After more than three years of not doing anything “official,” I signed up for a 5K and ran it last weekend. And it was a blast. A few of my running group did it too. None of us went in with big dreams and all of us had a fun time.
Considering that my last event was the Around the Bay 30K back in 2019 (see my overly optimistic report of that ill-fated day here — it was ill-fated because the next day I had a back injury and shortly after that I had achilles issues and basically I didn’t run much again for about nine months), the 5K felt like an odd choice. Not because there is anything wrong with 5K, but because it isn’t a distance that I needed to train for since I run more than that regularly (our Sunday minimum is usually around 7.5 and we often do more than that). I’ve never done an event that I haven’t had to train for.
I also had difficulty deciding what my goal should be. I really haven’t gotten back on track with any regular routine since the ATB in 2019, and when I go out I go out for fun, not for fast results. So I decided that my goal would be to come in under 40 minutes. That might seem like an unchallenging goal to some, but I wanted something that I could actually meet. Indeed, a friend who hasn’t run since she was in her thirties literally laughed at me when I stated that goal, as if it was ridiculously easy.
On race day I felt good. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we met just over 1K from the start line and ran there as a little warm-up. Unlike events in the past, I didn’t need to concern myself with whether I could make the distance. I decided I would stick to my usual 10-1 intervals that I do every Sunday.
In the end, most of my group broke away from me within the first 500m, with one falling into place a little bit behind. I didn’t end up wanting to walk for the one-minute walking intervals, and I was pacing reasonably well all things considered. My chip-time was 35:19 and I felt strong–only mildly regretting that I hadn’t pushed just a little bit harder to come in under 35 minutes. In any case, it gave me a new goal for my sixtieth birthday, which is to try to shave a few minutes off of my 5K time and perhaps even complete it in 30:00. It was also a fun time for the group, all of whom were smiling at the end, as you can see in our photo.
If there is a moral to this story, it’s that going back to something I used to do, and keeping my expectations very low, can actually feel really good. Have you returned to something that you’d set aside? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
As I have written on this blog before, I have not started engaging in athletic endeavors until later in my adulthood. So, when the pandemic first started and all my triathlon friends were really upset about all races being cancelled or postponed, I didn’t quite understand or empathize with the loss they were experiencing. I always thought I love training for training’s sake, for being able to get out of my head, and all the structure that regularly training brings to my life and writing.
Thanks to all these side effects, I was able to cope with the pandemic and the stress associated with being the partner of a frontline worker, by dedicating more time to triathlon training. I was able to continue to swim and run with my teammates outdoors (Thanks, amiable San Antonio weather). As the vaccinations spread and the impact of the pandemic lessened in severity, regional races started coming back, and I did a quarter triathlon in September (close to Olympic distance), and a half marathon in December.
Both of these races went a lot better than I expected, and I appreciated what people love so much about racing. Spoiler alert: For me, it wasn’t so much about my speed or how I ranked overall but being able to enjoy every minute of the race, seeing new sights, and experiencing all the rush that comes with pushing the body do something challenging, in the company of others.
My first race was at the 2021 Kerrville triathlon Festival. Initially I was registered to do a sprint triathlon, but decided – with the push of my coach and teammates—that I could challenge myself to do a quarter distance. I was hesitant because I had not trained for it but I also knew that I have been active in all three sports consistently and that I could treat it as a little challenge. The distance was 1000m swim, 29-mile ride, and 6.4. mile run. The race morning was fun, always great to see that many high-energy people at 5 am in the morning. I knew I had to be on top of my nutrition throughout the race so I got some last-minute tips from my coach, Mark: Eat something every 20 minutes on the ride and hope for the best.
The first 5 minutes of the swim were a bit nerve-wrecking, I love swimming but I hate pushing through the crowds as I swim. Once I settled into a steady pace, I was able to distance myself from others by falling behind or cruising ahead. There were times I felt like I could try to go faster but I paced myself, I knew I needed the energy in bike and run. I got off the water in good spirits and ran to my bike. I took an extra couple of minutes in transition making sure I have my nutrition easily accessible.
Then on to the bike, which was my favorite part. The wind was on my side and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the rural Texas. I didn’t always feel like eating on the bike but I did, knowing that I would need it to not crash on the run. Once the bike course was over, I was in a good mood and felt like the race was just starting. I made friends along the course during the run, who were the same pace as I was and we chit-chatted supporting each other. I reminded myself to enjoy the course and not worry too much about the speed. It helped and I finished.
Overall, I was done in 3 hrs and 33 minutes, which was pretty good for a first quarter-tri without that much training. It felt so good to do the race, I had gotten the race bug. I registered for a half marathon in December thinking I would for sure be able to train for it and do well.
Turned out training for the half marathon in the Fall when we all got back to real-world ended up being tricky. I had more work responsibilities than anticipated, and was hard on myself for not training properly but I tried to do as much as I could. Some days I could not do the 5-mile run on my training plan but instead of doing none at all, I went for a quick 2-mile. When the half marathon day arrived, I said to myself ok I am not trained the best but I have tried consistently.
The race was fun. The weather was more humid than desirable but I enjoyed being able to run with a dear friend and enjoy exploring the areas of San Antonio that I had not seen before. I took regular walk breaks for about 10 miles as my friend and I had decided to do the race together and she needed to slow down a few times to catch her breath. At mile 10 she insisted that I go ahead and I gave all I got to the last three miles and went fast (for me). I finished it at 2:38. It was not a PR.
My last half marathon was 6 years ago, and I had run it with my students and had finished at 2.22. But I still felt great as a good come back half marathon. I left with feeling that I wanted to and could run another 10 miles. I was also happy that I did not let my feelings about my imperfect training to prevent me from racing. Perhaps I am one of those athletes who love racing now? I signed up for my next half, to take place January 8. I am going to try to perfect my training!!!
