Saturday, October 27, 2012

STWM Official Pictures

Rainy day
The Empire Sandy and I
Somebody's having a blast
Hurting a little, maybe
I'm not too happy either
Almost there!
Finished, at last!
For the race report, go here. Not my best race, but another one that I finish with a smile on my face. Mission accomplished. ;-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon 2012 Race Report

My "A" race, eh? This one should go down in history as the race that almost wasn't. And there isn't much that I could have changed anyway - I just wasn't ready for a breakthrough yet, even though after completing my longest run in which I muscled my willpower through 32km non stop, solo and in unknown territory, I was feeling like a champ, ready to conquer the world. But then, in the middle of my taper, I made a choice, that was entirely mine, to run for 1h30 in minimalist shoes because they were feeling so damn good. Never thought for a second that I'd do more damage than my body and mind could handle. The last week before the marathon was agonizing. A nagging pain remained in my calves and no massage, compression, icing, resting or stretching ever made it better. For an entire week, it felt exactly the same every day, always there, always reminding me of my stupid decision, and because of it, I ended giving myself for the first time ever, a significant handicap at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon starting line.
Wet morning at STWM
The night before I only slept about 3h, after nightmares full of fear of doing more damage, fear of not finishing, fear of not even starting kept me awake, questioning everything and especially myself. Even though my massage therapist reassured me that I was not injured per se, she told me that I should not be expecting a miracle, that I was going to hurt. So I wrote this on my cap as a mantra to take me through the day. 
Mantra of the day
Then a friend reminded me that adrenaline is a powerful drug and with that tiny speck of hope, I managed to close my eyes and dream, at least for a second, that I would cross the finish line at STWM.

Woke up at 5:30am and decided to take yet another risk, to wear for the first time ever, a skirt. If I was going to hurt, at least I wanted to try look "ridiculously photogenic". And since I am very familiar with chaffing in all kinds of places, I also decided to put my Sugoi tri short underneath and my long compression Nike soccer socks. The temperature was going to be between 15-20 degrees Celsius, so I figured that I would have cooked in tights. As to the rain and wind, no big deal. Grabbed breakfast, my fuel belt, my hubbs by the hand and off we went. We stopped on our way to pick up Carol who was going to do the half distance (yay for her comeback!), then we drove downtown where we spent a huge amount the time just to exit the highway. Found a parking lot at about 1.5km from the starting line, wrapped ourselves in plastic bags as it was raining pretty hard, then had a  coffee and a pee break and finally walked over to the corrals where we found the 4:10 pace bunny. 
Pace bunny - he was great, right on pace!
My best buddy
Me and my goof
Just as we waited for the gun, the rain stopped and we snapped a picture, then with a good luck kiss, we started our journey on the streets of Toronto. It was going to be hubbs' first marathon ever, and my third. The plan was going to run with the 4:10 pacer for as long as I could, then fall back if needed with the 4:25. My goal was still to finish with a PR despite the pain, which at that moment was nowhere to be found, thanks to the adrenaline rush. The magic number, 5:55/km, 30sec/km faster than my longest run. For 18km, it felt like NO effort, nice and relaxed, I was in the zone, chatting, smiling, laughing at hubbs who was putting on a show. The calf pain started to come back around km 10, but it was not really bothering me, I could definitely handle it. I was taking in fuel on the watch, Gu Chomps alternating with Clif Chocolate Gels, washing them down with water or Gatorade, just as I had trained for. Then all of a sudden and without any apparent reason, I felt like a balloon deflating and before I knew it, I was running 6:30-7:00/km. I could see the 4:10 pacer, our group and hubbs getting farther and farther away and no matter how much I was telling my legs to move faster, they just decided they were going to take a break. By the time I hit km 20, I was almost going to take the shortcut towards the half marathon finish line, it was the quick way out, to end it right there with a PR on the half. 

That thought was so alluring, I had to take the notorius HTFU out of the hat (literally) for the first time that day and stick to the plan. However, for the following 5-7km, my pace kept on dropping and I was getting increasingly thirsty. So I started drinking 1-2 cups at each aid station and pouring one on my head another on my back. I started feeling like I was overheating from inside out. And then at km 28, the sharp stomach pain came and I could no longer breathe, unless I was going to walk. Believe me, I tried, I was still going strong in that noggin of mine. For the next 8-9km I had to keep on doing just that, run for as long as I could bear the pain in my stomach, then walk it out. It was really depressing to see the 4:25 and 4:40 pacers passing by, but there was no way in hell I could keep up with them, I tried, twice again. Legs were feeling fine, pain in the calves was no worse than before, blisters almost non existent. There was nothing else but my diaphragm spasms staying between me and my PR. Oh well. It was again, because of me, taking in too many fluids, and I knew it, yet I also knew that I was supposed to listen to my body and not let the dehydration sneak in. I could feel dizzy at times, and that scared me, but looking back, I am not even sure it was because of too little drinking or too much of it.

