Happy New Year! · race report · racing · running · traveling · winter

Race Report – Bettina’s New Year’s Eve 8k

In 2017, I started dabbling in running one or the other race, and discovered a wonderful one: the Bilbao – Rekalde San Silvestre 8k, which takes place on New Year’s Eve. My husband is from the Basque Country, so we spend New Year’s there every year. I had so much fun in 2017 that I decided to run it again on the last day of 2018. This time, I roped in two friends to run it with me. Overall, just under 2,500 other runners had the same idea. And it was even better than the year before!

I’ll get into this in a moment, but first, there are a couple of other things I’d like to talk about. The first is the reason I love this race: while there are of course some people who are there for the competition, the vast majority are there for the fun. People run alone, in groups, with their families, or dressed up in all kinds of costumes. My favourite this year were the two guys who came dressed as a trainera (a Basque type of rowing boat). In the head picture of this official blog post you can see them! There’s also a summary video of the race that gives you a good idea of the vibe (you really only need to watch the first half, the second half is more boring, unless you want to see how the winners did):

The second thing I wanted to talk about is slightly less fun: it’s the gender split of the race. There are only two categories, male and female, which is a problem unto itself, but the race this year was no less than three-quarters male. That doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy split to me. In fact, even in comparison to marathons in the US (a statistic I could find quite quickly), it’s quite poor. I’m not totally sure what is going on here. It’s a fairly short race (below 10k), not a very serious one, and cheap (10 euros) so it sends all the right accessibility signals, or so one would think… and yet. I was intrigued, so I looked into the data for Spain (from a few years ago) a bit. Generally, women are quite a bit more sedentary than men. For example, in the 25-44 age bracket, 55% of women never (!) exercise, compared to 41% of men. On the European scale*, Spain sits in a middling position overall regarding physical activity, but the difference by sex (again, the data is binary) is comparatively large. Possible explanations would be entirely speculative at this point – but our work, fit feminist friends, is not done.

For now, let’s focus on why I loved the San Silvestre even more this time than the year before. In 2017, it poured with rain throughout the entire race. This time around, we got spectacular blue skies (see picture below) and a perfect running temperature of just over 10°C. It felt amazing!

Runners gathering for the San Silvestre run in front of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum, with a spectacularly blue sky and curious onlookers.

Also in 2017, I was still getting into running and quite slow, and I suffered due to the hills along the route. But over the past year, I’ve been working on my hills quite a lot, and my overall running speed has increased. We’d decided to run the race in our pack of three, so the (supposedly) slowest in the group was our pacer – and he wasn’t slow at all! We ran pretty much at the speed I currently train at, so we did very well. It gets even better: the reason we did the time we did was that our first kilometre was really slow due to the masses of people at the start. Meaning that overall, I was actually faster than ever, aside from that first bit! And the really amazing thing is that I could have run even faster – but the way we did it was perfect because we stuck together as a team and had a fabulous time. Mission accomplished!

*There is so much interesting data in that Eurostat graph, I’m going to make it its own separate post, promise!

aging · fitness · injury · running · traveling

Not Running in Paris

I was in Paris for the month of December. Two weeks in my back started hurting for no discernible reason and I couldn’t run for the second half of my stay. In addition to the intense frustration at missing the pleasures of a run along the Seine (the light, the architecture, the people watching, the little exercise yard on the Left Bank), I felt old and creaky as I limped to the boulangeriein the morning for our breakfast baguette. (Side note—divine Paris breakfast—fresh baguette slathered with raspberry jam and sheep’s milk yogurt from an adorable little glass jar and crunchy salad of little gems, endive, snow peas, cherry tomatoes and carrots.) 

