Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Post-Marathon Blues

I'm really feeling it this week.  I'm talking about the post marathon blues.

After the build up to the marathon, the elation of finishing and earning my BQ, I spent the first week riding the post marathon wave.

First, a 5k lunch hour run with my running partners to share my stories, then another 5k while on a business trip out of town, and finally a successful 5k trail race on Sunday.

Since then, nothing.

I know it's only Thursday and it's not unusual for me to have a two or three day break.  What is unusual is that I have no desire to put on my running shoes and go for a run.

There are no more race on my 2015 calendar, and the weather is turning cold, which makes it hard to get motivated or, more to the point, easy to say "I'll just run tomorrow" and have a bowl of potato chips instead.

Thankfully, my running partner and I are meeting tomorrow for a lunchtime run.  I am really dreading it, but I am hoping I'll feel good about it after I start, or at the very least, once it's over.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Last Race Of The Season

I spent last week in marathon recovery mode.  I got a massage, did yoga, and ran two gentle 5km runs.

Friends of mine were getting ready to run a half marathon yesterday at our last local MEC race of the season (the MEC races are a series of no-frills race that generally take place on trails and offers several distances from 5k to 15 or 21.1k).  It was tempting!  I was in no shape to do a half, or even a 10k but I could run a 5km no problem.  I would "take it easy", I thought.

I did not register ahead of time - giving me the option to go back to bed if I woke up to crappy conditions, but the weather turned out to be a perfect, crisp, fall day so I got up, had a quick breakfast and drove to beautiful Shubie Park (Dartmouth Nova Scotia) where I signed up for the 5km.

The first km went like a charm - feeling good.  Here I am - bib 79076 - with fresh legs...

Pictures used with permission (as long as I leave the watermark)

I started feeling my calves and quads not too long after that.  I vaguely thought "this is not a good idea" but I kept running anyway, without pushing it too much, but still... What's the point of racing if you are not going to push it a bit?  I could have run a slow training run from home if I did not want to race.

So anyway, I was not shooting for a PR, but I was still running fairly intensely.  As I approached the turn-around point, I saw the first woman on her way back, then the second (actually a girl who could not have been more than 10 or 11 years old), and then... no one.  I was the third woman at the turn around point!  Yay me!

So I kicked it up a notch, and tried to maintain my third place (that little girl was quite ahead of me).

Pictures used with permission (as long as I leave the watermark)

The legs are definitely tired here, but this is the last turn before the finish line, so I am very determined!

I said before that this is a no-frills event.  That means no t-shirts, no participation medals... the only way to get a medal is to place in the first three.  Well, I got my bling today:

I was initially tempted to downplay this accomplishment.  There's a little voice that says things like:
  • 25:32 is far from my PR
  • there were only 54 runners in the race
  • most faster runners were doing other distances
  • in other races, this time would have put me in the middle of the pack
  • etc. etc.

But the truth is, speed is always relative.  Had I run one, two, five minutes faster, there still would have been someone somewhere who could outrun me.  And that day, at that race, I was the third female in (14th overall), and I enjoyed every moment of that beautiful race.

What a great way to round up the racing season.  Now, I am going to rest a bit and figure out my options for next season.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Race Report - PEI Marathon

After a week of obsessing about the weather, I got up yesterday morning to even worse conditions than what the forecasts had been calling for.  Something like 2 or 3C (just above freezing), rainy and windy.  Yikes!

I boarded a bus to the start line, still undecided about what to wear for the run (long pants? short pants?  how many layers?) so I had a couple options in my bag.  The only thing I was really sure about was my lucky nuu-muu dress.  As far as clothing choices, the participants were all over the place, from a couple guys in shorts and singlets, to people in long winter pants with multiple layers topped with a garbage bag.

This is what I looked like a couple minutes before I dropped my bag at the baggage check.  I did keep that warm second-hand sweater for the first few km of the race (and was sad to let it go - it was cozy!).

Brackley Beach, PEI, race morning

Soon enough, it was time to line up.  Out in the elements - side winds and rain.  I decided to start with the 3:45 pace bunny group, knowing it was a bit ambitious, but wanting to get a fast start (which I know is not a recommended strategy).  I felt good and was able to keep up with them.  By "felt good", I mean, as good as you can feel when you are running by the see against the wind and rain in near freezing temperature.  This weather sucks, I though, and can't get much worse.  And then, it started hailing!  Quick change of attitude: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger... 

I kept up with the 3:45 group for about 8 km, after which I took a short walking break to take in a gel, and next thing you know, they were gone.  I slowed down a bit, not wanting to overspend myself in the first half but with the exception of my two gel/water walking breaks, my first 21 km splits were still quite fast, all below 5:20.  I crossed the half-way mark at 1:52:34 (the timing mat was actually at 21.3k).

At that point, though nothing really hurt, I saw myself slowing down a bit.  I did not push it, so I would not crash, and I knew that if I managed to stay in the 5:40 range, I would meet my goal.  Thought there were other runners around, I kept to myself - not wanting to spend energy chitchatting. That portion of the route was on a nice trail and I was trying to take in the beautiful fall colours as I moved one foot in front of the others.  I mostly kept within the 5:25 - 5:40, except for a couple more walking breaks: one to take a gel and another one in a moment of weakness after which I had a good talk with myself: the more you walk, the longer this is going to take.  It hurts already, no need to drag this on.

