It’s been ages since I have had an actual training goal in my running. And I feel the lack of focus a lot. So I’m excited to say that with my regular Sunday RunFam, I’ve signed up for the last-ever Run for Retina 10K on April 16th. That means I have eight training weeks to go, including the week we are still in. It’s sad to see it go, but I’m excited that it’s going in the spring this year rather than the fall as it did in 2022.
Signing up with a few others has been enough to get me motivated enough to train for it. At the same time, I have old memories coming up from years gone by, when Anita and I were doing things like running over 20K on a Sunday morning then going out for breakfast, followed by pie for dessert. I can hardly fathom the determination and motivation that got me out the door for that sort of thing, regardless of the weather, only a few years ago. It feels very unlikely to happen again.
Settling on the 10K this time gives me something to reach for but still feels do-able, especially with it still eight weeks away (okay, very soon to be seven weeks away). It feels exciting to have a training goal again, and it has had the motivating effect that I was hoping for. Whereas for the past few months a week where I’ve run even once between my Sunday get togethers with the RunFam is a real accomplishment, this week I actually hit the gym three different days for a short run. Granted, they have been really short, like 20-30 minutes. But still, it’s something. And I’ve felt good afterwards, and I am now building up to be able to get seriously into a 10K training plan that is going to ask more of me on my weekday runs.
I also borrowed the audiobook of James Clear’s Atomic Habits this week, and that has mostly resonated. (we disagree on some things that he thinks of as good habits, such as weighing yourself daily — for me that is not a good habit). There are lots of tools for getting started on good habits. And in general I agree that a focus on process is more helpful than a focus on goals. Goals are so far away. I can think about that 10K, but unless I have a plan that is in itself motivating, I’m not going to do the work. This week I used the 2-minute rule to get me down to the fitness room in my building. I told myself that if I can get down there then I only have to spend a few minutes (okay, I confess that I have made my minimum 15 minutes, not 2 minutes). Each of the three times I stayed on the treadmill for at least 20 minutes.
Yesterday I followed that with 10 more minutes of resistance training. Again, 10 minutes isn’t a gamechanger, but having a habit where some resistance training follows a couple of my mid-week runs has no downside.
Between the YouTube trainer experiment a couple of weeks ago, and then the 10K training plan starting this week, I feel some hope that I can regain some of that old conditioning and endurance enough to enjoy running again.
I don’t love running or jogging. I’ve never felt naturally good at it, and without practice I don’t get good enough at it to start to enjoy it. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle of inactivity.
I have gone through spurts of jogging, a couple times a week for a couple months, usually with other folks to spur me along. Often, though, I don’t stick with group running. I like to chat more than run, and I can’t do both at the same time!
When I run also I can’t seem to concentrate on spoken audiobooks or podcasts. I used the app Run with Zombies for a season or two, but I stopped because I wasn’t compelled by the story and I didn’t have the energy to build the virtual world on the app.
What does seem to keep me moving is fast music played at top volume. This website advises me that for jogging I need 120-125 beats per minute and for running 140-145 beats per minute. (For the latter, I don’t think I’ll ever go that fast, but it’s nice to know.) Natalie wrote about working out with Lizzo, and I’m going to add her to my list.
Here are a few of my fave playlist songs that are about getting up and getting moving. Warning to non-mid-lifers: they are old.
Because We Can (Fatboy Slim). From the soundtrack Moulin Rouge, this song has simple lyrics that inspire me to keep moving: “because [I] can (can can)!”
I Like to Move It (Real 2 Real). Like the cancan song, the simple lyrics repeat as I run until I have no choice to believe them.
Momentum (Amy Mann). Another soundtrack song, from Magnolia, about moving despite (or perhaps because of) how one is feeling. I appreciate the song’s honesty.
The Distance (Cake). Like Momentum, for me this song is about dedication to the race, regardless of winning, losing, or anything else.
Get Up (Technotronic). Classic 80’s vibes. Pairs well with Gonna Make U Sweat (C&C Music Factory) and Let Your Backbone Slide (Maestro Fresh Wes).
Pump It (Black Eyed Peas). This song (or any of the remixes) make me feel cool, even when I am overheating.
Body Movin’ (Beastie Boys). 90s vibes. I normally spend this song trying to remember the lyrics, so I pay less attention to my own tiredness.
