Sunday, December 30, 2012

Running Lessons: Food as fuel for body and soul

Phew! It's been a busy couple of weeks. With Christmas concerts, dinners with family and friends, shopping for and wrapping gifts, finishing two more Christmas stockings (this time for my sister and her husband) and occasional runs, the days have been full. Still, I managed to squeeze in a little reading by the fire and, while a winter storm rages outside today, hope to catch up on blogging, email and a bit of volunteer work.

A few days  ago, I finally finished Scott Jurek's Eat & Run (highly recommended). What an amazing athlete he is! Among his many other accomplishments, he's won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven times, including in 2005 when he went on two weeks later to win the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles).  Like many long distance runners, he says ultra-marathoning is about much more than talent and good training. It's about mental discipline, spiritual development, and a desire to win as well. It's also about fueling with good food. He himself follows a strict vegan diet for environmental and health reasons and he makes some pretty persuasive arguments that diet has been key to his success as a distance runner. It's making me think even harder about my own dietary choices.

Husband and I stuck to a pretty strict vegetarian for a number of years before falling off the wagon when I got into running marathons and decided I needed more meat protein in my diet. Over the past few years, we've tended to eat meat 2-3 times per week but have tried to eat locally raised, organic meats as much as possible.  During the past few months, we've begun transitioning back to a more vegetarian diet and haven't missed meat very much, but it's hard to imagine giving up animal-based protein all together. We both like eggs and cheese too much!  But perhaps we'll try a few of Jurek's vegan recipes and see if they taste as good as he says they do.

The other thing about Jurek's book is that it got me thinking about my running - specifically, what my running goals are for the coming year. I'm struggling a bit with what's "reasonable" given my other commitments. I've also put a few pounds in recent months (a good thing since I was too thin) and haven't been doing any tough training, so it's hard to imagine gearing up for another marathon. On the other hand, it's also hard to imagine not running a couple of long races in 2013. Despite (or maybe because of) our ambitious renovation plans, Husband is encouraging me to get back into more serious training, and there are quite a few races that interest me, including the Bluenose Marathon and Cabot Trail Relay in May, the new ultra in Cape Breton in August, and the Okanagan Marathon and Cape to Cabot 20k in October.

Still, as I sit by the fire writing and sipping eggnog, I find myself wondering if I have what it will take to train for and run even one or two of those races. My body's been mighty cranky lately and I've not been sleeping well so running often feels more difficult than it used to. Maybe it's time to think about slowing down a bit.

On the other hand, I ran a terrific 10k two weeks ago (at less than a 6:00/km pace which is relatively quick for me) and felt pretty darn good running a 12k LSR with my friend David the next day. Then, last Sunday, despite damp cool biting winds and a little too much wine the night before, I completed a solid 14k LSR through Shubie Park and genuinely enjoyed most of it - especially, running through the off-leash area of the park - where dozens of dogs and their human companions celebrated the festive season by frolicking on the shores of the lake, cheerfully barking and calling out Merry Christmas to those they met on the trails.

So maybe I'm just suffering from a case of the running blahs brought on by too much socializing, too much sitting on my butt, and too much rich food. After all, our diet these past two weeks has included lobster, scallops, roast turkey, roast goose, roast lamb, Acadian pork and chicken pie, baked brie and large numbers of cookies and pies. Though all that delicious holiday food has been good for my soul, it's not been especially good for my body. Perhaps, if I draw up a good training plan, get back to doing yoga regularly, clean up my diet and register for race or two, I'll feel energetic enough to train through the next few months of cold, snowy weather.

But not today. At the rate the snow is still falling, it will likely be sometime tomorrow before before I make it out for a long slow 16-17 kms.

Don't get me wrong, I love running on snowy winter days.  So long as I'm wearing my long wool socks to keep my feet and legs toasty, a warm gaiter and mitts, a good hat and one of my favourite Smartwool shirts, I'm happy to run in just about anything. However, until the snow stops and the plows have been through, it would be foolhardy to run along the shoulder of the highway into town.

So, dear readers, what races do you plan to run in 2013? Do you like winter running? What are your tricks for staying warm and dry when temperatures plunge? Would you consider giving up animal-based food if you thought it would improve your running performance?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another award! How nice.

So one of my favourite bloggers, the Blonde, nominated me for the Liebster Blog award a couple of days ago. I'm very honoured to have made it to her favourite blogger list once again and pleased to pay it forward by nominating five of my own favourite bloggers as recipients of the award: Keith, Janet, Jay, Brent and Beth.

According to the Blonde,  Liebster Blog award recipients should share 5 random facts about themselves and answer 5 questions.

5 Random Fact

1. I'm a cat person. (No great surprise there if you've ever read my blog.)

2. I'd rather spend money on art than furniture.

3. The biggest drawer in my dresser is reserved for running gear.

4. I didn't start running until I was 40 but still hope to be running in 40 years' time. (A girl can dream can't she?)

5. I wear black and grey suits to work nearly every day. (I know, boring. But I hate shopping too much to do anything about it.)


