Banque Scotia 21k: OUCH

When you ask a runner If they have any goals for an upcoming race they’ll usually tell you a goal that they know they will accomplish. But, they also usually have a goal that they won’t tell you about, one they won’t admit out loud. Usually the personal goals are the ones they really want to achieve but are too afraid to say it in case it doesn’t happen. I can definitely say that was true for me in this race.

I signed up to run the Banque Scotia 21k in Montreal on a whim. One of the groups I sometimes run with had a code for a discounted entry so I thought “why not?” plus, it was a good chance for a mini weekend getaway with hubs (I’m all about those recently).

When I told people I was running this race and they asked about my goals I said “I just want to beat my time from the Toronto Scotiabank half in the fall when I didn’t train” and “I’m really going for a negative split, regardless of the total time”.

But, in my head I honestly thought I would PB. My goal for a negative split and a PB was really what I was after and I knew I could do both. I was pretty cocky confident going in. I stayed kind of quiet about this race because I wasn’t technically “training” for it. In reality though, I had been putting in more long runs and more total runs overall than when I actually was training for my first half, so I felt incredibly ready and definitely prepared. My long runs were getting faster and faster and for the first time in my running life I was actually truly running consistently week after week. I had this. After I failed bailed on running a full in the fall I’ve been adamant about getting back out there and really giving it my all. In fact, just this past week I found out that my entry was chosen in the lottery to run the Chicago Marathon this Fall. Finding this out only made me more excited to run in Montreal and start the 2016 race season off strong.

Oh, how I was wrong.

In retrospect I should have booked a hotel for us to stay in on Friday night AND Saturday night in Montreal because by the time we packed up and hit the road on Saturday, it was already almost 10:00am. There were a lot of fun things I wanted to do in Montreal but our lack of time cramped my style. Also, I’d never been to Montreal with a car before and no one told us how crazy the driving is there. Every street seems to be one way and things are not signed that well. At one point while I was waiting for my google maps to load, I told hubs to turn down a street, and well, I guess I mistakingly told him to turn the wrong way on a one-way (it was dark and there were no cars when he turned so we really didn’t know, I swear he’s not a bad driver) and that put him in a flustered/bad mood. Maybe that was the first sign that things weren’t going to go as well as planned. None the less, we tried to enjoy the time we did have but we were both feeling kind of rushed and overwhelmed.
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I slept really really well on Saturday night which was maybe the second sign that things were not quite right. Because, come on, who sleeps well the night before a race?

Upon waking on Sunday, I ate my usual pre-run breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and banana and drank half a coconut water and a terrible cup of instant coffee (note to self: always remember to bring my own coffee and french press, duh). The race didn’t start until 10:00am so I was feeling pretty relaxed and had a lot of time in the morning to eat, get ready and make my way there.

I always feel like such a bad Canadian anytime I am in Quebec. My French is atrocious, and actually kind of embarrassing. I don’t even bother most of the time because I’m so embarrassed by it, and I hate being that person who just says “hi” the second someone says “salut”.  Because of my terrible french, I was a little confused when we stepped off the metro at Parc Jean-Drapeau and couldn’t quite figure out where the start line was. I was too stubborn/embarrassed to ask anyone and since the 5k race was just finishing, following other runners around didn’t really seem to get me anywhere.

I finally made it to the start area and was feeling pretty great. The weather was perfect, sunny and about 5 degrees. I wore my favourite t-shirt (I originally was planning on wearing my NRC Singlet but it was only 0 when I woke up so I changed my mind), shorts, compression socks and a hat (but I forgot sunscreen and have a hideous collar burn to prove it).

The race is not a very big one, about 2500 people were running the half, so though we were in separate corrals, the start times were not staggered. I filed in behind the 2:15 pacer. My plan was to stick with the pacer for the first 5-8k and then slowly pick it up with each km. Before I knew it we were off. I was feeling good. So good. Maybe too good?