Perhaps it is better to run in silence and focus on my breathing and body feelings, but sometimes it’s too much fun to revisit these oldies while being blasted to distraction.
Of course you have noticed that there aren’t enough cis/trans women artists—so please suggest some for me that you love to run or move to in the comments!
After more than three years of not doing anything “official,” I signed up for a 5K and ran it last weekend. And it was a blast. A few of my running group did it too. None of us went in with big dreams and all of us had a fun time.
Considering that my last event was the Around the Bay 30K back in 2019 (see my overly optimistic report of that ill-fated day here — it was ill-fated because the next day I had a back injury and shortly after that I had achilles issues and basically I didn’t run much again for about nine months), the 5K felt like an odd choice. Not because there is anything wrong with 5K, but because it isn’t a distance that I needed to train for since I run more than that regularly (our Sunday minimum is usually around 7.5 and we often do more than that). I’ve never done an event that I haven’t had to train for.
I also had difficulty deciding what my goal should be. I really haven’t gotten back on track with any regular routine since the ATB in 2019, and when I go out I go out for fun, not for fast results. So I decided that my goal would be to come in under 40 minutes. That might seem like an unchallenging goal to some, but I wanted something that I could actually meet. Indeed, a friend who hasn’t run since she was in her thirties literally laughed at me when I stated that goal, as if it was ridiculously easy.
On race day I felt good. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we met just over 1K from the start line and ran there as a little warm-up. Unlike events in the past, I didn’t need to concern myself with whether I could make the distance. I decided I would stick to my usual 10-1 intervals that I do every Sunday.
In the end, most of my group broke away from me within the first 500m, with one falling into place a little bit behind. I didn’t end up wanting to walk for the one-minute walking intervals, and I was pacing reasonably well all things considered. My chip-time was 35:19 and I felt strong–only mildly regretting that I hadn’t pushed just a little bit harder to come in under 35 minutes. In any case, it gave me a new goal for my sixtieth birthday, which is to try to shave a few minutes off of my 5K time and perhaps even complete it in 30:00. It was also a fun time for the group, all of whom were smiling at the end, as you can see in our photo.
If there is a moral to this story, it’s that going back to something I used to do, and keeping my expectations very low, can actually feel really good. Have you returned to something that you’d set aside? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
A few people shared the new Tim Hortons ad with me thinking the mockery of runners in it would hit a nerve with the blog.
And sort of, maybe, it did. But not in the way people thought it might.
The ad is cute, I guess. Gently teasing runners (cyclists, whatever) is fine with me. Likely we do take out activities too seriously.. We could do with some teasing.
But what we didn’t like was the add promoting driving and drive-thru. Ugh. In a time of climate catastrophe and record setting storms tearing the east coast of Canada apart that seems off-key to me. We need to see the association between the way we live and get around in the world and the environmental future we collectively face. Whether we run, bike, walk or take transit, we all need to take seriously the alternatives to driving gas powered vehicles.
“A run is something you can do from the comfortable seat of your car—that you can do in slides and socks,” claims the press release. “The best kind of run is one that doesn’t require a km/h tracking watch.”
Fall is here- well, almost. According to the online Farmer’s Almanac, the astronomical start of fall is Thursday Sept 22, 9:04pm, EDT. But it’s never too early to start planning your fall novelty races. Costume races can be fun– I did a short for-fun cyclocross race in 2016, dressed as a banana.
But that’s child’s play compared to the level of commitment and willingness to exhibit publicly that these folks have. Consider the annual pumpkin regatta, held in Windsor N.S., moved to Shelbourne N.S. this year (because of low water levels in Windsor). Here are some details:
Kean said the race will take place [on Oct. 8] in Shelburne’s harbour, between the waterfront and Islands Provincial Park. “We’re pretty confident we can make it work. I mean, Shelburne has a world-class harbour so we want to make use of that,” she said.
Danny Dill, the owner of the Dill Family Farm in Windsor, will supply five oversized pumpkins for the race. His family has been providing the giant gourds since the regatta’s inception in 1999. Dill said he feels good about Shelburne taking on the regatta. “It’s like we’ve passed the torch, so to speak,” he said.
