6 things I learned from my 6 marathons

Marathon #5. 

In my first marathon, I learned about strength. I was stronger than I thought I was. I felt like death the last 10k, I wanted to quit. I wanted to die. But I finished. And there’s no feeling like finishing your first marathon.

In my second marathon, I learned about humility. It doesn’t get easier. You get tougher, but you need to put in the work. My second marathon was terrible and painful and I questioned why I was doing this again. It seemed so stupid. But I finished and I’m proud that I powered through.

In my third marathon, I learned to believe in magic. Marathons are magical. There’s nothing like thousands of strangers coming together to complete a hard thing – and thousands more cheering them on. This race is still one of the greatest days of my life.

In my fourth marathon, I learned about community. Marathons are better when you run with a friend. I ran the first half of the race with my sister and having her by my side made this race so much more than it would have been had I done it alone.

In my fifth marathon, I learned about acceptance. You can’t go back, only forward. You can’t re-create, only accept new moments. I ran NYC for the second time and wanted o badly to have the same life-changing day I had when I ran NYC the first time. I didn’t. I was originally disappointed by that. But I’ve accepted it and have come to appreciate this race for what it was and how far I’ve come in my running.

In my sixth marathon, I learned¬†that fun is more important than fast. Together is better than alone. And there aren’t a lot of options to wear a tutu and fairy wings as an adult – so take the ones you get. This was my slowest marathon by almost two hours, but I had a smile on my face the entire time. I loved every step. I need to find that feeling in every run. In every day.

Recovery is the worst

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It’s been two weeks since I ran NYC.

I’ve worked out once.

It sucks.

I know it’s important to heal. Give your body a break. Re-focus on things you ignored while you were training. Get more sleep.

But I feel restless, purposeless, anxious.

I always need a goal. I always need to be working towards something. And while recovery is indeed that – working towards healing my body so I can tackle another training cycle with injury- and burn-out- free – it’s less tangible than training. There are no runs you need to do. No strength classes to take. No obsessing over splits and average paces and perceived effort.

There’s just rest.

This is an important lesson for me. That being still is as valuable as being on the move. That doing nothing is as valuable as doing everything. That just because you can’t quantify it or put it on a calendar doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. This is more about me than my marathon recovery.

I hate it. But I am trying to learn from it and trying to grow because of it.

It’s so hard.

But so necessary.

I finished a marathon and I cried

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I cried when I crossed the finish line of the 2016 NYC Marathon.

At first, I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t achieve my time goal. I didn’t survive a suffer-fest. I had a decent marathon effort that in retrospect, I give a solid “B”. But I cried. I buried my face in my hands. I locked eyes with an older man who finished at the same time I did. He was crying too. We held hands and half-embraced. Nodded at each other and smiled.

I cried because I was as emotionally raw as I’ve ever been. I only get that emotional when I am obscenely drunk and when I finish marathons.

And I suppose that is why I run.

I run because I am not comfortable with emotions. I am not comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am not comfortable with public displays of affection. I am stoic, focused, disciplined. Calm.

But at some point on a 26.2 mile journey, that barrier breaks down. Pain creeps in. Boundaries collapse. The most primal, raw, uncontrollable aspects of who I am and how I feel bubble to the surface and I am too exhausted to suppress them. So I cross a finish line, bawl my face off, and for one moment, am intimately connected with a complete stranger who is the only person in the world who knows exactly what I am going through.

Being that open, that vulnerable, is terrifying.

But it’s also freeing.

It’s something I wish I had the strength to cultivate more of in my everyday life.

Until that happens, I will run. Away from my fears, my insecurity. Away from doubt. Away from second-guessing myself. Away from negativity, from self-imposed stress and anxiety.

When I run, I embrace pain. Embrace emotions. Embrace strangers.

And, eventually, I’ll be able to embrace myself.

As I finished the NYC marathon, that’s what I did. I embraced my race, my effort. I did the best I could on the day I had with the circumstances I was given. In that moment, it was enough. I was enough.

And it was okay to cry because of it.

 

Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you

“The bravest thing I ever did was run.”

Two years ago, I ran the NYC marathon for the first time.

Two weeks before that, Taylor Swift released 1989.

I liked it fine enough. It was catchy and well-written and danceable. I considered myself a fan of Taylor Swift and was happy that I had a new album to listen to while running a marathon.

A week after 1989 came out, the place I work was turned upside and a person I thought I knew turned out to be a monster. It was national news and I couldn’t escape it. I didn’t know who was reaching out for gossip and who was reaching out because they cared about me. I didn’t know what was coming next, who to trust and when it would be over.

It was terrifying and I felt so alone.

“The water filled my lungs, I screamed so loud, but no one heard a thing.”

I played 1989 on repeat that week, run-crying (and drinking way too much) my way through my taper. I lined up at the NYC start line exhausted dehydrated and terrified. Terrified I destroyed my marathon, terrified my career was over, terrified of what we were going to learn next.

“Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods yet? Are we out of the woods?”

My 2014 NYC playlist was 1989 on repeat three times. Every single song became about me, my marathon and what I was going through in that moment. It was a light guiding my way through a messy, scary time and a difficult emotional experience. Running the New York marathon for the first time was magic, but Taylor was the reason I let myself feel it.

