Running year in review – 2014

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Where my feet have taken me this year!

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This isn’t totally accurate – I haven’t worn my watch for every run, so I’d say I’m probably closer to 1,800 km this year – an improvement over last year’s 1,362!

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No surprises here – Fridays and Mondays are my cross-training/rest days usually, and I am definitely not an evening/late night runner!

Looking back on 2014…

Races: 8 (from a 5K to a 50K)

Injuries: 4 (groin strain, popliteus strain, plantar fasciitis, quad pull)

New pairs of shoes: 5 (Asics GT-2000-2s, Mizuno Wave Inspires, Mizuno Wave Rider 17 – awful! for me anyway -, second pair of Mizuno Wave Inspires – love ’em -, Brooks Ravenna 5s)

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Mizuno love! The Wave Inspires. Supportive and LIGHT! My favourite, favourite shoes

Favourite race, experience: Boston, hands down. I still get chills when I watch videos like this

Favourite race, running: Run for the Toad 50K. It was my first ultra, I placed fourth overall for women in the Canadian National ACU Championships and the race went off perfectly. I couldn’t have asked for a better race (although I could have done without the post-race cramps and dehydration!)

Most exhilarating finish: Boston

Most disappointing finish (at the time…perspective makes you realize it’s really not that horrible!): My 1:30:05 finish at the Harvest Half marathon in September. I wanted that sub-1:30 so badly, but this year just wasn’t my year. I got my half-marathon time down from 1:46 in 2013 to 1:30:05 in 2014, but I’m going to have to keep working at it. Elite runner Krista DuChene was at the finish line at this particular race, and she saw how disappointed I was. “It only makes you hungrier,” she told me, sharing a story about her own disappointment the first time she ran Boston. Wise words to remember! Looking back, I’m really proud of my half-marathon PB and I’m ready to crush it in 2015!

Favourite race shirt: the Harvest Half! I’ve got a billion blue race shirts, so a green one with a cool corn cob on it (who doesn’t love corn on the cob?) was something different and unique. Plus I love the v-neck!

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(and I fail at knowing how to rotate this image…)

Craziest weather: that time I ran 22K in a white-out blizzard with 90km/h winds. I wish I was exaggerating. At several points, I thought they would find my frozen, embalmed body in a snowbank six months later. It was BAD (yet also, weirdly, super exhilarating and I felt so bad-ass when I dragged myself back to my apartment and collapsed in front of the fireplace).

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Bundled up.

Best race expo: Rock and Roll Chicago – free massages, the chance to drive a new Honda Civic, awesome selection of running apparel/accessories (and decent prices!). Boston’s expo was awesome too, but overwhelming and I felt bad about dragging my family – especially my brother – there so I just ducked in and out. But in Chicago my friend Kelly and I really took our time, spending a few hours there before leisurely walking back along Chicago’s gorgeous lakefront to our hostel to meet our two other friends. It was awesome.

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My friend Jess and I at the Chicago expo

Best new running friend: Mary Anne, a woman I initially met through church. We realized we were both runners, and since then we’ve met up at three races this past fall, including my last race of 2014 – the Georgetown Egg Nog Jog. She is one of the most resilient, dedicated runners I know, and her goal-setting and commitment to running is so inspiring! After the race we went back to her place and she showed me the 80+ medals she has from racing, including a marathon medal from my birth year, 1988! Looking forward to more races in 2015 with Mary Anne!

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Most inspiring elite: Shalane Flanagan. I love how gutsy she is! She recently had a great interview with Runner’s World about the recent doping scandal (heart = broken over Jeptoo) and once again, I loved everything she had to say. Embarrassing thing to admit: when I’m racing (or even just doing a tough workout), I try to channel my inner Shalane. It actually really helps motivate me!

Biggest running fail: putting water in a ziploc bag and tucking said bag in your sports bra because you can’t find your hand-held water bottle and you’re heading out on a 22 mile run DOES NOT WORK. The water will gradually seep out of the ziploc bag, making it look like you’re lactating and leaving you with no form of hydration. Just a heads-up. Either find your water bottle or stash water along your route ahead of time.

Favourite workout: I don’t exactly love doing it, but love how it really gets you ready for hills: 2 mile warm up, 10x600m hill repeats, with downhill jog, 2 mile cool down. Whew!

Favourite running song: Love lift me – Amanda Marshall. Man, that chorus. When it kicks in you just want to fly.

Top running message: in the words of Dave McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon, “my game, my rules.” Not every race is going to be your best race or a PB. Sometimes you’re not going to have the time or desire to train for a big race or run every day. That’s fine. Running is for you, it’s personal, it’s hopefully going to be something you can do forever, and you get to make the rules. You get to choose, and I choose to run happy.🙂

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Looking forward to what 2015 has in store running-wise!

