Monday, October 28, 2013

Last one for the road

Six more sleeps to Hamilton Marathon and you know what? It's taper, bitch! Which makes me feel very much like this:
By the way, I swore I'd never put an animated GIF on my blog, but Jesse Pinkman is legit. He's just too much fun to look at. So, before I get too dizzy looking at him, I thought I'd recap my last week of training (scroll down to get the GIF out of the screen).

I was supposed to do all kinds of workouts: strength training, a bit of biking, a bit of swimming, speedwork, fartleks on a hilly route, easy run, long progressive run, even a short recovery run. But life and work got in the way and although I could have sacrificed a few things here and there to get all my workouts in, I chose to listen to my body and not overdo it because let's be honest here, the last two months have not been easy, despite cutting the training volume in half.

Monday I was supposed to run 12km easy, which I ended doing on Tuesday because Monday night there was a lot of rain and wind and I was not in the mood to fight either of them. Tuesday I also went swimming and had my second private lesson with Sean Bechtel, a pro athlete who gives swimming lessons at a pool about 3 min away from my house. He also took video and for the first time ever I could see myself underwater. You can watch his video analysis here (he said much more while I was there). Bottom line, I've got work to do. This was in the morning, and in the evening, as soon as I came home from work, I changed into my running clothes and literally ran out the door. I really needed to de-stress and wanted to do the run around Professor's Lake before the nightfall. Mission accomplished.

On Wednesday I was supposed to do Yasso's on the track (10x800m with 400m recovery). Yeah, right. I'm not sure why, but I didn't go... I must have been tired and watched Netflix instead. Oops, no, it was Zin's birthday and we all went to the restaurant and ate a lot. On Thursday, it was group swim in the evening with the tri club and I should have done a short recovery run as well. But I ended taking my older son to the hospital for an MRI (he had been scheduled for that night) and again, no workout.

Which brings us to Friday and I knew that I had to play catch up. 14km Fartleks on a hilly route were on the menu. After lots of negotiations with hubby, we ended going together after our regular Tim Hortons dinner. We bickered the whole time and despite going around the lake again, I had a miserable time. I was feeling tired and defeated and didn't want to be there. Anyway, got it done and we did not kill each other.

Saturday came and even though coach was optimistic and wrote a 2h ride outdoors in the program, I ended doing 1h on the trainer (which was the suggested alternative by the way). Too cold, too windy, a recipe for disaster, so I passed on the fall foliage and fresh air.

And finally Sunday and the last long run before the mini one week taper. 22km progressive run which was supposed to go like this: 3km easy,  6km marathon pace, 10km 1/2 marathon pace, 3km easy. Coach loves these killer workouts and I never doubt him anyway, so I was ready for it. But in my infinite wisdom, I decided to run on the Etobicoke Trail, which comes with its own hills of death. Just because my Fartleks were not hilly enough on Friday. Talk about being masochistic.
Anyway, I suited up for the run, took a few Clif Blocks, a gel and two bottles of water and off I went. Easy pace, 6:15min/km as usual, then after 3km I switched gears to marathon pace. I was aiming for 5:55min/km, but I ended running at 5:45min/km. I just could not dial back and hit the right pace, not easy when it goes up and down...Then it was time to go even faster to 1/2 marathon pace, and based on my last half, 5:37min/km seemed like a good pace to be at. My GPS watch was all over the place, again because of the hills, so I had no clue how fast I was going, but the average was around 5:35. The turn around point happened to be after a big hill and I was huffing and puffing and really struggling with the change in incline. I ran 1 more km like this, then looked at my heart rate and realized that I was way up in Zone 5 and hell knows for how long I had been hanging in there. I tried to slow down, but the heart rate would not follow. Eventually I told myself, I'm done with this, I'll just try to make my way back home without passing out.

