Saturday, February 25, 2017

Five ways to tell if your training is going well

It’s February, the toughest month in most of us Canadian runners - when the weather outside is frightful, you've put on extra weight as a result of eating too many holiday goodies, and you've just ramped up training for spring races.  

When you body feels sluggish, you're still getting into a good training groove, and there's little to show for it yet, motivation can be hard to find – which is why it’s important to recognize and celebrate even small shifts that confirm you're training well.  Here are five of my favourites:

1.  I sleep soundly and wake up refreshed.

When I'm training well, I get just enough exercise to go to bed physically tired but not so much that I risk over-training - telltale symptoms of which are insomnia and a failure to recover between workouts.

2.  Walking down stairs feels good.

Pushing too hard and not taking time to stretch and cross-train often leads to muscle tightness and joint discomfort that makes it painful to descend a set of stairs. Training well means getting enough rest and taking time between and after workouts to do what's needed to keep my joints and muscles limber and pain-free. When I can do a long run one day, and easily walk down stairs the next, I know I've been stretching and resting enough. 

3.  I can put on my socks without sitting down or leaning against a wall.

To run well, it's important to have good balance and flexibility, as well as a strong core. When I can balance on one leg when putting on my sock - without leaning on anything to stay upright, I know my body is sufficiently balanced, strong and flexible. Yoga, stretching and core exercises help keep it that way.

4.  I look forward to being outside.

With my body revved from training, I feel like being outside as much as possible - even in cold, stormy weather! I look forward to participating in winter activities (like skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, and skating) while soaking up some wintry sunshine. Reminding myself that "winter runs make summer bodies" doesn't hurt either. 

5.  I crave healthier food.

My body's smart. When I pay enough attention, it tells me what to eat so I'm properly fueled for training. Fruits and veggies seem more appetizing, junk food and alcohol far less appealing. I crave healthier options that can help make me stronger, lighter and faster.

What about you? How do you know when your training's going well?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


Blogging's felt hard lately, though I can't say why exactly. There's plenty to write about - running, politics, food, travel, photography - but somehow I don't feel motivated - which is why, in an effort to get some creative juices flowing, I decided to revisit a blog prompt from last year

Time and place...
Tuesday evening after the long Heritage Day weekend, I'm wrapped in a warm blanket, sitting by the fire, sipping red wine, with husband reading contently beside me.

Not at the moment, but I cooked lots over the weekend - homemade biscuits for breakfast, pork tenderloin with mustard and wine cream sauce for supper on Saturday, squash and risotta cakes (to accompany husband's yummy BBQ lamb chops) on Sunday, and lemon and thyme "beer can" chicken on Monday. It felt good spending time in the kitchen for a change.

A city crew to haul away the snow piles in front of our driveway after the last week's monster storm. It's a good thing we don't need our second car, since it's still completely inaccessible. These photos were taken after the big storm but before a second one, which dropped another 20 cms. The pile in front of the car is at least two feet higher now.

A strange mixture of fear, sadness, anger, determination and euphoria in response to the spectacle unfolding south of the boarder and people's responses to it.

Working on...
So. Many. Things. For starters, various projects at work, which has been more hectic than usual lately. Also, my training for Cabot Trail Relay, which was interrupted by a nasty flu last week, and knitting a wool hat to replace the one I lost last winter. Oh, and selling our country house, and working on a special birthday present for Husband, and figuring out what I want to be when I grow up... amongst other things... 

Several books at once (as usual). I'm nearly finished Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and just started Laura Bates' Everyday Sexism and Margaret MacMillan's Paris 1919. Last week I finished Donna Morrissey's The Fortunate Brothers, which I highly recommend. Next, I hope to reread Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Orwell's 1984.

Listening to...
A wood fire crackling in the fireplace. Also Nemmie the cat, who's more talkative than she used to be - and somewhat more willing to having her picture taken. I grabbed these shots while she was lazing on our bed last weekend.