Well, that was unexpected – when a brief break from running turns into something much longer

When I crossed the finish line of the Run for the Toad 50K ultra Oct. 4, I knew that was going to be the last run for me for the rest of the month. My body – and mind, to be honest – needed a break. Although I loved training for the ultra throughout the summer, by September I was feeling decidedly uninspired, unmotivated and just ready to run it. I also knew my body had been through a lot in 2014 – training for Boston, getting injured, running Boston, training for a half-marathon PB, and now my first 50K . It was time to rest, and I was completely OK with that and even a little excited to recharge and come back in November ready and eager to run again.

Only, that’s not what happened. I enjoyed October’s break (well, kind of – there was one particularly gorgeous sunny Saturday where my dad was going out for a 6K run and my mom almost literally had to sit me down and stop me from joining him, sans orthotics, just a week out from the ultra, but what can I say? It seems a crime not to take advantage of beautiful fall running weather!), had fun with friends, went out drinking a couple times, and just generally loosened up from my more rigid training schedule, which is always a good thing to do and I know something I should do more often.

Cheering my dad on at his first 8K - way to go!

Cheering my dad on at his first 8K – way to go!

But when November rolled around and I excitedly went to lace up my shoes, I realized…I was injured. Yep, that month off running, meant to allow my body to rest and recover, actually resulted in plantar fasciitis in my right heel from not wearing orthotics in my regular, non-running shoes. Ouch! So that was fun. And then on top of that, some random pain in my left quad kept me from running even after the plantar fasciitis was OK to run on.

I’m *just* getting back to running now, 2.5 months later. And I say that with a lot of trepidation! I don’t want to jinx anything. I went for my first pain-free, longer run today that’s also been the longest distance I’ve done since the 50K – 8.6 miles, on the soft trails by my apartment.

This is my happy place.

This is my happy place.

Up until today, my longest pain-free runs had been two miles. Anything more than that, and I’d feel sharp pain in my quad, so I’d back down and take a week off before trying again. Then last weekend, I had a 10K race I had signed up for a long time ago with my running friend Mary Anne. I was in that agonizing limbo every runner finds themselves in sooner or later – do I race and potentially make this injury worse, or do I miss out on the race experience, the race fee and the race shirt and medal? (let’s be honest, a big part of why we do races is the swag at the end, right?)

Anyway, I’ll recap the race later but I will say now that it wasn’t as painful as I was preparing for. My leg felt…maybe 65% normal? And my heel felt fine, although a couple days later I wore winter boots without orthotics (they don’t fit in!) to walk the short distance to work and my heel has been bothering me ever since. So I’m kinda resigning myself to having to wear my running shoes to church on Christmas Eve haha…because seriously, right now they and my Birkenstocks are the only shoes with the support I need for my heel.

I’m easing back into running very slowly, and even though I’m ecstatic at today’s pain-free longer run, I know I can’t push it too fast or too soon. The pool has been a fantastic alternative this past month, especially, and I’ve resumed physio for my quad. I’ve been itching to do some speed workouts or really long runs, but I’ve got to be happy with slow and steady for now. And honestly, I really am fine with that. I just missed running so much, and today’s time on the trails was good for my soul.

But if I’m asking Santa for anything this Christmas, it’s for an injury-free 2015! (and a half-marathon and marathon PB would be nice too, but I’m willing to put the work in for those!)

Run for the Toad 50k ultra race recap

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Wow – I’m not even sure where to begin so I’ll just dive right in. The night before the race, I lay awake in bed listening to the pouring rain outside my window and trying not to freak out. All I could think about was scrabbling around on a muddy hill for traction with hundreds of other runners. But by some Thanksgiving miracle or something, by the time Kelly and I arrived at Pinehurst Conservation, the sun was out and we were looking at this gorgeous scenery:

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It was still cool out, but a perfect temperature for running. The opening ceremonies started promptly at 8:45 and included members of the Royal Highland Fusiliers piping in the morning with “Amazing Grace” followed by a minute of silence for American and Canadian troops while the two countries’ flags fluttered in the breeze. A woman sang the Star Spangled Banner and Oh, Canada, and then there were a few speeches from the race directors, conservation authority, politicians, etc. It was a very solemn and moving way to start a race and reminded me of the races I’ve done in the States where there always seems to be more of a sense of patriotism and pride.

The kids’ race started off the events and was adorable – they all had number 1 on their bibs and a lot of them were running with little water bottles and stopping to take quick swigs. Apparently their course was one kilometer but they were back in about two minutes…so if the distance was right, then Usain Bolt has some serious competition from a bunch of Canadian kindergartners…!

