Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Different Post

When I started this blog I wanted it to be only about running.  As a result, while you will obviously find glimpses into my life, I rarely stray from the running theme.

A main exception to that was last year when I posted about our elderly horse Dylan having to be put down.  Sadly, today is such a post again as last night we said goodbye to our 14 year old Black Lab, Shyloh.  Fourteen years is a long time to have an animal as part of your household.  When we brought Shyloh home, my husband and I were married for less than a year, living in the burbs with two cats.  She made the move with us to the country and without any jealousy or problems adjusted to two babies joining the family.  She also adjusted to , or perhaps tolerated is the better word, two other dogs joining our mix (not both at once).  For at least three years now we were sure that her time must be near, afterall, you just don’t expect a Lab to live to 14.  Amazingly though she was happy and clear headed right to the end, for which we are grateful.

In 14 years of marriage my husband and I have had to say goodbye to 4 animals; two dogs, a cat and a horse.  The first dog we put down was a sweet thing who we found abandoned during a brutal heat wave on our country road.  I still remember how eagerly she lept into our truck and immediately made herself part of our family.  Unfortunately a few years later she became ill.  That resulted in pain and a change of temperment leaving us no choice but to have Tori put down.  Then there was Baxter, the cat I brought home during my single life, deciding that cats were better than men!  Shortly thereafter I met my husband-to-be.  And of course last year my husband’s horse of well over 20 years reached the end of his life, following much the same pattern as Shyloh as his body just decided it was time to stop working.  For me it gives me great comfort in having a death be a result of old age, allowing the animal a peaceful and graceful way to leave this life.

My husband and I both agree that having children puts the death of pets in perspective.  I know people who have lost their children and that is simply a grief that frightens me so much as to make it impossible for me to even think about.  So the loss of an animal is not the end of our world.  We still have two horses and a goofy, lovable Chocolate Lab mix we chose from a shelter a few years ago.  But losing an animal does leave a hole and our quiet, gentle, incredibly well behaved Shyloh will be missed for a long time to come.

Shyloh and Charlie.

Shyloh and Charlie.

How Did I Run Such a Solid 30k?

Wouldn’t it be nice if I had one simple answer to this question!  I have been thinking about this question all week largely because I would love to manage a repeat performance.  Of course a good race is a culmination of factors; some beyond your control, some entirely of your own making.  Here are some of the factors that I think led to a successful run:

  • Perfect weather: Completely out of my control but was I ever thankful for the conditions last Sunday.  I’m a cool weather runner, so a few degrees above 0 is just right for me.  A little less wind would have been nice, but thankfully it did not become a major hurdle in the race.  Considering the winter we have had (as I am writing this on April 5th, it is snowing outside, AGAIN!) I can’t believe how lucky we were to have such a great running day.  It was a little strange not being surrounded by snow.  Southern Ontario is way ahead of us in terms of thawing out.  As proof check out these pictures taken at my home this week:

 

April 1, 2014: Mother Nature's joke on us :(

April 1, 2014: Mother Nature’s joke on us.

April 4th: It will melt one day, right?

April 4th: It will melt one day, right?

 