Normally any sort of run SUCKS for me for the first 4k at minimum, but I was feeling amazing from the get go. The pacer was super positive and talking to all of us. I didn’t quite get what she was saying but I do know she kept saying “patience, patience” which was something I needed to hear because my mind and body were telling me otherwise. I have blown my pace early on in other races only to lose all my steam halfway through. Since I REALLY wanted that negative split I was trying so hard to keep it slow. After what felt like seconds, we had reached km 1 and my app in my headphones spoke to me saying “average pace, 6:39/km” and I had to fight EXTRA hard to not speed right up. I kept reminding myself “negative split” and had even started to plan this blog post  and how I would talk about my method to achieving that negative split.

I inched slowly ahead of the pacer (not too far) and with each passing km, my announced pace in my ear was increasing by a few seconds. Before I knew it I had passed 4km. This race was going to be a breeze.

And then it happened. A stitch so bad and so sudden I doubled over in pain. No no no no. I wasn’t going to stop. I have always been someone who has suffered from stitches but I had never felt one like this. I am not kidding when I say I have tried everything, but no matter what, it seems that on almost every run I get a stitch (did you know that there is actually no proven scientific knowledge about what a stitch actually is and what causes it?). This is so beyond frustrating because none of the suggested solutions ever seem to work for me. I can usually run through them and they usually go away but this was different. I pushed through for a full km, pressing on my side and slowed right back down but it only got worse. I saw a sign in the crowd that said “You’re running better than the American government” and it cheered me up a bit. I made a mental note to tell hubs about it later and was distracted for a split second but then, I couldn’t take it. Just beyond 5km I walked and from that point on it only got worse. Every time I tried to run again the pain was so bad I thought I was going to pass out. I would run a few steps and then be forced to walk from the pain. And so it went…

I waited for it to subside. Stretching, breathing, walking, but nothing helped. I passed 6km, then 7km and the 2:15 pacer flew by me. I couldn’t do it. I started to cry and plan my exit. Have you ever tried to run while crying at the same time? If not I will tell you this, it’s impossible. What came out was the sound of hyperventilation. I was so angry. A kind man asked me if I was okay and I only cried more. He asked if I needed help and I nodded no.

I was out. Mentally, I had finished the race, checked out and accepted a big fat DNF. I was ready for Poutine and beer and a really good cry in sweatpants. I had run rage . Every awful thought that could cross my mind did. “I hate running” “I hate myself” “I’m going to quit running” “I’m definitely not going to run a marathon ever” These loops of negative self-talk continued on until I almost forgot about the pain and was simply just PISSED.

I texted my running pal as I walked along in tears “I think I’m going to quit” to which she said “no! don’t do it! You’ve got this! Just take it slow for a bit” and I replied “I tried already. I’m not even at 8km. I can’t do it.” I text my husband “I’m dropping out, I need you” and he too encouraged me to go on. I was so defeated. I had spent the money to be here and had visualized in my head over and over again that PB. I was having a serious self-pity party. I called my husband and he talked me through it. “Where are you?” “Are you sure you can’t do it?” “Can you take a few steps running?” This distracted me and I walked on, after a while and I could hear the cheers in the background from where he was standing as the top finishers ran by him.

I was at the 10k mark and still ready to quit, only, to my dismay it seemed like that wasn’t an option. I was now on an F-1 race track and the only way out was back. Still, I looked across the track and couldn’t believe how far I’d have to go if I chose to go on. I started crying again “this track never ends but I’m stuck”. If this had been a course anywhere else down city streets I would have walked off that second, no doubt in my mind.

We kept talking, I ran a few more steps, then a few more. Then I continually jogged a slow but steady pace. The stitch was still there but it wasn’t going to make me pass out. All around me were people looking SO determined and trying so hard. I made it to the next water station, and they all cheered “ALI ALI!” which excited me until I realized they were actually saying “Allez! Allez!”

I made it to 11km, then I made it to 12km. Then I reached 13. By the time 14 came along I knew I was going to finish the race but I just wanted it to end. I hung up the phone (while also realizing that everyone around me must have thought I’d been talking to myself, oh well) and trekked on. As mentioned this was a smaller race, making it so much more difficult to place well. I had now been running along more or less with the 2:30 pacer and had accepted that I would probably finish last in my category. I couldn’t decide what was worse, going home and having to tell everyone I dropped out, or finishing but coming nearly in last. I tried to get my pride in check and enjoy this humbling moment but I’ll be honest, it was a struggle.