The 50k and 50k relay started at 9:30 and included four 12.5k loops around the conservation area. The course itself was pretty technical, but I wouldn’t say overly challenging. It was muddy in spots and you had to be careful about slipping, but it wasn’t too bad. It was mostly double track and only occasionally single track, and even had some paved portions which was a nice switch. Trail running takes so much more out of me I find, because you’ve got to lift your feet up to avoid roots and rocks, and you’re constantly switching up your feet, jumping over things, etc. The trail was also relentlessly hilly, both climbs and descents, and included one hill called “The Wall” at kilometer 11 (and since this was a loop, that meant we repeated it four times, including kilometer 48 when your quads are just burning!).

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The first time I approached the Wall I ran up it (“ran” being an ambitious word, perhaps) but the next three times I walked it and it FELT AMAZING. I was initially worried I would lose momentum and not be able to start running again at the top, but that wasn’t the case. You use your leg muscles in a different way walking up a hill as opposed to running, and the little break feels so, so good. At the top of the summit there were these two skeletons dressed up for Hallowe’en – eerie. I ran up the other hills on the course but I’m really glad I walked that one in particular and I think it’s a good strategy I’ll be adopting now for any future trail runs.

The first half of the race I had planned to run conservatively, and I actually followed the plan perfectly. My attitude towards racing is usually along the lines of Steve Prefontaine’s famous quote, “The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die” – ie., go hard or go home! I always figure that if I blow up later on in the course, I can just run the rest nice and easy, but when the distance is 50k I really didn’t want to take that risk and end up hobbling another 32k to finish. So I ran the first loop nice and easy, maintaining a conversational pace with these two runners from South Africa. They were hilarious and it was a really enjoyable loop, but I knew I could pick it up a bit and so I ended up running the second loop with two other guys and another interesting conversation was had for that second 12.5k. One of the guys just qualified for Western States a few weeks ago with a 100 miler! Another one was an Ironman. It’s so much fun to talk about memorable races people have done, training tips, etc. when you’re at a race. I asked them what the biggest mistake they’ve made before a marathon and the Ironman said, “Swimming 2.4 miles and cycling 112 miles right before!”

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Finishing the second loop with these two guys. The one in the black tripped so I’m looking back to make sure he’s OK!

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And he’s good! (this was the 100 miler dude, so he definitely knew what he was doing!)

But as we approached the third loop, we all checked in with each other. The two guys were a little surprised at our pace, thinking it was too fast, whereas I had honestly been thinking it was too slow. At this point I knew I had to make a choice – play it safe and keep running with them, and most likely finish the race feeling like I still had something in there, or take a risk and pick up the pace and see what I could do.

Well, Shalane Flanagan and her bold, gutsy style of racing continues to be an inspiration to me, so I decided to go for it. By this point in my running, I’m a fairly intuitive runner and I know that it takes me about 10-16km to hit my stride and fully warm up, so I decided to trust my body and push the pace. The third loop was probably my favourite – my feet picked up a smooth cadence and at times I honestly felt like I was gliding over the ground, almost flying. I definitely don’t feel like that on, say, 90% of my runs, so when it happens, I soak it in and just enjoy that effortless feeling.

Because by the fourth loop, nothing was feeling effortless. It became all about the mental aspect of running, and I had to focus on picking off each kilometer. It helped telling myself, “OK, this is the LAST time you’ll ever climb this hill” or “this is the last time you’ll ever see that Boston Bruins camping chair”. Because these were the national Canadian ACU 50k championships, no earphones or music were allowed on the course, which was also pretty challenging. I could hear the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” playing at some point along the course, so I just sang along in my head…over and over haha…

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What really helped me push through was having my friend Kelly there to cheer me on. She was at kilometers 6, 9 and 12.5 along the loop so knowing I’d be seeing her three times per loop really helped! The first couple of loops I would say something to her like, “This is fun!” (because it really was!) but by the final loop I looked at her and said, “this is starting to hurt now.” The impact of going up and down so many hills, even though it was on soft terrain, was really starting to make itself known in my glutes and hips. My feet felt great though – at the beginning of the fourth loop a little rock ended up in my right shoe but it was more annoying than painful.

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I ended up with a strong finish (always my goal) and crossed the line at 4:17:something (I can’t remember the exact time and the results haven’t been posted online yet). Just like at Gettysburg, the cruel, cruel irony of running 42+ kilometers is that you THINK the pain will stop as soon as you stop running, but it is actually so much worse. It felt like a billion knives were stabbing me all over my legs. Kelly met me after I made it through the little chute for finishers, and she took my shoes off and put on my track pants for me because I couldn’t bend over! I just wanted to sit, and I started crying but Kelly encouraged me to keep walking so I wouldn’t cramp up. We walked over to the medical tent because I was in so much pain, and one of the paramedics started walking with me inside the tent. He told me to line up for a massage, but while I was in line I just started swaying and sobbing and talking to myself out loud. I don’t remember what I was saying. It was actually really scary, I felt so out of it. Anyway, the paramedics at that point came running over to me and got me lying on a bed. My legs had seized up with cramps and I was really lightheaded, so they started massaging my legs (the pressure felt incredible) and wrapped me up in a heat blanket (I looked like a turkey about to go in the oven!) and they gave me a salt water drink. It turns out I was pretty severely dehydrated (I had taken in about 500mLs of water throughout the race, plus four gels) but that wasn’t enough electrolytes, the chief paramedic told me. I needed to be taking in some kind of electrolyte drink like Gatorade or eload while I was running, and also in the week leading up to the race.

