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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’m not usually one for setting resolutions when the year changes, but I do set goals. Then I revisit them, revise them, and chase new dreams. In 2016, my goal was to become physically stronger as a runner. While my race times weren’t stellar, they were good enough to earn age group awards and earn a spot to compete in the Canadian 5K Championship race. It was a year of running based on raw talent – running without tempos, speedwork, or hill training.
In the past few weeks, while laying out my training plan for Boston, I’ve realized two things. First, I am a fairly decent runner, but I’m nearing the end of my age group (50-54) so I have to do something different if I want to stay competitive. Secondly, I am stronger than I think. In my past two races, I really just wanted to see how I would run, hoping to finish the Road2Hope Half-Marathon (November) in under 1:40 and the Boxing Day Ten Miler (December) in less than 75 minutes. I ran 1:37 and 74 minutes, respectively, and I felt good. Obviously, my base is solid; it is time to change my training.
So my 2017 goal is to bump up my training and cross-training in terms of distance, intensity and frequency. This month, my plan is to add speedwork and/hills into my running but I am absolutely terrified of doing either in the dark, especially when it’s icy. And let’s be frank; I don’t like either of them anyway. I’d rather just run. But like so many other things that are good for me, speedwork and hills must be run if I am going to be in shape for Boston. By running right after work, on the streets that surround my school, I should be able to get in a decent workout before daylight is lost.
During my marathon prep, I am also going to increase my cycling (windtrainer miles) so that I can strengthen my quads and be ready for the Boston hills. My core is another area for me to focus on, which can easily be strengthened with consistency at the yoga studio and indoor climbing gym.
These goals are not part of a new year; they simply coincide with it as part of my plan for Boston. They are in place to help me become better than I am and the runner that I aspire to be.
“Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, I’ll try again tomorrow.” Dennis Edney
Picking my fall races is a challenge. It’s cross-country season, there are lots of different distances for road racing and, of course, there are a lot of marathons. There are so many great events to pick that I could race every weekend if I wanted. I sat down at the computer a few weeks ago to try to decide on which races to run. Resigned that I was not going to marathon this fall, I looked primarily at half-marathons and cross-country, but every single marathon listed seemed to jump from the screen. “Pick me! Pick me!” I caved.
I love everything about training for the marathon distance. Watching weekly mileage climb has a powerful feeling; every long run finished leaves me feeling satisfied; fulfilling the commitment to train, which means planning to eat, drink, and sleep around running builds mental strength. Most of all, I love the sense of commitment that marathoners show and the confidence that they gain in training and elation of crossing the finish line.
When I made the decision to not run the Victoria Marathon, I was genuinely upset about it, but it was the right decision to make. However, for weeks following, I was being tormented by the October line-up of marathons: Prince Edward County, Scotiabank, Prince Edward Island, Hamilton. All of them were doable, but how doable? How much fitness did I lose?
After 2 rest weeks of lower mileage (40-45k) and no long runs, I had to test myself. F
our Monday mornings ago, I woke up before dawn and finished 19K – and I felt good! That weekend, I ran 21K, met my friend, Monica, part way through and felt not so good. That same week, I made a few minor changes to my running lifestyle, which included new shoes and pampering my feet a bit more, and my third long run (another 21K) felt great. I looked at the fall racing calendar, my family calendar and my work schedule and I started to plan. “I can make this work” I thought. “I can be ready for Hamilton.”
And now it’s game time. Yesterday, I upped my game and threw a 10K tempo into my long run (giving me a total of 25K) and ran a 12K trail recovery this morning. In the past month, I have watched my weekly mileage climb from 40K to 66K, and I feel great about it. This week, I get a little more serious as I add more yoga and 2 cycling workouts to my week so that I have a stronger core and quads so that I am ready for ‘net downhill’.
I know the next few weeks are going to be a bit crazy. The boys are back in school, I have a new teaching assignment, and coaching soccer starts soon. But, for whatever reason, running a fall marathon is in me and, like I tell the kids at school, “When you want something badly enough, you can make it happen.”