Still, I had the chance to notice some things that I normally wouldn’t. The runners around me were seriously giving it their ALL. There was a woman that I ran side by side with for quite some time who was air drumming along to her music the whole way, something I often restrain myself from doing. She was SMILING. She was going to run a 2:30 half and was so joyful. I really needed that. There was also a man who must have been 70, slightly hobbling along but never stopping. And then there were two other girls around my age, obviously struggling but their friendship was apparent. They did NOT stop encouraging each other and it reminded me of my own running network and all the amazing friends I have who keep me going when I want to stop.

I also took some time to think about a camp friend of mine, Rusty, who is currently RUNNING ACROSS AMERICA, averaging over 30 miles a day in support of the Boston marathon bombing victims and survivors. If he can do that, then I could do this.

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I saw Zach at 17km and it was all I needed to finish. It dragged on, but eventually, I made it, somehow finding it in me to sprint the last 500m. It was done. I finished. I sucked up my pride and decided it was definitely better than a DNF. And then I cried again…out of relief, anger, determination…I don’t even know.

2:31 my watch read. Not the worst, but certainly not what I had been expecting.

No negative split, no PB and a million walk breaks.

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So happy to have finished!

Still, I beat my time from the fall when I ran scotiabank in Toronto without training so not all is lost. After all, this is what I told people I wanted to do. Plus, besides the stitch I felt absolutely fine and was not tired or sore. If it hadn’t been for the pain of the stitch I really do think that I could have achieved that PB. AND, I didn’t come in last- I was 120/134 in my category, again, not the end of the world.

The most frustrating thing about running is that it’s not always going to go your way. It’s such a love hate relationship because when you have a great run, you’re on top of the world, but when you have a bad run, it’s such a defeating and awful feeling. You can do all the right things and prepare the best you can. You can go into something thinking that you’ve got it, only to have it completely turn around and kick you in the ass. A humble reminder that running is such a metaphor to life and full of so many lessons.

Shout out to my amazing husband Zach who literally talked to me on the phone for over 30 minutes while I “ran”, drove me all the way to Montreal and back and ate ALL the poutine with me after. Also, shout out to the folks at Canada Run Series for designing a course that didn’t allow me to quit. Stubborn and proud me would have dropped out if it were easier but stubborn and proud me is also grateful I didn’t really get that chance.

Do I still want to quit running? No. In fact, if anything this has made me MORE motivated to stay out there and keep trying. The next opportunity to PB will come, and eventually, that PB will become an old one as I continue to improve. And I will run a marathon, I will run the Chicago marathon. Can’t wait to share my journey with everyone!

 

And just for fun, how I celebrated finishing:
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If you are ever in Montreal- check out Pikolo!

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AMAZING beer at Dieu du Ciel

 

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And of course, Poutine! (I shared with Zach don’t worry)

Consistency

How sticking with one thing can change everything

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Over the Easter long weekend Happy Hubs and I drove to Northwest Indiana to spend some time with his parents as well as spend a day in one of our favourite cities- Chicago. If you haven’t been to Chicago I highly recommend checking it out. It has some amazing coffee shops, incredible food, beautiful buildings and a waterfront to make all Torontonians envious.

Normally when it comes to travelling, even 3-day weekend getaways, I let everything fall out the window concerning the healthy lifestyle I lead in my day-to-day life (because nothing counts when you’re on vacation right?) However, at the beginning of this year a friend and I vowed to run a minimum of 100km/month for all of 2016. At first, I thought this would be a no brainer and was pretty excited to see that number reach over 200km/month once I started training for some goal races. However, after looking over my training logs, it seemed that I was in for a bit of a challenge. If there was anything consistent with my running, it was that I am unbelievably inconsistent.

Up until recently, it was apparent that I thought I was running much more than I actually was. Looking over my logs, even in the months leading up to my first half marathon, my runs were scattered all over the place. One week I’d run 4 times, the next only once, some weeks had no runs at all. I embarrassingly realized that I wasn’t even giving myself a real shot when it came to training.

