Then the Wheels Came Off

This post is being published on a Monday morning.  For the last five years I have published my blog post on Tuesdays, so a Monday post is new territory for me.  But I ran in a half marathon yesterday, and since I have so many incredibly supportive people in my life, I keep getting texts and emails asking how it went.  I thought I’d write a post to give you my summary of the race, and how I fell way short of my goal…..

I tried to write part of this post ahead of time, you know, before I had even run the race.  I had some time mid-week last week, and because writing time is such a rarity, I pounced on it.  But the words didn’t come easily.  I knew what I wanted to write about, I just couldn’t seem to make it happen.  What I wanted to write about was the half marathon that I had been focused on for months.  I wanted to set the scene for you.  I wanted to talk about my mindset, my training, and my race prep, but my headspace wasn’t right.  I had doubts about my performance, anxiety about the forecast heat, and superstition about pre-writing even part of a post before the end result was known.

And so I write it now, with emotions running high and fatigue pulsing through me.  It’s 9:00pm on Sunday night.  My feet are up on our coffee table, there is a mug of Rooibos tea steaming, the hockey game is on, my tablet is laid before me, and I have had time to process what happened this morning.

Sigh.

You see, I’m trying to qualify for the 2018 New York marathon, which is traditionally built around a lottery system for participants.  Last year, more than 98 000 people entered the lottery, and roughly 16 000 were accepted- that’s less than a 17% chance of getting in.  The other 34 000 runners (yes, there’s 50 000 runners that run this race) come through various other means- 9000 charity spots, paid tour company entrants, New York Road Runners members, and NYC race volunteer spots.  The tricky part of these logistics is that my dear friend and training partner, Michaela, has never run a full marathon and NYC is at the top of her list.  So the best sure-thing option for both of us to get into the race is to meet the tougher-than-Boston qualifying standard; for our age group, that means running sub-1:34 in a race sanctioned by Athletics Canada.IMG_6581

Now, Michaela is much faster and a much more natural runner than I, and in fact, she ran 1:27 at the Hamilton half marathon last Fall on only two days/week of training.  She’s a natural, and her effortless pace still astounds me, as I huff and puff beside her on our weekend long runs.  In that same race last Fall, I ran 1:37, and battled stomach issues and under-training.  I felt old and slow and defeated and the doubts creeped in.  Could I manage to shave three minutes off my time?  I have a 1:23 personal best and I’ve run under 1:34 dozens of times, but with an extra 13 years and 2 kids under my belt, my abilities have changed.

So for the last few months, I’ve been focused.  I’ve run early.  I’ve run late.  I’ve run through blinding rain more times than I can count and an early-morning thunderstorm on the NorthShore hills.  I’ve run with my daughter in the Chariot, with tired CrossFit legs, with to-do lists in my brain, with sunrises and skunks and solitude.  And I remembered why I love this sport so much- this sport that’s been a huge part of my life for twenty-five years- sometimes in foreground but always in the background, a common thread through my teenage angst, my insecure twenties, my schooling, my cross-country move, my marriage, my kids, my career, my life.

But 1:34 still seemed seemed impossibly far away, my goal unreachable…. and then my training came together.  Fitness is like that, at least for me; weeks of effort will come together in a single run, and all of a sudden it clicks.  It clicked for me last weekend, when I tested my speed at the Moon in June 10k and surprised myself with a 41:46 and a first-place finish; my 4:11/km pace felt tough but manageable, painful but attainable, gritty but realistic.  Perhaps 1:34 wasn’t a carrot on the end of a stick I couldn’t reach.  So when I toed the line at the race this morning I had the usual doubts mixed with a taste of confidence and a sprinkle of hope.

Then the wheels came off.  I didn’t just miss my goal, I missed it by nearly six minutes, and I was the closest I’ve ever been to walking off a race course and calling it quits.  I went out way too fast, and ran my first 10k recklessly faster than I had planned.  But distance-running can be risky like that; it tricks you into thinking you’re feeling well and then it pulls the rug out from underneath you.  I hit the proverbial wall at 13km.  I stopped, I bent forward, my head between my knees.  I felt dizzy, my legs felt heavy, and I started to panic. I could feel my breath catching in my throat and tears came to my eyes.  But Michaela was there to talk me off the ledge.  “One foot in front of the other,” “you can do it,” “you’ve got this.”  I cried and ran and cried and walked for the next few kilometers, the heat becoming oppressive, and my mind jostling between pain and anger and frustration.  I wasn’t wearing a watch, I was running on feel only, and at the 17km mark Michaela looked at her Garmin and said “I know you won’t believe this, but we’re still on pace.  You banked enough time in the first half, you can still do this.”  Only four kilometers to go.  Four kilometers to reach a months-long goal and I just couldn’t do it.  I had nothing left in the tank, I couldn’t dig any deeper, I was running on empty.  I suspect we walked 2km of those last 4km and I hobbled across the finish line at 1:39FullSizeRender 16

But I hope this post inspires you.  I hope you don’t see failure, but rather perseverance.  I hope you see grit and determination and I hope you see that big goals achieved are that much sweeter when there’s been big struggle endured.  I hope my kids see that too- they saw me win last weekend and they saw me cry when I got home from the race this morning….. the ups and downs of sport and life.