Racing in costume might seem much easier than racing in an enormous pumpkin. Well, consider this recent T. Rex event at a horse racing track.
If you’re feeling down about having missed your chance to channel your inner theropod in sneakers, there’s still time. If you’re in the Richmond, VA area, you can register for this T. Rex race.
Then there’s running a marathon in a human-sized beer can. Ultramarathoner Glen Sutton decided to make a beer can suit to wear while running a marathon. The rest is youtube history:
Speaking from experience, it’s so much fun to let go of everything but a commitment to fun and a modicum of large/small motor skills, and just get out there, laughing and moving in equal measure. Readers, do you have plans for any costume races or active events this fall? We’d love to hear all about them.
On the one hand, what’s special or different about women’s feet? On the other, if all running shoes–even women’s running shoes–are based on models of men’s feet, that may be a problem.
I’ve written about gendered cycling shoes in this post here on the blog, Is women’s specific anything just a bad idea? What’s the issue? If women’s cycling shoes are narrower then some men, those with narrow feet, will end up needing to buy women’s shoes. Some women, those with wide feet, will end up buying men’s shoes. But, I asked in that piece, why even bother with the gendered labeling? Why not just call them wide and narrow shoes?
I came to this point because I’m a woman who rides a men’s bike. A men’s bike just fits people with short legs and long torsos better. And guess what? That’s me.
And you know, I wouldn’t think it would bug me but it does. Each time I go to buy a bike someone in a bike shop, or a well meaning friend, recommends a women-specific frame. I have to tell them that it won’t work. As far as bikes go, I’m a dude since all women’s frame means is longer legs WHICH I DON’T HAVE. Grrrr. It’s a very minor exclusion in the grand scheme of things but it grates.
I don’t mind that the men’s and women’s bikes sometimes come packaged with different components and the men’s bike is the better deal.
What about running shoes? How different are men’s and women’s feet really?
“Shoes are designed around foot-shaped molds called lasts, which dictate the fit and feel as well as the aesthetics and proportions. For a long time, those lasts were based only on molds of men’s feet. But “female feet … are not algebraically scaled, smaller versions of male feet, as is often assumed,” a study in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association declared way back in 2009. As a result, more and more brands started using female lasts based on the mold of a woman’s foot. For what it’s worth, some have opted for unisex lasts—an approach Katie Manser, the Supervisor of Research Operations at Heeluxe Footwear, an independent shoe research lab, dismisses. “There’s no such thing as a unisex foot—it’s anatomically a man’s foot or a woman’s foot,” she explains.”
But again, I’m not sure this gets it right. There may not be a ‘one size fits all’ foot but it seems unlikely all women have similar feet, or that the difference between men’s and women’s feet will be larger than the differences between different women’s feet.
The article I shared goes on to describe all of the different ways in which women’s feet differ from men’s but in each case there’s likely lots of variability between women. Also worth noting that some women were assigned male at birth and lots of people don’t identify as male or female at all.
In the end that article acknowledges that it’s not really about gender, it’s about variety and fit.
“The more knowledge you have about your body, the more empowered you are to make a decision regarding what you put on it. At the end of the day, the best shoe for you—no matter your gender—is the shoe that feels most comfortable on your feet. “
With less travel these days, I decided to take a fresh look at what London, Ontario has to offer. I landed on a city-run trail running program and a basic skill Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) class, both of which I’m doing with Anita. Today I’ll take about the trail running.
The trail running program is a Learn to Run Trails (5K) every Wednesday for eight weeks. At $55 you can’t really go wrong even if you’re going to miss one or two of the outings. It’s listed as an outdoor/nature program, and part of the objective is not just to learn to run trails but also to discover and learn about our city’s trails, which are designated as Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). In the service of that, the city sends us an info sheet on each week’s trail. It’s a five-page PDF that describes it and talks about the ecosystem and wildlife in the area and what makes it environmentally significant. This week we ran in Kilally, and this is the first page of the info flyer.
We had our first day out two Wednesdays ago on the literal hottest day so far this season, where it was in the high 30s C with a humidex of 43 degrees C. If it wasn’t the first night of a new program there is no way I’d have gone running at 6:30 pm that evening.
