Small Victories: Tracy’s Continuous 10K

Image description: Tracy standing on grass in the foreground wearing black running shorts, a purple tank, bib number 2065, and robin blue shoes. She's smiling and holding an empty paper cup. Background is the MEC race arch and podium, a few people, and trees.

So I’ve been running for about five years now and mostly I’m a run-walk interval type of person. Way back in 2012 I posted about what an amazing feeling it was to run for 20 minutes in a row. I’ve come a long way since then, but haven’t aspired to do continuous running over distances. In fact, I’ve always been in awe of people who can do it.

Not only that, the jury is still out about whether some people actually cover the ground faster with run-walk intervals. The theory: the legs have a short time to recover on the walk break, thereby making it easier to maintain a good pace on the run portion. With the 10-1 run-walk intervals, you obviously spend way more time running than walking.

When I started out on the MEC 10K on Saturday, which is the race I’ve been training for since early September, I thought I would do 10 minute runs with 30 second walk breaks. But I’ve been going out pretty strong lately on my solo easy and tempo runs and haven’t really taken walk breaks. So when I passed over the mat to start the timer  on Saturday, I thought, “what the heck? Why not try to go for as long as I can without a walk break?”

I’ve been pushing myself a bit harder in training lately, running up hills that I used to walk up, doing short pick-ups with the promise of a short walk or slow jog immediately after, that sort of thing.

The event couldn’t have taken place in more familiar territory. I have walked and run the path from Gibbons Park into Springbank and back more times than I can count. And could the weather possibly have been better on Saturday? The answer is no. It was a little cool to start with but I made the right call choosing a light tank and shorts. I kept it simple with sunglasses, no ballcap (which I’ve noticed I’ve been removing a lot lately), no water of my own (I’m learning to trust the water stations in an event), and my Fall running playlist (you can find it on Spotify if you want to follow–bear in mind that it works for me and there is no “theory” behind its construction other than that right now I like those songs in that order when I’m running).  I had my Garmin on my belt instead of my wrist so that I wouldn’t check it; the plan was to go by feel. I just wanted the data after, not a gauge during. On my wrist I wore my Timex Ironman watch in “chrono” mode so I’d know how long I’d been out. But even that I consulted only rarely (and forgot to start it until 1 km into it anyway).

I felt super relaxed and ready to enjoy my run, challenge myself a bit, and see how my training with Linda might cash out into something I could feel good about. I didn’t have any big aspirations for a personal best, which would have meant coming in under 1:06 (I never claimed to be speedy!). And it’s because I wasn’t going for a time that I felt good about challenging myself in this other way.

As one kilometre rolled into the next, I was feeling pretty fresh. I had the race broken down into three parts: go out easy for the first 3K, go steady the next 3-4K, and then pick it up the last 3K. I mostly stuck with that strategy. I took a tiny bit of water at the 5K turnaround and the 7.5K water station. I had just one Clif Shot Block at around 4K. I am terrible at incorporating nutrition properly and also didn’t really know when and it’s hard to chew when you’re running (and I didn’t want to stop running).

I kept things moving along with a few different mantras: “fast feet” is always a good one. Also “touch, lift, touch, lift, touch, lift” is my favourite because it reminds me that all I need to do with my feet is touch and lift and touch and lift again. There is something comforting about its simplicity. I did the Linda thing and fixed my efforts  on reaching the next sign, the next bench, the next whatever to keep me mentally focused instead of all over the place.

Before I knew it I had just 2K to go and I was remembering Linda telling me that there is no reason to finish a race with anything left in the tank. I mean, you’re done, right? So push a little why don’t you? I agree with this in theory but I was afraid to go really hard too soon and fizzle early, so I saved the final big push for the last kilometre. At that point, I really threw myself into it and felt incredibly awesome because I realized that no matter what I was about to finish 10K without a walk break. Not even on a hill! My last segment was at a 6:30 pace, which for me is good. I had a few moments of faster than that (even under 6:00). I was breathing hard across the finishing mat, but that’s as it should be.

I haven’t done an event alone in awhile but I didn’t feel lonely at the finish line. I milled around a bit, even met a fan of the blog and another woman (who took the picture of me in this post) who is going to blog for us about winter camping in December (hi Wendy!). I soaked in the great weather and the buzz of the finishing area, enjoyed the bananas and the bagels, and reveled in my new accomplishment.

Okay, so at 1:06:32 I didn’t beat my best 10K time. But I felt so good that I’m convinced I can get that 10K under 1:05 in fairly short order. It just means pushing a bit harder and sticking to the continuous running.

I like learning something about myself as I go. What I learned over the last little while, culminating in Saturday’s continuous 10K, is that my body doesn’t need the walk breaks. It’s my mind that tries to tell me I need them.