While I am aiming to run a marathon this fall, I didn’t really have any upcoming spring races in mind (besides the Sporting Like 10k that I run every year) when I started running a consistent 100km/month. Very quickly though, I started to notice some small changes. I have been sticking to a long run every. single. week. and my gains have started to become very apparent on those long runs. Each week, just by consistently running 14-17km, I am getting faster, something that has never happened with long runs before. Building a base at these distances has helped me immensely. Until this recent consistency, I always took walk breaks but I haven’t taken a walk break now for over a month on a long run! While I have been doing speed work for quite some time, and throw in hill workouts every now and then as well, it’s really all started to come together since I started sticking to my long runs. For the first time, I feel like I am seriously improving at distance running and I feel I can begin to set some solid time goals (before, my approach was always “just finish”).

A big thing that has helped with this is that I started doing my long runs with the club I run with whereas I always used to do them alone. Running with people has helped me so much because we push each other to keep going, and chatting away week after week makes the kms fly by. On a bit of a whim, I have decided to run a half marathon at the end of the month in Montreal. I’m approaching it as more of a training run, just to sort of see where I am after a few solidly consistent months of running.  I think I kind of owe it to myself, now that I’ve actually been staying consistent.

All of this being said, one thing that I love about Nike Run Club is that so many different cities also have a club that more or less follows the same schedule. It’s pretty cool to see the larger Nike community on social media and know that we are all in this together. Happy hubs and I decided to stay overnight in Chicago and, to not throw off my consistent training, decided to do my long run with NRC Chicago on the Saturday morning.

I sure am glad we did. We have both spent a fair amount of time in Chicago before, but there is something to be said about seeing it on a run. We woke up bright and early at 7:00am, put on our run clothes, scarfed down some breakfast and headed out. It was chilly, but nice and sunny which definitely made up for it. It was pretty cool to see the Nike space in Chicago. While the space was different, it had the same vibe that the Toronto club does, a solid group of like-minded people buzzing about all there for the same purpose. The pacers were super welcoming and glad to have visitors from Toronto joining them.

We ran a gorgeous 8 mile out and back south along the waterfront. The waterfront trail in Chicago is just amazing. Sure, we have some nice parts of ours in Toronto, but it doesn’t even come close to the beauty that is the waterfront in Chicago. I’m already dreaming about running along it the next time I am there. If you are visiting Chicago, make sure you take a walk along the waterfront (north or south, it’s all gorgeous). The view from the Adler Planetarium is something else.

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If you had told me a few years ago that I would wake up at 7:00am while on a holiday for the purpose of running 8 miles, I would have not believed you. They say that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Now that I am three months into consistently running, I can’t imagine NOT running, even on vacation. It’s crazy how easily something can become a part of your life if you really make the time for it.

Now excuse me while I go get ready for a run….

Happy trails!

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How can you tell if someone is running a marathon?

… Don’t worry they’ll tell you.

Last year around this time I was that obnoxious person who was ALWAYS talking about running. “I’m running a half marathon” I would boast, without even being asked.

This year, you may have noticed there has been a lot of radio silence around here. You may have also noticed that I posted about running a full marathon a few months back. Well I’m here to tell you that I failed, BUT I have also come to realize that no failure is a true fail.

My almost-silence on this endeavor came from the fact that I was really not sure I could do it. I KNOW I can do it now, but I didn’t think that I could, and that overwhelming thought got in the way and I stopped talking about it. I was terrified that I wasn’t putting everything I had into it, and I ended up putting nothing into it and giving up. I will be the first to admit that boasting about runs can be annoying but just think about it for a moment. The training involved in running any sort of distance race is time consuming and honestly, not always that fun. Telling people is a way that I (and other runners) hold myself accountable. Even if no one really cares that much, there will always be a few people who will remember and then ask you later “how’s your training going?” Which is an instant reminded to pick it up when I’m slacking.

