Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last run of 2008

I went out for my last run of the year today. I did 5 miles (8 km) in crisp, but not cold air. It was only around -5 C, just below freezing. The sun was shining bright and I thought about the year to come.

So what did I do when I go home?

Registered for the marathon, of course!

Bring on 2009!!

Happy New Year, all.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Time for something new

Two and a half years ago, when I started on my fitness journey, I had a trainer who was into monitoring your heart rate while working out. I bought a Polar F4 heart rate monitor and despite the fact that the watch unit was a bit big, I loved it and I wore it all the time.

This semester, I has all but given up the ghost. It is scratched beyond the point of being decent. I've dropped it one too many times on the locker room floor, and the LCD display is now all blotchy. It constantly tells me the battery is low, even though it just got a new one a couple of months ago. It occasionally resets itsef to its orignal settings and I have to re-program it to tell it what time and date it really is. Oh yeah, and a few weeks ago, the button to do just that fell off.

I don't really need another HR monitor, since my Garmin has one. What I do need, however, is a reliable watch. It damn near broke my heart, but today I used some gift certificates and replaced my dear old Polar F4 with a Timex Ironman Sleek model for ladies in dark purple. I really love the colour!
I am nostalgic sometimes and I'm a bit sad to retire the Polar. It's been with me through so many ups and downs and has been good to me, but I'm also excited about the new watch. It's so much more feminine and just plain snazzy! I figured it was time to change things up a bit.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Northerners do it in the cold

Well, it's been bitterly cold up here - and unusually snowy, too. Boo!

Today it has warmed up. It is finally warmer than -20 C (-4 F) for the first time in about 10 days. It has been as low as -42 C (-43 F) with the wind chill. I didn't run outside that day.

In fact, I have succumbed to the treadmill twice. I haven't run in 2 days. Ugh! As I write this, it is currently -15 C (5 F). Woo hoo! I will most definitely go out for a run after this.

Just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas (or a Happy Holiday season, whichever fits best with you). Here's to a happy and healthy 2009!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Life is good

Well, I pulled off a 15-miler (24 K) this past Saturday. It was the first time since September I've done more than 13 miles, so I'm happy. Overall, my weekly mileage is gradually increasing and I'm loving it.

The downside is that I'm spending less time in the gym, but that's OK. I love running, and I'm so grateful that my legs and knees are letting me do what I love. I have learned that I have good stamina and I'm learing to appreciate it. I find this sense of tranquility out there on those long runs, alone with my iPod.

Tonight I did an easy 10K (6 miles) after school. We had a big dump of snow yesterday. The sidewalks were slippery, with ice in some spots, snow in some spots and black ice in others. There were very few spots that were very well cleared and safe. So it was slow going. But who cares? It was blissful.

Can you tell I'm feeling grateful? Yesterday I attended a funeral for the husband of a classmate. He didn't suddenly of a massive heart attack. So sad. And today is the anniversary of my Mum's death. It's been 9 years. The sharpness of the anguish has subsided, but I'm not sure the sadness will ever completely disappear. That is OK. I'm not sure I'd want it to.

Now, instead of the sadness overwhelming me, it makes me contemplative. That leads me to think about all that I have... all that I enjoy. A loving family and excellent friends top the list. Good health is up there, too. And I appreciate having the fitness level to do things like 15 mile runs when I feel like it. Really, with these things, life is pretty darned good.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Finding my way

On November 27, I turned two. On the same day in 2006 I went for my first, full 30 minute run, after having tried and been sidelined by injuries for over a year. In September 2006 I started on a walk/run program that had me running non-stop for 30 minutes on November 27.

And so, that weekend (which also happened to be the weekend I celebrated my "real" birthday), I spent the day with many friends enjoying a variety of activities, including, of course, running!

This fine trio of Karen, Jason and Carla spent 45 minutes with me enjoying the river pathways, under a bright blue sky and sun shine. Karen had baked some muffins which we enjoyed after the run.

The rest of the day was also filled with many activities, laughs and good times. I am so thankful to have so many wonderful people in my life.

It makes me sad to think that I may have to leave all this, and the many people who are near and dear to my heart, just to find a job. That is a reality I have been trying to face as I apply for jobs in the U.S. I haven't even started to look in other countries yet, but it is coming, I'm sure.

I am trying to focus more on the possibilities of good things that I do not yet know exist and be open to the adventure of it all. But I am not so easy to uproot, I must confess.

I'm sure I'll find my way eventually. One step at a time, as always...

And speaking of steps, running has been super as of late. The long runs are getting easier and the short runs are getting a bit faster. I've been running for 2 years now and I feel like I'm starting to find my legs.

That probably sounds strange, doesn't it? I've been experimenting over the past few months with my form. I experiment with how I plant my foot when I land, trying to be lighter on my feet, trying to increase my cadence and decrease my upper body movement. The results have been a few aches and pains, a mildly tweaked hamstring for a few days, but overall, a joy in discovering new ways of running. My speed seems a little faster and in general, things feel less "clunky". I am learning to tap into the power of my legs to move me forward.

I'm not exactly sure what I was doing before, since running is all about legs and feet to start with. I just know it feels a bit different now. It is still hard work, but less... struggle, at least in a physical sense.

Something Leslie said about trail running after the Death Race has stuck with me. She talked about dancing over the tree roots and rocks. I have thought about the dancing analogy a lot and have tried to incorporate lightness and playfulness into my running. It has helped! There is more joy and less struggle now.

With the snow and ice on the ground now, I dance around patches of ice on the sidewalks and pathways. I think about all parts of my body moving in synch, with my steps offering a rhythm to move me forward. Sometimes I speed up. Sometimes I slow down. However it happens, it feels light and free!

These days I am depending on my legs for that feeling of lightness and freedom. It helps to keep my soul at peace as I find my way into unchartered territory.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rutabagas and running

A few weeks ago I went on a fresh veggie binge. I bought all kinds of seasonal vegetables with the intention of enjoy the harvests of fall. Then, a friend brought me over a large box of, you guessed it, vegetables. I have been eating lots of veggies ever since.

But there was a bit of a problem. I'm getting down to the last of them and there remained two, now-forlorn-looking rutabaga turnips. Oh dear.

Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of rutabagas. I mean, I'll eat them if I'm at someone's house and they are served for dinner, but let's just say that they do not appear on my list of Top 100 favorite foods.

But I'm even less of a fan of throwing out perfectly good, healthy food.

So, I went on a quest to find creative rutabaga recipes.

The Ginger Rutabaga Muffins turned out pretty well. The ginger really makes them, I think.

The mixed, roasted seasonal veggies that I did with potatoes, carrots and rutabaga, all tossed in some olive oil, salt, pepper and chili-infused honey were great!

But the best, by far, has been the Silky Rutabaga Apple Soup. I absolutely love blended veggie soups and this one is deee-vine!

Now, all my turnip has been used up and I'm a happy camper.

Oh yeah, and I had a great 17.78 km (11.05 mi) training run yesterday. It was windy, but otherwise a nice day for a long run. I have noticed that the long runs are not taking as much out of me as they used to. Although I'm tired later in the day, I don't come home puking, crapping or basically passing out as soon as I see the couch. Now I get home, have a shower and carry on with the day. I never thought it could be like that. But I am sure glad it has become that way. :-)

I've been researching, reading and planning. But not for my thesis. I'm taking a bit of a break from that for now. I've been looking into running, of course. I have set up a training program for the Calgary Marathon next year. Training starts today. I have 27 weeks to get myself ready.

There. I've declared it. I have a plan. Here's hoping I make it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A month in review

Eep! It's been a month since my last blog post. Shame on me!

Well, I've been running, of course. I did my first cross country race on October 26. It was a 3 x 4 km relay. Karen was our team captain. What a blast! I wasn't too keen on the river crossings, as the water was icy, but it was good times all around! After the race there was soup and desserts for all. What a great way to spend a weekend afternoon.

I haven't been out as much doing speed work lately, as I was working in runs around my thesis. As of last Friday I sent my supervisor a draft of my thesis in its entirety. That included the changes we talked about when we met last month, as well as new stuff - introduction, literature review, conclusion, glossary and appendix. That endeavour pretty much consumed my life for two solid weeks.

Now that it is in I have a few weeks to breathe while Tim reads it over. In the meantime I get to prepare a manuscript for an academic journal and start applying for jobs. There isn't much in Canada for jobs in my field. There seems to be more in the U.S., so that is what I am looking at. The job applications take a long time to do, but if it gets me a job, I'll be happy.

