Race Report and Reflection: Mississauga half marathon

This post will serve as my official “race report,” nine days after the fact.  For the runners in the crowd, I hope you’ll like the tactical parts of this report, and for the never-give-up-ers, I hope you’ll like the rest of it:

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Thank you to Jodie for the photo. #teamtap #teamnuun

You see, I ran in the Mississauga half marathon on Sunday, May 6th, and finally met my goal of qualifying for the 2019 New York marathon.  I say finally, because I’ve failed at this goal twice before, both times in spectacular fashion with lots of tears, walking, and self-doubt.  In June of 2017, in my first attempt to qualify, I went out fast and the wheels came off on a 40C day.  I walked a good portion of my second attempt in September 2017; another 40C day in which I got caught up in race day adrenaline and went too hard out of the gate.  It’s an error that I continue to make, a lesson I can’t seem to grasp, a mistake that I’ve repeated far too many times- and going out too fast is the kiss of death for a distance runner.  But with roughly twenty-five years of running and racing under my belt, and more than fifteen years of marathoning experience, it’s still so hard to follow a race plan.

The thing is, if you’re doing it right, you’re usually training on tired legs.  Training plans have peaks and valleys of mileage, but endurance training requires, well, endurance.  Runners are often accustomed to a certain amount leg heaviness and fatigue throughout their training cycles; in fact, a Sunday does not feel like a true Sunday if I don’t have that welcomed you-ran-damn-hard achy leg feeling all day.  Masochism?  Perhaps.  But ask a runner, they’ll tell you: tired legs are earned.  However, a few weeks out from race day, runners transition into their taper.  A taper is a period of time, usually 2-3 weeks in length, whereby running mileage drops way back to allow for recovery.  A taper can make or break a race, and when executed properly, it gets you to a point where you can toe the line feeling fit and fast.

For my last few races in particular, I’ve tapered really well.  I’ve listened to my body, I’ve dropped my mileage, I’ve focused on rest, hydration, nutrition, and mobility.  I’ve come to the line feeling great.  And I’ve gone out recklessly fast.  But the thing is, I’ve always done that.  I’ve always been a go-out-fast runner who red lines in the second half of the race and holds on for dear life.  Yet as I’ve gotten older, my body wants a different strategy; I can no longer fake a race plan and beat the system, and I’m learning that my mid-race rally and recover is not what it once was.

So with careful thought and consultation, and the 1:37 NYC qualifying time looming large, my race plan was this:

  • 0-5km: 4:40/km pace (this is a very comfortable pace for me; my long runs are usually in the 4:50/km pace, so this is just slightly faster)
  • 5-10km: 4:35/km pace
  • 10-15km: 4:30/km pace
  • 15-19km: getting progressively faster, aiming for 4:20 pace by 19km
  • 19-21km: 4:15/km pace
  • Goal: progressive build, negative split.
  • ‘A’ goal: sub-1:35
  • ‘B’ goal: sub-1:37 (1:37 is my NYC qualifying time)

The mantras in my head were:

  • HAVE FUN
  • Start slow
  • Run faster, not harder
  • Let the hills carry you down
  • HAVE FUN

What actually happened:

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My split times remained pretty steady throughout; a novel race strategy for me!

  • I ran into two training partners at the starting area who were running the full marathon, targeting a steady 4:29-4:34/km pace.  I ran the first 7km with them, and they kept me hovering around 4:30/km pace.  (thank you Jose and Steve, I surely would’ve gone out too fast yet again, because I was feeling great!)
  • I picked it up on kilometres 7-15.  Much of this section is downhill, and I tried to open up my stride.  I was feeling great, and had the 1:35 pace bunny in my sights.  I passed him at 16km.
  • I started to suffer around 17km.
  • My pace started to deteriorate around 19km, but I was able to pick it back up at 20km.
  • I got really dizzy immediately after finishing and had to take a knee; surprising, since my heart rate stayed low the entire race and I did not red line at all.
  • My husband and kids met me at the finish line (and were able to live-track me on the raceday app!).
  • My dear friend Michaela also ran the half and also met the NYC standard.  I saw her in the finishing chute; I hadn’t known she was running, and she hadn’t told anyone, so as not to put more pressure on me or on her.   You see how running is such a mental game?
  • I gave it everything I had.
  • I HAD FUN.

Interestingly, this was the 15th annual Mississauga race weekend, and in the inaugural race in 2004, Michaela and I also ran: she came in 1st place and I came in 3rd.  This year, however, I finished in 1:34:02, a full 11 minutes slower than my personal best. And yet, this race was my proudest.  That eleven minute gap between my best and my present represents a husband, two babies, a career, and a life far more full and content than I ever could have imagined.  Gone are my student days, my 110km/week days, my podium days.  Now I’ve got two impressionable little people and a finish line full of hugs and tears, always tears.