It was really tough, the last 10k felt like a death march. What kept me moving was the fact that I know that this is supposed to happen during the last 10km of a marathon. And with this workout I managed to get to that dark place, where the only thing that mattered was to put a foot in front of the other. It ended being my fastest training run over 20km with an overall pace of 6:04min/km, but it absolutely killed me. My season is complete, I met my goal, even if I didn't run the marathon yet. I survived the toughest mental struggle while running this year, which came close to the experience I had riding the Muskoka bike course for the first time. And it wasn't even during a triathlon. I told my coach earlier this year that I needed this as I knew that it would prepare me mentally for whatever is yet to come, aka the Ironman. It's like a check mark on my training calendar: sufferfest done. Now all I need is to put it in practice once more at the Hamilton Marathon.

It will be easy to spot us. Look for Carol and I yelling at the water stations:
But no hard feelings, please. It's all Jesse's fault.
Yeah, bitch!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A history of LSD

LSD as in long slow distance, of course! I always feel weird saying it, so most of the time I just refer to it as "the long run". For me, anything over 1.5h falls into this category. However, in this blog post, I will only talk about runs over 20km long, just because I want to see the end of it. Just like when you're running long. I have only been training for marathons for 3 years, so this should be relatively quick though.

2011 - Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon training
After completing my first half-marathon in 2010, it was time for me to "double down". I was putting in the training as required, working with a coach for the first time. I managed to do three long runs, then the whole Universe turned on me and I pulled a calf muscle attending a "mandatory corporate fun day" (I still hate that day), I had gallbladder surgery and lost my father to cancer all within the same month. Needless to say, the marathon did not happen. But for the record, here is how my last long run went. I was doing 9-1's (running for 9 minutes, walking for 1 minute). My average pace was 7:29min/km (12min/mile) (Runkeeper link - that's how I remember all this stuff by the way)
First words after workout: "Pretty hard, but happy I got it done. 9-1s weren't that bad".
I did this long run at the same time as Carol, who was also training for Scotiabank, her second marathon. She's always been my inspiration as she was the one to get me off the couch. I will never thank her enough.

2012 - Mississauga Marathon training
In the history of "screwing up your training before the marathon", this one ended in the books. I ran the Paris Marathon as my longest run, but that story already has its own blog post. It's still my marathon PR and it was all an "accident", albeit a very happy one. You can read all about it here. Back to the LSD runs though, the longest run before Paris/Mississauga was a mere 23km, which I ran in 2h30, with a pace of 6:31min/km (10:45min/mile) (Runkeeper link - with pretty photos!)
First words after workout: "Great, challenging run".
I was finally enjoying running again, taking on some challenges too, such as the Etobicoke Trail which is very hilly. I even bought a bike and started training for triathlons.

2012 - Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon training
Fast forward a few months, and I was on my way to a redemption run. I wanted a PR at Scotiabank really badly, so I put in the time and focus to train properly, with my longest run being a 32km, which happened to be in France again, on one of the hilliest routes ever, called "La Coulee Verte". I managed to finish it in 3h30 (I was training by time back then), with a pace of 6:34min/km. I wrote about it before and you can see the Runkeeper data here. The heart rate was all poopy though, so don't pay attention to it. I replaced my Garmin strap afterwards.
First words after workout: "Igny-Paris par La Coulee Verte. Oh boy!! Why isn't France flat? That hurt."
I was doing all my runs with Zin as he liked sharing the pain with me, which ended biting him in the butt since I registered him for the marathon as well. He ended having a much better experience than me, so no complaints in that department, but I kinda wish he was still running that slow so we can train together more. He's now too fast for my own good, so our runs are more and more disparate. I suppose it's time for me to crank it up a notch, but it shall wait after the Ironman because speed and IMs don't work together when you're a noob like me.

