Tuning Into Your Surroundings

As we are moving into Fall, it is important that we constantly remind ourselves that it is getting dark earlier.  I don’t mind running in the dark but, unlike winter, fall nights can be pitch black as there isn’t any snow for the light to reflect from.  I am careful to run as early as I can after work, wear visible clothing, and not take chances.

Over the past several weeks, the Town has been resurfacing Upper Middle Road, a major road which runs across our little piece of suburbia.  Multi-bar crosswalks, the kind that reminds me of a Beatles’ album cover, have appeared at many intersections along it.  The first morning I saw them, I was blinded by their whiteness and complained about how ugly they were.  That same evening, though, when finishing a run, I realized that I would be that much more visible to cars when I cross those intersections; without a doubt, the bright white lines were going to make things safer.

“Beatle Bars” along Upper Middle, designed to make pedestrians more visible at night.

Tonight, Kelly-Lynne arrived at my house for an easy run.  It was still early (6:3o) and we planned to be finished before dark.  In true training partner style, we laughed as we greeted each other in bright pink shirts; apparently, we both knew that we needed to make ourselves visible to traffic.   Kelly-Lynne and I spent a good chunk of time running on sidewalks; we ran facing traffic when we took the road.  With less than a mile to go, we came to a red light at one of the “new” corners of Upper Middle Road.  Both of us stopped, made eye contact with drivers to make sure that they saw us, and ran across the “Beatle Bars” to the opposite side.  The light turned yellow while we were crossing and red – just as we were reaching the other side.

I had just put my left foot down on the sidewalk when a car rushed through a right turn on a red light, barely missing my right leg.  I screamed ‘Hey!’ and looked at Kelly-Lynne, who was on my left and she also jumped out of its way.  A lady who was walking two dogs gasped, yelled or somehow reacted as I bolted after the car, wanting to get its license plate; to my surprise, the driver pulled over and stopped.

“You need to watch where you are turning!” I yelled at her.

“I know.  I am sorry.”  The driver was in her 50’s or 60’s and had a man, possibly her son, in the passenger seat.

“You nearly hit my friend!”

“I know.  I don’t know how I missed you girls; you’re in bright colours.  I was distracted.  Is your friend okay?”  I looked at Kelly-Lynne, asked if she was okay, and she was fine.  I was fine.  Fortunately, neither of us got hurt but this woman made a right turn on a red light without stopping, nearly hit us, and that was not okay.  I was angry.  I looked at the man in the passenger seat again and realized that he was probably the source of distraction.  He showed no emotion – no reaction whatsoever.  Suddenly, I felt sorry for her.  I was still angry, but I got it.  And she stopped when she could have kept going.

“You need to slow down,” I said.  I wasn’t yelling anymore; at least, I don’t think I was.  I felt calmer, still angry but calmer.

“I know,” she repeated.  “I’m sorry.  I was distracted.”

“You need to slow down.  Nothing is worth rushing through a light for.  Nothing.  Just be careful.”

“I know.”

“Be careful,”  I repeated and I turned from her so that she could drive away.  When I got back to Kelly-Lynne, I repeated our conversation.  Kelly-Lynne told me that the driver in the car behind told her, “You girls were absolutely right.”

And we were.  We did everything right.  We wore the right colours and we crossed at the light.  We didn’t take chances.  But more important than anything else is we were paying attention to what was going on around us and that let us react.  Truthfully, I have never felt that I have been in that much danger before; I can still feel the car brushing against my right side as I write this.

Tonight, Kelly-Lynne went home to her husband and I tucked my boys in bed.  A split second could have left this with a different ending.

 

The Cynthia Arm

If you have been running with the same person for a while, or if you have watched the same person run often enough, you begin to notice their stride and gait until you can eventually recognize it from far away.  Years and years ago, my husband commented on “that thing I do with my foot.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You swing it out, or you kick it out.  I don’t know.  It’s just weird.  But I can see you from a mile away.”

Of course, I still carefully look at every photo of me running.  Am I doing “that thing with my foot?”  Yes.  And, even though I have known about it for years, I haven’t been able to change it.  I have always attributed it to my one leg being longer than the other; my body has had to accommodate for that when I am running.   You can see it here when I raced the B&O 5K Championships last September.

