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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