With moving, wedding planning and a few weeks of extreme heat, my training was pushed to the back of my mind. Eventually, it disappeared.
Up until about mid-August I was still SO determined that I would run the full. I went on a 20k training run after a few weeks of not much training and smashed it. I truly felt unstoppable, but I was quite honestly not prepared for the amount of work that came with planning a DIY wedding, especially in those two weeks leading up to the event. I was exhausted. My life was consumed by wedding planning and work. I have always been one of those people who says “you just have to make time for it anyway. no excuses” when it comes to exercise and I’d like to apologize right now if I’ve ever said that to you, because as I have learned, you truthfully sometimes don’t have time. Especially when that time involves putting 3+ hours into going for a long run.
My wedding was perfect, and so was my honeymoon, and I swore once I got back to a normal routine I would pick up where I left off and run that race damnit! But I was never able to pick up where I left off. Work was insane upon my return, and life sucked me up, and I gave in. It is SO easy to stay off the bandwagon once you have fallen off and nearly impossible to get back on.
Yet, here I was, a full TEN weeks since my last run feeling incredibly sorry for myself that I hadn’t just got back on. But, my friends, life happens and I had to live with the life I had been living and be okay with it. I decided I would run the half marathon instead. This mostly came from my self pity and wanting to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew I could, or at least that’s what I told myself, so that was that, I would do it. But I also had to learn to let go of any unrealistic expectations in my head. I decided my only goal would be to finish. So, on Sunday, I laced up my sneakers and set out to run a half marathon with essentially no training.
I don’t recommend this. It wasn’t fun. My legs weren’t ready. While I had not been sedentary, I certainly hadn’t been running, and it HURT. Yet I am still glad I did it, and if you are/were a runner, you could probably do it too, just be careful and don’t push yourself. Here is my mini re-cap I posted on instagram about said run:

Finished the half!

Finished the half!

Kms 0-2: “okay I’m just going to turtle this whole thing. I got this. I see the 2:30 pacer so I’ll just stick with them. Not so bad”
Kms 2-5: “oh wait, I can run! I forgot I used to be somewhat good at this, alright, see ya later 2:30 pacer”
Kms 5-10: “I’m a machine! I’m going to beat my time from last year! This is the easiest 10k of my life. Okay I may not beat it but I’ll be pretty close. I could have run the full. I have so much energy! Running at my old race pace is so easy I could probably run an ultra!”
10-11km: “wait a sec. My legs aren’t working. Maybe I should have trained. Oh well I’m still in front of the 2:30 pacer I guess I’ll take a walk break”
11km: “ouch, walking hurts more than running”
12km: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”
13km: I don’t think I can see properly my legs hurt so bad, and what is that stitch in my side?”
14km: “okay that’s a bad stitch. Where am I? What is life? Everything hurts.”
15km: “so much for finishing in 2:15, the 2:30 bunny just passed me”
16km: “I think I’ll just walk the rest of the way. Wait never mind, I can’t walk”
16.5km “gels! I forgot about those! And I have one! Oh and hey look at that smiling stranger cheering everyone on! Okay, one foot in front of the other”
16.75km: “I got this I got this!” 17-21km: “I’m not sure if I’m running or floating and I can’t feel anything but I’m doing it! Won’t stop until it’s done! Yup, I can totally run a full next time”
21.1km: “why do people run?”

Now, back to why this wasn’t totally a failure. Sure, I didn’t run the full like I had wanted to, but I ran a half marathon, without training! That still counts for something right? Even though I finished pretty close to the bottom of the pack in my category I still did it. Second, it was all I needed to remind me WHY I run and why I want to continue to do so. It forced me to look at my goal of running a full again and reevaluate how I can make that happen.
I may have turtled that race all the way home but I still did it! It may not have been anything close to any of my races that I actually trained for but sometimes you just have to get out there and get it done and be proud of just that.
At the runners expo on Friday I met a woman who had just found a lump in one of her breasts and was awaiting results, she said it put a huge damper on her training but “sometimes you just have to do the best you can under the circumstances”. Her words couldn’t ring more true. My only excuses are that I planned a wedding and went away for 2 weeks, but I still have an able body and health and that’s no excuse to back down from a challenge that would have been easier to just not face at all.
That, my friends is what running is all about for me. Being grateful I can move my body and that I have my health to do so. There are days where I can run like a champ, and days where 5k feels impossible, but you really just have to go out there and do the best you can, under the circumstances. So many lessons in running can be applied to real life.
After all is said and done, it was still an important race in many ways. I ran the first 10k without stopping. I’m not sure if I’ve ever done this. It wasn’t my fastest 10k time by far, but even in my fastest 10k races I have taken brief walk breaks. I also didn’t take any walk breaks up any of the hills that forced me to do just that last year. Even the last hill at the end when my legs just could. not. even. In fact, I passed every single person who was around me on that hill.
And now, as I hobble around the city of Toronto, I am telling myself (and others) that I WILL run that full this coming May. So you bet that I will be talking about that A LOT around here. If you don’t hear anything about it…ask me.
“It’s only impossible until it’s done”

I am a runner.