2013 - Hamilton Marathon training
This year, my A race was Muskoka 70.3, so again, I have not been training for a marathon per se. I just decided to go for it on a whim, and I'm doing whatever I can to put in as many long runs as possible. Including the half marathon in Muskoka, I banked 5 runs of 20km or more to prepare for this marathon, which is in a week from now, with the longest being 26km along Lake Ontario, just like in 2011. This is what actually prompted this blog post, it was a way to close the loop on three years of training on the same grounds. My LSD pace was again faster, but I owe it to my coach who pushed me on the track every week over the summer.
First words after the workout: "Long run with Carol. I needed some inspiration before the marathon".
Once more, I ran with Carol, but she went for 32km in 3h15. She's rather badass, I know. This year, we will both run Hamilton, our first marathon distance together, and we're both going for a PR. Personally, I just want to hang in there and wait for the pickle juice to do its magic. ;-)

Bottom line, I am happy to see such improvement over a period of 3 years and I hope to go out there and have fun running with friends, trying to keep up with them, without going all out. I don't want to injure myself before the Ironman, so I won't be pushing the pace too much, but I will do my best to come back home with a PR. If those long runs were to be an indication of where my fitness is at compared to last year, then I should not worry too much. 

Now, one question remains: which shoes am I going to wear??

Friday, October 18, 2013

Running, etc.

Other than "marathon training", not much else is happening these days in the workout department. Sure, I had two glorious days of biking with friends last weekend, including my first slow-mo fall on my P2 in front of three dozen of "serious" cyclists (they all had matching kits, booties and cleat covers), which left me with a couple of colourful bruises, including a big one on my ego. I have no explanation other than the bike did not want to go when I clipped in to go. Imagine that.

I also went swimming a few times, twice with the tri group, and once with a swim coach who's supposed to do a video analysis and pick at my flaws next week. I learned a few tricks and heard some old truths. I did not mind swimming with the group either. Maybe it's a new beginning, despite my old frustrations and fears. I'm giving it another chance over the winter and maybe my brain will stay put and get on with the program. We shall see...

But back to running, I still have this marathon to run in three weeks. I'm still going for the full, even though I had serious thoughts about switching to a half, just to be able to run with Nicole and Sam and make it more fun. But then two other friends of mine are running the full as well, so I'm thinking that we may need each other in the long run, literally. I promised myself that if my legs don't start screaming, then I shall not chicken out. So legs, until then, shut up.

My schedule is not too crazy and although some may think that I will be running this marathon unprepared, I think I know my body better. After all, I ran my first and best marathon by accident without doing any runs longer than 25km. Then I trained for one "properly", with several 30km+ runs an it ended being my worst. I am going for a PR, even if it's just a minute. I think I can do it as my fitness improved a lot in a year and a half of training for triathlons. But if things end up going downhill, aside from the course incline, then I'll reevaluate. One thing for sure, I'm going to carry my magic pickle juice for good juju.

Last week I went on my longest run this year, 24km which I chose to do on the Caledon Trailway, away from the city. Last time I ran there was in the summer during the race simulation day. Initially I thought about going early in the morning, but as my alarm clock went off, I heard the rain tapping on my window and changed my mind. I was afraid of catching a cold by running 2 weekends in a row soaked to the bone, so I postponed it for later in the day, hoping for mother nature to take a break from all the bitching and crying. She did around noon, but we were eating lunch. When we eventually got ready to go, it was 2:30pm and the sky was looking menacing again. It was also cold, so we decided to grab a coffee on the go, but by the time we got to Timmies, the rain started again. Seriously, WTF!