What’s your take on continuous versus run-walk intervals?

Race report: 38th Melissa’s Road Race in Banff (Guest Post)

Heather BanffSometimes I think I’m not really a runner. I took it up as part of a new year’s resolution — my friends and I decided to sign up for a 5k race and give it a shot. Two years later, I’m reading my cadence data and learning about zones, and my Strava segments are looking good.

Two years ago, the thought of running a 5k felt like a bit deal. This past year, I’ve been running our local 10k races, and the goal was to try run my first half marathon.

“Without barfing or crying!”

The race:

Melissa’s Road Race is a tradition in Banff — it takes place in late September, and offers a 5k and 10k race that wind through the town of Banff, and up towards Tunnel Mountain Drive. The half marathon — my race — goes out towards Cascade Falls, and then behind the historic Banff Springs Hotel and out to the golf course. Two laps of the golf course road takes you around Mount Rundle, and along the Bow River, and all in a very quiet, secluded area.

Race day: 

My girlfriends and I drove out from Calgary the night before and stayed in a b&b. After an obligatory walk to Banff Avenue for a late night snack, we turned in. There’d been a heavy snowfall warning for Banff two days before the race, but the morning was cold and clear…about 2 degrees Celsius, with fresh snow above the treeline. I had laid out my gear the night before, and I was prepared for the cooler weather: long tights with funky knee socks, a long sleeve shift, arm warmers, a wind vest, hat, buff, globes, and skull cap. A lot of clothing, but as it turned out, I was layering up and down all through the run.

We walked down for the 5k start and I saw my friends off, and then got ready for the half marathon start ten minutes later.

One of the greatest things about Melissa’s is the spirit of the race. Registration is capped at 4,500 participants by Parks Canada and the Town of Banff. The half marathon runners received a wildlife briefing — we had a short elk delay. I polished off a Clif bar while I waited, and then had the first Gu gel while I chatted with the runners around me. I was feeling pretty darn nervous, and had a good case of the ‘I don’t belong here’ frets.

0-7k

I tried to start slow…I really did! The first 5k were easy…running down towards the falls, enjoying the view. I’d seeded myself at about the 7:30 mark, but I found myself passing that pace group and then evening out between the next one, so the crowd had thinned quite a bit.

The first aid station was at the 5k mark, and I walked in to have some water and walked out with the first snack — one of those pressed fruit bars from the grocery store. I’ve been trying to work out inexpensive things to take on runs, and a thirty-nine cent bar is a lot easier to swallow (ha, ha) than the more expensive performance foods and gels.

As we left the 5k station, we were running in sun. The golf course itself was screened from view — it felt more like being out on a back road or laneway, and I only caught a few glimpses of sandtraps and groomed greens. With the sun out, I was warming up…but as the course dipped down and closer to Mount Rundle, we moved into shadow and I had to layer back up. This really was a theme for the run…warm patches of meadow followed by very cool stretches in the shadow of the most glorious mountains.

image description: Road stretching out ahead with three runners in front, green pines on the side, and high, rocky, snowy mountains as a backdrop.

image description: Road stretching out ahead with three runners in front, green pines on the side, and high, rocky, snowy mountains as a backdrop.

8-13k

I am, most definitely, a slow runner. Melissa’s is a race that attracts a lot of fast runners. At this point, there was a lot of room between me and the other runners, and as I got towards eight kilometers, the faster runners in the race were already onto their second lap.

Boy howdy, is that a weird feeling. The first speedy runners blasted by, and I had that moment: what on earth am I doing here? I’m so slow…I don’t belong here. This is awful! I clapped for the faster runners, and to my surprise, they were congratulating ME. “Good pace! Keep it up! Great run! You got this!” It was a real lift to the spirits…especially as I hit 11k and realized I still had another ten to go.

Leaving the 8k aid station, I snacked on a package of Honey Stinger gummies…and shared them with a fellow runner (also his first half marathon). Then off running again, and I kept finished that first lap of the golf course, had a bathroom break, another fruit bar, and charged out for the next lap.

13-15k

This was where everything started feeling hard. I’d trained well through the summer, and I was feeling pretty confident that I had the strength to finish. Certainly the scenery was keeping the run breathtaking in all the right ways. The sharp smell of pine and the croaking of mountain ravens will stay with me for a long time, I think.

But there was something about this long stretch…I’d read about the psychology of long races, and the point where the effort becomes just as much mental and emotional as it is physical. For me, it was the ‘dig deep’ moment…I had to look inward, trust my body, and settle in for the long run still to come. The fast runners had left us all behind, and it was time to get the job done.

