Crossfit · running · weight lifting · yoga

Tracy is taking suggestions…bring ’em on

mage description: Tracy's shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.
Image description: Tracy’s shadow on sidewalk, dry mud beside, running shoes and lower legs visible in bottom left corner.

I’m bored with my workout routine. It’s not that I don’t like the things I’m doing. I’m getting stronger in personal training. I love yoga and feel as if I don’t do enough of it these days. And I’m itching to get back to running after my back injury took me out of it for more than a month and I’ve only just dipped my toe back into it since then.

But I feel as if a change is in the air. As much as I’m enjoying personal training, there have been quite a few developments in resistance-training these days, with more small gyms popping up offering different kinds of weight training in more of a group-class setting. One example, that I’ve not yet tried but has been recommended to me is Revkor. We have a studio here in London, and the idea of resistance band training intrigues me.

Another option, which I also have never tried, is something along the lines of CrossFit. My friend Tara has been going to a gym downtown where they do that sort of group workout and she is loving it.

I’m kind of old school and worry that if I’m not hitting heavy free weights in a gym setting I won’t actually get stronger. But at the same time, with my 14-month leave coming up, I feel as if I might need some more opportunities to be around people, and that these group workouts at specialty gyms might be just the thing. And though not cheap, they’re cheaper than personal training.

I’m also planning to spend the summer doing 10K training, 3-4 times a week. And I want to up my yoga classes from once a week to 2-3 times a week. At least that’s what I’ve got in mind.

But I’m open to suggestions. Have you tried anything lately that’s different and that you’re so jazzed about that you want to encourage others to give it a go? If so, please tell me about it and why you’re attracted to it.

aging · cycling · disability · hiking · running

Aging Ungracefully (Guest Post)

By Mavis Fenn

About a month ago, my son and daughter ran the Round the Bay 30 km road race in Hamilton. A brutal course, complete with Grim Reaper. I never could have completed it. As I stood at the finish line, I marvelled at those crossing: varied in age, gender, race, and from a range of provinces and countries. Some finished strong, some not so strong, and some struggled to make that final footstep. And my heart hurt as the waves of runners crossed the line.

I didn’t understand the heartache. I haven’t run for years due to a meniscus tear and arthritis in my knees. I have large velcro braces for both knees when I need to walk for some distance, and will be trying gel injections by the end of summer. My knees are always stiff, and frequently painful. I lift weights, do yoga, and Zumba Gold (now Aqua). I intend to ride my bike this summer. My life is still an active one; why the heartache?

After some reflection, I realized that I had not yet given up the idea of running. In the recesses of my mind was the idea that I might run again if: I lost some weight, got some heavy duty running braces, and so on. That won’t work for me due to other issues. I am not a runner now and I will not be a runner in the future. That’s it.

The wave of runners crossing the finishing line destroyed my “magical thinking.” I was experiencing grief. The death of an ability; the death of something that gave me great pleasure; the death of part of my identity; indeed, the recognition that I was dying. I have experience with grief. I let it into my heart and embraced it. Grief brought with it remembrance of my father who lived until 94. He did what he could as long as he could. When a door closed behind him, he opened another one until there were no doors left. I have closed the door marked “running” behind me. I have not paid enough attention to the doors in front of me, biking and walking.

Time to move on. I will always enjoy watching that wave of people crossing the finish line at the Round the Bay but I am content not to be one of them. I am working on my fear of bike riding, and slowly increasing my walking. Endurance is the key.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

fitness · injury · rest · running

Tracy’s turn for a sad story

“OUCH!” in red block letters written in marker on a white background.

As I write this I am in bed with a cold pack on my right lower back and just got a text message from a friend who used to be a nurse. It said, “do you think maybe you should see your doctor? It’s not getting better over time?” She was talking about my lower back.