  • Fuel:  I have been experimenting with natural foods for refueling.  On training runs I love taking a walk and eating raisins and chopped almonds.  Unfortunately they are just not convenient for a race situation since I prefer to not have to take a walk break if I am feeling good.  The last few training runs I practiced using honey mixed with no-nut butter (no peanut butter in my house due to Luke’s allergy) and a little sea salt.  I originally put my mix into sandwich bags but then a friend picked up some “mini” zip lock bags at the dollar store in the craft section.  They store easily in my fuel belt pocket and each “shot” costs only cents.  One word of warning though, make sure the “zips” are actually zipped tightly.  Apparently I did not and my belt pocket ended up one sticky mess.  My gels tasted significantly better than store-bought gels and there are no ingredients I can’t pronounce.  I took one at approximately 8k, 15k and 23k and they seemed to do the trick.  I also had most of a Cliff Bar during the half hour before the start of the race.
  • Hydration:  In the two weeks before the race I really concentrated on drinking lots of water.  Memories of pregnancy came back as I made multiple trips to the bathroom each day.  During the race I used my fuel belt and carried 4 bottles of water as I am still not comfortable relying on water tables.  I have heard some runners complain about the distance between some of the tables on the course.  I didn’t really notice how far apart they were but I do know that the one time I was going to grab a cup (not to drink but to try to get rid of the honey on my hands) there were no cups ready on the table – though a volunteer was doing his best to fill more quickly.  I made sure to take water from my bottles after every honey shot as well as every couple of kms.
  • Winter Training:  Winter training is a challenge any year.  This year’s never ending winter meant even tougher training conditions.  I ran on ice, deep snow, packed snow and slush.  I shared the roads with cars since the sidewalks were at worst buried, at best  a mix of pavement and ice.  I wore more layers than any runner should ever need to, and in turn did more running gear laundry than ever before.  All of these challenges had to make me a stronger runner.  Well, maybe not the laundry part.  And of all the runs, that 15k run in a snowstorm two weeks before race day both physically and mentally helped set me up for success.  It may have been a ridiculously slow run but it was a real workout and nothing short of empowering.  It really did make me feel like I could do anything.  Unfortunately that is a weather related factor, so may be hard to repeat for another race.  Though the way this winter  spring is going, it is possible I will have another run like it.
  • Not Overtraining:  I will never be a five run a week person.  It is  not that I never do 5 runs in seven days, I just can’t do it consistently.  I have decided that this is o.k.  My body likes the recovery time, in fact it thrives off of it.  Perhaps more importantly, I am mentally stronger if I am sure to take some days off.  I took not two but three days off running before the race and I felt refreshed and ready race morning.  There was a point in marathon training last fall that running sort of lost its “feel good” factor.  I don’t expect every run to feel amazing; there is no avoiding crappy runs.  But overall, I want to head out for a run and smile.  I want to be grateful for having the time and the health (not to mention an ever so patient husband) to be out there clicking off the kms.  For the past two months, running has been fun for me.  There have been several runs where I have found myself in that happy zone, where running feels amazing regardless of the pace or finish time.  I don’t want to lose that feeling.  I still want to work hard, I still want to push past my comfort zone, I still want to feel that complete and utter exhaustion after a hard workout.  But ultimately, I do not want to overtrain and take away all that is fun about running.  These past few months I have been successful in hitting that balance.
  • Quality Workouts:  Weather conditions did shorten many of my runs.  I went into ATB worried that I had not done enough long runs.  My over 20k runs consisted of a 22k, a 24.5k (done in two parts because I hit the wall at 12k) and a 27k.  Even now I look at that and am surprised it was enough for me complete the 30k in the time I did.  But while I did not have a lot of long runs, I had many good runs.  There was lots of hill work – not even hill repeats, just running on hilly routes, and of course lots of interesting footing to deal with.  As this year progresses I am going to try to worry a little less about those long runs and focus more on my weekday runs.  It is also time to suck it up and do some intervals!
  • Avoiding Running Stress:  What does this mean?  In short, I didn’t take it too seriously.  I went into ATB with the knowledge that even if the day was a disaster, just entering the race had made me do three great months of training.  I felt good physically.  That day I hit the wall in my 25k training run, I had to laugh.  Rather than freaking out, I decided that it would be a day for two runs.  One way or another I knew I had to run; I had to get back to my car after all!  But I was o.k with taking a long break and having the opportunity to regroup both mentally and physically.  Last fall when I was marathon training I would have been in tears over such a run.
  • Pacing:  I think I nailed my pacing last Sunday.  It is hard to know how hard to push on a course you don’t know.  All of the advice said don’t go out too fast or you would have nothing left for the hills.  I made a pretty last minute decision to stay around a 6 minute pace for the first 20km, then see what I could do.  Originally I had planned to go out much slower.  Now that I know the course I think I would actually try to pick up the pace a bit in the middle of the race.  And one lesson learned –  I should have paid more attention to the fact that my Garmin was reaching km markings before the signs were showing up on the course.  I was aiming for the first two sets of 10km to be about an hour each.  By my Garmin I was actually a little under that goal but by the 10 and 20k timing mats I was a little over.  I should have compensated for the difference and I certainly could have since I was stopping myself from speeding up during the first 2/3 of the race.

