Are You a Fan of “A Christmas Story”?

If you are a fan of the classic movie “A Christmas Story”, time is running out to register for a virtual run that will get you this awesome medal:

2014 Finisher’s Medal

If you haven’t seen the movie, the picture on the medal will mean nothing to you.  But if you have seen it, you are giggling right now.

Thirty one years ago this movie was released in theatres, but its real success did not come until it was played on television.  It is now considered a Christmas classic.  Many (including myself) consider it to be one of the top Christmas films ever made.  In my opinion it was a movie that was a little ahead of its time, somehow managing a sweet, nostalgic feel, combined with a wicked sense of humour.

Last year the first “A Christmas Story Run” was held in Cleveland, where there is actually a museum  housed in the same home used for the movie.  When I read about this race, after the fact, on the blog Salty Running, I was so upset I had missed out.  Not that I would have made it to Cleveland, but the race also holds a virtual version, sending out the medal and shirt , plus some Olvatine (again, you have to know the movie) to registrants.  “Pepper” at Salty Running kindly offered up her medal to me (both she and her husband had one)  if I was willing to donate to charity and run 10k.  The boys and I went shopping for the local charity Toy Mountain and then our family went out for a winter run…

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earning what is my favourite medal ever…

2013 Finisher’s Medal

You may notice a leg lamp theme!  I am expecting one year to see a pink bunny, a bar of soap, Chinese food, and a Red Rider BB gun.  Again, watch the movie if you want any of this to make sense!

If you are interested in the virtual run, check out their website at http://www.achristmasstoryrun.com/

While Visions of Marathons Dance Through My Head

It took me forever to call myself a runner.  I understand that that is not uncommon.  For a long time if someone asked if I was a runner my reply would be “I’m trying to be one.”  Now though I have no issue with the moniker.

Happily holding my first marathon medal

Happily holding my first marathon medal

I still however have a problem calling myself a marathoner, despite the fact that I have completed two.  Somehow doing just one, no matter how proud I was of myself, didn’t make me feel like I was truly part of that special group.  When my second fell apart due to nausea and dizziness – but I still crossed the finish line – I felt even less like a marathoner.  None of this makes any sense at all, and it even makes less sense that I somehow think a third marathon is necessary to change my mind.  Somehow though, in the last month or so, the thought of doing another marathon has taken over my running thoughts.

I know I am a better runner than I was when I first tried the marathon distance.  I think, maybe, I am a smarter runner.  I have realized that slow runs do make me faster, the logic of which still confuses me but I know there is science there to back it up.  I also know I spent a rather remarkable amount of time running really, I mean really, slowly this summer and fall and yet I had several P.B’s at races.  I have even managed to train myself to take a brief walk at water tables during my half marathons and still finish faster than when I ran with no breaks at all.  Though don’t try to tell me to run 10 and ones for a half marathon or marathon, it does nothing more than frustrate me mentally and make me want to walk off the course.

This urge to try again is why I have recently found myself reading everything about a race this weekend that I am not even in.  Tomorrow is the Philadelphia Marathon and I am reading everything I can about it, from the Facebook page to previous years’ reviews.  At the moment it is my number one choice for another attempt at 42.2 km.

Why Philly?  The main reason would be the date.  I have no intention of ever running a spring marathon again.  Unlike many, the issue is not the winter training.  I had no difficulty training in last year’s “polar vortex” and I never once hit the treadmill.  The problem with spring is that there is just too much risk of a sudden heat wave.  I don’t like running in heat at the best of times, but if it comes suddenly with no time to adjust I am essentially doomed before I even hit the start line.  I can live with that risk for a half marathon; if a half falls apart because of heat I will just turn around and run another in two or three weeks to make up for it.  That is never, ever going to happen for a marathon!

Philly is not the only marathon I have considered.  I have looked at the Niagara Falls International Marathon, but I am not sure I would enjoy the course.  The logistics also sound a little too complicated, what with starting in one country and finishing in another.  I’m sure the NYC Marathon would be a blast but I don’t feel like dealing with a lottery, it is crazy expensive and again there are the logistics of getting to the start line.  I found a couple of other small, low key marathons but at this point I think I still need the excitement of the crowds.  Mind you, I learned the hard way last spring way that when a race has gone south, those cheering, energetic spectators, no matter their good intentions, just make you feel worse.  I still feel guilty about the number of times I seriously wanted to tell a spectator where to go.  But for now I think I will avoid a marathon where there is a potential for me to run entirely alone.

