Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Run4Hope 5K Race Report

I ran a 5K once. It was my first ever race, in May of 2010, a women's only race in Toronto where I finished in 32:31, with a heart ready to explode, but a feeling of accomplishment like no other. My journey back to a happy and healthy self had only started. I wanted more, I needed longer runs, to go farther inside my head, harder on my legs. The same year also I ran a 10K, then another, and culminated the year with my first half marathon. I never looked back, but three years later, after accomplishing most of what I had in mind, including conquering the marathon distance, I felt like running for fun.

I came acquainted with the Run4Hope at last year's FMCT gala, a low key annual dinner organized by my triathlon club, the Fletcher's Meadow Cross Trainers, who also happen to be the organizers of this great event, benefiting local charities, such as Sky's The Limit. I signed up with my husband as soon as the registration opened because I wanted to support the charity, to give back to the community and at the same time, be part of a very special day for FMCT. It didn't take long for my sons to ask me to register them as well because running in a local 5K.. why not afterall? That's what beep tests are for! No further training required, but of course, it's just a 5K, mom! I said, ok... you guys know better. But I didn't. I had no clue what I was going to do. Twitter didn't help either as nobody chimed in. Where are my 5 readers when I need them?
I was on my own, so I went to my older son to ask him. Do you want me to pace you tomorrow? I may or may not have believed that he was going to die or at least lose his breakfast in the lake. A beep test for training? Oh pleeeaaase. The answer came back a firm no. Older son wants to run alone, he can pace himself. At least he was making it easier for me to decide. Alright then, next! Younger fella said that he didn't care or mind if we ran with him. Now, that was a bit more complicated, but thankfully husband declared that he was going to pace him, so that was it then. I was going to see how much it would hurt, my definition of running for fun, I guess.

On Saturday we went to the Running Room to pick up our race kits, they were out of tshirts. I was told we were going to get them in about 2 weeks. I could care less, really, all I wanted was my bib with the chip in it. It looks like with the increased participation of high school students, the race attendance exploded this year, with over 400 participants overall, four times more than when it first started a few years ago. Knowing the race course pretty well, I was afraid that it may get crowded, but a separate start for the 10K participants and the 5K, took care of that. Great decision by the FMCT folks, and a good step forward from the last year's mass start.

On Sunday morning, given that we only had a 5 minutes drive to the start, we had the luxury of "sleeping in". Got up at 7am, showered, got dressed, then my husband made pancakes, which we devoured. We left the house shortly after 8:30am, with zero stress. What a difference a race in your backyard makes! We parked in a nearby plaza to give ourselves some "warm up" distance, then we jogged to Professor's Lake and we still had 15-20min to spare. I was looking for Anabela, but I couldn't find her. I caught up for a bit with Anya, a friend from FMCT who was running the 10K, then we made our way to the starting line. The 10K runners left, then it was us 5 minutes later.

The first 2K were pretty tough as I was settling in this pace that was the most aggressive in my running history. I dialed down a bit after seeing something close to the 4:30min/km on my watch, I knew that was not going to happen, but I was aiming for under 5:15min/km. The first km split came in at 5:00min/km, and that felt good. I told myself that I was going to take advantage of the downhills and those ended up coming just at the right times for me to catch up a quick break then keep going strong.

I saw my coach just as I reached km 2 and not only I wasn't expecting to see him there, but it gave me the mental boost that I needed to never doubt myself that day. Checked my form, checked my pace, then started passing people one by one.
Most of them must have been doing the 10K, but the fact that I felt capable of running faster than so many of them, helped keeping my adrenaline levels high and the pain away. The third km seemed to be right around the corner as I was now running close to the lake and enjoying the scenery. I didn't take in anything to eat or drink, there was nothing that was going to slow me down. The last 2km were the home stretch, I knew every inch of pavement by heart, so I pushed hard, I didn't look at my heart rate at all, I knew it was going to be over soon. Speaking of heart rate, at km 4, my HRM strap came undone, I felt it moving so slightly, but it stayed in place well enough not to take my concentration away. Just before the finish chute I saw Sue the photographer and gave her the thumbs up, I was really happy to be able to run just as I planned.
Approaching the chute
I've got this!
Less than a minute later after the last photo above, I was crossing the finish line. I looked at my watch: 25:09, beat my 3yr old PR by 7 minutes, I'll take it!!

