You can’t pour from an empty cup

Right now I am supposed to be sitting in my cramped Kia Rio driving from Chicago to Toronto after having run the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Instead, I am sitting at the kitchen island in my Toronto condo after shoving my face with a Thanksgiving feast writing this.

This is now the second year in a row that I haven’t reached my goal of running a full marathon and to say I’m disappointed would be an understatement. Social media is currently agonizing, taunting me and reminding me where I should have been this weekend, but here I am sitting Toronto, having run a total of zero kms this weekend. While last year I didn’t make it to the marathon because I admittedly wasn’t training enough, this year my decision not to run was based off of agonizing hip pain that made even walking feel impossible after any long run. Despite the slow start to my training, I was SO determined to run this year and once the hip problems really set in I tried to ignore it and really really thought I could push through it and find that inner grit and mental strength that every marathoner talks about. I just wanted to get there and finish, even if it meant crossing the line in over 5 hours. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that my hip was so sore I couldn’t sleep after a long run, and then it started happening after shorter runs too, and then it was starting to hurt just from walking down the street. I was stretching, rolling, doing yoga and trying anything to self-rehabilitate.  Eventually, I decided to suck up my pride, look after myself and defer my entry until next year.

While the pain this year was certainly out of my hands, I do keep asking myself if trying harder earlier on would have got me there. While the pain was there all summer long, I also started noticing something else in those early summer days. My head was not in the game. I don’t know if this was from the pain or from something else. I just didn’t want to run. This wasn’t normal exercise procrastination this was a straight up I-hate-running-and-don’t-want-to-run feeling. Training was becoming a chore, and something I absolutely dreaded. If I missed a run, I ended up stressed, angry at myself, and totally let-down. I don’t know if these thoughts were a result of the pain or if the thoughts were making the pain feel worse than it actually was. While all of this was going on work was getting crazy and I still hadn’t settled into my commute and my new routine at my still-new job. A true perfectionist, it took me a long time to admit that my pain and my negative thought loops would keep me from running a decent race, or even finish the race, not the way I wanted to make my debut at this distance. After much reflection and a run where every single step hurt, I decided to defer to next year. I cried and cried and cried when I hit the defer button online. I couldn’t believe I had let myself down again. But then something happened- I felt relief. I suddenly didn’t feel as stressed.

I quickly came to the realization that the very same thing that inspired me to START running was now the cause of one of the main reasons I had to completely stop running for a bit; stress, and the perfectionism in my head I constantly try so hard to quiet. At first, I felt shameful about this. It was hard for me to tell people that I was having hip problems and that I also honestly just didn’t want to run. Being a runner, after all, had become such a large part of my identity and social life. But slowly, after a few weeks of coming home from work and literally doing nothing, I came to terms with it. My body and my mind had been trying to tell me something important, I just needed to stop and listen. I really tried to focus on myself and not on what everyone else would think of me dropping out of the marathon. I normally wouldn’t advocate for this kind of lifestyle but honesty, I was very lazy for a few weeks, I ate what I wanted and drank what I wanted and it felt great. I’m not saying that this is the best way to take care of your mental health, but I think in this situation I just felt so relieved and relaxed and let go of the impossible standards I so often set for myself. Learning that this is okay was a huge lesson for me. Of course, being the active person that I am, my body started telling me it was time to move again. Instead of lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement, I listened to my still sore body and focused on walking more, getting off the subway a stop early, taking breaks in the day to do some stairs, carving time in my schedule to get to a yoga class. Mainly, I didn’t stress about fitting tons of activity it. I did it when I felt like it and if I skipped a day, that was okay too. I tried some new fun recipes, I enjoyed lazy Saturday morning coffee walks with my husband and my dog, I made social plans after work with my non-running friends. I like to think this was just as healing for my mind as it was for my hip. I truly believe that we can’t be well physically if we aren’t taking care of our mental health first.

As I prowled social media this weekend and watched my favourite blogger cross the finish line in Chicago, I started finding what I had been missing again. My hip is feeling a lot better, I’ve achieved a bit more (of that impossible thing called) balance in my life, but most importantly my mind is ready. My motivation is there again, and it’s REALLY there.