1. What is your mantra or motivational quote?  "Despair is a sin" or "I get to run when so many others don't."

2. What is the next big goal on your list?  My next big  non-running goal is to finish my novel. My running goal is to finish the Bluenose International Marathon in a personal best time.

3. What is your favourite place in the world and why?  Risser's Beach because I feel more myself there than any other place on the planet.

4. What's the best way to spend a recovery day?  Good question that I find hard to answer because I nearly always spend recovery days working. If I didn't have to work, I like to think I'd spend them reading, writing and cooking.

5. If you could travel and run a race anywhere, where would it be?  Another tough question. There are lots of places I'd like to visit but, to run a marathon, I'd have to say New York. Or Dublin. Or maybe Edinburgh. Or Athens. sigh. Nope, I can't decide.

Now, please go check out The Blonde Runs along with these five blogs:

Keith's Odyssey to Planet Fitness
Janet's Journal
Herd in the 'Hood
Relentless Forward Motion
Shut Up and Run

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Book Review: Running Ransom Road

A couple of months ago, I received an invitation to review a new book by Caleb Daniloff entitled Running Ransom Road. I meant to read the book and write a review as soon as it arrived in my mailbox but life got in the way so I'm only now getting around to it. My apologies to Mr. Daniloff and his publisher for the delay. The book is terrific and would make a wonderful Christmas gift for any mindful runner in your life.

Its basic premise is relatively straightforward. Daniloff is a recovering alcoholic who decides to confront his past "one marathon at a time". His quest takes him to seven cities or town in the space of a year and a half: Boston, Burlington (Vermont), Moscow, Gill (Massachusetts), New York, Middlebury (Vermont) and Washington DC.

What I liked about book:  Daniloff is a professional writer and journalist and it shows in the quality of his prose. His descriptions of the races, his past life and the city and towns he visits (especially Moscow, New York, and Washington) are entertaining, evocative and often quite moving. I also appreciated his frank, sometimes darkly funny reflections on past events. Most intriguing though were his insights into the ways running has helped him to address the issues that fueled his alcoholism.
...Over the years, I'd let myself be choked by numbers - carbs, pounds, fat grams, miles, minutes, calories, bib numbers. The sub-four had become not only a barrier to break, but a tool with which to judge myself. The digits on my Garmin, the same thing. The self-criticism that drinking first softened, but ultimately exacerbated, still echoed somewhere deep inside me. It was here in DC where I first started judging myself, feeling shame at being me, too young to realize the far-reaching implications. And it was here where I could snuff them out for good.
What I didn't care for about the book:  As a slow runner who takes regular walk breaks during long runs, I was a little put off by Daniloff''s assertion that he couldn't say he'd "run" a marathon if he walked any part of it. In my experience, walk breaks are an effective strategy for going the distance that in no way diminishes the achievement. Indeed, many runners have found their marathon times improved as a result of taking walk breaks. In addition, the book doesn't include much detail regarding the author's training which may be a disappointment to some readers.

In summary, I'd highly recommend this book for any "mindful runner" - by which I mean any runner for whom running represents something more than just exercise.

Incidentally, other great books for the runners on your Christmas list include:

Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. According to Runner's World, the best novel about running ever written. I liked it enough to say that claim may well be true.

Born to Run by Christopher MacDougall. A highly entertaining and informative exploration of the extraordinary human capacity for distance running, it also provides fascinating insights into what motivate the most extreme ultra-runners.

Chi Running by  Danny Dreyer. Highly recommended for those interested in learning techniques that can help them run with greater ease and fewer injuries.

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek.  A fascinating account of the forces that came together to make Scott Jurek one of the world's great ultra-marathoners. As a bonus, the book includes a terrific selection of Scott's favourite vegan recipes.

Happy reading and running, everyone!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Running Lessons: The magic of new shoes, running with a friend and Christmas cheer

A grey misty day on the river

Running felt hard for most of last week. With some encouragement from husband, I managed to do 5k on Tuesday but couldn't get motivated to run again until the weekend. Even then, it took Husband's gentle prodding to get me to lace up my shoes and head out the door Saturday morning.

It was a drizzly, grey day so there wasn't much worth photographing en route - though the weather made for a marvelously solitary and peaceful run. I didn't cross paths with another runner or walker the whole time I was out. And, as so often happens, once I got going I actually enjoyed myself. My new Aasics felt good and my legs had plenty of juice after a few days off.  Because I was breaking in new shoes, I kept the run relatively short - returning home after only 13.5 kms - but that worked out well too since it meant I had the energy to do another 12 kms with my friend David yesterday morning.

The weather was much improved by then with bright sunshine and mild temperatures so we had a fabulous run along the river trail - laughing and talking the whole way. Later in the day, Husband and I took in our first Christmas concert of the season and picked out a Christmas tree and I made yummy veggie crepes for supper. By the time I tumbled into bed last night, I was pleasantly tired and relaxed, and woke up this morning looking forward to my next run.

Which just goes to show that sometimes all it takes to cure the running blahs is a new pair of shoes, a run with a good friend and a little Christmas cheer. Reading a good running book helps too, but more on that tomorrow.

So tell me, friends, how do you cure the running blahs?