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 🙂

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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:

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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!

 

 

Summer of trails!

The summer of 2014 is shaping up to be the summer of trail running for me – and I love it! The trails are shadier, the ground is softer, there’s no worrying about traffic or stopping at intersections, and there’s some really cool wildlife, everything from deer to rabbits to turtles and (gulp) snakes.

Last month, my parents, their friends, my friend Kelly and I ran a charity 5k trail race for heart arrhythmia research and awareness at Chicopee Ski Resort in Kitchener. It was the perfect day for a race, overcast and with the temperature at that sweet spot of 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

This was the second year for the event, and it’s more of a fun, relaxed run than a super competitive race. No chip timing or even a clock, so I’m not sure what my official time was. It also wasn’t exactly 5k – both my and Kelly’s GPS watches clocked the distance at just over 4k. Not complaining at all, though – those hills were tough, and 4k was a nice distance. The run started with a super steep ascent up one of the ski hills, then went up and down like a roller coast for about 2 km before flattening out in the woods.That was the best part, and when one of the course volunteers told us the hills were over, I felt brave enough to really push my legs and try and get some speed, knowing I wouldn’t need to conserve anything for more inclines. I ended up placing second, but again, no idea what my time was and the run really wasn’t about that, anyway. It was just a very fun way to spend a Sunday and an important cause to raise funds for!

The run itself is very well-organized. The route was clearly marked, there were marshals along the way directing and cheering runners on, and at the end was a barbecue, Vega recovery drinks, bananas, bagels and more. There were also first aid demonstrations, a booth to sign up to be an organ donor and some very moving speeches by organ donation recipients.

We even sang O, Canada at the beginning – loved that! So far singing the national anthem before a race is only something I’ve noticed at American events.

And because it was the first race Kelly and I have done together since our high school cross-country days, we decided to dress like matching highlighters because we miss those matching Mustang jerseys of yore:

photo-20Completely unintentional. Blinding other runners is part of our race strategy.

This coming weekend, I have another trail race to tackle that I’m super excited about, the 18k Smuggler’s Trail Race in Long Point. All this trail racing is hopefully going to be in preparation for a trail run in the fall, but I’m still a little hesitant to make any firm commitments until I see how my leg/groin is feeling. This past week saw my highest mileage since February, and although my four runs from June 24-29 felt awesome, I’m a little paranoid about pushing too much, too soon. Today is a recovery day and I am enjoying the hell out of it. Legs up and lots of relaxation so I can hit those trails rested and ready!

 

Progression runs – how to do them and why they rock

I’ve mentioned before on here my love for NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, especially for long runs. In one episode, a reporter muses on his (short lived) time on his high school swim team.

On recalling learning he would have to swim countless laps of the pool quickly: “Congratulations, you just found a way to make tedium grueling.”

That line made me laugh out loud, because I could totally relate. Grueling tedium can be experienced both in the pool and on the road, and I think that’s one of the things that turn people off of running.

Our sport’s very simplicity – put one foot in front of the other, and then do it again over and over – is both part of its appeal and its legendary dread.

Sure, it’s easy to zone out and not have to think about what to do next – unlike in, say, soccer or hockey or another team sport requiring hand-eye coordination and sharp, sudden changes in movement (although it’s still always a good idea to keep an eye out for potholes, road kill, dog poop, roots and cars!).

I love those long, steady-state runs where you can listen to podcasts or music, or just be alone with your thoughts, without having to concentrate on the physical movements of your body.

But sometimes there are no podcasts that sound interesting, your playlist is the same one you’ve been listening to for the past six months and your brain is just…fried. You’re tired of stewing over the same problem, or there’s just nothing really exciting or compelling to think about.

And there’s only so many kilometers you can run while planning what you’re going to eat when you get home. Even the odd freaky squirrel can only capture your interest for so long.

So I get where the grueling tedium comes in. Totally. And how that can keep people from running, and loving running, and looking forward to their runs.

There are many ways to pull yourself out of a running slump – take a break and focus on a different sport or workout, download new music, sign up for a race, find a friend to run with or discover a new route.

Another option is to switch up the style of your runs. If you’re always doing the same 5-kilometer loop at the same pace, consider trying a progression workout, where you begin slowly and get progressively faster every kilometer.

