Becoming Better Than You Were Before

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During the past week, I have had time to reflect on my past year – the good and the bad – and think about running goals for the spring of 2016.  I am not setting a resolution as I have never been a big fan of them.  But chasing a dream, setting a goal to achieve it, and becoming better for it: I am all about that.

But, like many others, I go through periods when sticking with those goals is tough.  Family life can take over; work might get busy; I might be side-lined with illness or some type of ache/pain.  So I have a couple of tricks to help myself stay motivated and work towards becoming better.

a.  Make a Commitment to Others:  For almost a year, I needed two of my training partners – Kelly-Lynne and Monica – to lyoga picure me to the Yoga Studio.  Don’t get me wrong; I like yoga, but I don’t love it.  I do it because it is good for me.  Between the three of us, the texts would fly during the week to figure out who could go to Friday night’s class and who couldn’t, who had to work late and who didn’t.   Nine times out of ten, if neither of them could make it, I would find something else to do.  But the more I went with one or both of the girls, the more comfortable I became to the point where I now make the effort to go to yoga on my own.  And, by the way, my fitness goal for the winter is to strengthen my core so I will definitely be frequenting more often.

b.  Put Your Goal in Writing:  This works for me and the more people who see it, the better off I am.  Write your goal down and post it in a spot where you will see it again and again: on the fridge door, on the bathroom mirror, at the top of your desk at work.   The more you see your goal, the more likely it will become a part of you.

c. Register for a Race:  If you are a runner and want to run a 10K in the spring, find one now and register for it.  By doing that, you have made a formal commitment to yourself and you have put it in writing.  My husband talked about running at The Eggnog Jog when I race many, many times until I finally asked him, “Do you want me to register you for it?”  Once I did, the talk stopped and the training started.  Registering gave him the little bit of motivation that he needed to start running again.

Eggnog Jog 2015 -Dave
Dave finishing the Eggnog Jog.  photo credit: Sue Sitki Photography

 

d. Involve Your Family:  I cannot stress how important this is – especially if you have young children.  When my boys were little, planning the week on Sunday nights also meant writing out the days that I would run and the type of workout that I planned.   Then, when I got home from work, they already knew whether or not I was going for a run.  That reduced the meltdowns at home and it led to my sons’ encouragement and support in my own fitness goals.

e. Join a Club or a Group:  This ties in with making a commitment to a training partner.   The advantage of running or working out with a club or a group is that it will always be there and ready for you – even if your friends can’t – and you are likely to make some new friends with the same goals as you.  I love training with Lions Valley AthleticsLVA uniform circle Even though I am the slow one in the group, I am always  supported and encouraged by the others in the group, and I have made some great friends.  This is a few of us at a training run back in August.  And, in case you are wondering, I made some great friends – including my yoga buddies above – through my former club, Toronto Olympic Club, and through Lions Valley Athletics.

2016As I mentioned above, my goal for 2016 is to build a stronger core.  Rather than focussing on it once or twice a week, I am changing my game plan: 20 in 16.  In other words, I am going to do 20 minute core workouts over 16 days in the month.  I have started a Facebook group – 20 for 16 – which people can join, set their own goal (e.g. 20 minutes of cardio, abs, strengthening, walking….), and we can all support each other on FB or Instagram.   You can check out more details on Cynsspace .  If you want in, leave a comment below.

Being better than you used to be: that is what resolutions are really about.

 

 

 

 

Race Report: Eggnog Jog 10.8K

Eggnog Jog 2015- with Dave
Pre-race at the Eggnog Jog, photo credit: Sue Sitki Photography

The Eggnog Jog is a popular race which runs out of the Terra Cotta Conservation Area, just north west of Toronto.  It is 10.8K, is unusual distance but the country roads in the area make  a 10K route difficult unless it is an out and back course. Regardless, the race draws over 600 participants; every year, it sells out so my husband and I registered early for it. This was my first race after the Chicago Marathon and the mid-December date gave me enough time to recover and work on regaining my speed.

Since the beginning of November, I spent my Saturday mornings focusing on speed work.  Knowing that the course has a challenging elevation, I incorporated hill training, mile repeats, and shorter intervals in those workouts as I could do them in daylight.  On the other running days of the week, I tempoed, did a long run (with my longest run at 17K) and just ran for the love of it.  I headed back to the yoga studio on Friday nights (and, by the way, yoga on Friday followed by speedwork on Saturday  makes for tired abs on Sunday morning).  Everything felt right.  I was ready and, hopefully, going to race a sub-50 minute race.

