Friday, May 9, 2014

I've been wanting to run

I want to sign up for a marathon this fall -- likely the Hamilton marathon in early November. And I'd like to do the Run for Toad, which I had to miss last year due to the concussion. I've opened the sign-up forms for both races, but haven't had the courage to sign up yet.

I've been wanting to run.

Needing to run.

Running out past my thoughts, running long, running hard, challenging myself, getting up early. I couldn't get up early this morning (it would have been five early mornings in a row, in a week that also has held two evening readings, a drive to Hamilton, and another to Toronto). But I regret not running this morning.

I ache. I'm tired. But I want to run.

I think I run because it's the simplest hard thing I can give myself to do. It's the simplest challenge.

I also run because I can. I run while I can. I run knowing that my body has suffered injury and may again and I run because right now at this moment in time my body is healthy and strong. I run with gratitude. I run with deep thanks that can find no other expression.

I run with sadness and worry. I run with doubt.

I run it all out. And it goes, for that little while. It really does.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Run, run, as fast as you can

I meant to write after a particularly happy run about a week ago. As I trained myself back to a regular running routine, I gained appreciation for interval running. I noticed that by running, say, for five minutes and walking for one, I could use the five minute interval to push really hard and run really fast, then recover for the walking interval.

So I decided to add interval training into my regular runs, once I got back to speed. Now I can't recall how long I've been running without needing to walk.

But I'm back to a comfortable 10 km distance, regularly, though I haven't gone much further than that.

Anyway, the happy run was a 10-km interval run on a relatively flat circuit course. I didn't walk, but did a light job to recover after a 200-metre pick-up followed by a 100-metre sprint. The course was 900 metres long, so that meant I spent about a third of the running time going faster than felt strictly comfortable. I finished my final kilometre in a full-out pick-up pushing it pace, and came in with my fastest time for a 10 km run in over a year: 48:51. That's about a minute slower than my fastest recorded race time, and I'm not getting any younger, so I was seriously pleased by the result. I had to fight to keep up the pace till the very end, and afterward, staggering around feeling light-headed as if I'd been in a real race, I wondered why the heck I enjoy doing these things to myself. But I do.

It gives me confidence. It helps me see myself differently, and reminds me of my mental toughness and strength, because that's really what powers a person through as the body begins to suffer. I'm inspired by a friend's daughter who has become an incredible runner and just competed at the Nationals in cross country in the United States. This amazingly talented young woman qualified for the Nationals in only her third race this season, due to recovery from surgery this past summer -- now that's courage and strength of mind.

I watch my own daughter work uncomplainingly, and with an almost detached interest, as she trains hard as a competitive swimmer, and I'm constantly amazed at what she's willing to put herself through to make gains in future races. She said that sometimes she realizes she's crying from effort, her goggles filling up with tears as she struggles to complete an underwater set of dolphin kicks, her lungs emptied of all air. She reported this matter-of-factly, but I'll admit it gave me great pause, as her mother -- should I allow her to suffer like this? Her coach tells me no one works harder in the pool. And in races I can see it myself -- how she loves it. How she loves the competition. She loves pushing herself to her limits. How to explain this kind of drive?

I can only admire it, and enjoy it where I find it in myself, too. I was trying to explain to a friend that being competitive doesn't necessarily mean wanting to defeat other people. It's actually a very personal thing. There will always be others who are faster and more talented. What I think matters, to the competitive soul, is to set high standards for oneself -- high, but within reach -- and then to meet or even surpass those standards. The goals are individual. We set them for ourselves, and we may be the only ones to appreciate or notice when they've been met. But the joy is there all the same. It's even a joy just to be trying.

I think the truly competitive people are the ones who don't worry about failing, and who don't give up when they don't meet their goals -- who see this only as reason to keep trying, or to re-evaluate and set new goals, but never, ever to give up. It's the process of striving that brings us joy. That's why meeting a goal can feel kind of empty. It's all the work that matters, that feeds us, and the goal is just the excuse, maybe, to explain to ourselves why we care, and what we're doing this for. When really we're doing this because it makes us feel alive.

