My secret squad

“Oh my god, I need to sit down.”

We were on the subway wafter the New York City marathon. I was wrapped in my marathon poncho and was nearly crying tears of gratitude when there was an empty subway seat next to a girl wearing a marathon medal.

She slid over to make room for my as I collapsed.

“Thank you.”

“How’d you do?”

“I’m happy. What a race, eh?”

“Yeah! Um… would you mind if he took a picture of me? I didn’t get a good one with my medal.”

“Of course!”

My boyfriend was on the subway, standing next to us. He took her picture. We chatted about the route and the weather and marathon training until it was our stop.

“Congratulations!” I called as a limped out of the car.

Once we were outside, my boyfriend turned to me.

“How did you know her?”

I didn’t. I had never seen her before in my life. I’ll never see her again, and if I do, I’m not going to remember she was the girl who made room for me on the subway after my race.

But that doesn’t matter. Because we are in the same squad.

We run. And that’s enough.

This secret squad, of strangers connected over putting one foot in front of the other for hours on end, has been the biggest surprise and the best source of strength, since becoming a runner.

The random high five from a woman on a hot, sticky run in New Orleans.

The wave from a ace runner in the Don Valley when it freakishly hailed, but there was no way in hell we were cutting our long runs short.

The guy who, at 6:30am on a Sunday morning in downtown Manhattan, saw my running gear and wished me luck, as I headed to the subway on NYC marathon morning.

The nod from two elite runners – clearly in town for the PanAm games – who were out on a casual morning jog while I ran track repeats in Riverdale Park.

The volunteer who ran alongside me up the last major hill at 36k of the Halifax marathon, when I was pretty sure I was dying and questioning why I ever thought a marathon was a thing worth doing.

The runners who bought us a round in a random bar after the Chicago marathon because it was Canadian thanksgiving and they were shocked – and pleased – we’d run their hometown marathon instead of eating turkey in Canada.

This is my squad.

I didn’t start running for the social reasons. And even now, I mostly run alone. But those moments of connection – so random, from so many different kinds of people – are what make running bigger than a way to get fit. It turns strangers, even for an instant, into friends. Fellow runners.

There’s nothing like it. And they show up when you need them most. When you’re exhausted or nervous or completely dead or questioning why you ever started running in the first place or elated and want to share the moment with someone.

That’s what a squad is for.

 

Good times in the Maritimes

photo 3

It’s been a long winter. Here’s what I’ve been up to, fitness-wise, since my last post.

1. I sprained my ankle – badly

This has been the biggest factor in my fitness (or lack of it) since FEBRUARY. I rolled my ankle during a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. It’s May and it’s still sore. This means I haven’t been working out as much as I would like (I basically did nothing other than basketball in February and March), but it’s stable now. April was about getting back into a groove. May is about amping up – because I’m running the Chicago marathon!

2. I got into the Chicago Marathon

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.19.09 AM

It feels like every Canadian who signed up got in! I decided I’d only do a marathon in 2016 if it was a big city marathon – NYC again or Chicago. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get into NYC, but here I come Chicago! Jill got in too. October 11. I’m going to start a 16-week training program in June. I still haven’t settled on how to approach this training cycle because I want to: 1) run 4 times a week; 2) leave space on the weekend for summer adventures, long runs AND recover; 3) play softball and basketball; 4) fit in more cross-training this time around and 4) have at least one rest day. I can schedule this out on my own, but want someone/something to keep me accountable. I’ve toyed with paying for a Runner’s World program through Training Peaks – has anyone tried that before?

3. I ran the Blue Nose Half Marathon

photo 1

A few weeks ago, I made a spur of the moment decision to head to Halifax for the long weekend and run the half. My mom was doing the 5k and Jill was doing the half. I was really nervous about this race – I’ve only run 15k once this year – but it worked out fine. Jill and I ran together, with the goal of running under 2:10. This felt strong and not hard until the 19km mark, which is better than I expected. We finished in 2:09:33. It was so much fun to have the race be a family affair and to revisit the place of my first full marathon.

4. I ran a trail race

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.21.26 AM
Photo: @ayoungvoice

I did the 5peaks Trail Series April race and it was a lot of run. I am a bit confused about trail running. I don’t know how people can appreciate being in nature when you’re spending the time focusing on roots and rocks and not falling on your face, but I guess that comes with practice. I’m going to do a few more and see if I can get a handle on this. It was fun doing something different.

5. I’m still playing basketball – and softball season has started

I am convinced basketball is the reason why the Blue Nose went well. I’m essentially doing speedwork for 50 minutes, twice a week. I signed up for two teams in the spring. It’s been a bit much, scheduling wise, but it’s been good have two set workouts a week no matter what happens. Softball season started last week too. I bought batting gloves. I’m getting hardcore.