A few weeks ago, when at a morning practice with TOC, Coach Greg was able to watch my gait more carefully.  “You’re swinging your hips,” he told me at the end of the workout.

“What?!”  I was surprised, but it made sense and tied in with the foot kicking/swinging action that has been going on for years.  Now that my chiropodist has put in a bit of a lift inside my shoe, I am noticing that my hips are feeling straighter and, hopefully, “that thing [I] do with my foot” is disappearing.

These foot kicking/hip swinging idiosyncrasies of mine, though, seem to have created another unique feature: the Cynthia Arm A few days after Coach Greg pointed out that I swing my hips when I run, Monica told me that my left elbow sticks out.  Again, this was met with a “What?!”

“It sticks out – probably because you’re swinging your hips.”  And I swing my hips because one leg is longer than another and….Somehow I felt like singing: the leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and the hip bone is connected to the….

“Don’t worry about it,” Monica said.  “It’s your thing.  It’s like the Andre-arm.  We’ll call it the Cynthia Arm.”

Well, if it works for Andre de Grasse, maybe I should just leave it alone.  Perhaps my elbow will get me into the same club as the cool kids; maybe that’s my secret to becoming a champion, to going to the Olympics.   I wonder if I need to put an insurance policy on my elbow; after all, it has become my trademark.

Or maybe I should just work at tucking in my elbows more,  straightening my hips, pointing my toes forward, and keep on singing “Dem Bones.”

The Tale of Two Feet

Getting to the bottom of my foot issues.

For the past year, I have really noticed the effects of the aging process, the biggest change being in my feet.  Towards the end of training for Boston, I could barely get through a long run without my feet screaming at me.  I knew that I needed to pay some attention to the balls of my feet, but I wasn’t about to change shoes or add orthotics within weeks of Boston.  But that resulted in a marathon that broke me.  My feet were killing by the 10th mile and the sun was hot; the two were a rotten combination for me and I finished in an hour longer than planned – but I finished.  In Boston, that was all I needed to do.

Bye bye, Orthotics!

Once Boston was behind me, I started to research orthotics and look for chiropodists in my area.  I had orthotics before and hated them; they were heavy and painful to run in as they never seemed to target the part of my foot that was tender: the metatarsals and the midfoot.  Adjustments were done but they made running even more painful so, eventually, they were taken out and I only wore my orthotics for work, not running.  It wasn’t long before I took them out of my shoe and completely stopped wearing them.

Now, though, I was ready to go back.  It had become painfully obvious that I needed some kind of support or padding under the forefoot.  I met with a few chiropodists and decided to work with one who specialized in runners’ feet.   Over the past few weeks, we have started to find a solution to my aching feet.

The black lifts my heels to help straighten my hips.

The first problem seems to have been an easy correction: my left leg is longer than my right so that my left hip sits significantly higher.  Doc placed a heel lift in the bottom of my shoe, between the sole and the insole, to raise my right side.  Now my hips are straight, and it makes a noticeable difference in my running as I don’t feel that I am swinging my hips as much.

The sore forefoot is more of a challenge.  As it turns out, I have developed mild arthritis in my feet so that is part of the problem.  Since there is no cure, I need to find a way to work with what I have so that I can still run.  My feet are also concave, not convex like most, as the three middle metatarsals have dropped.  The good news is my bones are strong.  Other good news is Doc doesn’t feel that I need orthotics because of the way I land when I run – on my forefoot/midfoot.

Week One’s trial was a complete bust.  We added some poron to bottom of my insole to try to raise my metatarsals and create some cushioning.  My first run (4 miles) went well but my second (8 miles with some speedwork) was a disaster; that night I had such a burning sensation through my feet that I was sidelined and icing them in a bucket of ice water for the next two days.  When I started running again, I swapped the insoles for an older pair.

Week Two was better.  Doc removed and built more support under the footpad.  Every run, from an easy 4 mile run to 9 miles with intervals  went as planned, but I couldn’t finish my long run on Sunday; at 6 miles, I was fighting tears and ready to hang up my shoes.  I felt broken.

Later that night, I found myself playing teacher.  At school, I have to look at the strengths in kids and build on them.  Now it was time to do that with me.  Even though I have been having some issues, I still ran 28 and 35 mile weeks during these trial periods and my pacing is good.  My speedwork is getting better and my leg span seems to be increasing.  But on a long run, my feet hurt.

