Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Running lessons: Take everything into account

Spring flowers at Shubie Park
Last weekend was supposed to feel since my schedule called for two relatively short runs - 16k and 10k - after a couple of tough midweek workouts. Unfortunately, the weekend wasn't quite as restful as I hoped.

Husband's away for a couple of weeks so I decided to avoid the stress and aggravation of getting myself and the cat to the country and stayed in the city. As the weekend approached, I imagined I'd tackle a few chores, do a bit of cooking and rest as much as possible.


Of course, that's not how the weekend unfolded. Admittedly, both Saturday and Sunday began gently enough. It was a warm, sunny weekend so I started both days by sipping coffee on the back deck, then doing some relaxed yoga in the sunshine to deal with the tightness in my lower back and hamstrings.

But that's where the relaxation ended. As soon as coffee and yoga were out of the way, I launched into a long list of chores - gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning - before lacing up my shoes for my runs.

Saturday's run was the nicer of the two. I did 8km - mostly along the Dartmouth Harbourfront Trail. The trail is one of my favourite routes in summer because it offers terrific views of downtown Halifax, George's Island and the harbour. Not surprisingly, there were lots of other people out enjoying the day and heaps of spring flowers!

Shubie Park
On Sunday, I ran to and through Shubie Park as far as Vivien's Way (one of my favourite places), figuring I should opt for a more challenging route since I only planned to do 20k. There's plenty of up and down in Shubie, which I hoped would help break in my new shoes. As it turned out, my shoes broke me instead. By the time I shuffled out it out of the park, my legs and feet weren't at all happy - bad news given the race is less than a month away.

It's particularly frustrating because my new shoes are the same model I've been wearing for several years - Aasics Nimbus - though a size smaller than my last pair, which chaffed uncomfortably. The new shoes don't chaff but, for whatever reason, my legs and feet don't feel good in them. Clearly, wearing them to run 42.2k isn't an option. :-(

Of course, my legs may legs may have been unhappy for other reasons. My hamstrings and lower back got a serious workout while I was gardening. In retrospect, I probably should have left the gardening until after the marathon but, now that warmer weather's here, I couldn't resist and I could tell the garden appreciated my efforts. I swear I could watch the irises growing Sunday morning!

I wore the shoes again last night for an 8k tempo run and concluded that it's mostly the right shoe that's the problem, which has me wondering if the answer is to run in mismatched shoes - a new shoe on my left foot and an old one on my right. I'll maybe try that this weekend and see how it goes. I'll look silly but that's the lesser of two evils in my books.

The high point of the weekend was a trip to Truro to visit my 94 year old Aunt Ruby. It was good seeing her but a little sad as well. She doesn't have much memory left so quickly forgets when people visit. As a result she feels lonely a good deal of the time. Fortunately, the staff at the facility are good to her and she appreciates their kindness so there are plenty of bright spots in her days. It also helps that she still has a wonderfully sly sense of humour. I hope people say that about me when I'm her age!

After such a full weekend, dragging myself out of bed Monday morning was painful, which made me realize I'd frittered away whatever benefits I should have gotten from running less. I can't do anything about that now but it was a good reminder that I need to take everything into account - particularly in the final weeks leading up to the race. I'll be running much less but that doesn't mean I should plan on doing a lot of extra chores and activities. The point of tapering is to rest, rebuild and mentally prepare for the challenge that lies ahead. Given that, I need to spend the last two weeks resting as much as I can between workouts.

I checked the Calgary forecast again this morning and it's still hot as hades. My niece (who grew up there) assures me that Calgary weather is quixotic and could cool off considerably in the coming weeks. I hope she's right about that. I've been overdressing for all my runs in an effort to prepare for temperatures that are warmer than I'm used to but, realistically, I'm in no condition to run a full marathon in summer heat:-(

As I write this, I'm listening to news reports on the horrific fire in Fort McMurray. Needless to say, I'll be keeping the folks there in my thoughts and prayers in the coming days. Bless the firefighters who are risking their lives to get the fire under control, and my sincere sympathies to those who've been affected.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Running lessons: Trust in the training

The thing about marathon training is that there are no guarantees. You can complete all the workouts on your training schedule, eat well, cross-train, plan every detail of your trip to the start line and things can still go wrong. You can catch flu, fall and break your leg, get buried by work projects or have a car accident en route. And that's just the obvious stuff.