6. I signed up for a two-week ClassPass trial.

Have you heard of ClassPass? $89 a month gives you access to hundreds of studios in Toronto – and you can go to up to three classes per studio a month. I am iffy on the prices point against the amount of times I would use it, but I am open to seeing if it fits. I have a two-week free trial. I’ve been to one class so far (a mediocre vinyasa restorative class) and have signed up for 4 more. With my gym membership expired, it could be a better option for cross-training than my yoga + swimming + Nike Training Club combo I did for NYC marathon training. So far, the interface and class options are fantastic. But I think I’d need to go to 2-3 classes a week to make the price point worth it. (Plus it would give me content for this blog, right? The blog I never update?)

I think that’s it. I have so much fitness coming up in the next few weeks.

Marathon art

After running the New York Marathon, I wanted something to commemorate it. I had my bib and my medal and my running shirt and I bought a finisher’s shirt, but I got caught up in the idea of having a poster or print or something to hang. So I bought this:

marathonart

It’s by New Jersey artist Ricardo Roig, and it cost way more money than I ever intended on spending on running art. But it makes me happy and Ricardo was so delightful to purchase from that it made it worth it.

Startin’ something

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So as soon as I said good-bye, I started to regret it. I still think this blog needs a re-vamp and re-focus, but I see value in having a outlet for my fitness inspirations and frustrations. The boyfriend can’t absorb it all.

Especially since this season, for the first time since spring of 2013, I’m running without a coach. It wasn’t planned. Her life got busy, my goals weren’t clear and suddenly I was 12 weeks away from a race I signed up for without a plan. So I made a plan.

It’s based on what I’ve learned from 2 years with a coach, and what I’ve learned about myself since I started running. The basic structure is as follows:

Monday – basketball + strength
Tuesday – tempo run
Wednesday – easy run
Thursday – speed work + strength
Friday – cross-train
Saturday – optional run and/or yoga
Sunday – long run

In a real world. I’ll end up dropping one strength session and either the Wednesday or Saturday runs, which still leaves me with a solid base for training.

I’m nervous. I’m nervous about motivation, about results, about dedication, about everything. I like accountability. I’d recommend getting a coach to anyone who is serious about running. But I’ve been in a funk for almost three months now and I need to get out of it. I’m hoping this training cycle will allow me to do that, and will let me learn new things about myself along the way.

 

 

 

New York, New York

marathon

On November 2, I ran the New York City Marathon. It was overwhelming and celebratory and exceeded every expectation I could have ever placed on a race. Everyone should run this race, to experience 4 hours of a city coming together, of thousands of people accomplishing a goal, of seeing an iconic place in such an unusual and glorious way, of getting cheered on and high fived by complete strangers over and over and over and over. It was a perfect, magical day and it’ll hold a special place in my heart for a long, long time.

I haven’t written about it, though, for two reasons. The first is that the week before the NYC marathon, something happened in my life that was emotionally and physically exhausting. In the week before the race, instead of resting and focusing, I was drinking and crying and having night terrors. It completely re-framed my goals for that day and will forever be tied to that experience. I wasn’t sure how to write about the race and not write about that, so I just chose not to write. It’s been three months and I still don’t know how to write about the race without writing about that. I don’t know if I ever will.

The second reason is that I am not entirely sure about this blog anymore: what purpose it serves, what I get from it, if I have it in me to make it a great, important, positive thing again. I’m not sure. Jill’s not in Toronto anymore. (I hope she comes back, but more importantly, I hope she’s happy, wherever she ends up.) Neither of us are blogging much. I have other creative outlets I’ve developed since this blog started three years ago. I’ve been spending time (too much time) thinking about it and I still don’t know the answer.

I may be back. I may not. But I am at peace with not knowing. Because here is what I do know:

1. If you think for even a second that maybe running a marathon might be a thing you want to do, do it. I’ve learned more about myself and what I need to be healthy and happy since running insane distances.

2. I need to run insane distances. I will never be a happy, peppy runner who wakes up at 5am and bounds out of bed to the track, but I thrive on having goals, and having a fitness outlet other people think is insane. Perhaps it’s the braggart in me, perhaps it’s the overachiever. But since the NYC marathon, I haven’t really run and I’ve been and directionless and felt terrible and also felt not very happy. Running – no, training – calibrates me. A small part of me hates that I’ve learned this about myself, but a bigger part is relieved I can latch on to something to get me through trying times – and to keep me from getting fat.

3. Wear a singlet with your name or country on it when you run big races – you will feel like a rock star. I wore a Canada singlet and every Canadian I came across went crazy.

4. I don’t need people to run with to run, but I need people to run with to run fast.

5. Fitness for fun is a good, important thing to have in my life. I ignored that for too long.

6. Races are more fun when they are shared experiences.

7. When everything is crumbling around me, I can run. Even if it doesn’t make it better, it makes me feel better. Or at least makes me breathe better. And, hey, running is better than drinking when it all goes to hell.