But at least 25 of us, mostly women, gathered at Westminster Ponds for a 4.5K in a shaded quite technical trail (I think that mostly means lots of roots, mud, winding parts, and ups and downs). Three of the four coaches were there, and they assured us that no one would be left behind or forced to push their pace. There was a coach up front, leading, one in the middle who sort of went back and forth keeping track of people, and one at the rear of the group making sure no one was falling behind.
We started off easy, with lots of pauses and walking (especially walking around the mud). The shade of the trees made it quite a bit cooler, but even so it was a tough running day and I immediately wished I’d brought two waters instead of one. The trail had quite a few muddy bits, and at the first one I realized I’d forgotten to wear my trail running shoes and instead wore my regular shoes for running on pavement. I will not be making that mistake again.
I mostly ran in the middle of the pack, sometimes falling back because I took more frequent walk breaks than some. It was uncomfortably hot and I was feeling it, and we hadn’t settled on any prescribed intervals (like this week’s 3-1s). We did a 2K loop and I was under the mistaken impression that because of the heat and it being day one, that’s all we were going to do. But when we stopped to regroup at the end of it, Terry suggested that we do it again in the other direction “if that was okay with everyone.” He explained how taking a trail in the other direction is almost like doing a new trail. Everyone was so darn agreeable about doing a second loop. Maybe no one wanted to be the naysayer. Granted, 2K is a pretty short run. But OMG.
Many walk breaks later, and quite a few short spurts of “I can make it to that tree” and “I can make it to that bend” and “I can make it up this hill,” and we made it. In all we were out there for just under an hour, which makes it the longest 4.5K I’ve ever done, but also the hottest. And on a trail.
We gathered in the parking area after and the coaches explained that every trail is different, and that in trail running you can’t really compare your times from one trail to another. They’re all different, and you’re bound to run a trail more slowly than the same distance on a paved pathway. Even the same trail can be quite different on a different day or in a different direction. They also challenge us in different ways, using more muscles because whereas in road running you are consistent in the way your foot hits the ground and your stride and so on, in trail running that’s not the case. You need to go over or avoid roots, adjust to different conditions under foot, watch out for tree branches in your face or on the ground, and go around (or through) mud.
This week we did a much easier, flatter trail in Kilally Meadows. It wasn’t quite as shaded but it also was considerably cooler (still about 30 degrees but less humid). We divided into two distinct groups this week — the fast and the slow. I chose the slow group, which the lead coach Joelle called “party pace,” and we did 3-1 intervals (3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking), covering about 3.5K in half an hour or so. It didn’t feel nearly as brutal as the previous week, and I was able to keep up with the pace and the intervals without any trouble. I might try the other group some time but I liked being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than feeling like I was pushing the pace just to keep up.
I had some concerns about it being buggy, and especially about ticks, which lots of people are talking about this year. I bought a special “tick key” that removes them without breaking them off. Lyme disease is a risk when you pull out a tick wrong. They burrow and it is easy to break them, releasing the toxin that carries the disease (that’s my lay understanding of it anyway). But the coaches also assured us that if we shower when we get home, we’d probably be fine because they are slow to move and the burrowing takes about 24 hours. That was reassuring. But I did do a quick tick check anyway. And I sprayed myself down with deep woods insect repellent.
Anita and I are out of the habit of taking pictures every time we go out, so I have no photo of either night, so I can’t prove that we were smiling but we were. Trail running is a great way to get out for a run, learn about the city’s trails, and discover new places to run when it’s hot and shade is welcome, or when you just want a change of scenery. I’m excited to discover the other trails in the area, and definitely want to add trail running to my roster of activities.
A year ago, I wrote here about an injury and dispiriting MRI results: complex and degenerative tears in both menisci. The specialist sat me down for the bad news: surgeons in my town were not going to be interested in having a look, believing that meniscus surgery puts knees at risk for joint replacement down the road. I had some questions about my injury—it didn’t fit the meniscus tear stories I had read, which included sudden pulls or twists or pops. Nor was I experiencing the usual symptoms related to meniscal injury: knee locking, clicking, giving way. But the images seemed to speak for themselves. The specialist was sorry. There you go.
