Friday, July 27, 2007

Eat, drink and be merry - a photo journal of my trip to England

Back home!

I arrived home yesterday after a loooooooong 9-hour flight. Since a picture says a thousand words, here's a little photo journal of the trip.

Here's a picture of my cousin Elaine, sister Tracy, other cousin, Jean with Claire and Alistair (Jean's son) on the far right. We are at Basildon, a historic house that was used in the filming of Jean's favorite movie, "Pride and Prejudice".

After that we went to the pub for a family gathering. It was the first time we met a few new members of the family, including Lewis (age 3.5), Amber (age 2) and Theo (just a baby).

Here's another family gathering at the pub. This one is with a different set of cousins (Elaine, in the pink, and her son, Adrian, at the far end of the table), along with Adrian's girlfriend, Shelley, and her two children, Sophie and Cam. My sister and I are in there, too, of course. We stayed at Adrian and Shelley's for the first few days of the trip.

After that, we went to stay with Jean for a few days. She lives up in the Peak District. Here's a photo taken by my sister of me with Jean one night when we were out for dinner.

We also spent a few days with yet another set of cousins in Kent. On our first night with them, they took us out for ...

And even though I was quite full after a large helping of both fish and chips, and declined to have any "pudding", as they like to call it, my dear cousins took the liberty of ordering me a traditional English dessert - spotted dick with warm custard sauce. No, I am not kidding. The photo quality isn't great on this one, but still, I had to provide evidence of this!

My sister came home to Canada a few days before I did. I spent my last day in England with my cousin, Emma having a "girls' day" including lunch at (where else?) the pub! We did eat food, too, including apple and blackberry crumble with custard for pudding.

Sounds like all we did while we were there was spend time at the pub, eh? Well, just to prove that isn't true here's a picture taken at my hosts' home with my two cousins, Rachel and Emma. Believe it or not, we were not just home from the pub!

Guess where I'm going today, now that I'm back home? The gym! And tomorrow I'm hitting the river pathways for a run. Boy, do I need it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vacation ramblings...

Ramble #1

We spent a few days up at my cousin Jean's house in the peak district. She said that lots of people go jogging there and I wouldn't look at all out of place. So, I did, following the route (more or less) that she'd showed me. I did get a bit lost one morning and when I saw an older gentleman say "Hello!" and wave, I waved back and said, "Morning!"

He gave me a bit of a funny look and I quickly realized that what I thought was a lane road was actually a rather long driveway - his. So I turned around and made like I was doing a hill sprint back up to the main road.


Ramble #2

I also took the opportunity to debut the new running skirt that I bought at the fitness fair at the race before I left. I remembered the rule "Nothing new on race day!" and I've been aching to try it out ever since. Works well. Cute. But running skirts are definitely not popular (yet?) in these parts of England. So, the running didn't get me funny looks, but the skirt did. We'll save the skirt for when I go back home now...

Ramble #3

My cousins all sound very 'posh' to me; except when they say 'ate'. It comes out more like 'et', with a very enunciated 't' at the end. It sends me off into peels of laughter and I make fun of them by saying, in my best hill billy accent, 'Yeah, I et me some cow and 'den I et me some corn.'

They seem amused, but only politely so.

Ramble #4

Everyone here, regardless of their age, sends text messages - compulsively, like a bunch of addicts. Seeing my more... er... 'mature' cousins sending each other texts is quite endearing, really. My sister said the other day that she didn't know how to text. I thought my cousins were going to fall off their chairs in disbelief. Our cell phones don't work here, but I do believe that a tutorial is being arranged as we speak.

Ramble #5

I am delighted by the clothes lines that people have outside their houses here. My one cousin doesn't even have a dryer; said she's never had a dryer and never planned to. She takes her clothes out of the washer, puts them into a different machine called a spinner, that removes much of the water and then line dries everything. Delightfully quaint, IMHO.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jolly Ol' England

I've been in England almost a week now, having left two days after running the half marathon. I've been planning the trip for almost two years and it is great to finally be here, visiting with family I haven't seen in a long time.

My sister, Tracy, who lives near Toronto is also here visiting we are getting the chance to see each other, as well.

I've been out running every day, except for today (Sunday) which is my usual rest day. I usually run every other day, and often on the treadmill. My knees aren't used to pounding on pavement every day, so I've kept the runs short, just to keep my legs loose and to act as somewhat of an antidote to the holiday diet, which has included:
  • pints of ale (Badger's Champion ale, to be exact)
  • pints of shandy
  • beef and ale pie
  • ploughman's lunch (with a hunk of cheese that would normally take me about 2 weeks to eat!)
  • roast lamb dinner with Yorkshire pudding
  • biscuits of various kinds
  • and my new favorite thing in the world - cream tea (scones with clotted cream - OMG!!)
My best running anecdote from England so far is that I don't think there are many people who run where my cousin Adrian lives in Earley, Reading. I noticed that I hadn't seen any runners around his area. As I was out in the residential area where he lives, a bus almost passed me and then came screeching to a halt. The driver thought I was running for the bus!