My 5k friends were texting encouragement to me and I was reading the messages on my Garmin…and at this point, those little buzzes were really welcome. I knew they’d be waiting for me at the finish, and those motivating messages helped so much. So did the sight of a Parks Canada ranger keeping a close eye on something off in the trees…

16-18k

More snacks. More positive self talk. A few more walk breaks. My pace was feeling good, legs good, feet starting to get a little sore…but I was doing it. When I hit kilometre sixteen, I started thinking about how I only had five to go, and how it was just my evening run. Just my regular, run of the mill, after-work run through the neighbourhood. It helped to look at the distances and think about where I’d be if I was back home.

At 18k, I had my last snack — a gel I’d been saving as a ‘just in case.’ I’d been keeping up a fairly regular pace but I was suddenly very hungry and tired, and in retrospect, I probably needed one more snack than I’d packed. Fortunately the gel — the one I almost put back but left in my pocket after my friend told me to take it for emergencies — did the trick.

The run down along the falls meant a slog uphill. At the top of the hill, I saw the marker for the nineteenth kilometre, and the volunteers were cheerfully calling out that it would be level from this point on.

19-21k

Home stretch! At this point, I was dodging tourists on the pathways and running past 5k and 10k runners leaving the race, but I was determined to keep going. My friends had been tracking my progress, and were waiting close to the turn point into that last little bit.

I managed to put one last burst of speed and sprinted in to the finish…I wanted to finish strong, and finish proud, and coming in as fast as I could manage was the way I wanted to do it.

Image description: Beaming in a "Calgary Marathon" blue ball cap, sunglasses, and a bright pink top, Heather holds up her finisher's medal, with an image of a snowy mountain, green slope, and water and the name, "Melissa" in orange lettering. Behind Heather is a small crowd, pine trees, and cloudy blue skies.

Image description: Beaming in a “Calgary Marathon” blue ball cap, sunglasses, and a bright pink top, Heather holds up her finisher’s medal, with an image of a snowy mountain, green slope, and water and the name, “Melissa” in orange lettering. Behind Heather is a small crowd, pine trees, and cloudy blue skies.

Impressions:

I did it! At 39, I ran my first half marathon. After a year of hard work and preparation, I finished with a chip time of 2:37:45, towards the back of the pack for overall time and for my age group. I am deeply grateful to have the strength and health to do this, and as I approach 40, I’m also very grateful to have friends to share my training and run talk with, and that we celebrated this accomplishment together.

We all went up to the hot springs afterwards, and I ran into another half marathoner — one of the fast ones that lapped us. I was congratulating him on his fast run, and how much in awe I am of the people that were flying by me. But what really struck me was what he said about seeing the slower runners (and I paraphrase):

“I see all of you, and you’re just on your seventh or eighth kilometer as we’re going by on fourteen and fifteen, and I think ‘goddamn, look at them…they’re pouring their heart and soul into this, and look at them — they still have the whole race ahead of them but goddamn if they aren’t giving their all! It’s so %!@#ing amazing, because you’re just made up of grit and will and ^!$#ing determination.”

And that, friends, is exactly what you should remember the next time you think you are too old, too slow, too out of shape, too inexperienced, too amateurish, too whatever to do what you want to try to do. Grit and will and determination. You have it all.

I won’t soon forget it.

Heather Banff finish joy

Image description: Heather in a joyful jump, wearing sunglasses, a blue ballcap, black sleeves and a pink t-shirt, black tights and yellow socks and a yellow race bib #3144. Meadow, mountains, blue sky, and white clouds in the background.

 

 

 

 

Today I Ran (Guest Post)

Today I ran.

I didn’t run far but for me this is a milestone nonetheless. It’s not that I have been entirely inactive. Although I broke my foot (a stress fracture) a year and a half ago, and it did take most of a year to heal, since the break occurred while I was running I figured that even if it healed I wouldn’t run again. 

Running hadn’t been my main form of exercise for about 5 years and so I felt I could deal with that. I do CrossFit (see my earlier post on this), bike, and hike and so I thought I could let running go. I mean, I’m 66 and so I figured that there are some things that maybe I have to admit I can’t do any more. But apparently running isn’t one of them (yet).

This is what that means to me. 

First, I can still come all the way back from a pretty distressing injury even if not that serious injury. I was in a boot and on crutches for 6 weeks but struggling long after that. Resilience is a good thing and so that’s reassuring. 

Second, I discovered that even when injured it is worth continuing to exercise. The trainer I work with (the wonderful Brandy) figured I could still row even with my foot is a clumsy hard boot (the stationary bike and running were clearly out – oh, and no burpies either). I am grateful that she was inventive. I put the booted foot on a skateboard and rowed away. Third, feeling strong is a good way to feel – and I am not saying this just because I saw Wonder Woman yesterday. 