Ever since a couple of days after my Around the Bay 30K two Sundays ago I’ve had almost no sustained relief from a pain in my lower back unless I’m lying down. And even then, to get into a lying down position is a slow and careful process that sometimes leaves me weeping. Getting up from it (or from a chair, or into / out of the car) is similarly difficult.

If I move wrong when sitting, standing, or lying down, I get a searing pain and my back and leg go weak, such that it feels as if they are about to give way. Needless to say, I have not run since Around the Bay. I also cancelled my personal training last week. I made it to one actual yoga class, and it felt good, but again I had to scale to my capacity, which meant forward bends and anything that involved getting up or lowering myself down required a modified approach.

I asked Sam whether I should blog about this because I was so pumped after Around the Bay and felt so strong in every way possible, that this back situation feels like an enormous disappointment. Quite the come down, actually. Sam said it’s real and an okay thing to blog about.

Damn right it’s real. I don’t think I’ve experienced physical pain this real in years. The kind that makes me cry. I’ve got great pain tolerance. I didn’t even cry when the dentist drilled into a raw unfrozen nerve during a root canal.

But I tend to be a bit private about pain. Not that I don’t share setbacks and difficulties with my friends. And not that I never blog about challenging times. And not that the people I work with aren’t aware of my delicate back situation this week (because otherwise they would be wondering why I’m walking so slowly and wincing from time to time for no apparent reason). I’m not one to suffer in silence. But it would never occur to me to tell my Facebook friends that I am in excruciating back pain this week. So blogging about it is a bit uncomfortable.

And yet as Sam said, it’s real. And we all have setbacks sometimes. Sam blogged about her much more serious difficulties just the other day. And Catherine talked about getting realistic in April. We all have things that come up, some temporary and others more permanent.

Truth be told, I’m not “rolling with it” particularly well. I mean, I thought and expected that it would resolve in time for me to go for an easy run on Sunday morning. But that was not realistic. I probably shouldn’t have walked home from work on Wednesday. And now, I just can’t even imagine running or walking any distance, or going to the weight room, or even doing a yoga class without taking it super slow and easy.

I’m seeing an osteopath after work today and I went for a massage focusing on that part of my back at the end of the day yesterday. And yes, I’m lying on an ice pack right now and I think I will pop a couple of ibuprofen caplets. I hope, as Susan said, that the osteopath will “gently wiggle” me “back to health.”

Meanwhile, I think this has helped me decide that perhaps, as much as I love running, distances like 30K are too taxing on my 54-year old body. When I do get back to running, I’m sticking with a 10K max for awhile (until Anita talks me into another half marathon or something).

How well do you cope with injuries that interfere with what you’d ideally like to be doing?

aging · competition · fit at mid-life · running · training

The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

One month ago, I signed up for the Shape Half Marathon in New York on April 14. I haven’t run a regular road half-marathon in about a decade. I do still participate in the occasional trail running event, but some years ago I decided that I’d run enough road races. To compound my dread going in, I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to start training until March 14th(literally only 30 days before the race). Sure, I would be cross-country skiing for the weeks before then, so not out of shape, but certainly not in running form. I only signed up because a friend asked me to. The race is on her birthday, so … Before I could second guess myself, I registered.

Well, I’m remembering why I don’t do road races anymore. My head. My head. My head. I know I’ll be slower than my last half-marathon, yet I don’t want to know. I’m aging. I didn’t start running seriously until I was in my late 20s. It took me a while to find my strength. Which means that I had the good feeling of beating my younger self until I was well into my forties. Not so anymore.  A lot of days I don’t think anything of my generally slower pace. When I’m not training for a race, I’m able to think: How lucky am I to still be running? How good does it feel to travel on my own two legs? How strong am I? But these days, when I’m out for a training run, I think: Why am I so slow? Why am I so tired? Where’s my spring? Where’s my lightness? My zip? 