As I stayed at the finish waiting for the boys, saw Anabela and her daughter coming in just 2 minutes later (speedy mice these two!) and managed to talk to them just for a few more minutes until my younger son and hubbs arrived.
The boys are in good company. Nice view there, I bet!
Zin doing the airplane. Must be a soccer player thing.
Looking good!

Then my older son followed, and we could finally sit down, eat a banana and relax. After a little while they displayed the results and as I was going to check, I see Anabela coming to tell me, you came in second!! You're gonna get a medal! I went, whaaaaaat??? Are you kidding me? I first saw the number 7, which was the female rank overall, then looked again and saw 2 in my age group  (Official chip time 25:06, 2/36 in 30-39 AG, 7th female, 30/216 overall). I'll be damned, I told myself, there are not enough people in this race! That also means we need stay until the end. And eat more food. I was pretty ecstatic for a while afterwards. Saw my coach, told him the news as well, he said that's pretty remarkable without much speed training. I wonder what he meant by that... All I did this past week was putting speed in my workouts! He must have some other, darker ideas for my training in his head that I may not want to know right now.
The awards ceremony went by pretty quickly, then we made our way back home where we continued on with the day like any other Sunday. In the end, it did feel a bit short of a running day, but it was definitely filled with emotion! I really loved this race. It was so well organized and even though it suffered a bit from its increased popularity, the overall experience was certainly worth the $25 ($20 for the kids) spent. The course was safe and well marked, there were 2 water stations (km 2/4), they give you a technical tshirt and great food post race (bananas, soup, bagels, cookies, water and more), a timing chip and professional photography. The only thing missing were the finisher's medals, but I heard that next year for the 10th anniversary of the race, there will be medals for everyone!!

I will be participating again for sure, so close to home, be it running or volunteering, I will be there! Thanks again to the Falcons for a well put together race and for helping the kids in need! I bet it helped my kids fall in love with running a little bit more too.
FMCT organizers at the 9th annual Run4Hope Charity Race event. Photo by Sky's The Limit.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Challenging times

April has been the month of challenges and coach sure knows how to throw those at me. First, every Saturday ride has been over 2.5h long and they have become increasingly harder. Last week for example, he asked me to do the Trainer Road "Cathedral" workout. He said to stay in Zone 2, so I dialed it down a bit to 95% effort, but I still ended in Zone 3-4 as I tried to keep my cadence nice and high. You can see all details here.
Earlier in the week, I had to do a 1h30 workout where the key word was "hard" with 1h block of non-interrupted sufferfest in the middle. I settled somewhere around 160-165 watts and stayed there while my heart rate was slowly making its way up. I managed not to throw up, yay!
However on Monday, the first Max VO2 ride appeared on my schedule. Name "Abbot". And it BROKE me. 120-140% FTP intervals, 2 minutes long each with just 1 minute recovery in between? No way, Jose. This was the perfect challenge for me. I did the best I could, the first 6 intervals were ok, but the last 6, forget it. I could only hold that kind of power for 1min, then faded. Next time, maybe... In the end I managed to beat two of my personal records, but my legs were kaput. See for yourself, I am sharing my pain, am I not nice?
Pretty much the same story in running. My long runs now have tempo intervals in the middle, and each one of them is harder than the previous one. Something like : 2km easy-5km 1/2 marathon pace (5:45min/km)-5km 10k pace(5:30min/km)-2km easy. This happened just yesterday. I managed to read the instructions wrong and thought that the second tempo interval was 5k (5:15min/km) pace. So what do I do? I go all out, after a 7km of hard running. I was pretty delirious in the end. I don't remember much afterwards, but somehow I made it back home and then I passed out on the couch. Look at the pretty graphs! They brought my memory and sweat back.
I really need to pay more attention. This was the second time in a week that I misread this instructions. The run before ended in a tempo as well, even though coach had said "easy". Oops, totally missed that. I didn't really know what I needed to do anyway, I thought I'd go by feel, I wasn't even wearing my heart monitor. All I could remember was 10k and hilly route. I had already done some hills on Wednesday, so I wasn't very motivated to go hard. Legs decided otherwise, so I just followed.