Give credit where credit is due is an important lesson that was drilled into my head by my elementary school science teacher. I took it so seriously that I remember printing out an extra little square for my 8th grade science fair project and titling it “Thank You’s”, listing the names of all those who had helped me, meticulously framing it in bright coloured construction paper and sticking it on my three-fold poster board. My science teacher noticed and it felt good to be recognized for my kindness, almost as great as receiving a good grade.  It is important to enjoy our moments of glory and relish those feelings when we have worked hard to achieve something. Yet perhaps, I think we often forget to thank those who helped us achieve something big. Maybe it’s a weird subconscious Freudian thing or maybe it is just my science teachers voice drilled in my head, but I think I sometimes over emphasis this whole giving credit thing. Maybe it’s due to a few lingering teenage “I’m not good enough” inferiority feelings, but whatever it is, in certain situations I am not good at giving myself any credit and often project all the credit on to others. This is especially true in an area where I don’t feel like I deserve any credit for what I’ve done – athletic pursuits (see previous entry on athletic inferiority).

After running the Sporting Life 10k in May, I decided to conquer something bigger – a half marathon. Over the summer months and into October I trained for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront (half) Marathon, an amazing, massive road race known for being “flat, festive and fast”. For someone who could barely run a single kilometre without stopping back in January, this seemed like a daunting task. I sucked up my pride, thinking of myself as somewhat of an intruder and signed up for a half marathon clinic. The majority of us had never run beyond 10k, some had never even gone beyond 5, and some were seasoned half-ers. I surprised myself on our first run out, falling somewhere in the middle of the pack. I have always told myself (and others) I am not a runner, just an average person trying to run. “I’m not fast” I would say or “I only started a few months ago”.  I would scoff when others referred to me as a runner. To me, a runner was always someone who trained for marathons, and did well, someone who actually ran at a competitive pace, i.e., people who actually had a shot at qualifying for Boston. My definition of a runner was completely shattered when said runners welcomed me into their little exclusive club. Although, I quickly realized, it wasn’t an exclusive club after all. Runners are not just elite athletes, runners are moms, dads, grandparents, plus-size people, slim people, short people, tall people, sub-3 hour marathon people, never run anything beyond a 5k people, 5 hour marathon people. Heck, if you have legs that run (at any pace) and you put on running shoes, and go for any type of regular run, you are a runner. So why did I have so much trouble calling myself a runner?

I  started running with the club 3-5 days a week and learned about steady runs, tempo runs, speed work, hill repeats and long slow distances. Each time I ran a new distance I thought “okay I just made it  to 12km but how will I ever make it to 21?” or “Okay I just made it 14 but I don’t think I can go any further”. But then the next week rolled around, and I did.

My body started to crave movement, I felt antsy to get out there with my group and pound pavement. I gave up leisurely nights at home to run 10km of hill repeats, for fun. I missed outings because I had to train. I went to bed early on Saturdays to get up to run Sunday mornings. I started to feel unstoppable, my pace quickened and my total kms/week skyrocketed. And then at the beginning of September, it started hurting. All of the slower people in our group stopped showing up and suddenly, I was the slower people. I hurt, I hurt a lot. I suffered from blisters, muscle spasms, shin splits, you name it, all to the unbearable degree. I remember sitting on the subway one night after a short 5k run choking back tears because my calves felt like they were going to pop out of my legs, and even worse, we had only run 5k and I was at the very back of the group. This was a rough period. Not only was I in physical pain but mentally by brain was telling me I couldn’t do it. I had to take a break, I was pushing too hard. I didn’t run for 10 days and I felt like I was going crazy. I finally laced up my sneakers again, and miraculously, I felt no pain, yet my head was not yet back in the game. I didn’t think I could do it. My legs were saying “yes yes” with every step I took but my brain was saying “no, no, take a break, you’re tired”

When I got back on track and started to feel good I thanked my run coaches for pushing me, I thanked my partner for running slowly beside me, I thanked the weather for cooperating, but I never thanked myself for getting over this rough patch.