Dave likes this race because of the later start (10:30 a.m.).  I like it for the challenge.  The elevation drops about 100 metres over the first 2K and then climbs over 120 metres for the next 5-6K; the finish is a fast 400 metre downhill.

One of the biggest challenges that morning was deciding what to wear.  I had my LVA singlet, Saucony Sayonaras, and Sweaty band – but did I need one layer or two; tights, capris or a running skirt?  It poured in the morning and temperatures were hovering over 0 degrees at the start, so I opted for a t-shirt with my Running Skirt long sleeve and my tights.  I was worried about being over-dressed but, as it turned out, my gear was perfect for the day.

Despite the training I had done, when I started the race, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had 3 goals: to run as fast as I could, watch my pacing and try not to let any women pass me.  I took the first 2K conservatively as I knew that I had to start an evil climb right after.   In those first kilometres, I heard a woman talking to a man – something about keeping up – and picked up my pace enough to open a bit of a gap.  From that point on, I didn’t hear her again.

Once I got to 3K, I started to play cat and mouse with a few men.  They would run ahead of me, I would pass them, they would work to pass me again….It became a vicious cycle.  At 7K, another male runner caught up to us and, then, another at 8K.  I tried to stay with them but they were both stronger than I was – and finished less than a minute of me.  Once I got to 9K, I turned on what power I had left and gave myself another boost at 10K.

Eggnog Jog 2015
Racing the last 400m of the Eggnog Jog.  photo credit: Sue Sitki Photography

 

As I made the last turn towards the 400 metre finish, I focussed on stretching out my legs, which was tough to do when my quads were still burning from the rolling hills.   I saw the clock read 48:something and gave it everything I had to finish in 49:12.  About 20 seconds later, another woman ran in and called me a “powerhouse.”  Never in my entire life have I been called a powerhouse; it felt great.

 

I had no idea where I was in the final standings.  I felt that I was close to the top but, as I didn’t see any women ahead of me, I didn’t know if I was chasing 2 or 3 or more.  I was thrilled when I found out that I finished Third Overall.  It was a great way to end the season.Eggnog Jog 2015 - awards

 

This course was tough and I promised my husband that I would do my cooldown by running back out so that I could cheer him in.  I tried to convince a few other runners who finished ahead of me to jog with me and they looked at me as though I had horns coming out or my head.  So off I went on my own; the things we do for love.   I found Dave around the 9K mark and ran with him until we neared the finish line, when I let him close his race alone.

Both Dave and I got what we wanted out of the Eggnog Jog.  Dave wanted a goal race, a chance to push himself to run the 10.8K distance regardless of the time it took.  Me, I wanted a goal of running a sub-50 and I got that.  Best of all, though, was the chance we had to race together.

Timing Isn’t Everything

LVA uniform circleThe past few months of training for Chicago has been a personal journey.    It hasn’t been about gaining bragging rights for finishing one of the world’s biggest marathons, nor has it been about chasing a BQ.   For me, The Chicago Marathon has about mental health, my mental health.

When I registered for Chicago, I saw it as an escape from the previous twelve months:  moving my parents into nursing care and closing the family home, watching my mother progress into the later stages of Alzheimer’s as my dad underwent rounds of chemotherapy; dealing with my own injury that resulted in a leave of absence for weeks;  facing the inevitable in the early spring.  In fact, I entered the lottery for Chicago after my dad passed as I knew that I would need the distraction of training over the summer.   At the end of May, after barely catching our collective breath, my brothers and I buried my mother just seven weeks after my dad.   I made it to the end of the school year knowing that I had something to look forward to: a summer of marathon training.

Going to Chicago has been about me – my recovery.  It has given me the focus I needed – pardon the pun – to get my feet back on the ground.  my teamThrough training, I have had to rebuild my fitness and my running mates have been instrumental in helping me do that.  I watched my mileage climb further than I thought it ever would, found some speed that I had forgotten about and, through regular yoga workouts, rediscovered my abs.  At the same time, I’ve spent the summer resting and catching up on months of lost sleep.  I’ve hung out with my boys and watched their interest in my marathon grow.   I’ve asked my husband for running advice (gasp!).

Today at lunch,  a co-worker asked me what time I’m hoping to run in Chicago.  “I don’t really have one,” I replied.  Her jaw dropped.  “You?” she asked.  “I don’t believe you.”