Hopefully I will be able to use what I learned at ATB for some more successful runs.  My next race (number 6 of the 14 race challenge) will be the Manotick 10 miler on April 27th.  One month after that will be Ottawa Race Weekend.  I will definitely be there, the question is will it be as a half marathon or a full marathon participant?  Still working on that one.

Around the Bay Race Recap

My souvenir shirt :)

My souvenir shirt 🙂

I’ve spent the last few days sugar loading and gluten bingeing, the best way to celebrate a successful race day.  I have also managed to find some time to do a couple of runs when I wasn’t stuffing my face or falling asleep.  In fact, I am proud to say I did a 4k run the day after the 30k race.  Why?  Crossing that finish line on Sunday put me at a total of 196 km of running in March.  How could I not try to hit 200k for the first time?  Another 8k today and I feel like I am ready to get back into training mode.  The question at the moment is, do I train for a sub 2 hour half marathon, or go for my second marathon?  More on that in another post.  For now, a recap of ATB.

Expo

I have to say I quite enjoyed the race expo, set up in First Ontario Place.  There were lots of vendors and while I had no plans to buy anything, I somehow walked away with a few purchases, including an ATB souvenir shirt.  While the expo was packed, there was no line up at all to pick up my race kit.  I was anxious to see the shirt and I wasn’t disappointed:

Love the colour!

Love the colour!

I did have a laugh about the souvenir hat that was put in the kit.  The stitching of the 3 in 30k is almost torn out, making it look like I ran a 0k race.  I think you call that being a spectator, don’t you?

Race kit and shopping done, I met up with Rod who was kind enough to share advice about the race.  While I had read quite a bit about the course, it was nice to hear about it from someone in person.  As we were busy chatting, we somehow managed to walk into the public library and set off the beepers at the door.  A mild panic – no actually a major panic – set in as we wondered if our timing chips in our race kits had somehow set off the alarms.  That of course quickly led to the question, “What if our chips are no longer working?????”  We quickly realized that neither of us would sleep that night if we didn’t confirm that our chips were still going to record our times.  Off we went back to expo to talk to the Sportstats lady.  Once we explained our situation, she looked at us with a knowing look (as in I am quite sure she has had more than a few paranoid runners come back in a panic wondering about their chips) and calmly explained all was well.  She did tell us we could scan our chips again just to make sure.  Despite the fact she clearly knew what she was talking about, we didn’t hesitate to scan again!

Later in the day I headed out and drove a large portion of the race.  I knew this was a plan that could backfire and make me stress even more.  In the end though it eased my mind a little.  When I drove the hilly area I knew it was totally manageable on its own, it would just be a question of how those hills would feel after 19 km.  I even got out and walked the last steep hill.  I decided then and there that I would run what I could of it, but walk it when needed.  Seriously, this is a steep hill that would be tough in the first part of a race.  At km 26 it is quite simply a mountain 🙂

At this stage my main concern was weather.  Saturday was cold, grey and WINDY.  I checked Enviro Canada and wind gusts were 60km!  Keep in mind we were going to be running along Lake Ontario.  At that point I had a feeling if anything was going to beat me it would be the wind.

The Race

Thankfully Sunday started cold but the sun came out, offering up what for me is perfect running weather; a few degrees above zero and only some wind.  Given this brutal winter, it is almost unbelievable that such a perfect day coincided with the race.

