Thursday, June 30, 2016

If I had more time...

Blogging has moved a long way down priority list lately. Not because I don’t want to write, or don’t have things to say, but simply because I have too many commitments in the "real" world and no time for it. I doubt anyone's missed my musings, but I certainly miss documenting them. Writing helps me clarify my thoughts in a way little else does.

For instance, if I had more time, I’d write about Brexit and why I've found the news coverage of it so frustrating. It seems most commentators are determined to oversimplify some issues and ignore others so that they can draw conclusions supporting their own political views. I'd rather they presented a fair and balanced picture of the circumstances that led to the majority of UK citizens voting to leave the EU. I'm not at all convinced it was the right decision but I can certainly understand why so many were tempted to vote for change. 

If I had more time, I’d write about climate change and my fear that humankind has much less time to make drastic changes in order to survive than most of us understand. I hope I’m wrong, of course. It breaks my heart to think my beautiful nieces and nephews may face such a grim future but my gut is telling me I’m not wrong. In fact, my gut is telling me to forget about planning for old age because none of us are going to live long enough to see it.

If I had more time, I’d write about why everyone should learn to do mountain pose. Doing it properly helps me tune into my body so I'm more likely to notice what aligned and what isn’t, what’s strong and what’s weak, whether I'm breathing deeply enough, and what my mind's doing. Seriously, everyone should do a mountain pose at least once a day, preferably with their eyes closed.

If I had more time, I’d write more about my family relationships and how, though I sometimes wish they were more open and positive, I’ve reached the age where I’m no longer willing to sacrifice who I am and what I believe to win approval and acceptance. I love my family a lot but life is simply too short.

If I had more time, I’d write about how wasteful and stupid I think it is that we spend so much time and money on things we don’t actually need to live beautiful, meaningful lives. In fact, much of what we consume makes us sick, dissatisfied, overweight and unhappy – things like cosmetics, cheap clothes, disposable everything, bad food, pharmaceuticals, pornography, mainstream “entertainment” and professional sports.

Finally, if I had more time, I’d write about what I think it takes to live a “good life”. To my mind, it’s not about how much I have, or where I travel, or who my friends are. It’s about how authentically and compassionately I deal with others, whether I’m grateful for what I have or believe I’m entitled to it, how often I do the “right” rather than the easy thing, and whether my good intentions are reflected in my actions. Love is a verb. Acting with integrity, though sometimes difficult and uncomfortable, is essential. Respecting others means respecting their good and bad choices and resisting the urge to ridicule. It's usually possible to find beauty even in the darkest times. Walking lightly on the planet means curbing my appetites and working for change.

What would you write about if you had more time?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Post-marathon reflections

Its three weeks since I ran the Calgary Marathon and I'm still processing the experience. There's nothing unusual about that. The weeks following a marathon are always challenging since I'm physically tired and busier than usual catching up on the chores left undone while I trained. This time around, I'm contending with disappointment as well. I really thought I was ready to run the race in something like 4:40 so it was frustrating and discouraging to take more than 5 hours to get to the finish line.

Another thing that's different this time is that I'm not sure I'll ever attempt another marathon.

The weekend before last, I tackled my first longish run post-marathon - a 10k that felt okay all in all. The other runs I did last week (on Wednesday and Friday mornings) felt good too - though my hamstrings and hips were much tighter than usual. This past Saturday is when it finally hit me that I really might not have another marathon in me.

Two or three minutes after I left the house, I sensed my body had no interest in running. I'd had a good long sleep the night before and woke up refreshed (or so I thought) but, once on the road, it was clear my body was fully engaged in repair work and had no energy left for running. Within a kilometre and a half, I knew for sure the run was going to be a bust, so gave up and headed home.

In the 14 years I've been running, I've only given up on a run like that a few times - almost always due to bad weather or injury - so my decision to quit seemed ominous, like it might mean my marathoning days were really behind me.