Progression workouts are great because:

– They get your legs used to running tired

– You become more tuned in to pace and what different paces feel like

– They mimic prime racing conditions, where you learn to conserve enough energy to have your strongest, fastest finish

– They train your body to run faster while fatigued

– They allow the body to warm up first before hitting fast speeds, leading to less risk of injury

– To race fast, you have to train fast, but progression runs result in less fatigue than a sustained long run at race pace or a tough track workout – therefore, requiring less recovery time!

– They force you to increase stride length and cadence while you’re tired and your running form has started to break down

– They function in a similar way to HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts because they keep your body guessing what’s going to come next. That equals a higher calorie burn and lingering metabolic boost after the run.

– They’re mentally stimulating, add variety to your runs and go by fast, because you have to concentrate on your pace. Before you know it, you’re done!

I’ve done two progression runs recently:

1)   I mapped out a one-mile loop in my neighbourhood that starts and ends at my apartment. It begins with a gradual downward hill, flattens out for the majority of the distance, and then ends with a short, steep incline – perfect! I ran 5 loops for a total of 5 miles or 8 kilometers. The first and fifth loops were warm up and cool down, and the middle three were run progressively.

2)   Five kilometer run: looking back at my numbers, I think I could have ran the first four a little faster, because I obviously had enough energy to run that last kilometer hard. The thing about progression runs though is that it’s always better to be conservative and underestimate your speed at the beginning so you’re able to pick it up at the end, than to overshoot and go out too fast.

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I definitely recommend throwing in a progression run once a week or so. They don’t have to be structured on every mile or kilometer, although I find that an easy way to keep track. If you don’t have a GPS watch, you can just go by feel – start off slow then gradually pick it up, or choose landmarks on your route to determine where you’ll get a little faster. If you’re an experienced runner, you may have specific splits you want to hit, but I’m just happy if I see descending numbers. Don’t feel intimidated by the idea of a “progression workout” – remember, starting out slowly and then building speed is how our bodies naturally want to move. The trick is to keep that forward momentum so you end with your fastest split – and a huge sense of accomplishment.

Happy running!

Post-marathon: what’s next?

Ah, the dreaded what’s next question. It’s natural though that right after achieving something we’ve worked for, our minds go to, “what’s next?” I know I do better when I’ve got a goal to work towards. Otherwise I feel kind of … floppy and rudderless and stagnant, if that makes sense. Especially with running goals. After my marathon and a 10-miler two weeks later last spring, I didn’t have any races on my horizon except for Boston a year later, and my running definitely suffered. I didn’t feel motivated, I didn’t even want to run. Taking a month and a half off in the fall helped mentally, but for awhile there I just dreaded lacing up my shoes. I don’t want that to happen again! (although with the limited running I’ve been able to do this past winter and spring, I’m already so excited to start up again once my groin heals fully!)

BUT…it’s important to not always be jumping into the next new thing. Take some time to rest, enjoy your accomplishment and just be. That’s my plan for May. I’ve been for two runs since Boston, both 10ks, and they both really, really aggravated my groin/quad. So I decided last week to take the month off from running. It’s just not worth turning this injury into something that never. goes. away. Boston showed me that cross-training DOES keep you in shape and actually can prepare you to run a marathon without, you know, actually doing any running beforehand. Weird how that works, huh?

So for the rest of the month I’m going to continue cycling, swimming and stretching. I’ll incorporate some running form drills a few times a week to work on running form and technique and get some strength back in my feet, but my goal is to get this groin all healed up so I can start running – and racing! – again.

There are a few races on my horizon. Short-term, I’ve registered for a great and super hilly 5 km charity run for heart arrhythmia that my whole family does (and this year, I’ve gotten my best running buddies Kelly and Emily to sign up too!) on June 8. It’s a really fun event and for a very important cause – it was started last year by my aunt’s colleague who lost her husband very young and tragically due to the disease.

Then in July Kelly, Emily and I are road tripping to…CHICAGO! We’re going to run the Rock n’ Roll half-marathon there. I LOVE the Rock n’ Roll series – in September 2012 I ran my first half-marathon, the Philly RNR. Superb organization, fun concept, great music and awesome swag bags. Kelly has ran the Edinburgh RNR and she loves this race series too. But neither us nor Emily have ever been to Chicago, so we’re really excited for a girls’ long weekend away!

These two races are both going to be fun ones and I won’t necessarily be racing hard at them (although I’d love to PR in Chicago, and my ultimate goal is to get my half-marathon time down to 1:30). I have two goal races in the fall that I’d really like to train hard for over the summer, but I’m not going to commit to them just yet until I feel better about my injury.