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So a very valuable lesson was learned yesterday, one that I hope to carry with me in future races. Hydration is SO important and water alone just doesn’t cut it, especially after a certain distance. I feel like I become a better runner each race I do, because you always learn something new, and yesterday was absolutely no exception.

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Me, trussed up like a turkey in a tinfoil-esque heat blanket

Because I was in the medical tent, I missed the award ceremonies but I ended up placing fourth female and 14th overall, which even qualified me to win $250. Overall Run for the Toad 2014 was a fantastic experience. I had a great run and even though post-run was not so awesome, I learned a lot. I would definitely recommend the course to any long-distance runner, whether you’re an experienced ultrarunner (there were several running yesterday) or a newbie to trail running or the ultra distance like I was. The 25k and 50k relay options are also great. The organization was superb, the aid stations were well-stocked, spectators and volunteers were positive and enthusiastic, and the post-race food was plentiful, varied and delicious. All participants also received a Nike gym bag with a Run for the Toad name tag, and it’s really roomy and nice.

Thanks for a great day, Toad, and for making me an ultramarathoner!

So, about that 50k tomorrow…

Yikes, am I actually going to be running 50 kilometers 16 hours from now? In the pouring rain? (yep, after a week straight of gorgeous, sunny fall weather, the driving rain came today and it’s supposed to stick around all day tomorrow, because NATURALLY).

I went to the expo (referred to as Tent City, because it really is an enormous white tent in the middle of a clearing in the forest) and picked up my race bib and kit this afternoon. The ground was covered in straw to try and help soak up the rain, but to little avail. This is gonna be fun!

(I do mean that, at least…mostly…haha. Can’t lie, I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect of running four soggy 12.5km loops on a trail for 50k, but there’s also something I love about battling the elements and being out there in the thick of it, getting wet and dirty and running up and down hills. It’s all about attitude, and I’m feeling a very “bring it on” attitude towards this race. I’ve put the work in, the miles in, the sweat and – occasionally – the blood in to preparing for this ultra and I’m ready to do this, Mother Nature be damned!)

How I spend the day before a race:

– a little positive visualization and reflection. I look back on my training (I kept a log this time around, so I have three months’ worth of entries to scan through) because it’s a great way to boost confidence. I did four 20+ mile runs, and they all went great. I had some great speed sessions and five killer hill repeat workouts. I know I put the training and effort into this, but it definitely helps to see those numbers and times and remember that I CAN do this.

– go for a shakeout run. This depends on the distance of the race, but I keep it short and slow. Today I did a little over 2 miles.

– eating, drinking and resting. Lots of water, including water mixed with Nuun for the electrolytes. And of course lots of carbs! My go-to carbs the day before a race are sweet potatoes and either a loaf (yes, an entire loaf) of bread or two big bowls of oatmeal with cinnamon, almond milk and blackstrap molasses (for iron). I play it very, very safe the day before and only stick to food I’ve had before other races. NO citrus, thanks to a tip from elite runner Krista DuChene, and I cut back on the veggies too. I eat an early dinner that’s usually a small kale/spinach salad with a big sweet potato chopped up, beets (because a: I love ’em, and b: studies show beets improve performance for endurance runners, so sign me up!) and a can of tuna. I’m a vegetarian, but the day before a race I will always eat tuna for my protein because beans/lentils are too much fiber. I also don’t have any dairy the day before. Basically it’s the most boring day of eating ever, but definitely worth it if it means avoiding any GI distress the next day!

– stretch and foam roll. Probably should do more of this, but I usually only do about 10 minutes.

– get everything packed and ready for the morning (clothes, sports bras, GUs if needed, race bib, charge GPS watch, change of shoes and warm clothes to put on after)

– try and get some sleep! Except I know that most nights before a race my insomnia kicks in and I usually don’t sleep at all. I’ve never had a problem racing on no sleep though, oddly. I think the atmosphere and the nerves give me a boost, and I try and get lots of sleep the week leading up to a race. You always read in running magazines that it’s the “night before the night before” that counts the most, so if you can get a good night’s sleep then, don’t stress too much! Oh and I also have started sleeping in my compression socks since the Chicago half haha…it worked for me then so I’m continuing to do it! I think it helps bring the blood flow up to my legs while sleeping and get the muscles all ready to run, but I could be totally wrong, so take that piece of advice with a giant box of salt.

