Friday, August 31, 2007

Nothing gold can stay

And, so with the labour day weekend upon us, and school starting up again, summer draws to a close. This last week of summer for me has been busy, but not frantic - just the way I like it.

Yoga classes ended this week. They'll start up again in about a month. Until then, I'll practice on my own, probably a bit at the end of each workout.

I'm debating about taking the Level 2 yoga class on Saturdays again, but I think I might pass this fall. As my long weekend runs get longer, it means I'll either have to make the decision to get up darned early each and every Saturday in order to make it to the 11:00 a.m. class, or go for a run after lunch, which pretty much will mean the entire day is shot. So, I think I'll run long and enjoy a more flexible schedule.

Running this week was up and down. Good speed training on Tuesday, but mediocre hill training on Thursday. This weekend's running schedule is still up in the air.

I'm trying to figure out how to get more miles in... I'll have to do it mindfully so my knee behaves. At this point, I run every other day, but I'm not convinced that I can build a good mileage base for a marathon that way. Anyone got any thoughts on that?

A few anecdotes for the week:

1) I've discovered that one of my cats, Shady Guy, like pizza crust. He's especially partial to the bits with the crunchy cheese that gets baked onto it. Go figure!

2) I spent some quality time with my dentist this week, having a crown re-done. I was wearing a temporary one for a week and this week the final product was done. When I went in to have it cemented, the dentist decided she wasn't happy and called the dental technician over, had him look at it in my mouth, removed it, handed it to him and then sent him away to fix it. He went back to his lab (across the hall, in the same building) and an hour and a half later I had it back. It's now firmly cemented in place, replacing one that was 21 years old. I'm very happy to have it replaced.

3) Gord discovered a small leak in one of the copper pipes in the basement. This will need to be fixed at some point. He says that by looking at the mineral buildup on the pipe, it's been leaking for a long time. Luckily, my brother is a plumber. Unluckily, he's out of commission after some recent carpal tunnel surgery. I doubt the basement will flood any time soon from this leak, but it is now on the list of things to tend to.

And so, as summer gives way to fall, some things wrap up, somethings are discovered and many more are in process, reminding me of one of my favorite poems:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

- Robert Frost

Sunday, August 26, 2007

5-mile race report

Today I ran my first 5-mile race, the Robert Hamilton Memorial Road Race.

Quick overview:
Finishing time 47:23

05:53 minutes per km
10.2 km per hour
09:29 minutes per mile
6.3 miles per hour

Races that are clocked in miles are less common in Canada now. This event honours an icon of running in Calgary and that's why the distance has been kept in miles.

Even though I am comfortable thinking in miles (at least when it comes to running), I've never been in a running event measured that way, so I spent a fair amount of time fretting about strategy, pace, and well... all the usual stuff.

I started out by breaking the rules. I wore the new Pearl Izumi shoes. I'd only worn them once on the treadmill last week, but never outside. Karen, who was volunteering today took one look at them and said, "Those look too new for a race." I agreed, but since my feet had not bled in them when I wore them on Thursday, I was willing to risk it.

My room mate, Gord, generously offered to be my support for the day again. He's been a competitive cyclist and so he is extremely tolerant of athletic neurosis. I got to the race and decided that there was no possible way I could wear the commemorative racing socks that came with the race package. (Better than a T-shirt, no?) So, there I stood in the parking lot, changing my socks and worrying about blisters. It's good to have friends who are tolerant of your idiosyncrasies!

It was a small field. There were about 30 runners in the 5-mile race and about double that in the 10-mile event. I was very happy though to see both Karen and Dawn when I got there. I have decided that I very much enjoy the process of getting to know other runners and then meeting them at events - even if you do spot each other in the port-o-pottie line up!

Dawn was not feeling well and I felt for her. I've had numerous training runs that have resulted in a bad gut. For me, GI issues, along with the blisters, have marked my major challenges in this first year of running. I admired her running anyway, despite the grumpy gut.

There was no gun (that I remember?) just a verbal countdown and then someone saying "Go!"

Here's a synopsis of the run for me:


1) I placed in the bottom 1/3 - 22nd out of a total of 30 runners.

2) I did not dress properly. I am used to training in shorts and sleeveless tanks. It was chilly today (about 7 C or 45 F), so I wore a long sleeve shirt. Halfway through I felt like I was suffocating, so I tossed aside all sense of modesty and took it off. Lucky my bra is one of those that (legitimately) doubles as a top, though I'm not in the habit of using it as one. The fact that I am too much of a rookie to know how to dress properly for racing in cooler weather did not make me happy. Clearly, I need more experience...