Anyway, those are my post-Boston running plans for now! Who knows, they may change but at least for May I’m still enjoying the swimming and cycling. Loving this warmer weather too! I need more shorts-appropriate temperatures so I can work on getting rid of that awkward compression socks/KT tape tan line I’m still rocking from Boston…

Power of a running mantra

In the final three weeks leading up to Boston, I spent a lot of time mentally preparing for the race. After all, I was technically supposed to be tapering, and I was still injured, so I couldn’t really do any more physical preparation. The real battle, I had a feeling, was going to be the mental component of the marathon.

I know it’s trite and overused to say something like “sports are 90% mental” and obviously this isn’t quite true, but what’s going on in your head can have a real, discernible impact on your physical performance. Visualization is one technique that I like to use (imagine crossing the finish line, or getting that medal around your neck), as well as dividing miles into smaller chunks, picking miles off one at a time, or picking a person ahead of you and making it a goal to pass them.

But what really helped me during Boston was using a mantra, a word or brief phrase you repeat to yourself to direct your mind away from negative thoughts and focus on the positive. According to this Runner’s World article, mantra is Sanskrit for “instrument for thinking” and it’s just as effective a tool for increasing performance as a foam roller or a good pair of shoes. The article goes on to say that a good mantra is short, positive, instructive and full of action words, but I think an effective mantra really varies from person to person.

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Honestly I think the only thing going through my head in this pic was “dear God where is the finish line???”

That or “I want hot chocolate”

These are the ones I used in Boston:

– Run with joy. (Short, simple and reminds me to SMILE 🙂 It’s also a good reminder to run like a child – free and happy and unfettered. Just run.)

– One foot in front of the other (simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing in the world to do!)

– Clear eyes, full heart (any other FNL devotees reading this? Also, this is one with a great cadence because of the short, monosyllabic words that mimic your footsteps)

– I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13. This is a Bible verse I’ve seen written on many singlets and bibs at races, and it’s Meb Keflezighi’s favourite quote. I love it!)

And for when it really hurts… “Pain is temporary” or “this too shall pass” (although technically mantras are supposed to be positive and these ones fall more on the brutally realistic side – might not be the most comforting when you’re pushing up a hill, but at least you’ll know there is a light at the end of the tunnel).

For some reason I also tend to hear Jillian Michaels’ voice in my head sometimes lecturing, “Don’t phone it in! Don’t phone it in!” (thanks 30 Day Shred)

Back to the Runner’s World article … here’s a collection of some elite runners’ favourite mantras:

– “This is what you came for”: ultramarathoner Scott Jurek

– “Define yourself”: Chicago Marathon winner Deena Kastor

– “Think strong, be strong, finish strong”: Renee Metivier Baillie, winner of 2010 USATF indoor 3000 m.

– “Be water”: Olympian Bolota Asmerom adopted this Bruce Lee mantra

Do you think mantras work? What ones do you rely on during a race or tough run?

Post-marathon: recovery when you’ve traveled to get there

After I crossed the finish line at Boston, I was immediately funneled into a chute to pick up a water bottle, warmth retention cape and – the crowning glory – my finisher’s medal.

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Waiting under the “S” in the family meeting area

As soon as you stop running, whether you’re out for a regular old tempo run or you’re racing, you need to start thinking about recovery. Those first 15 – 30 minutes are crucial, but unfortunately it’s a little hard to jump into your recovery routine at a race, when you’re surrounded by chaos, runners, spectators and of course your own emotions running wild even if your legs have stopped! You can’t exactly bust out the foam roller and get that blender whirring up a protein-packed smoothie, and honestly? Nor should you. There’s definitely a lot to be said for just soaking up the environment around you at a race.

After running a marathon, the only things that feel good-ish for me is sitting or walking (albeit very slowly and gingerly). The worst thing? Just standing there. So after I chugged my water bottle, I walked over to the family meeting area and staked out a little spot on the curb underneath the “S” sign to wait for my family. I sat down in a butterfly stretch with the soles of my feet touching and my legs spread out and just stretched my groin.

After meeting up with my family, we took the T back to our hotel in South Boston. The hotel was charging $75 for late check-out (and their idea of “late” was 2:30 p.m.) so we had already packed up the car and checked out. Obviously, a shower would have been preferable but sometimes you just can’t swing one. If you’ve traveled to a race and don’t have access to a shower, still find somewhere to change into fresh clothes – it will feel wonderful. I ran (er, hobbled) into the hotel lobby washroom and, thanks to the power of deodorant, a disposable wash cloth and clean bra/underwear/track pants and my new Boston shirt, felt like a new person walking out.