I had tears that at that finish line too, but they were oh-so-happy tears.

 

 

 


The Overuse of Youth

Young athletes are a big part of my practice.  From sprained ankles to separated shoulders to low back pain, my goal with them, as with all my patients, is to decrease pain and increase function as quickly as possible.  But with young athletes in particular, I want to try to minimize the effect that an injury has on the rest of their body long-term.  Our bodies are masters of compensation you see, so if one area becomes weak or injured or dysfunctional, another area steps up to counterbalance.  And herein lies the problem: where did the injury start?  Can we chase the dysfunction throughout the body to find the initial culprit?

Troubling trends that I’m finding amongst these young athletes are overuse injuries.  Most often, these kids are playing their primary sport nearly year-round.  Summer hockey.  Winter ball.  Indoor soccer.  In 2016, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine released an Early Sport Specialization Consensus Statement, which you can read by clicking HERE.

AOSSM

This is my favourite part:

“The primary outcome of this think tank was that there is no evidence that young children will benefit from early sport specialization in the majority of sports. They are subject to overuse injury and burnout from concentrated activity. Early multisport participation will not deter young athletes from long-term competitive athletic success.”

Please take a moment to read that again.  “No evidence” of “benefit” from “early sport specialization.”  And a whole lotta downside in the form burnout and overuse injury.

Make no mistake, I love youth sport.  I’m a huge competitor and I was raised playing every sport around, as do my children.  But remember, better movers make better athletes, and your child’s body will not learn to move well if it has only been expected to do the same thing over and over again.  Multi-dimensional.  Multi-sport.  Multi-movement.  That’s the key to a well-balanced athlete, and more importantly, a healthy human body.

If nothing else, I hope this post gives you some food for thought.  Parents have thousands of choices to make throughout their children’s lives, and this one is a big one.

hockey rules


We’re creating their “normal.”

My son had a flag football game on Saturday morning.  I snuggled in a blanket on the sidelines with my daughter and we played with colouring books and hand clapping games while we watched him run around.  He’s only eight, and his teammates are in the six to eight-year-old range, so it’s a bit of organized chaos unfolding amidst a sea of mouthguards and football cleats.  Flags flying, kids running, and footballs dropping everywhere.  It’s childhood fun at its best.

The game was scheduled from 11:30am-12:30pm, so we packed snacks to eat at the field to tide us over for a later lunch at home.  Both of my kids are snackers, as am I- in fact, our sporting event snack bag looks more like a full grocery bag than a few snacks thrown into the bottom of a purse.  I’ve always been that way; I’m the mom with a full cooler at BlueJays games and a packed lunch for an afternoon at the park.  Nutrition is important to me, and I find that I have far less control when purchasing food than I do when I pack my own.  Food brought from home allows me to better manage the preservatives, the additives, the sodium, and the fat content of typical take-out on-the-run options.

When the game finished, we began to pack up our gear.  My children are still young enough that we usually pack like we’re going away overnight when in fact we’re only gone for the afternoon.  I gathered our blanket, our games, our snacks, our extra layers, and we began to leave.  My husband, who is the assistant coach for my son’s team, mentioned that team snacks were being handed out further down the field.  The post-game snack is a big part of the fun in young children’s sports, so my son hurried down to claim his share.  He came back with two things:

 

 

I cringed on the outside and raged on the inside.

Now, I don’t consider myself to be unreasonably strict with my nutritional standards.  Yes, I believe in high-quality food, and yes, I try to minimize my family’s intake of processed junk, but I’m not on the all-organic, all-homemade, no-sugar, no-yellow #5 train either.  I like to live in the world of moderation, with a heavy emphasis on fruits and vegetables.  All that being said, “normal” is based on one’s perception, and my household normal does not include multi-coloured goldfish crackers and KoolAid jammers.

As is always the case in parenting, I weighed my options.  I let my son have some of the above, and my daughter had a taste too.  We threw the rest out and we had a good, long conversation on the way home about properly fueling our bodies so that they can be at their healthiest and help us to perform and feel at our best.  As a lifelong athlete, I have learned first-hand the effects that nutrition can have on athletic performance, and that’s why I find it particularly troubling that these snacks are being given in a situation in which we are promoting fitness and sport.  The irony is not lost on me.  The same could be said for school cafeteria and vending machine choices- if we expect our children to perform at their best, physically and mentally, why are we choosing these types of snacks?

A pre-cut veggie tray and a block of cheese would be no less convenient.  A bag of apples and a box of fig bars would be no less costly.  A watermelon and some granola packets would be no less tasty.  We can change the food industry with the choices we make with our dollars, and we can change our children’s well-being with the choices we make with their food.

Please, let’s choose wisely.  After all, we’re creating their “normal.”