Monday, June 20, 2016

Post-marathon reflections

Its three weeks since I ran the Calgary Marathon and I'm still processing the experience. There's nothing unusual about that. The weeks following a marathon are always challenging since I'm physically tired and busier than usual catching up on the chores left undone while I trained. This time around, I'm contending with disappointment as well. I really thought I was ready to run the race in something like 4:40 so it was frustrating and discouraging to take more than 5 hours to get to the finish line.

Another thing that's different this time is that I'm not sure I'll ever attempt another marathon.

The weekend before last, I tackled my first longish run post-marathon - a 10k that felt okay all in all. The other runs I did last week (on Wednesday and Friday mornings) felt good too - though my hamstrings and hips were much tighter than usual. This past Saturday is when it finally hit me that I really might not have another marathon in me.

Two or three minutes after I left the house, I sensed my body had no interest in running. I'd had a good long sleep the night before and woke up refreshed (or so I thought) but, once on the road, it was clear my body was fully engaged in repair work and had no energy left for running. Within a kilometre and a half, I knew for sure the run was going to be a bust, so gave up and headed home.

In the 14 years I've been running, I've only given up on a run like that a few times - almost always due to bad weather or injury - so my decision to quit seemed ominous, like it might mean my marathoning days were truly behind me.

Fortunately, yesterday's 14k run went much better.  As I left the house, I promised myself I'd listen to my body and cut the run short if need be, and made started more slowly than usual to give my body more chance to wake up. Four kilometres in, I stopped to stretch my hamstrings, adductors and hip flexors throughly before continuing upriver to my turnaround point at the Cookville Bridge. I was able to run in shade for much of the time, which was nice, and arrived back at the house feeling good - as if I could have run another 5k if I'd needed to.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon stretched out on a lounge on the back deck - writing, reading and stalking the bird feeder in an effort to capture pics of these little guys, amongst others. (Other birds at the feeder yesterday included a dove, a blue jay and a downy woodpecker but, unfortunately, they didn't stay long enough for me to get photos.)

In addition, I spent time examining various marathon options and trying to figure out whether I really want to run another marathon and, if so, how much. On the one hand, there's nothing more motivating than an failed attempt to achieve a goal for a type A person like me, and I still think I could run a 4:30 if I were properly trained and had a good day. On the hand, jumping back into training right away isn't especially appealing, and, given how sore and tired I've felt these past few weeks, it might not be smart either.

By suppertime last night, I realized I needed more information in order to make a final decision. Partly, it will depend on how well my recovery goes over the next few weeks and whether I'm able to resolve the stubborn tightness in my hips and hamstrings. I also want to take a hard look at my summer schedule to figure out whether it's realistic to think I can train properly with everything else on my plate. Finally, I want to spend time thinking about my true motivations for pursuing another marathon finish. Sure, it would be nice to hit 10 before my 55th birthday next year but at what cost? I could almost certainly achieve my fitness goals by training for a half instead of a full marathon so why am I so reluctant to do so? Good question. I'll let you know when/if I come up with an answer.

In the meantime, my current plan is to run four times a week, and increase my long slow runs by 2-3kms per week. That way, if I decide to go for it, I'll have a solid base upon which to build.

What about you? How do you decide when/whether to run a goal race? Do you find it as satisfying to train for shorter distances as for longer ones?  What is it about longer distances that appeals to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, happy writing and running!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Two days in Vancouver

Since I traveled to Calgary "on points", I was able to make one stopover and decided to fly west to Vancouver for a couple of days before returning home. My main purpose was to spend time with family and friends who live there, but I took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing as well.

Cousin Dorothy generously offered to host me at her home while I was in town. The morning after I arrived, we hopped the Skytrain downtown, then took the Seabus to North Vancouver.

It was warm and sunny when we arrived so we had a lovely wander along the waterfront before catching the Seabus back. I was glad I'd brought my big lense and was able to grab a few shots of downtown.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Race Report: Calgary Marathon 2016

Finally home and more or less recovered from my trip west. I had a terrific time participating in the marathon and visiting friends and family in Calgary and Vancouver, but I don't recover from jet lag quickly so it took a couple of days to get my feet under me when I got back. I'm happy to report that, after a couple of nights sleeping in my own bed, this morning's 8k run up the river felt great, so it seems the rest paid off.