Pile of old wooden wall clocks, by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The looming race screws with my sense of self-worth. My mind turns on me and I can’t access my gratitude. Sigh. There’s no joy in the training. Thank you, Sam, for pointing out earlier this week thatwe are not always going to have fun in our workouts. Though I want, as Tracy pointed out, to have some kid-like funwith my body. I am not having fun with this training. I’m having frustration and self-recrimination instead. 

Also, I did not ease into my training. I decided that with only a month to train, I’d start with a 14-mile run. You don’t need to tell me how ridiculous that was. Plus, I wore not just new running shoes, but a new kind of running shoe I’d not tried before. So smart. Turns out the new shoe style did something nasty to my calf, which has taken a full two weeks to almost heal. Two weeks during which I continued to run haphazardly, because how could I not do at least four 2-hour runs before the race? More like 2-hour lopsided slogs through a haze of discomfort. Last week I was only able to run once after my long run, because my body was in pain and exhausted. And I’m not even sure that my “long” run was actually a long distance, because I was in Illinois, running somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t track distances. All I know is that I was running for more than 2 hours; who knows how far or not far. 

You get the picture. I’ve done a lot wrong to prepare for this race. I might have done better to rest for the full month and then run on the day in my old, familiar running shoes. Am I self-obstructing so I have an excuse (other than time and years) for a poor result? And by “poor” I just mean relative to my own past results.

I’m writing this with 10 days to go before the race. Here’s where I’m at: I know I can run 13.1 miles. That’s not the challenge. The real obstacle is my thinking. I’m competing with my younger self and that’s a losing battle. I need to make the mind shift. As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!). But that doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I know that how I think and what I think are choices. That’s step one. Step two is actually implementing that knowledge. 

So hard. Working on it! 

Anyone else slowing down? I’d love your thoughts and insights on how you’ve come to peace with the new normal.  

fitness · race report · running

Tracy feels strong after Around the Bay 30K

Sunday was the Around the Bay 30K in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a road race famous for a hilly final 10K, unpredictable weather conditions, and, as it’s slogan reminds us, for being “Older than Boston.” Anita and I have been prepping for this all winter, though we followed different training plans.

I adjusted my distance training for intensity after I got back from India. I blogged that I was nervous about that approach, but I stuck with it anyway, trusting my coach, Linda. Anita stuck with the distance plan, doing super long Sunday runs up to 28K. We went to Hamilton the day before so we could pick up our race kits and take it easy (hotel with a hot tub!). We met up with Helia, another friend who was doing the 30K with us.

Both Anita and I were surprisingly relaxed about the event. I didn’t feel a single bit of nerves or fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Anita’s goal was just to finish. Helia wanted to finish “without dying.” I was a bit more ambitious, wanting to beat my previous time (from 2014) by almost 10 minutes to come in at 3:30 instead of 3:40-ish.

The weather forecast kept changing–going from 6 degrees C down to a high of 2C by the night before, and when we woke up it had snowed overnight. As we walked to the race start (about 2K from our hotel), I predicted that the person with the most optimistic attitude (me!) would probably end up either complaining first (in fact, none of us ever complained) or falling behind (which I did).

It’s one of those races with a big buzz at the start line because there are something like 30,000 people gathering to do a thing that is one of those bonding experiences.

Image description: three smiling women (left to right: Helia, Anita, Tracy) at the start line for the Around the Bay 30K, all wearing jackets, Helia in sunglasses and cap, Anita with a headband, Tracy with cap and buff, other runners in the background. Overcast skies.

My strategy for any race is to divide it up into sections. For a 30K the most obvious division is into 3 10Ks. The course literally does go Around the Bay for 30K, taking us out of the city into the industrial areas that remind you that yes, Hamilton is a steel town, along the highway, through middle class then super wealthy residential neighborhoods, up a mean hill, then back past the start and into the First Ontario Centre Arena where the finish line awaits. Because it goes around the bay, the wind changes quite a bit, and it can get kind of chilly at times.

