The Power of Change

Last night, I was reminded by a close friend that I have been spending the past several months stepping out of my comfort zone in my running world.   Somehow running stagnated for me.  I was still running and enjoying it, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.  With the exception of a few close friends, I was running alone and my times were becoming stale.  I was racing relatively well, but I wanted to do better – and I needed to push myself more.  I needed to get out of my comfort zone.

With Olympian, Nate Brannen, at the B&O Yorkville 5K Canadian Championships.

The first real change I made was race the Canadian 5K Championships in the fall.  This is an elite event with many Canada’s fastest distance runners.  Toeing that line scared me and, as much as I wanted to be a part of that event,  I was afraid to enter.  As a masters runner, I just didn’t think I was good enough to be a part of it.  After eyeing the race for a few years, I finally swallowed my fear and applied for a bib, gulped when I was accepted and nervously pulled myself to the start line in September.  After finishing, I was so glad that I made that effort as I realized that it was one of the most prestigious races that I would ever do as I got the chance to race with 200 of Canada’s best runners.

Next, I did something that frightened me; I entered the Boston Marathon.  Five years ago, in 2012, my family and I drove to Boston, the year that temperatures were insanely hot.  Between the heat, worrying about being able to finish feeling well enough to drive back to Ontario to work the next day, and being pushed so hard by another runner that I ended up on all fours with gravel stuck in my palms, I decided to dnf – never an easy decision and especially at Boston.   Over the past five years, this race has became a bit of a monkey on my back and I had to get rid of it; I have to finish that race.  In September, I applied to run Boston 2017 and was accepted.  In eleven weeks, I will be back, ready for anything that can be thrown my way.

Third, I decided to try something new: this blog.  Many know that I have been blogging for years but, like my running, my blog was stagnating.  To put things in perspective, I lost the time that I use to be able to put into blogging as my boys are now older (and busier) and my teaching assignment has changed (also resulting in busier days).  But writing about running is something that I really enjoy and, if someone is reading about it, then writing becomes even better.  Somehow, I needed to make time to record my thoughts and I needed a fresh start.  So I bought my own domain and am still working at rebuilding my blog, but I am slowing finding more time to write and am loving it.

And, suddenly, I am excited about running again – truly excited and, like a junkie who just can’t get enough, I needed more.  I wanted one more change to light another spark.  So last week, I returned to my former club, Toronto Olympic Club, to train under its guidance.  I think it takes real courage to go back to something that you once walked away from and my return to TOC is no exception.  I left the club two years ago, on good terms, because it was simply too difficult for me to get to practices when I lived in a different city.  That distance still exists but I realize how important it is for me to have the coaching and encouragement to physically challenge myself.  For now, my coaching is primarily remote, but my heart still skips a beat every time I open my training log to double check my plan for the day, when I lace up, and when I sit down to record my run.  And, on Sunday, I was thrilled when I got to wear the club colours at the Robbie Burns race.

Last night, my friend helped me to see that these changes are not just helping me come out of my comfort zone, but they are helping me to believe in myself.  The two go hand and hand, and as one gets stronger, so will the other.   It’s 2017 and I am strong, I am focused and I believe in myself.  It’s going to be an amazing year.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Cold Winters; Warm Feet

A Saturday morning surprise – lots of snow to plow through on a long run.

One of the things I love about living in Canada is being able to truly experience all four seasons – until we get into the coldest days of the winter.  Then, life as a runner isn’t all that great.   Some days it means sliding, not running, along sloppy snow/slush-covered roads; others entail running straight into a biting wind that hurts your face;  and, then, there are the days that it is so cold that you don’t just see your breath, but your lungs can also feel the thickness of the air while you run.   Fortunately, we haven’t had too many of these days but, when we do, everyone complains.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to layer for the different types of winter weather that we can get; what we can’t double or triple, though, are our socks.  It is so important to wear the perfect pair.  Like summer socks, I want something that is comfortable, blister-free and, if possible, a more anatomical fit.  In the winter, I want all of the above and warmth.  This season, I finally found the perfect sock.