Thankfully, once I reached km 37, the stomach pain went down to a level where I could run through it with little discomfort. I decided to stop eating and binge drinking and make a final run for it. I knew I could handle a 30 minute sustained effort. My speed increased again, with each km, I was getting closer to the pace that I started at. I was feeling good at last, watching the sky scrapers and the CN Tower getting closer and closer as I was running down Eastern Ave, wind drying the water off my face and top. When I reached km 40, I was flying. I had to keep my concentration high so I don't twist an ankle on the tramway tracks, but the energy of the city, the countless people screaming my name, it was such a great feeling to take in, that a huge smile installed itself across my face and did not let go of me until I crossed the finish line, in the longest, most rewarding sprint so far.

I finished in 4:49:24, my worst time in 3 marathons this year, but with a smile on my face, which is the most important.

When you get to face the darkness of your mind, and you manage to came out of the battle unscathed, it is a brave thing. I think I am finally getting better at this. I may not have set a PR as I had hoped, but I learned a few more things about myself along the way. I had my best half marathon and my best 30km split, despite feeling devoid of energy at times and my diaphragm getting upset with my drinking habit. Now I know exactly what to work on - holding that magic 5:55/km pace. This is going to be my goal for the ATB 30km in March. Meeting the grim reaper will never feel better, I will become a faster, stronger dinosaur. Uh, sorry... cheetah?

Last but not least, I must mention that unlike me, hubbs had the best race possible. He finished strong in 4h05, never stopped running, never stopped smiling. He managed his pace and fueling like a champ and I am the proudest wifey in the world for seeing him taking up this challenge and even better, having fun along the way. First marathon and he CRUSHED IT. To many more!!
Marathon us
Here is my Runkeeper, fed by Garmin. My hubbs' run can be found here.

And before I go... what happened to my calf pains? The endorphins may still be lingering, but for now they are gone. Magically, yes. I have no other explanation, unless they are waiting for the quads pain to go away in order to make a more dramatic comeback. Maybe it was all in my head after all...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Is it time to freak out yet?

Last long run - Sunday, in New Balance Minimus WR00. Today is Thursday and my calves are still upset. Should I start freaking out now? I did R.I.C.E every day, then applied Voltaren Emulgel for 2 days and now switched to Tiger Balm. I missed my Wednesday run because there was too much pain and tightness in my calves to be comfortable running, but I hope the pain to be gone completely by Friday night or Saturday so I can squeeze in a last 30min run before the marathon. It's getting there, but it's taking its time.

A few things that I learned from this experience:
- my pain threshold is much higher than I thought, or maybe the endorphins are masking it pretty well when I run
- no matter how much I thought I was going to be ok, trying a new pair of shoes 1 week before the marathon was a risky move
- no matter how much I thought I knew myself, I still managed to become my worst enemy
- you can never predict how long it will take your body to recover when faced with something completely new, even though it felt completely natural
- even if you change your running strike, cushioned shoes are still absorbing a hell lot of shock compared to minimalist shoes
- minimalist shoes are the next step for me, but I know that a whole new transition will be necessary, in which I will need to grow more muscle in key places.

By the way, I found a great article on the "dangers" of going barefoot, I think everyone who envisions to go minimalist or barefoot should give it a read.

Do I regret having tried? Not at all - not yet anyway. I think I am going to be ok for the marathon, and thankfully my ingrown nail and blisters have healed nicely, but this whole ordeal definitely tested the limits of my patience. I know I will finish the marathon, may not be my best time given the rain and 50km/h winds predicted by the weather gods, but all I hope right now is that the pain won't come at least for 30km in the race, so I can enjoy and celebrate the day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

I am hooked

And I am in trouble. At only one week before the marathon, I bought a pair of minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus WR00 and today I took them on my last long run. Even though I am now on my couch icing my calves, the experience of running in those is still lingering in my brain like a powerful drug. For the first time ever I understand what running "free" means.

The workout was supposed to be 1h40 long and after talking to my coach this morning, the advice he gave me was to stop at the first sign of trouble. For having been in trouble a lot in the past, I think I knew what trouble felt like, so off I went, light on my feet like a newborn butterfly. The kilometers flew one after another and up until km 10, I felt ah-mah-zing. But then my legs started feeling a bit challenged in the calf area and my right Achilles got cranky too, so I turned the knobs down a little and decided to cut it short so I don't freak out.