Warmth and sunshine. It's hard not to with so many friends posting snapshots from their vacations "down south", but I'm determined to stay strong and save my vacation days for later. If the country house sells quickly enough, we'd like to head back to Europe in the summer or fall.

All things Trumpist - here in Canada as well as in the US. And, yes, I do mean Kevin O'Leary, Kellie Leitch, and their nasty little friends. 

The hope, optimism and determination that's springing from the ashes of the US election. Need proof? Check out this video, and this article. And there are plenty more where they came from. Here's hoping love and compassion triumph in the end. There are millions working hard to make it happen.

Also, the mild weather we've been having. It was so runny and warm on Saturday, we stopped to sunbathe for a bit after snow shoeing at Risser's Beach Provincial Park. It was glorious!

A provincial election call. No one knows when it will come but the government seems anxious to return to the polls asap. Also, a long weekend in Prince Edward Island to celebrate Husband's 65th birthday in March. We haven't been to "the gentle island" in a couple of years so are keen to get back and visit some dear friends there.

My waistline. I'm determined to drop a few more pounds before tackling my fifth Cabot Trail Relay in May and, so far, my efforts seem to be paying off. Reducing my alcohol consumption, eating fewer sweets and more leafy greens, and running regularly appears to be having an impact.

The causes that matter most to me - environmental sustainability, feminism, social and economic justice, human rights - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and this blog. And, no, I don't care if it makes people uncomfortable. As a species, we're headed in the wrong direction and running out of time. Many more of us need to take a stand - fiercely, peacefully, and with openness and compassion. 

Thinking too much about CTR - now just 13.5 weeks away. On Saturday, I managed to run up and down Logan Street hill 5 times but it felt harder than I hoped it would and I took more walk breaks than I intended. I'd like to think it was because I was still recovering from the flu and running conditions weren't ideal, but the reality is I'm a long way from ready to tackle North Mountain. Here's hoping 13 more weeks of training will be enough.

And what about you, dear readers? What and how are you doing...currently?

Monday, January 23, 2017

And now the real work begins...

On the running front, I got serious about training for CTR this week - increasing my distances somewhat, adding regular hills and stretching more consistently in an effort to keep my hip flexors from becoming too tight. By yesterday afternoon, I was feeling the effects. My last run of the week - an easy 5k with husband - felt harder than it should have, which reminded me that I'll need to pace myself. There's a long road hard between here and Cabot Trail Relay, so I'll need to be smart and strategic to avoid burning out before I hit the start line.

Which is a nice metaphor for what lies ahead for all who participated in the Women's March on Saturday. It was wonderful to see so many people take a stand against Trump and - more importantly - for progressive change, but now is when the real work begins.

As I scanned my Facebook news feed this morning, I was reminded that one of the big challenges will be healing wounds within the women's community. There are a myriad of divisions based on race, ethnicity, economic power, social status, gender identify, union membership, etc. that need to be acknowledged and addressed as quickly as possible - both because it's the right thing to do and because it's the only way to move forward together.

And move forward we must. The agenda that Trump, Putin and the like are pursuing in an entirely self-serving one that's bound to make things worse for most people - not to mention the planet. The one thing that inspires some optimism is that so many people seem to understand the danger and want to do something about it. Here's praying that all who participated in a march - or even just cheered from the sidelines - will get involved (if they're not already) in working on one or more issues they care about. March organizers are providing practical advice to those who may not know how to begin through an initiative they're calling 10 Actions in 100 Days.

Here at home, things seem slightly less grim - but I've no doubt there are people who are angry and cynical enough to try playing from Trump's playbook in order to get themselves or their candidates elected. Hopefully, my fellow Canadians - Harper fresh in their minds - won't fall for it, and our concerns about what's happening south of the border will translate into action here at home.