I’ve traveled to both of my marathons – approximately 10 hours in the car for each one. Although running local races has its benefits too – there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed the night before a race – I LOVE combining two of my favourite things: travel and running. You just need to plan ahead and remember to be flexible.

If you can plan your trip to include an extra day or two in the city after the race, that’s probably preferable, but it’s definitely not the end of the world if you have to jump into a car/plane right away. Here are my tips for marathon recovery when you have a long trip home ahead of you:

– Wear your compression socks to keep the circulation in your legs flowing and to continue muscle support

– If you can, prop your legs up in the car to keep them elevated

– Change into different shoes than the ones you ran in, or remove shoes altogether

– Take frequent stops (every hour) at rest stations and go for a slow walk around the parking lot

– If you can, only drive a few hours the day of the marathon and stop at a hotel overnight. We did this after Boston – drove a couple hours and then found a hotel and restaurant, then hit the road the next day for the longer part of the drive. Breaking it up into two days was definitely easier on my body.

– Get lots of fluid in! About an hour after I finished the race, I mixed a package of Vega recovery protein powder with a 1.5 L bottle of water. To be honest, it didn’t taste delicious (maybe it would have been better mixed with milk or in a smoothie with a banana, so the consistency would be thicker?), but it wasn’t gross. Maybe a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in tastiness. The most important thing though was that it had 25 grams of protein and you want to feed those muscles as soon as possible!

– Foam roll and stretch as soon as possible/when you have the space

I think the most important thing is to take as many walking breaks as possible. It was funny – whenever we stopped at a rest station, we’d spot a bunch of cars in the parking lot with the tell-tale 26.2 bumper stickers, and then we’d see at least three or four other runners in their bright orange Boston jackets or blue shirts slowly making their way around the lot, a curious expression of pain and pride on their faces. We’d grin, congratulate each other and ask how the race went, chatting about our experiences before slowly parting ways back to our cars. This continued as we kept driving out of Massachusetts and through New York. Just another reminder of how running and racing really creates a community!

Any other tips for marathon recovery when you have a long way to travel home? Do you prefer races close to home or farther away?

BOSTON!

Okay, so apologies for the very delayed recap post…after Boston I took the rest of the week off work which meant NO WRITING. It was blissful. Definitely needed the time off to just recharge, hang out with friends and family, read, bake, go to church, yoga and on lots of relaxing walks.

That said, it was awesome going back to work on Monday and walking in to see this:

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What awesome colleagues! I was so touched by their thoughtfulness.

Alright, so…Boston! I DID IT! 🙂 And it was one of the most moving, emotional, uplifting and joyful experiences of my life. Wow. It’s been nine days since the race but I still get chills thinking about it. Here goes…

“Boston Strong!”

That was the rallying cry that carried me 26.2 miles (yes, those 385 yards at the end definitely count!) from the town of Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street last week for the 118th Boston Marathon.

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The burning pain in my quads has eased somewhat, and going up and down stairs doesn’t present the same insurmountable challenge as it did last week, but the one thing that will never fade are my memories of that day.

The bus ride to the start in Hopkinton, eight towns away from Boston, was filled with nervous chatter amongst runners as we swapped hometowns, horror stories from training and hopes for the looming race.

But as the bus kept going…and going…and the miles started to add up, we fell into a tense, ominous silence. You mean, the only way we’d be getting back to the city would be by our own legs? Were we insane?

Insanity is often a trait you’ll hear attributed to runners.

But you’ll also hear the words determination and resilience. One year after the tragic terrorist attack that claimed four innocent lives and wounded hundreds of runners, spectators and volunteers, we were back and ready to run.

Eager to help prove that the city could get back on its feet, pick itself up from the dust and desolation of last April’s senseless violence and run once more.

Boston Strong.

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Speaking with returning runners, I heard how things were different this year. There was an increased security presence everywhere you looked – from the helicopters circling overhead to the military police lining the course. Security checkpoints made sure every runner had a visible race bib and no one was carrying backpacks, bags or large water bottles. Despite the minor inconveniences, the security measures never felt obtrusive and certainly did nothing to dampen the spirit of the day.

And boy, that spirit!