3) A few times I found myself alone on the course, unable to see anyone in front of me. I didn't like that.

4) My Garmin acted up and didn't start tracking until about 1 km into the run. So my stats are all skewed. I used my posted race finish time to do my calculations today.


1) Great to have Gord there as support, and official photographer. Equally great to see Karen, Dawn and her hubby there, as well. Karen is not only an experienced course marshall, she is a cheerleader par excellance. She had even written messages in chalk on the pathway for Dawn and me. Now, that's what you call encouragement!

2) No bleeding! Blisters, yes. Bleeding, no. Very happy.

3) My gut decided to behave.

4) My knee felt strong the whole way through.

5) I didn't stop to walk. I stopped briefly at the halfway point for a drink of water and shirt removal, but otherwise, I ran the whole way. I was *very* pleased with that.

6) I placed first for women in my age category! I even got a special home made gingerbread runner-man "medal" for it, too! I will devour him as a snack later...

7) I had a personal best for the pace! When I started this season I maxed out my speed training at 10:00 minute/mile, and my longer training runs were averaging about 12 minute/mile. Now to be able to race at a pace of 9:29 minute/mile is a decent improvement and I am very happy about it. Of course, now the bar has been re-set and the goal is to do longer distances at the faster pace.

After I finished and caught my breath, Gord and I found Dawn's hubby and decided to walk the course for a bit to find her. We chatted with Karen for a while and then kept walking. When we found Dawn, I handed my camera to Gord and set out to run with Dawn for a while. As she got closer to the end, I pulled off and she kicked it to the finish, grumpy gut and all! Eastern women and their grit, I tell ya. You gotta admire that.

Overall, I had fun and I was happy at the end. A good run!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy(er) feet

Well, I've declared war on the squishy little things that are dragging me down on my runs. In case you haven't been following, I'm talking about the blisters.

I've ordered the book, Fixing Your Feet. It's due to arrive mid-September. Thanks to Michelle and Sarah for suggesting it.

I asked the chiropractor, the trainer and just about anyone else who would listen.

I ran today on the treadmill. Feet bandaged and duct taped. It definitely was not the most inspired run of my life. The duct taped worked a bit better this time, but the blisters that were already there continued to bleed. I had to ask the fellas at the gym for relplacement band aids. I spared them having to look at my feet, but the sight of the bloody sock resulted in the first aid kit being pulled out pretty quick.

This afternoon I also went to Gord's Running Store, at the urging of Karen, a place that had also been recommended by Dawn as well as a few other people. I went yesterday but Gord wasn't working, so I went back today. I wanted to see "the" guy everyone raves about.

This guy knows his stuff. He seems quiet, laid back and very, very knowledgable. And I quickly realized that he's a runner first and a salesman second. I took the offending runners, my socks and my orthotics. I showed him where the blisters are. He asked me a few questions and had me put my shoes on and lace up. He felt my foot and made a few "Hhhmmm" type noises.

He said, "Well, they seem a bit small. Your toe is right at the end, but otherwise, mechanically they look sound."

I was a bit baffled that he thought they were small. They're a half size bigger than my street shoes. But I wasn't about to argue.

He had me take them off. He said something to the effect of, "Here, let's see if this helps." And he re-laced the shoe for me, avoiding the eyelets around the blister. He also used a tool to stretch them out at the point of blister contact, then handed the shoe back to me.

"Try that," he said.

It felt much better. I might have felt stupid if I wasn't so gobsmacked.

I said, "I thought I'd have to buy new shoes!"

He kind of shrugged and said, "I can show you some other shoes that would probably fit your foot a bit better, but those will probably work just fine for now."

I was in this guy's store, getting his undivided attention, and he seemed more interested in helping me with my blister problem than selling me shoes. Naturally, that made me want to buy something right then and there. I asked him to bring out some possibilities.

He dove into the back room and emerged several minutes later with about 6 different boxes. I kept trying on shoes. We narrowed it down to a couple of promising ones. Then I thought he was kidding when he said, "Go outside and run for a bit. See how they feel."

Go outside and run? He saw the look on my face and said, "Don't worry. Everyone around here is used to it."

Out I went. They felt different. Better. Much better. He explained that they had no stitching or extra material around the area that gives me a blister. (OK, I confess, I have the beginnings of a bunion, but let's not talk about it, OK? I just feel I'm too young for that sort of thing and I'm in denial about it.)