My friend Keith posted a wonderful rant on his blog this weekend, which I highly recommend. He's right. We need to remain hopeful, and get busy doing what we can to make the world a better place.

In the weeks ahead, I'll try to blog regularly about my CTR training for those who are interested. So far, the weather has made training relatively easy this winter (see photo at the top of this post) but, as February approaches, I'm braced for colder temperatures and a lot more snow. I live in Canada, after all.

In hope and solidarity,

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Because it's there...

I've just done something that may turn out to be very, very foolish. I volunteered to run Leg 9 of the Cabot Trail Relay at the end of May. Here's how the organizers describe it:
17.84 km Rating 5 (start time: 1955hrs) Time to put on the reflective vest! This leg makes Smokey look like a piece of cake. North Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park climbs 385 km & reaches the top at 6.2 km then falls back to sea level. The route then levels off to finish at Mountain View Motel & Restaurant on the right at Pleasant Bay. Night will have fallen completely. The restaurant will be open and there will be two portables in the parking lot.
The road in the photo at the top of the post is a portion of the route. You can check out the elevation chart here.

I watched my friend David and 69 other runners complete Leg 9 in 2013 in total awe. How, I wondered, could anyone run up such a steep grade for 6.2 kms? Even more impressive were the downhill portions of the leg - more than 6 kms in length and just as steep. I was so damned proud of David. He did fantastically well and returned the next year to tackle the even tougher Leg 10 to the top of MacKenzie Mountain.

I've already run CTR four times - completing legs 1, 5, 12, and 14 - and my plan is do it just once more in honour of my 55th birthday in March. Given that it's likely to be my last CTR, I figured I might as well make it a good one, and running one of the mountain legs been on my bucket list since my first time out. I can't say why really. To quote George Mallory, "because it's there", I suppose.

That said, I confess to a moment of panic when the email arrived saying I'd been slotted in to run North Mountain. I've not done much hill training the past couple of years, and I'm a long way from being in top condition so it's not going to be easy. However, this isn't the first time I've taken on a big challenge. In the fall of 2013, I completed Cape to Cabot, the "toughest race in eastern North America". Comparing elevation charts for the two races, C2C actually has more ascents overall. And I ran C2C just five weeks after completing a full marathon, which made it more challenging.

Of course, the reality is that the hills on the C2C route are more spread out and I was three and a half years younger. Also, I ran it more slowly than I plan to run North Mountain. On the upside I've got nineteen weeks to train and three more years of racing experience. In addition, I'm determined not to let my teammates down.

I spent some time this week sketching out a training schedule. The goal is to run 4 times per week and include hills in nearly every run. For instance, two nights this week I changed my usual route so I could run up and down a long steep hill I normally avoid. I'll also do plenty of structured hill training as well as regular core workouts and yoga to keep everything in balance. I found some new strengthening exercises I'd like to build into my program as well.

For the rest of this month, my plan is to focus on solidifying my base and enhancing my diet to include more leafy greens and proteins. In early February, hill and speed training can begin in earnest. If the weather isn't cooperative, I'll hit the gym instead. Stay tuned for regular updates once I get underway.

In other news, Husband and I just spent an awesome weekend with two of our darling nieces. The girls live in the country and only get to the city now and again, so we had great fun showing them around and introducing them to the joys of public transit, the Museum of Natural History, the trampoline park (Get Air), the Emera Oval, and beavertails. They seemed to enjoy their time with us, but truthfully we enjoyed it more. They're at such fun and interesting ages, and were so appreciative of all that we did together. 

I offered to put her hair in a ponytail but she preferred to let it go wild
Showing off her gymnastics moves on the trampoline
With Husband on the ferry
First ride on a city bus
Littlest who skating on her own!

The weather here hasn't been too cold and miserable so far this winter. We've had a few brutal days here and there, but there have been lots of mild mornings like this too.

Hope winter's going well, wherever you are. Happy running and writing!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Happy New Year!