Getting back into it last week with my fav running pals

 

Am I going to jump back into running 5 days/week? Absolutely not. But I am going to slowly get back into it, keeping up with my yoga and other strength classes, doing some proper physio with a professional and taking care of my head again. Hopefully I will start to rev-up the training again mid-December in preparation for some Spring races, but if my head isn’t there, I won’t force it. So much about being healthy is about finding what works and keeping it as enjoyable as possible. Of course, I want that to be running. But I want it to be running for me, for my goals, for my mental health, for my well-being, not for my perfectionism, my worries about what others will think or because I think I have to run a marathon to call myself a runner.

Thanks to all who have listened to me agonize over this and still loved me anyway, marathon finisher or not. You know who you are!

Reflections on “Slow” Running

I was a little hesitant to write this post. Not because I am embarrassed by my speed (or lack thereof) but more so because I don’t want anyone out there to feel like they are not a great runner based on their speed.  Also, I hate using the word slow (I really tried hard to find a better word for the title) and even more than that, I hate using the word to describe my own running pace, using it as a justification as to why I can’t run with someone or even worse, using it to dismiss and diminish an accomplishment.  What does slow mean anyway? Slow compared to what? Everyone is slow compared to someone else. But, everyone is also fast compared to someone else. More importantly, the majority of us are fast compared to when we started. I’m going to throw the word away. My speed shouldn’t come with negative connotations and it certainly shouldn’t define who I am as a runner. I’m taking back the negativity that I have put on myself for being “slow” and hope that in doing so, I can inspire others to do the same.

As a “slow” runner, I often have had a hard time even calling myself a runner at all. When people tell me they are impressed with what I do I often downplay it saying “ya, but I’m really slow”. The first time I ran a 5k in under 30mins and the first time I ran 10k in under an hour were significant events that I immediately brushed off once I realized how easy that is for some people.

I just want to clarify something; slow does not equal easy. Slow also does not equal unfit. I promise you, when I am out there running 5:45-6:00 minute kilometres, I am giving it my all. I know that I can say the same for many others, especially those who may not be able to pace alongside me.

I also don’t like the word “jog”. Once, when talking to a non-runner about a race they said to me “how long does it take you to run a half marathon?” and when I said “probably about 2 hours, 15 minutes” they responding by saying “oh, so you don’t really run then, you jog”. It took everything in me to not bluntly say “no you jerk, I run, and I run all out, that is just my pace”. (They admitted they had never run further than 5k so I cut them some slack.)

Last weekend when I finished the Sporting Like 10k race in 56:52, it was a huge personal best. I didn’t hit a single km over a 5:45 pace. Running doesn’t come easy for me. Or at least, there was a time not too long ago when it didn’t. I wasn’t one of those people who could just tie up my shoes and get out there for an after work 5k run. It took me some time to run 5k continuously. There was a time when I didn’t think I could ever run more than 5km and the thought of doubling that distance made my head spin. When I finished my first 10k run I honestly could not believe it, (see below) and I think it took me about 1 hour, 20 minutes. I also wasn’t sure if I could take another step or run 10k ever again. The first time I ran the Sporting Life 10k race a few weeks later, I remember thinking I just wanted to run a 6:45 pace. I was very happy when I finished in 1:06 because at the time, it was faster than I ever thought I could be. It made me feel like anything was possible, even at that speed. However, I couldn’t even imagine doubling THAT distance. But somehow I did, and over the last two years I have run 4 half-marathons. I honestly would have laughed in your face if you told me 3 years ago I would run that far and that I’d be training for a marathon in 2016. Yet, here I am. This is what I’m keeping in mind as I start my training for Chicago

First time I ran 10km!

First time I ran 10km!

I was inspired to write this post after reading this article a few weeks ago. It really spoke to me and made me realize that my negative self-talk about my running was only hurting my potential. It was time to reframe how I felt about my speed.

“From a pure performance perspective, thinking negatively can inhibit you from achieving your potential. While thinking you’re slow may seem harmless, every time you preface a statement with the phrase, “I know I am slow, but …” you condition your mind to believe that you can never be fast.

Countless research studies in sports psychology have proven the power of positive thinking and self-talk. Athletes who go into a workout or race with positive thoughts perform significantly better and more consistently than those who approach workouts and races with a negative attitude.

Reframing your belief in yourself starts before a workout or race. If you’re negative and lack self-confidence throughout your training, no amount of pre-race self-talk and mental preparation is going to undo weeks or months of self-deprecation. Positive thinking starts with how you frame every aspect of your running.”

