Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Running lessons: Five days and counting…

The path behind our house
My first ultra – a 50 k trail run – is just five days away. I won’t lie. I’m terrified – though perhaps I shouldn’t be. After all, the Wascally Wabbit is only 8kms longer than a marathon and I’ve already run six of those. The scary thing is that it isn’t a road race. It’s 50kms on rough logging roads and ATV trails and I honestly have no idea whether my body is strong enough to deal with so much rough terrain. I guess I’m about to find out.

Between now and Saturday, my plan is to try to eat well, drink lots of water, sleep as much as possible and think positive thoughts.

To that end, I spent a good part of my long run on Sunday (a relaxing 15kms along the river between our home in Conquerall Bank and Peace Park) coming up with a list of things I’ve learned (or relearned) in training for this event. 

  1. Be adaptable
I decided in January to attempt my first ultra as part of my 50th birthday celebrations. To prepare, I came up with a training plan that included regular hill training and speed work.  Unfortunately, as I was about to launch into hill and speed training, local transit workers went on strike and I was suddenly faced with the prospect of a much longer commute. Rather than spending hours in a car every day, I revised my plan to incorporate running back and forth to work three days a week. I reasoned running such a hilly route at tempo pace was a more attractive alternative than trying to find the time and energy for hill and speed training after I got home in the evenings. It wasn't an ideal solution, but being adaptable enabled me to follow a reasonably challenging training program through the coldest, darkest part of the winter.

  1. Listen to your body
Like most people addicted to running, I find it hard to listen to my body sometimes. No matter how sick, tired or sore I am, I hate skipping a scheduled run or running a shorter distance than planned.  However, after nearly a decade of running, I’ve learned the importance of giving my body a break when it needs one. It helps that I see a massage therapist and chiropractor regularly. Their treatments bring to my attention the bits of my body that need more stretching, strengthening or both. Ditto for yoga.    

  1. Pay attention to the little things
I’ve been suffering from chronic tightness and pain in my left shoulder and arm which I thought was likely caused by my tendency to slouch when working on my computer. No doubt slouching is a big part of the problem but it finally occurred to me recently that there might be another cause.

A few weeks ago, I saw a chiro who was filling in my regular doc. After treating my arm and shoulder, he watched me walk around the office for a few minutes and observed that I tended to swing my left arm very differently from my right arm. To relieve the tension in my neck and shoulder, he recommended that I try to correct the imbalance in my form.

When I attempted to do so, I found my efforts impeded by the Garmin I was wearing on my left wrist. (A Garmin is a GPS device that records the pace, distance, and location of your runs.) It’s not particularly heavy – just heavy enough to make it necessary for me to swing my arm with a little extra force. As an experiment, I tried wearing it on my right arm and couldn’t believe how awkward it felt. On Sunday, I fastened it at my waist on my fuel belt instead. What a difference!  Clearly, that small weight on my left arm was having a big impact on my form. After the run, my neck and shoulder felt much better than they usually do. From now on, I’ll be paying even more attention to the little things that might be having a big impact on my running – and the rest of my life, for that matter.

  1. Take the long-term perspective
On the days when running feels hard (and it still does some days), I remind myself to take a long-term perspective. After all, there was a time when I weighed 30 pounds more, had chronic back issues, and couldn’t imagine running a kilometre. In the 10 years since I attended my first Running Room Learn to Run clinic, I’ve progressed little by little towards thinking of myself a runner.  I’m no gazelle. I’ll never be a champion. But I’m a runner. I run. It’s a big part of who I am. 

In training – as in life – I have to keep my eye on the long view. If I still want to be running when I’m 95, I need to take good care of my body – training it to be as strong as it can be without causing injury. Sometimes that’s going to mean taking a few days off or dropping out of an event – and that’s okay since my long-term goal is to be running as long as possible.

  1. Forget about looking good
I’ve never been one of those runners who spent a lot of money on new running outfits or stopped metres short of the finish line to apply lipstick. When I get dressed to go running, I’m more interested in function than fashion. So what if my mitts, jacket and running pants don’t match? The important thing is to be comfortable. Everything I wear is going to be grotty by the end of my run in any case. And I’m much more interested in my finish time than what I look like in the pictures. 
    The brook behind our house
  1. Be grateful for the good things
It can be hard to appreciate the good things on days when my body feels tired and beat up, it’s windy and cold, or I’m in a foul mood for whatever reason. But those are the days when it’s most important to remind myself of the things for which I’m grateful – in particular, the fact that I “get” to run.  It isn’t an obligation or a duty. It’s a gift, a blessing, a joy. And the fact that I get to run in such beautiful places makes it more so. If it’s cold and windy, chances are the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and I’m going to have the trails to myself. If I’m in bad mood, running is an opportunity to ponder what’s bothering me and identify possible solutions. If I’m tired and sore, running energizes me and helps work out the kinks so that I feel better sooner.

  1. Focus on the journey
When you’re as type A as I am, it’s pretty easy to get so obsessed with reaching the goal that you forget to enjoy the process of getting there. This time around, the goal - finishing my first ultra - is an ambitious one so I’ve spent much of the past week stressing about the very real possibility that I won’t be strong enough to finish.

However, the truth is I’ve already realized the most important benefits of registering for my first ultra. I’ve trained consistently for months, developed new strength and stamina and pushed myself beyond what I previously thought of as my physical and psychological limits. If I manage to run 50k – awesome! If I don’t – the journey’s been fun and interesting enough that I’ll look forward to taking it again.

In closing, lots could go right or wrong on Saturday, so it will be important keep all these lessons in mind.  Provided I listen to my body, adapt my strategy to suit conditions, appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, and remember how lucky I am to be out there, all will be well - whether I finish my first ultra or not.

A special thank you to Husband for all his support on this journey. I couldn't have done it without him. Thanks too to friends and family who have encouraged and supported me over these past four and a half months of training.

Peace Park Rocks


  1. Excellent post - I need to bookmark it for future reference (as I am only learning some of these lessons now).

    Just a thought on your ultra - which you're going to be just fine - take an extra pair of shoes in case the course is muddier than you thought - no use running in wet soggy shoes for the entire 50K!

    Best of luck, Janice :)

    1. Excellent suggestion about the shoes, Janet. Thanks!

  2. You are going to do great! I'm so excited for you! Remember to just have fun (if you can) and don't put any time pressures on yourself. Can't wait to hear about it on the other side! :)

    1. Thanks! I'll do my best to relax and enjoy but gotta say the tapering is driving me a little crazy!!