Alright, I’m off to eat a boring sweet potato! Tomorrow…post-50K…I am so trading sweet potatoes for a Boston creme doughnut. And a stack of pancakes with maple syrup. Yummm.

Swim workout

The training plan I’ve been following for the ultra called for a 70 min hilly run today, but since I’m tapering before the Harvest Half Marathon this Saturday, I swapped the run for a lower impact 70 min swim instead. I’m going to do an easy run tomorrow and then take Friday off to rest.

I am very much a creature of habit (says the girl who ate a tuna sandwich every day for lunch for all four years of high school) and when I find something that works for me, I tend to stick to it until I eventually get so tired of it I never want to do/see/taste it again. So this past spring when I started doing a specific swim workout that minimized the use of my legs – so I could still get some cardio training in for Boston without aggravating my groin – I continued doing that same workout every time I got in the pool. I’m starting to get tired of it though, and it’s also starting to feel too easy – signs that it’s time to switch things up.

I found the following workout on a half-Ironman training website, and I modified it by adding an extra 500 meters to make it an even 3 kilometers.

I write out my workout and then put the paper in a ziploc bag so it stays waterproof. That way I can keep it next to my flutter board and pull buoy at the edge of the pool!

I write out my workout and then put the paper in a ziploc bag so it stays waterproof. That way I can keep it next to my flutter board and pull buoy at the edge of the pool!

– 400 m warm-up

– 400 pull (freestyle)

– 100 kick (dolphin)

– 16 x 25m free with :10 recovery between intervals (Whoops…I see now I was supposed to sprint 1, swim the next easy, but I couldn’t read that through my fogged-up goggles. I sprinted all of them)

– 4 x 125m with :30 recovery (25 spring, 100 smooth)

– 4 x 75m pull (freestyle)

– 300m swim free

– 250m (10 laps) pull (freestyle)

– 300m swim (100 free, 100 back, 100 breast)

– 50m egg beater to cool down

Total: 120 lengths, 3000m

Followed by five minutes stretching in the water/chatting with the lifeguards and a couple other swimmers.

It was a tough workout! The fact that it was “Warm Water Wednesday” at the pool made it tougher, actually – the water was way too warm. Like, bath water warm. Two of my friends said they both felt a lot slower and more sluggish too because of the warm temps. It’s nice when you wake up at 6 a.m. to know you won’t be jumping into a freezing cold pool, but I’ve got to say I might actually prefer cold water to what it was today…I’m guessing it was at least 85 degrees!

And it’s eight hours since I got out of the pool and the deep goggle indentations etched around my eyes are just starting to fade…hope nobody notices at the press conference I’ve got to rush off to now! I’ll just hide behind the camera and click away – perks of being a reporter!

Fine-tuning the feet: a visit to the pedorthist

Today I had an appointment with a pedorthist (foot doctor) and physiotherapist. I’ve worn orthotics since my stress fractures in 2008, and they’ve been looking pretty beat up lately – not surprising when you think about all the miles they’ve been through in the past six years! Since I haven’t had any problems with my feet since, and I already wear a stability shoe, I was curious to ask the doctor if I actually still needed orthotics, and if I did, should I get new ones?

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The short answer: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Gillian doesn’t like to over-prescribe orthotics, but with the amount of running I do, she thinks it’s a good idea to keep using them. The more time we spend on our feet running, the more likely it is our form will suffer and that’s when orthotics kick in to make sure you’re not over-pronating or over-supinating (basically, so your foot doesn’t roll too much inwards or outwards to compensate).

A 5K may be a good distance to experiment running without the orthotics, but she thinks for longer distances, it’s best to keep them in. There’s also something to be said for not messing with what works – my orthotics have kept my feet happy for six years, after all!

They also don’t need to be replaced, just relined (part of the top lining is starting to peel away in places). If I wanted to, we could recast my foot and get new orthotics made, but again, Gillian thought I should stick with what is working for me. Recasting would create a slightly different orthotic and even a small difference could have a negative impact on my running. Anyway, we worked out that I’m going to drop off my orthotics in her mailbox (in addition to being a fabulous pedorthist, she’s also my parents’ neighbour!) after my ultra next month. Since I’ll be taking a good break from running right after the ultra, she’ll be able to take her time to reline the orthotics and there won’t be any rush to get them back to me. She doesn’t want to do anything with them now before the race just in case – we both know well that the saying “nothing new on race day!” also applies to the few weeks leading up to it!

In addition to orthotics talk, Gillian recorded me running and played it back in slow-mo so she could analyse my gait. This was both interesting and kind of embarrassing haha! It turns out my parents were spot-on when they told me I tend to do a “whip kick” with my right leg when I run. I DEFINITELY do and in slow-mo it’s even more noticeable. Also, since this was just an easy run down the sidewalk, it’s not like I’m only falling into this pattern at the tail end of a marathon when I’m exhausted and not paying attention to form. I’m telling myself that every great runner has a unique little tic they do when running, so I’m just following in Paula Radcliffe’s footsteps…haha, right.