The 28th to 34th km were the toughest mentally, but at least the weather was looking a little nicer.  There were still a couple windy patches, but the sun manage to break in the clouds and... no more hail!   I felt a little bad that even saying "thank you" to the volunteer seemed to require too much energy.  I'd just do a quick hand wave or, more precisely, lifted a couple fingers as in to say "hey, I am trying to wave, to thank you, but this is too hard".  As tough as it was, I never doubted for a moment that I would reach my Boston Qualifying goal. Throughout the run, I was doing mental math about the pace I needed to maintain from that point until the end in order to come in under 3:55.  My strategy of starting fast and "banking" precious minutes may not be the best, but it allowed me to relax when things got tougher.  Of course, I understand that, had I started slower, I may have been less fatigued and faster in the second half.

I did not "hit the wall".  On the contrary, around the 34-35 km mark, I started getting a bit of a mental boost because I could start counting down:  Only 8 km to go: that's easy.  Only 6.5 km, heck, I do more than that on my regular lunchtime run.

There were a couple hills at the end of this mostly flat course.  The first of them was unexpected and steep - I had to walk a bit, but I had been warned about the last one, with about 2-3km to go, so I did not think it was too bad.  Finally, the finish was in sight.

Seconds before the finish line

At that point, I wasn't exactly sure what my time was.  I was in a bit of a mental fog and my math skills were pretty much gone.  One foot in front of the other is pretty much all I could think about.  I knew I was going to get my BQ, but I thought I would finish in 3:53 to 3:54.  I don't even remember looking at the clock when I crossed the finish line.  I crossed the line, stopped my GPS without looking at it, and headed for the food table with the vague impression that maybe I had run 3:52.  It is only when I got back to my hotel that I saw my official time: 3:51:04.  A BQ with almost 4 minutes to spare!

Upright and smiling

I can hardly believe it... still processing.

This time would have been enough to get me in Boston 2016, had I run that race a little over a month ago.  I don't know if it will be enough to get me to Boston in 2017, but I ran the best race of my life, against the elements - I could not have asked for anything better.

Thank you PEI marathon!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Marathon Preparation - Packing for an out of town Marathon

Race day is getting closer and closer.  The weather is getting further and further from ideal race conditions.

Sunday morning, rain or shine, I will be at the start line for 8:00. Tomorrow, I'll be hitting the road mid-morning for the 3 1/2 hour drive and hopefully enjoy a relaxed afternoon after picking up my bib.

Right now, though, I am anything but relaxed.  I have been obsessively checking the weather forecasts (as if I have any control over it) and agonizing over my running apparel strategy.  As of now, near freezing temperature with a chance of rain... not what I was hoping for, folks!  Does not look like I`ll be running sleeveless! I guess I made those fancy arm warmers for nothing :(.

Everybody has (or should have) their own packing list.  Here is mine:

For the run
This list should cover different race day weather scenarios.

  • shoes
  • my favourite nuu-muu running dress
  • three different pants for three different weather scenarios (short, medium, long)
  • long sleeve top to wear over the dress - two different weight
  • favourite bra (Juno, by Moving Comfort, if you must know)
  • while we are on the topic, carefully selected undies - the ones that do not chafe!
  • favourite socks
  • compression socks (have not decided whether I will wear them)
  • brimmed hat
  • jacket - in case it's really cold or pouring rain
  • gloves
  • hair elastics
  • GPS watch
  • contact lenses or glasses ? 

Fuel and other race necessities
  • water belt
  • 4 water bottles
  • powdered Gatorade in one of my bottles
  • 4 gels
  • lip balm
  • tissue / wet wipe

Race morning

We are bussed to the start line which is some 30 minutes out-of-town, so it will be a long morning.  I need extra clothes, and a little snack for before the race.
  • throw away pants, sweater, warm hat
  • garbage bag in case of rain
  • bag for bag check
  • small camera (to leave in the bag check - I will not run with a phone)
  • snack - see below


I plan to go out to the pasta dinner, but come race day, I want to eat my usual breakfast rather than typical hotel food, so I am taking everything I need, as well as healthy snacks for Saturday.
  • cooler (my hotel room has no fridge)
  • everything I need to prepare my trusty overnight oatmeal: yogurt, milk, maple syrup, oatmeal, chia seeds and berries.
  • peanut butter, honey and bread to make a sandwich to carry with me to the start line (we are b)
  • snacks for Saturday: banana, apple, granola bar, carrots
  • regular water bottle to carry around Saturday

  • sunscreen (not that I will need it)
  • body glide (which I will most definitely need it)
  • pins (I know the races give them out, but I am very particular about my pins!)
  • swimsuit to chill out in the hotel pool Saturday night
  • colouring book and crayons or hand sewing project to calm myself after the swim
  • Garmin charger along with other electronics

Phew!  That`s a lot, and that is on top of what I would normally pack for a non-running overnight trip that does not require a list: change of clothes, pajamas and toiletries... 