Finally, I learned that I shouldn’t prejudge what I can and cannot do based on some idea about how old I am. Yes, I’m getting up there but it isn’t clear what that means about my capabilities and I am finding that it means different things for different people. Finding where you are in that spectrum of experiences is a process and not some pre-determined or static fact. What the limits are is something to be discovered – not told by yourself or others.

I’ve made a note to myself to watch out for mental shadows that prematurely limit my willingness to experiment. I was out riding for the first time in over a month this past weekend and I felt a little shaky. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I shouldn’t be out there giving that I was so old! 

I told a friend on the phone and she said, “I know! The paper would say elderly women killed while cycling. How awful!” I laughed even though I was less worried about what the report would say after the fact then the possibility of it becoming a reality (one difference in our personalities). This is not to say that one shouldn’t be careful. I am a very careful cyclist but I am careful precisely because I want to be riding for as long as possible. And while even careful people have accidents and get injured it is not only those over 60 that have that worry.

I may not be running a lot, but that’s okay. At least I know I can run again. Watch out! Elderly runner/biker/hiker coming through!

Picture of three “sheep ladies” hiking from a shop in Sardinia.

Sharon Crasnow is a retired philosophy professor who writes on feminist philosophy of science and lives in San Diego.

Competitor or Coach? (Guest Post)

by Claudia Murphy

I’ve been struggling lately with my exercise routine. In the last couple of years belonging to a fitness group has helped me to avoid a pit of depression, so I have been feeling perplexed that what seemed like a lifeline has now become quite a challenge. Even if I can get myself to show up, I don’t enjoy it or even enjoy having done it.

I am 65 and have been working out with a group of long distance runners for a couple of years. They are a great group of people. They have been very kind and accepting– downright encouraging. Even at my bluest, there is something amazing about high intensity workouts at 5:30 am with positive and affirming people.

But in the last few months, I have been facing motivation issues. There could be several reasons.

First, I have been dealing with a chronic and persistent pain in my left hip. I have pursued multiple diagnosis and treatment options, including orthopedics (MRI, cortisone shot), physical therapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. The consensus seems to be that my left hip and adjacent areas need strengthening. But in the meantime, running, walking, and yoga, and even sitting all hurt. It is easy to feel discouraged.

Second, internalized ageism has become a significant force in my mind. I am one of the oldest in my fitness group. Still quite competitive, I often feel as if I’m losing. I can’t run as fast as I used to run. I can’t run as fast as most of the younger people in the group. I haven’t yet figured out the antidote to this aspect of aging.

Third, I’ve been fighting a giant battle against oppression in the workplace. Here, I’ve had to be very deliberate in guarding against internalized sexism and ageism. I have had to consciously remember my own significance and value. I have had to repeatedly decide to quash the oppressive thinking. My vigilance has been focused on this fight.

In the middle of all of this, without awareness, negative self-talk crept into my exercise time. I found myself thinking “you are too old, you look ridiculous, you are embarrassingly slow.” And these thoughts seemed true at the time, even justified. I looked for evidence to support them. Is it any wonder that my routines became less fun, less satisfying?

I’ve had to become more vigilant about this self-talk. I can be my own coach. I can replace my own negative feedback with something more positive. I find it helps to aim for messages that are somewhat neutral while still being encouraging. My mind revolts against “you are the best” But “go Claudia” or “you can do it!” work pretty well.

I recently tried this strategy in a 10K race, with some mixed results to be honest. I had signed up to run as a member of a relay team in the 2017 Fargo Marathon. About a month before the race, we discovered that the legs of the relay were not very even. One team member would have been required to run 8.5 miles. None of the team members wanted to run that far. So we decided to switch our registrations to the 10K. Even this decision felt like a bit of cop out. Last year I had run a half-marathon at this time. While it is true that I had only been able to do so with the help of a cortisone shot, I still struggled to feel OK about running a 10K.

The night before the race I was still struggling with feeling positive about running. My husband held out the perspective for me by reminding me that not that many women my age could run a 10K. He also agreed to drive me to the race and to cheer me on. The day of the race the weather was perfect. It was cool and clear. We arrived early enough to witness the start of the race for both the marathon runners and the half marathon runners.

I had a good start and ran well. I kept my mantra forefront in my mind—“go Claudia.” Since we shared the route with either the marathon runners or the half marathon runners, there were people out cheering us on for most of the route. There was music blasting or bands playing, even though it was quite early morning. I had two young women tap me on the back as they passed me by telling me that I was doing well for someone so old. (BTW this is not a very helpful way to support an older runner.)