How about you, readers? Do you like racing or do you just like training with no particular race in mind? How do you feel about imperfect training?
Photos of our blogger on her bike (left) and after the race (right)
Şerife Tekin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director or Medical Humanities Program at UTSA. Her favorite exercise involves being chased by her cats Chicken and Ozzy. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.
Last weekend I did something brand new. And I had fun. And I will definitely do it again.
Sarah and I raced our Snipe, a 15 1/2 foot dinghy, in the Canadian National Snipe Championships. It was two days of racing over Saturday and Sunday based at our home club, the Guelph Community Boating Club, on Guelph Lake.
We had one goal, and one goal only, and that goal was to not slow down the racing. The next race doesn’t start until the last boat finishes and sometimes, earlier in the season, we were far enough behind that people had to wait. But not this time. We weren’t even last every race and often we were right in the mix with the other boats, having to worry about right of way rules and the like. Starboard! (That’s a thing you can yell when you’re on starboard tack and have right of way. Other boats need to move.)
We also had the perfect amount of wind. Yes, gusty. We have enough weight to be able to deal with that by getting up on high side and hiking. But also not dead calm which can be a bit of an issue this time of year.
What else to love? The community. One of the things I like best about Snipe racing is the range of ages of people racing the boats. Best guess? 12 to 70, but with a fair number of teenagers. There’s a perfect mix, for me, of community and fun and competition.
Our strengths? We got better over time and I think we’ve got lots of endurance and stamina. Thanks bike riding! We’re also good at paying attention and concentrating.
Our weaknesses? We need more time in the boat. We have to go out and deliberately practice mark roundings.
For me, I’ve been getting better moving around in the boat. With my severely arthritic knee, it’s taken a bit work but I am getting there.
After two days in the boat we both felt incredibly beat up, after a fair bit of crashing around. Both days we came home, grabbed food, and fell hard and fast asleep. That was a lot of work and concentration. Zzzzz!
So next year, and we will race again in the Nationals next year, we’ll practice and we’ll also break out our race sails. It was fun to be close enough to the fast boats to think that with work we can actually be competitive.
Here’s hoping that next year pandemic restrictions remain eased and we can actually get out and sail earlier in the season. Fun times!
And here’s some photos! Thanks to the lovely volunteers for taking them.
Sam (and now Cate too) have blogged lots about their Zwift experiences both before and since the start of the pandemic. With the bike trainer the most readily available fitness option, I’ve also been doing lots of virtual riding and racing, especially team time trials (TTTs) in a league organized by WTRL. When I first started racing in the team time trial format for the ZSUN team back in April, my first rides were with a team called ZSUNR Quasar (all ZSUN Racing TTT teams are named for celestial bodies or constellations), until I was able to join a team that races in an evening time slot.
This video gives an idea of how a TTT works – riders from the same team all ride together, taking turns riding as hard as they can on the front of the group, then moving back and using each others’ draft to recover.
I recently made a guest (re-)appearance with ZSUNR Quasar in the annual WTRL TTT World Championships. We had a great race and were the fastest in the world of all the teams in our category (Vienna, women’s teams up to 3.2 watts/kg). We were so fast we beat all the teams in the next category up (Vienna-Latte, women’s teams who have up to three riders at 3.7 watts/kg) and were faster than many teams in even higher categories.
ZSUNR Quasar is made up of many riders from around the world, not all of whom are available to race each week, but who support in other ways, from acting as DS (a “directeur sportif” is a person who directs a cycling team during a road bicycle racing event), to helping with strategy and tactics, to sending encouragement during the race.
E-sports championships at the world level require you to prove you aren’t “weight doping”, claiming you weigh less (or more) than you do in real life to gain an unfair advantage. While the members of the championship race roster were busy recording verification videos, I sent out a questionnaire to the team chat to showcase the diverse backgrounds and lives of world champion Zwift riders (including many Canadians – must be something in the cold snowy air).
Name: Alison LeBlanc
Nickname: Sugar (🤷🏼) – I think it was given to me on the Tuesday ZSun Ladies Social Ride over Discord by Alina & Iva [ZSUNR], they both felt I needed a nickname and it was discussed that I am very nice and sweet like sugar. I was in the group ride at the time listening to this and it happened really quickly so I knew there was nothing I could do about it.
Location: Aurora, Ontario, Canada
What do I do for work/fun: I stayed home from work to raise my kids (twins); my husband travelled a lot so it made sense. This gave me the opportunity to volunteer at their elementary school and it was something I did enjoy. I like to hike, travel, garden and just enjoy the outdoors (in the summer)
How did I get into Zwift: I always rode bikes, recreationally when the kids were younger. My husband, Craig, is the avid cyclist in the family. He started Zwifting in 2017. At the time, I had no interest in Zwift because I was actively involved in Karate and Kickboxing classes. At the end of 2018, I had received my second degree black belt and felt the desire for a change so I tried Zwifting. At first, I rode routes at my own pace a couple of days a week and did the occasional workout. Eventually, it all clicked and I found myself enjoying group rides 4 to 5 times a week. While my first ZSun group ride was a disaster, I had wanted to try the ZSun Ladies Social group ride and did a month later. The pace and company were great (as it still is today) and this has become my favourite group ride! I was eventually asked when I was going to join ZSun Racing so I jumped in with both feet into WTRL TTT (May 2020).
My experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: So far I have raced with 3 teams – Comets, Quasar and Pluto. Each team has felt completely different to me. Every week I look forward to racing with a great group of ladies from all over who want to have fun and kick ass. There is so much support across every level of cycling. These races have helped improve my cycling power and make me want to continue to improve. I also want to contribute everything I have to each race.