But despite waking up to snow, the roads were dry the full distance of the course and though it might have been cold at times without my running jacket, the jacket was just enough to keep me from getting cold in the wind. It’s always a relief to have dressed “just right.”

So, back to the 3x10K idea. Really, the first 10K was over before we knew it. I ran along at a comfortable pace, mostly with Anita and Helia, who were quite chatty for that first 10K. I try not to talk too much because it takes my energy away. But I ran just a few feet ahead of them and listened to their conversation for quite a few kilometres. A couple of times Angie, the clinic leader from my first Running Room Around the Bay Clinic in 2014, caught up to us and ran along for a bit until she stopped to take a photo. (her strategy was to have as much fun as possible). Then she would catch up again, run ahead, and we’d pass her taking more photos along the course.

Things got quieter at about the 15K mark, but we still kept up what felt like a reasonable pace. I didn’t have my Garmin with me, but I hit start on the chrono feature of my Timex, so if I wanted to, I could check how long we had been out. I mostly didn’t check. At about 20K, we entered some swishy residential neighbourhood, and that’s when the rolling hills started. They’re really not so bad, especially after the majority of the previous 20K being flat, and for every up you get a down to catch your breath. I stuck to my training plan of not walking up the hills even if it meant taking it to a slow jog.

It all felt good up to about 25K. Just before that point, Helia, who is a bit younger and a bit faster than us, finally decided to break away (I was encouraging her to do it sooner but she worried that if she turned on the turbo too early the hills might defeat her). At about 25k, there is a gradual up hill on a major road. It’s long, but not steep. It was there where my legs started to tighten up and I told Anita to leave me. I knew I had to stop and stretch it out because my quads felt as if they were going to seize right up at any second. It was a new feeling for me and I didn’t want to leave it unaddressed or make Anita lose her momentum on my account.

After stretching, I made it to the top of that hill without walking. Everyone always talks about the final hill in Around the Bay as the killer. The last time I did ATB. road construction changed the route and took that hill out. So I had not experienced it before. When I got to it, I didn’t realize I was there yet. I saw Anita up ahead, walking, so I gunned it (in relative terms!) to catch up, but as soon as I got there she was about to start running again, and I was having those “quads-about-to-seize-up” feelings in my legs again. So we said hello-good-bye. Anita disappeared up the hill and into the tunnel. I stopped and stretched again. And I basically had to give up my running up the hill thing at that point. I walked to the top. Maybe it was on account of being dehydrated, I thought. So I took some water. Or maybe I needed food. So I popped a chew.

The last 3-4 K are bit of a blur. I passed the Grim Reaper at the graveyard just near the 3K aid station where I slowed down to take some water and Gatorade. At that point my legs were pretty much done but I remembered Linda’s advice to keep to at least a jog. My cardio strength felt great. If my legs would have cooperated, I would have been able to go in to high gear for the final 3K. But the most I could do was keep moving.

Linda is big on counting rhymes as motivators. I couldn’t remember any of hers, so I made up my own, which I basically repeated for the final 3K. It went like this: “1-2-3-4, I CAN do more! 5-6-7-8, my legs FEEL GREAT!” It was simple and motivating, even though I did debate with the last part a few times. The internal dialogue went, “they do NOT feel great.” And then “shhhh…they feel great considering you’ve run almost 30K.” And then I started the rhyme over again. And again. And again. I didn’t have to contest the first part. I knew for a fact that I could do more, that I could finish that 30K without having to walk into the arena. Instead of listening to music, I stayed present to the event and that helped me stay focused rather than zone out.

The final stretch of ATB is flat and not especially picturesque. But you can see exactly where you need to go. It’s the only course I’ve ever done that ends inside. You approach the arena and then run down a fairly steep ramp and the next thing you know you’re inside, entering the arena, crossing the finish line. It’s kind of amazing how when I do these events I have just enough in my tank to get me that far. After that I was sort of staggering around, a little bit confused, maybe with a silly smile on my face because; DONE! and… FOOD.

