The First Half Half-Marathon

first half marathon

I came into this half marathon with little to no expectations. With a pretty hefty race schedule on the horizon, I couldn’t really afford a taper. I signed up based on a deal with myself that it was a train-through tempo kinda deal.

When I hit the 10k sign at 39 something, I was a little surprised… and pretty determined to keep on.

The course heads out to the Stanley Park seawall, the site of so many Vancouver races. Not being from Vancouver, you might think the seawall would be the most enchanting place to run in the whole of this great city.

It’s cool the first 800 times. And then it’s a bit like a sitcom: everyone so alone and isolated but sharing in the experience enough to laugh at the same jokes. You can see people – forever. But they look like a line of ants in various neon hues.

There is one part in particular that hurts my soul: that stretch by third beach. I have no idea why. It’s beautiful. It’s a beach for goodness sake. But it killllllllllls me.

I made a deal with myself that I’d run strong through it… but deals are made to be broken as they say. Still, I didn’t slow much… so I guess that’s a win.

I’d seen John and the girls now on course a few times, which kept me clicking on. I was also glad that John worked my calves and quads out the night before and the morning of. They were tired – but they could have been very sore on top of it.

By the time we hit the gravel trail at Lost Lagoon, my legs started protesting. Every step seemed jarring and awkward. My feet seemed unable to anticipate the ground.

The last few miles were just a matter of keeping my legs moving. I focused on a quick arm swing and light feet. Those last few short steep hills were as brutal as I remembered. I slowed dramatically but pushed on at the crests.

Coming around to the finish line, I was bathed by the warmth of familiar voices screaming for me. Best run club ever. Best friends ever.

To make my new 1:25:12 personal best even better, five other girls crushed the course and Dan broke 90 for his first time.

Why Wait?

Why Wait?

Waiting. One of the marvellous traits of humanity is that we can learn to enjoy it. I know more than anything, training has helped me to appreciate it as the essence of life.

Every time I do a workout that challenges me, I wait. I wait until I can breathe again, I wait until my muscles regain feeling, I wait until I can stop the torture. And I know that the longer I wait, and the harder it is to wait, the better waiting is.

Training is waiting. You are never living in the body you created today. You are living in the body you created yesterday. Long ago. Someone else’s body. You will not get to reap the strength, power or endurance that you built today. No, you will wait.

I used to hate the taper before a big race. Turning off the beast mode after a chunk of hard training makes the sanest of us crazy. But now I love tapers. The wait. The calm before the storm.

Christmas time is all about waiting. We start it really early around my house and get really wound up. Every day is a count down to the big day. And is the day itself so wonderful? Not really. It’s all about the wait.

We get Christmas every year but I’m probably only going to have two babies. I find I need to remind myself that life is all about the wait, all about the journey, all about enjoying the moment. This is a time I will only have once… the only time my baby can hear my heart beat all the time, and when I can feel her every move.

There’s almost always opportunity in your life to move forward, but sometimes its all about sitting still to truly appreciate where you are.

Happy Holidays!

It isn’t always easy but it’s always worth it

It isn't always easy but it's always worth it

I didn’t feel like running today. It was one of those “haul your butt out of the car and get moving at whatever pace your legs will take you kind of days.”

After a week of being sick, I have been chomping at the bit to workout – and with the gorgeous sunny fall weather, outdoors. But for some reason, when time came to put stroller rubber to road, the enthusiasm waned.

It wasn’t the best run, but it’s done and I feel just awesome having finished it.

What do you tell yourself to get through a tough workout and is it always worth it in the end?

Thanks. Really. Thanks.

Thanks. Really. Thanks.

It’s impossible not to notice. Summer is gone. I spent it in a whirlwind of renovations and first trimester pregnancy blah. Hence, my blog writing frequency has been less than stellar.

But I find myself compelled to write with the changing of the seasons and the not-too-distant arrival of 2014 and all the joys it promises.

The first being my daughter turning 3. The second being the arrival of my second child in February.

The third, and they say everything comes in threes, is the return of race season. I live to race. And 2014 looks like it will bring a lot of livin’.

