Sunday, March 22, 2015

About that half marathon training...

So, it hasn't been a great week of marathon training. If you saw my last post, you'll understand why. Snow. Ice. More snow. More ice. Freezing winds. I'm soooo tired of running in crappy weather.

I know, I know. "Winter runs make summer bodies." And it's true. I am getting back into shape - in the sense that I'm building muscle and shedding fat - but I'm tired of wet shoes, treacherous footing and too tight muscles.

Normally, even when I don't run much during the week, I manage a longer run on the weekend, but that wasn't an option yesterday. With rain in the forecast last night, Husband and I figured we'd better deal with the snow piled on the roof and cut new trenches through the ice dams to prevent water backing up into the house again - not a small operation.

First, there was the small matter of digging out the ladder, buried under 30-40 cms of snow.

Then, Husband shoveled enough snow to let us position the ladder. (Husband's been doing a LOT of shoveling this month. That snow bank to the right is almost entirely his creation.)

While I steadied the ladder, he climbed to the edge of the roof and used a shovel and hatchet to cut trenches through the dams to let water run more freely off the roof.

Oh, and did I mention we both spent an hour or so shoveling snow and ice from the lower roofs? Husband's pile was a good metre high while mine was only half that.

When we finally finished the roof clearing operation, I donned my running gear and headed up the road for a short run. My goal was to work out the kinks caused by all that shoveling but I can't say it worked awfully well.

Needless to say, we both slept long and soundly last night.

This morning, Husband hustled us out the door while it was still relatively warm and sunny in hopes we'd manage 8k, but we gave up after 6k. We were both too tired to do more - especially, given the lousy footing.

We decided to make up for the shorter-than-planned run by heading out to Rissers' Beach for a snowshoe, stopping at Lahave Bakery en route for a low cal brunch (not!). (BTW, that's eggs benny with locally smoked salmon, wonderful local sausage and fried potatoes with homemade catsup. Delish!)

By the time we reached the beach, the wind was howling, more snow was falling and temperatures had plummeted but we still managed to snowshoe along the trail behind the dunes for about a kilometre, before heading down to the beach for the return journey. The waves were spectacular so I stopped to take a few shots with my Nikon. Unfortunately, I had the settings on the camera all wrong so didn't manage to get any photos I really liked. However, I hope these give some sense of what it was like.

All in all, we got heaps of exercise this weekend - though not much that will help us run a half marathon in May. Here's hoping Winter moves on soon so that we can get some serious training done.

Happy running and writing, friends.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Running lessons: Ice can be a good thing

No, I'm not injured. The ice isn't cooling an inflamed knee or ankle. Or cooling a rum and coke. It's on sidewalks and trails, clinging to trees and covering lakes and rivers. In the past couple of months, we've had more ice in Nova Scotia than I can remember us having in years. In Halifax and on the south shore, sidewalks and side streets have been coated with six or eight inches of the stuff for weeks. Repeated bouts of snow followed by freezing rain followed by frigid temperatures have made it virtually impossible to get rid of it.

Here's a photo of particularly nasty patch I ran across last weekend.

As you can imagine, all the ice has made running outside a challenge. Nevertheless, I've consistently run three times a week, risking life and limb in an effort to regain some degree of fitness. I can't say I've always enjoyed it but at least I've seen some results. I've dropped the weight I put on over the holidays and running is feeling a lot more comfortable. In fact, over the past two weeks, I've had a few awesome runs - the kind that feel so good I don't want them to end.

In a weird way, I think all the ice has been a good thing. It's forced me to focus on form and slow down so I don't end up on my ass. It's strengthened core muscles and improved my balance. And it increased my confidence by making me feel like a seriously badass runner.

What it hasn't improved is my pace. It's embarrassingly slow these days - slower than it's been in years. On the upside, the slow pace leaves me feeling invigorated rather exhausted at the end of my runs, and I seem to recover more quickly.

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm intrigued by the notion of "effortless exercise" so plan to use whatever winter weather remains as an excuse to run much more slowly until my body lets me know it's really wants to go faster. Based on yesterday's long run, I think there may be something to it.

Husband and I did the first 7k together. (This is us looking cold and happy at the 5k mark.)

Since he's just getting back into to running, I was particularly careful to start slowly and set a pace I hoped would be comfortable for him. At the 7k mark, he headed  home (he only wanted to run 9k) and I did another loop along the river (for a total of nearly 14k). On the second loop, I noticed my body still felt good though a little twitchy - as if it wanted to go faster - so I slowly began to speed up, finishing at a pace 45-60 seconds per km faster than our starting pace. Despite running the second half so much faster, I arrived back at the house feeling better than I have at the end of a long run in months.

As expected, we weren't able to run today. We got six inches of snow again last night, followed by rain, freezing rain and snow showers today - in short, a helluva mess. On the upside, I got a few nice photos when I ventured out late this afternoon, including these two and the one at the top of this post.