Tonight is Club Night for the Calgary Road Runners, so I'm going to go join up with my running buddies for a run, followed by some beverages at the pub.

Oh yeah, and I'm starting to put together a training plan that will hopefully see me go the distance. It's time, folks...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Maritime bliss - friends, food, running and fun

Pre-race Report

As many of you know, the main reason I came to PEI was to work with my Ph.D. supervisor, who relocated to the island this past summer. About a week prior to my departure I sent him 150 pages of draft chapters of my thesis for us to discuss during the trip. His feedback has been very valuable and has moved me forward a great deal with my study.

He and his wife hosted me during my stay, which was delightful. They are generous and kind hosts. I have eaten more fish, scallops, crab and lobster since I arrived than I have in the past decade, I daresay, and I've savoured every bite of it!

The fact that I got to run a race while I have been here is just a bonus. And since this is mostly a running blog, I'll keep most of the post about that. I could rave on about the seafood, but for folks back in Cow Town, that would just be cruel and unusual punishment, as good seafood is hard to come by at reasonable prices in most corners of Calgary, I find.

The day before the race, my supervisor's wife took me out in the family car for a survey of the race route. Apart from the foot trails, we drove the entire course and that got me pumped. I find it adds a lot to my race experience when I know what to expect along the course. It adds a degree of psychological comfort that makes the run much better, I find.

I wondered how all those scallops that topped my pasta bowl the night before the race would sit in my tummy, but that did not stop me from devouring them. Oh, right. I promised not to go on about the seafood.

Moving along...

Race morning brought a delightful surprise.

As I was heading into the race headquarters to drop my bag I heard someone call my name. I turned around to look and a woman about my age screamed something to the effect of "Oh my, God! It's you!!"

I looked at her. Blankly. I don't know anyone on PEI and anyone I know through contacts isn't around my age.

She said, "It's Rosanne, from Halifax!"

Rosanne, from Halifax, was one of my closest friends from childhood. After graduating from high school, we went to different universities and all but lost contact, except for Christmas cards and Facebook.

Of course by then, it had all clicked. We quickly established that she and her husband had decided at the last minute to come from Halifax for the weekend and visit his parents, who live in Charlottetown. She had remembered that she'd seen a status line on Facebook saying I was going to run the race and decided on a whim to come and look for me.

I was flabbergasted. We hadn't seen each other in 20 years and she decided to get up early on a Sunday morning and, as she put it "try and look for my needle in a haystack". If you've ever tried to find someone at a major race, you know it is possible, but not always easy. Try adding 20 years of not seeing one another, and one of you having no idea that the other was looking for you, and the chances diminish a bit.

She said she recognized me from behind, as I was about to enter the building where the headquarters were. I laughed. Now there's proof, after 20 years, that running keeps more than your spirits from drooping.

We both found ourselves in tears at our unexpected reunion and I quickly got her phone number so I could call her after the race and we could catch up properly. With just a few minutes to spare, I hit the bathroom and then made my way to the start line, full of the usual pre-race emotions, and also with elation and surprise about seeing Rosanne.

Race Report - PEI Half Marathon - October 19, 2008

As for the race, I clocked my fastest time this year, but not my fastest time ever. Having said that, I can't complain.

First off, let me say that this is a beautiful race course. With ocean views, trails, bits that weave through gorgeous residential areas and give the runner a chance to see downtown Charlottetown, this definitely ranks among my favorite races ever. The organization was outstanding and helpful volunteers who readily share their Maritime hospitality and generosity abound from the moment you get to race headquarters, at regular and short intervals along the course and again at the finish line. To add to that, the weather was perfect. Really, the conditions were ideal and I'd recommend this race wholeheartedly.

They say that you never know what to expect during a race and you hope that you face most of the potential "blips" in training so you figure out how to deal with them. I had a surprise yesterday that's never happened before.

I got the most spectacular calf cramp that came on slowly and built steadily until it peaked when, like a lightening rod, it shot down my leg and through my foot, causing my toes to spasm shut. That part was instant - and immobilizing. I actually cried out in pain and had to stop. I tried to relax it and get the toes to unravel, but they wouldn't. It was like a car engine seized up at -40 degrees in the winter. Nothing moved.

I had to *sit down* on the side of the road, take off my shoe and manually uncurl my toes - while gasping and grunting and yet, sounding light and happy to other runners who asked if I was OK. I yelled back, "Yeah, it's OK. Just a cramp." Just. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, the toes spontaneously and involuntarily slammed shut again a few times before I could get them to stay flat long enough to get my shoe back on. Once it was back on, I thought, "Keep moving, or everything is going to cramp up." So, away I went - much slower than before. I thought I was well hydrated and followed the usual diet as closely as possible, not being at home, so who knows what happened. Whatever it was, I am quite sure it had nothing to do with the scallops the night before. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Apart from that, it was a good race and I enjoyed it.

Rosanne was waiting for me at the finish line with a big smile and a hug. I quickly retrieved my bag from the drop and wrapped in the silver emergency blanket that volunteers draped around each runner after the timing chips were retrieved and medals were bestowed, Rosanne and I set off to break bread and catch up on the last two decades. We shared stories over lunch, as time melted away. Finally, it was time to go and, still nursing a cramp, I headed back to my host's home for a shower and to get ready for a dinner of lobster and crab.

There I go with the seafood again... What can I say? I'd take this trip over a holiday to a tropical resort any day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I've been tagged by She Who Makes Waves. I need to come up with six random thing about myself and tag a few others. Here goes:
  1. My favorite candy is Smarties. When I was a kid one of my siblings told me they'd make me smart, so I ate them any chance I could get. Guess it worked. I'm doing a PhD. And I still like Smarties.
  2. I once saw Elton John perform at an outdoor concert in Madrid. That is the only time I have attended a concert held at a bull-fighting ring.
  3. I'm 5'1". There are ladders or step stools on every floor of my house. I use at least one every day for something or other.
  4. When I was 21 I was hit by a car while walking through a cross walk. It didn't break any bones, but the doctors said if I'd been taller, the impact would have shattered my femur. Yaay for being short.
  5. I lost all sensation on the outside of my right hip after that accident. You could have drilled a hole in my leg and I wouldn't have noticed. 15 years after it happened, I started seeing a chiropractor. After two visits, the nerves "woke up" and now function just fine. I had failed to tell him about the nerve damage since by then it was "normal" for me and it never occurred to me to mention it.
  6. I have a full birth brother, 5 years younger than me, who was given up for adoption at birth. We were reunited with him nine years ago and have become good friends since.
I'm tagging:
Local runner, Karen
Local runner, Dawn
My good friend from university and brand-new baby blogger, Claire
Another fellow Maritimer and runner, Robb
Runner and artist, Angie

Thursday, October 09, 2008

10 days to the PEI half!

On October 19 I'll run in the Prince Edward Island half marathon. I'm so pumped about this I hardly have words. I don't really know why... It's not my first half. I'm not expecting it to be my fastest. My trusty friend A. won't be there to hand me a razor blade at the end to lance my blood blister. I have no idea why I'm so excited. But I am.

Maybe it's the thought of being back in my beloved Maritimes for the first time in 14 years. Or the fact that I'm pretty darned sure the heat won't get to me. Or that I'm trundling off to the island with a draft of *4* chapters of my thesis with me. (No guarantee on the quality. It is most likely all rubbish and I'll be told so by my supervisor.)

Training has been going well. I am really enjoying the Tuesday night speed work with the Calgary Road Runners. This week Karen was there and we paced and motivated each other well. I had a blast. This week we did a pyramid in minutes - 2-4-6-8-4-2, with rest in between. On three of them we were clocked in under a 9:00-minute mile. Wowee!

The leaves have mostly all fallen off the trees here and I have been wearing gloves this week. Fall is definitely here. Love this time of year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zooming along

Yesterday I went out for the Tuesday night speed work session with the Calgary Road Runners. I have come to look forward to Tuesday nights and I am enjoying getting to know people in the group.

Last night we did 2 x 2miles, along with a warm up and cool down. I ran hard. Nearly puked my guts out. It was most excellent.

Today I was too tired to run, but my yoga class started up again for the fall and I thoroughly enjoyed that.