I plan on focusing on my new love – obstacle racing – in the coming year with some supplemental trail and road racing. I am pretty sure I live in the best place on the planet to train: wet, mountainous and beautiful. And that leaves me feeling… thankful.

I wonder how easy breezy it must be for other athletes to decide their race goals. No diapers, no naps, no preschool, no packing the entire family into a plane or car to get to races, no breast feeding mid-run. I wonder how I am going to compete at the level I want to be competing at next year with the constraints I have.

But even my worries leave me feeling thankful. What a predicament to be in to be trying to balance two things that I love so dearly. Honestly, as much as I live to race, if I had to choose between having my family or a career in racing, hands down, my family would win. Thankfully, I don’t have to choose.

Now that’s something to be thankful for.

Stroller at the Sun Run, Race Report, 2013

Stroller at the Sun Run, Race Report, 2013

I know, I know! Another race report. Last one for a while, promise.

I hadn’t planned on running the Sun Run with a stroller. I did it last year and I swore, “Never again.” It took me over an hour to get to the start line with a cranky baby in hand and a full bladder in tow. The rest of the run was spent swerving, dodging and spending every ounce of energy with the focus of a Jedi Warrior to not run anyone over.

Ama was a little bummed that she couldn’t run the Boston Marathon with me and as my constant training companion, she deserves to enjoy the events just as much as I do.

Saturday was my first day back post Boston. 5k easy. OK, not easy. The quad in my good leg (of all legs) seized up on me 3k in and I had to hobble/walk back. Luckily, my wonderful friend Yun was there to push the stroller and I back home.

I showed up race day planning on walking it, stroller and all.

In a show of support for Boston, all those participating in the Sun Run who were at the marathon were invited on stage to join in a moment of silence to a beautifully played trumpet solo. And after it, we were led, along with the big ticket runners, to the starting line.

They saw the stroller and hmmm’d. I don’t know what John said but something about me being courteous and the world record holder for female stroller push… they let me in and told me to stay out of the way. I of course understood why they wouldn’t want me in front, nothing would grate at my soul more than getting in another runner’s route to a PB.

Luckily I am used to running in tight fast moving packs with a stroller and instead of running for speed (which was not happening anyway), I ran to stay out of the way and send love to the fasties blasting past me like I was the hobbled stroller mama I was.

Ama and I had a great time. I was so happy to have her along to enjoy the moment.

Never has there been a race quite like this one was for me. Seeing the sea of blue and yellow ahead, being out there, running again. Running again with others like me. Those that had felt the pain in Boston. Those whose hearts still ached.

The spectators were louder than ever before, the air fresher, the people happier.

I felt that we were all out there running for the sheer love of it. I know Ama and I were.

Several people in our club got PBs that day. One even lopped 3 minutes off of her time despite being almost 10 years older.

Ama and I ran 46 minutes. No where near my fastest 10k time.

Like most of my best races, it wasn’t the time that mattered. That makes two of the best races in my life in one week. Both injured, uncomfortable and slow… but I was loving every minute.

I am reminded of some wise words I heard recently, “Life is too ironic. It takes sadness to know what happiness is, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.”

Not that I wouldn’t appreciate running injury free, but I’ll appreciate a run how ever I can get it.

Boston terrorist attack

I will write an official race report. But right now nothing I went through seems to matter.
 
After clearing the finish area, we decided to leave downtown on the train to have lunch near our friend Tim’s place. We crammed on a train and set off. A nice man gave Ama and I his seat. Ama was entertaining the whole train as usual. At the next stop an announcement came on telling us to leave the terminal due immediately due to an emergency. Not one person on the crammed train budged. We figured for whatever reason that since we were on the train, the announcement didn’t apply. He meant us and reiterated that. Soon the stairwell up was flooded. Somehow tired marathon legs found the strength to push up a flight of stairs carrying Ama. At this point, I had a feeling there was a bomb, and I continued down the street rather than figuring out where to go right outside. People were rushing around in all directions, some panicked, some confused. Then sirens everywhere, and the police and military sprang into action. It was absolute confusion and fear. We had no idea how many bombs, where or how big. Everyone was being move out but the trains were closed. We lucked out on a cab – but when it came we had to fight for it and thankfully Tim’s wonderful girlfriend Carol Ann, held tight. I held Ama close and buckled her in since we had no car seat. 
 