Over one million spectators squeezed together along the route, often four or five rows deep, cheering and waving signs that ranged from the inspiring (When your legs hurt, run with your heart) to the hilarious (Run like someone called you a jogger).

Babies in their parents’ arms held out tiny palms for high fives while kids bounced up and down on a row of 20 mini-trampolines at one point. A raucous group of fraternity members offered pints of beer and a selection of doughnuts for those lucky runners blessed with iron stomachs (I stuck to Gu, that nasty carbohydrate gel in a squeeze tube that tastes as appetizing as its name sounds).

Other spectators handed out water bottles, cold sponges, orange slices and bananas, licorice, bandaids and hair elastics. Their thoughtfulness and encouragement was touching, inspiring and very much appreciated.

And in typical Boston sports-mad fashion, there were numerous signs along the way with the updated Red Sox-Orioles score (too bad the Sox weren’t as lucky as the Bruins in ousting their competition).

At the two-mile mark, I ran past one of the first milestone markers on the course – TJ’s, a biker bar that was blasting Springsteen while motorcycle enthusiasts sat on their bikes and watched us go by with hearty cheers.

Another highlight of the course was reaching the halfway point at Wellesley College. This is the infamous “Screech Tunnel” – a mile-long stretch of screaming undergraduates you hear two miles before you actually run the gauntlet. Be prepared to pause for a couple quick kisses on the cheek from the students! The students were waving signs that read “Kiss me -” – I’m Italian/Irish/Indonesian/etc, I’ve been up since 4 a.m. #rower, I’m in med school, I brushed my teeth (did you?), I do netflix marathons, I give full consent, I swing both ways, I have a face…what seemed like hundreds of hilarious variations.

I didn’t stop laughing the entire mile. At the end of it, I looked over at the guy who was running beside me (a double amputee with two blades for feet!) and we grinned at each other. “That was the best mile ever!” we said at the same time, and, still laughing, kept on running.

Then there was the legendary Heartbreak Hill, the fifth and final hill in an excruciating, quad-destroying stretch of climbs from Mile 17.5 to Mile 21.

Honestly?

I have to say the hills I run in Cambridge and even in Norfolk County are a lot tougher and steeper, but maybe that’s because when I run – or more accurately, trudge – up the hills here there are no cheering spectators spurring me on! But I was actually really grateful that I never hit the wall or bonked. My leg started up with what’s become the normal shooting pain at kilometer 10 (ugh…please let this not be my new normal!) and kilometers 10-20 were probably the hardest mentally as I got used to running in pain. But Wellesley College at kilometer 21 provided me with an extra boost of energy, and seriously – how could I complain or even think about quitting when I was running next to people with one leg, no legs, in wheelchairs, on crutches, pregnant or in worse pain than I was in?

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When I say the crowds carried me from Hopkinton to Boylston Street, I truly mean that. I could not have done it without the cheers and support of the incredible spectators and volunteers.

Overall, I felt very positive and upbeat the whole run. Every mile marker I passed after 28 kilometers was a mini victory for me, because 28km was the longest run I got in this year before I pulled my groin, and I hadn’t ran more than 28 in a year. But my thoughts were mainly on the people around me – I wasn’t interested in thinking about myself or my leg. I just wanted to soak up the whole experience, and try as hard as I could not to miss a thing. I wanted to thank as many people as possible too, and give as many high fives as I could!

When I glimpsed the famous Citgo sign looming over the city, I knew we were getting close and I picked up my pace. My plan had been to run as conservatively as possible (basically the opposite approach of Shalane Flanagan, whose bold, inspired, aggressive pace-setting was partly responsible for Rita Jeptoo’s record-breaking 2:18 win!) but as I neared the end, I knew I could pick up my pace and stretch out my legs a bit. I also knew I’d be finishing awfully close to the four hour mark, and I thought it would be awesome if I could run a sub-four. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in under four hours – my time was 4:03:23, but I’m still very happy with it. My goal for the day was to finish the race, and I managed to do it running the whole way and, more importantly, finishing strong and with a smile on my face. That’s what makes me happy and proud.