He also said that the models he was showing me were straighter than my Sauconys, so they'll likely accomodate the orthotics better, noting that the Sauconys have a slight curve to them.

I left with a pair of Pearl Izumi Synchofloats, laced "a la Gord". I was thinking that, possibly for the first time, I felt like I was "at one" with my shoes. That probably sounds corny. And maybe I was just a bit high from all the relief, but I felt like I wasn't wearing them, rather that they were just an extension of me. By that time, I didn't care that they were half a size bigger than what I was used to wearing.

Unlike this morning when I went to the gym, I actually wanted to go and run! Now I can't wait for Thursday to try them out on the treadmill. We'll see when I get out and run in them if I still think like that.

For now, I feel relieved. I can re-lace all my shoes. (Yes, I have a few pairs) and they should work better. And I am hopeful that these new shoes will work better for the longer runs.
I still need to find a way to deal with the existing blisters so they stop bleeding and heal, but I have a feeling that will be easier now.

PS: Also left with a water bottle. Will report on that after trying it.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

This is not the kind of runner I want to be

Usually I try to keep my running posts anecdotal, relatively positive and at the very least, readable. But today, I just need to rant. If you're not up for it, I'll understand if you pass on this post and come back later.

As I was thinking about this post before my run, I thought a good title might be "Fun with duct tape". But it turned out not to be so fun after all.

My two main issues with running lately have been that I've been unable to find a water bottle that doesn't leak around the rim and my darned blisters.

I swear, I've spent like $100 on water bottles over the last year and a half. Between trying to find one where the mouth piece is the right size (too big and the water comes gushing out, either drenching you or choking you, or both) or it leaks - even if it screwed on all the way or snapped on tight.

I've been to sporting goods stores, running stores and even supermarkets. I'm sick of spending money on water bottles!

I solved the problem with duct tape:

It's not pretty, but it works.

I have, however, decided that I like things that don't look like they've been patched together by that guy on The Red Green Show. I like things that work and that look decent.

I've also decided that I like it when *I* work and look decent. More on that in a bit.

For now, let's say that I was willing to forgo the looking decent part when I decided to try the duct tape on the blisters, too. So this morning, before the run, I powdered in between the toes and wrapped my foot in duct tape, with the intention of doing a 15-miler (25 km, give or take).

Here's what I looked like before:

And in case you're wondering, I have this thing for pedicures. Call it a vice or whatever you like. Between running and wearing summer shoes, my feet take a beating and I think they deserve to be treated nicely.

The place where I have then done is a small mom & pop shop run by a Vietnamese family. All the employees there are family members (or so we think... most of them don't speak much English.)

They get really ticked off with me because I insist on cutting my toenails myself before I go in. They take one look at them and say, "Too short! Too short!"

I say, "I run. They need to be short." They kind of throw up their hands at me in despair and then do their best to work with my stubby nails. Then, they see my blisters and look at me as if to say, "What the hell do you do to your feet? You leave, they look good. You come back, they look like this."

Same goes for the finger nails. There's one young fellow who works there who knows that I go to a gym. I tell him, "They nails get ruined in the weight room, anyway. And if they're too long, they just snap off. I need them to be 'sport length'." They don't get it, but my friend and I are regulars there now, so we all know what to expect.

Anyway, out I set, with my duct taped water bottle and foot. At mile 6, I felt it; the squishing inside my sock of a wet blister. I stopped and took my shoe off. In fact, I sat down and took my sock off to inspect the situation.

Did you read that? I sat down! What the hell kind of run is that when you sit down? That's not a run, that's a freaking surrender, is what that is!

I wasn't even half way along my route.

The duct tape hadn't covered all the blister, I realized. And it had slid around a bit, so I re-positioned it and then got my sock and shoe back on. The blister was watery and broken, but not yet bleeding, so that was a good sign at least.

There was no way I was going to make it to 7.5 miles before turning around.

And you know how I run - a straight line out, then turn around. There's only one way back then - on your feet or on a stretcher. No cell phone. No money. That's just tempting me to be a wimp.

I wasn't far from Kensington, where my friend L. lives. For a moment I wondered if she was home, thinking that I could go knock on her door and beg for a ride back to my car. She would have done that for me, for sure, but that's not the kind of runner I am. I had already sat down. I wasn't going to be any more of a wimp.