Car seat or not, that car ride out of there felt much safer. It was also the first time we figured out what was going on. “I don’t know just get out of here” was all we heard until then. Something about it “being in the bleachers.”
 
As we rode away, a seemingly endless trail of ambulances and police cars stormed into town. Runners were getting pulled off course. One to the horrific news her friend was one of the injured.
 
It’s hard not to think about what might have been if the train was a second slower or I would have walked and Ama and John would have wandered over to see me finish. But it does no good. We lost an eight year old girl today along with another 2 lives. And over a hundred were injured. No one should ever have to live or die anything like this. 
 
The hardest part might be that this attack was targeted at the spectators… and due to it’s low placement children. People don’t come to run Boston for the course. They come for the fabulous people that line the course for 26.2 miles to cheer for each runner like they were the only one out there. They come to offer things to complete strangers for nothing in return. The people that line these streets are the salt of this earth and it pains me so deeply that anyone would harm them.
 
Tension was still running high on the airplane. It’s the only time I’ve heard an announcement that passengers are not allow into the cockpit and that the door is bulletproof.
 
You should always count yourself lucky when your family is safe, happy and healthy. Today is a weird mix of immense pain for the wounded, dead and their families -and thankfulness that we made it out.

Fitness lessons from your toddler

Fitness lessons from your toddler

My two year old is an exceptional athlete. She’s not making any Olympic teams, but she an exceptional athlete in the way a Crossfitter is. All the way around. Yesterday my little peanut completed the 48 flights of stairs in the Climb for Clean Air. I didn’t think she would make it, but she did. Her 20 minute time might not have been the fastest of the day, but she, along with hundreds of other people, made it. It scares me that someone (barring the severely sick or disabled) wouldn’t. Yeah it might be hard, but it’s a serious red flag if it’s undoable for you. The latest ideas in fitness are all about looking back to look forward. So I am making a list of the things that I think all people can learn from their children.

1. Walk. Run. Jump. Ama, at 25 months, routinely jumps out of the stroller and walks for 2-3 hours. Just cause. And when she feels like running she runs (and makes me run too). She makes a game out of it and just enjoys moving her body. I wish we’d all do that. Movement is life… and life is to be enjoyed.

2. Squat to your heels people. It’s unnatural not to be able to sit in a deep squat. Ama squats down at every opportunity… and she had taught me that I should too.

3. Mobility before stability before strength. That’s how Ama did it. If you lack mobility, you cannot dynamically stabilize, and you’ll never be able to produce real world strength.

4. You are the sum of those around you. Ama is always copying my husband and me. For better or for worse. Darn did I really just say that to the dog again? People always ask me how I encourage such a young person to be so active. I don’t. It would be way more convenient to me if I could just stuff her in her stroller all day and go about my business. But I don’t sit in a stroller all day, so neither does Ama. It’s made me realize how much we all emulate our immediate circle. So choose wisely.

Women’s running in Canada

Women's Running in Canada

Krista Duchene is in many ways your typical busy mom of 3. Typical, in that she does all the stuff someone with a 6, 4 and 1 year-old typically does. Untypical, because she is also at the top of the Canadian marathon scene. While most of us struggle to get dinner on the table, keep the kids happy, and get out for a 5k, Krista manages a grueling training regime on top of it all. She also works as a dietician.

Canada has a poor record for supporting marathon runners at Krista’s level. The IAAF marathon standard is 2:37, but Canada’s standard is a much tougher 2:29:55. Duchene ran 2:32:06 in Rotterdam and appealed to Athletics Canada for a two minute grace period. They denied her. Of course, going to the Olympics doesn’t provide athletes with direct financial incentives, but it does open sponsorship doors and gives athletes experience on the world stage. In most events there is what is called a “rising star” exemption for athletes that come near the standard. Since marathon runners often come from shorter distance events; however, it does not apply. No woman in Canada has ever made our Olympic standard. Ever. It seems to me that’s a good reason to look at how we’re doing things.

