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.

On Wednesdays, we run hills

And incidentally wear pink, too, which I realized at some point in the middle of a hill.

Today my training plan called for a 55 minute hilly run. Every Wednesday is supposed to be a hill day, but I think this was the first time since starting the plan five-ish weeks ago that I actually made a devoted effort to work on hills.

What I did: 2 km warm-up on the trail, which came out right in the middle of a huge hill. From the middle of the hill to the top is 400 m, so I did 6 x 400m hill repeats, running the uphill hard and the downhill easy. 4 km cool-down back on the trail. Total: 12 km in (exactly!) 60 minutes.

Whew! Felt knackered at the end. I’m really looking forward to getting some running in this weekend in flat Chicago 🙂

Trail racing takeaways

Takeaways from my first trail race since the good ol’ high school x-country days of yore:

1) My horrible sense of direction is even worse in the woods! Who would have guessed? —> TRY TO ALWAYS HAVE SOMEONE IN YOUR SIGHTS. The first two runners were too far ahead for me to glimpse, and the other runners were too far behind, so I ended up running alone which of course led to me taking a wrong turn, which then led to, oh, an extra 2.5km tacked on to the 18k distance for me. Because why do 18 with everyone else when you can do 20.5 AND run/crawl/scrabble up the hill of death four times instead of just three?

2) Ankle support is crucial. I think I need actual trail running shoes. Ouch.

3) Garmins and GPS watches = pointless. They can’t link up to those mysterious satellites in the sky that somehow track our runs (and track our lives??? Creeeepy.) from the dense canopy of the Carolinian forest, so your distance and pace are going to be all out of whack. Plus, pace does NOT matter when you’re trail running. Go by effort, not by a number. If you feel like you’re dying, that’s good. You’re running hard enough.

4) Bug spray = obvs. Also, I’m now paranoid about ticks and Lyme disease thanks to a Runner’s World article and a story we ran in the paper this week, so check your legs and arms afterwards for those nasty little buggers.

5) Stay in the moment. You’re kinda forced to actually, because the only thing that matters when you’re running around in the woods is paying attention to that next step. I love running because you can let your mind wander and think about all kinds of things, but trail running is definitely not the place or time to do so, or else you will trip and fall and keep rolling until you possibly/likely break your leg. Running is both the hardest and easiest thing in the world – it’s just putting one foot in front of the other (and rinse and repeat, etc) but trail running really reminds you of that.

6) Clear your schedule of anything requiring movement for the next three to four days after the race. Because you are going to be SORE. I’ve never hurt that much from running except after my two marathons, and this was half the distance. I was just able to master stairs today (four days later). I’ve been biking anywhere I absolutely needed to go (like, oh, work, say) and my little commute consists of 1km downhill, so I technically just (gingerly) swung my leg over my bike and let gravity do its thing. Trail running uses every single muscle, and not just in your legs. My core and arms got a serious workout – and in that vein, TGFST (thank goodness for strength training). I definitely think my little strength routine a couple times a week and my core work helped me on Sunday.

7) Keep smiling and keep a sense of humour. As alluded to in my first point, I ended up taking a slightly more scenic, extended route than everyone else, and initially I was pretty upset with myself (even more so because no one else KNEW I had gotten lost – not sure actually if broadcasting my stupidity would have been a good idea – so I had to pretend like my second place finish was cool, when I was really crying on the inside like the weird sore loser/winner I am because if I hadn’t gotten lost I would have won for females and placed third overall, and whew, longest tangent EVER) but basically, what I mean to say is: running is FUN. Let’s keep it that way.

When I run, I feel so happy (ok, maybe not all the time, but when the stars align and mercury is in retrograde – whatever that means – and I do my warm-up consisting of exactly 28 side twists and four calf raises and the Gu served on course is strawberry-banana…when all those things are in order THEN I feel happy)* and pouting about a few things going off-course (literally) is lame and takes some of the joy out of the whole experience. I had a few of those moments running on Sunday where I just couldn’t keep the huge smile off my face, because I felt so strong and powerful and confident and just blissed out. My right quad and groin felt great, and besides looking down at the ground all the time in fear of a rogue root (actually quite a few people wiped out on the course, it was terrifying!), I felt unstoppable. And isn’t that why we run?

(besides the free glass of Burning Kiln wine at this particular post-race party?)

*massive, massive over-exaggeration, and said (in my mind) very tongue-in-cheek. I prefer PB flavoured Gu, anyway.


Happy Canada Day! and some kilometer repeats

Canadian runner problems: when you don’t have any red/white or Canada-themed running clothing to wear on July 1. I have many Canada t-shirts, but they’re all cotton and there’s no way I’m venturing outside in this humidity to run in any material that isn’t dri-fit and sweat-wicking!

Also, do they make Canadian-themed compression socks? Because I’m super jealous of these:


So I’m all about the power of the rest day for making the next day’s run the best thing ever. Lately my runs after a day or two of not running have been great – my legs feel fresh and strong and I’m so excited to get out there. I’m also loving speedwork…yeah, we’ll see if I’m still saying that in a few months! But right now, it’s so much fun thinking of different workouts to do instead of just heading out and doing a random number of miles at whatever pace I feel like.

Today’s workout was kilometer repeats. I warmed up with 3 kilometers at 4’55 pace, then settled into 11 kilometers alternating 1k fast, 1k recovery (fast kilometers were run between 4’00 – 4’30; recovery kilometers at 5’00-5’15). Cooled down with 2km very slow for a total of 16.

Best thing about this workout? The variety. Switching it up every kilometer was fun and challenging.

Worst thing? Probably the way some of the kilometers worked out. Because I didn’t do this workout on a track, but rather on the roads and trail, I didn’t have control over where one kilometer would end and another begin. So if my fast kilometer suddenly ended halfway up a hill, I didn’t want to switch to recovery mode, or vice versa. Also, traffic lights and random people with two lizards on their shoulders weaving back and forth on the sidewalk (not even kidding) are annoying. It would have been easier to run this on the track, but the change of terrain and incline/decline did make it more challenging.

As soon as I got back to the apartment the first thing I did was drink a cup of cold water mixed with half a scoop of Vega Sport Performance Protein. This is what I drank right after the Boston Marathon and I swear it helped in muscle recovery. It’s supposed to reduce recovery time between training, build and repair muscle, and improve strength. One scoop has 25 grams of complete plant protein, but it IS expensive (I get it at my grocery store for $3.50/package, and one package is a single serving), so I’ve budgeted it into my grocery bill to buy one package every week and divide it into two and having it after whatever I deem to be my “toughest” runs, not necessarily the longest. I’m trying to get a lot better at my running nutrition…it’s a work in progress…

Also, the only flavour I’ve found this in is berry. It’s not the greatest, but it’s not intolerable…glowing review, huh? Basically, immediately after running you need carbs and protein in a 4:1 ratio, and this is one great (vegan) way to get a bunch of protein in.

OK, time to continue the Canada Day celebrations! 🙂 have a great one, fellow Canucks!