Maybe you picked a training plan that was too ambitious given your current level of fitness. Or you picked on that wasn't ambitious enough. Or maybe those shoes you thought were perfect in the store make your feet cramp after 20k. Or maybe you chose the wrong outfit for the weather. Or maybe your luggage didn't arrive and you have to buy new shoes and running clothes at the last minute. Or maybe that old injury you thought was healed flares up again 37k into the race. It's crazy-making thinking of all the things that could go wrong when you've invested so much time and energy in training for a big race.

I thought I'd have my anxiety under control this time around. After all, nothing about marathon training is new to me. This is the 10th time I've done it and I've experienced pretty much everything before - the long slow weekend runs, the tough tempo runs, the gut-churning hill repeats, the careful orchestration of work and social commitments to make time to prepare for and recover from each workout, travel challenges. So, with just five weeks remaining, why do I feel so stressed?

In the first place, because it's been more than two years since I last trained for a marathon and it turns out I'd forgotten how hard it is. Or maybe it just feels harder because I'm that much older. Whatever the reason, I'm finding it tough to stick to my plan. A big part of me wants to forget it and run a half marathon instead - or skip Calgary all together. I'm tired of having sore legs, tired of having to pay such close attention to my diet and sleep schedule, and tired of feeling tired all the time. I just want it over already.

Second, I'm not certain the training's paying off. Sure, I've finished most of my planned workouts, but it doesn't always seem like I'm getting much stronger or faster. Yesterday, I completed a 31k run - my third 30-ish km run in four weeks - and it felt every bit as tough as the previous two. Shouldn't my legs feel comfortable running that distance by now? How in the hell am I going to run 42.2k in five weeks' time when 31k felt so hard yesterday? Even after a good night's sleep, running another 9k this morning felt brutal.

Third, I'm beginning to think the new shoes I bought ago aren't going to work for me. I'm still breaking them in so it's hard to say for sure but it seems like they may be causing my right foot cramp up. I hope I'm wrong. Time is running out to find new ones and get them nicely broken in before the race.

Finally, I'm anxious about running at altitude in temperatures I'm not used to. Calgary is 1000 metres above sea level and it's been unseasonably warm in recent weeks. If that trend continues, I'm in deep trouble. I've been overdressing for my runs in an attemot to acclimatize to running in the heat but it's not the same and I know it.

So, here I am five weeks out and I'm a basket case. Last night, I woke up around 3:00 am, my legs sore and achy from the long run, my mind spinning through all the stuff I need to do before I head west, and all I wanted was to give up on the whole idea and stay home. Never mind the hundreds of hours I've put into training. Never mind disappointing the friends and family I planned to visit. Never mind the cost of cancelling my ticket and forfeiting my race registration. Never mind giving up my goal of completing 10 marathons before my 55th birthday. Fear and doubt overwhelmed me. "Sorry", I thought, "but I'm just too old, tired and scared for this."

As I sit by the fire tonight, thinking back over the last few weeks of training and considering my options, the situation seems less grim. It's true that my long runs still feel hard. They're supposed to. That's the point. To teach my body to run even when it's tired and hurting. The fact is I have gotten stronger over the past few months. I noticed last week that my 8k midweek run is starting to feel relatively easy - certainly much easier than it did three months ago! - and hill repeats feel more satisfying than exhausting - signs that all the hard work is starting to pay off.

For now, I need to relax, and stick to the program. With a few more weeks of intense workouts, my body should be ready to go the distance, and I'll have plenty of time during my taper to sort out logistical details and come up with strategies for dealing with things that can go wrong before and during the race. I just have to trust in the training, and do what I can to arrive at the start line healthy and uninjured.