Having said that, it hurt enough that it was starting to affect my foot strike. I remembered back to a time when I ran in high school that I got blisters go bad the entire inside of my shoe was gushing with blood. I just kept going, not noticing that I had changed my foot strike to avoid the tender spot. I ended up with tendinitis in my foot because I'd pulled things in all different directions. I had to stop running for a few weeks while it all healed.

That was years ago, but I didn't want a repeat performance.

I started to head back not long after. My run was not going to be 15 miles today.

I was ticked, to put it mildly.

On the way back, I did a walk/run. The final result was that I felt like I was trudging along... or make that, tottering along. I didn't feel like a runner at all. I felt like a big bag of turds who's not tough enough to take a little blister on her foot. I felt slow and sluggish and frustrated. How can such a stupid, simple little thing create such a nasty problem?

By the end of my 12 miles (19 km, more or less), I was fit to be tied I was so angry. And tired. It wasn't the kind of tired you feel when you know you've gone hard and you're spent. No, it was the kind of tired you get when you feel defeated and disappointed in yourself.

When I got home the blister had bled, of course. You can see here that the blood that didn't get soaked up by the tape just oozed out around the edges of it. You can still see the tape line, with blood on either side of it:

Luckily, it didn't bleed much, so that is something to be thankful for. My gut behaved itself, which is also something to be grateful for.

But, I did not go the distance today. I gave up. I felt no joy in my training run today, which is highly unusual for me. I felt like I let myself down. How am I ever going to get in shape for a marathon when I'm such a wimp?

Sorry for the rant, folks. Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that I'm not usually so cranky. There's a 5-mile race next weekend, so I'm going to work hard this week on an attitude adjustment so I can do the race in a happy, positive frame of mind.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Holy cold meds, batman!

So, a friend told me today that now that I am finally chilling out, exams over, half marathon done, home from the family vacation and I'm in serious take-a-break mode, that my defenses are down and that's why I have this nasty cold. She's probably right.

But it didn't feel like my defenses were down on Sunday, I tell you. I woke up sniffly and miserable. Everything ached. I couldn't decide if I felt like I'd just been beaten up or put through a meat grinder. Didn't want to move, much less run.

Not good. Not good at all.

No way I was going to run to the corner, let alone the 10 miles I had mentally scheduled.

But with a race in a couple of weeks and another half marathon at the end of September, I know that getting in the long runs is important.

I had some breakfast, puttered around for a while and then decided it was time to haul my sorry ass out the door and at least try to run a bit. I figured that if I could do even 3 miles, it would be better than nothing.

I popped a Sudafed and washed it down with some water, just to ease the misery a bit. Sniffling, grumbling and muttering, I headed out.

I ached through the warm-up walk and I just wanted to turn around and go home again. But that just wouldn't be me, now, would it? So, off I went running.

My slow plod quickly turned into what for me could be called a fast run. Before I knew it, 3.5 miles were gone. Where they went, I don't really know, but I had no intention of stopping. At one point I thought, "Oh, right! I'm supposed to have some fuel, aren't I?" I scarfed down a bit of a protein bar that I had with me, and kept on truckin'.

At 5 miles, I thought, "How the hell did I get here so fast? I can't believe it's time to turn around!" I felt turbo charged.

By mile 7 I realized that I'd been going faster than I should have and I got a bit tired. And I was dehydrated and got a side cramp. Mind you, that could also have been from wearing my water bottle belt not with the bottle in the back, as it normally is, but on my side, so the bottle was sitting on my hip - tightly.

Why was it there, you asked? Well, I decided to try my new favorite piece of running clothing on a long run - my beloved running skirt. It's pink and blue and I adore it. I tried it out for the first time in England, but haven't run in it since I got home.

I quickly realized that my running skirt and my water bottle belt (which I did not have with me in England) are not a good match. The belt somehow makes the skirt ride up the back. Now, that's not very modest, is it?

The skirt has built in knickers, but still! That's not my idea of a good situation. So, I twisted the belt around so it sat firmly on my hip - no skirt issues then. But it was so tight that I got a side stitch about 7 miles in. Needless to say, the skirt will not be used with the fuel belt again... too bad.

Despite the water bottle vs. skirt issue, I came home and logged my Garmin stats. I ran at *race pace*. Well, one second slower than my half marathon pace, to be exact. I never run at race pace during training. I was surprised, elated and confused all at once.

Then I remembered the Sudafed. All I can say is, no wonder some cold meds are banned in international athletic competitions. I felt like I was on fire! Even stranger, I felt great after the run, too. No tummy issues. No knee issues. I was tuckered later in the day and turned in early, but overall, I was positively zippy after that one little drugstore treasure of a pill.