The writing is coming along. I have finished a first draft of my Analysis chapter - emphasis on the "draft". But it is something to start with. I started the Discussion of the Results. I've got a basic framework for the chapter sketched out and 16 pages of notes to get me going. I am determined to have a draft ready for when I meet with Tim. I question myelf along the way, but that is part of the process, I suppose.

In general, I am working hard and enjoying every second of it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I'm going to see a man about a thesis

Thanks for all the feedback on the heart rate monitor. I asked around at the U of C Fitness Centre, too, and I think I'm going to go with the idea that it was interference. Apparently Garmins can pick up the heart beats of people around you. So, if you are running shoulder to shoulder with someone, it can pick up both people's heart beats. Since both of you may have a heart beat at nearly the same moment, that would register as a single beat. The ones that are out of synch get registered individually, so the oveall HR seems to go up.

Apparently there can also be interference from external factors, too.

Since I felt just fine (well, you know... "interval fine", if that makes sense), I'm not going to worry about it.

This week I got some great news. As you know, my supervisor and his family moved to Canada's east coast this summer so he could take a job at the University of Prince Edward Island. He's still going to supervise my thesis and see me through to the end, but it'll be at a distance.

We thought it would be beneficial if we could meet in person to go over some of what I'd written. He and his wife offered me their guest room and meals, if I could get myself down there. I have a room mate now and she would look after the house and the cats while I'm gone.

This week I met with the Vice Dean of the faculty. She was happy to hear that my research work is progressing and thought that it would certainly be beneficial if I could spend some time with Tim in person going over what I'd done so far. And so, she agreed to support the endeavour by supplying the plane ticket.

How lucky am I?!

This means I've got to work like a maniac and write as much as humanly possible before I meet with Tim next month. It will likely be my only opportunity to have face time with my supervisor before the defense, and I want to make the most of it.

It just happens that while I'll be there, it's a big race weekend. I may just have to round out the season with a little run on the island.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must return to my thesis... :-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Racing heart

Well, folks, no sooner had I said that I'd never done 400s or 800s than I went out for a run with the Calgary Road Runners and we did -- 6 x 800s. It was great fun! I did feel like I was going to puke, but I pulled back just enough to stave that off.

When I got home and plugged in my Garmin, I got a heck of a surprise though. Yes, this was the fastest I have worked this year. That's all well and good. The overall pace was about race pace for me. My average overall heart rate was 155, which is lower than what I race at. I usually sustain an average heart rate of about 163 for over two hours in a half marathon, with a maximum HR around 181. Is that normal for a 37-year old?

I'm asking because tonight my maximum heart rate varied from 182 to... get this: 226. WTF???

Twice before I've clocked a max HR at 255, but I assumed the Garmin malfunctioned for a second or two. But tonight I saw the max HR change for each interval and for three of the six intervals, it maxed out over 200 - once at 200, once at 202 and once at 226. I backed off a bit for the last three and maxed out in the 180s.

My resting HR, from what I can figure, is about 59 or so. My blood pressure is generally on the low side of normal... 111/70 or so is about average for me. I had my annual physical in May and I'm fit as a fiddle. And I feel great - especially since I finished off the Accutane earlier this month.

So, running friends, what do you think? Was it a Garmin malfunction? Should I try again next week and see if it continues? Should I go to the doctor, go directly to the doctor, not pass Go and not collect $200?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Speedy thoughts

What does it take to be fast? How do you get faster?

These are questions I have been asking myself lately. I've spent the year building miles - safely and injury free. I've also been thrilled this year that I haven't puked once, either in training or racing. I've come close, but I haven't crossed the line this year, so I'm getting the nutrition and hydration issues under control.

My mind wanders to the next challenge... getting faster. I've been scouring websites reading all about speed workouts, most of which boggle my mind. I've never done any workout with the numbers "400s" or "800s" in it. I monitor my stats on my Garmin, but I wouldn't have the foggiest idea how (or where?) to go run 400s. Is that even important for an aspiring marathoner?

Is it mental? Bio-mechanical? Genetic? All of the above?

What percentage of time can you expect to shave off a race with speed work (once you figure out how to do it)?

So many questions... Very little in the way of answers.

Let's be clear though... It's not that I think faster runners are better. It's that I am a challenge junkie and this is my next challenge. For now.

Sigh. If only I'd been born Jamaican. Ya, mon.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Canmore Rocky Mountain Half Marathon Report

Race report

What a fantastic race I had today! The weather had a fall crispness to it that I just love and the course was, bar none, the most breathtaking I've ever experienced.

Here's me at the start line. Don't I look happy?

I had previewed the course a few weeks ago and as always, that made a huge difference. I knew the second half of the course was all hills.

I had two non-time related goals for this race:
1) Run the whole thing.
2) Run according to how I felt (listen to the body).

The first goal was not achieved; but that's mostly because the second goal was achieved.

The first 10 km, was the fastest I've ever done, faster even than my one 10 km race, which was run at sea level this May in Vancouver. That was the only time I looked at my watch and I thought, "Holy moly, if I can keep this up, I'll have a PR!"

But it was not to be. The rolling switchback hills in the second half reduced me to a walk at times. My Garmin later told me that my average HR through the race was 166, with a max of 181. I felt great the whole way through, but it was the fastest HR I've ever had during a race. That max was pretty near 100% for me, I figure. I worked hard and felt great. It was my fastest race time this year!

The course was spectacular - mountain views, a gorgeous river, green grass. Wow. At about kilometre 16 we were running along a river path and saw three large animals crossing the river.

Now, mountain friends, don't laugh, but they were too far away and the sun was at an odd angle, so I wasn't sure if they were moose or elk, though I'm opting for the latter. Anyway, they were big. Runners were pointing, gasping and making "Oh wow!" comments. It was a very special moment.

As for my time, I've now run 5 half marathons. Today's time was right smack in the milddle of them. Given the hills, the Accutane I was taking all through my training and most of all, the fact that I ran hard and still finished without puking, I was very happy with it. I wasn't expecting a PR today, though I do think that there will be more hill training in my future. One day I hope to conquer the hills, not the other way around.

Oh yeah, and see that finish line photo? I managed to keep my shirt on! That's also a first, I'll have you know. It was mostly because I was too busy enjoying the scenery and the race itself.

I started out wearing a tank top today, but changed to a t-shirt after we arrived in Canmore, since we could see our breath in the morning air. It all worked out just fine, eut I have a new race rule: If it's above the freezing mark, I wear a tank top.

Fun with A.

As many of you know, my friend A. appointed herself my crew member for my first half marathon in July 2007. She's been with me at every half since. I know, I know. Half marathoners don't need crewing. But it's not like I'm going to say no!

She doesn't run. In fact, she hates running. And yet, she hauls her butt out of bed at ungodly hours voluntarily to be there for me during races. I got a chance for some payback this June when she asked me to be her maid of honour when she got married. I joked then that I finally got a chance to crew for her. As far as I can figure, planning a wedding is somewhat akin to training for a distance race. The big day isn't that different from race day. Except you look a whole lot prettier throughout, and you finish up married, of course.

Here are a couple of priceless moments from today:

Anecdote #1: During the drive to Canmore, which takes just over an hour from my place, I got a pep talk from my dear friend, who is a high-powered labour relations officer by day. The pep talk included advice like "Just say to yourself, 'I know it's hard. Now get on with it! You're not here to slack off. Go harder!'" Gotta love friends who are blessed with the gift of inspirational words.

Anecdote 2: After changing into a T-shirt, and doing some general dithering, I said to A. "I know, I know... runners are neurotic."

She laughed and replied, "Not runners, Sarah. Just you!"

As we were in the high school gym before the race, I pointed out that most of the runners it the room were fussing with something or another - shoes, race numbers, etc. Really, aren't we all a little neurotic? (Someone please agree with me here!)

Anecdote #3: After the race, we were at the car and I was taking care of my foot. Unfortunately, I got a blister on my bunion that bled and soaked through to my shoe. Oh well. So it goes. There we were inspecting it with A. making comments such as, "Oh, that doesn't look bad at all! It looks pretty good really! It's usually way worse than that!"

I couldn't help thinking that two people inspecting a bleeding foot could assess its state relative to other times it has gushed with blood. Now isn't there something just a little bizarre about that?

Anecdote #4: We went back to the gym for some post race refreshments. I was stretching and I said to A., as we nibbled on cookies, "You know, I feel great! I know this sounds sadistic, but I feel like I could go for a run right now."