Top of Eiffel Tower through tree branches

Getting out of bed as slowly as my back demanded meant that age was much on my mind. So when I lost my scan card for the shared bike system (called Velib) and had to memorize an eight-digit access code, this mnemonic popped into my head as soon as I saw the numbers. I’ve rearranged into ascending order: 25—the age at which the media sets a woman’s prime; 32—the age at which I started to reclaim my power from societal norms of feminine delicacy; 49—the age I wouldn’t have minded sticking with for the rest of my life (the way my grandmother always said she was 29); 96—an age I hope to see, but only if I’m still enjoying life!

The access code is engraved in my memory. 

And fortunately cycling and yoga were still possible, so I rode the Velib bikes to the aerial yoga studio (Fly Yoga) and the spin studio (dynamo) I love in Paris. 

My back healed and this past Thursday (January 3) I went for one of the best runs I’ve had in I-don’t-know-how-long, a grand gift for the beginning of 2019. I felt light and strong. I don’t wear a watch, so I have no idea if I was actually faster than usual in my loop of Central Park. Does the time matter if I felt great? 

This aging business has made it clear to me that every time I heal from an injury and am granted the grace of strength and ease in my body again, a hallelujah and thank you is in order.

I’m starting 2019 with gratitude!

What are you grateful for as the year begins? 

Guest Post · running

Maybe I’m a runner (Guest post)

Something incredible happens after about a mile of running. It stops feeling hard. This is a revelation to me! Ancient memories of elementary school gym class, running the mile, feeling winded, sore in my ankles, knees, and hips, a stitch in my side, and gasping for air, had me convinced that running is a form of elective torture. But maybe it doesn’t have to be?

I run. I don’t run fast. I can’t run far. But I am improving, running faster, running further. And to my great surprise and delight, I am learning that the discomforts of running are often fleeting and balanced with a healthy dose of delight and enjoyment. In these moments, my body feels like it is flowing, gliding across the ground as my feet spring forward, gazelle-like. It is a lie I tell myself, or at least a happy fantasy, as no one would describe me as fleet-footed if they watched me run by, but this illusion of power and grace is good enough for me.

Is this the mythical “runner’s high” I’ve heard about? Somehow, I doubt it. I don’t feel high, I just feel ok, as opposed to feeling uncomfortable, a weird pressure behind my left knee, is that a blister forming on my right big toe?, hyperaware of each plodding footfall, each huffing breath. In the first mile or so, running is an exercise in optimism, it will get better, I remind myself as I push through it. And it seems absurd, until, suddenly, it does get better. And it is like this Every. Single. Time.

I keep expecting it to feel natural, easy. I am amazed it ever feels easy, but when does it feel right from the beginning? Does it ever feel that way? What does it take to get to feeling at ease from the start? How many miles do I need to put in? How fit do I need to become? Am I simply too large to be at ease in this sport? Runners are typically far leaner than I am, far leaner than I aim to become. Maybe the extra stress on my joints from my larger body means it will never feel like a natural fit. I have chosen weight-training and muscle-building over becoming swift and lean. At least, for now.

How cool is it, though, to realize that I can run and not hate it?! And why didn’t anyone ever tell me it gets better?

I played with running for a while before I figured out what works best for me. I suspect I have more trial and error ahead of me. What I have learned so far is that I need a good walking warm-up before I begin to jog, or my knees and hips yell at me, and I can’t go as far or as fast. Related to this, after a hard effort, I need to walk a while, or I get shaky and lightheaded. Apparently it has something to do with the blood pooling in your legs or something. I dunno. I just make sure to walk half a mile or so at the end. I’ve learned that unless I want to lift less often or less strenuously, I really only have one day a week right now that I can run. I just seem to need the rest time on the other off days.

I have learned that what I eat before I run really matters. No one tells you running starts to stop sucking after a while? Well, no one tells you it upsets your stomach, makes you want to poop, and gives you diarrhea for hours if you have too much fiber before a hard effort. I get it, it’s gross. But a little warning would have been nice. I have to carefully plan meals on my running days. This is another reason I can only fit it in one weekend running day a week. Avoiding fiber all day so I can run in the evenings doesn’t seem like a good long-term strategy.