I’m going to lick my wounds and nurse my ego for awhile and I’ll try again this Fall.  And if the wheels come off then too, well, I’ll try again.

 


Make the trade.

We all have our happy places.  Mine is most definitely alongside Lake Ontario in downtown Burlington.  More specifically, I love a glassy lake, running shoes on my feet, and the solace and peace of an early morning.  I got that two days ago, and my runner’s high is still holding strong more than 48 hours later.

But my happy place comes at a price.  You see, to access this place, you must make a trade for sleep.

This is an internal dilemma that I wage with myself most Sunday mornings.  It’s still dark, life has been busy, I’m too tired, my legs need rest.  All of these things come to mind when my alarm beeps at 6:00am and my duvet is seemingly always at its coziest.  But more often than not, the thought of my reward pulls me from slumber.  This is my prize:

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This view greets me less than 2km from my front door.  And on a warm Summer morning, the excuses fade away as soon as my feet touch my bedroom floor.  I know that the fleeting moment of choosing to get up is the hardest part of an early morning workout and the adrenaline waiting at the finish line is well worth the temporary fatigue.  I got the glassy lake I love and a deserted lakefront walkway and I was back home soon after my children woke up, ready to join in on a day of family time.

The end game of all this is that I’m planning to run in the Road2Hope half marathon in Hamilton on November 6th.  I have many friends and patients also running this race, and it’s the last local race weekend of the season, making it the perfect choice for slowly building my mileage back up.  I live my best life when I set personal goals, and my early-morning-run motivation dips miserably low if I do not have a specific race on the horizon.  So I had 14km on my training schedule and managed to sneak out without my four-year-old running buddy tagging along.  I stopped en route to take the above picture to share with my kids, as I often do.  I usually see some pretty interesting things… skunks, swans, and even a naked man on a bicycle.  True story (but no picture).

But the best part of my happy place is the effect it has on me.  The peace.  The gratitude.  The overwhelming contentment.

I hope you’ve got a happy place too.  And I hope that you go there often.  Even if you have to make a trade to make it happen.

Choose the trade.  Choose happy.


I Can’t Think of a Better Reason

I’ve been running a bit more lately, as I’ve registered for two half marathons this Spring.  My first race is on Sunday, March 6th- it’s the Chilly Half Marathon in Burlington, and it’s got a start line that I can now walk to, since my family’s move this past Fall.  I registered myself based largely on that fact alone; a pedestrian life makes me happy.  My second race is at the end of May- another half marathon, this time a women’s-only in Toronto, that I’ve entered with two dear friends.

But as the date of my first race draws closer and my confidence starts to dip, as it always does before a race, I am shifting my approach and calling it a training run instead of a race.  I’ve been less than perfect with my long runs, and since I’m only running once/week, that’s an important piece that’s been neglected.  I have been consistently going to the gym four times per week, and throwing in some hot yoga for good measure, but the actual running mileage on my legs is very low.  When I was in my prime long-distance-running years, I was logging 100km+ each and every week.  I ran for the University of Calgary’s cross-country and track & field teams, and following that, running helped me to channel my energy through the intense demands of my Chiropractic degree.  I got on some podiums, set some personal bests, and even won some money.  I ran against the clock, against my strive for perfection, against my constant drive to be faster and better and better and better.

I still approach most things in life like this, and I’m nothing if not self-motivated.  But now I’ve learned to control it.  And the deep, dark truth is that running, or more accurately, racing, doesn’t always bring out the best of my psyche.  There’s a fine line where my self-imposed pressure can become unhealthy, and black-and-white race times have the ability to play with my head.

I had my first child in 2009 and ran a 10-mile race ten weeks post-partum.  In hindsight, this was a terrible decision, as my body was completely unprepared for that intense energy demand.  But I needed to get back out there, I needed to feel like me again, and a big part of me is running.  And from this race, I gained a positive despite the physical negative; that 10-miler changed how I saw myself.  It showed me that running can be a subtitle in the story of my life, rather than the headline.

Throughout the past seven years, the expectations I’ve placed on myself and my running has exceedingly changed.  I’m realizing that people don’t care about my race times.  People don’t care if I win my age group or run a four-minute kilometre or (gasp!) have to slow down.  People don’t care that my half marathon will be more than twenty minutes slower than my personal best and that it will likely take me three full days to recover.

And the most important person that doesn’t care about this stuff anymore is me.

I run to focus, I run to de-stress, I run to think.  I run because I LOVE TO RUN.

I can’t think of a better reason.

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This is my run from two days ago.  It’s probably ten minutes slower than it would’ve been in years past, and I’m okay with that!