She looked at me and snorted, saying, "Yeah, OK, whatever. Keep stretching."

Ah, blessed moments with good friends,no?

Meeting She Who Makes Waves

For the third time this summer, I've met bloggers at races. First it was Michelle and Eric at the Death Race. Then I met Leana at the Stratmore Women's Tri where I was cheering on friends and today I met She Who Makes Waves.

In a brilliant moment of post-race delirium I introduced her to my friend by the wrong name (Duh!), but it got better from there and she has pictures of us on her blog, so stop by and visit. What a bright bundle of energy she is!

Other tidbits

I ran into one of the trainers from my gym at a coffee shop after the race. Again, in another moment of stellar social grace, we hugged each other and I gasped with envy saying, "You've had a shower! You smell great!"

She confessed that yes, she had had a shower where she's stayed over night. We chit chatted and congratulated each other on our races. Later all I could think was, "Inside voice, Sarah. Inside voice!"

Other than that, I don't really have much to report. I had a blast. I am grateful for a fantastic race experience.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Can't believe summer's almost over!

Well, here it is Labour Day weekend. What a fantastic summer it's been! Running, hiking, Death Racing, weddings, parties, friends, family, travel, bear sightings, camping and general mischief.

Yee haw! This has been one of the best summers I've had in a long, long time.

To go hand in hand with that, my thesis work ambles along at a respectable rate. My data have been collected and the interviews have been transcribed. I've conferred with those I've interviewed to ensure they're OK with what was said. I've begun to categorize and analyze the data and I'm enjoying this more than I anticipated, which is a blessing.

I've been reading and actually understanding much of what I read, at least to some extent. That is major progress, let me tell you.

I've been organizing my work and writing like a madwoman. And I love it! Every second of it.

This is the fun part of grad school. Someone said to me (or I read it somewhere, I can't remember) that a thesis is the largest piece of self-indulgent work a person will likely ever do. I confess that I enjoy this aspect of the work.

Every one has different points of challenge on the grad school journey. For some, it is the writing. It can be an agonizing process that never seems to come together. But I kind of feel like I'm finally in my element. The courses, for me, were tough - especially the stats course. The exams were do-able and I felt OK about them. Now I'm into the fun stuff! I feel like I'm gaining momentum, clarity and purpose.

As for running, I had an easy week last week. I finally got back to the gym and started lifting again, so I'm alternating running with cardio work in the gym and weights. It feels like going home.

I helped Karen out at last weekend by volunteering at the Robert Hamilton Memorial Race last weekend. It was a blast! It's a small race and it has a friendly feel about it. I worked the finish line with "old school" timing - no chips! Another volunteer and I worked a computer (looked much like a calculator) to time people as they crossed the finish line.

I've registered for another half marathon, too. I know, I know... I said I was going to take a break from racing. But I've just been having so much fun I thought, "Why not?!" I've scoped out the course... flat for the first 10 K and then continuously rolling bike paths and well-groomed trails for the second half. Because of the hills in the second half, I won't kill myself trying to get a PR on this one. I just want to go run in the beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountains and have some fun.

Besides, on Labour Day Monday I'll take my last dose of Accutane. That is worth celebrating, for sure. It has worked to some extent. I would say that the side effects have been worth it, but I will be happy to be done with it.

Not that I'll need them for the race, as most of it is paved, but guess what I indulged in? My first pair of trail runners! I tested them out last weekend on a hike with my friend, A. God, they're beautiful! They felt like slippers. I tried on a few pairs and these were not as stiff as some of the other models. I liked that my foot still felt connected to the ground and I could feel a lot in them. The other ones I tried on felt a bit heavy and clunky, but these? These are divine.

We plan on doing another hike this weekend. Then I think I'll find a good trail somewhere and go test them on a run.

The days are getting shorter and there's a certain chill in the air that tells us that autumn is edging its way to our doorstep. The freshness is invigorating. I look forward with joy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The shedding of shackles

The last two weeks have been nothing but fun and excitement, coupled with a feeling of accomplishment, peace and happiness.

Something happened at that Death Race. Maybe it was the gruelling 22 km leg. Maybe it was being in the woods, often alone, in the dark. Maybe (and I suspect mostly) that I had no idea I was going to do it and I pulled it off with about 24 hours of prep time.

I expected to feel a sense of having done well after it. What I didn't expect was that it would become an experience that would mark my life in a way that only select other experiences have.

In the past two weeks, and particularly this past week, I have smashed so many personal barriers I have astonished myself.

On Monday I went hiking with two co-workers. As we were driving there, we saw a grizzly on the side of the road, which was kind of cool. Then we started on our hike and saw another grizzly on the trail! I've never encountered a bear before. I was more startled than anything. The bear, an adolescent we figured, was enjoying a breakfast of mountain berries. We made noise. The bear ran off. We made more noise and waited, going back up the trail after a few minutes.

The bear had returned. Although it was more interested in Mother Nature's buffet and not us smelly humans, we took it as a sign that it was time to turn around and head back to the car. On the way home we saw two more bears, a cub and a mama, also feeding on berries. Here's a picture (taken from the safety of the car, of course) of one of the bears we saw.

We all agreed that we were probably a little less scared than we really should have been. Despite the noise we made and being a little taken aback, none of us had panicked. I never felt like we were in real danger, though the situation could have turned out very differently if the bear had been spooked or felt threatened. I was amazed by my own sense of calm under the circumstances.

The next day, the first time in over a year of being a member of a local running club, I actually made it out to run with them. This past Tuesday I went for a run with the Calgary Road Runners.

I've never run with them before. Despite loud and emphatic claims to the contrary, I always felt I was never good enough to run with a group; that I'd hold someone back; that people would silently grumble about how I was too slow. Members I knew tried to drag me out, kicking and screaming. I'd never go, opting instead to pound it out on the pavement alone, where I had no one to disappoint but myself.

The block was mental, of course. I went out. I ran mostly with Karen, whose pace is similar to mine. She was high off her first triathlon experience a few days prior and her usual exuberance for life was at full throttle. Running with her was thoroughly enjoyable. We ran. We walked. We chatted. We laughed. I had a spectacular time. I will do it again soon.

I had run from my house to the meet-up spot with the group, which meant I had to run home. On the way back, I had another small victory. To get to my house from Edworthy park involves a choice of hills, either a super steep foot path followed by flat parking lot or a hilly road about a kilometre (0.7 mi) that causes many cyclists and runners alike to pant. I've never been able to run up either without stopping. That night, I ran up the road without stopping to walk once. It was slow. And it was victorious.

Yesterday I went to Canmore to check out the route for a half marathon I'm toying with the idea of doing. I ran with a girl from work who is a varsity track athlete. She offered to run the course with me. I wanted to go with her, as I enjoy her company, but I was intimidated. She's very fast and I didn't want to hold her back. She was nonchalant and said she didn't care if we ran or walked, that it would be fun.

She was right. We did start out way too fast for me, even though it was very slow for her. I ended up with a grumpy gut (solved by a quick trip to an out house along the way) and we walked a lot at the end, but never mind. It was a beautiful day in the mountains and I enjoyed myself immensely.

And so, I topped out the week with record high mileage. I have never been able to make it to a 30-mile /50 km week before, despite sometimes having long runs as much as 15 miles / 24 km. I woud either bonk, miss a run (or two) or just somehow didn't make it. Deep down, I was totally intimidated by such distance, despite the fact that in the distance running world, that's not exactly high mileage and really, if I want to do a marathon one day, I should put in weeks like that on a regular basis.

But mentally, I just had a block. I couldn't. Not capable. I'd get injured. I'd vomit all week. There would be too much pain. Too afraid. No. Couldn't.

I was wrong. I could. I did. I will again.

Yes, my knees are tired. And one Achilles needs a bit more rest than the rest of my body, but I didn't get injured. And I didn't get sick once.

In fact, I can't remember the last time I had a week full of so much fun, socializing and good times during my training. Those barriers were real. And now they're gone, dissolved quietly and unassumingly by confidence that burst forth from somewhere deep inside. Confidence that was not there before the Death Race. I am sure this high will not last forever, but I will ride the wave as long as it lasts.

And in my non-running life, I have hammered through the draft of most of a chapter of my thesis since returning from Grande Cache. It is only a first draft and it needs a lot of work. But it'll be done by the end of next week, ready to send to my supervisor for review. Success in one area feeds success in the other, I have found.