Why else would I get up at 5AM and run for 10km in a chilly wind, on snowy streets, like I did this morning? I can't explain it otherwise. I didn't run fast, because my muscles never seemed to warm up, but I pushed hard up every hill, and returned home feeling wonderful. I'd done my best, again.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fuzzy-headed September

Wow. Quite the difference, reading my last post from August, when I was training intensely, to now, when I'm in post-concussion-land, and haven't run any distance for nearly a month. It's been alternately frustrating and oddly not that hard at all, reverting to a lifestyle that requires much rest, and little activity. With September being so busy, I would have had to scale back my exercise level somewhat anyway, and might have felt guilty over that. Instead, I've scaled back my exercise level nearly to zero and haven't experienced any guilt.

It reminds me that I should never be guilty, no matter my exercise level. I should only be happy to be able to move freely, when I can, and go easy on myself, when I can't.

I suffered a concussion while playing soccer. Ball to the face, from a shot taken at close range. There was no avoiding it, and that worries me. I may never play soccer again. I need this brain to do my work, and as much as I love the sport, I'm not sure I can risk being injured like this again.

I took it easy for about three weeks, then went for a long run (after trying out some shorter runs, and swims, without inducing new symptoms). The long run proved to be too much, and my symptoms came back, only worse than before. I couldn't believe it! I had a headache, nausea, and vision issues for ten days, and spent a lot of time lying on the couch doing absolutely nothing, which prompted me to see a doctor, who has me seeing a physio and a massage therapist. The symptoms have since eased greatly and I've essentially returned to my regular pace work-wise (I'm a writer, and it put me in a state of panic to imagine not being able to function at my previous level, cognitively; I didn't even care about returning to normal physical activity, because I realized my priority was cognitive function).

I've since been cleared by the doctor to walk briskly for an hour (which I started doing last week, without inducing symptoms), and by the physio to begin a return-to-running plan that I started this morning: I walked for 9 minutes, ran for 1. Oh, that running felt fabulous. But I need to monitor my body's response carefully over the next 24 hours. If I'm fine, then I can try 8 minutes of walking, 1 minute of running, and so on, until I'm at a 1:1 ratio, at which point I can begin extending my running time, broken up by a minute of walking.

Here's an observation: It's bloody hard to set the alarm and get up early to WALK. Hats off to everyone who has the will power to do it on a regular basis. I will never ever judge anyone I see walking, rather than running, again. I'll admit to having indulged in a slight feeling of superiority in the past, whenever I'd pass someone walking, or walk/running. Pride goeth before a fall, but more importantly, coming down off a pedestal is an excellent way to gain appreciation for invisible effort. It might look like it takes greater effort to run for an hour than to walk for an hour, but experience tells me that, in fact, the opposite is true. The greater effort is in continuing without a rush of endorphins to carry me along.

This morning, I got up early and walked in the dark. It started to rain. I was alone with my thoughts. I walked briskly for about 53 minutes (and ran for 5 of those, and a blissful 5 minutes those were), and actually went 7.2km, which surprised me. It was further than I'd expected to go.

The other thing I am trying to do, as suggested by the massage therapist, is to be conscious of my posture, especially since I spend so much of my day sitting at my desk.

Exciting, huh.

But I feel really positive, actually. The obstacles are part of the whole experience. Virtually all athletes suffer injury and set-back. In times of injury, I learn to respect my body's limitations, and work to heal. In times of health, I can be all the more joyful and appreciative of what my body is able to do.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Summer of intense effort

I've been exercising as if I were training for something, but I'm not, particularly, though I did sign up for this year's Run for the Toad, which has got me back to weekend long runs. Thankfully, there's been time every weekend for a long run -- for the past five weekends. My first long run was a painful and painfully slow 15km, and I'm now up to 21.6km (why didn't I just run a few extra steps and round that off? because the trail ended there, that's why!).

My most recent run was on a beautiful trail made out of an old rail line through Eastern Ontario. We were on holiday, or I'd run there all the time. Wish we had such a fabulous trail nearby. I ran the half-marathon distance in 1:57 minutes, which is slower than I'd expect to run it in a race, but pretty fast for a gentle training run. As per my style, I started slow slow slow, and by the end was knocking off 5-minute-flat kilometre splits. I don't know why my body works that way, but I just get into a groove and start rolling.

I've been having painful cramping after my long runs, however. Not that this discourages me, but it does make recovery more difficult and stretches out the time needed to commit to a long run every weekend. I'm hoping it will pass as my body becomes more accustomed to the distance. I would like to be running 20km every weekend -- or longer, of course. It only took five weeks to go from it being really really hard to run 15km to truly pleasant to run over 20km.