8. NYC is magical. Everything about that day – from being wished good luck by a guy walking his dog at 6:30am in Lower Manhattan as I headed to the subway, to freezing on the Staten Island Ferry, to Central Park being so loud I couldn’t hear the music in my headphones – was completely surreal. If you ever get a chance to run NYC, do it. You won’t regret it.

 

 

 

NYC Marathon Training Weeks #11 & #12

I’ve been working a lot and running a lot and things seem under control these days. Busy, but the end is near. One more long run and I get to taper!

I fell on my leg in basketball and the bruising is ridiculous. This was what I was most afraid of when I signed up for bball – that I would get injured and it would ruin my marathon. Fortunately, it’s just along the outside of my leg and doesn’t affect any joints. I’ve run three since it happened and, while it feels weird, the running isn’t making it worse. I just have to tough it out.

I’m organizing one of the official cheer stations for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Please come out – we have a DJ and a band and coffee and free fitness. The details are here. Jill is running on behalf of our charity partner, 40 Oaks – support her here!

Corktown Cheer FLYER.pub

My long run last week was great. 30k, a consistent, strong run. I thought I had marathon training cased after that.

My long run this week was a different story. I did it at the boyfriend’s cottage and that meant hills, hills, hills. At least it was on fall country roads on a perfect weather day. My Garmin also died halfway through, so I had to guess my effort and my walking breaks during the second half of the run.

(It was an out and back so just double this data.)

I bought new compression socks. I needed new compression socks – my old ones have worn thin and one had a hole in it. They are bright pink and awesome. My quads are so dead, though, – is it weird to really want full-on compression tights?

I bought a Canada race top from the running room. I thought it would be fun to wear a Canada top and see if I get any special crowd reactions when running NYC, haha. At the Blue Nose in 2013, my name was GIANT on my bib and my number was teeny. That really helped the spectators – I have never heard my name so many times in a race.

 

NYC Marathon Training Week #10

Marathon training. It’s happening. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m having a hard time being motivated, which was the same problem I had during Ottawa training. I do so much of my running solo, I think I need a training group to take me to the next level.

My week was fine, if uneventful. I got my workouts in: four runs, two Nike sessions, one swim. I’m not as fast as I should be, but have a hard time finding reasons to care. (I’ll care on race day.) I miss yoga. My stomach was a jerk all week. The revelation these past two weeks, however, has been basketball.

I love it. An obscene amount. More than I ever thought I would. My relationship with basketball is a weird one, and one I’ve overthought too much over the past 10 years. The university I chose to go to I chose for three reasons: the first-year program looked amazing, the school was in Halifax, and I could play university basketball. I played for two years. It was a huge part of my life. Then it stopped, and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. The first time I played – after it dominating my life from the ages of 13 to 19 – I was out of shape. I signed up for a rec league in grad school and it kicked my ass so hard. I hated it, and became convinced that playing basketball wasn’t a thing I was supposed to do anymore.

I’m in shape now. I’m 10 years removed from university bball. I’m 7 years removed from my last rec league. I knew I needed to get over these weird feelings. I chose the easiest, least intense league I could find. But what it has done is reminded me why I chose an education partially formed by a need to play a sport. Why I skipped so many pivotal university¬†experiences because I had practice or a game or needed to get in weight training. Why I wrote essays on buses. Sports are fun. Basketball is fun. Fitness is fun.

This is a feeling I’ve never had with running.

I like racing, don’t get me wrong. And I think running will always be part of my fitness life. But what this league has reminded me is that I need to find fitness activities that are fun, that I enjoy, that are more about the calories burned or the miles ran, in order to truly embrace living a fit life.

Or maybe I’m just high on being one of the better players on my team. That hasn’t happened since I was 17.

Basketball is the best.

 

 

NYC Training Week #9

 

What a week. It ended with another tough race.

Monday: Rest.

Tuesday: 6 hill repeats, followed by a 30 minute bootcamp.

Wednesday: Was my first basketball game. It appears basketball was a good life choice. Everyone on my team is a similar skill level and has a similar background: high-level high school/low-level college bball 10 years ago, wanted a fitness outlet but the 5-on-5 officiated league seemed too intense. We were well matched against the other team too, and I think the only reason we won was because we had more subs. It also kicked my ass: running constantly at different speeds is exhausting!

Thursday: 3×1000 splits. I did these on the way to work:

5:31
5:20
5:22

I did 15 minute Nike Boot camp at the park near my office. I need to get up earlier if I plan to double up in the morning, but damn it’s hard when it’s pitch black out.

Friday: Rest.

Saturday: Easy 30 minutes. I didn’t take my watch. It was probably closer to 20. Then I went to the mall and bought new bball sneakers and new swimming goggles.