What about you? How do you know when your training is paying off? How do you manage fear and doubt in the weeks leading up to a goal race? What do you worry about most as race day approaches? How do you prepare mentally for a long race?

Happy running and writing, friends!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Running lessons: Sometimes the best training is rest

I'm having trouble keeping up with everything these days. Between work, social commitments, chores and marathon training, there just aren't enough hours in the day - never mind finding time to write - so tonight's post will be brief.

On the running front, reducing the intensity of my workouts for a week seemed to pay off. After covering a mere 29 kms last weekend (19k on Saturday and 10k on Sunday), I ramped up again this past week and comfortably completed three "quality" workouts - an 8k hill training session Tuesday, a 7.5k tempo workout on Thursday and 30.5k long run yesterday.

I hoped to round out the week with an 8-10k recovery run today but ran out of time and energy. After sleeping in a bit, Husband and I went to church this morning, then cooked and ate a delicious brunch and headed to Risser's Beach for a walk (see photo at the top of this post), before dropping by my sister's place for a quick visit. When we finally arrived back at the house around 5:00, it was so lovely and warm that we opted for a beer on the deck rather than a run.

I'm disappointed I missed today's workout but suspect I needed the extra recovery time in any case. Yesterday's 30.5k felt remarkably good - much better than last weekend's 19k - but I slept for nearly 11 hours last night so it must have taken a toll. By tomorrow, I'll be in better shape to run an easy 7-8k to loosen up in preparation for the more challenging workouts I have on my schedule later in the week.

Looking ahead, I'm planning just two more really long runs before Calgary - a 31k next weekend and a 34k two weeks after that, with a 16-20k run on the weekend in between - hopefully in warmer temperatures. The weather in Calgary has been positively summery lately, which is worrying. If things don't cool off before the end of May, I'm in serious trouble. There's no way I'll be ready to run 42.2k at altitude in temperatures in the 25C range.

Today was the warmest day we've had in awhile but I still had to bundle up in a jacket and wool sweater for our beach walk.

As comparatively cool as the weather was this weekend, it was a big improvement over last Sunday, when we got hit with another blast of winter...

...after a gloriously spring-like day on Saturday, when these little guys dropped by for a visit. I don't recall seeing cedar waxwings on our property before so I was thrilled to spot them and get a few photos before they flew off.

Speaking of photos, I spent more time than usual with my camera last weekend. I had forgotten how much I like my big zoom. The images it captures have much more warmth and depth than those I get with my other lenses - which likely says more about skills as a photographer than the lenses. In any case, I really like how this photo of the last of my birthday flowers turned out. 

In closing, a note to self: Sometimes the "training" I need most (now that I'm a runner of a certain age) is a little more rest to give my body and heart time to catch up with my head. It's a lesson I learned years ago but have trouble remembering sometimes. In any case, it paid off big time this weekend so I'll try to get as much rest as possible in the 6 weeks remaining before race day.

Happy running!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Running lessons: Training well sometimes means running less

The big news last week was that I turned 54. How the heck did that happen? It feels like only yesterday I was 25. On the upside, at least I'm still running regularly - something I could never have imagined when I was 40 years old and 25 pounds overweight. It seems some things really do get better with age. :-)

I was more than usually busy at work and at home last week so there wasn't much time for celebrating. However, Husband made one of my favourite meals - homemade pizza - and gave me a huge bouquet of flowers (so huge, it filled three vases!) and friends and family from all over the world sent messages so it was a nice day, all in all.

Even Her Highness got in on the act - deigning to let me take her picture without being too grumpy about it.

I'd hoped to do a little more celebrating on the weekend but, as it turned out, I was too pooped to do much besides prepare to go running, go running and recover from running. :-)  I'm only half kidding. If fact, I slept in until 10:30 Saturday morning - a sure sign I was tired. By the time I awoke, the sky was filled with dark, threatening clouds so I rescheduled my long run to Sunday and opted to do an 8k with Husband instead.