“I haven’t done much speed work; I’ve really only focused on building distance.  All of my long runs have been around 5 minute kilometres.  But I’m not really worried about time.  I mean, I think I’ll run around 3:30, maybe 3:45.”  She raised her eyebrows again. “I don’t really know, but I’m feeling strong,” I told her.  “Really strong.  I’m feeling fit.  I’m healthy again.”

And she added, “Cynthia, you’re smiling again.  You’ve got that twinkle in your eye back.”

Yup, I do.  And I am ready to take it to Chicago.

 

 

 

 

Running Like A Kenyan

run over obstaclesThis week, I faced what was probably the biggest challenge of my marathon training of the summer: finding time for the long run.  My schedule was busy enough with a few overnight shoots while prepping for back to school and keeping the boys busy in the second last week of summer.   Throwing marathon training into the mix was simply another test in creativity and time management.

LVA training run Oakville half
Members from Lions Valley Athletics about to coach runners training for the Oakville Half-Marathon.

Yesterday, my run club, Lions Valley Athletics, volunteered to organize a training run over all or part of the Oakville Half-Marathon course for participants.  It was a win-win for so many.  Runners had an opportunity to run the course, we collected donations for the Oakville-Milton Humane Society, and Lions Valley Athletics had the opportunity to give back to the running community.    While I wanted to focus on my own training – to run long on my own – it was a great opportunity for me  support other runners in their personal goals.  So I ran 18K on my own and finished at Coronation Park, where the group met.  After that, I ran another 17K with them, finishing the day’s mileage with 35K.

I was thrilled with hitting that distance (which equates to 22 miles).  It wasn’t just reaching it, though, that was important; it was what I learned along the way.  Since the training run was with new runners, the pace was slower than what I normally train at.  Knowing this, I made sure that my earlier run was at my marathon pace so that I could run like a Kenyan with the others.  You see, Kenyans run really slowly on their easy days so that their bodies can recover from the speed workouts and hard running that they do on others.  This is something that I’m not good at: mixing up the paces.  Coach Kevin and my friends often tease me about being a metronome because I tend to lock into a pace and hold it; the problem is I run that pace through the warm-up, workout and cool down.  Yesterday, I learned to slow my pace down.  I had to because that is what the other runners needed.  I learned how to “run like a Kenyan.”

Now I finally understand how much of a difference in variety of paces – from a marathon pace to an easier cool down pace – makes in how I feel the next day.  Today, my legs feel fresh.  I’m pleasantly tired, but I couldn’t wait to head out for an easy run this morning.   And the best part?  My feet don’t hurt – at all.

Yesterday, the ladies we coached through the route left feeling that they had a good run and are ready for their half-marathon in a few weeks.  Me, I left with a better understanding of pacing, the success of the longest run yet in my marathon cycle and satisfaction of supporting other runners.  It was truly a win-win.

Race Report – Whitby Summer Races

Whitby water
After the race; along the beautiful waterfront trail in Whitby, Ontario.

Last week was one of the mentally toughest weeks that I have had in a long time.  Running in a storm – okay, maybe that was fun.  Getting sick on my long run – not fun at all.  So when I headed to Whitby for the 10K on Sunday morning, I proceeded with caution.

Why did I pick Whitby?  First, it is one of the few longer races (yes, this summer, a 10K race is a longer race) in the GTA.  Almost all regular races have been cancelled in Toronto because of the PanAm Games and many race directors outside the GTA have dropped theirs because of the transportation difficulties that the Games have caused.  It was a long drive but the Whitby race is one of the few road races in the Toronto area all summer.  Secondly, one of my training partners, Darryl, was going and it is always more fun racing when you go with a friend.  Finally, timing was key.  The 10K in Whitby sets me up nicely for a 10 miler or half-marathon before the end of September in preparation for Chicago.

On Friday night, my coach advised against racing.  He reminded me that it would take my body a few days to recover from my 30K long run on Friday.  Finishing it as sick as I did and racing two days later was simply not a good idea.   He was right, but I wasn’t about to walk away from it that easily. I was, though, prepared to walk away from the start line if I found that I really wasn’t up to par; if I felt dizzy or sick on the course, as hard as it would have been, I was mentally ready to DNA.