Made it back home in a bit less than 1h30, stretched the hell out of my leg muscles, tendons and everything in between (oh wait, there is nothing in between according to my old anatomy book), then went out to look for flowers to plant in my backyard. At the store, I mean, not in a field or a dump, just thought I'd mention it. Ok this is getting weird, and totally unrelated. Moving on... literally. All flowers were gone, by the way, so I bought a pot of ornamental chili peppers and an air plant.

Alas I am not ready to run a marathon in these shoes just yet, but that's the problem, I cannot shake the absolutely freaking fantastic feeling I had while wearing them. Now what do I do? Besides, they gave me no blisters, nada. My toes were also feeling like they were in a luxury penthouse apartment in there, no rubbing anywhere. Plus they weigh as much as a feather, so going back to my older shoes is going to be like wearing platform shoes made of lead.

I am hooked. Here is a nice review I found about the Minimus, thankfully there are people much better than me to write this kind of things. I have 6 more days to make myself believe that it's going to be ok NOT wearing them at the marathon. I know for sure that I'm going to suffer anyway, but battling blisters and the weight of my old shoes will certainly be better than battling calf cramps. I now have another reason to keep on running, a marathon in the Minimus is the next goal!

One week from today!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Minimalist at last

After a week of flying planes, riding trains, cars, taxis and running across Paris and London in high heels, I am really thankful for being back home with my family. The trip was rather exhausting and not only because it started with one of the longest and most difficult training runs I've ever done... but also because of the constant state of movement that followed, all while fighting jetlag madness and juggling 3 languages. Needless to say, I had planned 2 more runs and a swim during this time, but none of those happened. I came back feeling fat and bloated and no surprise there, my scale let me know that I've eaten too many desserts, cheeses and glasses of wine.

But even more aggravating, the night before flying back home I discovered that the Universe had thanked me with an ingrown nail on my left big toe, which was SO painful, I could NOT put the foot down to walk without getting tears in my eyes. The pain was at the bottom and side of the nail and of course, the toe was all red and swollen. So for two days I walked with a limp, which gave me ankle and shin pains in return. Since then it got better thanks to a constant dose of antibiotic ointment and foot baths in hot water with a ton of salt (thanks to my friend Carrie for the tip!). I think I caught it on time, but man oh man, why do I have to pay back in pain what I get for good luck? There must be balance in everything I guess.

On Friday night I had to do a 1h negative split run and I fought really hard with my mind to abstract the pain. I managed to get through it and finish the workout, but thanks to the rain that offered a nice distraction. Today, Saturday, we went downtown to the MEC store to find some running clothes for the fall and winter seasons for hubbs. We left half of our paycheck there and I, too, returned home with something new. My first pair of minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus WR00 with zero-zero as in zero drop. I fell in love the second I put them on. They are so light and my toes swim in a very large toebox, and I can already dream of leaving blisters and pain behind. I am planning to take them tomorrow on my 1h40 run. A bit risky 7 days from the marathon, but at this moment I am rather desperate because of a deep and extremely painful blister that has been plaguing my runs for a month. The only way to get rid of it methinks, is to find a shoe that rubs somewhere else. Between blisters and ingrown nails, I have enough pain to test my HTFU threshold on, dammit.
I doubt that I'll be able to run a full marathon in those yet, but it's a good start. Oh, and if you see purple in the picture above, it's the stupid Instagram filter that I chose, they are actually deep blue, almost black. Everything else looks accurate. Between us, I am a bit nervous to run in those as I am not going to have a big fat heel to fall back on if I get tired, but I may survive after all, it shouldn't be for nothing all the forefoot strike running that I've been doing since training for this marathon. Actual results tomorrow, over and out.

Monday, October 1, 2012

La Coulée Verte

It seems that every time I prepare for running a marathon in Canada, I end up doing my longest training run in Paris. Coincidence much? Let's call this stupid luck because truth is, I will never complain about running in Paris, even though it was not really through Paris like last time, but rather to Paris and back, on the famous Coulée Verte du Sud Parisien (South Paris Green Belt). If you want to see what it looks like and you don't suffer from motion sickness, you can watch this video of a guy who rode some of it on the bike.

But back to my running, or what led me to Paris again: a few business meetings in France and a visit to one of our clients in the UK prompted me to jump on the opportunity of spending the weekend with my best friend and few more days with my mom. Bought my plane ticket for Friday night, managed to get upgraded thanks to a bunch of Aeroplan Miles and for once, slept like a baby during the flight.

Pod me baby!
I was awaken by the pressure inside my head during the descent towards Paris; it was hurting so much that I imagined my brain being squished like the inside of the water bottle sitting beside me. Not far from the truth I guess.
Arrived at my friend's place, head was a bit foggy so I don't remember the time exactly, but I know ending up doing shopping in the afternoon (bought a tshirt and a coat from Desigual which I had been eyeing for a year - aka broke the piggybank), taking a 2h nap then going out for a fancy dinner in the evening to officially carb load before my run. (Took the picture below in the restaurant's not so fancy bathroom).