I’m now at the start of Week Three and am only one run in.  Today, things were fine.  Despite a bit of doubt that kicked in halfway through, I finished my run painfree again.  Optimism.

One day at a time, one foot in front of another, I am not giving up and will continue chasing my dreams.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

 

 

 

The Summer of More

Summer Running with Zeda

When my kids were younger, I thought my time would free up as they got older.   How wrong I was!  With a tween and a teen, I find that I am constantly on the go taking them to soccer, basketball, refereeing, choir, work and – oh, yes – school.  Combine that with marathon training, a new grade to teach, and coaching teams, and you have the perfect recipe for a tired working mom.

After running Boston, I realized something had to go.  So I dropped my mileage to 25 to 30 miles a week – just enough to keep my legs happy – and finished the school year feeling ready to push myself again with my running, to keep chasing my dreams.

Last week was the first of my Summer of More: more sleeping, more eating and more running.   Of these, it is running that is my main focus; the other two naturally come into play as my mileage climbs and my intensity increases.  Last week was the first in a long time that I was able to run with Zeda, coordinate time to run with friends and get in a 10 solid miler. I was so happy to finish the week with over 35 miles; I have just a few miles to go to reach 40 miles a week, when Coach and I can start focusing on some fall goals.

On the weekend, I ran into a parent from school who asked me how my first week of summer was.  I answered truthfully.  “I feel like I have been drugged.  All I want to do is sleep.”  To that she laughed, and I added, “Seriously.  All I’ve done is eat, sleep and run.  It’s my Summer of More.”

 

Values Win

Several years ago, I raced the Acura Ten Miler in Toronto on a particularly hot summer day.  With 1-2 miles left, I noticed a female runner about 400 metres ahead of me, who was weaving in and out from a group of people.  She looked drunk.  As I caught up to her, I asked if she was okay, to which she slurred back that she was fine and to leave her alone.  I realized that she was dehydrated and didn’t realize it so I did leave her, but I stopped at the next intersection where there was a police officer, told him about her, waited until she was close enough that I could point her out, and he immediately called for an ambulance.   I ran off, wondered how many people passed me, and how much time I lost, but I knew I did the right thing.   Looking back, I don’t remember my time (I think it was 78 minutes) and it matter any more.  What I do remember is every detail of helping that lady.

Cooling down after the race with Monica.

This Saturday, I raced the Canada Day 5K in Burlington.   I’ve raced the course many times; it’s close to home and it’s a great race to kick off my summer holiday.  My friend, Monica, and I went together with goals to run competitively; I wanted to finish faster than I did at the Moon in June, where my 5K time was 21:57.  This was a flat course, and with my feeling stronger than I did a few weeks ago and pumped up about a few weeks off work, I felt that beating that time was realistic.

When the horn sounded, I went out fast – a little too fast with my first mile in 6:53.   I got my pace back under control and found my spot in the pack, and I happened to end up running shoulder to shoulder with my friend’s 14 year old daughter.   We spent some time jostling for position until I pulled ahead just after the turn around.

Shortly after, though, I knew something was wrong.  My mother senses kicked in when I thought I heard “Somebody please help me” come from behind.  My friend’s daughter has a peanut allergy and is asthmatic.  She is very athletic, but she is also just learning to run faster with her asthma.  Knowing that she had trouble at the Waterfront 10K,  I came to a full stop – dead in my tracks – and turned around.   “Are you okay?” I called back.  She shook her head.  “Come on, I’ll run you in.”

Approaching the finish.

So we finished the last 2K together.  I wondered if she actually did verbalize “help” or if I imagined it, and I thought about all of those people who just ran past her.  It bothered me when the winner of my age group passed me, and I hated having to stop – twice – to walk with her for a bit.  But in the end, my time didn’t matter.  Doing the right thing was more important.   Making sure that she was okay was most important.  So I talked her through the rest of the race, we finished together and we cheered for her mom as she crossed the finish line.  At that point, I handed her off; she was okay.

In the end, my time was a bit slower than I wanted but I’m okay with that.   If I base my time on my age group’s winning time, I would have met my goal time (assuming that I held my pace).  Monica later gently reminded me that I chose to stop and she was right.  I made the decision to help this girl get to the finish line safely.  For me, that was what mattered on Saturday morning.  There will always be another race.