Name: Sylvie Holmes Nickname: Wingman. I joined the ZSUN Chain Gang ride fairly early on in 2016/17. It was a fast and long ride at the time and when the leader said stay with the lead, I took it to heart and I stuck! I’ve also always enjoyed joining Zwift friends in their challenges and therefore the nickname “Wingman” 🙂 Location: Dundas, Ontario, Canada Age: 56 years young 😊 What do you do (work/fun): I stopped working in the work world when our first child was born and became a stay at home mom to 3 boys and a daughter. So work/ fun was taking care of a busy family. I love cooking for family and friends and being active. We are lucky to live steps away from a Conservation Area where there are plenty of trails. We moved here with a young family where hiking, followed by biking in trails, orienteering just became something we did as a family. Our young adults still move in and out due to school and work but my husband and I still enjoy hitting the trails, on foot or on bikes. It is great to have something that keeps you moving, whatever your “thing” is. What is your experience racing with ZSUNR team Quasar: I have had the opportunity to race with some amazing and strong women as part of this team. The friendships and the mutual support is wonderful and makes all of us strive to put our best efforts forward. It has also been a fun learning experience as far as team trial races go. The friendships made here and within the broader team, go far beyond the zwift platform. I love seeing how far we can all push ourselves to be our best, while all being supportive of each other.
We don’t do road cycling really. I don’t own a road bike. Zwift is the closest I get to road cycling. Being a part of the ZSUN ladies teams has been a wonderful learning adventure and so many new friends made around the globe. The Quasar team trial races have been a wonderful, as well as a challenging, team event.
so, my name is Willemijn. it’s a typical Dutch name. but I am living is Switzerland now for over ten years. Between the big mountain passes. my nickname is Choo choo the chocolate train. during the social rides there is always a moment where talk of chocolate and cake kicks in. So I told them there is a chocolate train running in Switzerland. which of course was hard to believe. It’s not made of chocolate but it runs through the Gruyere region with final stop at the Caillier chocolate factory. That’s how I got my nickname.
located in Ilanz, Switzerland
trained as a psychiatric nurse. switched to public transport. and now working as bus driver. I have two boys 5 & 7 yo. When I am not working or Zwifting it’s family time. walking in the mountains, skiing during the winter season.
Zwift is part of my life since 2015. you know, when it still had ghost riders and it was a record when 600+ riders where there. and then only on watopia hilly route. I used it only during winter season and definitely not as much as last two years.
my zwifting experienced changed a lot. from mainly alone to seldom alone these days. Always a little anxious with new things and meeting new people, it was Alina AKA Goat with her warm and inviting personality that pulled me in ZSUN. At first only the social rides and last March with half the World in Lockdown with the racing. It really helped me to stay sane. have something to distract and looking forward to. friends for life around the globe. could not have imagine it two years ago. but never want to miss it again.
raced with Quasar at the beginning. without DS we just did it racing together get over the line together. then Paul started to DS us around. And slowly getting more serious.
Name: Carol Scott
Nickname: YoYo – I have cycled competitively on and off since I was 12, so many comebacks mean YoYo is pretty apt
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (for work / for fun):
Worked in IT after leaving UNI but had to give that up and I consider myself very lucky that I could make that choice. Moved to an old house, built 1860 ish so do a lot of fixing.
How did you get into riding on Zwift:
I stopped cycling due to pro-lapsed disc 2008, sold all my bike equipment as I thought I wouldn’t cycle again. A few years later bought a wattbike to try and keep fit as couldn’t ride outside and by coincidence Zwift had just started and I got addicted. I now have a Neo and a dedicated Zwift shed in the garden.
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar:
I’m a newbie to Quasar (only 3rd time racing in the team) as couldn’t join at the start as I had to have a hysterectomy in April. The FOMO kept me going in comeback #99 (YoYo reference 😉) . Now those guys have put in stellar work over the summer and have mega-zwift TTT skills so all that have ridden for the team should be real proud and it is an honour to join.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you:
Myself and three other ladies in my cycling club competed at the World Master Track competition in 2019, set a Scottish record for 3km Team Pursuit on the track. Track cycling, especially Points Races, have been my forte in later years but I started of time-trialling in Scotland when I was 12 and competed for Scotland in some road races in the 1980’s.
Name: Amy Barlow
My nickname was picked during the WTRL Team Time Trial series by my first team the Comets. I was determined to get my Tron bike before the next week’s race, so I spent a week climbing NONSTOP. In appreciation of my determination the team came up with the name Tronosaurus and it got shortened to Rex.
Location: St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (work/fun): I am an early retiree and need to keep busy so when I’m not cycling I enjoy my work as a grad student. I am currently working on my PhD and am teaching first year undergraduate students.
How did you get into riding on Zwift: I started on Zwift to keep/gain some fitness over the winter. I had always taken the entire winter off from cycling and needed to keep doing what I loved over the winter.
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: I have been racing with ZSUNR Quasar since September. After having participated on other teams; Comets and Pluto I got moved to Quasar and haven’t looked back. The team dynamics of Quasar are different than my previous teams but the ladies work very hard together and we all push each other to our absolute limits.
Winning the WTRL World Championships is an incredible accomplishment that was only possible through the dedication and teamwork of those that make up team Quasar whether they rode during the World Championship week or not. Our ladies support each other on and off the bike 24/7 (as we are an international team). This World Championship accomplishment belongs to all the ZSUNR ladies through the support they offer whoever is racing.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you: Cycling creates such a sense of camaraderie. I have made friends from all over the world on Zwift that I consider family.
Name: Meredith Davies
Nickname: “Bits” – The story of “Bits” begins with my kind and generous teammates, who have extensive cycling knowledge, and their attempts to guide me through my very first experience with saddle sores. This is something that, irrespective of anatomy, can plague any rider, but is rarely discussed due to its delicate nature. After learning about every potential accessible pharmacological (or otherwise – Google jellyfish nectar, Australian engine starters, etc.) product for treatment, I decided that, perhaps, creating a more pleasant environment for riding should be my goal. I begged and pleaded for my teammates to share their opinions on saddles and bib shorts, and said that I was willing to “break the bank for my bits”. Little did I know that my lovely teammates would never let me live that down.