Fortunately, yesterday's 14k run went much better.  As I left the house, I promised myself I'd listen to my body and cut the run short if need be, and started more slowly than usual to give my body a good chance to wake up. Four kilometres in, I stopped to stretch my hamstrings, adductors and hip flexors throughly before continuing upriver to my turnaround point at the Cookville Bridge. I was able to run in shade for much of the time, which was nice, and arrived back at the house feeling good - as if I could have run another 5k if I'd needed to.

I spent most of yesterday afternoon stretched out on a lounge on the back deck - writing, reading and stalking the bird feeder in an effort to capture pics of these little guys, amongst others. (Other birds at the feeder yesterday included a dove, a blue jay and a downy woodpecker but, unfortunately, they didn't stay long enough for me to get photos.)

In addition, I spent time examining various marathon options and trying to figure out whether I really want to run another marathon and, if so, how much. On the one hand, for a type A person like me, there's nothing more motivating than an failed attempt to achieve a goal, and I still think I could run a 4:30 if I were properly trained and had a good day. On the hand, jumping back into training right away isn't especially appealing, and, given how sore and tired I've felt these past few weeks, it might not be smart either.

By suppertime last night, I realized I needed more information in order to make a final decision. Partly, it will depend on how well my recovery goes over the next few weeks and whether I'm able to resolve the stubborn tightness in my hips and hamstrings. I also want to take a hard look at my summer schedule to figure out whether it's realistic to think I can train properly with everything else on my plate. Finally, I want to spend time thinking about my true motivations for pursuing another marathon finish. Sure, it would be nice to hit 10 before my 55th birthday next year but at what cost? I could almost certainly achieve my fitness goals by training for a half instead of a full marathon so why am I so reluctant to do so? Good question. I'll let you know when/if I come up with an answer.

In the meantime, my current plan is to run four times a week, and increase my long slow runs by 2-3kms per week. That way, if I decide to go for it, I'll have a solid base upon which to build.

What about you? How do you decide when/whether to run a goal race? Do you find it as satisfying to train for shorter distances as for longer ones?  What is it about longer distances that appeals to you? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Until next time, happy writing and running!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Two days in Vancouver

Since I traveled to Calgary "on points", I was able to make one stopover and decided to fly west to Vancouver for a couple of days before returning home. My main purpose was to spend time with family and friends who live there, but I took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing as well.

Cousin Dorothy generously offered to host me at her home while I was in town. The morning after I arrived, we hopped the Skytrain downtown, then took the Seabus to North Vancouver.

It was warm and sunny when we arrived so we had a lovely wander along the waterfront before catching the Seabus back. I was glad I'd brought my big lense and was able to grab a few shots of downtown.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Race Report: Calgary Marathon 2016

Finally home and more or less recovered from my trip west. I had a terrific time participating in the marathon and visiting friends and family in Calgary and Vancouver, but I don't recover from jet lag quickly so it took a couple of days to get my feet under me when I got back. I'm happy to report that, after a couple of nights sleeping in my own bed, this morning's 8k run up the river felt great, so it seems the rest paid off.

Now, to the important stuff - the race!

Race day started well. Keith and I traveled together and his wife Linda generously offered to ferry us to the train at 6:00 a.m. so we had an easy trip to the start line at Stampede Park. The sun was already shining brightly and it was warmer that we'd expected so we immediately checked our extra clothes and went looking for a friend of Keith who was an announcer for the race. As we chatted with her, I noticed Calgary's rockstar mayor, Naheed Nenshi, waiting nearby to make a few remarks. When he saw me raise my phone to take a picture, he suggested I take a selfie with him, which - being a big fan - I was happy to do.

Next up, Keith and I nabbed a fellow runner to take the requisite pre-race shot. 

Note the long-sleeved shirt under my singlet. I wore it because I expected the early part of the day to be cool, which it wasn't, as it turned out. The shirt came off less than 5k into the race. 