I finished in 1:12:09, 8th in my age group of women 65-69, 37 of us running the race. I was staffing a women’s leadership development conference that weekend and decided to wear my hoodie and medal throughout the day to force myself to celebrate my achievement.

Ageism is nasty. But it helps if I do not participate in my own oppression. This is an ongoing battle for me. I would like to be able to be my own best supporter. What strategies work for you?

Claudia Murphy is a philosopher who is semi retired but still teaching part time at Minnesota Technical and Community Colleges.  She is also likes to run, bike, garden, cook and knit.

Half marathon: Not quite a hot mess, but a humid fizzle

Tracy in dark pink running tank, blue cap, and sunglasses, wearing race bib uber 38046; Anita in short sleeved red v-neck t-shirt, sunglasses atop her head; inflatable MEC Race Series arch in the background.

Tracy and Anita in front of the start/finish arch pre-race, Pottersburg Park, London, Ontario.

Anita’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon

This race was different. Unlike the Niagara Half Marathon, or the Florida Keys Half Marathon, or others, this time it was just Tracy and I doing a London-based race.  In the past a handful of us would make the fun trek to a different city to race.  We’ve avoided London simply because it’s a bit dull racing on the same path you train on week after week, but this race was different because the route took us along parts of the path that we’d never been on.  There were also some pre-race emotions thrown in as this was the last race that Tracy and I would run together for a couple of years owing to our forthcoming consecutive sabbatical leaves.

We went into the race with good spirits. For this one we’d tried a completely different training approach with a coach. Our weekday runs consisted mostly of speed work, which we found challenging at first but eventually we enjoyed conquering the quick, fast workouts that depended on keeping track of our pace. The weekend runs were not as long as we typically would map out for ourselves.  Nevertheless, we both felt that our bodies had responded well to the new training approach. We aimed to shave a couple of minutes off our personal best time.

The race itself was a low key affair, with smaller crowds than the other races we’d done but just as well organized.  Bagels, bananas, gum drops, Clif bars, hot chocolate, coffee and water were available before and after the race. Not too many spectators cheering us on but the route volunteers were terrific. We thought the heat and humidity wouldn’t be a problem once we realized that much of the race route was shady. And it was a lovely route with lots of greenery!  A bit of flooding too but the organizers had built a bridge over the worse part, plus they warned us about the water with an early morning email.

And now to the punchline: it wasn’t the best race for us…yes, we finished, with a respectable time, but…We felt good for the first third of the race. We held on during the second third. Sometime during the last third (around the 16K mark) the struggle started. Hoping it would pass, I didn’t let Tracy know I wasn’t feeling great until the last 3 km or so. And it wasn’t an injury or ache – it was just a ‘not feeling great’ feeling. Like maybe this feeling might progress to feeling like I need to puke.

It crept up silently because we felt like we were doing well with our pacing the whole time. We were also good to ourselves by taking a few longer breaks during that last bit. Was it the humidity? Maybe (but we’ve run in much worse). During our after race de-briefing I said to Tracy: “I never felt the runner’s high. I didn’t feel the happiness on that run.” After some thought, she agreed. Although we’re pleased that we finished in good time, the joy of running eluded us that day.

Tracy’s Take on the MEC Series Race #3 Half Marathon

Despite that we rarely do local races and have never done a local half, Anita and I were both pumped for our local half marathon last Saturday. It would be our last event together for two years. We’d been working with a coach leading up to it and were feeling good about our speed work. As Anita said, we like to travel, so the whole thing lacked the “glam factor” of some of our previous events. And because it was local, we didn’t even think to book off the night before to go out for Italian food (a pre-race tradition whenever we’re at an out of town event).

We were both in a bit of a tizzy that morning trying to decide what to wear. Shorts or capris? Short sleeves or long? I made a good last minute decision to go with shorts and a tank top.

There was a small and friendly crowd at the race site, with ample refreshments for pre- and post-race. The massage therapy students from Fanshawe College had their tables set up under a canopy for post-race massages. It was clear and sunny, but a good portion of the path was shady and we thought we’d be okay.

And at the beginning, we were keeping a fantastic pace, right on target for our simple strategy. Basically, we divided the race into three parts. The first 7K was for finding our rhythm and keeping a steady pace. The second 7K we focused on staying present with the task and maintaining a good even pace. And finally, in the last 7K we wanted to pick it up just a bit, particularly towards the end, laying it out in the last 800m or so.

Like Anita just said, we faltered in the last few kilometres. There’s a part of our long runs that we call Death Valley because it’s a hot stretch with no trees. The turnaround for the out and back for this race was just about half a kilometre or so past Death Valley. And by then it was pretty hot and humid. So no sooner had we passed through DV than we hit the turnaround and had to do it over again.