I love winter/early spring races that provide an indoor venue to relax in before and after a race.  ATB offers this in a big way, using the downtown AHL hockey arena as a place to gather and to cross the finish line.  My only complaint is the fact that no bag check was offered.  The original reason given was security.  However, as many have pointed out, unless you have bag inspections when entering the arena, there is in fact no security whether you have a bag check or not.  With no official place to store things, people just left them all over the stadium, hardly a safer alternative.  When questioned about the logic on Facebook, the race director said that “only” about 10% of participants used the bag check program, implying the numbers didn’t warrant the service.  However 10% would equal well over a thousand runners; that is a large number of people to ignore, particularly since many make their way to the race on public transit.  I can’t say I would want to take a GO train into Hamilton all the way from Toronto and then have to return without a change of dry clothes.  The other train riders would also probably appreciate the runners being able to change before that trip back!  I will be curious to see if the bag check returns next year.

For me the selling point of this race (and the reason I would like to return) is the unique distance and the challenging course.  Throw in the fact it is a very early spring race, forcing you to train through winter – even crazy polar vortex winters like this year – makes it an appealing race if you want to push yourself to new goals.  All that said, there were elements of the race that I found a little disappointing.  I have to admit, I realize I am a little spoiled having participated in Ottawa Race Weekend and Ottawa’s Army Run several times.  I am slowly realizing that Ottawa is a hard city to beat in terms of crowd support and scenery.  While I did very much appreciate the spectator support in Hamilton (particularly the enthusiastic seniors who pulled out the lawn chairs to watch), it just couldn’t match Ottawa.

When it comes to scenery, ATB just isn’t going to win any awards.  I did really enjoy the last 10 km of the race through a lovely residential area of Burlington on the north shore of the harbour.  I also enjoyed running across the lift bridge looking out over Lake Ontario.  I could even make out in the distance the distinctive Toronto skyline.  But, and this has to be said, the first 10km were hands down the ugliest route I have ever run.  This part of the route was new this year, a change implemented to ensure that no runners had to stop for a train, which is what happened last year.  I am the first to say that given the choice, I will take the ugly route over the stop for a train route so this isn’t really a complaint, just something to note.  I have to say I have never run such an industrial route and there were a few times when I did wonder a little what chemicals I was inhaling and if they were in fact negating the health benefits of the run.  Let’s face it, any Ontario city at the end of March isn’t going to look its best, but when you wind through an industrial port, well there really is no chance at all of being impressed by the scenery.

Another slight disappointment for me was the start of the race.  From where I was I didn’t even hear the start gun, there was no mass countdown and it was only when we started shuffling forward that I realized the race had started.  It just seemed a very subdued start for such an anticipated race.

It is worth noting that anyone I have talked to about the new route has said it added difficulty to the course.  Apparently the old route was flat, resulting in a good 19km of flat running before the hills.  The new route threw in some good sized overpasses, making it anything but flat in the first third of the race.  For anyone looking to beat a previous year’s time, an extra challenge had definitely been added.  For a newbie like me, it didn’t make a difference since I had nothing to compare to.

The middle 10k section of the route was pretty straight forward, with a little bit of wind to deal with, and some interesting steel grated footing when crossing the lift bridge.  By the 19k mark the rolling hills started, a change I actually welcomed as I sometimes find the changes in elevation a good way to change up my running style.  and who doesn’t like a good downhill to stretch out and let gravity do its job.  I was actually a little surprised that more people weren’t taking advantage of the downhill portions of the course by increasing their pace.  I don’t know if they were just trying to save energy or were too tired at that stage to go faster.  Personally. I did my best to make up for any time lost by picking up the pace on those nice downhill slopes.  This was particularly evident in my 26th km which has a very steep downhill just before that monster hill.  My pace for that km actually dropped to a 5:29, definitely the fastest split of my race!