Race Report: Chilly Half Marathon

Excited to be racing in my TOC singlet.

Last Sunday was the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington.  I have run and raced this several times and had planned to race it this year, aiming for a sub 1:37.  This winter has been great for runners; my mileage was good and I was getting the speedwork done.  As luck would have it, though, I was diagnosed with a sinus infection the week before the race.  The extra effort that I seemed to be putting into my running suddenly made sense; I couldn’t breathe – simple.  So I quickly accepted the meds that I was prescribed, took one day off training, and kept moving forward.  By the race weekend, I was confident that I would be able to run the Chilly Half; racing it was still questionnable.

The morning of the race, I was up at 5:30 to drive my oldest son to the GO station so that he could catch a bus to Toronto and it was cold.  By the time I got home to run my shake-out, the sun was coming up but there was a face-biting cold wind.  At 8:30, when I arrived in Burlington for the race, it was much warmer and I was glad to have a 10:00 start, but the wind was still noticeable.

I went out with 2 plans.  I wanted to run a 4:40/km pace, which would have me finishing around 1:38.   My back-up was to go out slightly faster than marathon pace, which is 5:00/km.  I realized very quickly that the getting over a sinus infection/wind off the lake combination was not a good one and, by 5 km, accepted that I was not going to run 4:40 that day.  I was totally okay with that, though, as the last thing I wanted to do was blow Boston because of what should be an easy prep race.

So this race became a chance for me to practise.  Not worrying about speed meant that I could relax a little bit and try to enjoy the course.  The Chilly is known for it’s pancake flat terrain, but it was cold and very windy.  I was really looking forward to turning around at 14K and getting out of the wind, but I swear the wind changed direction at the very moment that I did.  Except for the 200 metres at the end, I felt like I was running into the wind the entire time. 

I am particularly proud of my porta-potty pb at the Chilly.  I felt my gut start to tighten up around 16/17K and decided to duck into a porta-potty shortly after.  It was a false alarm – only gas – and I was in and out in just over a minute.  With winter layers to contend with, I was pretty pleased with that time.  You know you’re a runner when you claim a personal porta-potty best!

So what is the nitty-gritty?  I finished in 1:42, 5th in my age group (50-54).  This was also a Provincial Championship race for the 21.1k distance and I earned my age group’s silver medal for that, which makes me happy.  So while I didn’t leave with the time that I wanted, I walked away with a reminder that you need to be in top condition to race well.  And even though I wasn’t in peak condition, I still ran well.

In the past ten days, I can feel myself being stronger and healthier.  Around the Bay is next and that will be a strong indicator of my fitness for Boston.  I can not wait!

 

 

Transition time

Sunday’s Long Run done.

Boston is just 5 weeks away and I have reached the moment of a 1000 questions: How much more mileage can I push myself into?  Why am I so slow today?   Is this a real ache or is it a figment of my imagination?  Is this cold really gone?  How much longer?   The list is truly endless.

If there is one item that is more important in my training than any other, it’s the long run.  Now this may not be true for everyone, but for me it is.  I need the psychological confidence that I can handle long distance week after week.  Two weeks ago, when I found myself on meds for a sinus infection that I seemed to have been fighting for weeks, I refused to skip my long run.  Instead, I took one day off while waiting for meds to kick in, then plowed through 15 miles after work the next day.  Last week, I worked 2-3 miles around the Chilly Half-marathon.  Week by week, like all marathon trainees, I keep adding a bit more to my long run.

Despite this, I found the thought of running 16 miles yesterday overwhelming.  For whatever reason, the first milestone past 15 miles was becoming a mental obstacle.  I was also completely on my own, again, and the temperatures dropped a lot in the past week.  But I knew that I had to, absolutely had to, get it done.

Transitioning into New Balance 1080’s, my marathon shoe.

So I headed out at 8:00 a.m. in my New Balance 1080’s.  Four miles later, I stopped by the house, as planned, and changed into my new 1080’s, my marathon shoes which I am just breaking in.  Six miles later, I decided to continue to run further away from home before turning around so that I wouldn’t have to run past my house to reach the 16 miles that I was aiming for.