Also boosting my fitness in the past two weeks has been a daily swim. I swam 10km last week, and will only get to about 8km this week. I'm swimming during my older kids' daily swim lesson, which goes for an hour, and they only have four lessons this week. I've gotten a bit faster over the past two weeks, but not remarkably faster. It took me the full hour to swim 2000m on day one, and I now can do it in about 50 minutes, but that's still slooooowwww. I think I'll always be a slow swimmer. But I definitely have endurance -- I could just keep going and going. And I can swim in really cold water! It's been cold both weeks, with the temp in the pool hovering around 68 degrees F and the air temp around 18-19 degrees C. No sun. Rain a few days. Cloud cover. Fun! By the end of the hour I'm shivering uncontrollably and my teeth are chattering -- in the pool, while swimming!

A couple of days I was one of only two lane swimmers in the whole pool -- and the one day the other guy was in a wet suit. I was thinking that only someone training hard for something would put themselves through the experience -- and me! I don't know why, but I actually weirdly enjoy it. It gives me a mental break from everything else going on in my life. It makes me feel heroic, which is silly, since it's a completely self-induced heroisim that could potentially look like idiocy to an outside viewer, but there it is.

A couple of weeks ago I ran 40km and played two soccer games AND went to a boot camp within a five-day span. This is what my summer has been like. I've been working out -- hard. I'm not sure why, but it feels necessary. I suspect it's keeping me sane. It's been a crazy summer, with curve balls thrown at us, and the need to stay mentally calm and focused in order to get really hard work done ... I don't know what I'd do without the running/swimming/soccer/weight training. I think I would have collapsed by now. Instead, I feel like I feel in the pool: heroic and strong!

(As a side note, I hope I haven't jinxed myself by writing about this -- as soon as I note my training pace, it seems something pops up to prevent me from doing my daily workout ...)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Training with friends

I just have to write a brief post today, noting that my friend Nath is leaving for a year. We've been getting up early together for the past two-and-a-half years, at least once a week, and often twice. We started with lane swims, when she was a much faster swimmer than I was. It was encouraging to go with a friend, even when we were in different lanes. Then it was a spin class, introduced to me by another friend, Tricia, who is also, coincidentally, leaving this coming week for a year. We all cycled together two years ago when I was training for the triathlon. Then Nath and I added in a spin and kettlebells class, both of us learning how to swing the bells as novices, though I think we've graduated to experts by now, a year and a half later. (We got Tricia to join us for a session, and I'm always trying to recruit friends to try it out.) We've lately been trying out an early morning boot camp, too.

Anyway, today was the first Monday in a long long long time that I didn't wake up and meet Nath. Thankfully, I was meeting another friend, Rachel, who I recruited awhile back, so I wasn't lonely. But I still missed Nath.

I know she and Tricia are both off on amazing adventures with their families, and I'm glad for them to get the opportunity to see and do and experience new and wonderful things. But I'll miss them both. A lot.

When I started the triathlon project, coming up on three years ago now, it really didn't cross my mind that training would be anything but solo, a private venture undertaken on my own. But I quickly learned otherwise. Tricia was the first person I told about my triathlon idea, and she was completely supportive -- plus she had practical experience, and suggestions about training options, including this tough spin class she introduced me to.

I was thinking about this on my long run on Saturday (which I do still run alone) -- how if I were to write a little book of advice on how to get fit and active as a non-athletically-inclined adult, which is exactly what I was (believe it or not) three years ago, one of the critical pieces of success would be: do it with friends. Get others involved in your goals. Set goals together. Set routines together. Meet each other early. Text the night before to remind each other to set alarms, and encourage each other to go to bed, and greet each other with quiet or chat, as the mood strikes, early in the morning. You get to overshare about aching muscles the day afterward, too, with someone who really understands.

I don't think it matters what your goals are, really, not at all. My goals have changed over the years that I've become a fitter and more active person. I know I like living in a strong body, and that's part of it, but definitely not the whole story. The process itself is the reason to do it. That glow of achievement after difficult exertion. Look at us! We did it! That's what's I've shared with the friends I train with.