We drove about 15 minutes north to the trail, debating whether to turn around or HTFU it all the way. Once we reached the trail and parked the car, I was reluctant to get out. This was not going to be fun.
Mmmmmm, corn.
Do I really have to get out of the car?
With this guy, it should not be so bad.
We took the picture above just before we started running. The plan was for Zin to do 12km with me, then 12km on his bike, while I kept on running. Not even 30sec after we took the picture though, it started pouring. Are you freaking kidding me? Not even a light rain, but buckets of water. We turned into soaked beans again.
It didn't look pretty anymore. More like a long streak of diarrhea.
My mood took a 360 degree turn and I was ready to strangle someone. The victim of biggest convenience, hubbs. He must have sensed the fumes coming out of my ears because he took off ahead of me to stay safe. The farthest away he was running, the more annoyed I would get because I was feeling so slow and unmotivated and I had no one to share my pain with. Despite the beautiful setting, I did not want to be there, running in the rain, having to jump over puddles to keep my feet dry.
Chasing my hubbs
Leading the way
I kept on chasing him up and down the trail and telling myself that I'd run back to my car and end this misery. But once I finished the first 12km, I could not stop. I was running away from the car again, but this time I was counting the kilometers to the turn around point. Six more, then the last six. That didn't sound so bad anymore. Maybe I could do this, even if the heart wasn't it in. Zin put on his funny attitude, trying to cheer me up. He succeeded for about a minute, then I went back to fighting the voices that were telling me that enough was enough.
Somewhere in that little brain of mine, something was telling me to keep smiling
Especially for this guy, my everything. A gel for another smile, maybe?
The kilometers were going by slower and slower and to add insult to irony, a stitch decided to park itself between my ribs. Hello there little fucker, and no, I didn't miss you. Now, get the hell OUT. Sigh, it didn't listen... stayed there pretty much until the end, just because it could. I pushed through, telling myself that for sure it'll come back during the marathon and then what? Walk, maybe, but what if I didn't need to?

This blog post sounds like a race report already, but trust me, I'm trying to speed up my thinking. It's just that I have a few more pictures and I need more paragraphs to drop in between. Maybe I'll find something interesting to say. Yeah, what about that tiny little snake across the path? Or the beaver dam? And let's not forget the Hwy 10 overpass which I hate with all my guts. If you see my heart rate going through the roof, it's because of it:
Going East
Going West
Okay, I am seriously running out of words here. So much verbiage for a shitty run, it's not even worth it. Just so you know: I DID IT. Ran all 24km. Then, laying on my back beside my car, on the cold and wet ground, I looked at the sky for a while, and didn't regret a single minute.

My coffee was cold, my legs were aching. Hubbs was driving. I was in love again - he was going to bring me back home, to my ice bath, my comfy couch and Breaking Bad.

Tomorrow I'll run 26km.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The County Half Marathon Race Report

A few months ago, one of our friends from the tri club mentioned that he was going to race the County Half Marathon for the 10th time in a row, in the heart of the scenic Prince Edward County, 3h east of Toronto. I figured that there must have been a good reason for him to go back year after year, and he told us that we should find out by ourselves, by running it as well. That sounded just like the challenge I would take to keep my legs moving. A month after our A race, and why not after all? I knew that I wasn't going to break any records, I just wanted to make the fun last longer.

And so after Muskoka 70.3 I took the time to rest and let the legs get into a new groove. I still ran a few times a week, but the volume did not exceed 38km and 7.5h of training in total per week, including a bike ride here and there, one swim and a strength training workout. Most runs with the exception of a hard 15k (race pace less 20sec/km) a week before the race, were all "easy pace", although I managed to stay under 6min/km each time, and more or less in Z2, by some mystery of physiology. However, halfway during the month, I started having these weird pains in my knees. Shooting pain from all angles, but they would not last more than 2-3 minutes at a time. After I finished running, my knees would get really hot and pulse for almost an hour. A few days before the race I finally went to see my massage therapist who told me that my knees were ok, but my hips, IT bands and hamstrings were all extremely tight, and that they were pulling on the knee tendons from all sides. I just had to stretch more often and keep applying ice. So what did I do? I freaked out, of course.

I cancelled all remaining workouts for the week and put my feet up in the hope of giving them as much rest as I could. The one thing that I could not fathom, was to DNF on a race "for fun". On Friday, when the time came to drive to the cottage that we rented for the weekend, I was totally unprepared. I had not even packed. I rushed home from work and managed to get our bags ready in a record time (by my standards anyway) and one hour later we were on our way, direction Wellington, PEC.