And it worked.  By the time I got home, I logged 16.2 miles.  The best part of this was my last four miles were 15 seconds/mile faster – planned – and I wasn’t feeling exhausted.  Even this morning, 24 hours later, I found the dreaded recovery run fairly easy to do.

Doggie kisses: proof that, even in sub-zero temperatures, I am a human salt-stick.

I wasn’t confident when I left my house, but I got back feeling great – mentally and physically strong.  Yesterday told me that I am where I need to be with my training and I will be ready for Boston 2017.

Introducing Zeda

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This summer, after being dogless for almost five years, my family decided we were ready to adopt another. We hemmed and hawed over the gender, the breed, the age…but the one thing we all agreed on was we wanted a rescue dog, an active dog and one who could keep me company running. On Thanksgiving Monday, we brought home Zeda.

Zeda is a year and a half and a ball of energy.  I walk her in the morning, she gets at least an hour of play with her new doggie friends every afternoon, my son walks her at night and, on days when she still doesn’t seem to get enough exercise, I will run 5K with her.

An excited dog as we head out for a rainy run.

This is the first dog that I have had to run with.  I honestly knew nothing about training a dog to run with its owner so it has been weeks of trial and error.  I quickly learned that morning runs are slower, only because she likes to spend more time sniffing the ground presumably covered in morning-fresh dog pee, and that I need to constantly be on the lookout for squirrels or any other four-legged creature worth chasing.

Since early November, we’ve been running together once or twice a week for 5k to 8k.  Zeda’s 5K time is anywhere between 26 and 29 minutes, with only two or three breaks to relieve herself.   Since my only goal when running with her is to tire her out while adding some easy miles to my log, that pace is great.  And Zeda gets what she wants: a chance to run.

I am so happy to have a new running partner.  Rain, snow, warm or cold, Zeda is always keen to leash up and keep me company.  And who knows?   Maybe I’ll be able to get her to toe (or claw) a line.

Plank 90×2

A few weeks ago, I read an article in Runner’s World about planking twice a day at work.  The author, Leah Wynalek, made the effort to do just that for 90 seconds each time.  Within a month, she said, she noticed the benefits.

Testing out my plank strength at home – just to make sure I could do this.

I was hooked.  Finding 90 seconds in my work day is totally doable.  What I wasn’t sure about was whether I could actually hold a plank for more than a minute.  I could last year, but I’ve been slacking off in the core department all fall.  I felt I could probably hold a plank for 60 seconds; 90 seconds would be a challenge, and that is exactly what I needed: a challenge.

To hold myself more accountable, I enlisted the help of some FB friends.  “Who wants to join me?” I asked.  Surprisingly, I have many who did, and many of those friends work at my school.  Two of them are Amanda, who works two doors down the hall, and Christina who teaches in the classroom next to mine.

We’re all at different levels in our planking, but we are all committed to the challenge.  Christina planked for the first time ever last Monday morning and, while she isn’t holding one for 90 seconds, each plank is a little longer than the one before.  Amanda is focussed on her health in general so the Plank90x2 Challenge is just one more way for her to improve her overall fitness.  Me, I’m hoping to keep up with this until June when school lets out for the summer, and I have challenged myself to do a 5 minute plank by then.   So every day, we try to connect for a few minutes so that we can plank together or time each other.  And if we end up being alone, we seek and find someone else who can watch and time us so that we can say “I did it” and not feel guilty for missing out at the end of the day.

Throughout the week, I have had other friends post their plank pictures on IG, message me that they are happily planking and send me plank-related articles and posters.   If you want to join the fun, use #plank90x2 so that we can find you.

Surprisingly, I am already feeling a difference.  My abs feel tight – or maybe they’re just sore – from the planking I did last week.  Whatever it is, though, it’s good and it has me dropping back down into a plank for more.

 

 

Race Report: Boxing Day Ten Miler

Last Monday, Dave and I went to Hamilton so that I could race the Boxing Day Ten Miler.  While time and place are important to me, I was using the race mostly to see where I am at in terms of my own fitness.  Since the beginning of December, my running has consisted of, well, just running.  There has been no speed work, no tempos, and no hill practices.  My busy month of work and family activities and the icy streets have resulted in a slight drop in my weekly mileage so I had just one goal: to run as fast as I can and feel good.  I was really hoping that I could race in under 75 minutes.