In case you're wondering, I have not let my ego go on a complete rampage. I'll have an easy running week next week, giving the knees and Achilles a chance to rest and allow my body to adapt the demands I placed on it these past couple of weeks. I will spend the extra time focussed on my thesis, polishing it as much as I can.

It would appear that the Death Race gave me somewhat of a new lease on life.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Death Race 2008 - Race report

Canadian Death Race 2008 - Leg 5 - 22 km of trail, with 2500 feet of elevation change, includes crossing a river. All done in the dark of night.

On race day, I headed into town with my brother, who was marshaling on Leg 2 of the race. He met with his team and I headed to the start line to find the team I was subbing in for. I said hello to all of them and watched their Leg 1 runner set off with the gun. I also saw Eric and Terry as they headed off onto their epic solo journeys.

After the start I went for coffee with Michelle. My one regret of the weekend was that I didn't get to run with her. The day after the race I was a bit too tuckered and I'm not crazy enough to go for a supplementary run on race day. So instead we had coffee and went shopping (for running gear, of course!) It felt like chatting with an old friend, as we talked about our families, our bodies (you know... weight, injuries, etc.) our lives and of course, running. Well, in fact, mostly about running!

I have been debating about doing a marathon this year. I really want to. Between weddings and travel, I haven't gotten my long runs in. I could probably do it. The reality is that the chances of injury or re-injury are high and my endurance is not what it should be for a marathon. But I really, really want to.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I have a powerful ego. It needs to be tamed. Wanting to is not enough. At least... not for me. Not any more. I want to do this strong, or not at all.

Talking with Michelle re-assured me that maybe it is OK not to do a marathon in one's second year of running... maybe it is OK to just keep running halfs (or would that be "halves"?)... maybe it is OK to take my time to build a base... maybe it is enough to run for the love of it without being obsessed by an all-encompassing goal.

Many things she said resonated with me deeply. I wished we could have talked all day. But she was on crew duty and I desperately wanted to sleep before my leg of the race started. She drove me back to the camp site and we promised to meet again later.

Aaron came back from marshaling in the late afternoon. This is a helluva guy, let me tell you. He is not a runner and he doesn't "get" running, but he still got out there and volunteered. He had to hike 6 km (almost 4 miles) up a mountain to get to his post. And then it rained most of the day. Cold, mountain rain.

He arrived back at camp in need of a hot shower and some food, both of which were quickly arranged. We ate and he told me about his experiences of seeing people wipe out on a steep drop, with mud flying everywhere, of a solo runner who decided to drop out at that point and surrendered his timing stick to Aaron, of runners who were kind and expressed thanks to the volunteers, of other runners who were cranky and downright rude. I think he had the full meal deal of volunteering in his first time at a race.

As we were eating, Aaron asked me, "So, tell me... Do you honestly think you can do this?" I answered yes, saying that I had run several half marathons already, that I had started training for a marathon and I had done some longer distance runs, that I was strong, uninjured and in decent shape. I would be fine.

At least, that's what I desperately wanted to believe. It's what I had to believe.

Aaron took me at my word, which helped keep me calm, in a bizarre sort of way. He then pulled out his Garmin, which is different from a running Garmin. It's for trekking and plotting courses. Aaron is an experienced outdoors man and he not only knows how to read topographical maps, use a compass and program his GPS device, he can cross-reference the data from all three of those tools to know exactly where he is at any point in time. And failing that, he has a wicked sense of direction and highly developed orienteering skills. His GPS is a high end model that gives all kinds of information. He plugged in some information and promptly announced that there would be no moon that night, so it would be very dark. He wasn't wrong.

After eating, I went back to resting, trying to mentally prepare. I was anxious. I usually take about 2 weeks to prepare for a half marathon, starting with a taper, getting lots of sleep, eating clean and doing lots of mental preparation. I thought that agreeing to run Leg 5, with no preparation was a bit insane, but I had accepted the challenge and wanted to run for this team.

There are times when the previously mentioned ego can actually come in handy.

Besides, I couldn't help thinking about Eric and Terry and the other 200 plus soloists out there on the course, doing the whole thing. I only had to do one leg of it. Who was I to be fretful?

Suddenly, it was time to leave. I found myself in gear I'd never run in before... A head lamp, a second head lamp that would go around my waist (and later be moved up to my chest where it sat at a better angle), and the yellow safety goggles I'd bought on my shopping trip with Michelle.

At a few minutes to 10:00 p.m. we arrived the hand off point for Leg 5 where we ran into my team captain. We also saw Michelle, who was waiting for Eric. I saw Terry pass through the soloist check point and we hollered and waved at him. He was munching on a snack, but found time to smile and wave back.

At about 10:45 the team captain received a phone call from another team member who was watching from a few kilometres away. Our Leg 4 runner was on her way in.

I met her at about 11:00 p.m. where she passed on the timing stick and the coin. Off I went.

The trees were marked with little reflective white dots, as well as orange ribbons. The ribbons were harder to see in the dark. And by then, it was dark.

I am quite ashamed to admit that despite living in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, with a beautiful outdoors, I have failed to really take advantage of that. I have come to appreciate the outdoors through running, but the reality is that I have very little experience in the mountains. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been hiking in my life.

This was my first mountain camping trip and, as Aaron pointed out during our drive, the furthest north I've ever been.

I had never run in a relay race before, except for mandatory sports days in elementary school.

I had never run on a trail before, unless you count the odd park path in the city that is not paved.

And I most certainly had never run in the pitch black with a head lamp before.

I ran. I walked. And I crawled. I slid down muddy hills and fell - numerous times - over tree roots, rocks and trees that had fallen across the path. There was at least one hill that was steep enough and muddy enough that I went up it on all fours.

I tried to run as much as I could, but when I did, I found things to trip on. The "marathon shuffle" doesn't work so well on the trails, at least, not for me. I ended up settling into more of a fast, waddling walk that I told myself was probably a lot like race walking.

I was slow and hence, alone on the trail much of the time, except when I was passed by other, faster runners who actually knew what the hell they were doing. I later found out that Leslie, an experienced trail runner from Banff whom I'd met the day before, had also subbed in as a Leg 5. She told me that there is definitely a technique to trail running and it takes a while to get the hang of it. No kidding.

But the hardest part was definitely what was inside my head. I knew we were in bear country... cougar country... probably even wolf country.

Thoughts of Terry and Eric occupied my mind. They, and the other soloists, would have been out there for hours already, when they got to this mine field of tree roots. How do they do it, I wondered, as I slammed into a hanging bush, suddenly thankful for my safety goggles.

I found myself hooting and hollering along the trail, as much to alert any wildlife as to make myself feel stronger. I remembered someone telling me once that people who study martial arts are instructed to yell as part of their training. Tribal warriors shout and chant. Those who serve in the military learn to use their voices in their training, too. I wanted to feel strong, so bellowed out loudly to whoever was there to hear me.

At the one aid station along that Leg, a volunteer was trying to direct me where to go and said, "Run towards my safety vest!"

I yelled back, "Yaay! A safety vest! Safety vests are sex-ay!" All the volunteers laughed at that one. Their laughter perked me up considerably.

I lost all sense of time and distance. My Garmin cut out periodically and eventually stopped working. Aaron told me later it was due to heavy tree covering. Most of the time I had no idea how far I'd run or how much further there was to go. I was completely disoriented, adding to my anxiety. At the same time, I was grateful for gorgeous weather and clear skies. It was pretty much a roller coaster of emotions.

At about halfway, there's a major river crossing. Runners are given a coin at the beginning of the race. In the relay, the coin, along with the timing chip, are passed from runner to runner. At the "ferry crossing" (a speed boat), you must surrender your coin to the ferryman in order to buy your passage to the other side. I gave him my coin, knowing intellectually that the boat was about 10 km into my 22 km leg. But it didn't feel that long, but I couldn't really tell.

I got to the other side and kept going, not really believing that I'd already done about half of the leg. At another check point, there was a volunteer under a canopy, tucked into a sleeping bag, next to a small fire. He told me that there was 8 km left.

I thought, "5 miles? That can't be right. He must be lying to us to motivate us. I bet there's really 14 km left."

I was told later that he was not lying. My own perception of distance travelled had failed me in terrain I didn't know, with no changing light of day to guide me as to how long I'd been out there.
When I finally got on the road back into down I felt deliriously happy. Finally, a road! I ran with all I had left. And it felt great!