Now, to the important stuff - the race!

Race day started well. Keith and I traveled together and his wife Linda generously offered to ferry us to the train at 6:00 a.m. so we had an easy trip to the start line at Stampede Park. The sun was already shining brightly and it was warmer that we'd expected so we immediately checked our extra clothes and went looking for a friend of Keith who was an announcer for the race. As we chatted with her, I noticed Calgary's rockstar mayor, Naheed Nenshi, waiting nearby to make a few remarks. When he saw me raise my phone to take a picture, he suggested I take a selfie with him, which - being a big fan - I was happy to do.

Next up, Keith and I nabbed a fellow runner to take the requisite pre-race shot. 

Note the long-sleeved shirt under my singlet. I wore it because I expected the early part of the day to be cool, which it wasn't, as it turned out. The shirt came off less than 5k into the race. 

Keith's race started a half hour after mine, so I lined up on my own near the back of the pack to be sure I'd start slowly. In my excitement (aka terror), I struggled to run slowly enough at first but settled into a reasonable pace after a km or two and felt good as I hit the 11k mark and the first of the hills. 

That's right. I said hills. It turns out I was mistaken about the nature of the course. Somehow, I missed the memo that said the course included a series of long climbs between 11k and 21k. At the highest point, I was approximately 100 metres (300 feet) above the start line. If I'd done more hill training, I could have completed the climbs easily since none of them was particularly steep but, since I hadn't, I focused on maintaining a moderate pace in hopes I'd have enough in the tank to take advantage of the descent between 24k and 26k and the last 16k along Memorial Drive, a relatively flat road that hugs the northern shoreline of the Bow River. 

In fact, as I began the descent, I felt reasonably good and looked forward to the remainder of the race. I knew a PB was out of reach but I thought I'd finish strong in something like 4:45. 

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off the truck soon after. The descent was much steeper than I expected and, by the time I reached level ground again, my right knee and foot were giving me grief. My knee got very sore and threatened to lock up as it did in Fredericton a few years ago and a pinched nerve between my second and third toes began sending painful shocks up my right foot. I'm not sure what triggered those issues since they hadn't arisen in training but I suppose it was the combination of old shoes, the steep descent, dehydration, and oxygen levels that were lower than I'm used to. In any case, I wasn't able to make up time in the second half - despite having plenty of energy - and was forced to stop several times to adjust my laces and stretch in order to keep going.

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a chip time of just under 5:06 - my slowest marathon time ever - which was disappointing to say the least. Keith snapped this photo as I crossed. Not very flattering but it accurately captures my condition - hurting and gasping for breath. 

On the upside, Keith, my sister Robin and her husband Allan were there to welcome me, which was very much appreciated! And I was thrilled to learn that Keith finished his own race (the 10k) is a terrific time!

Also at the finish line was "Wendy from Winnipeg", who I met at the expo Friday afternoon. She'd helped calm my nerves, which were a bit jangled after Keith toured me around the course earlier in the day, by telling me she'd successfully completed the 50k twice and was certain I was going to enjoy the marathon course. Since Wendy looked to be a middle of the pack runner about my own age, her reassurance was appreciated and I told her I wanted a snapshot of the two of us together if I made it across the finish line. She was happy to oblige.

The rest of the day went by in a happy blur. That afternoon, Keith and Linda joined us for drinks and snacks on the deck at Robin and Allan's house, where Keith and I celebrated our races and we all ate and laughed a good deal.

A little later, my brother Blake, who lives in Halifax but was in Calgary for a conference, arrived for the evening and we had a terrific family supper together.

All in all, I had a great time and would certainly recommend the Calgary Marathon to anyone interested in tackling a challenging course. The race was well-organized and supported, and the city has heaps to offer. On Monday morning, I grabbed the train back downtown to explore some of the riverside trails I'd spotted during the marathon. Though Calgary has many more skyscrapers than it did the last time I was there, someone's had the foresight to protect plenty of green space and lay down miles of bike trails along various waterways. From what I could tell, it looks like a terrific place to bike, walk and run. I look forward to exploring more of the area the next time I'm in Calgary.