The first thing they do is give you a bottle of water. Then someone handed me an empty grocery bag and then I entered the food area where they threw all sorts of things into my bag. And suddenly, I was really hungry and there was nothing I wanted more than that banana. Well, maybe I wanted to lie down a little more than I wanted the banana, but I knew I wouldn’t make it back up again, so I ate the banana as I was going upstairs to find Anita and Helia at our appointed spot.

I found Anita, or she found me. I desperately needed to stretch. We found Helia and her family sitting in the stands. Thankfully her husband drove the van to the venue because I do not think I would’ve made it the 2K back to the hotel if we had to walk.

We basically spent the rest of the day eating and not being able to walk. All in all, it was a brilliant event and though I had a tough final 5K, I call it a strong finish because I finished mentally more strong than ever before.

And not just during that final 5K. I was telling my friend Tara last night that I literally feel like a stronger person today than I did on Friday. When I do these things, like Around the Bay, that aren’t for anyone other than myself, it reminds me that I am strong and capable and confident and even sort of fearless. I loved my attitude throughout the race. I think this is the first time that I was with people and didn’t complain even once. Even when I had to stop and stretch I didn’t complain. I just got pragmatic about what I needed and took care of it.

I wouldn’t take this to mean that I’m rushing out to do another Around the Bay 30K (even though, since I beat my previous time I could actually get a 10% discount if I register for next year). I shuffled around today, having some difficulty getting up out of chairs and so forth. I have decided that my favourite distance is 10K. I like training for it and I enjoy the 10K events. I’m happy enough do to the occasional half marathon too. I mean, Sunday’s race didn’t feel difficult until the 25K mark, so if it had been a half, ending at 21K, I could have turned up the volume for that final bit.

This week is for rest and recovery. Stretching. Physio. Baths. Yoga. Gentle running later in the week. Sleep. Doing what makes sense this week also helps me feel strong.

What’s your definition of a strong finish?

fitness · running · training

Tracy Grapples with Scaled Back Around the Bay 30K Training

Image description: Tracy head shot, smiling, sunglasses, ball cap with a buff to cover ears, ear buds, and a zipped up running top, urban landscape of road, buildings, and two small trees in a winter garden in the background.

Yes, I’m a proponent of doing less, scaling back (also see “Let’s Be Realistic: It’s Okay to Scale Back”), starting small, and that whole family of kinder, gentler approaches to working out. But hello, I’m training for the Around the Bay 30K on March 31. That’s less than three weeks from now.

And the furthest I’ve run in recent weeks is 24K (or was it 22K?). And that’s the furthest I’m going to run. Because my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments, has me working on intensity over distance. I confess that I have told her more than once I’m worried that I haven’t done the distance. She assures me that I can.

It’s an approach that I’m not used to. Usually when I’m training for a distance, I make sure to cover that distance at least once, even exceed it sometimes, to feel confident that I can do it. But this training cycle I went to India (where I only got in one treadmill run) and I’ve been doing a lot of treadmill training this winter, and when I got back from India I got slammed with a cold, and just generally life has been harder than usual so I’ve needed more sleep.

So when I got back from India Linda switched things up. First, when I had that cold, she had me doing ONLY easy runs. “Just get back into it,” she said. “Get your legs used to moving again.” It felt like permission to do something that I needed to do. What it accomplished was that it got me moving where a more daunting commitment would have had me saying “forget it.” Linda is smart that way.

But I expected that when the cold went away (it’s just started to subside and not quite all gone), she would be upping my distance again. But instead, two weeks ago my “long run” was 45 minutes (Anita did 24K with the Running Room). Then this weekend it was an hour: 30 minutes easy, 15 minutes moderate effort, 15 minutes hard effort (Anita did 26K with the Running Room).

She increased the intensity on the in between runs too. For example, I was assigned 6x800m repeats at a hard pace (I managed 4x800m), with a warm up and cool down to equal 8K (I managed 7K).