I crossed the finish line to find my brother waiting for me, with long pants and a warm jacket ready for me, bless his heart.

We found Michelle and Leslie and waited for Eric to come in. Not long after, Terry came by, having already finished the race, showered and changed. He wanted to see Eric finish, too.

I felt a deep sense of awe and profound respect when I saw Eric approach the finish line. I spent most of my leg of the race completely and utterly terrified, unexpectedly disoriented and so clumsy on the trails I staggered around like I was drunk. And there was Eric, crossing the finish line looking strong, talking in full sentences and more than ready to accept a celebratory kiss from Michelle. What a guy.

After that Aaron and I headed back to camp. I had a nice, hot shower and crawled into my sleeping bag. The next day we got up in time to volunteer for the kids' 5 km race, where we were both marshaling.

We ran into one of the members of the team I ran for. She seemed really happy with my time, and that made me feel great.

All in all, it was an experience rich with emotions. Mostly terror. But there were some others mixed in there, too, for good measure.

Would I do it again?

Hell, yeah!

In fact, Michelle mentioned something in passing about forming a team for next year...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Death Race 2008 - Pre-race report

This is a long, amazing, thrilling story, so I will divide it into 2 parts.

As you know, I spent the weekend in Grande Cache, Alberta, with my brother, Aaron. Our plan was to do some camping and volunteer at the Canadian Death Race, a 125 km adventure race which involves summitting 3 mountain peaks and crossing a major river. Between us, our job assignments were course marshal, course sweeper, announcer and back-up relay runner, though I really didn't expect to be called on for that.

I was also looking forward to meeting Eric, who was doing the race solo, and his lovely wife, Michelle, both of whom I've known for some time via our blogs, but had never met in person.

We drove almost 7 hours to get there. Along the way, we saw two bears. One was a black bear that, unfortunately for him, was road kill when we spotted him.

Not so with the young grizzly that we saw just a few kilometres outside the town itself. That bear was also heading away from the road towards the bushes as we drove along the highway. We also saw elk and a few deer on our drive, too.

Just before we hit Edson, my cell phone rang. It was the race director, asking if I was still willing to be a back up racer for a team. I answered yes, without even thinking about it.

She told me I'd be running Leg 5 and I was to check in at Command Central for the race upon arriving at Grande Cache. I hadn't really expected to be called upon as a back up racer, and I didn't really know what to expect. All I knew was that after teams had registered, they couldn't add their own substitutes. So if a team member couldn't make it, their choices were for someone else on the team to pick up an extra leg, to forfeit completely or to accept a back-up runner assigned by the race director. I had just been asked to be one such runner.

We stopped at Edson for a quick break. By the time I'd made it through the 30-minute line-up at Tim Horton's, it had all sunk in and I was psyched! We looked through our race materials and figured out that I'd be running the last leg, which was 22 km during the night. I started wondering what it would be like to run at night on a trail and tried to mentally prepare.

We got to Grande Cache and went straight to the municipal camp ground where things went better than we could have dreamed. Not only did they let us camp there, which was a blessing, considering they were full and people were pitching tents any old place, because it was so full, they gave us a proper camp spot that had been booked by a worker who had left for the weekend. They said they were pretty sure he wouldn't be back and all his stuff was gone, so they let us stay there. We ended up with a beautiful camp site with a picnic table; cast iron fire pit with a grill and a hot plate; and on-site running water. Best of all, it was a stone's throw from the camp's bathrooms with hot showers and flush toilets. And there was free firewood included with the price. Score!

We set up camp and headed into town to check it out, find the hockey rink and recreation centre, which were the centre of activity for the weekend. It was also where I had to pick up my race kit.

When we got to Command Central, the race director was on the phone for a long time, pacing the bleachers of the hockey rink. She later told us that the tables and chairs for the runners' pasta dinner had not shown up and she was trying to find out where they were. In a few hours she was going to have about a 1000 hungry runners in the rink, looking for food.

She got things sorted and then turned her attention to me, only to tell me that the team who had requested a back up runner had decided to re-organize and no longer wanted a substitute runner.

Boy, was I disappointed. But oh well... You win some, you lose some. She did ask if another team needed a runner, would I still be willing? I said yes.

My cell phone had lost all reception in the mountains, but my brother's (from a different cell phone provider) still worked. She took his number and off we went.

Aaron looked at the map and just for fun, we went to check out the leg that I was supposed to have run, leg 5. This is an off-road race, so you can't really see much of the course from the highway, but we did see the hand-off point from leg 4 to leg 5. I was interested, but slightly miserable, since I'd gotten myself psyched up to run.

There was a meeting of the volunteers at 5:00 p.m. Aaron was scheduled to be a sweeper and I was scheduled to marshal and we were both slated to help out with the kids' race the day after the adult Death Race. We headed back to town for our meeting.

But before we went there, we drove around looking for the hotel where Eric and Michelle were staying. Couldn't find it, so we decided to head for the Legion, where the volunteer meeting was being held. Lo and behold, there was their hotel, tucked in behind the Legion.

I told Aaron we could just drop in on them for a minute to say hello, since I knew which room they were in. Aaron thought it was a bit weird that I'd call in, unannounced, on people whom I'd never met. He said, "You've never actually met them, right?"

I answered no, but we blogged together and we knew each other. Sort of. In cyber space.

I think he thought I was nuts, but he wasn't going to leave me alone to go into the hotel room of people I'd never met. He's my big brother, after all.

I knocked on their door and they were in! We exchanged greetings and hellos and they invited us in. We chatted for a while and I gave Eric some Canadian beer, saying we could toast to his success as a soloist when he was done.

Aaron was relieved to find out that not only were they normal people (or as normal as ultra runners can be), but they had excellent senses of humour and numerous stories to share. By the end of that visit, he took this picture of us in their room.

While we were there, his cell phone rang. He answered it and then passed it to me. It was the race director again. Another team needed a substitute runner. Was I still interested?

Hell, yeah!

Would I still do Leg 5? Yup!

So, the plan was for us to go to our volunteer meeting and then for me to go pick up my race number. We said quick good-byes to Eric and Michelle, saying we'd see them later on that same night, for the pre-race meeting at 8:30 p.m. and off we went to the volunteer meeting.

Just before it started, Aaron's cell phone rang again. It was the captain of the team I'd been assigned to. They had somehow found out we were at the volunteer meeting and had come over to meet me. They were in the lobby of the legion. I went out to meet, Fred, the team captain and Patty, who would be running Leg 4. It was great she was there, so we could recognize each other at hand-off time. We exchanged phone numbers and said we'd stay in touch.

I was elated. And I also felt a sense of responsibility to this team I'd never met. They paid a lot of money to take part in the Death Race. And it was likely that they'd been training for months. I had found out an hour before that I'd be on their team. It's not a lot of time to mentally prepare, but I wanted to do it.

At the volunteer meeting we found out that Aaron had also been re-assigned. He'd been taken off as a sweeper and given the job of marshaling at the spot where I had originally been slated. My only job during the race was to be a back up runner, which was fine by me!

After that it was off to pick up my race number and ticket for the pasta dinner and go to the pre-race meeting. Aaron and I shared a plate of pasta, and we had dinner with Michelle, Eric and their friend, Terry, who'd also come up to run solo.

After that, it was back to the camp ground to get some shut eye for race day. Stay tuned for Part 2 with details...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Looking forward to the Death Race

Here I am, back again after another long hiatus, which included a trip to England to present at a conference related to my Ph.D. program and then a short visit with family. It was fantastic and I'm thrilled I got the chance to go.

But between travel and weddings, I must confess that I'm happy to return to a bit of a routine. Running has been nothing short of magnificent. I've been focussing on the heart rate training, as recommended by my chiropractor. It entails doing lots of miles, while keeping your heart rate in a particular zone. It has required a lot of patience and much more discipline than I ever imagined because it means going slowly. At times, it means slowing down to walk. And then perhaps walking even slower if there's a big hill involved.

The result? A complete absence of injury. A gut that has almost forgotten what it is like to be grumpy. And feet that are happy and for the most part, blister free. And my knees... well, they've become my new best friends. Even with the Accutane, my body seems to be able to handle what it does to my muscles and joints much better when I follow the heart rate training program. Did I mention that my mileage has sky rocketed? I can go longer both in time and distance and recovery seems easy - or at least, easier.