Of course there is the option of doing the Toronto Waterfront, my first marathon, again.  It is only just over 4 hours away, it is relatively cheap, the crowds and course were great and I would be able to compare times on the same course.  But the downside is it is a month earlier than Philadelphia.  Running Toronto means starting to train in the summer.  Summer is when I like to keep my runs short and fast.  Summer is also when I want to enjoy weekends at the cabin and not have the worry of fitting in a long run.  To be blunt, I am very happy being lazy in the summer.  I may love running, but when the choice is a long, lonely run in the heat along deserted, hilly Quebec roads, in an area in which I have never, ever seen another runner (though there is no shortage of shirtless older men smoking cigarettes and driving ATVs) or sitting on a dock reading a book and enjoying a cold beverage, well the running is going to lose. Every time.

So I will be searching the internet for the next week, anxiously reading any Philadelphia Marathon reviews I can find, trying to decide if this will be the race that will make me officially feel like a marathoner.

The Philadelphia Marathon, photo from the race website.

I Love Winter Running

There is no hidden sarcasm in the title of this post. Give me time, I’m sure at some point I will write about the difficulties winter presents to all of us who choose to run.

But for now… today was the first real snowfall of the season. If you listened carefully I’m sure you would have been able to hear the rhythmic sound of all of the treadmills starting up for the season.  But if you insist on climbing aboard the “dreadmill”, how will you ever enjoy this:

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Yes, you have to slow down, pick up your feet, watch where you place them, but when you do you get to experience runs like no others.  It was nothing short of gorgeous today running in the woods.  It was exhilarating, calming, tranquil and energizing all at once.  How is that even possible?

My advice to all; remember the treadmill isn’t our only winter option.  I know I am lucky, I am able to fit in runs in daylight hours several times a week.  It makes it easier to get out there.  But I encourage every runner to get outside whenever possible this winter, let it offer what only the cold and snow can.  You can love it too.

My Favourite Running Year So Far

It is only November, there isn’t even snow on the ground yet, but I am already thinking of next year’s running goals.  Why so early?  I think because this year I’m not feeling burned out. Last year at this time it hadn’t been long since my first marathon, followed by another half marathon. Truth be told I was more than ready for a break. This year, however, despite completing the most races I have ever done in a year, I am feeling rested and excited to run.

Here is the math for the 2014 race season:

17 races

1 marathon

1 30k race

4 half marathons

1 10 miler

1 8.5 miler

5 10k’s

1 8.5k

3 5k’s

1 personal best in the half marathon

3 personal bests in the 10 (faster at each attempt)

1 unofficial fastest 5k in one of my longer distances.

1 30k PB (of course it was my only 30k race…so far!)

1 disaster of a race – the marathon – but I completed it!

2 new cities visited in order to race: Vancouver and Philadelphia

1 great year of running

I also started trail running, orienteering and took swimming lesson.

So what are the plans and goals for next year?  In no particular order:

– a 1:55 or less half marathon

– a 51 minute 10k (I’ll take 51:59!)

– a third marathon

– and of course, the Prague Half Marathon, which may be the race in which I aim for that 1:55; other than some cobble streets it is supposed to be a very fast course.

What are your plans for 2015?IMG_2353 (Copy)

 

 

 

Finishing Strong

Today I finished my 16th race of the year and my third attempt at what I consider to be one of the two toughest half marathon courses in the Ottawa area.  Ironically, I have to say that these two difficult races are also by far my favourite.

One of them is last month’s Fall Colours Half Marathon.  I love it for the cool weather, the gorgeous colours, the free chili and massages and for the family feel of a Thanksgiving event.

Today’s race was the Mission Possible.  It is my third go at this course and it is on my must do list for each year.  I love it for its purpose, for its time of year, for its charitable spirit, and for the comfortable small race feel.  Of course it is not surprising that the huge breakfast buffet and the warm clubhouse with showers are major pluses for this race.

This race raises money for The Ottawa Mission.  The Mission provides meals, a place to sleep, job training and general support for the homeless men of Ottawa.  It also offers a Saturday morning run club as a way for the men to strive for goals and improve their daily life.  I believe that through today’s race over $10 000 was raised for the Mission.  A number of companies, including Telus, Mizuno, and Running Room donate and make this race possible.  The Marshes Golf Course allows the race to take place on its golf cart paths and is also the location for that tasty brunch I mentioned.