This post is for all you runners out there who have ever felt left behind, who have ever been afraid to run with a group, or who have ever felt less proud of finishing a race based on your time. Perhaps, this is also a little pep talk to my internal self consciousness about my own speed.

You are not slow. You are running. You are doing something amazing for your body and your mind. You are not less of a runner because you can’t keep up with others. In fact, I’d argue that you are MORE of a runner because it takes all that much more determination to go on once everyone has left you in their dust. You will never be an elite runner, you may never run a Boston qualifier. But it doesn’t matter. Each and every time you get out there on the pavement you are winning. You are pushing yourself to be better, pushing yourself to keep going, tapping into your inner grit when everyone around you makes it look so easy.

When you start running with a friend who isn’t a runner and they quickly become faster than you, don’t be jealous, celebrate their success and the fact that they are teaching themselves that same perseverance that you have. When you run a race and the crowd is all gone by the time you finish, don’t be discouraged, be proud that you kept going for that much longer than everyone else.

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When the amazing runners in your club get shout outs for amazing PBs and running cool races, don’t feel ignored or invisible. Know that this keeps you humble and you don’t need the attention to know you have accomplished something amazing. There is always going to be someone who is faster than they are, much like there will always be those who are faster than you. Remind yourself that there will also always be someone who is not as fast as you. Encourage them, run with them, help them understand that they are still crushing it. When you talk about your running, don’t downplay it. Own it. Shout it to the world. You are a runner, you are a 10k finisher, a half marathon finisher, a marathon finisher and no one can take that away from you.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this sport is that it has become accessible to everyone. You no longer have to be at the top. Besides the elites, we are all in for our own good and to compete against who we were yesterday. We aren’t going to the olympics and we aren’t winning National titles or breaking records. Even the elites face the same fears and challenges that the rest of us do and that makes us all in this together.

My greatest joy is convincing new runners that they too can run a race they once thought was not possible. It’s not about how fast you go, but about learning how to push yourself to do things you thought you weren’t capable of. It’s about the feeling of crossing the finish line, or simply getting up one day and having an amazing run with your crew, running buddy, or just by yourself with your thoughts.

I recently spoke with a pacer about how being a “slow” runner means we actually have to have more endurance- while some can run a half marathon in an hour and a half, we have to pound the pavement and keep going for over two hours. 

But let’s stop calling ourselves slow. We aren’t. We are fast. We are faster than we were last year. We are faster than we were last month. We ran a faster race than we did a few weeks ago. We are faster than when we started. We are fast.

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Get out there and be proud of your 30 minute or even 40 minute 5k, you’re still doing better than everyone else on the couch!

You are a runner, and you’re an amazing runner too.

 

Redemption

“Hello fear, thank you for being here. You’re my indication that I’m doing what I need to do.” -Cheryl Strayed

On Sunday morning at about 8:25am I hurried into a crowd of people as it rained down on us. I was cold, shivering, wet and incredibly tired. I had slept about 4 and half hours the night before. I had acid reflux from the generous glasses of red wine I had the night before. My stomach didn’t feel quite right, my left contact was bugging me and I felt a little twang of pain in my right knee.

Fast forward to 2 hours and 15 minutes later, I’m soaking wet, super hungry, my makeup has run down my face, my right knee is throbbing, I have a terrible stitch in my side and can feel about 3 pulsing blisters on my feet. Yet, I am overjoyed. I just crossed the finish line of my 4th half-marathon, my second in 2 weeks, and I finally beat my PB from almost two years ago, something I’d been chasing ever since.

After my mishap in Montreal last week I kept oscillating between wanting to quit running and wanting to fight back and train harder. A lot of my running friends were running the GoodLife half marathon and I was honestly feeling a little jealous. I wanted to give it another go and be out there  on the course running with them. The course has a pretty big net downhill which appealed to me and I was kicking myself for running Montreal when I should have just signed up for GoodLife, on home turf.

“Why don’t you just do it?” a running friend asked me. No, that wasn’t a good idea, was it? I had just run a half marathon a few days ago. But….I wasn’t sore. In fact, I barely felt like I had been on a long training run (probably because I walked so much). Her voice was in my head all week. I couldn’t possibly do it could I? Was it really stupid if I did?

Something you may or may not know about me is that I am relentlessly determined, or maybe we could say stubbornly relentless (just ask my husband). Once I have an idea in my head, I can’t let it go. And so, I found myself toeing the start line on Sunday morning for the GoodLife half.