It took both of us a second to realize what was going on and then we both half chuckled, embarrassed and awkward about the misunderstanding... and on we went on our respective journeys. Then I realized that indeed, that was definitely not a common area for runners at all!

Needless to say that I will resume proper running and working out schedule when I get home, and in the meantime, I plan to continue enjoying the English cuisine (if that isn't too much of an oxymoron!) Besides, the act of breaking bread with my family, exchanging stories and sharing meals is part of the joy of being here.

The other day day ten of us got together at a pub and we got to meet new additions to the family, including spouses and children who've joined the family since the last time we were here.

I arrived last Tuesday and I said to my cousin, Jean, today that I finally feel like I am starting to unwind - for the first time in about two years, actually. I've done nothing but eat, visit, sleep, do a bit of sight seeing, shop and relax. It's been fabulous.

Tomorrow is a girls' shopping day in the town, so best I get to bed so I can be well rested for it. Don't know how much shopping I'll do, as things are hideously expensive here compared with home, but just being out with my sister and cousin in the shops will be fun. And with that, off to bed I go...

PS: Not been visiting blogs much, but I'll try to catch up soon.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Half Marathon Report

Quick overview

Official chip time: 2:18:06
mile - pace (minutes / mile)

1 - 28:43
2 - 10:02
3 - 10:02
4 - 12:34
5 - 9:43
6 - 8:46
7 - 10:02
8 - 10:14
9 - 10:24
10 - 6:32
11 - 7:58
12 - 8:31
13 - 10:11
Finish line pace - 6:32

Pre-race report

The week before the race was up and down, full of doubt and fear, as well as anticipation and giddiness.

A couple of days before the race, I went to Dr. Mike for a chiropractic adjustment. As I was laying on the table we were talking about the race and he said, "I can't even believe we are talking about this... not considering where you were when we started."

Took me back to memories of my first visit with him about 14 months ago... Knee brace, not running, not even walking comfortably, in pain and frustrated, spending many private moments in tears. Seems like a long time ago now.

As I was about to leave the other day he stopped me and said, "If I can offer you one piece of advice..."

Now, I have to say that being someone who's run multiple marathons and qualified for Boston, when Dr. Mike offers running advice, I listen.

He continued, "... just one piece of advice: Enjoy it. Enjoy every stride. Don't worry about the time. Just enjoy. You've worked hard and you deserve that."

Good advice, I thought.

I did my last run before the race with my trainer, Kevin. It was a hot afternoon and we ran pretty hard. Well, let me qualify that. I ran pretty hard... wheezing and gasping while he happily chatted away. Show off!

Needless to say, my race pace will be considerably slower than we did that day, I thought, but in any event, the last training run let me burn off some stress. After we talked race strategy and I got a bit of a pep talk, which helped calm me down.

The next day I found myself back in the same spot I was last year, volunteering at "race central". Dawn had e-mailed a while back to ask if I'd help out again. I agreed and this time, I got to volunteer with her, working with the crew who handed out packages and T-shirts to the course marshalls and other volunteers.

I was thrilled to see my good friend, Alia, when she came in to pick up her volunteer package. She's among the normal humans who just don't get the insanity of running. Even though she thinks I'm strange for wanting to run, she wanted to support me and decided that the best way to do that would be to volunteer for the race. What a great friend, eh?

A few runners came in dejected and said, "Registered. Can't run. Injured. Need any more volunteers?" We signed them up right away and I was able to say, "I feel your pain. I was in your position last year. It stinks being injured, but we sure do appreciate the help... and so will those who are running on Sunday."

It was a fantastic way to spend a Friday evening! Dawn's already got me booked to volunteer again next year.

Race report

As is perfectly normal, I woke up with the jitters, afraid that a million things would go wrong. My room mate, Gord, had appointed himself to be my race support for the day, bless his soul. It's great to have such supportive friends and I owe them a debt of gratitude.

Gord was already up eating breakfast when I got up. He kept me in one piece before we parted at the start line and carried all my stuff while I ran and took care of all driving. Am I lucky, or what?

The race itself was fantastic! I had run most of the course in my training and so I knew more or less what was coming. The race went through the grounds of the Calgary Stampede and yes, it's Stampede time, folks! Even though the grounds were not yet open to the public for the day, lots of people were there and the energy levels were high. I was a bit worried about the smells of corn dogs and mini donuts upsetting my tummy, but most of the fryers weren't up and running for the day, so it was all good.