I look a bit tipsy, but I was not! (for once)
I managed to even stay away from alcohol - can you imagine being in France and NOT having wine? I should deserve at least the decapitation in a public place, but what can I do? I am an athlete now and puking my brains out on the Coulée Verte was not an option. The Frenchies eat really late, so we came back home around 11pm and I didn't go to bed until midnight. Of course, my body was on the 6pm internal clock, so I had to push it a little and remind it that I was going to make it run at 3am, which was 9h later at most. I ended up sleeping well again, 7.5h straight, which of course felt short.

My favorite breakfast
Had a big breakfast (bread, butter, ham, cheese, a peach tart and a glass of OJ), filled 2 of my belt bottles with water, the other 2 with Powerade Ion 4 (officially love the taste more than Gatorade, but I won't buy it until they remove the HFCS - that stuff is nasty for you), attached 4 Clif Energy Gels and a pouch of Gu Chomps to my belt, took my heart rate monitor, my cap, my SPI belt and my phone and all dressed up for the chilly 6 deg Celsius, had my friend's hubby drive me to the trail head, at Igny.

And in the middle ran the Bièvre...
I left my sweater in the car and after a quick "see you in 3h30" goodbye, off I went. I chose to start a bit farther up than the official beginning of the trail as seen in the link because my friends told me it was pretty and indeed, I was not disappointed. For about 3km I ran on a path along the Bièvre stream and it was very quiet, yet I met a few runners and dog walkers, who for the most part, didn't mind making eye contact and muttering a quick "bonjour", even though they seemed a bit surprised that they were being talked to. Then I started running along the D60 regional road which led me into Massy Verrières where I finally found the markers of the Coulee Verte trail.

Joggers' paradise
I also found LOTS of runners, cyclists of all ages and skill, and more dog walkers which you could follow thanks to all the poop on the ground (people don't scoop here??). Oh, and did I mention the Tai-Chi folks? Here they are, slowly moving up and down and sideways, unlike me, who had to climb all these stairs!! Not only the trail was pretty difficult for running  (look at this elevation!), but it had stairs that made me feel like Rocky. I swear that was exactly what I was thinking when I was climbing them.

Tai-Chi and the Rocky Steps
But as with everything in France, it seemed so far yet so close and before I knew it, I reached a sign that said Paris and just like that, I snapped a picture, turned around and started running again. After looking at the map when I came back home, I realized that I made a wrong turn and left the Green Belt trail before reaching the end, but it was for the better because it obliged me to head back before getting lost even farther away.
Look at that matching outfit!
So I followed this guy who looked like he knew what he was doing and I was back on the right path in no time. Despite eating and drinking well, the run back was of course, much worse. Started feeling nauseous around 2h and HTFU'd my way through for 1h until I got a second wind and turned on the autopilot. That's when I realized that I had actully left the Green Belt again and returned on the D60 where my brain started to tell me that I was close to the end. The end of the path I mean, not the end you know, dying or worse.

I am still trying to find the right fueling combo and it looks like whatever I did in this run allowed me to finish on goal, but I think that it still needs some fine tuning. I started taking Gu Chomps at 45min mark and then took a gel every 30 min afterwards, washing everything down with water or Powerade, but noticed that the nausea cleared after taking the second set of Gu at the 3h mark, so I think I will be alternating those in the marathon instead of going on gels only for over 2h.

Smoke makes for pretty pictures, but not in the lungs.
I completed the run with about 3min to spare and a few hundred meters to reach 32km, so I did a bit of back and forth at the end to reach this milestone, which was also my initial goal, so double whammy! My legs were definitely screaming afterwards, so I laid down for about 10min while waiting for the car to pick me up and tried to take it all in with deep breaths and feeling every inch of my body touching the wet ground and grass, becoming one with Mother Nature (too much?).

The view above
I was going to end this post with a bloody picture of my bra, but I think I'd rather stop on a positive note instead. I loved being able to come to France and do this run not far from where I lived, seeing my family and friends got me reenergized, despite the jetlag. I'm going to take back this feeling onto Toronto's streets where I can celebrate running beside my hubbs who's accompanied me throughout this entire journey with so much love and support.

I think it was the best opportunity for us to run our own race for once and gauge our strength against the tough, mentally and physically. I am incredibly proud of hubbs who also completed this run on his own (without getting lost too many times :-)) and who went even farther than me, 34.5k in the same amount of time.

Last but not least, this run put me over my 1000km running goal this year, sitting now more precisely at 1010km with 3 months to spare! To the infinity and beyond, I need a new goal now! ;-)