Sunday: This was the Oakville half marathon. It POURED, and after a while it felt like I was running through a puddle. However, the biggest problem was that my stomach cramped up around 8k and got progressively worse throughout the run. We stay at my boyfriend’s house the night before and the dinner we ate wasn’t my normal pre-run meal and then in the morning, there were no bananas so I had jam with my toast and peanut butter. That’s the only thing I can think of. On the bright side, even though my pace slowed down an obscene amount, I only walked during the water stations the whole race, which was my plan all along. Silver linings.

My splits were:

1 -5:34
2- 5:34
3- 5:34
4- 5:54 – water station
5- 5:36
6- 5:33
7- 5:56 – water station
8- 5:55
9- 6:13 – water station
10- 6:06
11- 5:48
12- 6:05 – water station
13- 6:00
14- 6:09
15- 7:01 – water station
16- 6:44
17- 6:47
18- 7:27 – water station
19- 6:34
20- 6:56
21- 5:54

2:09:56.

I’m due for a good race. I need my confidence back.

NYC Marathon Training Week #8: Monday-Saturday

I haven’t done my long run yet, but so far it’s been a good week.

I tried something new this week and doubled-up on my boot camps and my runs. I was lucky enough to have time in the evening to do this, as with the darkness at 6:30am these days, getting up in time to do a double workout is just asking too much. This does two things: creates more flexibility in my schedule and frees up time to do other activities. My coach wants me to prioritize the boot camps, and with good reason, but I don’t want to give up swimming and biking and yoga. I’m hoping that by doubling up, I’ll get 3 cross-training sessions in and potentially have a second rest day each week, if I need it.

Monday: This was the day after the Island 10k so I did a whole lot of nothing.

Tuesday: I had my evening free, so I did a 6k pick-up run, followed by a 30-minute bootcamp. I struggled this whole run, but by the end of it I felt a lot better than I had at the beginning.

My splits were:

6:00
5:37
5:14
5:22
4:59
4:57

Wednesday: I went to the Regent Park Aquatic Centre (it’s FREE!) to do laps. I have never, ever, ever been in a pool that was that busy. It was disorienting, but I eventually got into a groove following the lap/rest and wait/lap routine everyone in my lane had established. I’m in a bit of a weird zone in that in the “fast” lane I get my ass kicked and feel like a nuisance, but in the “medium” lane, I’m the jerk who either passes you or switches to breaststroke mid-lane, making you feel slow either way. I need to up my endurance to swim with the big kids full-time.

Thursday: We had dinner plans at 7:30, so I hit the gym in between work and dinner. I wanted to do my speedwork (4x800s) and a 30-minute bootcamp, but only a 15-minute one happened, otherwise I would have been late. I picked the hardest ab-focused one available and almost died.

I did my 800s on a treadmill (there was no track in a convenient location between work and dinner), but played with the speed settings to make each split progressively harder.

My splits were:

4:06
4:03
4:02
4:02

Friday: Rest. After 3 quality days of working out, I was wiped. And I had two epic runs planned for the weekend and didn’t want to compromise them.

Saturday: Ran 10.08k in 1:05:38 with my friend Kendal. It was a good solid run, with some rain. Kendal’s faster than me, but we settled into a pace that wasn’t ass-kicking and left me with enough that I’m confident I can tackle my long run tomorrow without any trouble.

Okay, three hour long run Sunday morning. Let’s do this.

NYC Marathon Training Week #7 – Longboat Island 10k

This race didn’t go as I hoped, but it went as I expected. 54:05. I’ve run faster 10ks, but I’ve run slower 10ks. And the race, while lovely, wasn’t designed for someone who cared about time.

It started at 11:15am on a hot day.

The trails were open to other pedestrians and cyclists. This is a problem when the race begins at 11:15am on a hot day.

We ran 1.5k on grass and another 1.5k on the boardwalk.

I started out running the pace I was supposed to be running. The plan was to start right around 5:00 per km pace and pick it up halfway through

5:02
5:08
5:09

Solid start. Then the heat and effort caught up to me. I was zonked by the 3rd kilometre and got a stitch in my side.

5:53 (water station walk break)
5:16
6:03 (water station walk break)
5:55 (hated the world walk break)

Then I picked it up. I decided that a PR wasn’t happening today, but if I could finish strong, with a pace around 5:30, it would be a good day. It was beautiful out. Toronto Island is the best.

5:25
5:25
4:48 (My Garmin says the course was 100 metres short. This split proves it.)

This race was a good reminder about a bunch of things: you can have a good day without a PR, not all races need to be about PRing, I need to work hard if I want to run well (the week before this race was a battle). And if races don’t go as planned it’s not the end of the world.

I’m ready to up my training game, though. My A race needs to be an A+ experience. I paid enough for it, haha.