I cared a lot about this race, only I also didn’t really care at all. I was so terrified that it was going to be another disaster that I didn’t really tell anyone (me, not tell anyone? about running? unheard of). My fear almost kept me in a zen-like state. I figured I didn’t really have anything to lose though (except my pride, my ego, maybe my knee…) and did it anyway.

Of course I was hoping for that PB, but I honestly just didn’t really think it would happen after last week. After only really committing to running the race on Friday, I tried to approach Sunday with little to no strategy. I didn’t set any reminders to drink water on Saturday. I didn’t monitor what I ate. I drank wine. I went to bed late. I didn’t take any pre-race photos of my outfit the night before, or even really get my clothes ready (of course I threw together an outfit shot the morning of). I didn’t chug a bunch of water on Sunday morning. I didn’t eat what I normally would before a run. Instead, I ate what I wanted. An egg, a piece of toast to go with it and a half a piece of toast with peanut butter. The weather sucked, it was raining, grey, windy and pretty cold.

Haphazard Outfit Shot

Haphazard Outfit Shot

I drove up to the start line with two running friends and my friend Rachel and I decided that we would start together and hopefully stick with each other as long as we could. Before I knew it, we were off. We took it nice and slow, chatted away and in my head I was just treating it like a nice easy long run.

I had broken down this race into 3 separate parts and I had a plan to get through them all. Part 1 took us from the start line to km 6, Yonge and Sheppard to the area where the sporting Life 10k starts. The first 2km or so are gentle with a steep decline, BUT around km 3, that becomes a steep incline. This hill really is the only tough part of the race and I was pretty nervous about it. To me, this was going to be the biggest challenge and I just wanted to run it without stopping. I figured once I was over this hill, the worst would be behind me, and I was right. My plan for part 1 was to take it nice and easy and not stop. I had never run this stretch of Yonge and wanted to conserve my energy. I made it up the hill without walking. It was a doozy though and seemed to never end but oh man it felt good to reach the top. From there, I kept it slow and steady until we reached the Yonge and Blythwood area.

Once we reached the same area where the Sporting Life 10k starts, I knew it was time to coast. I was familiar with this area having run it many times (going both south and north) and was excited to have it fly by. I called this part 2, a nice easy downhill from about km 6 – km 15 or so, ending at King and River, right around my neighbourhood. This was my time to gain some speed and pick it up a bit and I did just that. In what felt like no time we had reached Rosedale Valley Road and km 11. I started to tire a little bit, but nothing extreme. The weather, while not ideal was actually feeling kind of nice at this point. It was cloudy so there was no sun beating down (I hate that when I run), and the rain had turned into a nice mist. Around km 13.5 I started to feel a bit light headed and started eating the banana brownie I had packed. At about km 15, the end of “section 2” where the Bayview Extension meets the King East area, my knee started feeling really off. It wasn’t bad enough to stop, but it was painful. I knew it was going to be an uncomfortable finish but didn’t think I’d be putting myself in any danger by continuing on. I tried to stretch it out as best I could as I ran by doing some weird hopping kicking movements that I can’t even really explain.

At about km 15.5 I saw Hubs smiling face and he jumped on the course with me to pace me to the end. This was part 3 for me, which spanned from King and River to Ontario Place. I knew this meant it was time to push it and finish strong but I tried to approached it nonchalantly, almost as if I were going for a 6k tempo run through my own neighbourhood as I would on any given day. I knew the route well and knew how quickly it would pass. I also knew this was going to be the hardest part for me. I have always struggled around this mark in any race. I saw my dad at km 17 when I was getting pretty tired and doing a sad limp run from my knee pain. His cheering definitely helped. I had to take it back a notch a few times during this part but I didn’t walk. I was so close to the end. Of course, at about km 19.5 I got a terrible stitch but I was so determined to run through it after making it so far. Right around the 20k mark it was almost unbearable, but it faded away to a dull ache after a couple hundred metres. Zach left the course just after this and I knew it was time to give it my all. I always try and sprint the last 500m, but this time I took off with about 700m to go and I don’t even know where I got the energy. I literally left everything out there on the course. This is always my favourite moment of a race and it always feels like the crowd is there roaring for just me. I knew I had achieved that PB and I pumped my fists up in victory as I crossed the line. I think I maybe even yelled “YES!”