Have I forgotten anything?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Marathon Preparation - Throwaway Clothes

Q. What do you pack for an out-of-town marathon when the weather forecast reads like this:

Sun Oct 18
Feels like 5°C
Low 5°C
P.O.P. 80%
 24 hr rain 25-35 mm
Wind  E 40 km/h
Hours of Sun 3

A. I don't know yet, but I am preparing for every possibility.  This means packing many different items for different scenario, and a trip to the second-hand store for some throw-away clothes.
Buying throwaway clothes is serious business and not as easy as you might think.  There are inevitable challenges and dilemmas:
  • The fit: You can't try them before you buy them.  Well, actually, you can, but, hmm... no thanks.
  • These clothes are not actually that cheap - or I don't know where to look.  At my local Value Village, for instance, all the categories began at $3.99 or $4.99.  I needed pants, a long sleeve shirt, and some sort of jacket and I really did not feel like spending more than $10 (I ended up spending about $16).
  • You don't want to buy something completely ugly, in case you end up having to wear it for a long time.
  • You don't want to buy something too nice either, in case you are tempted to keep it - then you are stuck with it.
  • If it's something you might be wearing during the race as opposed to something to keep you warm and dry before, it has to be as comfortable as possible: good cut, good fit, wicking material, etc.
So here's what I came home with tonight:

Heavy lined hoodie to keep me warm before the race: $4.99
Lined pants, also to ditch for before the race: $4.99
Light zippered jacket, which I may keep for the first several kilometers: $3.99

Earlier today, I had made a stop at a dollar store near my work to acquire two other items.  The gloves, for obvious reasons, and the socks... not so obvious.  Can you guess?

Something to keep my arms warm for a while if the weather is hot enough to go sleeveless.  Not likely, but I like to be prepared.

To round up the throwaway necessities, I will add a garbage bag in case of rain, and a warm hat from the pile of ugly promotional hats our household has amassed over the years.  I don't get it... people in my house keep loosing gloves and mittens but hats magically appear out of nowhere!

I think my throwaway needs are pretty much covered. Now if the weather could look more like this, I would be pretty happy!

A mix of sun and clouds
Feels like 14°C
Low 11°C
 P.O.P. 0%
24 hr rain ~1 mm
Wind NE 20 km/h
Hours of Sun 3

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Big Goal

In 5 days, I will be running my 8th marathon in Prince Edward Island, and I have I have one goal in mind.  A Big Goal: to run a Boston Qualifying Time.  3:55:00 is what I am looking for.

I am aware that barely scraping by a BQ is not going to actually get me in the race.  For instance, I would have needed 3:52:32 in order to register for the 2016 Boston Marathon, and I will likely need an even better time to get in 2017.  But you have to start somewhere, and I've decided the official qualifying time, rather than a moving target, would be my goal for now.  Once I nail the BQ, I will start chipping at it.  There is always a spring marathon...

Qualifying for Boston wasn't always my goal.  From 5:12:33 down to 4:28:06 (and back up to 5:01:47), my first five marathons were nowhere near fast enough to allow me to dream about Boston.

Then, a year ago, I surprised myself by running the Victoria Marathon in 3:58:34 - a PR by almost half an hour (and an hour improvement over my previous marathon) and less than four minutes from a BQ.  This is when I started to dream big.

The funny thing about that sub-4:00 performance is how unexpected it was.  The stars were aligned perfectly: the course was fantastic, the weather was perfect, my training had been good and I showed up at the start line in perfect shape, all ready to run a 4:20 or even a 4:15.

Then I made a decision that could have backfired - but didn't... Against my better judgment, I decided to start the race with the sub-4:00 crowd just for a while, so I could hang out with a family member, instead of following the 4:15 pace bunny.  I know, I know...  This is not a strategy I would recommend. 

So I started the marathon faster than I had planned, but thinking I would eventually drop back.  For a few miles, I though "I shouldn't do this", and "I am going to pay for this", which became "I actually feel good", and eventually "Holy crap!  I am going to break 4 hours".  When I crossed the line seconds before the clock turned 4:00:00, (3:59:22 was my clock time), my next goal was all laid out for me.  The Big Goal.

My next marathon, in Fredericton this past May, was my first actual attempt at a BQ.  I did not reach my goal, but got a PR in a very respectable 3:57:31.  And now, I am back again with my second attempt.

Shedding over two and a half minutes off my PR is no small task, and lots of things could happen on race day.  I've already started to obsess about the weather forecast...  But the training is done, I am feeling good, and I am ready to give it all I've got.

PEI marathon, here I come!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Thankful for Running

Today I am thankful. 

Thankful for my health.

Thankful for my healthy family.

Thankful for a gorgeous trail on a beautiful, crisp, fall day. 

Thankful for this little dude who was happy to tag along on his bike and carry my water bottle.

Thankful for two strong running legs who carried me for 13km today. 

Thankful for post run pancakes, strawberries, bacon, and maple syrup and the guy that prepared them while I was out running.

Thankful for all these things we often take for granted like the clean water I drank on my run.

So much to be thankful for.