Thursday, September 26, 2013

Present Perfect and Post-Marathon Recovery

Port Medway Harbour
Ten days post-marathon and I'm deep in the throes of post-marathon blues, feeling disappointed with my performance and a discouraged about training for the next event. I know from talking with other runners that feeling let down after a marathon isn't unusual. However, it seems my perfectionist tendencies have made my blues a little more intense than normal.

Fortunately, I recently finished reading a helpful book entitled "Present Perfect", which provides some excellent insights and advice for recovering perfectionists like me. The author, Dr. Pavel Somov, argues perfectionists are so often unhappy because they tend to judge things (the past, their own and other people's actions, their current circumstances) based upon what they think those things should be (or should have been) rather than what they actually are (or were). He goes on to point out how illogical that is. We can't change the past. Everyone does the best they can in the circumstances. What is, is. Given that, a healthier approach is to redefine perfection to include anything that can't be improved and to accept "perfectly imperfect" realities as the best they can be.

For example, take my marathon last weekend. I feel disappointed because - once again - I failed to run a sub-4:30. In fact, my finish time of nearly 4:49 was one of my slowest marathon times ever. But the fact is it was never realistic to hope I'd run the race in under 4:30. I'd only trained for 8 or 9 weeks leading up to it (rather than the recommended 12-16), the course was hillier than I expected and I hurt my ankle the evening before running to catch a ferry. Added to which, I decided not to jeopardize my chances of running well in Newfoundland by pushing too hard and injuring myself.

Taking everything into account then, 4:49 was "perfect" result - in as much as it was as fast as I could run all things considered. I didn't achieve my goal of running sub-4:30 but my performance wasn't a total failure. I finished my seventh marathon, for goodness sake. I can choose to be disappointed about my finish time or celebrate my "perfectly imperfect" achievement instead.

Which is not to say that we should never try to do better in future - only that there's no point being angry with ourselves or others when things don't turn out the way we hope. It's easy to say "I/they could have done better" but the truth is I/they couldn't. Given who we are, the knowledge and capacities we have, the things we've experienced and the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we're all doing the best we can.

That's something I'll try to keep in mind as I complete my training for Cape to Cabot. The race is just over 4 weeks away now and, based on how I'm feeling at the moment, it's hard to imagine I'll finish. However, last week I read an article in Runner's World that talks about how to prepare for races scheduled a few weeks apart. The author suggests the best approach is follow a training plan that enables you to recover fully from your first event while maintaining/improving your capacity to tackle the second. She also suggests that you be realistic in your expectations. Running back to back races in a single season is tougher than running a single race so you should expect to run them more slowly than you would just one race.

The article goes on to say that the first week between races should be all about recovery. That was certainly the case for me last week. I only ran three times and spent a lot of time doing other things I enjoy - eating, sleeping, walking, taking pictures and riding my motorcycle. (Here's one of the photos I took during my ride Saturday afternoon.)

Lighthouse Park, Port Medway
I ran my longest run on Sunday - a 13k to Peace Park and back. Since it was a warm sunny day, I donned my Maritime Race Weekend buff and most serious hot weather running gear, determined to feel like a "real" runner.

Unfortunately, dressing the part didn't help much. The first 5 or 6k felt good but then - wham - I hit the wall. My heart rate soared, my legs felt like lead weights and my motivation dropped through the floor. I made it home under my own steam - but only by taking more walk breaks than usual. I suspect the trouble was partly that the weather was muggy and I was dehydrated from too much wine and coffee the day before but it was still pretty discouraging. In any case, after all the R&R I've had the past 10 days, I'm hoping that I'm now ready to get back into more serous training and my long run this coming weekend will feel easier.

After the run, Husband and I headed to Risser's Beach where we visited with my mum and took a few pictures. Here's one of me on the boardwalk that crosses the marsh behind the beach. I love the colours this time of year.

And here's one looking back the other way toward Petite Riviere.

This is my favourite shot from the outing.

En route home, I stopped at Crescent Beach to grab a few photos of this kitesurfer. I love the way his bright red kite "pops" against the bright blue sky.

It's was nice having  more time for photography and other things last weekend but I'm looking forward to getting back into training. I need a couple of good hilly runs under my belt before I toe the start line at C2C. I'll let you know how it goes.

Happy running and writing, friends!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Race Report: Maritime Race Weekend 2013

Sorry for the long silence. The last couple of weeks have been busy and, in any case, there wasn't much to tell. Since I was tapering for last weekend's races, I scaled back my running, tackled chores I'd been ignoring and tried not to go completely crazy.

Last week was nerve-wracking. Not only because I was busy at work, twitchy from too little exercise and anxious about the races but because forecasters were warning of a possible hurricane or tropical storm on Saturday - as if running back to back races wasn't tough enough!