Location: Greater Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting: I thoroughly enjoy peeling playdough off the floor and trying to keep toilets from being clogged with various household items. When I’m not pretending to be a successful mother, I am teaching Fitness and Health Promotions.
How did you get into riding on Zwift: My background is in exercise sciences, and part of my personal and professional fitness included group fitness instruction. When fitness facilities were closed, I wanted a different challenge. I have always enjoyed cycling, but never seriously considered it as a passion or focus for my fitness. The challenges that Zwift provided were numerous, and the ability to track data has helped me achieve greater fitness goals. The best part about Zwift was the opportunity to connect socially with like-minded people around the world, some of whom I would now consider friends.
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: After doing a few team time trial races with ZSUNR, I wished for a more competitive experience, and was placed with the women of Quasar. After my first race, I knew I was in way over my head and barely finished the first few races with them. The team was phenomenally encouraging, pushing me each week to improve. Much of my improvement from July-September was due to the intense nature of each weekly ride with Quasar.
When Zwift offered the Zwift Racing League, I stepped away from Quasar to ride with another team within ZSUNR called miZSUNderstood, to challenge myself in new ways with more individual races. However, when the world championships came along, Quasar welcomed me back with open arms, and I had the opportunity to ride alongside these strong women once more. I will always be grateful to these ladies and their drive and commitment. The ZSUNR ladies racing team is extremely supportive and are always the first to challenge each other and celebrate the successes of the team.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you? I’ve also competed and placed in the World Tuna Flat championships
Name: Sarah Pie
Location: Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, Canada
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (work/fun): I am a mechanical engineer who specializes in high rise residential and commercial buildings. Besides road cycling and fat biking, I love dinghy sailing and canoe camping.
How did you get into riding on Zwift: While I started riding occasionally during the winter months at the Bike Shed (https://thebikeshed.ca/), I got into Zwift in earnest as my primary means of exercise during the pandemic.
It wasn’t long before my competitive nature found that racing was way more motivating than workouts or group rides. One of ZSUN’s most dedicated volunteers and ride leaders, Alina “The Goat” kindly connected me with the ZSUN Racing community and I haven’t looked back
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar: I raced with Quasar during the early months of the pandemic. I look forward to the Thursday TTT race all week, even though it was incredibly challenging every week. As one of the slowest members of the team I was riding at or above threshold for most of the race, sucking the wheels of the faster riders. While you’d think that competitiveness might have been what kept me hanging week after week, but it’s actually the incredible generosity and team spirit of the women of the ZSUN Racing Team that made some pretty impossible efforts seem possible. There is incredible joy and camaraderie in suffering together, knowing that every bit of effort you put out will make you faster and lighten the burden on your teammates.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you: The goofy looking photo is a still image from my height verification video. I think you can see my giddy excitement as well as my maple leaf shorts and lucky coffee socks.
Name: Tracy Wright
Nickname: Sweets (seemingly love of cakes/sweets/icecream but also that someone said I was super sweet)
Location: Stoke on Trent UK
Age: ooooh secret for nxt year will be out. 49
What do you do when you’re not Zwifting (for work / for fun)?: I’m a health&safety/quality consultant in the automotive repair industry. Love going to live rock gigs and watching/playing footy
How did you get into riding on Zwift?: booked to cycle London2Paris IRL and was concerned about getting miles in so hubby introduced me to the world of zwift
What is your experience racing with ZSUNR Quasar?: shamazeballs- these ladies are so so encouraging, supportive, funny and fabulous. We work hard but don’t kinda take ourselves tooooo seriously, just fab. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?: I’m a music ‘metal head’ who has appeared in an AC/DC video
Tonight’s Zwift race, a team time trial which was three laps of Watopia’s Hilly Route, was for me an exercise in technical difficulties. Also, hills. And a smaller roster than usual of teammates. But mostly technical difficulties.
I began with my phone at 5 percent battery and the threat of losing discord loomed large. I plugged the phone in but it doesn’t charge that quickly. Discord matters because it’s how we communicate who is next up in the sequence of riders, how we’re feeling, how long a pull we want to take at the front and so on. There might also be some crying, swearing, and whining. We agreed I’d use the app to signal with my avatar’s arm if I lost Discord and wanted to skip my turn at the front. We had a set order of rotation of riders and in theory it ought to be okay with one of us out of communication.
Here’s me at the start. On the left, my avatar is in yellow TFC kit, with a pink Zwift academy hat and socks. On the right, actual me looks nervous about the race. My team lost two riders at the last minute. One didn’t get in the start pen in time and the other got stuck at work. I had been telling myself that I only needed to do two laps and that we could send the four best climbers ahead on our third time up the KOM. This is now no longer true. Gulp.
In the end my phone stayed charged. But I had bigger problems. My internet was wonky and I kept losing everyone on the screen. For about half the race it looked like I was riding alone. I had to use the listing of riders on the right hand side of the screen to “see” where I was in the group. Pacing was a challenge. I kept going off the front because my big worry was being dropped. It wasn’t until the final lap that I could consistently see my teammates which is strange and challenging in a team time trial.
We also lost a teammate tonight who got dropped and isn’t coming back next week. I feel bad about that and wish I could have explained better what was going on. Teams are hard work that way.
All of this reminded me of my worst technical glitch ever, completely losing power in a race and getting dropped. I wasn’t sure what happened until Sarah and I looked at the trainer after. The extension cord plug which leads to the trainer had come unplugged.
Here’s our high tech fix!
Anyway, in the end we did okay technical glitches and all.