Another nice thing about today's weather was that Husband and I had to time to talk about how we want to celebrate our 25th anniversary in a few months. I jokingly suggested we have a photographer take a picture of us in our wedding clothes so we pulled my dress and his suit out of our closets and tried them on. Amazingly, they still fit - though we may want to move a button on Husband's suit jacket an inch or so. Not bad for a couple of old farts. Too bad the dress is sooooo 1990s.

That's it for now, folks. I'll be on the road early tomorrow on account of the road conditions so need to sleep soon. Until next time, happy running and writing!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reading, Running and 'rithmetic

Centennial Trail last weekend 

My major accomplishment last week was finishing three books. Two were running books my friend Janet lent me. The other was a book recommended by another friend, who said it helped her deal with some difficult work colleagues. For very different reasons, all three were worth the read.

Effortless Exercise by Grant Molyneux starts from two premises - that most people only exercise consistently when they find it enjoyable, and that most runners (and other athletes) push themselves too far too fast, compromising both enjoyment and performance. His solution is to encourage "effortless exercise", which involves listening carefully to your body and increasing intensity as and when you body is ready to do so. Most of what Molyneux says makes intuitive sense and is consistent with the Chi Running techniques I've practiced in recent years. However, I found one suggestion particularly intriguing - that is, to breathe through your nose and let intensity build only to the point where you're forced to breathe through you mouth.

For my long run last weekend, I decided to give the technique a try. I'm not sure I was entirely persuaded. Of course, conditions weren't great. There were still heaps of snow and ice around (see photo above), which made running more challenging than usual and Husband and I had done 8k the day before so my legs weren't entirely fresh. Taking time to work my way into the run gradually felt okay, but my inner Type A wasn't happy with how slowly I had to run to avoid breathing through my mouth and the slow pace left my legs feeling wonky. 

To be fair, it may have been the footing as much as the nose breathing that slowed me down. The treacherous conditions were bound to make my legs feel tight and sore after 11k. Molyneux promises that exercise will feel effortless and my performance levels will improve if I follow his suggestions so I'm motivated to keep trying but I hope my next few runs feel a bit easier.

The other running book on the list, The Non-Runners Marathon Guide for Women, isn't really a running book at all, though it is pretty entertaining. I can imagine recommending it to someone like my sister, who's always been very fit but never trained to run distance. She'd enjoy it for its entertainment value but have the sense to seek better advice on prepping for a marathon. I wouldn't recommend it for a genuine newbie. It seemed to me the author, Dawn Dais, hadn't really listened to her coaches' advice. Her account of running her first (and presumably only) marathon is truly harrowing. I've run 7 marathons and a 50k race and none of them came close to the pain-fest Dais describes. Clearly, she was nowhere near ready to tackle a marathon. 

The third book added to the list this week, Emotional Vampires, is one I'd recommend to anyone seeking strategies for dealing with difficult people. Emotional vampires, Bernstein explains, come in many shapes and sizes (antisocial, histrionic, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid) but, there are practical things you can do to protect yourself so they don't drain you dry. I was particularly intrigued with the chapters on obsessive-compulsive vampires since, for many years, I've suspected I fall into that category myself. Bernstein provided a checklist that confirmed my suspicions, together with a list of strategies for mitigating the worst of my OCD tendencies, which I hope will be helpful. The book also contains some great advice for dealing with bullies and narcissists, who are far too common unfortunately. 

I hasten to add that I've been reading fiction as well as non-fiction over the past few weeks. In fact, I've got three books on the go at the moment. I wonder if other people read the way I do - four or five books at a time. I sometimes find it frustrating because it takes so long to finish anything. On the other hand, I like having a variety of books to choose from depending on my mood. There's another snowstorm in the forecast for this weekend so, with luck, I'll finish one or two.

In light of the forecast, I'm only planning one run this weekend - a 13k long slow run tomorrow morning. Husband and I are still on track to run a half marathon in early May though we haven't registered for a race yet, and I'm still hoping to tackle a marathon in July. However, I have yet to work out a detailed training schedule, and my total weekly mileage has been nothing to brag about so it's time to break out my calendar and do a little arithmetic.

I'm really proud of Husband for taking on the challenge. He's nearly 63 and has had a number of serious health issues in recent years but he seems more determined than ever to "use it or lose it". The galling thing is how easily he runs. Though he hadn't hit the road in ages, he joined me for a 5k training session a month ago and barely broke a sweat, and he's already ready to tackle 9k this weekend. Impressive!

Time to sign off and hit the road. I've got another post half-written, which I'll try to finish over the weekend. Until then, happy running and writing, friends. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Photo Walk: Halifax Central Library on a Snowy Day

Modern architecture that works!
A family friendly place
Loved the reflections in the glass

This is going to be a fantastic place to sit and watch the world go by…if summer gets here.

The reading room at ground level invites you inside
The building feels a bit like a spaceship at times

On the top floor especially, the space is open and bright

Despite the openness, there are plenty of quiet spots to sit and read
With terrific views of the city and harbour
Pavia Expresso Bar has digs on the top floor and at street level

If you're ever in Halifax, be sure to check it out!