Then, one Sunday, I ran 21.1km. I just did it, and it felt amazing. Let me say that again, I RAN 21.1km. This, was the biggest hurtle yet. I had kms where I just wanted to stop, and I didn’t. Some were worse than others, some felt amazing, but somehow I ran the distance. I couldn’t believe how far I had come and that it was already time to taper!

Race day arrived before I knew it, on the coldest day of the season yet. I donned my throw away old sweats and headed to the commuter train at 7:00am with my amazing partner and run buddy. Everyone on the train was headed to Scotia and I could feel it in the air…this was going to be a very special day. I nervously waited in my start corral, the minutes ticking by like hours, freezing in my sweats. I saw many familiar faces from the two different clubs I trained with, which eased the anxiety a little. The gun went and the first wave was off. My stomach literally felt like it was doing summersaults as we moved forward to the start, stripping off my sweats and inching closer and closer to the 2:15 pace bunny. And then, like that, we were off!

The first stretch of the race was a comfortable slight incline up University Avenue, a route I had become familiar with as I had run it many times with my run club over the summer. I passed the 2:15 pacer as we turned on to Bloor, and kept going. My pace felt slow but when I looked down at my time I realized I was flying and I had to try really really hard to back off and keep it steady. We hit the 3km water station in what felt like minutes, and before I knew it we reached 5k, and broke my PB for that distance!

The race continued down Bathurst, a nice steady decline, along Fort York to Lakeshore, and just as I felt warm, we reached the 10k mark, posting a new PB for that distance as well. This was one of the best moments of the race for me. Up until this point, I had been a devote run 10 minutes and walk 1 minute kinda girl (and I know, that is really not the best race strategy, but for someone just wanting to finish it’s great!) yet I had only taken about two 25 second walk breaks. I was on track to finish in just over 2 hours. The 2:15 pacer was far behind me and as I ran west along Lakeshore, the elite’s were coming back East, impressing me with their sheer athleticism and mind blowing paces. A few kms later I even saw a guy at the head of the pack JUGGLING. My mind was blown! Down the road, one of my close friends passed me coming back, on track for her 1:35 half (she’s a rockstar and running Boston this year!) and we shared an absolutely joyous and perfect mid-race high five! A few minutes later I saw one of my run coaches. I think at this point, I felt absolute bliss. I was running well, and absolutely loved the environment and atmosphere of it all. I felt like a runner.

We reached the turn around point just west of high park and things started to go downhill. Actually, the course started to go uphill, but my stamina was dwindling and it was dwindling fast. My friend from run club caught up to me, chatted for a short while and then blew past me. This was a bit of blow to my ego as we had run together the entire summer, a perfect pace match. I calmly reminded myself that I was running my own race and it was not a competition against my run club peers. Despite my months of hill training, something on this slight uphill did me in. I started cramping in my calves and each step was getting more and more painful. Then I got a stitch. It was a stitch so bad every single step felt like a thousand needles digging into my side. I wanted to cry but I also didn’t want to give up. I saw two runners down on the side (with some amazing passer-bys helping them) and immediately felt grateful I wasn’t in a similar position.

At about 16k I continued on in agonizing pain, but knew the end was coming soon. Only it wasn’t. My pace had slowed and the 2:15 pacer caught up, and then passed me. Time was going by so slowly and I truthfully almost willed myself to just walk the rest and be proud to have even finished. The road turned into a never-ending tunnel in front of me and my mind started telling me to stop, my heart arguing back, “NO!” And yet I kept going. We hit the dreaded on-ramp incline and I had to take a break. I embarrassingly just could not do it. But then I saw a man running ahead of me with one leg, and directly in front of him, the 2:15 pacer. By some miracle, I had caught up and that was all the motivation I needed. At about 18.5k I spotted my mom and sister. They had made a sign that read “Just keep swimming” which they knew was my personal mantra all throughout University, stealing the line from “Finding Nemo”. I think I even smiled as I ran by, and I thew in some swimming motions for fun.