May 31st 2020. It is race day. Perfect conditions in Middleton Connecticut where the 70.3 Half Iron Man is scheduled. The sky is a clear blue; the temperature is 16 degrees in the early morning with no call for rain.
This day has been years in the making with hard physical and mental preparation, not to mention the hill repeats. This was the race to celebrate retirement from thirty-five years of teaching.
However, this race is not happening.
Covid- 19 a closed border, and I’m recovering from a broken wrist. This day is turning in a different direction.
This is a non-race race day.
What does someone do with a non-race race day?
Option number one: stay in bed. Duly considered. It is an unseasonable 9 degrees in London, Ontario.
Option two: drink tea and eat pancakes loaded with fresh maple syrup, topped with coconut whipped cream and fresh fruit followed by a Netflix binge. (Now we are talking. But as it turns out, this comes later.)
Option three: race!
What! Race? Is that even possible?
How does one define a race anyway?
Who decided it has to look a certain way?
What would be fun?
What else is possible here that I have not considered?
What is it I really love about race day?
What part of that can be duplicated, and how?
And so, as I stare longingly at my triathlon gear, the non race, race day plan is created.
No alarm set, no travel required. Not so bad really.
Race day breakfast is prepared. Steel cut oats with fresh fruit, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, dried cherries and almond milk. Delicious.
Support crew John Case has absconded for the day. It begins with him walking the dog and preparing a few more nutrition pieces for my day. I am warming up with some running drills and a short walk.
And the non-race race begins.
I chose to start with the bike.
Rule number one of the non-race race day: break the rules to create what works for you.
So, the order of events is changed.
I hop on my bike trainer. Still somewhat limited with gear changing due to the weakness in my wrist, it seems the next best option when not able to ride outside. I choose a 1:45 minute program found in Trainer Road, one I had completed already in early February. I set a challenging Functional Threshold number.
Knowing that this was a race and not “just” a training ride, there was no taking a break. No stopping on the last set when it got challenging. This was a race, and when the going got tough the mental game was ramped up. I found this ride a great challenge and pushed through the last ten minutes as if ascending one of the challenging hills of Connecticut in anticipation of the final downhill into the town. My heart rate was elevated, my legs were burning, and I felt great.
Phase two: run. Unfortunately, my wrist is not so happy with the jarring motion of running, and so we get a new phase two: walk.
No problem, no rules here. I call my friend Chris for some social distance phase two support and we head out on a favourite University Hill route at a brisk pace. I am grateful for the company.
One hour and fifty minutes later, a 10k walk is complete. It was a gorgeous day. Perfect temperature. I notice things that perhaps would go unnoticed when wrapped up in the focused intensity of running. The flowers, the river flowing, the birds singing. This non-race race thing is not all that bad.
Now, home for phase three. I am delighted that I have an outdoor swimming pool as all public pools have been closed since Covid-19. I change into my Canadian Triathlon Suit for full effect and head to the water.
The non-swim swim in the non-race race consists of short lengths, some water running and drills for 30 minutes. Not quite the open water swim that I love so much, but I was grateful for this option.
In the end, the non-race race was half the time and distance of the Half Ironman. There were no cheering crowds, finish lines, expos and aid stations. I did not receive a medal or a fancy hat. I still do not have that 70.3 bumper sticker to display on my car and… I am so grateful for this non-race race day.
Amidst these crazy times, this was a day just for me. It was simple, challenging and rewarding, and it reminded me, as cliché as it sounds, that sometimes it is not about the destination, but about the journey.
It is about resiliency, about choice, about flexibility and adaptation in this game called life.
Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.
Exercise was not a regular part of my life until my early 20s. Not because I did not like being active, it was simply not an opportunity or privilege afforded to the kids of middle income families in the 1990s Turkey. I was able to swim, however, in the summers, and I felt so at HOME in the Aegean waters. I discovered running as a young adult during my MA in a super cold city in Western Canada (Saskatoon!) thanks to my roommate K and continued to run on and off during my PhD in Toronto. Loved running around the Lake Ontario: was as close as I could get to the Aegean.
I never considered myself an athlete though, because (i) I wasn’t particularly fast nor ambitious enough to get faster, (ii) I mostly ran solo, so was not part of a “team spirit”, and (iii) I ran so that I could write: I never ran for running’s sake. I grew the habit of drafting my papers, and then eventually my dissertation during these long runs. My love of running complemented my love of writing. It was during those years that I read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I talk About Running” so many times.
I trained for and finished my first ever half marathon when I was 29 with a beloved Toronto friend a few months before I finished my PhD. I was 29. Fast forward 10 years: Moved 5 more times in 10 years (academic job market!!!), went through several episodes of back pain exacerbated by a combination of cold weather, job market stress, sitting long hours on horrible chairs to write. I continued to run on and off, even did half marathons with my students, but never dared to call myself a runner. I also started spinning at indoors with my friend A: Spinning kept us warm and cozy during the epic snowpocalypses of Buffalo. I always wanted to incorporate running and cycling into my daily routine and start swimming but the perpetually cold weather, pre-tenure grind, and the intermittent back and knee problems were not particularly helpful.
Things have finally changed for the better when I moved to San Antonio: Even before my fly out for my job interview I knew everything about the UTSA’s gorgeous heated outdoor pool and how warm the city stays in the winter! I got the job. Within first few months of moving down, I started biking in the gorgeous trails that lace around the city and took lessons to improve my swim. My swim coach introduced me to the UTSA triathlon club and Paragon Training and for the first time in my life I started regularly training with a super supportive team of athletes from different walks of life under the leadership of my inspiring coach Mark Saroni. It was January 2019. It was a humbling start, I felt like I was constantly trying to catch my breath during the swims, and just “wanted to die” during the 5k run time trials. To my surprise, however, I did start feeling like an athlete even though I was and still am constantly struggling. Overall, I had more energy. I was a lot happier. I made great friends which was SO welcome because moving – yet again— to a new city in mid-life is NOT easy even for social butterflies like me.
