning will be pancakes and lunch will also be a bit heavier on the carbs.  Dinner will be something light, probably a grilled chicken breast with a salad.  I will probably have a bottle of GU brew during the day to add a few more carbs in and make sure I keep my electrolyte balance ok instead of drinking water all day peeing away all the minerals and other goodies my body needs.   Hopefully that will be sufficient to ensure I've got a full tank race morning.  If not then, oh well.  At least I've written it all down this time so I know what not to do for next time.

I gotta be honest, I'm a little scared.  42.2km is a long way to go.  It's no 147 mile ultra but for now,  it's far enough for this little lady.   A little fear is a good thing.  It keeps me on my toes and proves that I still care enough about racing to actually feel that way in the first place.