Then, we went through the zoo. This is the part of the course that I had not done in my training because normally you would need to pay to get into the zoo and I'm not sure it would be good zoo etiquette to go running through the crowds of people visiting the animals. Anyway, this turned out to be my favorite part of the course - the greenery, the animals and the zippy little parts of the trail that zig zag sharply up and down hills. I wasn't too keen on the gravel parking lot bit at the end of that section of the course, but it was OK.

After the zoo the course went back to city streets. There were lots of course marshalls and supporters along the route. I remember thinking a couple of times, "God, this is the best run, EVER!"

I had been hoping for a time of 2:45. Then I saw the pace bunnies for a 2:30 finish and slipped by them. I felt strong and it was the second half of the race, so I just kept going. I doubted I could catch up to the 2:15 pacers, but thought maybe I could get in around 2:20, if I was lucky.

I saw Alia marshalling at around km 16 or so. Gord was standing with her, taking pictures. I gave her a hug, thanked for volunteering as Gord joked, "You're wasting time... Get moving!"

I found myself slowing down a bit around mile 12, but then I thought, "You're not giving up now, girl!"

In the very last kilometre there's a short, but brutal hill before the finish line. Lots of people were walking by then. At that point, I was grateful for my hill training, even if it had messed up my knee a bit. I thought to myself, "I love hills! These legs were meant to run hills." I was happy that I did not stop to walk, though it did slow me down a bit (hence the slow split time near the end).

At the very end I was able to kick it across the finish line and I crossed the finish line doing a 6:32 min/mile pace, which made me happy. My Garmin said 2:18:10 -- better than any of us expected, by a long shot.

Receiving the finisher's medal was definitely a hightlight of the race, too.

Medical report

My knees held up! I think the taper definitely helped. My right knee is a bit sore as I write this, but that's to be expected. Overall, I'm thrilled!

My gut behaved! I avoided both dairy and fruit in the 18 hours before the race and took the Pantoloc the doctor prescribed. I'm very happy to report that I did not puke. I did not even come close to puking. In fact, after the race Gord, Alia and I went for breakfast. All I could think about was "Coffee.... Where's the coffee???"

After the race I was sitting on the grass for a bit and noticed my shoe.

"Oh, shit," I thought. "That's blood.

I went over to the first aid tent and grabbed a couple of band aids for what turned out to be some monster blisters.

I felt them coming on during the race, but didn't realize they were bleeding. I'll spare you the photo of the feet. The sock says it all. But really, what's a running event without some kind of medical issue, right?

Post race
Gord's plan was to meet me at the finish line and take photos. In the event of something unforseen, we had a rendez-vous point in the parking lot at the finish line.

I didn't see him when I came in, so I walked around for a bit. I went and got some recovery food and went to the rendez-vous point. I sat on the grass and stretched out for a bit. I didn't have my cell phone with me, so I borrowed one to call him. But I got the number wrong, so I just decided to wait.

After a while I went back to the finish line. A first-aider was handing out foil blankets to runners who were finished. He offered me one and I took it.

Still no sign of Gord. I heard that the first woman marathoner was about to cross the finish line, so I waited around and saw her finish.

Then the most unexpected part of the race happened for me. I started bawling! I hate crying. I hate crying in public more. But I just couldn't help it. All the emotion welled up from somewhere inside me. I walked back to the meeting point and sat on the grass again, with the silver blanket wrapped around me sobbing and sobbing.

A few people asked if I was OK. "Yes," I sniffed. "Just a little emotional."

Among them were the 2:30 pace bunnies - the ones I'd passed. They stopped and chatted for a few minutes (to make sure I was OK, I think.) They told me that they'd both cried at races, too. They shook my hand and congratulated me on finishing and then they went on their way.

After I composed myself I got up again and walked along the finish line until I found Gord. I had been done for well over an hour by that point. When I saw him he said, "How did I miss you?" I smiled and said, "Cause I came in over an hour ago!"

He was ticked that he missed his finish line photo op, but we got one anyway:

All in all, I am thrilled. The experience was fantastic. The medical issues were minor. I felt totally supported by two amazing friends who were rooting for me from pre-start to post-race. My time was better than anything I'd done in training and much better than I hoped for. And I came away thinking about what the next race would be.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tapers suck

So, I'm tapering for this half marathon... following instructions to shorten the runs and avoid hill training and speed training. My chiropractor said, "Just get out there and have some fun with your run!"

I looked at him and said, "Fun?"

What I like about training is that it makes me hurt (in a good way), and feel raw and powerful - even if I am not.

Nevertheless, I have been cutting back.

My knee feels much better for it, but I have to tell you, I hate it. I hate every second of getting out there and not pushing... just trying to take it easy.

I feel fat and slow and anxious... well, more so than usual, anyway.

My room mate told me today that I was so wired I was like Beavis on caffeine pills.

I figure that the only appropriate reply is: "This sucks more than anything that has ever sucked before."

(Well, OK, let's be honest, tapers don't suck as much as injury, but I just couldn't resist the Butt-Head line there.)