I quickly realized that not only was this a PB, but I also had run a half for the very first time with NO walk breaks and even better, if my calculations were correct- I ran a negative split! It felt amazing!

I waited in line for my medal and immediately realized as I cooled down just how awful the weather hard turned again. Very quickly, I began shivering uncontrollably and I noticed that the wind was nearly  blowing over everything in its path. Still, the smile couldn’t be wiped from my face.  I obviously enjoyed a post-race coffee and butter tart to celebrate 🙂

Frozen but overjoyed

Frozen but overjoyed

Once home I was VERY happy to have a hot bath and the run already started to feel like a distant dream. Did that REALLY happen? It was such an amazing day and I continued the celebrations with a pizza and two beers on the couch in our cozy condo.

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Thank you to everyone for believing in me and for the congrats! I’m having a nice week of recovery and only running a few times because I am also running the Sporting Life 10k next week! It’s such a fun race and pretty much a guaranteed PB every year. After that, I’m going to step back a bit from running (maybe do a long run and an easy run every week) until I start my training for the Chicago Marathon in June. I figure this is a good time to really work and focus on my core strength (hello bathing suit season!) and maybe figure out what’s going on with my knee!

Sometimes, you just have to tap into that fear and show it who is boss. 

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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27 Kilometres for 27 Years

With an early January birthday, I often feel that my birthday is the REAL beginning of a new year, because it is literally a new year, at least for me. I find it hard to believe that as of last Thursday, I am now in my 28th year of life. The highlight of my day may have been when my mum FaceTimed me from school and had her entire kindergarten class sing “happy birthday” to me. The most endearing part of this is when they did the “are you 1, are you 2, ” part and the kids stopped counting at 9. I’m not sure if they just didn’t know how to count beyond 9 or if they just couldn’t imagine that their teacher had a “kid” over the age of 9. With a bit of coaxing, they (exhaustingly) made it to 27, and I think I heard one kid say “wow!” haha. I hear ya kid, when I was that age, if someone said “27” I would have thought wow too. Yet here I am, now in my LATE twenties, when most days I still feel about…14.

I will say, as I mentioned around New Years, I’m always amazed at how quickly time seems to pass as I grow up. With each year, it just seems to go faster and 26 FLEW by, and what a year it was. Being in the latter half of my 20s has without a doubt been such an amazing stage of my life thus far. Of course it  has had its challenges, but I am so acutely aware and have enough perspective to know that these challenges are often somewhat juvenile, and in the grand scheme of things, life in my 20s has been truly charmed and dare I say “easy” (I’m being really positive today guys).

As 27 approached, and I thought about how I would like to ring in my own personal new year I knew that I wanted to start this year off by challenging myself more than I had the year before. I got the idea from a camp friend of mine who is always a big advocate for pushing yourself and making yourself better through it all. With a few big goal races in mind this year, I decided to start the year off with a big challenge of running 27km, a single kilometre for each of the 27 years I have spent on this planet. While my camp friend often does her birthday run in MILES (so impressed) I’m not quite there, but 27km would definitely be a challenge for me, and the furthest I had ever run.

So, on the dawn of my 27th birthday, I set out with a running buddy and long time friend of mine (seriously bless her soul for agreeing to this insanity) to run 27km. I decided ahead of time I would dedicate each kilometer to something that had made an impact on me in my 27th year. I figured that this would give me a reason to get through those tough kilometres when I was struggling and didn’t feel like I could go on. I knew that this would be difficult, but I wasn’t quite expecting how difficult it would actually be. The first 17kms were not that bad, however, since I haven’t really been training distances longer than 12km in QUITE some time, the distance definitely caught up with me and the last 10k was STRUGGLE CITY. All in all though, we did it! Even if that meant having to take some pretty hefty half kilometre walk breaks in the final third of our run. In the end, it felt AMAZING.

Without further ado, this is what got me through each and every kilometre and what made my 27th year one for the books:

Kilometer 1: This one went out to my dear husband (it’s sometimes still weird saying that) and the love and support he brings to my life day in and day out. Thank you for being my best friend, biggest fan and my rock. I absolutely love our little home and the life we are creating together and I can’t wait to see what the next year and all of those after it bring with it.