I am still learning that the sport of running is all about the head-game. This has been a surprise to me as I’ve nerded out, reading Runner’s World articles and such. But there really isn’t a whole lot of talk about technique. There’s a lot of talk about mental strategy. How do you push yourself when you’re tired? How do you get your head ready for a long run? Or a fast run? How do you prepare yourself for the psychology of a race? This is not what lifters are concerned about. All the fitness literature I’ve read that is lifting-focused is on technique and programming. Generally, weightlifting gurus don’t seem all that concerned with your head. But runners are.

I am learning that this make sense. I can run further when I am mentally prepared for the effort. I do better with upbeat, empowering music in an ear, too. Hard-earned knowledge, like the fact that the aches and discomforts will ebb and flow are reassuring when it is difficult. It will get better. I find it reassuring to know that more-experienced runners have to train themselves to remember this fact, too.

So, I guess in that way, I am already a runner. Maybe it’s not a lot, but I’m putting in the miles. Maybe it’s not fast, but I am focusing on the work. I’m going out there and doing it, over and over, and learning along the way. And, honestly, it’s a wonderful, unexpected thing.

person wearing orange and gray Nike shoes walking on gray concrete stairsPhoto of person wearing orange and gray Nike shoes walking on gray concrete stairs. Photo from Unsplash.

Marjorie Hundtoft works as a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, OR.

running · Fit Feminists Answer

If you don’t run, what kind of workout footwear do you wear and why? (Sam wants your opinions!)

So we have a feature here called Fit Feminists Answer where readers email in questions and we try, to the best of our ability, to answer them. We also often get help in the comment threads. Thanks wonderful community of fit feminist readers and commentators!

But today I have a question and I want your advice. This is “fit feminists ask” rather than”fit feminists answer.” I have been told by my very nice knee surgeons in white coats with serious faces to never ever run again. They say I shouldn’t even say the word “running.” And as readers know I’ve struggled. I said a sad goodbye first to soccer and then to running.

I’ve decided that it would be easiest if I made a clean break. Like lots of people I tend to wear my old running shoes to the gym. They’re no good for running but they’re fine for rowing machines, the elliptical, weight lifting etc etc. But looking at my old running shoes makes me sad. I think it’s time to say goodbye to them. What to get in their place? Clearly not new running shoes.

Now I’m no longer running I no longer need pricey running shoes, but what do I need? I’ve thought about lifting shoes but that seems like overkill. I’m not that serious. I feel the same way about lifting shoes as I do about deadlifting socks. They’re cool and all but really? Do I need them? Do you wear special shoes for weightlifting/strength training? What kind and why? Do you recommend them? How serious to you have to be to wear them?

This fall I ordered custom University of Guelph Adidas though the soccer team for me and my athletic U of G attending son. I thought that might be good. As Dean I could wear them to official events and still be comfortable. Sadly it was one of those deals where they needed to get enough orders to make them and that fell through. No red, black, and gold sneakers for me. So that option is out.

What about the rest of you non-running gym goers? What footwear do you wear to the gym and why?

Help me out here!

Pride sneakers?

Image result for adidas pride sneakers 2018
Chuck Taylor All Star Pride High-Top Sneaker - Men's
Women's UA HOVR™ Sonic - Pride Edition Running Shoes, Black , , Black

Guest Post · habits · running

Blue Dots (Guest Post)

By Aimée Morrison

There is a series of blue dots running across the bottom right of 241 of the 365 squares on the calendar that hung in my kitchen through 2018. Each blue dot represents one run—from the 5km Resolution Run in Kitchener on January 1, to the 12km long slow run doing 10-1s with my Running Room group on December 30.

The January 1 Resolution Run was the culmination of my get-back-to-running rehab after breaking my foot in September—jokingly, through November and December tentatively on the treadmill, I moved through what I called my “crutch to 5k” program. So the year began with a goal already met. And it’s ending that way too: it’s not that I’ve run in 2 different half marathons (Ottawa and Toronto) or that I trained with my daughter for her first 5km race—the Toronto Zoo Run in September. The real accomplishment of this year, for me, is the simple profusion of blue dots on my calendar, roughly 20 runs every month, about five runs a week, all year.