Fortunately, the storm arrived sooner than predicted and mostly missed us. The hours leading up to Friday's 5k were wet and miserable, but the rain let up a few minutes after it started and we had a lovely run along the waterfront in Eastern Passage. My former running partner, Jane, was in town for the weekend so I ran with her and her sister, Nancy, taking it easy for the first 3kms, then kicking it into gear and sprinting to the finish line. Given that I was running a marathon the next day, that sprint maybe wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done but it sure felt great after two weeks of tapering.

Later Friday evening, our good friend, Sarah, arrived from Cape Breton. She was running her first half marathon Saturday morning and bunked with us so we could travel to the start line together. I woke up shortly after 4:00 to the sound of rain pounding down once again but, by the time we arrived in Eastern Passage shortly after 7:00, the only reminders of the storm were heavy fog and waves pounding the shoreline.

Here are a couple of shots from before the race. If I look scared, it's because I was. I was nursing a sore foot I'd gotten from running 5 blocks in high heels Friday afternoon (long story - never mind) and wasn't at all sure I'd be able to finish 42.2k. However, I was determined to start and see how it went.

Once I got moving, things improved considerably so I settled into an easy pace, hoping to pick it up in the second half.

Even with the fog, the course was beautiful and temperatures couldn't have been better but, unfortunately, at around 25k, my right leg and hip began to tighten up, which soon lead to knee pain and occasional lower back spasms. I managed to keep going but was forced to stop 2 or 3 times to stretch and lost quite a bit of time as a result. Then, at around the 34k mark, I was hit by a nasty wave of nausea. I'd never before felt nauseous during a marathon so wasn't sure what to do. I tried slowing my pace and breathing more deeply which seemed to help but the nausea stayed with me to the finish line.

In retrospect, I realize that part of the trouble may have been that the course was hillier than I realized with climbs totaling approximately 779 metres. Here's the elevation chart from my Garmin.  

Not exactly a flat course - which may explain why only 46 people were silly enough to attempt it. :-)  In any case, I finally crossed the finish line with a official time of 4:48:51, a long way off my personal best of 4:36 but relieved and grateful to finish, and happy to see Husband and Sarah who were waiting to greet me. 

I stopped long enough for a massage and one last picture with my pirate friends...

before heading home to clean up and debrief with Sarah. (She did great, by the way.)

Here's an after shot of the two of us with our bling. Notice that I'm sporting three finishers' medals - one for each race and one for having completed the "Tartan Twosome".

A massive shoutout to the race organizers who made Maritime Race Weekend such a fun event despite the weather, and to Sarah, Jane and Nancy for being such great company and for running terrific races of their own. Another big thank you to Husband for (as usual) being so supportive of my running addiction. Getting marathon #7 checked off took some doing and he has been incredibly patient and encouraging throughout my training this year. I'm lucky to have such a stalwart and loving #1 fan.

Of course, my running season isn't quite over yet. In a month, Husband and I will be en route to Newfoundland where I'm registered to run "the toughest race in eastern North Amercia". Between now and then, my goal is to recover thoroughly while retaining as much fitness as possible. I'll be sure to keep you posted on how it goes.

Monday, September 2, 2013

European Adventures: Provence 2013

It's taken me awhile to get around to writing this post - largely because it took so long to review and edit the roughly 900 photos we took during our six glorious days in Provence. We were blessed with fantastic weather and crammed as much food, wine, and sightseeing into our time there as possible. Rather than bore you with a recitation of what we did each day, here's a brief overview of the things we liked best.

Food and wine
Over the years, I'd read a lot about the wonderful food and wine in Provence and we weren't disappointed. From our first lunch at the fabulous La Tartinerie the day we arrived in Avignon, we were delighted by the local fare. My first meal was a hearty, salad with slices of roast duck, crisp green apple, warm new potatoes, salad greens, nuts and cheese - all washed down with a couple of glasses of excellent rosé. When I close my eyes, I can still taste it!


And, I followed it up with three tiny desserts and delicious dark coffee.


Most days, we ate breakfast in the apartment we'd rented in the centre of the old walled city, had a hearty three course lunch at a local restaurant or bistro and, in the evening, snacked on treats from the city's main market (Les Halles) located just a few blocks away.


Beautiful, peaceful spaces
Another thing we enjoyed about France generally, and Provence in particular, was the way folks created beautiful, peaceful spaces wherever possible - little islands of serenity to offset the claustrophobia one might otherwise experience living and working in such close proximity to one another. Micro-gardens, balconies and entryways were often transformed into enticing spots to pause and savour the beauty of the day.

Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction, Villeneuve-les-Avignon

History and culture
Provence has a long and fascinating history and, fortunately, many artifacts and historic sites from its different eras have survived. During our few days there, we visited numerous art galleries, museums and ancient buildings in Avignon, Villeneuve-les-Avignon, and Arles. Here are photos of a few of our favourites.