Kilometer 2: Dedicated to our beautiful fairytale wedding, including all of the stress that went into it and the two weeks of sleepless nights leading up to the big day. I wouldn’t have done it any other way and sometimes I still can’t believe it was real and actually happened.

Kilometre 3: For my running buddy, Sarah who somehow agreed to run 27km with me on a day when it was -3. Who does that? Well, she did, and I absolutely could not have done it without her!

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Kilometre 4: I ran this one for the sport of running. For each and every run that I was able to go on this year and for being better for it after each one. For the deep meditation that comes along with the sport and for every race I ran this year. For the people that I have connected with and re-connected with because of running and the community that I have found within it.

Kilometre 5: For landing an amazing job shortly after my 26th birthday. I work in a pretty niche field and there are not many people who have finished my grad program and ended up in a job actually in the field. Through some incredibly hard work (and having the fortune of “right place, right time” on my side) I landed a dream, adult job in my field with zero connections in the organization. THAT was satisfying.

Kilometre 6: Unfortunately, said dream job was a contract filling in for someone who was on leave. This wasn’t a case where my job could be extended unless the other employee did not come back. So, in December I found myself unemployed again. Kilometre 6 went out to dealing with this frustrating reality and learning to be positive when things didn’t play out the way I wanted them to.

Kilometre 7: This one went out to my colleague Michelle who was my life line over the 10 months at said job. Seriously, I couldn’t have done it without her and I am so grateful for the friendship we formed, which helped me get through the bad and stressful days!

Kilometre 8: Went out to Jose Bautista, because Game 5, need I say more.

Kilometre 9: Went out to my family who is there for me no matter what happens. This includes the family that I was born into and the family that I have chosen as my own. It was definitely a year when I had to lean on all of you and ask for a lot of support and I was met with that and then some, every step of the way.

Kilometre 10: This one was dedicated to our new government. HALLELUJAH!

Kilometre 11: This one went out to my very first grown-up, and probably overly-generous salary. For the first time in my life I was able to save, pay all my bills and then have a solid sum left over for spending. This amazing salary allowed me to do so many great things in my 26th year and I recognize it was a real privilege. This kilometre also went out to the loss of said salary and learning to be okay with it. R.I.P. disposable income

Kilometre 12: This one went out to the beautiful Canadian rockies and the west coast. The beauty of our country is truly something that everyone should see in their lifetime. I am lucky enough that I have seen this area twice now, and it was so special to share that beauty with Zach this year.

Kilometre 13: This one went out to coffee. I don’t need to say anything else really, but living downtown has it’s perks, and FINALLY being able to walk to about 4 different incredible coffee shops in under 5 minutes was definitely a highlight of this past year.

Kilometre 14: Craft beer. 26 was a year of discovering and trying so many amazing beers both here and in the states. Enough said.

Kilometre 15: This one was for our condo, we waited a long time to find the perfect place and it is so great to have a place that we call home in (what we think is) the best neighbourhood in the city.

Kilometre 16: This one was for the sun who decided to shine on the second half of our run, making what could have been a very cold day a little more bearable. Thank you for 27 years of sunlight.

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Kilometre 17: This one went out to my new in-laws who are quite possibly the sweetest people in the world. We may come from very different places, see the world a different way and I may be really LOUD while they are pretty quiet, but I believe these differences make us have a stronger relationship and I was so happy to welcome them into my life as parents this year.

Kilometre 18: This one goes out to kleenex because god knows I cried a lot this year (which wasn’t unique to being 26, but is just me)

Kilometre 19: Went out to my mum who let me and Zach live with her well beyond our stay and gave up so much to help us as we got on our feet independently and for all that she sacrificed to help us make our dream wedding come true.

Kilometre 20: This one went out to airplanes. Airplanes are INCREDIBLE people, how do we forget this? This year airplanes brought me some REALLY special people who I hadn’t seen in a long time, and that was awesome.

Kilometre 21: This one went out to my camp friends (some of whom arrived by said airplanes this year) and having the type of people in my life that I can go years without seeing and still have the closest of relationships with, picking up right where we left off!

Kilometre 22: This one went out to the St. Lawrence Market for bringing me so much joy this year. Food=joy.

Kilometre 23: Went out to my legs. Who just could. not. at this point. But, the pain was a reminder that I am alive and I am able bodied and I am runner. This went out to my legs who carried me to and from work every day and led me to win quite a few “workweek hustle” fitbit challenges this year. Despite their flaws, and my negative feelings that I sometimes project on their appearance, they are truly the greatest thing I own.