At the moment, I am still fighting the cold. Today I tried my usual Tuesday speed training - without cold meds. Yeah, I felt like crap and had to cut it short. I had visions of myself collapsing on the treadmill as I was losing consciousness. I decided to spare the gym staff the effort of having to scrape me up off the floor and spare myself the humiliation by cutting back while I could still breathe.

If I still feel like this tomorrow, I'm having a Sudafed with my morning coffee. To heck with the sniffles! Cold meds rock.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The challenges we love to hate

These past few days have been wonderful. Instead of diving back into my school work like a madwoman, I decided to extend the break a bit and enjoy summer. So far, I don't regret it a bit. I know that when I get back into it, I'll be full on until it's done (a year? maybe two? or even three?) so I figure that it is sensible to recharge the batteries for now.

I have been doing things like going strawberry picking, attending cycling races and even doing a bit of cross training on my own bike. Gord suggested a bit of hill training. I agreed, though with reservations. No confidence... very little experience on a bike.

Yeah, well... I was gasping like a wizened old couch potato. Mind you, I was climbing the same hill that I had seen people racing on the day before, so perhaps the bar was set a bit high? For those of you who know Calgary, my room mate took me out to Canada Olympic Park. We started at the bottom, in the parking lot, and followed the road up the top, where the gates are. Anyway, after much huffing and puffing, I got there, but it wasn't pretty. I could hardly even talk. When I could, all that came out was a string of profanities that I'm quite sure Gord never thought were part of my vocabulary.

Good thing that trainer Kevin has me on an intensive program with lots of cardio mixed in. Clearly, I need it!

Dr. Mike, the chiropractor, has just cleared me to run another half marathon! I was thrilled to hear this. I thought he'd tell me not to push it. Instead he told me to go for it. I beamed all day after I heard that.

I've signed up for a 5-mile race at the end of August and with any luck, I'll do another half in September. I've quickly discovered that signing up for events keeps me motivated in my training. I like knowing that I have a concrete goal to work towards... and training becomes an enjoyable way to look forward to it.

Oh yeah, and speaking of running, I watched a documentary about Badwater, the 135 mile race through Death Valley. I was in awe, almost morbidly grossed out, and definitely impressed. One day, I'd like to be on an ultra crew, just so I can support someone who's crazy enough to take on that kind of challenge.

OK, time to go feed the cats before I call it a night... dreaming of the next half marathon.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Thoughts along the way...

This week things are getting back to normal - whatever that is. I'm in a most bizarre state of mind lately... taking a break from school and not stressing about it; happy to just chill out and yet itching for new challenges; going from moments of doing a great deal of reflecting or just sitting happily with a book to wanting to get out and be extraordinarily social. The weird thing is that I feel like I'm watching it all with someone else's eyes.

I see a good deal of change going on around me - people moving, getting married, having babies or breaking up and yet, my own life is uncharacteristically stable and unusually peaceful at the moment. I feel like in past couple of months things have changed inside me that aren't necessarily visible from the outside. I am stronger and more centred, clearer about who I am and what things are important to me.

Quietly puttering along in these hot lazy days of summer, I find myself feeling rested... and happy.

This past school year was, when I look back on it, extraordinarily challenging... especially around Christmas when I was considering dropping out of the program and in a full meltdown of depression that was unparalleled in recent years. That all seems like a long time ago now.

It would have been out of character for me to quit, even though I didn't really feel very strong or sure at the time. But then came the thesis proposal and the exams... concurrent with intensive training to run the half marathon.

It's all done now... months and months of preparation... thesis proposal defended, exams successfully passed... half marathon completed.

Then came rest and recovery in the form of a holiday.

Now as I look back, I see where I've come from.

And I look forward to the next two challenges, each of them at times sure to be lonely and frustrating, at times enjoyable and even exhilarating, and most certainly long and gruelling ... the Ph.D. dissertation... and the full marathon.

It seems for me that these two journeys have become inextricably intertwined. The doctoral work is intellectually exciting and lets my mind grow in ways I'd never dreamed of before. The running gets me "out of my head" and keeps me sane. I'm deeply passionate about both of them and, truth be told, I profoundly enjoy the challenges they bring.

The mind and the body are both being taxed and pushed to new limits. As one develops, so the other grows stronger. I always wanted to do these things, but deep down, I was never really quite sure that I could.

Somehow, somewhere along the way this summer a little voice inside my head has said, "Well, of course you can."