I rarely go out the door wondering if I'm going to puke when I come home. Imagine that! I just go run... and enjoy it. So, in case you think I haven't been running, think again! I'm putting in more miles and more training time than ever before - and loving every step of it. I have always loved running. Now to go along with that is a deep joy and relaxation that is free from anxiety.

I've decided to take some time off racing and build my base so that when I do my next race I'm really good and ready for it. But there is a race that is occupying my thoughts as of late. Next week my brother and I will head north, to Grande Cache, Alberta, to volunteer at the Canadian Death Race.

According to Google Maps, Grande Cache is a 7.5 hour drive from Calgary. We have managed to secure accommodations (yaay!) and we're pumped.

Apart from volunteering, I'm also looking forward to meeting Michelle, who will be supporting her hubby, Eric, as he endeavours to beat death in the Canadian Rockies. And hopefully we'll be able to toast with a Canadian (beer, that is) when he's done.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Long lost blogger returns!

So, after some prods that included lines like "I thought you might be coming to this conference, so I checked your blog, but of course it is out of date..." and "Where the hell are you? You haven't blogged in over a month!" I thought it was time to come back and let you know what I've been up to.

Sorry I was out of touch. I've been busy!

At the beginning of May, I went to Mexico to co-facilitate a 3-day workshop in Guadalajara on bilingual language programs. This was the contract I took on after leaving my other job at Christmas. I went down with the director from U of C. Our months of planning paid off, as did our long days while we were there. It was successful and now there is talk of establishing a formal memorandum of understanding between the two organizations.

After that, I took a few days to chill out with my friend, Cindy, a Canadian who now lives in Puerto Vallarta. We had a great weekend! We did a full-day boat tour that included a short hike. We saw two live Latin music concerts and hung out near the beach until sunset (photo below). It was fantastic.
Since I got home, I've been busy with maid of honour duties for my friend's wedding and connecting with my family on various things including my older brother's wedding next weekend and a trip to England in July.

Yup. I'm going to England again. This time, I am going to a conference first, and then spending a few days with my family. I was thrilled to find out I'd received funding to attend a major conference in my field in July. Being able to see my family again just makes it all the better.

Sandwiched in between the Mexico and England trips, there was a recent jaunt to Vancouver, where I attended another conference. Here's me with some other U of C students who were also there.

A few days before I headed to Vancouver, I also welcomed a new tenant/room mate into my home. Claudia is a civil engineer from Colombia who is here studying English. She moved in the day before I left for Vancouver. And I just returned yesterday, so we have hardly seen one another! I am looking forward to getting to know her.

And just so you don't think I've abandoned running altogether, I did a 10K run in Vancouver. Here's me with two other University of Calgary conference delegates who also took part in the run. In true Canadian style, we went to Tim Horton's for a coffee afterwards. Even though one is English and the other from Kosovo, they were game to uphold the venerable Canadian tradition of having coffee at Tim's, which I thought was admirable.

The run itself was beautiful and I must say that running at sea level was pure heaven. I am thinking that it would be delightful to run the marathon at sea level. Training for that is going well enough. We reduced the Accutane dosage and I'm tolerating it much better now. There's still muscle and joint pain, but I can manage it and that's good enough for me.

So, there you have it. Hence, I beg a thousand apologies for my truancy and promise to try to be more diligent in my blogging efforts. I'll be around to visit blogs soon. I've been wondering what you've all been up to, anyway.

But for now, I must be off. One of the duties of being maid of honour includes planning the bachelorette party. It's tomorrow and I have some ... er... "party favours" to go buy.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The best of times in the worst time

I ran the Calgary Police Half Marathon today! I think everyone was happy at the start line because it was the best day we've had weatherwise in a while. Yesterday was nice and much of the snow melted. By today, more of it was gone and for the most part, the race course was clear of ice and snow, except for one little patch going down quite a steep hill in a shady area of the park.

Before I get to the race report, I'll give a quick follow up to the last post. I had my monthly consultation with my doctor about the Accutane. I got to the point where I had made an executive decision that I was quite hesitant to tell the doctor about, figuring that it probably drives them nuts when patients do what I did, which was to adjust my own dosage. I cut it down by 1/3.

When I told her about the side effects, she nodded and said she had a lot of athletes, especially runners and dancers, who were particularly affected by the muscle and joint pain and some had to stop the meds altogether. Instead of being miffed with me she said, "Good, I'm glad you did that. If you need to reduce it even further, go ahead. Don't mess around with it, not this stuff."

I was happy and relieved to hear her say that! I was also quite pleased that she considers me one of her "athletes"! :-)

By cutting down the dosage by about 1/3, the pain was cut down by almost 2/3, or even 3/4. I still have other side effects and there's some pain, but I can live with it without daily doses of Ibuprofen just to get through the day, so I am much, much happier!

Due to the health issues that have popped up since January, and the fact that I had to take 7 weeks off running in February and March, my goal for this half marathon was to finish before they closed the course after 2.5 hours.

And to keep my shirt on.

Some of you know about my tendency to overheat. I have this tradition of ripping off my shirt part way through a race. I thought I'd start with as few clothes on as possible today and see how it went. It was around 3 C (37 F) when we started, I think. I was in shorts and a tank top and that was perfect for me. I am getting to know myself and my running style enough now to pay attention to what works for me and not just do what I think I "should" do.

I was the only person that I saw at the start line in a tank top, though by the end of the race, many people had stripped down and had layers tied around them. I did contemplate taking off my tank at one point, but then decided against it. I didn't think it would have made that much diference, so I opted not to.

The time I had to take off due to the infection in my foot affected my fitness and it was definitely my worst clock time ever. Having said that, it was also the best time I've had as far as enjoyment goes. I knew people who were running and we had agreed to try and meet up either before or after, to say hello and offer encouragement.

My friend Alia, who has supported me for every single half I've ever run, was at my house to pick me up at 6:50 a.m. She is now "experienced crew" and was offering some words of wisdom to the fiance of another friend who was running. It was the first race for both of them and I'm quite sure they appreciated her words of support.

In addition to the half marathon, there was also a 5 K race. I had heard that Dawn was running it, but I didn't see her there, despite keeping an eye out for her. I also learned later that Leana not only ran the 5 K, but she had a PR. Woo hoo! Way to go, Leana!

Leslie, a girl who works at the gym I go to, was running the 5 K as well. We had pre-arranged to meet up at a pub after for lunch, along with some others and that was something I was looking forward to.

Two other girls who work at the gym, Linsday and Nate came out to support the two of us. They ran with Leslie her for race, which started a half hour after the half marathoners, gave her a hug at her finish line and then ran backwards along the course to find me and ran with me for the last 12 K of my run!!

Essentially, they ran the entire half marathon course (in much less time than I did, I might add!) and they were not registered racers. Their entire purpose for being there, starting at 8:00 a.m. was to support the two of us. I was floored! In part, I thought it was nuts that anyone - much less two people - would do that. I don't train with either of them. Linsday is a high level track competitor and I'm quite sure that her warm up speed is faster than my speed work. Nate is a competitive swimmer who has also competed at high levels. Both of them are super, super fit and way, way out of my league!

They said it was fun for them because there was no "race pressure". They just came out and had a good time.

At km 15 or so, I had another nice surprise. I saw chalk writing on the pathways and thought to myself "Hhhmm... that's one of Karen's trade marks. But I don't think she's volunteering here today." She was not a registered volunteer, but went out to support people and cheer on runners. She strategically placed herself at the bottom of the most brutal hill of the race. I saw her and we had a quick hug before I tried to catch up to Lindsay and Nate again. I ended up walking part of the hill, but without the support, I'm sure I would have walked the whole thing. Many people did.

I was so grateful for Lindsay and Nate. The joint pain was getting to me in the second half of hte race. They ran, kept me talking (well, I listened more than talked, as I was quite out of breath) and cheered by saying stuff like "Look! We're at kilometre 17! Only 4 more to go! You can do it, Sarah!"

I'm not sure I would haved finished at all without all that today! So in that sense, it was definitely the best time I've ever had racing. I felt so supported and encouraged, I had a great time.

My clock time was my absolute worst ever, though I did meet my goal of finishing before they closed the course at 2.5 hours. I checked the Garmin stats when I got home. My average heart rate was a solid 160, with a maximum heart rate in the 170s. That's about what I've done in other races, so I know that I was pushing hard today. I was slow. And I gave it my all.

Despite the high heart rate, my gut behaved, which was also wonderful. I has some nausea during the race, but nothing serious. And after I had no issues at all, which made it even better.