Once arrived at destination, we settled in, then I left the boys watch TV and I headed over to another one of the cottages on the property, where Nicole and 25 of her girlfriends were #retreat-ing in style, a yearly tradition from what I've heard. I had a drink and tried to keep my mind occupied until time came to call it a night. Riri 1- Irrational Fear 0. Thank you, pear cider.

The next morning we went on a little adventure in Sandbanks Provincial Park, the site of long sandy beaches and a very still and peaceful Lake Ontario, both desert at this time of the year. We all walked on the beach and enjoyed these moments of pure bliss, which filled our minds with much happier memories than 10 years ago when we last visited the place (my then 18 months old son broke his elbow 30 minutes after arriving at the campground).
The beach looks like a best kept secret
Not much changed in 10 years
I think I like it here
The Beach Boys
In the afternoon we went to Crystal Palace in Picton to pick up our race kit, a very fancy name for this stylish barn.
The Crystal Palace, Picton
A lovely barn that is
The expo didn't have much to rave about, but the race atmosphere was almost palpable, even a full day ahead. This marathon is definitely an event that Picton folk are proud of, and you could tell by the number of volunteers of all ages buzzing around. This year, it was also the 10th anniversary of the race and there were all kinds of displays to remind visitors how memorable this event has been so far.
The race kit included a reusable bag, a long sleeve tshirt, a pair of socks and some cereal bars. The chip was in the bib. Yay for new technology!
Look at that big ass medal!!
The T-shirt parade
A plaque for the regulars ;-)
After the race pick up we went back to the cottage, but not before we "sampled" some of the city's best baked goods, because it was all part of the carb loading ritual, I guess. Then we relaxed some more, until it was time to prepare dinner. We ended the night with s'mores by the fire and another drink with the gals. I love the cottage life! All races should include some down time like this.

I went to bed at 10:30pm, worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep well. But to my surprise, it was quite the uneventful night. Woke up at 6am, had a shower, ate a banana, then Nicole came to pick us up at 7am so we can drive back to Picton where the buses were going to take us to the start of the half marathon. Did I mention that it was pouring outside? I knew it was going to be a rainy day, so I decided to wear my grey Muskoka finisher tshirt and my running skirt, with the tri short underneath. We can change our colors, but we're still triathletes at heart. ;-) And to finish the metaphor of my outfit, I opted for my compression rainbow socks, because you know, after the rain, the rainbow... get it? ;-) A bit of voodoo magic, hoping for the sun to come out eventually.

In Picton we stopped at Tim Hortons for breakfast. Our race start was going to be at 10am, which was a bit tricky food wise. I had a bagel with cream cheese and an orange juice. I was on the fence about buying something sweet but I wasn't really feeling like eating more junk. So when Nicole offered an apple, I happily accepted it.

It was cold and damp outside, but by this time the rain had stopped. I was however glad that I had chosen to wear a throw away sweater since it was very chilly and my Raynaud's was acting up already. Nicole came to the rescue once more and gave me a pair of gloves!! Isn't she an angel, this girl?! Once I put them on, I felt a million times better. Can't you tell? Here we are playing with the spirits and exorcising the race demons with one silly pose at a time.