I checked my pace and was back to the pace I had started at, I was finally getting out of my head and geting back on track. We turned up Bay and I spotted my dad and my stepmom, again with an encouraging sign. I could feel it building inside of me, I’m not sure if “it” was vomit or adrenaline but everything was starting to tingle. I saw the 500m sign, the 400m sign behind it seeming so far away. Zach reached for my hand, saying “you’re so close! you’re so close!” but the only thought in my head was “don’t puke, don’t puke, don’t fall, don’t fall” and I swatted him away, mustering a very un-kind “shut up!” I really don’t think I could feel my legs. We reached 400m, then 300m and all of the sudden there was a huge crowd around and it felt as if everyone was cheering for me. I don’t remember what happened next, but I took off in an absolute sprint to the finish, Zach grabbed my hand as we crossed, triumphantly (on his part, he was basically holding me up) pumping the air. I literally was speechless. I don’t know if it was emotion or cardiovascular failure or some combination of both, but it took me a good 30 seconds to say anything, at which point we high-fived and shared a celebratory hug. All the sudden, it hit me, I just ran a half marathon, A HALF MARATHON. I wasn’t even a runner for crying out loud. Yet, I looked around me, and everyone I saw was a runner. I was a runner! I finally acknowledged that I could call myself a runner!

I don’t know why it took completing the race to fully recognize myself as a runner. I think just needed proof that I could actually do it. But goddamnit, it felt good to finally allow myself to take some of the credit for what I had accomplished. I finished the race in just over 2:15, which was pretty much my pipe-dream when I started training. And yet, I did it. I became a runner this summer. Every time I laced up my shoes, I was a runner. Every time I pushed beyond my limits, I was a runner. Every time I woke up early on the weekend, I was a runner. When I finished that race, I was a runner. Before I even started the race, I was a runner.

The funny thing about running is that it really is not as competitive as you think. It is such a deeply personal sport even when you are competing with others. Running pushes you to places you didn’t think were possible. Running helps you find strength and resilience you didn’t know you had. It forces you to look deep into your being and learn to tell those inner voices telling you to stop to just shut up already. it’s a sport of dedication, discomfort and mental strength. It’s a sport of deep meditation. Often in life we feel inclined to run from challenges – figuratively speaking. However, running teaches us how to persist and just go on. Let me say this, it isn’t fun. It hurts, and it’s still a struggle for me and I have a sneaking suspicion it’s a struggle for some of the best athletes out there to just keep going when you want to give up. Running forces you to deal with something head on. The truth is, you could give up, just like with many things in life. When you are running, especially if you are an average runner not competing for top placement, you could give up. No one is forcing you to run and you’re not being graded on it and it doesn’t affect your career or your relationships, so the consequences of stopping in the midst of a race probably won’t be very big. But it’s a personal challenge. There is a good possibility that no one is there counting on you to finish. The running is challenging, but the persistence you have to find within yourself and for yourself is the real struggle. It takes your mind and your body to a place where you have to deal with the pain and the here and now, just because you chose to. The personal satisfaction from intensely just being present with your emotions, your physical being and the surroundings around you and pushing on despite every voice telling you to stop is something that we can all benefit from experiencing.

There is a certain song that I listened to a lot when I was training this summer. While the song is kind of cheesy, the beat is uplifting, playful, and kept me moving. While the song is about fighting through life, I played it as I crossed the finish line, and one line in particular sums up what I learned about life and running from training for this race:

Never dwell in the dark cause the sun always rises
But gotta make it to the next day
It’s a feeling that you get in your lungs when you run
Like you’re runnin’ outta air and your breath won’t come
And you (uh) wheezin’, gotta keep it movin’
Find that extra (uhn) and push your way through it
I didn’t think I was a runner, but I am. And if you have a pair of shoes, a determined mindset and get out there and move, you too, are a runner. And for that, you deserve all the credit in the world.
18.5k in and trying to smile!

18.5k in and trying to smile!

We did it!

We did it!

P.S. I think I am going to sign up for the Around the Bay Road Race in March…am I crazy!?