For me this was the turning point. I started to feel overheated. Subsequent water stations I knew I needed water and Nuun (though I had never trained with Nuun before, I had to drink it for the electrolytes).  We had kept up reasonably well with two other women who were running just ahead of us at a similar pace. They stayed steady steady with no walk breaks. We were taking 30 seconds every ten minutes, consistently for most of the race until the last 3 or 4 km when we started walking a bit longer.

I tried to maintain my energy with some energy balls we had made with Linda–oats and chocolate and coconut mixed with syrup and other goodies. But it was hard to chew and tough to swallow. I really needed my shot blocks, which I hadn’t had time to buy. I forgot I had a Vega gel in my belt, so that went uneaten (truthfully, I don’t know if I’d have been able to hold it down).

Most times when Anita and I run together we prop each other up. If one is struggling the other is able to encourage. But this time we both felt our energy get sucked away around the same time. After the race we both confessed that we felt like we were going to puke. I had a definite feeling of wooziness with more than 5K left to go.

I hauled out all the mantras I had, focusing on “fast feet” (which was a lie!) and “perpetual forward motion.” MEC has good signage, with lots of motivational sayings along the way (all of which elude me now).

When we crossed that finish line, later than we’d hoped to, my legs felt stiff and unsteady. I grabbed water and a half a banana. We both made our way over to the massage tables. Anita’s upper body was all seized up around her neck and shoulders.  My calves and hamstrings felt hard and tight, so much so that even a relatively gentle massage made me wince. My feet ached. This was not my usual post-race feeling. I was drained.

After our massages we walked slowly up the hill to the car. Having told ourselves earlier that we would treat this as a usual weekend run, we tried not to feel disappointed in our performance. Anita was disappointed that we didn’t get a medal for finishing. But we took a couple of post-race selfies anyway. It may not have been our best event, but we made the best of it.

And as a usual weekend goes, we treated ourselves to breakfast (or in Anita’s case, lunch) at Billy’s.

mec2

Tracy (left) and Anita (right) post-race in the parking lot, looking reasonably cheerful.

Seaton Soaker 50k (Guest post)

This Saturday is the first one in months that I haven’t been out the door at the crack of dawn (oh, okay, 7:30 am is hardly the crack of dawn, but it’s certainly earlier than I leave the house on a weekday!) to go for a long run.

That’s because last Saturday, May 13, I finished the race that I had been training for since January: the Seaton Soaker 50k.

race2.jpg

Stephanie running the Seaton Soaker 50k.

I’ve blogged about running Seaton before, but for shorter distances. This was my first time doing the 50k distance — my first time doing an ultramarathon.

I’ve done the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon for the past three years, so I’m no longer a stranger to long distances and months of training. The last marathon was the first time I had a time goal in mind. I wanted to break 4 hours, 30 minutes, but a combination of undertraining and unseasonably warm weather meant that was not to be. I felt awful at the end of that race. Physically, I was destroyed. Everything hurt more than any other marathon I’d done before. Mentally, I was a bit bummed that I’d trained so long for no improvement on my time.

It was time to do something new. Enter Seaton.

I had actually signed up for the 50k two years before. I’d put in two months of solid training in January and February of 2015 before my workplace went on strike and my training fell to the wayside. This time, I hoped, things would work out better.

And they did. My partner, Kevin, signed up (he, too, had been intending to run in 2015), as did my friend Casey (read her race report here!). Both Kevin and Casey ran their first marathons in 2016, so I’d say they’re a heck of a lot braver than me to sign up for a 50k the very next year!

prerace

Kevin, Stephanie, and Casey before the race. Can you see the terror in Stephanie’s eyes?

The three of us did a lot of training together, although Kevin is much (much!) faster than Casey and I. We ran through the snow in the winter and through the rain in the spring. We hit the trails whenever we could, including the Seaton trails where the race would be held.

Training went about as well as could be hoped for. Nobody got terribly injured (though Kevin struggles occasionally with Achilles issues, and I had the spectre of a calf injury rear its head on our longest training run of 38k). Nobody missed very many training runs.

On race morning, I was very emotional, but I didn’t quite pinpoint why until later. It had been three and a half years since I’d run a new distance. This was big!

prerace2

Casey and Stephanie before the race. The matching purple shirts were coincidental, but turned out to be great fun as the volunteers would shout “here comes team purple!” when we came into view.

The course is a 12.5km out-and-back, meaning that we could leave bags at the start/finish with snacks, a change of clothes, more water, etc. We stashed our things and set off.

Kevin started near the front, because, as I said, he’s fast! Casey and I were content to hang near the back of the pack. Our only goal was to finish, ideally before the cutoff time of eight hours.