Kilometre 24: This one went out for a year of a really healthy mind. I’m not sure that there have been many others in my life that have been this healthy. Of course I had my moments, BUT I believe that is just what we call life. Our mental health is so precious, and I am so grateful to have had such a healthy year.

Kilometre 25: Went out to my Aunt Janet who was so sadly taken from us this year, much too early. Aunt Janet was a force to be reckoned with. She was an incredibly successful and determined business woman who often reminded me to work hard if I want to get where I want to get. I still can’t believe she is gone and I am so happy I was able to spend time with her before her passing.

Kilometre 26: Went out to my country and the gratitude I feel every day for living in a place where I feel safe and have the power to make the choices I want surrounding my life and my body. It was a bit of a scary year and I often have to remind myself how lucky I am to have been born by some random chance in a country like Canada. There are so many other people out there who didn’t get that lucky, and it is so important to remain humble about this.

Kilometre 27: This one was for no one else other than ME. For freaking doing it and running further than I had ever run before and living to tell the story. And for my 28th year and everything it is going to bring. For being the best I can be.

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Let it snow!

I have a confession to make. Last Saturday I didn’t get out of my pjs until about 6:00pm. On Sunday, I didn’t get out of them at all (unless you count the 40 minutes that I put leggings on for to go get take out, after which I put my pjs back on). Monday was not much better.

I had planned on going for a long run on Sunday as I start to train to run the Around the Bay 30km road race. However, with no one to run with on Sunday and the choice to instead enjoy that post-holiday bliss on the couch with never-ending “Friends” episodes, I chose this option and didn’t get out there. On Monday, I had tentative plans to run with a friend that didn’t pan out (i.e. I slept in) so I was faced with another long day of pjs and “Friends”. “I’ll go later” I kept saying. I find it so easy to just continue down a path of laziness once I’m on it, am I alone in this?

I really don’t like going for long runs on my own and I especially don’t like them when it’s -14 with the wind chill. I just kept thinking about this all day and it was making me pretty grumpy. WHY HADN’T I GOT UP AND JUST GONE!?  I thought about doing it on the treadmill in our condo gym, but the thought of running in the same place with nothing to look at for over an hour made it even more unappealing. Naturally, the solution seemed that I just shouldn’t run at all.

At about 4:30pm I had been thinking about this (a.k.a. whining about it) for a solid 6 hours. “ENOUGH,” I said (okay, I didn’t actually say that, but my husband did). “If you want to go for a run, then go for a run!” He was right. The more I sat around and thought about it, the later it was going to get. Eventually it would be too late, and then I wouldn’t go at all and would be so grumpy from two full days of no movement. “It’s cold!” I whined. “Then what did you buy all that expensive running gear for?”. He had a point. Besides, I had to get into my training at some point if I really did want to run Around the Bay and it would only take about an hour out of my evening, which included approximately 0 other plans.

At about 5:40 I FINALLY had all my run gear on and was ready to go. I headed out, and quickly realized that it was very windy and then ice and snow started pelting me in the face? oh well, must keep going, it wasn’t that bad. Only it kept getting worse and eventually I was running through the thick of Toronto’s first snow storm. I knew that it was cold and a bit windy out, but you’d think with all the excuses I had come up with, I would have looked at the forecast a little more closely and noticed the storm warnings (and then used this as the ultimate excuse to not go running). The streets were pretty dead, and the snow was starting to pile up. I considered turning around and heading back, but just around this point I found my pace and noticed what peace can be found running through a winter storm (occasional blustering gusts of wind aside).

I told myself there wasn’t really a good reason to turn around now and running through this storm was perhaps my punishment for putting it off for so long. I set out to do this, and I would do it, if just to prove to myself I was stronger than my excuses. Plus, there is something so satisfying about getting out there and doing something that others may find crazy. I think I’m a little masochistic that way at times. Why run 12km in nice conditions when you can do it through a blizzard? Take THAT excuses. I had already put of this run for so long I didn’t want to give up, even if it wasn’t the best of conditions. Somehow, I made it to my turn around point at 6km. The distance back never seems as bad, and it really wasn’t. I was actually surprisingly warm too, proof that all you need is the right gear and a little movement. I passed another runner on my way home and we shared a friendly nod and wave as if we were in on some secret together. There was some comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only crazy one out there, and that’s what I love about this sport. Even on the strangest weather days, you’ll always see a runner out there.