I did my first Sprint Triathlon at the end of September in a cute Texas Hill Country town. Not only was I able to finish, I also got pretty good results. Most importantly I had so MUCH fun. I loved the high energy nature of the sprint triathlon; I loved how focused I was during the race: just one breath, one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time. After the race, I started training more.
Today I raced the running only component of Texas Tough Duathlon which is put on by the UTSA’s triathlon team (go Runners!!) and Paragon Training. Caveat: there were NOT that many runners, but the course was super hilly and I broke a PR – 8.43/mile – and won the first place among women. I am so happy and proud of how far I have come. After having moved around all years, literally and figuratively, I am happy to have found a community that moves around with me to “suffer faster,” in our coach Mark’s words. What I learned from fellow athletes is that you start planning your next race the second you are done with one: For me, it is a Half Ironman, for which I shall start training once I get tenure.
Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Medical Humanities at UTSA. When she is not moving around she can be found petting her kitty cat Cortez. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.
Last Sunday, I ran my first race. I’ve been running for eleven years (and are my legs ever tired!) but I’ve never run any kind of a race before. Mainly because I’ve just never been much of a one for races. I even dropped out of the rat race a few years ago, because – as a funnier and wiser woman than I once pointed out – even when you win, you’re still a rat.
So naturally, for my very first race ever, I chose to run a half-marathon. Because why not?
Actually, it was Andra’s idea. Andra is my physiotherapist, and a former competitive swimmer and volleyball player. She takes no shit from anybody, least of all me.
I’ve been working with Andra for over three years now. For two of those years, I wasn’t running at all. She helped reconfigure my body after my last pregnancy downloaded and installed some updates that I don’t ever remember clicking “OK” on.
The thing is that, apparently, for most of my adult life, I’ve been walking around with an undiagnosed case of scoliosis: a bent spine. Mine curves from side to side, creating a posture somewhat reminiscent of one of Tom Thomson’s windblown jack pines. I always knew I was a bit off-kilter, but I never knew until three years ago that I had A Condition.
Apparently (don’t quote me on this) if you have scoliosis, one pregnancy is OK, but subsequent pregnancies can worsen the spinal curvature. Much hilarity ensues. Like, if you’ve ever wanted to recreate the Grand Canyon between your rectus abdominis muscles, scoliosis plus pregnancy can totally help you with that.
Now, I did not want the Grand Canyon, but it ended up being part of the whole post-partum package-tour I embarked on back in 2016 (you really gotta read the fine print on these things). In addition to scheduled stops at Sleepless Gulch and Hormone Crash Hill, there was also plenty of commentary from the locals: “Already pregnant again!?” “Is this one of those weird twin pregnancies where they’re born weeks apart?” “Wow, I forgot how long it takes to look normal after giving birth!” etc etc.
Worst trip ever. But at least, after the magical “six weeks pp” were up, I’d be “allowed” to run again. Right? Right?!
[Ron Howard’s voice: “She was wrong.”]
In September 2016, I found out that not only did I have scoliosis, but it had also probably worsened during the pregnancy, turning the area under my ribs into a veritable pressure-cooker and creating a gaping 12cm/6-finger separation between my abs. This separation, together with the scoliosis, was setting me up for even worse alignment problems that could result in spinal deformities, disc herniation, urinary incontinence and – everybody’s favourite – pelvic organ prolapse.
And so, given this, I should give up running, forever, and take up race-walking. (If my life were an episode of Friends, this would be the one where Chandler Byng quips, “Because race-walking is such a ordinary, everyday activity that doesn’t make you look ridiculous or stand out AT ALL.”).
Oh, and also? My abdomen would never be flat again without at least ten-thousand dollars’ worth of plastic surgery, followed by a two-month recovery and almost inevitable chronic and incurable pain from nerve damage. Pretty much the best thing I could do, in this strange, new, disloyal, and no longer conventionally-attractive body, was “be grateful” I was a “mama”, and “embrace” my “journey”, along with my “battle scars” and my “tiger stripes”.
I am still mildy amazed that I didn’t “drop-kick” the “physiotherapist” right there and then, but forgive me, my reflexes were pretty shot from lack of sleep.
That was Physio No. 1. Physio No. 2 was Andra. Who, in her no-nonsense, does-not-suffer-fools-gladly, clipped Romanian way agreed with Physio No. 1 that my situation was “not good” (“It feels like gummy bears in here, it feels like a trampoline” she said, prodding my abdomen).
Then she uttered life-changing words: “We will fix this.”
If I’d known, sitting in a tiny office up the street from the Reference Library on a dreary winter afternoon, that the path to “fixing this” was going to involve a two-year slog through electro-accupuncture, progressive core-activation exercises, swimming endless laps, tedious floor work, before finally graduating to modified workouts with a trainer at the gym – I’d have crumpled to the floor. This piece, written then, knowing that, would have been entitled By the Toronto Reference Library I Sat Down And Wept, and I probably wouldn’t be running today. Actually, I’m not sure – I’m a stubborn old cuss when you get right down to it. But knowing that entire years lay between me and me getting back to my preferred – at the time, my only – sport, would have been devastating. Andra was smart. She didn’t say anything about how long it could take. She just said we would fix it, and I believed that we could so I was ready to show up and do the fricken work.
And if you’d told me that in less than three years, I’d run a half-marathon – me, who had never run any race, ever, who had run a continuous 20K exactly one time, in three hours, four years ago – me, always picked last on teams in gym class – me, lugging this living cautionary-tale of a postpartum body around, a “Here Be Dragons” warning made flesh – me? Run in a marathon? I would have laughed so hard I’d probably have busted a gut. (Except it was already busted, so no worries there).