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Right leg about to whip around any moment now…

Apparently I DO have a really nice form though (she said I always make running look effortless when she sees me running past her house but I had to remind her that a) her house is right at the beginning of my run and b) it’s downhill so I really better be making it look effortless when I’m :30 seconds into my run and going down a hill to boot!) but there are some little niggles that could use finetuning so they don’t turn into bigger problems down the road. I need to concentrate on eradicating that weird whip kick motion – the best way to do this, according to Gillian, is to be diligent about track sessions where the focus is on intervals and that “sprinter’s form”, where the legs drive up parallel to the ground with each stride. Pretend like a string is pulling your knee up, she told me. This will keep my knee in alignment with my hips and not buckling inwards.

Another thing to focus on is running form drills – As and Bs, as well as strides running with your arms over your head so you’re really forced to concentrate on leading with your hips. Good running means pushing forwards with your pelvic area rather than sitting back a bit, which is what your body naturally wants to do. Another way to work on this is to strengthen your glutes and core. What I really came away with today is just how connected everything in the body is – if you have a weakness in your hips, it may reveal itself in your knees, or problems with your feet will eventually manifest themselves in your upper legs.

Gillian also gave me some rehab exercises to do as often as possible – single leg squats (in front of a mirror so you can make sure your knee is in alignment and straight over your foot), balancing on one foot and making sure the big toe of the foot on the ground is straight (this is SO hard!!), calf raises (again, making sure your toes are pointing out straight and your knees are in alignment with toes and heels) and reverse lunges with a forward knee drive.

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See how my toes point in? Not good. I need to strengthen the

muscle along the inside of my foot so I can pull my big toes out straight (does that make sense?)

OK, I think that was just about everything she told me today. I’m excited to fine-tune my running form and work on correcting those little tics so they don’t become a bigger problem. I want to stress that Gillian said EVERY runner has their own unique running form, and there’s not necessarily a “perfect” way to run, so don’t freak out if you too have a unique tic. I may never be able to fully get rid of the goofy whip kick, and that’s OK, but working to dial it down as much as possible will make me a more efficient runner and be less likely to lead to injury.

Anyone else notice a random little tic you do while running – have you been able to correct it? Any other orthotic-users out there?

 

 

Triple digits and what I’ve been training for

Whew! The last two weeks have seen my longest mileage weeks – 102 km and 110 km, respectively. It’s been a long, gradual build-up this summer. I took a month off running following the Boston Marathon to ensure my groin injury had completely healed, and then starting in June I steadily started increasing my distances. 110 km will be my max for this training cycle – I really have no desire to do more than that, not to mention it’s almost time to start tapering for my next big race. I know 110 km/week is nothing compared to elites and ultrarunners, but I think it’s about the max I can handle, both physically and mentally. It’s definitely the most running I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s been interesting to see how my body has handled it and how my perception of what constitutes a “long run” has totally shifted! But running (and running properly, which means stretching, foam rolling, cross-training/strength-training and lots of rest) takes a lot of time, and there are other things I like to (or have to) focus on!

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Scene from today’s run – I’ve loved seeing the crops change along with

the seasons. One of the perks of living in the country!

Anyway, why have I been upping my mileage to over 100 k/week? Well, to see if I could do it, partly. But also in the back of my mind ever since finishing Boston I’ve been toying with the idea of running an ultra. I KNOW, I KNOW. (to the three of you reading this who are thinking, “You said you’d never do an ultra!”) Yep, I totally said that. I also said I’d probably only run a few marathons in my life (Boston and the Great Wall Marathon which is my dream marathon one day), and well, I’m thinking I’ll probably run a few more than that – there are just so many amazing races in gorgeous, unique locations I’d love to experience! Never say never, I guess.

I wasn’t sure how training would go this summer coming off an injury, so I didn’t really tell anyone my idea and I definitely didn’t register. But having completed four runs of 20+ miles, I’m feeling (knock on wood) pretty confident that I can maybe actually do this. So last night I registered for the 50K Run for the Toad ultramarathon in Paris, Ont. on Oct. 4!

There are a couple reasons why I’m doing this. Mostly I want to see if I can do it. It also sounds like fun, and even though I don’t believe “longer is better”, I am the type of runner who has done better at longer distances rather than shorter races that require more speed, so I’m curious to see how I might do. It’s also what I would consider a “baby ultra” (ie. NOT a 50 miler or 100 km/100 miler) but I have to put this out there…one day I would LOVE to run the historic Comrades race in South Africa (and it’s 90 km). But we’ll see how this one goes first haha! I was also really hoping to run it with Kelly, but unfortunately she’s had to reassess after getting pretty badly injured (not that that stopped her from making it through three incredibly tough days of the RunWaterloo Endurun challenge!), so it looks like we won’t be getting to do it together this year, anyway.