The Roman Amphitheatre, Arles

The Roman Colosseum, Arles

Le palais des papes (Palace of the Popes), Avignon
Palais des papes

Le pont d'Avignon (Bridge of Avignon)
Pont d'Avignon

A view of the palais des papes from Villeneuve-les-Avignon
Palais des papes - from Villeneuve-les-Avignon

Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction, Villeneuve-les-Avignon
Chartreuse du Val de Bénédiction, Villeneuve-les-Avignon

Charming cityscapes
Avignon was a beautiful city for walking, but we were even more impressed with Arles, which was smaller, quieter and oh-so-picturesque.




The luminous landscape
Finally, of course, there is the incredible landscape. There are good reasons why so many great artists have chosen to spend time in Provence. The light, especially late in the day, is truly remarkable. On this trip, we didn't spend as much time exploring the countryside as I'd have liked but I managed to capture a few images en route back from the wine tour we took our last day.


Provence countryside

Would we return to Provence? In a heartbeat. This brief account barely skims the surface of all we experienced during our time there. (For instance, I haven't said anything about our apartment, which was charming, or about the people, who we found to be physically beautiful, warm and kind.) The long and the short of it is that we loved it and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys food, wine, walking, art and history as much as we do.

For a selection of a few dozen of my favourite photos from Provence, follow this link to a Flickr set called "Provence Favourites". A larger set that will give you a better sense of all that we did and saw is available by following this link.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Running lessons: Tough runs teach me a lot!

From the top of the biggest hill  - the photo doesn't really do it justice
Today's long run was all about form, strategy and pacing. There was a 23k run on my schedule and my friend, Janet, suggested I run up the Conquerall Mills Rd. so I'd have the experience of running some serious hills before Husband and I head for St. John's in October. She warned me the route was a tough one and she was right. Here's the elevation chart created by my garmin:

Over 23.4 kms, I climbed and descended 577 metres. The route wasn't quite as challenging as the one I'll face in Newfoundland - particularly since Cape to Cabot finishes with a nasty climb to the top of Signal Hill - but it was a darn good test of whether I'm likely to survive what's billed as "the toughest race in eastern North America", and I'm happy to report that I did just fine. I won't attempt this route again between now and the marathon on September 13th but will try to run it at least twice more before C2C. 

I was thinking about a few things during my run today. The first was how important it is to remember that, hard as the run was, I have no right to complain about it. After all - I chose to do it. The burning in my lungs and legs as I climbed the hills and the aches I feel as I sit writing this are the direct results of choosing to train for two big races this fall.  

By contrast, a couple of people close to me are undergoing cancer treatments at the moment. They didn't choose the discomforts they're experiencing. They didn't choose to be faced with a decision to be treated or risk losing their lives. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to wake up every morning for months knowing that they have no option but to undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy treatments that are likely to make them feel pretty ill for awhile. Given what they're up against, how can I feel anything but grateful that I'm well and strong enough to train for a couple of tough races? My aches and pains are the price I pay for that privilege.

Another thing I thought about was how often people (including me) avoid taking responsibility for our choices - particularly when things don't turn out the way we expect. Of course, it's often easier to blame other people or factors beyond our control than to accept that we exercised poor judgment or made bad decisions. I get that (boy, do I get that!) but it's rarely helpful to think of oneself as a victim and/or to sling mud at others. In general, the better option is to acknowledge and accept responsibility for those choices, get on with finding ways to improve the situation, make amends as needed and commit to doing better next time. 

Finally, I was thinking about how important it is to have good strategies for coping when times get tough.Throughout my run today, I did my best to focus on keeping a positive attitude, running at a moderate pace, and maintaining good form. 

For the reasons I've already mentioned, keeping a positive attitude wasn't difficult, but I struggled with pace and form. Like many runners, I have a tendency to speed up when climbing a hill. It's natural to want to reach the top as quickly as possible but I've learned that the better strategy when facing a series of tough hills is to moderate my pace so there's something left in the tank when it's time to tackle the next one. 

As for my form, I can't count the number of times I reminded myself to drop my shoulders and let my arms swing naturally - particularly, when a thunderstorm blew up and I became worried about the possibility of lightning. Fortunately, though there was plenty of rain and thunder, the lightning never arrived but my anxiety about it reinforced my natural tendency to hold tension in my shoulders.

Of course, the same is true when we're faced with other kinds of challenges in life. Magic solutions rarely present themselves. Instead, it's a matter of keeping a positive attitude, acting with integrity and doing the best we can in the circumstances. If we work hard and have good coping skills and a supportive network of family, friends and colleague, things usually work out in the end.

Phew. That's a lot of heavy stuff for one day. What can I say? I guess tough runs encourage me to think a little more seriously about thing than easier ones do. In any case, below is a rundown of my training for the past week. 

Total mileage: 38.4 kms
Total # runs: 3 
Longest run: 23.4 kms
Hill training: 8 x hills
Tempo run: 1 x 6kms

Oh, and here's a picture from my run today. I call it "Clandestine". Doesn't it look like they're whispering to one another?

Happy running and writing, friends.