As a cold weather runner, I love that this race, which also offers a 5k distance and a marathon relay, is held in November.  The September and October race schedule in Ottawa is bursting at the seams.  You can easily pick one race or more for every weekend.  But November is a slow month as many people start to pack away the running shoes for winter boots.  When you think of it though it can be the perfect month to race.  With all of that fall training behind you this can be your fastest time of year.  Sure it can be cold but at least there is no fear of heat exhaustion or sunstroke.  Key though is having a nice location and the Marshes Golf Club has that.  At this race the only time you have to spend outside is when you are running.  Before the race you can throw all of your extra gear in a locker in the change rooms.  Then you wait inside until they ask you to move to the start line, about 3 minutes before the beginning of the race.  The finish line is literally right outside the doors of the club.  You cross the line, a kind volunteer hands you your certificate (no medals at this race) and you walk inside to grab a hot shower.  After that climb some stairs (the only disadvantage of the site!) and sit down to have a hot brunch.  No porta potties, no standing in crowded corrals (there were less than a 100 of us in the half), no debating if your running clothes will leave you feeling like an icicle as you stand forever waiting for a horn.  Honestly it is the most civilized of all races.

Each year there is also a guest speaker.  Two years ago Canadian marathoner Dylan Wykes shared his running experiences with us.  Last year Jodi Mitic, the Canadian solder who lost both legs only to go on to run the Army Run Half and to star on Amazing Race Canada, was the guest speaker.  When I read that this year’s speaker would be former politician Stockwell Day I admit I was a little disappointed.  I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to finish my half marathon sitting and listening to a politician speak.  It ends up though that Mr. Day is an avid runner and a Boston Qualifier.  He has also run the Great Wall of China.  His talk was gracious, interesting and humourus, particularly when he admitted that his final time was incorrect due to the unfortunate fact that nature’s call forced him to head to the indoor washrooms with only the last 4k or so to go.  He inadvertently crossed the finish line that otherwise was so conveniently was placed by the doors to the clubhouse.  He also noted that he now realized that Immodium isn’t just for full marathons.  Couldn’t agree more!

As for the course, in the past I have always compared it to a kids’ roller coaster.  No super steep hills, but no flat stretches either.  This course defines a race full of “rollers”.  The whole course is done twice and the hilly spots give a definite impression that they grow between your first visit and your second.  It is a very different hill experience from that other race I love, Fall Colours.  In that race you keep working your way up for 10 or 11 km and then start coming down again.  Technically I think it would probably be regarded as the tougher course (it certainly has the most elevation change of any road race in the area), but I have to admit the constant, never-ending rollers of the Mission Possible are my nemesis.

When I first ran the course two years ago it was my second half marathon, my first having been completed a month earlier.  I was feeling cocky, having completed my first in 2:04, well below my expected time of 2:12.  I was on such a high after that first race I came home and immediately looked to see if I would be able to get in one more half marathon before winter.  When I started on the Mission Possible course that year I thought nothing could stop me.  Those hills were babies, how could they slow me down?  The fact is by the last 3 or 4k they had completely kicked my butt.  I remember being very disappointed in my 2:06 finish.

Last year I ran it 3 or 4 weeks after my first marathon.  I thought I was feeling good.  I went out fast.  By 16k I wanted to cry.  I was hurting more than I did on the marathon.  Final time, 2:08.

So this year I had a goal.  Two goals actually.  Finish in less than 2:06 and finish strong, knowing I had beat the course, the course hadn’t beat me.  I kept telling myself that this time I would “run smart.”  And run smart I did, though I still ran the first 8k faster than I had planned.  I swear I kept trying to slow it down and then I would look at my watch and realize that I was faster than I should have been if I was going to run a conservative race.  In fact when my watch beeped for the 8k mark I was convinced I had slowed my pace way down, only to discover that it had actually been a 5:30 km.  Visions of my struggling body attempting to get through those last hills, the worst hills of the course,  finally was enough to make me slow down.  I ran the middle of the course a little more conservatively, carefully taking half pieces of Shot Bloks to avoid running out of steam.  I saved some energy and had little difficulty picking up the pace for the last 1/3 of the race.

At this point I have to give a shout out to the volunteers.  This is not a race with spectators but the many volunteers who were out to make sure you didn’t turn the wrong way off the winding course were so supportive.  With temperatures hovering around zero and some wind thrown in, they had to be cold.  Somehow they managed to tell everyone how good they looked.  A special shout out to the guy at the final turn to the finish line.  He yelled at me to get my eyes up and chase down the man ahead of me.  His encouragement gave me one last kick.