The men’s Olympic marathon is only recently getting better. This year we filled all three spots on the team. Dylan Wykes was selected after running the same marathon that Duchene ran in, 7 days before the end of the qualifying period. We have not sent a man to the Olympic marathon for 12 years. It’s no wonder that on now do we send 3 strong runners in, on the cusp of breaking Jerome Draydon’s long standing Canadian record.

Compare the life of a working mother of 3 grinding out hard training on her own with that of the great Paula Radcliffe who has a nanny and a stay at home husband. And it’s still hard. It’s no wonder we can’t make our own seemingly unachievable standard. The difference in earnings for an average NHL player and an average pro marathoner is atrocious. For them, that doesn’t bode well to having a normal life, or a family. For us, that doesn’t bode well to having marathon runners go to the Olympics… particularly females.

Some finger that lack of good coaches and good female role models in the marathon in Canada. Fair enough. Though wouldn’t having some females representing the marathon at the Olympics have really sparked it up?

Chicked, chicking, chick.

This morning, I toed up toward the line of the 5k Resolution Run, leaving one row of runners between me and the start line. One row of male runners. As I judged whether I should press into the very front, I got some “don’t be getting in the way now” glances. Every runner knows this seeding game. At the 8k in Victoria, I played elbow leap frog with a guy sized and dressed like Rocky (who clearly won). As soon as the crowd opened, I never saw him again. This time, I stayed back… and as the gun went off, the pace didn’t, so I hopped into the grass and passed. 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd. 1st was a slender youth Japanese man in sleek kit. As I passed his head spun around at me in horror. This was not a guy to be chicked. Apparently my appearance caused some ferocious internal combustion type reaction. He took off effortlessly and instantaneously at a 5 minute-mile pace. To which I did not follow. No matter, the fear of woman was in his heart. He opened up the gap further and further. 100m, 200m, 400m. Every 50m, shoulder checking to make sure that I did not go with him. I couldn’t run that fast for 100m, forget 5,000m. As he got smaller and smaller in the distance, I could still see his now tiny head whip around from time to time. Was it something I said?

The Urban Dictionary defines “chicking” as “when a woman outperforms a man in a physical activity such as hiking, biking, or skiing, where a man should normally outperform a woman.” It’s common in running and cycling too. Pam Reed chicked every man in the prestigious Bad Water two years in a row (2002 & 2003). We running mamas all know the sweet silent mini-victory of the stroller-chick. I was once refused entry to a race with my stroller not for insurance issues, but to protect the fragile egos of men running for their PBs. The race director worried: How is one to feel about hitting their goal time – but being passed by a stroller, being pushed by a lady, in a skort? Oh the horror. At the end of one of my better races (with my daughter in tow), the man behind me exclaimed at the finish, “I just got beat. By a lady. Who just had a baby. Who was pushing that baby in a stroller.” He seemed genuinely as happy about my stroller-chicking as I did, even though he got chicked.

We know we shouldn’t be so competitive. But… It’s only really chicking if it bugs the guy you’re passing. Otherwise, it’s just a pass. And if it bugs him… Well… Maybe that’s the game?

What do you think? Is chicking an offensive term that perpetuates inequality in sport? Or a little harmless fun between genders competing on the same level? Do you even notice when you pass a guy in a race or when a woman passes you? How about if it’s your spouse?

Baby Doping

I for one can testify that women, OK I, possess inhuman strength postnatally. I ended up gaining 35 pounds and ending my pregnancy putting shame to the term “runner” with my best waddley rendition of what I thought running looked like. I stopped at every port potty, gas station and tree to relieve my aching bladder and the rest of the time bounced around trying to ignore it’s crampy plight. The day Ama came was the first of our Sun Run training clinic. That would have been fine if I was participating, but I was coordinating. How could I miss the first run?

So when my water broke in the car on route, I knew it was going to be an interesting morning. After setting up, I slipped into the vacant stairwell to phone and ask the on-call obstetrician if he thought it would be OK that I go for a run. An old crankity fellow, his answer was as disbelieving as it was direct. “No. No, I don’t think it would be OK.” I went into the delivery room in taxed spandex and a pair of now-one-size-too-small New Balance 890s.