In swimming, what can I say? I have 4 types of workouts that I need to do, each with detailed sets that I printed out and put in a ziploc plastic bag which I take to the pool. One of the workouts is "go long for as long as you can without interruption". That's my favorite one. I don't need to think too much, I just put my head down and swim. The watch counts the laps for me, I get out when I hear the whistle. It went exactly like that and I managed to swim 2km uninterrupted. Major win for me, I had never done this in the pool, unassisted (without a pull buoy). To put it in perspective for you, I could only swim for 100m without a pull buoy 2 months ago. I was elated, and a bit dizzy too.
Look at this, one block, no gaps!! Wooohooo! My speed is still that of a turtle, but at least I know I can make the cutoff times. Plus, I don't do flip turns and underwater dolphin swim, so I get to do the entire length of the pool wall to wall, with pretty much a full stop at each length. This adds significant time, I am sure that in a lake I'm going to be faster than this. I remember last year, my 1500m at Toronto Triathlon Festival was done in 35:55min, so I anticipate to do the 2000m somewhere around 45-48min. I may not have improved my speed much since last year, but boy, my confidence got a huge boost!

I expect some crash and burn sometime soon, but for now, I am riding the wave, baby! I can do this!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Philly Break

A few weeks ago I decided to go back to Philadelphia to attend my friend Laura Kicey's photo gallery opening show at Gravy Studio, called Lost and Found (if you are local, check it out! - ongoing until April 30). Initially I wanted to drive there and surprise her as I did a few years back for another one of her shows, but I changed my mind and I ended up flying to Philly the night before the show. This little fella and I were on a mission, to spend some quality time with talented friends and forget about stress and work for a weekend.
On Friday, after a scrumptious breakfast, courtesy of Miss Kicey, we got ourselves ready to partaaay and went downtown for a long stroll through the city before heading to the gallery.
Ended up doing a walk a bit shorter than 5k, but quite impressive when you actually look at the map. We covered some distance, yo! We also stopped for coffee in Chinatown and had, for the first time ever, the Cadillac of coffees, Blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica, prepared in a siphon, which was quite the contraption. I only put in some milk, it didn't even need sugar, and I'm the one who cannot drink any coffee without 5 spoons of sugar in it. This coffee was not bitter at all, had such a velvety taste, very unique and purely wonderful. Have one at Ray's Cafe if you ever find yourself in town.
The evening was as much packed with people and socializing as I could expect it, but I was glad that we managed to go to bed before 2am since I was due to run 10k the next morning. The weather was going to be very clement with a bright sunshine and a 16 degrees Celsius that day. I put on my capris and a long sleeve tshirt and off I went to discover the neighbourhood on the go. Told Laura that I should be gone for about 1h and that she could follow me on Runkeeper if needed. I honestly had no plan, I was just going to follow the sidewalks. It went like this:
The houses on this street were too sexy for sidewalks
Found runners and a long sidewalk
Ooooh, a school and a paved trail!
Which turned into dirt trail
Lost the sidewalk again, but found the cyclists
The rest of the pictures can be found here. I got a tad lost, or rather, I wanted to find a way back home that didn't look like a main road without sidewalks. But given that it seemed to be the only way back, beside the train tracks, I decided to adventure myself on it and thankfully found another paved trail shortly thereafter. I also found a bunch of cyclists that were looking happy to get to the end of a very steep climb and I gave them a "Way to go, guys!". I told myself that I envied them for riding outside already. I ended up running a bit longer than 10k, but it was a very enjoyable one, plus I crossed paths with dozens of other runners, so I really felt like I was belonging there. I had found my tribe, and that was rather memorable given that I went on those streets totally at random. Hint, always look for the high schools, they have running trails and plenty of people on them.