About 2k in, we hit a beaver dam that we had been warned about. It was wet, messy, and muddy, with planks and pallets plunked into the mud for a makeshift pathway. Some runners tried to stick to the pallets – others forged through the muck, sometimes falling. It was a great example of the difference between trails and roads.

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Stephanie and Casey fairly early in the race.

After that slowdown, the pack thinned out as people settled into their paces (most faster than Casey and I). We kept trucking along, hiking up the hills, flying down the hills, and slogging through the muddy patches. We tried to be mindful of the fact that we would be out for a long time, so we didn’t want to go out too fast.

We hit 12.5k at about 1:51, which was great pacing for being under eight hours, but not too fast to be unsustainable. The first leg is a net uphill, so it’s a net downhill on the way back.

I tried to be good about my nutrition, which is something I can struggle with on long runs. I ate my gels in the first half of the race because I knew that they wouldn’t go down well in the second half. My other fuel of choice is stroopwafels and Honey Stinger chews.  The aid stations had a nice spread of food as well, from chips and guacamole and boiled potatoes to peanut butter sandwiches and gummy bears. The most appealing thing to me was watermelon, which I ate at almost every aid station.

On second leg (back to the start/finish, the halfway point), the course diverts so that runners have to cross a river (hence the name “Seaton Soaker“). There are firefighters and a rope to help people across. I love the river crossing! We shuffled right in to the icy water, which felt pretty good as the day grew warmer.

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Crossing the river at 23k.

From the crossing it’s only about 2k back to the finish, or halfway point. We hit a big, deep, steep muddy culvert that was difficult to climb out of. I slipped and pulled my bad calf, but after walking it off for a minute I felt good enough to keep going.

We reached the halfway point at 3 hours and 30 minutes. My mother was waiting to cheer for us there, which was really great. She and a helpful volunteer (huge shoutout to all the volunteers, who were fantastic) helped us refill our hydration packs. I debated changing into a short sleeve tee, because it became clear that we weren’t going to get the rain that the forecast had called for and the sun was coming out. I stayed with my long sleeve mostly to avoid potential chafing issues. Changing socks/shoes was right out of the question – mine were caked on with mud!

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Stephanie devouring watermelon halfway through the race.

We set out on our second loop, briefly making a wrong turn. A fellow runner corrected us, thankfully! We realized we were pretty much at the back of the pack, but that didn’t trouble us at all. We were just in it to finish.

We wondered whether we would see Kevin on this lap, and we did! He came hurtling down a hill as we were walking up it. Judging from the number of runners we had seen before, I shouted, “Are you in third?!” He said he was in fourth, and that he was feeling pretty good. Yay!

It started to feel much harder on the second loop, as expected. Our legs were tiring and both Casey and I tripped a few times on roots. Mostly we managed not to fall, but Casey took a pretty decent nosedive into some leaves and dirt at around 30k. She hopped back up and brushed herself off and took off like a champ. Casey is one of the most stubborn, determined runners I know. Running with her is very motivating!

At the turnaround, we calculated that we had about 2 hours and 30 minutes to make it to the finish — plenty of time! It was slow going, but we just kept running, usually only walking when we hit a hill. We knew that if we stopped, it would be very hard to start again.

At the second water crossing, the firefighters and rope were already packed up. We weren’t impressed with that, but we made it across safely and stayed to make sure another runner behind us was able to cross as well. (Edit: We contacted the race organizer the next day, and he didn’t realize the firefighters had packed up early. He promised to make sure it didn’t happen that way next year. The race really is a lovely, well-organized one!)

Our families were waiting for us as we came out of the woods to run up to the finish line, and Casey and I both started getting a bit teary and emotional from seeing them and from realizing we were about to finish.

We crossed the finish line in 7:32, well under the 8 hour cutoff! Casey and I exchanged our homemade medals that we had crafted for each other (this year the race opted to give out finisher buffs instead of finisher medals). We took very different approaches to making our medals, but we both love them! Mine is a unicorn barfing up a rainbow, and it reads “#1 Majestic Beast.” It’s perfect.

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I love the medal! I also loved being finished!

We discovered that Kevin had finished in 4:42, coming in 5th overall, and 1st place in his age group…not bad for his first 50k! We joked that he could have done a whole other lap in the time it took us to finish, to which he replied, “No, I definitely could not have.” He gave it his all!

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Stephanie, Kevin, and Casey after the race.

Casey and I placed 9th and 10th in our age groups. That sounds pretty impressive, but it was out of 10 people! Hah! We were 71st and 72nd out of 76 runners (though I think about 80 signed up, so a handful of people may have dropped out before or partway through the race).