Darryl and I left town at 6:00 on Sunday morning and, after a major detour (yes, we got lost), we arrived at the venue shortly after 8:00, 90 minutes before the start.  The low entry fee ($30) hinted that it was a low-key, no-frills event and it was.  There were just over 100 runners for the 5k and 10K and our race kit was an OLG cotton t-shirt.  After checking in, I headed out on my own for a short run before my actual warm-up to make sure that I was feeling okay. Whitby warming up The out and back route was going to be beautiful – a paved path along the waterfront and lots of greenery.  I noticed that the path was uneven at the edges and made a mental note to spend most of the race in the middle.  About 20 minutes later, Darryl and I did a slow warm-up together and, then, did our drills on our own.  I was feeling strong and race-ready.

Since numbers were low, the 5K and 10K started together.  I watched Darryl quickly disappear into the curved paths and found myself chasing a group of ponytailed high school runners.  I expected the course to be flat but it wasn’t; we were constantly rolling up and down hills, with a longer climb at the turn-around and another closer to the end.  The hills were in my favour, though, as I passed each of the girls (and many men) on them before the 5K turned back and I continued on, thinking that I might have the women’s lead in the 10K.

I ran the rest of the way on my own.  As I went further into the race, I found myself feeling more comfortable and picked up my pace.   When I saw Darryl on his way back and saw that he was in the lead, with about 20 seconds to spare, I cheered him on and became very focussed on my own race.  Three, four, five – only five people were ahead of me and they were all men; I was definitely in the lead of the women’s race.

After turning around, I saw that the second lady seemed to be only a minute behind me so I knew that I had to pick up the pace if I wanted to hold my position.  Over the last half of the race, I was able to close the gap between the two men ahead of me and add more space between the second lady and me.  It felt great being cheered on by runners who were still heading out.  That was all anti-climatic, though, as I neared the finish area.  I saw the photographer and worried about the drool and spit coming out of my mouth (yeah, I’m that runner), but he was only interested in drinking his water.  “What the h—?” I actually thought.  “You aren’t taking a picture?  Beautiful scenery, great lighting, me – and only me; it would be a fabulous picture.”  I quickly let my thoughts go, changed gears again (at least, I think I did), turned the corner and ran up a slight incline to finish.   The little girl who handed me my finishing medal was amazed. “How do you run faster than the 5K’s?  How do you run so fast?”  Yes, even without the photo, this was the vanity race that I needed.

In the end, the course was a tad short – about 400 metres short.  I finished in 42:08 but I think I would have finished under 44 minutes had it been an honest 10K.  Given the way that I felt on Friday night, I was happy with that.  Darryl opened the gap between him and the Number 2 Runner and was the overall winner, finishing a few minutes ahead of me.  It was a good day for both of us.

Whitby - This is how we cool downAfter we crossed the finish line, we did a short cooldown along the waterfront and found a great training circuit.  Of course, we had to stop and play.  Then we headed back for the awards (another medal, a pair of gloves and a reflective clip-on light) and back home.

This race was the confidence boost that I needed.  My race in Beamsville in July wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.  My training has been going fairly well but Friday’s run did bring me down a bit.  I was quite happy with my time in Whitby, especially since it was a C-race, and finishing first (even if it was a small turn-out) was a bonus.

With 9 weeks to go, I can continue to build mileage but, more importantly, build some tempo work into my long runs.  After the past week of training and racing, I know I am ready for it.

 

 

Battling Mother Nature

My training with Lions Valley Athletics fits in perfectly with my work schedule.  We meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:00, which gives me enough time to stay after school to get some solid marking done or head home to make sure the boys’ homework is done.

In the summer, though, it’s a different story.  I’m off work so I really prefer to run early, get it out of the way and have the rest of the day with the family.  There are many days, though, when training with the club gives me something to look forward to – an opportunity to escape the nonsense and noise that 9 and 14 year old boys can bring into my life.  Getting out with the club also makes sure that I am pushing myself more than I do when I’m on my own.

Tuesday afternoon, I found myself staring out the window, longing to run.  It was warm and sunny, the rain had already passed through, and rush hour traffic hadn’t quite started.  I almost got changed into my gear but, instead, sighed on the couch with a book in hand.  “I need to run with the guys tonight,” I told myself.  “I need the hill workout.”  I knew which hill we were going to use too; I didn’t want it, but I knew it would be good for me.

Just after 6:00, three of us left the Rec Centre to meet our coach in the valley.  Barely 10 minutes into our warm-up, the skies opened.   Within minutes, we were in the middle of a deluge.  Buckets of water were dumped on us, making it impossible to see where we were putting our feet.  Our clothes were soaked through, and I felt the weight of the water start to pull down my running skirt.  By the time we got to the bottom of the valley, we could hardly see our coach waiting for us in his car.   He got out and took us under a dry shelter to tell us what the workout would be.