In the afternoon we went hiking in Ridley Creek State park, where I almost lost an eye. While bushwhacking to reach an abandoned greenhouse, a tree attacked me and lodged a splinter under my left eyeball. My brave friend managed to grab it with her fingernails and not to pass out in the process. (Forever grateful to you, my friend. You did awesome out there!) A few minutes later a thorn got stuck in my nose and I started bleeding. The day was just starting. Hiked for 6k afterwards, including an almost vertical ascent of 200m to retrieve a geocache. It was all worth it, I swear. What don't we do to find tupperware in the woods...
The next day we did it again. I ran 8k in the morning, then we went to visit another beautiful place, this time in Delaware - the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate, complete with guided tour inside the mansion and photo walk through the Enchanted Forest, freshly carpeted with millions of tiny blue and purple flowers for as far as you could see.
All in all, three days spent mostly outside, reconnecting with the beauty of the nature, the fresh air and my camera. A much needed break and what seems to become a yearly ritual for Laura and I. I am so happy for having been able to go on a little paid vacation before losing my job, it made it all so much more bearable. Now I can open my laptop and pop on the screen the photos I took and relive those moments again and again. Blogging about them too, it's great therapy. Until next time...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

And then it happened

I have been trying to write this post for a while, but I procrastinated, I told myself, I'll do it when I come back from Philly, I'll have a lot to talk about then. Good times, wonderful times, saw many old friends, made new ones. As usual, when people ask me why Philly is my favorite city in the US, I respond, because my favorite people are in it. Ain't that the truth? But I promised myself to dedicate a separate post to this trip, and this is not the one.

So I came back and before I could recollect all the happy thoughts, I was let go at work. "We are making changes in the company" they said, the dismissal was quicker than I could count to ten, and then I was left signing papers, then walked out with my most important items brought from my desk in a bin. Brutal. Dehumanizing. Disappointing, for someone who has done so much for the company. Not even a Thanks, that's what hurt the most. Disposable. Superfluous. But then I picked up my ego from the floor and went home, relieved. The End. The Beginning of Something New and Exciting awaits.

For a few days I was in constant turmoil, the 12 stages of rebuilding the confidence lost, from sadness, to anger, to "whatevah", to hope, to anxiety and eventually to calm and focus. I am now gathering the courage to go out there and face the questions, the tests, and all those strangers who I need to convince that I am worthy of a paycheque.

On Monday, a new routine was shaping up: wake up, have breakfast with the boys, send them to school, do the dishes, have a shower, tweak my resume for the millionth time, look for jobs on LinkedIn, update my profile, apply to jobs, check out Facebook and Twitter. I was cheering on my friends that had gone to run the Boston marathon and I was thankful for the live feed that allowed me keep in sync with the happy frenzy of it all.

And then the unthinkable happened. White smoke, cameras shaking, people being thrown to the ground by a powerful blast, the same images coming through all media and social networks and the fear creeping up our spine. How many more bombs? How many wounded or dead? Who? Why? Questions that have yet to find answers. I was in disbelief. Our running tribe attacked, lives shattered. All of a sudden, the news of my job loss seemed totally irreverent. I went numb again, a powerful headache took over my brain and lasted for 2 days. It hurt in ways I could not imagine, yet this feeling of belonging, drew me back in and I joined the movement, to #RunForBoston and to tell those motherfuckers that I am not afraid. Yesterday I wore my Around the Bay tshirt in Boston colors, the bright blue and yellow and went out for a long 15k run. I let the thoughts and feelings run free through a free mind. I will not stop. And one day, I will run Boston too. For all the lives lost, the little 8yr old Martin Richard, the volunteers, the first responders, the runners and their families and any marathon enthusiast, Bostonian or not, who needs someone to cheer on. My name is Irina, and I will run Boston (even though I have a long way to go and much sweat and tears to shed to get there).

Below are a few words of wisdom, quotes from my Twitter friends that got me through the day and inspired me to stay strong and keep fighting for our tribe.

Last but not least, you should read this excellent article by Ezra Klein: "If you are losing faith in human nature, go watch a marathon" - Kathryn Switzer

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easy Recipes: Mocha Smoothie

Whenever I feel blah and I need a boost of energy (and have my blender nearby), I make this Mocha Smoothie because there isn't any other recipe that I can stomach (of the homemade kind, because from Yogen Fruz, Starbucks or Tim Hortons, everything tastes better).