But. Reader, I marathoned. OK, I half-marathoned. I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half on October 20, 2019. My goal was modest: sub 2:30. I crossed the finish line at 2:27.
A year ago, almost exactly, I was running one minute and walking five. I was glad to be running again, even if only for a minute at a time, but I was finding it really, really hard. I had so little endurance, despite all the work I’d put in over the past two years. And when winter came, I quickly got bored of running on the indoor track at the gym. So I took up skating instead, because if you can’t beat Winter, you may as well throw your arms wholeheartedly around it while also leaping around frozen surfaces on sharp blades.
When the ice melted, I moved the skating indoors, but I also went back to running. With Andra’s endorsement, I registered to run the STWM half. I didn’t commit to seriously training for it until June, which is when I made the total rookie mistake of upping my daily mileage by 6K in one day and made the fascia around my right hip “angry”, in Andra’s words. My hip’s temper tantrum set me back weeks.
Nevertheless, I persisted. Andra’s advice plus a tennis ball and a foam roller got me back on track. By September, I was running 10K easily. Then 12, then 14, then 16, and finally my last three long runs before the race were just over 18K.
Seasoned runners joke that running a marathon is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. So too was my recovery. Except, I stopped looking up while I was doing it, because every time I looked up, I scanned for a horizon I couldn’t even see, much less imagine, and this made me angry and scared and sad. So, I just kept my eyes on my feet and kept moving them forward. One foot, then the other. Physio, swimming. The gym, my bike. The stairs in High Park, and then the hiking trails. Run one, walk five. Skate a bit, run a bit more. One foot, then the other. I just kept showing up. I went to the gym and to the rink and to physiotherapy (thank you childcare, part-time job, supportive partner, and generous spousal health insurance coverage!) and somehow, somehow along the way on this metaphorical “journey” (*makes flourishing air quotes with hands*) I upgraded from the all-inclusive Occasional Runner package, to some kind of Choose Your Own Jock Adventure deal. And that’s an upgrade I’m more than OK with.
Jennifer is a writer, mother, wife, runner, cyclist, skater (ice and inline), and non-profit administrator. She lives in Toronto.
This is part two of my report on how I didn’t run a half marathon. Read part 1 here!
Once I had realised there was no way I was running 21k, I decided to downgrade to the shorter distance of the race. A friend of mine had signed up for the half marathon too, but had injured his knee a couple of weeks before, so he also decided to switch. What a pair! At least we were in the same boat. But as I resigned myself to the shorter option, I also made a crucial mistake: in my memory, there was something about a distance of 9, but this being Europe, my mind somehow turned this into a 10k option. It wasn’t until the Friday evening, after a more than 3k swim practice with speed work to boot, that I exhaustedly realised we were talking about 9 miles, i.e. 14.5k! Yikes.
I turned up on Sunday morning, still tired from the 10k test run the previous Thursday and swim practice on the Friday, and with my stomach still not at 100% after whatever bug it was I had picked up the week before. This was going to be… interesting. Luckily, my friend and I had a good support crew: our partners came along to chauffeur and cheer us on. And there was the prospect of burgers at an excellent diner close to the race venue afterwards.
The conditions were perfect: around 20C and sunnier than expected – the rain that had been forecast decided to hold off until later that day, so weather-wise the only downside was a slightly-too-strong wind. I was a bit nervous because of my stomach, but also determined. If I wasn’t going to do the half marathon, I was at least going to give it my all for the 14.5k.
I set off at quite a good pace. My stomach wasn’t very happy though – you know that feeling when you want to burp, but you can’t? That was me for about the first half of the race. Not too pleasant. Because I wasn’t very comfortable, I had trouble settling into my rhythm. I was keeping a decent speed, but it constantly felt like I was pushing myself. There was also the wind, which was coming from the side or the front. But the course was nice, it took us through a park with two small lakes and then out into the fields.
At the first water station, I took electrolytes and water. Mistake. My stomach hated the electrolytes, there was too much liquid, but on the other hand I was thirsty, so something had to give. I pressed on as the course turned onto a long, straight stretch through the fields. The wind was now coming from the back, which was technically an improvement, but it also meant that the sun was now in my back and it got really, really warm. I really struggled to keep my pace at this point and wished I’d worn shorts instead of capris.
The second water station came around the 10k mark; I’d learned from my earlier mistake and only took water. My stomach had now settled down and I was able to focus more on my stride, which was also becoming necessary because I was getting quite tired. I could still feel Thursday’s training run and Friday’s swim practice in my legs and my splits were constantly getting slower. Up until then, the Spotify 170bpm playlist I had on really helped, but at this stage it became about continuing to run rather than speed.
If I had hated the part of the course with the sun in my back, the course setters had something “better” in stock at around 12k: over 1 kilometre along a sandy path. My friend and I agreed after the race that this was by far the toughest bit physically. Since this was a combined 9-mile and half-marathon course, as we came up to the 19k sign I knew we had about 2k left and the going was getting really tough. I’d long decided to disregard the mile signs: being used to counting kilometres, the miles didn’t tell me much and I found them more confusing than helpful.
As I slogged along, my friend, who is known for taking his time to settle into a race, finally overtook me about 1 kilometre before the end. Mentally, the first half of the last kilometre was the hardest for me: the course looped down a random street for about 200m before coming back in the opposite direction to make the distance fit. I was exhausted, and the way into the loop was ever-so-slightly uphill. Plodding along as I saw other runners coming towards me was really discouraging somehow.
But once I had finished that horrible part, I knew I was out of the woods. There was a guy right in front of me who was going at the same pace I was, so I made it my goal to overtake him before the finish line and mobilised my reserves to speed up. Turns out, he had the same idea and we basically raced each other to the finish. I got so caught up in the competition I ran straight past my finisher medal and had to go back for it later!