Post-baby I felt like I was dragging a tent trailer everywhere I went. But I kept going. I had a great running group who motivated me and supported me through all those breast-feeding walks and blanket shuffles. Plus, I always had to catch up. So as my fitness came back, it just kept climbing. I ran the Sun Run 3 months postpartum and made the top 100 list. I made attempts at training all summer, never surpassing the 3 hour mark for a long run and only on one occasion surpassing two hours. In 2006 I was in a serious accident that left me on a train of injury after injury. Maybe the imposed low mileage helped keep the injuries at bay. I ran a sub-90 half, and to my surprise, and the surprise of my coach at the time, a 3:09 full. The last 3/4’s was painful – but I kept some sort of pace up.

Many athletes have experienced similar situations. Colleen De Reuck set the world record in the 10-mile postpartum. Magdalena Lewy Boulet dropped her 10k time from 32:40 to 31:28, her half from 1:15 to 1:11 and her full from 2:30 to 2:26 post-baby. Catriona Matthew, a Scottish golfer, won the British Scottish Women’s Only 10 weeks after delivering. Kara Goucher PR’d and came 5th in the Boston five-months postpartum. Shayne Culpepper dropped her 1,500m from 4:08 to 4:05, her 3,000m from 9:17 to 8:54 and her 5k from 15:31 to 15:01 after having a baby. Sara Vaughn took her mile time from 4:58 to 4:11. Derartu Tulu dropped her 5k from 14:50 to 14:44, her 10k from 31:08 to 30:17 and her marathon from 2:30 to 2:23 after child birth. Ingrid Kristiansen won the Houston marathon 5 months after delivery. Of course, famously, Sonia O’Sullivan won silver in the Olympic 5,000m 14 months postpartum.

Of course, there are other unfavourable examples. Paula Radcliffe may have won the NYC marathon nine months after having a baby, but she hasn’t come within her twice bettered world record since child birth.

In fact, there is even a rumour that was humoured during the 1984 International Olympic Committee meeting about Abortion Doping. Apparently there had been some talk of known Eastern European athletes getting pregnant and timing abortions at three months gestation and close to a major competition to gain the positive cardiovascular effects of pregnancy and subsequent performance increases. There is at least one official report of a Swiss doctor being involved. The whole abortion doping story may have evolved from forced abortions in Eastern European athletes that became pregnant due to fears about the birth outcomes of babies whose mothers were on steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Perhaps even the concern of babies born to mothers who exercised at a high level alone was enough to fuel fear about fetal outcome. Remember, this was a time when female exertion was still thought to be dangerous, forget the effects on a developing fetus. In fact, there were no women’s distance running events in the Olympics prior to the 1980s. However, the potential physiological boosts from pregnancy have been widely acknowledged and the theory that an athlete might “abortion dope” to gain a performance advantage is plausible.

Thank goodness there have been no rumours of the occurrence as of late. But it does shed a light on an interesting question, “Does having a baby make you weaker? Or stronger?”

Of course, there is a plethora of additional reasons beyond the physiological changes of pregnancy. Women may have a raised pain threshold and fearlessness after going through labour. They may find more balance in their life and ascribe less importance to the outcome of races. They may be happier. They may use their training time more efficiently. They may simply be tougher. We always consider relaxin’s* role in decreasing joint stability, but it may also increase mobility and tissue suppleness.

On the flip side though, if women are not taking care of themselves postnatally they put themselves at increased risk of musculoskeletal injury. If they do not take in enough vitamins, minerals and nutrients, they risk depleting their bones. The relaxin puts them at increased risk of soft tissue injury. Extreme fatigue and inattentiveness compounds these risks.

I personally belief that this superwoman lift in performance is a throw-back from when we had to keep up with the tribe. It just makes sense that women would get an edge to help them carry along the tribe’s newest and most critical members. So, postpartum mamas, what’s your take? Has anyone seen a major difference in their abilities postpartum for better or for worse?

*Relaxin is a hormone that is present in high levels prenatally that “relaxes” ligaments to allow the pelvis to expand and open up the birthing path. It continues to be present in the body until 6 months, and even up to a year postpartum. It has a global softening effect on all body tissues.