Makes 2 large smoothies:

2 cups of milk (you can replace with almond, rice or soy milk)
2 scoops of chocolate flavoured protein powder (I use North Coast Naturals)
2 tbsp of instant coffee (decaf or regular)
1-2 tbsp of powdered sugar (or honey)
Plenty of ice

You can also add a banana and/or peanut/almond butter for the extra oomph.

Crush, blend, smooth. Pour, drink, enjoy!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's never too late to try again

Remember DietBet? Yeah, that bet that I was feeling so confident about... confidence lasted for about two weeks, as I managed to lose 3lb pretty quickly, but then it went onto plateauing and that was the end of it. The bet called for a 4.5lb loss. So close, yet so far! I thought about not eating for a day, then sweating for 2h on the bike, then stepping on the scale, but I knew that was cheating, because I would have put everything back on the next day. Plus, knowing myself, it wasn't even guaranteed to work. So I took my 3lb loss and made peace with myself and my wallet. It's still a good start. Now, I am still 5lb over my last year's lowest, so I'd love to go back there, and lose some more, ideally to get down to 125lb before Ironman Muskoka in September. That's 10lb in total. That's a lot by my body's metabolism and my cranky thyroid. And let's face it, living with two kids and a husband with a sweet tooth (I still love you!), doesn't make it easier.

So, looking back, the DietBet challenge coincided with me starting a new training plan that calls for up to 12h of workouts weekly. Despite doing all the workouts and more, my weight loss has pretty much stopped, so I decided to crank it up a notch. Without going back to obsessing about tracking down calories as in the good old days when I was weighing 50lb more, I have set myself new rules for the month of April, thanks to an initiative of one of my friends on Facebook: eating "clean" for the month of April, whatever "clean" means to you. Since I am not a vegetarian, vegan, paleo, pescaterian or smoothie junkie, I will be continuing to eat close to my regular diet, but remove all "sweets and treats", as a general rule. I never really binged on those anyway, but they more or less contribute to my sugar addiction and I feel like a prisoner. I need to free my body and mind from the idea that I need those to live happy.

I found this graph that represents very well what sugar does to your system (food for thought):

Now, let's not get ahead of ourselves, I will never be able to remove all sugars, neither I should, after all, I am an athlete in training, but if I can minimize their intake to the absolute necessary, or eat only what I make at home with my own ingredients, it would be a great start. Here are my rules for the month of April. I've listed them on Facebook as well, but the more visible they are, the more accountable I feel. So, thank you in advance for the motivation that I get from you reading this commitment.

-No desserts or treats of the sweet kind (cakes, ice cream, chocolate, candy, pastries, halva).
-No junk food (pizza, hamburgers, fries, hot dogs, chips)
-No pop (stopped drinking pop 3 years ago and haven't had a single one since). Irrelevant, but I thought I'd mention it, just because I'm damn proud.
-Red meat no more than once a week.
-Fish at least once a week.
-As little as possible white bread, pasta or rice, ideally no more than twice a week.
-At least 2 fruits a day
-At least 2 veggies/greens a day
-No more than 1 coffee a day (with raw sugar)
-Takeout or restaurant food no more than once a week, within the same set of rules.

-Gatorade no more than once a week, use Metagenics Endure instead when needed.
-Homemade energy bars, when needed.
-Energy gel, Gu Chomps or Clif Shot Blocks when needed (I don't have any long race, so I should be ok for April)
-Protein bars (Honey Stinger), when needed.
-Dried fruit in moderation (apricots, raisins, figs, cherries, cranberries, prunes)
-Homemade banana bread, no more than once a week.
-Homemade french crepes, no more than once a week.
-Tea with honey
-Honey or organic jam for toast

That's about it. Limit the bad stuff, while increasing the good stuff. I generally have a "clean" diet since I had my gallbladder removed anyway, but I know that some details count. Being able to resist temptations is really what I am trying to achieve this month, and if weight loss or additional health benefits come with it, then I'll take them, it can only be for the better! I can do this!