I was completely spent, but elated. I’d finished! I hadn’t died! I hadn’t thrown up! I’d run 14.5k with far less-than-ideal training and while not being perfectly healthy! I was also really thirsty, but for the first 15 minutes I didn’t feel like I could drink anything but water. Then I had some coke, which I don’t usually love but suddenly craved. Later, we ate burgers as promised – I couldn’t quite finish mine (still that pesky stomach), but I’ve never had a veggie burger that tasted of victory quite as much as this one!
Reading over this post again, it sounds like I really suffered, and in the moment, I actually did. But I’m still really, really pleased I ran. The feeling of having finished made all the difficulties worth it! Even if it wasn’t a half marathon.
For what it’s worth, I finished in 1:22:32 and actually came third in my age group (it was a small race). Not bad, all things considered! I was on point with my splits (my goal pace was under or around 5:30mins/km) up until kilometre 8. My aim for the half marathon had been to do it in about 2 hours, give or take, and speed-wise I was nearly on track for that. Stamina-wise, I couldn’t have done it on the day, but I’m optimistic that if I manage to get through training without getting sick right before the race, I can do it – next time!
These last six months, running and I have been on a rollercoaster ride together—queasy stomachs and screams of joy. In March, I agreed to do a half-marathon with a friend on her April birthday and immediately started dreading it. I swore off road races about a decade ago. The running events I participate in once or twice a year are off-road. Runs on forest trails or in the mountains. To compound my dread (or perhaps because of), I trained poorly and my race result was disappointing; actually, extremely so. I wish I’d read these wise insights right after, it would have helped me process: So You Had a Crappy Race … Now What?
I don’t want you to notice that crappy half marathon.
In an attempt to redeem myself (for myself), one month later I recommitted to running by joining a Hood to Coast relay team. That’s a 200-mile relay run from Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood (near Portland) to Seaside on the coast of Oregon. Our team of 12 ran 36 legs (three each) ranging from just under 4 miles to as long as almost 8 miles. My legs (as runner 6) added up to 17.6 miles (plus the two bonus miles I had to run just to get to the handoff points when our van was held up in the event’s inevitable traffic snarls (with more than 10,000 participants, imagine the people moving pile-ups). Did you notice how challenging the event sounds?
I am not much of a joiner. This event was uncharted territory for me. I felt a responsibility to train properly, not just to re-energize my own relations with running, but for my team. Fortunately, I was in my favourite place to run for the weeks leading up to the event. Every summer I spend a good chunk of time in California’s Sierra Mountains. There was a period of a few years when I would run for hours by myself training for an ultrarun. But in 2016 I had surgery to remove a Morton’s neuroma from my foot and I seemed to have lost that source of joy. This summer, with Hood to Coast on my calendar, I recaptured the bliss of long runs alone in the mountains. In addition to my longer runs, I added a new training discipline. There’s a short-ish loop my partner and I have always loved as our super-efficient workout. Glacier Way. 4.2 miles. 45 minutes (give or take). 724 feet of elevation gain (and loss). This year we did the run once a week as fast as we could go. As a friend of mine used to say of such intense efforts, “I almost coughed up a lung.” It had been a long time since I’d pushed my speed like that.
Two weeks before Hood to Coast, I told my partner that I felt the strongest I had since my foot surgery. He was shocked. I virtually never say things like that. Partly out of self-doubt and partly superstition. I don’t want to tempt fate by saying that I feel strong out loud. It’s like saying, “Oh the traffic isn’t bad,” right before your car comes to a full stop because of road construction. On the Monday before the event, I surprised myself with my best ever Glacier Way run, cresting the hardest climb, as if the wind were at my back. No one saw me do it. I didn’t need anyone to notice. It felt so good just to be alive in that moment.
Despite the great run, I was scared about the relay. It was my first time doing the event, so I was worried about everything from food, to what to wear, to the mental and physical discomfort of sitting in a van for long stretches and lack of sleep. Plus, I didn’t know most of my team mates. I was overwhelmed by social anxiety. What if my van mates (each team of 12 has two vans of 6 runners) disliked me? Or vice versa. We were about to spend long, intimate hours together.
I figured out what to eat—pre-made peanut butter, honey and coarse salt sandwiches and dried mango. I brought one pair of running shoes and three complete running outfits, plus a long sleeve shirt in case my midnight leg was that cold. And I wore the same loose pants, tank top and flipflops the rest of the time, donning layers as needed, including a knee length winter jacket for extra warmth, which doubled as a sort-of sleeping bag.
As for my team mates. They were super nice. Easy. Good spirited. No pressure.
Really, no pressure. So much so that they didn’t really care that I’d been training my heart out and had sharpened up my speed and endurance. Each leg I finished faster than the leg before, I felt like a child bringing home crayon drawings to be displayed on the fridge. But there was no fridge. Occasionally we’d pass a fast woman runner and someone in our van would comment on her speed. I’d assess whether she was running faster than me and if not, wonder why they hadn’t commented on my speed. If I had run four minutes per mile slower, my relay legs would have yielded the same attention they got. All crayon drawings were admired equally and discarded. This is, of course, the way it should be on such a team. This is, in fact, the thing that made my team experience so seamless. My longing to be noticed for my contributions of speed is … Needy? Childish? Human?
I’m going with human.
While I wanted to impress my team mates, the person I most wanted to wow was myself. But, as I am also my harshest critic, I often need others’ praise to truly believe that I’ve done something well. I know I shouldn’t need the outside world to assure me of my okay-ness, but I do. Most people do. And that’s the reminder I came away with from Hood to Coast. I know it’s not just me who wants to be noticed. It’s all of us. I can’t do anything about whether or not someone notices me, but I can (and will) be better about noticing others.
And this—these fleet moments come and go. If I don’t notice my own strength for my own self, then I miss the opportunity to enjoy these days of running frisky!
What do you want people to notice about you? And what are celebrating for your own self?