In closing, big thank yous to Keith and Linda, who toured me around the course, introduced me to local runners and ensured I got to the start line on time, and to my sister and her family, who took excellent care of me and made me feel so welcome. Also, to Grizom, their "puppy", who, at a sprightly 15 years of age, is the loveliest companion you can imagine.  It was tough to say goodbye to the little fella when it came time to head for the airport.

Finally, to Robin who was my inspiration throughout the race. Whenever things got tough, I thought of her and was reminded to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with it - just as she does. You rock, little sister!

I'll write again soon about the short stop I made in Vancouver on my way home and future race plans. Until then, happy running and writing, friends!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I'm off!

There have been no posts for the past while because I've been too busy preparing to take time off work. Just as well since - as is always the case when I'm tapering - I've been a bundle of nerves - which is ridiculous when I stop to think about it. There's nothing left to feel nervous about. I've done all the training and organized myself as much as I can. Everything else is beyond my power to control. Now's the time to relax and enjoy the adventure.

The good news today is the forecast for race day. Yes, I know it could change a dozen times between now and Sunday but I'm determined to savour it for as long as it lasts. 17C and sunny would be perfect!

Headed to the airport shortly so must sign off. I'll be sure to post a quick race report as soon as I'm able.

Happy running, friends!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Running lessons: Manage your expectations

I wish I could report that, with less than two weeks to go until race day, I feel excited, energized and ready to tackle another marathon. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The runs I did last week mostly went okay but my last long run on Saturday (19.5k) felt crappy. I hit the wall around 10k and it was all I could do to drag my sorry ass back to the house.

My immediate reaction to having such a lousy run so close to race day was predictable: "How can I possibly run 42.2k in two weeks if I can't run half that distance today? What was I thinking registering for the Calgary marathon this spring?! I'm never going to finish and it's going to be brutal!"

Luckily, I expected Saturday's run to feel tough after so much running the weekend before so I was ready with an appropriate comeback: "Relax. It feels tough today because you've just finished three months of hard training. You'll be in much better shape to run after two more weeks of tapering. And, whatever the outcome, you'll enjoy the event - not to mention having a vacation and seeing friends and family in Calgary.  So just breathe. It's gonna be fine."

And, mostly, it worked. My legs still felt crummy Saturday afternoon and evening but I popped some "vitamin I", had a good supper and slept like the dead that night. Since I was still tired Sunday and yesterday, I focused on taking it easy and slept soundly again both nights, despite some wild dreams in which I was - you guessed it - running a marathon.

All of which reminds me that expectations can be a huge problem - in marathoning and in life. When I expect too much from myself or others, disappointment  - sometimes even anger and grief - follows. Which isn't to say I shouldn't have goals and expectations - just that they need to be as realistic as possible.

Take, for instance, our cat Nemmie. Though it may not be evident from the photo at the top of this post, Nemmie is not what you'd call affectionate. Sure, she deigns to hang out in the same room with Husband and me a fair bit and is happy to get a good belly rub around 3:00 most mornings, but she'd really prefer that we just left her alone the rest of the time. It doesn't matter how we think she should respond to being showered with care and affection, she is who she is and we might as well accept it. Expecting her to behave differently only leads to stress and unhappiness for all of us. It goes without saying that the same goes for people - only more so.

Heading to Calgary, it's completely realistic to expect I'll finish the marathon in some fashion. On the other hand, given uncertainty about the weather and the effects of elevation on my body, it would be downright foolhardy to expect I'll run it in a personal best time. If everything goes perfectly, that could happen, but chances are slim. And the danger is, if I set unrealistic expectations, I'll start the race too fast, feel miserable throughout, and take longer to finish than I would have otherwise.

The big challenge over the next week and a half will be to manage my expectations. In all likelihood, the tapering gremlins will be doing their best to wreak havoc with my head and body, but I've been here before and I know their game. So long as I stay calm, get plenty of rest, and set reasonable expectations for race day, there's every reason to believe my 8th marathon will go well. I just need to relax, trust the training, and enjoy the ride to the finish line.

Happy running and writing, friends!