As he delivered the bad news, I should have remembered that visual data is always context specific and always read through an interpretive lens. I couldn’t find my way to questioning conclusions that the MRI results seemed to underscore, but I was alert to the significance of a remark made along the way, something along the lines of, “You know, you can burn more calories riding a bike than you do running.” “Hold up,” I thought, “who said anything about calorie burning?” I didn’t run to manage my weight, nor do I talk about exercise in this way. I suddenly saw myself as, I’m guessing, the specialist saw me–a middle-aged woman who jogs to keep her weight down. I became suspicious of his quick assessments and conclusions. My family doctor also had some questions. To his mind, there was no reason not to put me in front of a surgeon rather than discounting the possibility of an intervention out of hand. He agreed that a second opinion was in order.
Fast forward past the usual long wait time and I’m in front of a specialist in another city. The conclusions he draws, looking at the MRI images, are radically different. The degenerative meniscal tears, he says, are pretty run of the mill. I have probably been running with them for years. There is no need for surgery because they aren’t the cause of the injury. He puts me through a range of tests relating to meniscal function, closely examines my gait and alignment, and then announces, “Patellar tendinopathy.” My gait, he points out, is slightly knock-kneed, and in the absence of strength training to support proper alignment, the tendon is aggravated by being dragged over the joint the wrong way. I had been sitting on my butt for months at the start of Covid, leaving the house only for easy runs and not much else—certainly not strength training at the gym. The knee trouble began when I ramped up to longer distances the fall of 2020.
These days I’m running again, shorter distances until I have time to undertake strength training with diligence and attention. Will I run a marathon again? I don’t know. But I do know that I was able reclaim running by advocating for myself. I thank the doctors who respected what running means to me.
I recently finished a sprint triathlon, my first in four years. The run felt like freedom.
Alison Conway trains and works on the traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Okanagan People.
60 days ago, I wanted to shake up my relationship with running, which had fallen into a bit of a rut.
I used to run a great deal, but after my second ultramarathon (which took place in May 2018), I struggled with setting new goals. This was problematic, because I’m highly goal motivated. I didn’t feel I could make improvements on my pace, and wasn’t ready or willing to commit to running distances longer than 50 km. Over the past couple of years, my running went from consistent training for some race or another to doing a lacklustre 5 km a week or so.
To change things up, I decided on something very simple: a run streak of at least one mile (1.6 kilometres) per day for at least 30 days.
I put the idea to some friends, several of whom joined in, either to do the minimum mile or mixing in other sports with the goal of consistent daily commitment and progress. After the first 30 days, I felt like I was getting a lot out of the process, so I decided to continue.
Streaking took a lot of thinking out of the equation for me. I always knew that I would run; the only questions I had to answer were when and how far. A mile does not seem like much on any given day – it’s roughly 10 minutes of activity, which always made that goal feel achievable.
This was particularly important on days when I otherwise would not have run at all due to other life circumstances, and when I found myself in some physically challenging situations. For example, I had a tooth extracted during the 60 day streak. I made sure to run before the extraction, and was pleased to find out I could handle a mile the day after it as well.
I also injured my back over the course of the 60 day streak while doing another activity that I enjoy a great deal: weight lifting. I pulled something while trying to improve my barbell squat, and had a brief worry that my streaking would be cut short as a result. But because I had set a goal, I figured I owed it to myself to try to achieve it. I made sure to slow things right now, and even while injured I managed to get in my mile per day.
Because a mile does not seem like very far, it also would not ever have really felt worth doing on its own on any given day, without the mental commitment. Why bother heading out the door for such a short distance? But getting out the door is exactly what I needed to do on many days. On many occasions, my mile morphed into two, three, or more.
Overall, I would call the experiment a resounding success. I rediscovered the joy I used to feel in running, the catharsis, and the physical benefits. And I got to share the joy in watching my friends meet — and in many cases exceed! — their goals as well.
January 1 was day 60. I did 10 km, which is the farthest I’ve gone in one run throughout the streaking process. Across all 60 days, I covered a total of 179 km, which works out to 3 km a day. And now I feel ready to do more again.
As I figure out what my next goals are, I think I will continue the streak. Depending on what I decide to do next, it may make sense to commit to including full rest days into the mix. But for now, I’ll continue to enjoy the benefits of consistent, incremental progress.
Bio: Stephanie Keating is a science writer at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with her partner, Kevin, and their two cats. She has dabbled in many athletic pursuits, but her favourites remain running, weight lifting, hiking, and cycling.