Based on how my running had been going this fall, I felt that I could run that.  I was up for the challenge of racing the day after Christmas, on a course with gentle rolling hills and a noon start.  “If nothing else,” I told myself, “I’ll get in a good run and spend some time with Monica.”

Monica is one of my training partners.  We run together when we can, which usually only means once a week.  If I’m lucky, it ends up on a day when I am running long; when I am unlucky, it’s a day when she is doing intervals.  Monica was also going into the Ten Miler with a “casual” attitude; it was just a post-Christmas tempo run.  Unlike me, though, Monica has been doing all of the right things in her training and she was bound to have a strong race.

On the drive out to Hamilton, it poured.  Over Christmas weekend, temperatures rose to slightly above zero, so the precipitation was rain – heavy rain.  Most of it had passed by the time the race started but we still had some drizzle and a cold rain that leaves a chilled to the bone feeling. I actually didn’t mind it because the rain kept the temperatures a little more comfortable for racing.

There were, however, a few things that I didn’t like about the race.   There were several problems with the start, for example, as most of us had no idea of the direction we were to start in;  that’s an important detail in any race.  Secondly, all runners in the 4 mile run and 10 miler began at the same time, which is so unusual in today’s road racing scene.  I know that I am not alone in wishing that there were two starts, one for each group; even a 5 minute delay would have helped alleviate some of the congestion.   There was also a bit of chaos in how the actual start was managed.  The race director announced “Two Minutes!” Runners put on their race faces, and the race director said, “Go!”  without any extra warning, no horn, nothing – just “Go.”  People scrambled forward, surprised by the casual approach.

Finisher’s Medal with 95th year (should be 96th)

Hamilton is nicknamed “Steeltown” after the steel-making industry and, on Monday, the skies were as grey as its name.  We can’t control the weather but the course would have been a lot nicer on a sunny day.  Even when we ran along Bayfront, which is normally a scenic area, we had nothing but concrete, barren trees, grey water and grey skies.  The first 5K were downhill or flat.  I went out too fast for the first two kilometres, which is easy to do on a downhill start, and spent the next three dialing my pace back under control.  By the time I hit the 8K mark (around 36:50), I felt that I had my pace exactly where I wanted it to be.  Of course, every downhill is followed by a climb and we had a long one between 8K and 9/10K (it’s a bit of a blur right now).   Then we ran up and down the hilly roads/paths until we had a last gradual (and long) climb to the finish.  I ran 1:14:20 – mission accomplished.  We headed inside, changed into warm clothes and had some hot tomato soup.   Yum!

And I felt great.  Monica ran a speedy 64 minutes and complained about being sore the next day.  Not me!  My legs felt fresh and ready to go.  Obviously, I could have pushed myself more.

Second Place Age Group Award: Belt Buckles!

Both of us finished second in our age groups and that leaves me with my final criticism of the race: the awards.  First, the finisher’s medal had a “95th year” ribbon on it, but this was the 96th year.  I, as did several other runners, felt that we were given leftovers from 2015.  Similarly, we were given a bronze coloured buckle for our second place finish.  I questioned it – twice because it seemed so odd that ours was bronze but the 3rd place was more silver – but they insisted that we had the correct awards.  I still feel like there was an error, or we were given leftovers from previous races when runners did earn belt buckles for running within a certain time.  It’s not a big deal, but it irks my sometimes-ocd personality.

I know exactly where I lost to the first place winner, who finished less than a minute ahead of me.  At the second last aid station, I stopped to make sure that I was getting Gatorade into me as I felt my sugar levels were dropping a bit; that’s where she passed me there.  But rather than push myself to chase her, I simply started running again.  Had I known that she was in my age group, I definitely would have given myself a good kick in the butt.  Just before we climbed the last hill, I saw that the gap between us had narrowed, but I still didn’t feel the need to chase her down.  After the awards, I wish that I had.  Next time.

After the Boxing Day Ten Miler. And it stopped raining!

I got what I wanted out of the Boxing Day Ten Miler: a decent race, a baseline to build on in 2017, time with a friend.  What I didn’t quite expect, though, was a boost in my confidence again – the realization that I am stronger than I think.  Bring on 2017!