Keith's race started a half hour after mine, so I lined up on my own near the back of the pack to be sure I'd start slowly. In my excitement (aka terror), I struggled to run slowly enough at first but settled into a reasonable pace after a km or two and felt good as I hit the 11k mark and the first of the hills. 

That's right. I said hills. It turns out I was mistaken about the nature of the course. Somehow, I missed the memo that said the course included a series of long climbs between 11k and 21k. At the highest point, I was approximately 100 metres (300 feet) above the start line. If I'd done more hill training, I could have completed the climbs easily since none of them was particularly steep but, since I hadn't, I focused on maintaining a moderate pace in hopes I'd have enough in the tank to take advantage of the descent between 24k and 26k and the last 16k along Memorial Drive, a relatively flat road that hugs the northern shoreline of the Bow River. 

In fact, as I began the descent, I felt reasonably good and looked forward to the remainder of the race. I knew a PB was out of reach but I thought I'd finish strong in something like 4:45. 

Unfortunately, the wheels fell off the truck soon after. The descent was much steeper than I expected and, by the time I reached level ground again, my right knee and foot were giving me grief. My knee got very sore and threatened to lock up as it did in Fredericton a few years ago and a pinched nerve between my second and third toes began sending painful shocks up my right foot. I'm not sure what triggered those issues since they hadn't arisen in training but I suppose it was the combination of old shoes, the steep descent, dehydration, and oxygen levels that were lower than I'm used to. In any case, I wasn't able to make up time in the second half - despite having plenty of energy - and was forced to stop several times to adjust my laces and stretch in order to keep going.

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a chip time of just under 5:06 - my slowest marathon time ever - which was disappointing to say the least. Keith snapped this photo as I crossed. Not very flattering but it accurately captures my condition - hurting and gasping for breath. 

On the upside, Keith, my sister Robin and her husband Allan were there to welcome me, which was very much appreciated! And I was thrilled to learn that Keith finished his own race (the 10k) is a terrific time!

Also at the finish line was "Wendy from Winnipeg", who I met at the expo Friday afternoon. She'd helped calm my nerves, which were a bit jangled after Keith toured me around the course earlier in the day, by telling me she'd successfully completed the 50k twice and was certain I was going to enjoy the marathon course. Since Wendy looked to be a middle of the pack runner about my own age, her reassurance was appreciated and I told her I wanted a snapshot of the two of us together if I made it across the finish line. She was happy to oblige.

The rest of the day went by in a happy blur. That afternoon, Keith and Linda joined us for drinks and snacks on the deck at Robin and Allan's house, where Keith and I celebrated our races and we all ate and laughed a good deal.

A little later, my brother Blake, who lives in Halifax but was in Calgary for a conference, arrived for the evening and we had a terrific family supper together.

All in all, I had a great time and would certainly recommend the Calgary Marathon to anyone interested in tackling a challenging course. The race was well-organized and supported, and the city has heaps to offer. On Monday morning, I grabbed the train back downtown to explore some of the riverside trails I'd spotted during the marathon. Though Calgary has many more skyscrapers than it did the last time I was there, someone's had the foresight to protect plenty of green space and lay down miles of bike trails along various waterways. From what I could tell, it looks like a terrific place to bike, walk and run. I look forward to exploring more of the area the next time I'm in Calgary.

In closing, big thank yous to Keith and Linda, who toured me around the course, introduced me to local runners and ensured I got to the start line on time, and to my sister and her family, who took excellent care of me and made me feel so welcome. Also, to Grizom, their "puppy", who, at a sprightly 15 years of age, is the loveliest companion you can imagine.  It was tough to say goodbye to the little fella when it came time to head for the airport.

Finally, to Robin who was my inspiration throughout the race. Whenever things got tough, I thought of her and was reminded to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with it - just as she does. You rock, little sister!

I'll write again soon about the short stop I made in Vancouver on my way home and future race plans. Until then, happy running and writing, friends!