Of course a highlight of the ATB is the infamous Grim Reaper at the 28 km marker.  Many people stop to take a picture with him but I knew there was no way I was stopping at this stage for fear I wouldn’t get going again.  I did make sure I gave him a high five and then focused on those last two kms of the race.  I am going to say they were two very long kms.  By the 27km mark you can actually see First Ontario Place in the distance.  That sounds nice but psychologically it is tough.  Your eyes focus on that building and yet it feels as if it never, ever gets closer.  Mentally this was the hardest part of the race for me but also a great challenge.  At this stage of the race there was definitely lots of crowd support.  I will admit to being rather proud of myself to be passing other runners at this stage and getting my pace back down to a 6:04.  Yes, the slight downhill definitely helped!

ATB has a great finish, though don’t count on doing a final big sprint.  You have to do a sharp right turn into the building and then run down a steep ramp to get to “ice” level.  After 29.9 km, I can say my legs were a little shaky on that ramp!  Between that and the narrow finish I didn’t even attempt to add one last burst of speed (burst being relative!)

finish line

The finish was very organized. I moved through the food line quickly and headed out of the rink area to pick up my medal.  From there the only way out was up.  I think I may have said “Thank God!” out loud when I saw escalators leading to the upper levels!

Would I do this race again?  Absolutely.  In some ways it may not have lived up to all the hype for me, but I loved the distance and the challenge of the hills.  I think it is a race that any runner looking at trying longer distances, or training for a spring marathon (this race brings out many Boston Marathon runners) should try.  I just wish I knew why there are not more races at this distance.  If this distance ever comes to the Ottawa area, I will be there!

 

Around the Bay 2014

My 30k celebration cake.  Thanks boys!

My 30k celebration cake. Thanks boys!

At some point this week I will sit down and write a full race report .  But for now I am still revelling in the feeling of accomplishment.  That and I am so sleepy it is a bit challenging to string together coherent sentences.  So for now, a list of random memories from Around the Bay

  • the feeling of being in a zone and a sense of cautious confidence that I felt throughout the race
  • realizing in the first 10k that I felt strong and there was a good chance I would be able to maintain a steady pace and possibly even do the race with minimal or no walk breaks
  • taking my one and only walk break around 26km – I admit Heartbreak hill got me and I took a walk break part way up (I like to think though that I didn’t just walk, but instead strode purposefully up the  middle section of the hill)
  • high fiving the Grim Reaper with a smile on my face at 28km
  • high fiving the man who annually plays “We Will Rock You” over and over before the big hill (legend has it a high five from him gives you good luck, I made sure to cross over to him to get that lucky high five)
  • struggling at km 29 and really wanting to walk but telling myself it would not let that happen; picking up the pace so that my last km was run at a 6:04 min/km pace, almost the same as my first km pace
  • feeling good on the rolling hills found in the last third of the race, in fact even enjoying them!
  • running down the steep ramp (not easy to do after 29.9 km) and entering the finishing chute in Copps Coliseum (or First Ontario as it is now called)
  • getting to hang out with fellow bloggers Rod from RunRodRun and Rebecca from RunningFoodBaby
  • knowing at the 20k mark that there was a very real possibility I would beat my goal of 3:10
  • realizing I had come in under 3:05 – I had actually printed out a 3:05 pace band but didn’t bother to take it with me to Hamilton, deciding that it was too fast of a pace for me – what a great way to be proven wrong!

But here is what I remember most, and perhaps it will sound corny or silly, but for me was very powerful.  Somewhere around 3km I distinctly remember thinking how lucky I was to not only be running, but running on a beautiful, sunny spring-like morning.  It made me smile as I thought about it and at that point I told myself to hold on to the feeling no matter what happened in the race.  So at 22km, when I felt like I was getting a little tired, I remembered that feeling and the smile returned.  It just felt so damned good to be out there and having my body not only survive the test, but welcome it.  How lucky am I to be almost 45 year old (in fact that was my last race as a 44 year old) and be healthy and fit enough to tackle a 30 km, challenging course?  No matter what else happened that day, that feeling of happiness and gratitude was priceless.  I am realistic enough to know that won’t happen at every race, but I will hold on to that feeling for a very long time and hope to one day feel it again.