This year, I made running a habit. I became a runner because I’m someone who runs, regularly, and habitually, and as a matter of course. I run on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. I run when it rains and I run when it snows. I run in the dark and in the dawn and sometimes, like a dumbass, at noon in July. I run with my daughter, or with my husband. I run with my running clinic friends, and with their kids. Memorably, a dear colleague in Hawaii took me running three times during a five-day conference, under threat of hurricane: I don’t know if I’m more impressed that he showed me with sidewalks where he used to cross Haruki Murakami and the primary school that Barrack Obama attended, or that he found a really good 5km route inside a parking garage on campus when the weather really took a turn.

Some of these runs are really short and some are long, and some are easy and some are “hard efforts” and sometimes I feel like I could run forever and sometimes I feel like my arms and legs do not seem to be entirely under my complete control. I have suffered nervousness and social awkwardness and sore legs and bonking, but also finally experienced the runner’s high—and I like it.

If it’s a running day? I’m going to run. It has just become a thing that I do, without any rigamarole of negative self talk or advanced planning strategies or elaborate bargains with myself.

This year, I wore down two and a half pairs of shoes. I did unusually high numbers of surprisingly stinky loads of laundry. I bought a running fanny pack and learned what kinds of gels I like. I take magnesium pills so that I don’t screech and seize up every time I flex my toes. I have a drawer that has nothing but running clothes in it. I love that I’m that person now.

I’ve gotten smarter as a runner, and faster, and I can run a long slow distance pretty much forever as long as I’ve got a gel to gulp every 30 minutes. But that’s not the point, really. The point is those blue dots: run by run, dot by dot, I’ve made running a habit, as inevitable as brushing my teeth, as gratifying as Twitter, as regular as, well, the days of the week.

Aimée Morrison connects the dots as a runner, woman, academic, baker of Christmas cookies. She teaches and researches in social media life writing as an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Winter person. ADHD / ASD. She/her. On Twitter @digiwonk

Guest Post · racing · running

How I Came to Run (Guest post)

by Christine Dirks

In my early forties I worked from home and would go for a walk mid-day to clear my head. If I was puzzling over something by the time I was home I had an answer. Three years later the half hour walk was more than an hour. I’d been active before but a routine was something new and I loved it.  One day, while walking, I thought, “Run for a few blocks and see how it feels.” It felt good. 

The running increased. Within a year I was running the route six days a week. Sometimes my son, then in late grade school, would ride his bike alongside. Often I’d pick a spot a few blocks away and run as fast as I could telling myself, “Go. Go. Go.” One summer when my sister was visiting she asked how far my route was. I didn’t know. “I’m going to measure it” she said. I wrote down the route which she then drove. She returned smiling, “It’s 10k.”

In 1998 I returned to university to earn my Masters in Journalism and I kept running. In many ways running kept things together. It was the busiest year of my life. I was working part time and my son was in grade nine with lots of homework requiring many trips to the library. We shared the one computer. Running relieved stress, gave me time to think about assignments and tell myself, as often as I needed to hear it,  “You can do it”.  When I was wondering about applying to the Masters program, I told my sister I was concerned about how tough the year would be. “Yes” she said. “But in a year it’ll be over and you’ll have your degree.” She was right and in that year I learned I could manage a lot more than I’d thought possible.

I never considered doing a race until I watched the 2000 New York City Marathon on tv and saw the lead women in those final few miles racing hard to the finish line. Their effort was palpable. In the summer of 2001 I registered for the fall marathon in Niagara Falls and joined a running group. One morning while waiting for the group to gather I noticed a poster in the store window. It was the age group qualifying times for the Boston Marathon. Now I had a goal. I was determined to meet the qualifying time for my age group and run Boston the following spring.