“Um, I’m okay not doing hills today.  I’m happy to just keep running home.”  My training partners, Darryl and David, agreed.  Coach didn’t try to convince us otherwise; hills in that rain would have been a challenge and, possibly, dangerous.  He left and the three of us continued to run.

Once we got into the trails, we headed into a new adventure.  The rain was letting up but the rain and run-off from the hills left huge puddles, covering the entire width of the trail and longer than our height.  We had no choice but to try to jump over them (and I write “try” as  we often ended up landing in them) or run through them.  Our feet were already soaked  so it really didn’t matter which way we went.  Once we got to higher ground, the sun was out and there were fewer, smaller puddles to navigate but, at that point, we were carrying a few extra pounds of water in each shoe; my legs were tired.

When the rain stopped, we felt our pace drop.  The battle against Mother Nature was over; there was no more adrenaline to push us through our run.   By the time we got back to the roads, the sun was out and the sidewalks were nearly dry.  I tried to wring out some of the water clinging to my running skirt and we climbed one more long, gradual hill on the return back to the Rec Centre.

Deluge
One soaking wet running skirt but fairly clean legs, all things considered. If only you saw what ended up inside my shoes.

As I left the guys and turned down a side street, I started to hear it.  “Squeak, squeak.”  A lady walking ahead turned back to look.   “Squeak, squeak.”  My shoes!  They were so wet that they were squeaking all the way home.   As drenched as I was, there was very little dirt on me; it was well hidden in my clothes and the rain took care of any other dirt by washing it down and into my shoes.   Thank goodness because I don’t think I would have been allowed in the house if I were still covered in it.

While getting caught in rain like that can be a nuisance, it is actually a lot of fun.  The unexpected element brings a new kind of challenge and it gives us a break from the predictability of a planned run or a workout.  Both physically and mentally, it was one of the toughest workouts we’ve ever done.  And if I end up getting rained on in Chicago, because anything can happen in October, I know that I can handle it.

The Drying Rack
Multi-purpose sports equipment: the next day, our hockey net became a drying rack for my still soaked running shoes.

 

 

Knowing When to Say When

When I registered for the Chicago Marathon, I had forgotten how hard it can be to train through the summer heat.   Well, I didn’t entirely forget but I shrugged it off, thinking that this would be a typical summer with empty promises of hot weather.

Let’s keep in mind that this is Canadian hot – so nothing near the hot, dry heat that is felt through many parts of the United States and other parts of the world.  In Southern Ontario, I have to get up by 6:30 so that I can run in cooler temperatures, not at 4:30 like my Floridian friends.  But it’s all relative.

This past week, we had the first real heat wave that we have had in two summers.  23252-sunglasssunOn most days, temperatures were around 32 degrees (about 90F) but, when you added the humidity, it felt like 38C (about 100F).  What exactly does that mean?  At my hot yoga class on Monday night, they turned off the heat, closed the curtains to keep the sun out and we still walked away drenched; even then, it was hotter outside than it was inside.

Training-wise, the heat took its toll on me.  I ran my long run on Sunday and went through two bottles of Gatorade and lots of water in the 6 hours that followed; that was a personal record.  On Monday, I went to hot yoga at Power Yoga Canada; I trained with Lions Valley Athletics on Tuesday night, another sweat drencher.  On Wednesday night, due to family commitments, I kept my run short – 8K in feels like 35C heat.  By Thursday, I was done.

I had had it with the heat.  It, quite simply, had tired me out.   My feet were slightly swollen and I wasn’t sleeping well at night.  On Thursday, when the Littlest Dude asked if we could spend the whole day together, which meant no running for me,  I knew it was time to take a day off.  I needed the physical break but, more importantly, my son needed me.

Of course, I stressed over this.  I knew that the day off alone wouldn’t matter in the big picture but I worried about the drop in my weekly mileage.   I started to calculate ways to make it up over the rest of the week.  “Do I need to drop mileage next week too?” I wondered.   And what about next week’s mileage?

“ENOUGH!  It doesn’t matter.  It is one lousy day.  And it is one day that, for whatever reason, the Littlest Dude wants to spend with you.”  My inner voice set me straight.

And, as the week is wrapping up, the day off didn’t matter.  I ran yesterday and today, as planned, and I will tomorrow.  What matters is the Littlest Dude and making sure that he realizes that I am there for him when he needs me.  And when I do head to Chicago, he will be there, looking out for me.