“The lights are so bright, but they never blind me.”

It’s 2016 and I am running the New York marathon again. And Taylor Swift has a new song. She doesn’t sing it, she just wrote it. It’s about a breakup (because of course it is) but there’s a line early on, that is becoming my 2016 NYC marathon anthem.

“The bravest thing I ever did was run.”

Two years ago, I ran a marathon through one of the most difficult weeks of my life. The NYC marathon saved that month, hell, that year for me. And Taylor was the soundtrack.

Tomorrow, I will run NYC again, a celebration and a return to the place that gave me one of the most important experiences of my life. This time, I’m not running from anything. I’m running for myself.

And Taylor will be the soundtrack again.

“Welcome to New York, it’s been waiting for you.”

I’m glad to be back.

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- Monday

Midway through this week, I will be halfway through my training. Crazy. Monday was the first day of September. I love September. I am excited for work to get busy again and have launches and events and awards and festivals and do so much that by the end of November, I want to fall over and die and wonder why I keep doing this. This is my work life cycle. My year has an arc and, after 4 years in the same job, I’ve come to thrive on it.

I am not looking forward to the mornings getting dark earlier, just as I’ve become (mostly) a master of the morning workout. I need to have faith. And confidence.

Each year, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a word of the year. But a year is such a long time, so much can change, Priorities can shift. Earlier this year, I thought about doing a word of the month instead. I haven’t committed to it yet, but I think September is the time to try it out. So this morning I wrote a word on a post-it note and stuck it to my computer.

Work.

This applies to so many things. September is when my job picks up like crazy. My job is also at a pivotal moment, for my department, my company and myself. This would be a good year to work hard, focus, and figure out, exactly, what my job means to me and what I want out of it, bigger-picture-wise.

It also applies to fitness. I’m exactly halfway through my training and I’ve had a hard time staying motivated. I’ve also struggled with getting quality cross-training in these past few weeks. Now is the time to buckle down and put the work I need to do in to have a great race.

It’s also a good reminder for everything else. Summer is a time for delightful slacking, and I’m thankful for that. But things need to get done. Time to work on that.

On Monday, I did my long run. 22.1k in 2:35:30. As far as long runs go, it was of medium quality. It wasn’t as great as my long run in Halifax the week before. It could have been faster, more consistent. I could have been more focused.

It’s time to work on that.

NYC Marathon Training – the rest of week #6

Let’s catch up.

Wednesday was my birthday. No workouts as a present to meee! (I had actually planned to go to morning yoga, but when the alarm went off at 6am, I was like ‘screw this, it’s my birthday.’)

The next day, I thought I was on the ball. I brought extra clothes to work so I could run home Thursday and run to work again on Friday.

Then my Garmin went dead. And my computer didn’t have enough juice to charge it. So I ran home Thursday sans Garmin, guesstimating my pace based on effort. Then I ran to work on Friday, again based on effort. Both these runs felt okay. My legs are tired. But that seems par for the course for marathon training.

On Saturday, I did a 45 minute Nike app bootcamp. I’ve unlocked some fancy celebrity workouts, so I did 3 of those in a row (Paula Radcliffe, some surfer and some yogi).

On Sunday, I was supposed to run long. But it was so hot and so humid that I bailed. I went to the mall, bought a basketball, did a 60 minute solo shoot around and then signed up for a 4-on-4 ladies rec league. I haven’t played basketball in 10 years. I’m terrified. Come play with me so I am less terrified.

(I’m mostly terrified of being terrible. I had the same problem when I signed up for softball. I don’t like doing things I am not great at. And I used to be relatively great at basketball, if I exaggerate my past bball success. I need to get over this.)

 

 

NYC Marathon Training Week #5 – Tuesday

Tuesday was one of those days were nothing went right and nothing felt right. I came home, headachy, tired and having screwed up my evening plans thanks to a last-minute work thing. But I forced myself out the door to get my run in. Then I forced myself to go be social as soon as my run was over.

I am glad I did both these things. Sometimes I need to take a step back and not think big picture or dwell on stress. If my run was bad, I could have stopped. If socializing was exhausting, I could just leave early. I forget these things sometimes. But the run was good. And the book club was engaging and satisfying, topped off with delicious food.

Usually, doing stuff ends up being the right decision. It was on Tuesday.

NYC Marathon Training Week #5 – Monday

How is it week #5 already?

I overslept on Monday, and had plans after work. I spent most of the morning convincing myself that I could do my cross-training after my plans. Then my co-worker went to the gym and I decided to say ‘screw it’ and go for a bike ride at lunch. Because I am almost always wearing gym shorts, a tank top and a sports bra on under my dress, preparing was easy. I had a pair of canvas shoes at work, too and boom: impromptu fitness outfit.

I biked to the Humber bridge and back, it was about 60 minutes all in. I pushed myself harder than I did on my bike ride on Sunday, I wanted to get my heart rate up. I’m still trying to master this cross-training thing, sometimes I feel like yoga/biking/swimming isn’t the right combination of stuff.

The bike ride was good. I liked breaking up my work day like that and didn’t mind making up the time at the end of the day. I need to do this more often.