So that’s my next big race, although I do have a half-marathon coming up next Saturday that I’m really looking forward to. Mostly because Krista DuChene will be there (the race raises money for the Kenyan Kids Foundation, a charity she is involved in) and I find her so inspiring! I’ll probably be running this more as a training run, because I’m not sure how fresh my legs will be feeling after today’s long run. But I plan to take the next two days off running and just do some light easy sessions Wed/Thurs, then rest on Friday before Saturday’s race.

Oh – one more thing! I definitely think I’ve got my nutrition dialed in for long runs. Two caffeinated Gu’s at mile 12 and mile 18, chased with water, seems to work wonders in giving me a huge energy boost. Two weeks ago I ran 26.6 miles and honestly felt like I could have kept going, and the same thing happened on today’s run except I actually took a third Gu at mile 22. I may be waiting a little too long before my first Gu so I think I’ll try taking one early (like mile 5) at next weekend’s half. Anyway, it’s crazy what a shot of caffeine can do! I tried drinking coffee for the first time before a long run a few weeks ago, but I just couldn’t handle the taste. I actually REALLY like the sweetness overload of Gu’s haha…especially the vanilla bean. Tastes like cake batter!

 

A deceptively difficult workout

Chicago recaps are still coming, but I wanted to pop in here quickly to post a seriously tough speed workout I did this morning. If you’re trying to get faster at the half-marathon distance, this one will definitely challenge you and help get you ready to race.

I read about it on Runner’s World – a 10 mile progression run that finishes with the last two miles at 10 seconds faster than your goal half-marathon race pace. Since I’m aiming for a sub 1:30 half, that means my goal pace is around 6’50/mile, so the final two miles of this workout would be run at 6’40. Each mile before that is 15 seconds slower. So if you’re ending at 6’40, you start at 8’40 and go down from there.

It seemed like a fun workout to try (I think I’ve mentioned my masochistic streak on this blog before, so “fun” is definitely relative) and at first, it almost seemed too easy. The first three miles felt very slow, and I remember thinking it would be fine with me if this ended up being an easy day because Tuesday was a tempo run and Wednesday was hills.

Then mile 4 happened. And mile 5. And…you get the idea. The tough thing about this workout is that as you add distance, you also add speed, and your tired legs have to find some way to keep getting progressively faster. Those last two miles were seriously hard, and I really had to dig deep for that 6’40 pace (spoiler alert: didn’t get it!).

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That was the only thing I didn’t like about this workout – it was hard to maintain a certain pace without constantly looking at my GPS watch. I’m clearly not very good at maintaining a pace or even really knowing what pace I’m at, and it was harder once I switched over to miles for this specific workout. I can generally know how a 4’15 kilometer feels compared to a 4’30, but a 7’45 mile vs. a 7’25? Not so much. Also, sometimes it felt like my watch was stuck at a certain pace no matter how fast or slow I was running, and I have to wonder if there were some issues linking up to the satellites at times, even though I hate sounding like I’m blaming the watch for my results haha.

Despite not hitting the exact numbers I wanted at each mile nor getting faster by 15 seconds every mile, I still ran progressively negative splits so I’m really happy with that. Plus, I felt totally wiped at the end and really challenged, so that’s what matters more to me than a specific number. I cooled down with 1.5 mile recovery jog which I’m trying to implement after each run (not necessarily 1.5 mile, but somewhere between 1-2 miles).

Today’s workout reminded me of a saying I heard in a podcast: “You’ve got it all in the bank, and now it’s time to withdraw it.” They were talking about that really great, confident feeling you have lining up at the start on race day, knowing that you’ve put in all the time and hard work to train for the race, and now all you’ve got to do is go out and crush it. Workouts like this one are basically the equivalent of putting in a solid deposit in the bank account!

 

Run with the windy city – Chicago Rock ‘n’ Roll race recap #1

Ahh, Chicago. I’m still on such a high from the trip. We came, we saw, we sang the blues, we ran, we conquered. What a fantastic, fun city!

Early Friday morning (like, really early. 1:30 a.m.!), the four of us drove to Port Huron, MI (a two-hour drive) where we boarded the Amtrak to Chicago. Not before getting some free sustenance for the train journey from Timmie’s though…who knew that they’re giving away boxes of free doughnuts at 4 a.m. if you just ask what the story is?😉

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It was a good thing we stocked up on doughnuts because the train trip ended up taking a couple hours longer than originally planned. Which was fine, because besides two really obnoxious couples travelling together, we had a great time chatting, laughing and trying to nap a little. We got in to Chicago around 2 p.m., checked into our hostel (definitely recommend it! Clean, inexpensive, great location, free breakfast, quiet) and then walked to Whole Foods (aka MECCA!) for lunch.