My bunion got its usual big blood blister, but it didn't break during the race. I was able to lance it and patch it up after the race on my own. I decided that it's much better to do that than have it burst during the race.

I have always been grateful for the support I receive for races, especially from people like Alia who make a special effort to be there. I'm not exactly a high level athlete, but running is a big part of my life and it means a lot to me.

I have been an official, paid up member of a local running club for almost 2 years now. I've never really run with them, thinking that I was not good enough. It's a mental thing that I will work through.

Today helped push me a little further down that path. This is the first time that I've ever been at a race where I knew so many people, said hello to running friends, felt bad that I missed seeing others and had unprecedented levels of support and encouragement from friends - both old and new. I am starting to let go of the idea that I am not good enough and learn to enjoy running as both a fitness and social activity, without feeling too intimidated to associate with others who are more advanced than me. I told Lindsay and Nate that one of my running goals is now to get out and pace for and encoruage other runners when they need it, so I can pay their generosity forward.

Today was the worst clock time I've ever had. And the absolute best time I've ever had at a race! And managed to keep my shirt on, too. :-)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Running on "____tane"

Running on propane? Running on butane?


This post is all about running on Accutane. For those of you who aren't familiar with this little powerhouse, Accutane is a medication for the treatment of moderate to severe acne, which has been unresponsive to other treatments. Acne runs in my family. I've been lucky to avoid some of the deep scarring that others have, but nevertheless, the condition is unpleasant. In fact, it's painful. I've been on Accutane twice before, in my 20s. It worked wonders and I felt like a new human after it.

Ten years later, the acne is back. The stress of grad school does not help the situation. Two weddings coming up this summer, both of which will involve bare shoulders on my part, led me to ask the doctor what could be done. She suggested the same treatment as 10 years ago.

I said OK.

The medication works well, which is a good thing because not only is it expensive (thank God for student health insurance), but the side effects are extensive. You dry up like a prune. Your cholesterol levels can sky rocket and your liver takes a beating. No drinking for the entire 6 month course of the meds. No kidding.

The prescription is given a month at a time for half a year. Blood tests are required every month to check cholesterol and liver toxicity levels. If your levels are too high, your treatment plan for the next month may be revised.

It can cause night blindness, give you nose bleeds and make you depressed. They don't like to give the drug to women in their childbearing years, because if you get pregnant, the results can be devastating. This is nasty stuff. And that list of side effects? That's just the beginning.

Some might ask if this treatment is worth it. All I can say is that for anyone who has cystic acne, the answer is yes, or we wouldn't even take the damn stuff.

I've just finished month two of six. The first month was not so bad. In the second month, the drug is building up in your system. Both the dosage and the side effects increase. Thus far, April has been... unpleasant.

I was not so active in my 20s, so I didn't notice some of the other side effects; I mean, the joint and muscle aches. Everything hurts. All the time. Running? My legs feel like long shards of glass when I run on them. There is a line in the prescription insert that says, "If you break a bone, tell your doctor." My first reaction was, "Well, DUH! How would that not come up in conversation with your physician?"

I have discovered what my arthritic friends are already wise to. Pounding and impact make joints hurt more. Running has now come to include a lot of walking, I'm afraid. I have decided that miles walked still count. I never used to count walking. Now, if I don't, there wouldn't be much training at all... That doesn't make me a wimp, does it?

I know, I know. We are runners. Our bodies are going to hurt. I won't whine because I know it will get me nowhere.

This is when my diva drag queen of a hair dresser would say with much finger wagging and flair, "If you're looking for sympathy, it's in the dictionary - between 'shit' and 'syphillis'!"

And so, I look back to the first quarter of the year... skin infection, blood poisoning, warts. Lovely. That all got dealt with. Here we are in the second quarter of the year. Again I find myself dealing with a skin condition and treatment that affects my beloved version of plodding I like to call 'running'. Who knew skin stuff could be so complex?

I also look back some weeks when I tried an experiment of appreciation, being grateful for the many things that are going right in my life. I find comfort when I tally up my blessings. So I keep tallying.

And I look forward... a week and a half forward. I ask myself how I am ever going to run a half marathon at the end of April? My training runs haven't even come close to that distance lately. Should I even try?

Stay tuned for an answer...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

6-word memoir (Tag!)

Sarah tagged me!

Here are the rules:
1) Write your own six word memoir
2) Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you want
3) Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere
4) Tag at least five more blogs with links
5) Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

My memoir:

Belly laughs make life worth living.

I'm tagging Dawn, Karen, Leana, Michelle, and Robb

Friday, March 28, 2008

On becoming who we are

It's not often that I write a post that is a response to another post, but sometimes the topic warrants it. Karen wrote a post on labels and what it means to be a runner, a marathoner, etc. Her post was a response to Once a runner by Jon.

I had an interesting thing happen to me yesterday. As many of you know, about three years ago I set out on a journey to change my life. I started going to the gym and over the course of several months, lost more than 70 lbs.

I had to learn to deal with people asking me questions about how I did it, and in a few cases, if I'd had surgery. I found excessive compliments embarrassing. And I almost decked the guy who asked, "So is it all real? The weight loss? The boobs? I mean, you must have had surgery, right?"

The answers were simple - and very UNsexy. No surgery. No diets. Sensible eating. (The Canada Food Guide, to be exact. It's pretty boring - and it works.) And lots of physical activity. I have stretch marks and extra skin that are, as I like to put it, the price I paid for freedom.

There were numerous times when people I hadn't seen in a long time expressed shock or simply walked past without recognizing me. It felt strange.

I've more or less maintained my weight for a couple of years now. This "new" me is no longer new, but is a person I've grown into. I understand that there are no guarantees that I won't gain all the weight back. I've been big before and I can be big again.

Somewhere in that process I became a runner. I also remember accepting the title with reluctance, telling people "I'm a wanna be runner... not really a runner." Or "I run, but I'm not a runner" or worse "I'm a plodder." At some point I accepted that I am a runner... and I grew into that, too.

Yesterday I was at a retirement party for a lady I used to work with. I left the job several years ago and haven't seen many of the people who were there for a long time. A few of them showered me in the same compliments that were more numerous a few years ago. I still felt uncomfortable with the attention, but have tried to learn to be gracious about it. I say thank you and then turn the conversation back to them, asking how they are or what they've been up to.

Then a puzzling, shocking thing happened. I saw a girl that worked with us, in our little office of four people. We both left the department in the same year. She moved thousands of miles away, back to her home province and we lost touch. She had flown in especially for the retirement party.

She walked by me and I called her name, greeting her with a big smile, saying, "What are you doing here? Great to see you!"

She looked at me in a searching way and finally said, "I know you... I know that I know you, but I'm sorry, I don't really remember..."

I was baffled. We worked together for four years. And there were only four people in our department - one of whom was the person whose retirement we were all there to celebrate! How could she not remember?

I said, "It's Sarah."

She put her hand over her mouth and said, "Oh my God. I didn't recognize you! I can't believe it. I even asked (so-and-so) if you were going to be here. I was looking for you, but I... I'm so sorry. How are you?!" She was visibily embarrassed, stammering and awkward.

We both quickly recouped and had a good visit, eventually exchanging e-mail addresses and promises to stay in touch.

I recounted this story to a friend who's known me for a decade now. I was a bit dumbfounded that someone I'd worked with in such a small setting for so long wouldn't recognize me. Not even by voice!

My friend said she understood how it could happen. "You've changed so much," she said. "You forget. Those of us who see you all the time, we all forget, too. But, I can see how that could happen."

Hhhmmm... It got me thinking about identity... who we are.... how we see ourselves. When we change, are we still the same?

I have a couple of friends who have become born-again Christians. In one case, the girl was a total party animal in university. The change was drastic and seemed sudden to many of us, though she says it was a long time in the making. I remember her being so stinking drunk at parties she couldn't stand up. Now she doesn't touch a drop of liquor. She married within her faith and has two great kids who are being raised by very strict moral rules. She is very, very adament about her new way of life... And seems sincerely happy with it, too. Which is the "real" her? The party animal or the convert? I still have a hard time reconciling the two. Essentially, she has always been a good person, so I try to just accept her and not judge what I don't understand.

This post is a little disjointed, but I guess the main question I wanted to throw out there is in addition to labels, what does identity mean to you? If you look back in time, is the person you are today the one you expected yourself to be?

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."- e.e. cummings