There is always going to be a reason not to get out there and move. Trust me, I am the queen of excuses. Too hot, too cold, too humid, too rainy, too full, too dehydrated, too tired, etc, etc. However, as long as you have the right gear and aren’t putting your safety in jeopardy, you’re never going to regret a run. Even in the blowing wind and snow, it felt GOOD to move after two days of being sedentary. Besides, “crazy conditions” are all relative. Through the bad windy patches I reminded myself of my cousin who goes on day-long snowshoe expeditions in the Northwest Territories. On any given day there, it is -40, before the windchill! Yet, she gets out there and moves, for fun and because it feels good to move and be active. On the opposite end of the spectrum there are athletes who train through 100% humidity and 40 degree weather!

We don’t have control over the weather and this was a nice reminder that if I want to run a race in early April and train through the winter, I will probably be faced with more days like this. I owed it to myself to at least try. Now that I know I can do it, I know I don’t have any good reasons to not follow through on my training and run this race come April 3rd.

It’s all what you make it my friends. Stay tuned for more anecdotes as I attempt to take on a full training schedule throughout the winter months, a first for me.

BRING IT ON 2016!

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”

Beer + Running = unbeatable combination

If you’re like me, you may struggle to be active on the weekends. Don’t get me wrong, I usually do a lot of walking, exploring, visiting friends or just running errands but I really struggle to intentionally workout for the purpose of working out. I find that especially in the summer, I don’t exactly want to schedule a workout on the weekend when I’d much rather be sitting on a patio with a delicious beer.

What if I told you in this wonderful city of ours there is a way you can schedule in some exercise AND drink some great beer? Would you be more inclined to be active on the weekend? I know that the idea certainly sounds great to me!

Over the last few months, RunTOBeer (get it? TO as in T.O. as in Toronto and also as in “we are literally running to beer”) started liking pretty much any post of mine on social media that mentioned running. I honestly didn’t pay much attention until I recently actually clicked on their profile. I definitely was sorry that I hadn’t clicked on it sooner!

The premise of RunTOBeer is to combine the social aspects of running with the great craft beer scene we have in this city. SIGN ME UP. The group is organized by Toronto runners Dan Grant and Tej Sandhu.

On Canada Day, I laced up my sneakers after two weeks off post Nike 15k (I’ve also been battling a terrible cold) and joined the group for a 5k run to the Evergreen Brickworks, the host site of the Brewer’s Backyard. The group was fun, encouraging, and it was great to meet some like-minded people who obviously weren’t there to impress and were just looking for a fun way to be active. We all had the same end goal in mind – delicious beer! I will say, this was not an easy 5k for me but the thought of beer definitely kept me going!

While I was definitely near the end of the pack, there were still plenty of runners behind me, proof that this group is great for runners of all levels. I even noticed they had a call for pacers for this particular event – I missed the message but it’s something I’d definitely love to do in the future as this is an area I’d love to gain some experience in.

While this particular event was scheduled for a Holiday, RunTOBeer normally meets every second Sunday of the month. The group offers 3 different distances to cover all ability levels, 3k, 5k and 10k. I wonder if they have toyed with the idea of doing anything longer at all as I usually try and dedicate Sundays to my long runs. This is extra important for me this year as I tackle training for my first full marathon (kill me). Regardless, I can’t wait to run with the group again, even if it means tacking on a few extra kms beforehand or doing a long run on a Saturday and switching it up with a short steady run on a Sunday. Keeping the runs to every other week is probably best for my nutritional goals as well (why is beer so delicious?)

The best part? The runs start at a reasonable hour for a weekend. For me personally, if I miss an early Saturday or Sunday morning run with some of the other groups I run with, chances are I probably won’t get a run in at all. I am NOT a morning person, and waking up before 8:00am on a weekend for the purpose of running doesn’t always go over so well. (Since I drafted this, I see they have posted their next event which has an 11:30am start time).

Thanks for an awesome event RunTOBeer, it was the perfect way to celebrate Canada day in this beautiful city, I look forward to running with you again soon!

Check out their Facebook Page for all the details you need, I hope to see some of you out there next time!

 

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Oh Canada! (Thanks to Bill from the Night Terrors run crew for this photo)

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!?