The training runs with the group were fun and the longer the runs the more I liked it. Half way through the summer I stopped taking walk breaks telling myself, “You’re not going to walk in the marathon so don’t walk in the training runs”. I had planned on not doing a race before the marathon. Then a running friend said it would be good to do one as I’d know how to handle nerves and pacing. It was good advice. I ran a half marathon and a month later as I approached the finish line at the Niagara Falls marathon and saw the time on the big clock I yelled “YES!!”.  I’d qualified for Boston.

I’m 67. I’ve run 181 races. I look forward to more runs, races, fun times with the running group and new challenges. This September I ran a 50 mile event. Had someone told me when I was that 12 year-old girl that sometime I would run 50 miles I would likely have laughed and said, “I don’t think so.” But as with many other things in life, you never know until you try. 

Christine Dirks is a writer and editor in London ON.  Early in her career she worked in the Toronto book publishing industry where she specialized in international marketing. Later she wrote two weekly columns and features for The London Free Press. Her work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Canadian House & Home, Canadian Gardening, Azure and other publications. Christine currently provides research, writing and editing services for individuals and organizations. 


Defying the evidence: I DO remember the pain of my one and only marathon

Image description: overlapping black and white oval stickers that say “42.2 http://www.marathonclub.net – Member of the club”

Yesterday Sam sent me an article that is re-circulating. It’s entitled, “The Science Behind Why You Don’t Remember the Pain of Running Marathon.”

The thing is, I actually do remember the pain of my marathon. So I’m some kind of anomaly in that respect. I think one reason I remember it is that I blogged about it. In serious, painful detail. You can read that post here. I also had this research presented to me shortly after the marathon. So I filed it away and have kept it near the surface of my mind.

Nevertheless, the research makes sense to me. In a nutshell, the findings say that endurance athletes (indeed pretty much all athletes) are used to experiencing some pain associated with pushing themselves. But they learn to distinguish that pain from the pain of injury. Not only that, athletes also tend to recall event highlights.

And finally, “Pleasant emotion—your sense of accomplishment, self-satisfaction, or pride—can blunt your memory of the tough stuff…” Maybe there is something specific about physical accomplishment because I don’t know that we do this in other areas of life.

When I talk to friends who didn’t enjoy graduate school, for example, they have a tendency to dwell on what was hard and awful. When I talk to friends about broken relationships, only those who have worked hard at it are able to get past the parts that made them angry or sad (that is, it’s rare that someone will forget the pain of a bad relationship).

So I wonder if the accomplishments associated with physical endurance–the sense of achievement, of hard training paying off–are a different order that enables them to create amnesia.

Sometimes. As I said, I remember. I also remember the Around the Bay 30K of 2015. At the time I doubted I would ever run the 30K again. But here I am, training for Around the Bay 30K on March 31, 2019.

It’s not that I don’t remember that it was difficult, especially the last few kilometres. According to my race report, with about 2K to go, “This is around the time that I started to ask myself what the heck I thought I was doing and why did I sign up for this race and is this supposed to be fun or what the hell?”

So I clearly didn’t love it the whole way through. But that would be an unrealistic expectation anyway. Does my willingness to do it again four years later mean I’ve forgotten how hard it was? Or does it mean I’m up for another challenge?

I don’t know for sure. But based on my half marathon experience, my half marathons these days are a lot more fun than my half marathons four years ago. Not that there aren’t any tough moments, but I’m a stronger runner. If that can translate into a longer distance, then it’s possible that Around the Bay will be a stronger race for me in 2019 than in 2015. I guess we’ll see.

Meanwhile, I agree that we should focus on the positive after a race. But I don’t think that necessarily means the pain is forgotten. It’s more than we decide that, in the end, it’s worth it.

What do you think? Do you need to forget the pain of a difficult endurance experience to sign up again, or is it something that you think of as part of what makes the experience feel like a true sense of accomplishment (perhaps worth doing again)?