So ... I'll think of you especially on Mondays, Nath, til you're back. I'll keep the kettlebells warm for you.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I am a mess of aches this morning. Good grief!

This follows a dreamy running week last week, no pain, holding fast times without feeling the effort, and running 42 kilometres over six days. But then I played soccer on Sunday, about an hour after my last effortless run. I got up Monday to swing kettlebells, and played more soccer on Monday night. When I ran again on Tuesday evening, yesterday, it was a totally different run than Sunday's bliss, even though I was going a similar distance. My right ankle felt swollen, and the pain shot up my leg with every stride. I made it 6.85 painful kilometres -- usually I would top up my distance upon return to even it out, but I didn't even care. I was in too much pain. I even stopped to stretch along the way to see if that would help. It was agony to hold a 5:10 pace, which I managed, but barely. Ordinarily that wouldn't be terribly disappointing. But honestly, last week every run was around a 4:40 pace that felt next thing to effortless. I thought I'd turned a corner, speedwise and effortwise.

I'm wondering whether that fast week of running was due to NOT playing soccer the previous weekend. So it could be that soccer is wrecking my running.

But I'm not going to stop playing soccer.

I got up this morning and dragged myself on my usual run with my friend, 8.8km, slow. So within 14 hours, I ran about 15.5km, none of them pleasant. Clearly I need to take it easy for a day or two. I have another run scheduled for tomorrow evening (I run when I have the opportunity, not necessarily spaced for optimum training purposes), but I'll see how I'm feeling.

I find it funny how quickly I can go from feeling strong and quick and in excellent shape, to feeling quite the opposite, achy, old, limping, slow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Check in

Time for my monthly check-in! If I'm even checking in that often anymore. In the absence of race goals, my training feels less purposeful. But I continue to prioritize time for exercise, mostly because it feels good and keeps me healthy, mentally as well as physically.

I haven't been doing any long runs. That's hard, and I miss doing it. My weekends are packed full with children's activities, mostly, and there simply isn't time. So I run when I can. For example, I squeezed in a twenty-one minute run on Sunday morning during my son's swim lesson. It was literally the only time available in the entire day, so I grabbed it. Thank heavens for the sunshine, or I might not have made the effort. I basically just ran around the nearby park as fast as I could. I kept to a 4:45 pace, more or less, and made it 4.5km. I wanted to keep going! But had to stop, and was actually one minute late to pick up my son. Will likely do that again, assuming there's no other time available.

I did the same thing last Tuesday evening, grabbing available time, and running during my daughter's soccer practice. It was absolutely pissing rain, cold and miserable, and I did not feel like going, but I put on my gear, packed dry clothes, and went. It turned out to be a nice run. I didn't push myself very hard, basically just enjoyed the mildly heroic feeling of being out for a run in hellish conditions. I went 8.5km in about 45 minutes. Not breaking any records, but I'm trying to remind myself it's not always about pushing to the limit. Sometimes it's just about showing up. I'd also just done a spin and weights class the day before, AND played an hour of soccer with a men's team the previous evening, which was a challenge of another sort. I was feeling pretty achy and tired.

Playing soccer with my husband's team ... the only woman ... it felt strange. I felt like I needed to prove myself worthy of being on the field, and I was very hard on myself for not getting the ball in the net, although I did have several opportunities to score thanks to good positioning. And I ran hard the whole game. But I'm not going again tonight. Partly, I just feel tired. Partly, I'll admit it's a lack of confidence. I wasn't sure the men wanted me there (although why would it matter whether they did? -- my husband manages the team and invited me to come out, and there are other guys coming out for the scrimmage that won't be on the team).

I just wasn't at ease with the dynamics.

This has been a tough week for my confidence, honestly, and it's probably more about my own headspace than about any of the messages I imagined I was receiving on the field. It's a challenge to be the odd-woman out, in any situation. It's a challenge to try new things. To be, potentially, exposed as not being all that good at something. I'm not the best soccer player. I'm fast and tough and can steal the ball, but I can't carry the ball up the field, and my shot is pretty weak. I need work. My husband points out that I need to play more to get better, and should come out with that in mind, rather than worrying about how good I am right now.

He's right.

My excuse tonight is that I'm exhausted, and don't sleep well after late-night exercise. I need rest. I need recovery. I need to restore my confidence ... but how? ... and then I'll get back on the field with the guys. Maybe next week.