Here we are then - a few days into 2017, hoping against hope that this year will be better than last - though, given there's a dumb, climate change-denying, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic narcissist is about to be sworn in as President of the US, it's hard to imagine how it can be. :-(

Determined to think about things other than the sad state of the world, I've spent the better part of the past week contemplating my running goals for 2017. I'm certain I want to participate in the Cabot Trail Relay one last time if my team makes the cut again. We should hear soon. And I think I'd like to run another marathon - my 10th - to mark my 55th birthday - though I confess the idea doesn't hold the appeal it once did. Still, I stopped at the library this week and picked up a couple of books on marathon training, which I hope will inspire me to train more seriously this time around. If I'm going to run another 26.2, I want it to be faster than my last one.

On the nutrition front, Husband and I are kicking off the new year by abstaining from alcohol for the month of January. We did the same in 2015 and found it tough, but it feels easier this time around. I suppose both my body and my mind were ready for the break after a wine-filled holiday season.

Husband suggested (and I agree) that one thing I need to focus on this year is sorting out my work situation. I haven't been terribly happy in my job for awhile so it would be good to change things up somehow. Truthfully, what I'd like to do is retire - from full time work at least - but I'm far too young and another few years of working full time could make a significant difference to our long term financial security.

On a happier topic, Husband and I are still mulling over what we'd like to do to celebrate our 30th "first date" anniversary in February and his 65th birthday. We're thinking about another trip to Europe but haven't settled on where. France and Ireland are possibilities. So too are Spain, Portugal and Greece. And, if we decide to cross the pond, we hope to spend at least a few days visiting friends in the Netherlands.

I haven't selected my word for the year yet either. I've been trying to come up with something positive but - truthfully - the word that feels right is "fierce" - as in strong, powerful, determined, and passionate. I suspect I'm going to have to be fierce to deal with the personal and professional challenges that lie ahead.  

As for my New Year's intentions (not resolutions, for the reasons I explained last year), I'm continuing to work on the ones I first articulated in 2015: read more, eat better, run more, train smarter, banish clutter, and put first things first. To help me stay focused, I've begun keeping a simple bullet journal and am logging my runs again.

Bullet journals are something I learned about only recently and I love the concept - though the beauty and complexity of some I've seen online makes the idea intimidating. Mine is a simple version since I haven't time for anything else and, so far, I'm finding it helpful.

Logging my runs is something I haven't done for awhile. For the first decade of my running career, I kept detailed records of training plans, workouts and race results but I gave up being data-obsessed a few years back and have recorded little since. In the past couple of years, the only time I've kept track of anything is in the 14 to 16 weeks leading up to a race, when typically I rough out a training plan then amend it as and when travel, work, injury or other factors intervene to keep me from sticking to it. At other times, I maintain a straightforward 3-4 day/week maintenance regime. Though I still wear my Garmin Forerunner 305 on most runs, I rarely transfer the data it gathers to my computer. Adopting a scaled back approach has worked okay because I haven't attempted to achieve any ambitious time goals. However, given that I'd like my last marathon to be a reasonably quick one (for me), I'm determined to do a better job of tracking my progress in 2017.

My other major intention for this year is to spend more time with my camera, paints, and quilting tools. However, since we listed our country house for sale today, it's possible life will intervene to prevent me from creating as much as I'd like. The real estate market's been slow in this part of the world so we don't expect to sell the house quickly, but who knows?

In any case, since 2017 is still so shiny and new and full of possibility, I'm determined not to waste time worrying about "what ifs". Provided I work hard and stay focused and positive, I'm bound to make some progress.

To close out this post, here are a few pics from my 10k run this morning. (There's another at the top of this post.) It was a perfect day for running - with light winds, comfortably cool temperatures, and a fresh blanket of snow that made everything look more beautiful. Wherever we end up living next, I hope it's close enough to visit these trails now and again.

Happy New Year of running and writing!