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Kombucha – my new love!

After Whole Foods, the four of us went to the race expo. Kelly and I were super pumped to spend as much time as possible soaking up the race atmosphere at the expo, so after picking up our t-shirts, race bibs, and chip timers (the Rock ‘n’ Roll series still does a foot chip instead of a bib one), we bid adieu to Jess and Emily who headed back to the hostel to rest up a bit.

The expo was great – lots of fun stuff to look at, gorgeous Brooks running clothes (I bought two tanks, including the one I wore on race day, and a new pair of CEP compression socks) and games/contests to try. We both got a heavenly 5-minute massage and even test-drove a 2014 Mazda! It was especially fun to just talk to other runners and be amongst fellow running nerds!

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After the expo, Kelly and I walked along the lakefront to get back to our hostel. The sun was just setting, and the park was packed with runners, cyclists and walkers just enjoying the gorgeous weather. We ended up by Buckingham fountain before meeting Jess and Emily at the hostel and getting changed for dinner. We had a late dinner at Tamarind’s, an Asian restaurant with a sweet patio, then got back to our hostel and called it a night around 11:30. We were all going on about 2 hours of sleep at this point, so I’m impressed with how long we held out! But I’ve found that’s the best strategy for traveling – just go, go, go the first day and then you’ll have a great night’s sleep and wake up refreshed and ready to hit the streets on day 2!

Alright, I’m going to stretch this recap out a bit so it doesn’t become a photo/info dump. Next up: the non-running things we did in Chicago – museums, drinks, the blues, shopping on Magnificent Mile and more!

Chicago Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon goals

Tomorrow night – or to be technical, very early Friday morning – I’m leaving for Chicago with three girlfriends for a long weekend of running, Blues music, sightseeing and hopefully some deep dish pizza.  Kelly and I have been planning this trip ever since I called her from the floor of my apartment in February, crying and unable to move after pulling my groin. This was just what I needed to pull myself out of the running injury doldrums, although a little voice nagged at me, “What if you aren’t able to run? What if July isn’t far enough away?”

Well, thank goodness I’ve recovered – something I am so grateful for. It’s hard to believe just two months ago I was nervously wondering how I was going to run the Boston Marathon on no training and a hurt leg! I’m still super worried about overdoing it so I’m trying to remain smart about cross-training, strength-training, stretching and rest but…I think it’s safe to say that I will be running the half-marathon on Sunday! Woo hoo!

So, my goals for the race – honestly, I just want to run it as fast as I can, see what that time is, and then go from there. I’ve registered for the Harvest Half Marathon in September, and that is really going to be my goal race in terms of time. I’ve written here before about my long-term goal (dream?) of running a sub-1:30 half, so I’d like to run Chicago and see just how far off that goal is, then make a plan of attack for achieving it! I really have no idea what my half-marathon time is. Even though I’ve ran 21.1km a billion times (or at least it feels like that much!), I’ve actually only raced two half-marathons. The first I was still drunk when I started running it (after a particularly raucous weekend in Philly visiting my friend Dan), and the second was in basically sub-arctic temps in Newfoundland after a month of being unable to train due to a busy internship. Both were fabulous experiences, but I did feel like my times (1:56 and 1:46) weren’t my fastest. So I’m curious to see what my time will be for Chicago.

And of course my other goal is just to have fun! That’s why we run! And especially why I love to run races in other cities – it’s a great way to explore and see a different side of a city. I’m so excited to finally go to Chicago and run along the lakefront in particular!

To get ready for what will hopefully be a flat and fast course, I’ve been focusing on speedwork. I aim to do a solid speedwork session at least once a week. My last one was this past Saturday – my legs were finally feeling ready to move after the Smuggler’s Run trail race a week earlier, and I wanted to take advantage of having a track nearby, since I was home visiting my family. Not surprisingly, the only track around where I live has been locked up for the past few months, and the only way I’d be able to get on it is if I could somehow climb the fence, and I’m definitely not that skilled!

Saturday’s track workout included a 2.5km warm-up, then 10 x 400s with 400 m slow jog recovery in between. These were my splits:

1:35, 1:30, 1:32, 1:31, 1:30, 1:31, 1:32, 1:31, 1:29, 1:26.

Seeing that the final two numbers were the fastest was the best feeling! Speed workouts are brutal and when you don’t hit your paces it’s so disappointing, but when the stars align and your legs are feeling fast it’s honestly such a terrific feeling. I was on cloud 9 the rest of the day, even though I know it’s a silly thing to be so proud of.

I finished with about 8 km of just easy running, then jumped in the tub for an ice bath. MARVELOUS! No pain or soreness after or the next day at all! So now what I really want in my apartment is a) a bathtub and b) proximity to an open track.

ice bath

First five seconds – torture. But then it felt amazing.