This has been another summer when I haven’t planned a lot of racing as I had been training for the Victoria Marathon. After making the decision to not marathon on the other side of the country, I started planning a race schedule with events closer to home. The Summer 5K was at the top of my list; it was a new running event, and it was close to home. Knowing that it was sponsored by Mercedes Benz and organized by vrPro, it was bound to be a good event.
On Sunday morning, my teen son who has been playing around with photography for the past few weeks, offered to come with me. “I’m leaving early,” I warned him. But the idea of practising action shots was calling him. Just before 8:00, we pulled into the Mercedes Benz parking lot and, while I went to pick up my race kit, he caught a few more z’s. The start was at 10:00 and it was already hot and sunny.
The volunteers from Mercedes Benz and Kelly Arnott of vrPRO were busy getting set up. Registration was open, men were setting up the barbecue for the after-race, the Pearl Izumi van with its tent had just pulled in…and the bathrooms were ready – inside the building! In fact, the bathroom facilities were one of the most exciting parts of the race: private stalls with doors with locks that actually worked, sinks with running water, paper towels, and mirrors. It was the first time that I have had access to such a luxurious bathroom at a race.
Feeling anxious, I headed out about 15 minutes earlier than planned to warm up and was I ever glad I did! When I registered for the race, I thought “Burlington – flat. This should be a nice, easy course.” The terrain seemed flat on the course video too. But when I started to warm up, I realized how wrong I was. As soon as I turned out of the parking lot, I faced a very slight incline, which became a bit steeper as I approached the 1K mark. As I continued to run, I saw the course plateau a bit and breathed a sigh of relief, only to get to the top and – you guessed it – saw the road climb again. I turned around to head back to the start to warm up and get my head into the game, realizing that I would have to carefully pace the first half of the race so that my legs wouldn’t fry at the end.
And that’s exactly what I did. I checked my watch at 1K and my timing was exactly where I wanted it to be: 4:20. The next 1500 metres were basically uphill and I knew there were a lot of women ahead of me. “Keep it like this,” I told myself. “You have 4 kilometres left to catch them in.” It took 5 minutes to run the next kilometre (uphill), during which I picked my targets to pass, one by one. Each time, I listened for their breathing to figure out how much space was behind me and how much more of a gap I needed to open. There was one more in sight and she would not let me pass her. When I moved right, she moved right; if I ran left, she ran left. So much for a friendly local race. I threw in a surge and fought to work my way around her and had the upper hand (or foot) at the halfway point. Now, there were no women in sight – but I knew there were still 6 or 7 ahead, judging by a volunteer’s counting – and I faced the part of the course I had been dreading more: the downhill.
I hate running downhill. In a race situation, it ends up being a real quad-buster for me, and I have avoided races like the Sporting Life 10K just because of the fast decline. Here, all I needed to do was (1) keep my pace and (2) stay ahead of the women behind me. It wasn’t long before I realized that keeping my pace was not enough as I could hear panting behind me; I was certain that it was the lady who kept cutting me off.
Sure enough, it was and it wasn’t long before we were running neck and neck, each of us trying to pull ahead of the other. Holding my pace was not going to happen; I had to pick it up. “Stay with her, Cynthia. Fight it.” We turned and the finish line was in sight. Now we were on a relatively flatter surface but into the highway wind and with about 700 metres to go, I pulled ahead. Silence. I felt the awkward stillness of her feet stopping behind. “Keep pushing. You can’t be sure that was her.” I stretched out my legs a little bit more, ensuring that I opened the gap a little more and hoped to catch two more gals who suddenly came into sight. Both were slowly down and if there were a little more real estate, I probably could have caught them, but I ended up finishing seconds behind.
Was I happy with my time? Not at all. I finished in 22:39, which is slow for me. However, the conditions were similar to the Beamsville Bench 5K that I raced last year and times were comparable. I also finished in the top 10 (whoever was counting missed a few) and first in my age group, which earned me a pair of Pearl Izumi shoes. Hooray for new shoes!
The reality, though, is I wasn’t training for this race. It was a C-race; I just threw myself into it to see what I could do: race with my head, pick up the pace when I needed to, run tough. My time wasn’t stellar but I can live with it, and it has given me some time goals to focus on while I keep chasing my dreams.