I used Saturday afternoon and evening to rest up for my long run. By the next morning, the weather had cleared somewhat so I hit the road early and managed to finish most of the run before the rain started again - just ahead of the polar vortex that roared in late that afternoon bringing high winds and snow. Ugh. Needless to say, I was glad I finished before the weather turned truly nasty.

It took a little under 3.5 hours to run 28k so I had plenty of time to think about what more I need to do to prepare for the Calgary Marathon. Since I'm already logging long distances, I feel good about my chances of completing 42.2k, though there's still lots to do.

First, in order to get to the start line healthy and uninjured, I need to avoid viruses and over-training. My resting heart rate's too high at the moment, which likely means I've been pushing too hard and making myself vulnerable to both. Given that, I've altered my training plan for this week so that I can run less and get more rest in anticipation of returning to more intensive training next week.

Second, I need to do more work on strength, flexibility and form. Hill training is helping to improve strength and form, but my legs and hips are still too tight so it's clear I need more time on my yoga mat. I also plan to do this core workout once or twice a week. I completed it once last week and was surprised at how challenging it was. I had no trouble doing the exercises but my shoulders and hamstrings were unexpectedly sore the next day. Fortunately, I felt much better following my first session this week.

Third, I need to do more runs on flatter routes. It may sound strange but I've always found hilly courses easier than flat ones. My personal best marathon time is the 4:36 I clocked in San Francisco! The problem with flat courses is that, since there's no variation in terrain, the muscles in my legs don't get to much chance to change things up. Calgary appears to be the flattest course I've ever run so I want to do what I can to prepare for it.

Finally, I need to work on mental preparation. Anyone who's ever run a marathon can tell you that running 42.2k is as much a mental feat as a physical one.  The confidence that comes from training hard and consistently is a big part of it, but you also need strategies to deal with all the things that can happen on race day - illness, bad weather, lost gear, you name it. Something won't go as planned - guaranteed - so the goal is to be ready to handle whatever that is.

For me, the biggest part of my mental preparation for Calgary will be setting reasonable expectations and focusing on enjoying the event as much as possible. As a friend reminded me yesterday, Calgary is a little over 1000 metres above sea level, and it's very possible I'll find running at altitude harder than I expect, so it will be more important than ever to listen to my body and focus on having fun rather than finishing in a particular time.

In closing, here are a few photos from my long run last Sunday. The trail by the river has been extended 2.5kms past Cookville Bridge now. I hadn't been that far up the river in a couple of years so enjoyed checking it out. The views were lovely and peaceful - even on a grey day.

I finished my run with a loop through Peace Park, one of my all time favourite places. Though the day was so grey, the subdued colours reflecting on the river had their own appeal

Hope everyone has a great week! If you have marathon training tips to share, I'd love to hear them.

Happy running and writing!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Running lessons: Reflecting on the Ghomeshi trial and hoping for change

It was a pretty good week of training. I was too tired after my long run last weekend to tackle hills on Tuesday evening but I did them Wednesday instead. My long slow run on Saturday was a bit longer than planned - 26k - but felt easier than last week's 23k - partly because it was much less windy and I fueled properly before and during, and partly because I had plenty to think about for the three hours it took me to cover the distance.

I postponed yesterday's 8k until today on account of Easter and birthday celebrations for Husband (including a walk on Risser's Beach and several delicious meals), and it too went well, though my legs were still a bit tired from Saturday.

The one run I missed was the 6k tempo run I had planned for Thursday night or Friday. We got to the country too late to run on Thursday and I spent Friday recovering from a poor night's sleep and miserable headache that originated with the release of the decision in Jian Ghomeshi's first trial. The outcome was expected but it was still painful to witness such an obvious miscarriage of justice, and I spent many hours on-line on Friday discussing the case with friends and exchanging theories about what went wrong.

I plan to write a more in-depth post about the case at some point but I need to do more reading and thinking first. Until then, here are links to some of the articles and commentary I found helpful this weekend - either because they articulate the anger and frustration I'm feeling, or because they offer useful assessments of the legal tools we currently have for responding to sexual assault and suggest alternatives that might work better.