Here’s the thing. I’m doing it but I’m feeling nervous that it’s not enough. Again, Linda reassures me that I will finish. Switching up the paces, especially with the hard effort at the end, reminds me that I have more than one gear. I have done 30K before (heck, I’ve done 42K before), and I wasn’t nearly as fit when I did that, so in some sense I know I can do it. Also, I was having IT band issues manifesting in my knee before India. Now nothing. Mind you, that only kicked in at 20K, so I guess we’ll see on race day.

And here’s the other thing: I am enjoying the training and feeling strong. Yesterday I went out for that 60 minute with the increasingly difficult paces, and it felt amazing. It helped that spring was in the air. I’m going to need to strategize my Around the Bay a bit, breaking it up into 10K segments. I am a little concerned that I won’t be able to keep up with Anita, who is a machine right now, clocking the mileage in preparation for ATB.

But I guess we will see how it goes on race day. I’m less keen to do 10-1 intervals than she is because, to be frank, though I can look forward to the rest intervals, I find it hard to break my momentum and restart it again. I realize there are pros and cons, but psychologically I fare better with a walk-through-the-water-stations strategy than a 10-1 interval strategy.

Have you ever done a long race on training that puts intensity before distance? if so, how did it go?

clothing · gear · running

I Bought Running Gear First After A Year of No Shopping

In 2018, I challenged myself not to shop for clothes, shoes, handbags and jewelry for the whole year (I wrote about it here: Making Room In My Mind: A Year of No Shopping). Throughout the year people kept asking, “But what about sports clothes? What about running shoes!?” 

My answer was that I would make an exception, if I had to. After all, running shoes are a matter of physical health. I wasn’t going to risk an injury running in worn out shoes. As for sports clothes, well, it’s amazing how long one can keep on going in tights so stretched out the crotch is bagging down around mid-thigh. Never mind desiccated running bras that make a snap-crackle-pop sound when you put them on, because the elastic has stiffened. 

January came. At first, I still couldn’t bring myself to replace items that had clearly expired. I’d grown too used to not shopping. Plus, I was worried that once I opened the door to let shopping back in, I’d slide right down the slippery slope with wild abandon and self-justificatory rationalizations.  I worried that “I want” would quickly become “I need”.

So, I waited. Then one chilly day I just couldn’t take the aggravation of running in droopy drawers. My only pair of extra-cold weather tights had already been darned multiple times and sagged like elephant skin. I got home and threw them out. The dam burst. I started throwing out all my defunct or beyond-grungy sports clothes—2 pairs of running shoes, 5 pairs of socks, a couple of bras, 3 pairs of running tights, a pair of yoga pants and 2 long sleeve base layers. 

I cornered myself with my purge, because now I really did need some new gear. So, I went shopping. What an adrenalin rush! Replacement running shoes, 2 new pairs of running tights in different weather weights, 3 pairs of socks and one long sleeve base layer in my favourite minty green. 

New blue running shoes, green and grey socks (with silver in them, apparently!) and a mint green base layer

If the shopping was a thrill, running in my new gear was even better! The ecstasy of brand spanking tights that hug the legs. The cozy comfort of fresh socks. The boing-boing spring of new shoes. Pleasures I had forgotten. 

I just spent two chilly, grey weeks in Champaign-Urbana, IL. But I didn’t care that the weather was discouraging for a run. I was so happy in my new duds that I looked forward to getting out in the icy, slushy, wet. Running is one of the important ways I tune in to myself and the world. Breaking my shopping fast with a stock up on running necessities was right for me. Fresh gear. Renewed attitude.  

Did my new running swag push me off the top of the slippery shopping slope? No. So far my no-slide crampons are holding. I haven’t gone crazy with all sorts of other clothing purchases. The joy of the new running clothes is more than satisfying for now. 

What’s your latest sports clothing pleasure?