The good news, my final time was 1:56:15.  The bad news, by my watch the course was short.  I knew that was going to happen and I briefly considered the idea of continuing to run for another 500 meters.  Briefly.  I decided it didn’t matter, I had more than met my goals.  I finished strong with a negative split and I killed my previous times on the same course.  Even if the course had been the right length I still would have finished under 2 hours, making this my third sub 2 hour half marathon of the season.  For the first time in my three years of running half marathons, I completed the last one of the year happy and strong.  Perfect way to finish the 2014 race season.  What can I say, I love this race!

The boys loved the 5k too, though poor Evan, for what is at least the third time in his running career, ran an awesome race (25 minutes) only to have his time recorded incorrectly!  I think he has some magnetic field that interferes with chip times and at the moment the stats have him in last place with a 1 hour finish.  Our boys were the only kids 13 or under in the race, so race director Phil Marsh very kindly created a last minute 13 and under category, handing out a nice bag as a first place prize.  Of course the bag was handed to Luke, who also had a great 27 minute run, at the awards ceremony.  Let’s just say there have been a few arguments as to who really gets to keep the bag!

Even though I have one more race – a virtual race – to do, this definitely felt like the end of race season.  But my training is not going to take a holiday.  I have a few big goals for next year.  I’ll be posting about them soon.

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You Thought Running Was Frustrating?

We have all had those moments when running tests our frustration levels. Those days when you head out psyched for a great run only to discover your body has no intention of cooperating. Or those days when your mind gives up on you and negative thoughts overcome you and convince your body to quit.  And of course there are the days when you just hurt.

But I will tell you that standing in the woods with a map and a compass and having NO IDEA where you are ranks right up there in frustration.  When this happens and you are only looking for control #3 on a course that has 13 controls, well there can be a temptation to ditch the map and compass and just find a road and go for a run.

That was the state of mind I found myself in during Sunday’s orienteering event in the Gatineau Hills. I thought the first part of the course was going to be easy. There were trails to follow and it didn’t look like you had to stray too far from the paths to find the controls. I am slowly becoming more familiar with the many, many symbols you need to know to be successful in this sport. The last half of the course looked like it could be a little trickier as it used fields and gullies and we were warned that the trail was unclear. In the end it was the woods that confused me. All the leaves have fallen now, making summer trails less distinct.  There were also a few large fallen trees across the trails, a couple right at trail junctions, making it even more difficult to recognize trails. I ended up wandering the same small area repeatedly only to discover I had overshot the control. During this search the only thing I did know was how to get back to the start and our warm car in the parking lot. I admit that I seriously considered heading back and calling it a day.

Luckily I did finally find the control and upon finding the next one my mood lightened and I was able to convince myself to continue to the end. I was soundly beaten by both boys and my husband (who won the event!) and was left only mildly discouraged. I do really enjoy the sport but for me it will be viewed primarily as a fun way to cross train for my running. The rest of my family is now looking at running as a way to cross train for orienteering. Either way, we have found another family sport that will get us out into the woods and will keep us fit. More than anything I love that we all have another activity in common, one in which we can compete at our own level and then enjoy sharing our strategies and adventures.

 

Rogaine – It’s Not About Hair

Up until recently, when I heard Rogaine I thought of hair replacement. I’m not even sure if that product still exists, but I know there was a time when it was advertised regularly.

Now that I have entered the world of orienteering, Rogaine has a new meaning. It is actually an acronym for Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance.  Last weekend at a Quebec ski hill, the boys, my husband and I took part in our first Rogaine.  I could probably sum the event up in one word; hills!

The Rogaine is a “score-o” event; like all sports there is a lingo to learn. In a score-o you get your map 20 minutes before the mass start. As a team you decide what route you are going to take and which controls, each worth a certain number of points,  you want to find. The catch?  You have a time limit. Get back after that time and you lose 10 points for every minute.  All of this means you need to use some strategy, not to mention watch the clock. We chose to do the 2 hour event, but there was also the choice of 4 and 8(!) hours.

Here is what I learned, and it was a lesson I learned in the very early stages of the event.  The lesson didn’t even have anything to do with orienteering.  What I learned is that I am outnumbered and there is too much testosterone in this family. And I think I can say with confidence it is only going to get worse, considering my youngest isn’t quite at the testosterone-fuelled-competitive stage yet.  Without going into details, let’s just say there were times I just stayed at the back and let the arguments ensue. Being a very slow map reader, it at least gave me the time to try to figure out where the heck we were.

Arguing aside, we did have great fun trekking up ski runs, crossing creeks, slipping down slopes, running through puddles and racing to a final few controls before hitting the finish line just before the two hour mark. In the end, our score fell somewhere in the middle of the pack and we finished tired, wet, hungry and happy :)

Gatineau Hills view

Gatineau Hills view

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