It just felt like the right thing to do
In case you didn't know, the race start was at a cemetery. The music was rather fabulous I should say, it may have gotten everyone dancing in their graves. There were two big tents where most of the participants were waiting for the time to pass by. Some of us went to cheer on the marathon runners, but the first guys were too fast and we didn't get a chance to see them. I decided to do a few warm up runs up and down the street because I could feel my legs getting numb. Went to the port-a-potty once, but the second time I went to pee in the corn field because I couldn't get myself to line up and stand still for so long.
I did something naughty
Zin found our friend James and they were busy talking race strategy and finish times. I was eager to start running already! Knees were not bothering me, and not to tempt the devil, I totally ignored any negative thoughts. I was not wearing my GPS watch and the plan was to race by feel, nice and relaxed. Training run, nothing more. With a medal at the end. And fun, lots of it. At the last moment I remembered that I had my iPhone with me, so I put on Runkeeper to keep me company. Nicole is a much faster runner, so she was only going to run 3k with me before putting on the turbo. How excited were we? This much!
All teeth!!
A quick countdown, and we were off! I almost started too fast, but Nicole, a real pacer, yo, had the pace in check and was letting me know when we needed to slow down. I need to run with her more! The 3km went by fast, then she took off like the energizer Bunny, just as the rain started coming down on us fast and furious. I only managed to snap a few pics before I decided to tuck the phone away to avoid water damage. The Rainkeeper lady kept on talking, announcing the pace at each km with her monotonous voice. And just like her monotonous voice, my splits were astoundingly (is that a word?) constant. 5:38, 5:38, 5:37, 5:38, 5:37, 5:39 etc. These are the only numbers I heard the entire time, almost like a broken record.
Turning a corner
And on your right, Lake Ontario.
This feels just magical
The splits were like music to my ear. I was feeling happy like a squirrel, sporting a grin bigger than my face. And then I gave myself the mission to keep this pace. This would get me under 2h, exactly what I had dreamed of for a training run, only if the heart was going to get on board. I was running relaxed, legs like a metronome. As soon as Nicole left, I noticed a guy was following not too far behind me, and told myself, maybe he likes hearing the Runkeeper lady, let's not disappoint him. Can I pull another 5:38? What about this one with the slight downhill? 5:37, but of course.
I ate my first pack of Clif blocks between km 5-8, and another one between km 15-18. I only drank when I was thirsty, mostly after the gummies. The rain turned into a violent downpour and the wind showed up too. I could care less. I noticed my skirt was "foaming" while rubbing against the tri short. My mind went wandering whether it still had soap in it. I could see the raindrops hanging onto the edge of my cap's visor for minutes at a time, eventually falling down... When I was drinking water, half of it ended down my tshirt since I would not bother slowing down. Why care? I was dripping wet from every inch of fabric I was wearing. It was exhilarating. I was yelling thanks to the volunteers who were braving the elements with us, and to the people who came out to cheer on us, a never ending display of umbrellas and drenched parkas. Some people were cheering from their porches so they don't get wet. Buses full of relay runners were passing us and we exchanged more cheers. It was indeed all the fun I could have asked for. Why didn't I do the full marathon so it could last longer?
With 3km to go, the guy running behind me passed me and I told myself that I had made a good pace bunny that day. For him and for myself as well. Unknowingly, we pushed each other and I was so glad to see that he hang on and was going to finish strong.
Last stretch
Soon afterwards I was on the home stretch, back in downtown Picton. My heart was now beating a bit harder because of the few hills that I had just powered through, but I was decided not to slow down and get my under 2h. I sprinted the last 200m and crossed the finish line at the same time as the 2h pace bunny in 1:59:21 official chip time.
My day was complete. I was given a gianormous commemorative medal, special 10th anniversary, which I had engraved on the spot with my time for $4. Back inside the Crystal Palace, I found Zin, Nicole and James, all proud and happy finishers. Zin officially completed his first half marathon in, wait for it... 1:36:58. Say whaaaat?! That's it, I am calling him the Zinster from now on.

We changed into dry clothes, then we all ate our post race food, including beer from a local brewery. Since we had to go back to the cottage for the check out, we didn't spend too much time with the other runners, but I would have liked to be there when James got his plaque for having run all 10 editions of the event. I bet he must be a local celebrity by now. And so we got back to the cottage, cleaned up and packed, then by 3pm started our drive back to Toronto. Thankfully we had no traffic and 3h later we were pulling into our driveway.

In the end, I can only say great things about this race. It's a small event, given the number of participants, but a big deal for the locals. The organization, swag, food, volunteers, water stations were all just perfect. Plus, this is an official Boston qualifier race for those who do the full, in a beautiful setting and 95% flat. You cannot ask for more from a race. Definitely on my shortlist for future marathons and favorite races to do over and over again.

It was a lot of fun to run this race with hubbs and great friends around! Thank you and congrats to all!