During the break, I went to the Running Room to replace what has been my go-to winter sock: double-layered and blister-free.  I pulled them off the rack, only to put them back.   They didn’t feel right.  The quality wasn’t there any more.  Clearly, it was time to make a change.

I scanned the walls and noticed Feetures brand, a product that I have seen quite a bit in sporting goods stores. I hadn’t heard anything about their socks, but I was pulled towards the packaging.  “No blisters” and “merino” on the winter running socks had my immediate attention; “lifetime guarantee” kept it.  These weren’t cheap, though.  In fact, they were about $10 over my budget.  But these socks wooed me.  They were a soft wool, had a L/R foot anatomical fit, and made promises that most long distance runners would succumb to.   These seemed to be the right socks.  Lured by their cushioning, warmth and promise to keep me blister-free, I bought them.   All I needed was another cold snap so that I could try them out.

Within days, Mother Nature dropped the temperatures for us.  Since purchasing my Feetures, I have worn them three times and they have not disappointed my feet.  The fit is great and my toes have not felt cold at all, which is unusual for me.  Yesterday, I ran in them for 21K in a windchill that gave us -20C temperatures and the Feetures winter running socks did everything they claimed they would and more; they made me want another pair.

 

***These opinions are solely my own.  This blog post is not endorsed or sponsored by Feetures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Welcome 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.

Road2Hope Half Marathon, Hamilton
After the Boxing Day Ten Miler

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.

Just hanging out at Climbers Rock.

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.

Chasing my dreams….

 

 

 

 

My Profile

I am a 50+ mother of two boys, a wife, a dog owner, and teacher.  In between my family and occupational roles, I train  competitively as a Masters Distance Runner in the Ontario racing scene.  Cyn’s Space is my story – the good, the bad and anything else that comes to mind.

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Game Time

“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

New Balance Shoes
Boldly making the switch to New Balance 1080’s

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.”

 

post long-run
Post Long Run

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.”  run over obstacles

Race Report: Mercedes Benz Summer 5K

MB afterThis 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.  MB 1k check 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.

Final K
Approaching 4K.

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.

 

MB shoes
Samples of the Pearl Izumi shoes to take for a test run.

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.

What Were They Thinking?

gisele
Supermodel Gisele Bundchen, on her final walk.

After 3 days of success stories, tears and losses, the one image that I still can not get out of my mind – the one that stands out the most – is from the opening ceremonies.  Three days later, and I am still shocked that Gisele Bundchen was a part of the opening to Rio 2016.

The Olympic Opening ceremonies should do two things: promote international sport and the culture of the hosting country.  The first was easily done.  All athletes were invited to participate, but some chose not so that they didn’t have to spend so much time on their feet, tiring themselves out and hindering their chances on their day of competition.  No matter where you live, watching your national athletes walk into the stadium fills your heart with pride.  And if you didn’t see your favorite athlete, your hero, you immediately felt a sense of disappointment.   Secondly, even under the tight budget when compared to recent Olympics, Brazilian culture was well represented under Fernando Mereilles’ direction in which he creatively captured Brazilian history, science and entertainment while emphasizing the international importance of the rain forest.   But a supermodel?  Where exactly does she fit in?

Gisele is Brazilian.  That’s it.  The Brazilian athletes weren’t singled out so why was she?  She is fit and she is married to football player Tom Brady, but neither is a part of Olympic sport.  In my eyes, Gisele was there because sex sells.

Is it the low budget that compelled Mereilles to bring her into the opening ceremonies?  Was a significant donation made to the event if Gisele strutted her final walk across the stage?  The question I keep asking myself, though, is “Aren’t we past the point of using beauty and sex to promote?”  Clearly, we are not.

Gisele’s strut screamed, “Look at me.  I’m fabulous.”  It had nothing to do with sports and it did not represent Brazilian culture.  It had no place in an international sporting event.