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There were a couple things that helped me get through those last few miles. Firstly, just the sheer excitement of knowing I was approaching the finish line and getting into Boston proper was a HUGE boost. I also broke down each mile by thinking “this is only four laps of the track” – not long at all! Another way I broke down the miles was by dedicating the final four to a person or people, and running “for” them. Mile 22 was for Martin Richard, the eight-year-old who was killed in last year’s attack. Mile 23 was for John and Hazel Race, philanthropists from Norfolk County who did so much for the community, particularly for raising awareness of Alzheimer’s. John Race died on Good Friday, and all I could think about was how the married couple, madly in love since meeting in a strawberry field in the 1950s, were finally reunited (Hazel passed away a few years ago). Mile 24 was for my family – my mom, dad, brother and sister. Mile 25 was for me – I know that sounds really egoistic and self-congratulatory, but I meant more like thinking back on how much I had wanted this and the miles I had logged over the years as a runner that helped bring me here. And Mile 26? I don’t think I was capable of thinking of anything at that point! I just ran! I remember glimpsing a flash of red and white out of the corner of my eye and then I heard my name – my parents and brother (bravely) wore their Red Wings jerseys the day after the Bruins beat them! It made them easy to spot though in a sea of Boston colours!

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Making that historic left turn onto Boylston Street, in a marathon-fueled daze with the dim roar of the crowds in my ears, will forever remain one of the most surreal moments of my life. All I could think of were the famous footsteps I was following in – from Meb to Dick Beardsley and Alberto Salazar to Kathrine Switzer. So inspiring!

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But my road to Boston began long before I toed up at the start with 36,000 other runners from around the world.

I couldn’t have made it to that start line – not to mention the euphoric, thank-goodness-it’s-over finish – without the help and support of so many people.

Thank you to the random stranger who offered me a ride as I ran along Blueline Road in the middle of a snowstorm with 90 km/hour winds in January. Trust me, I really wanted to take you up on that offer, but my training plan had other ideas.

Thank you to the lifeguards and patrons at the Annaleise Carr Aquatic Centre, who encouraged me and cheered me on after a pulled groin forced me to train in the pool instead of on the roads.

Thank you to the talented runners and athletes in Norfolk and around the world who provided me with constant inspiration and motivation (ESPECIALLY Team Hoyt!)

Thank you to the physiotherapists and staff at Great Lakes Physiotherapy for setting me on the road to recovery.

Thank you to my incredible colleagues at the Norfolk News and my fellow journalists around the county for your understanding, interest and willingness to listen to me gripe about running in a polar vortex.

Thank you to the friends who asked me how training was going, encouraged me, looked up treatment ideas for pulled groins and went running with me (especially Rhea, Kelly and Blair).

And the BIGGEST thank you to my parents. I never would have become a runner if it hadn’t been for my mum’s example. And I would never have made it to Boston without the two of them supporting me in every way possible. They are the best parents in the world, hands down, because they see their children have dreams and they help us achieve them.

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One sign I glimpsed everywhere during the marathon last week read: We all run Boston. We run together.

It’s true. No one could do it alone.

Pressure is a privilege

In my last post, I mentioned the podcast Runner Academy with Matt Johnson. The past three episodes have all had to do with the Boston Marathon, leading up to the big day on April 21. The most recent podcast features an interview with Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray, and it. was. fantastic.

One of the things he said during the interview really stuck out for me: pressure is a privilege. The pressure, fears, jitters and worries you feel as race day approaches are emotions you’re lucky to feel, whether you’re feeling pressure to PR, BQ or just cross that finish line in one piece.

It’s a privilege to have qualified. It’s a privilege to have been healthy enough to train and get to Hopkinton and to have put in all those hours of hard work over the winter.

It’s a privilege to have family members, friends and colleagues who supported your training, who understood why you couldn’t make an event or had to readjust a time because “today’s my long run” (although there may have been a few eyerolls here and there). It’s a privilege to have the time and resources to train and then travel to Boston for the race, to be able to take off work and to have your company’s health benefits cover your physiotherapy sessions.

It’s a privilege to be able to afford new running shoes, gels, gus and protein powders, technical fabric clothing, foam rollers and even those special bandaids for blood blisters and black toenails. It’s a privilege to get to come back to a warm house and hot shower after a long, cold run during the infamous polar vortex.

It’s a privilege to be able to obsess about something as inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, as running. It’s a privilege to run not because you’re being chased, or because you want to go to school and the nearest school is 20 miles away, but simply because…you can. Because it’s fun.

Most importantly, it’s simply a privilege to run. To have the legs and the health to line up with 36,000 other runners on April 21 and celebrate this sport, this city, this race.

Am I feeling the pressure, less than two weeks out, to run the perfect race of my dreams? Oh, definitely.

But I’m also feeling pretty damn lucky.