I was quite sore after the race, but not as sore as after my last marathon. I was also able to eat some food a couple hours later — a good sign, as long races usually destroy my stomach. The sore muscles mostly faded after a couple of days, and by Wednesday I was able to try a short run again. I made it 4km before deciding that my muscles just weren’t ready yet — but I don’t think I’d ever tried to run just four days after any previous marathon!

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Stephanie’s very muddy shoes.

So would I do it again? Yes, I think I would. I love running on trails. It’s not as hard on the body, in some ways, compared to the repetitive nature of road races. Plus, the scenery is beautiful and the people are super nice (even the leaders would say “Great work!” to us as they passed us). The training is certainly a commitment, though. Maybe we’ll try to get faster one day… but hey, maybe not. Back of the pack isn’t so bad.

 

Stephanie is an astrophysicist, writer, photographer, sometime triathlete, and now an ultramarathoner.

Miranda’s first 10 km! (Guest Post)

On April 30th, I ran my first 10K. I run with some frequency, although I haven’t run in an organized race in years (okay, in decades). I decided to run in the Forest City Road Races 10K for a variety of reasons, but mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

I’d like to go on to describe my strenuous training schedule, to explain, in detail, that I ran diligently three to four times a week, adding in longer runs and building up my stamina, and that I did strength training to protect all the muscle groups in my body.

But I can’t write that. You see, I have a full-time job and three young children (ages 10, 7, and 4). Running is definitely something I do for myself. It is “me time.” It’s the one activity that I do on my own, no matter what. I don’t even bring my dogs with me. That said, it’s also an activity that gets dropped when other things come up. If I were writing this post for a women’s magazine, this is where I’d make some profound statement about work-life balance and how women can—and must—balance their work-lives and their home-lives, ensuring that they devote precisely X number of minutes to themselves each day (I’ve found the number varies from magazine to magazine). Thankfully, this isn’t a women’s magazine, and I can be honest: I think the whole notion of work-life balance is bullshit.

Balance is a myth. Scheduling, time management, and, frankly, sacrifice are all real. There I said it. For me to run, I have to schedule it, and I don’t mean schedule it in the “I wake up in the morning and decide, Oh, it’s a lovely day, I think I’ll go for a run this afternoon.” I mean, I have to enter any run on our family calendar. My runs have to work around my teaching and writing schedule, around my partner’s teaching and writing schedule, around both of our seemingly endless meetings, around our children’s school schedules and their various activities, and around any community commitments we may have. Often running is the first thing to go on a really busy day. Some weeks it was easy for me to run three or four times for 45 or 60 minutes. Lots of weeks, most in fact, I was lucky to get in two 30-minute runs. In fact, between January (when I registered for the race) and April, I only managed to run ten kilometers twice. Most of my runs were between five and six kilometers, although I did get in about ten runs that were seven to eight kilometers long.

So when I woke up on the morning of my 10K, I was nervous. I knew I could finish it, but I was nervous about how long it would take me. Plus, the weather was less than desirable—cold, windy, and a bit drizzly. I decided that I would be happy if I finished in 70 minutes. This was a calculated decision on my part. I can, and usually do, run a five to six minute kilometer. But I also struggle with pacing myself, so by the time I get to the eighth kilometer, I’m tired. For this race, I gave myself permission to go slow.

As I ran, I consciously chose to run near people whom I knew were running a bit slower than my normal pace, and I slowly picked up my pace. I used my FitBit’s exercise feature to help me keep track of my time, so I knew my pace for each mile (my FitBit tracks in miles, not kilometers, and I haven’t had the patience to reset it). I ran the first through fourth miles between 9.36 and 9.39. I had to stop for a pee break during the fifth mile (three kids, remember?), so it was a just bit slower, 9.59 (again, three kids, so I am accustomed to peeing fast). By the start of the sixth mile, I felt good, and I realized I had a real shot at finishing in under an hour. So I picked up the pace. I ran the last mile in 9.04, and I finished my first 10K in 59.09, a time I am really proud of. I also felt like I could have kept running, which tells me that I am capable of going longer distances.

After the race, my family found me, and my middle child hugged me hard and said, “Mama, I’m so proud of you. I want to run a race now too.” That made me as happy as my time. You see, another key reason that I run and exercise is to encourage my children to do so, to teach them that it is important for everyone to do something physical that they love. Hearing my kid say that reaffirmed that this message is getting through.

My oldest child asked if I plan on running another race. Without hesitating, I answered, “Yes.” And I do. I taught myself that I can do it. I also learned that I enjoy it. So, yes, I will do it again, hectic schedule be damned.

 

Miranda Green-Barteet is a teacher, a feminist, a parent, a writer, and a runner. She also plays soccer and occasionally manages to read a book just for fun.