feminism · fitness · running

Tracy’s Spring 2018 Feminist Running Playlist

Image description: Purple treble clef with a woman symbol fist at the bottom against a light background.
Image description: Purple treble clef with a woman symbol fist at the bottom against a light background.

The other day Sam and I were reflecting on how for some reason our feminism has gone from “rage-y” and ranty to reasonable and moderate. Maybe it’s because we are both university administrators, so we can’t afford to be rage-y and ranty at work (for the most part…), at least not overtly so, if we want to get stuff done. But it’s spilled over into the blog. I can’t remember the last time I unleashed some good old feminist rage about something.

And I’m not about to do it here in this blog post today. But I’m warming myself up to it. This week I put together a new running playlist and I decided to draw the entire thing from Jessica’s feminist playlist, on Spotify as “Handle that Shit (with strength and grace and a well-timed fuck)(explicit).”

Her playlist was a collaborative effort among friends on social media. She put the call out for feminist tunes for cranking and feeling that surge of strength and solidarity. And the suggestions started rolling in, and rolling in, and rolling in. I shared her call on my timeline and again, more ideas. In the end, she put together an amazing and varied 13.5 hour playlist. I highly recommend it.

Not all the tunes are good for running, though many are. I tapped into it when constructing a new playlist for the upcoming season (I say “upcoming” because here it is spring in name only).  As I said the last time I shared a playlist, it’s really idiosyncratic to me. I don’t measure beats per minute. I start off a bit slower and pick up the pace. But I’ve not yet test run it and it’s possible that I will need to double click on my ear bud chord a few times if a tune comes on that is not well-suited to where I’m at in my run. It will take a bit of tweaking for order and adequacy.

Feel free to follow it, suggest additions, or register suggestions and complaints (not promising to honor all of them, since my main goal is to make a playlist that works for me.  I have tried it out at personal training twice this week, and it’s great for that. Paul (my trainer) complained (in jest) that he didn’t feel represented. I take that as a good sign that it’s hitting at least one feminist mark. And when my friend Alison showed up at the tail end of my session, she remarked that the music was fantastic.

Here it is (explicit): “Tracy Running Spring 2018”

  1. “Deeper Well,” Emmylou Harris/Wrecking Ball
  2. “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” Eurythmics/Ultimate Collection
  3. “Smile More,” Deep Vally/Femejism
  4. “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” Joan Jett, The Blackhearts/Up Your Alley
  5. “U + Ur Hand,” Pink/I’m Not Dead
  6. “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” Kelly Clarkson/Stronger
  7. “Fuck Love,” Iggy Azalea/The New Classic
  8. “Suddenly I See,” KT Tunstall/Eye to the Telescope
  9. “Shut Up and Let Me Go,” The Ting Tings/We Started Nothing
  10. “Hot Topic,” Le Tigre/Le Tigre
  11. “Hollaback Girl,” Gwen Stefani/Let’s Get It Started
  12. “No Man’s Woman,” Sinead O’Connor/Faith and Courage
  13. “Run the World (Girls),” Beyonce/4
  14. “Fuck You,” Lily Allen/It’s not Me, It’s You
  15. “TiK ToK,” Kesha/Animal
  16. “Bad Girls,” M.I.A./Matangi
  17. “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” Nancy Sinatra/Boots
  18. “Hung Up,” Madonna/Confessions on a Dance Floor
  19. “I Kissed a Girl,” Katy Perry/One of the Boys
  20. “Survivor,” Destiny’s Child/Survivor
  21. “Look What You Made Me Do,” Taylor Swift/Look What You Made Me Do
  22. “Hit ‘Em up Style (Oops!)” Blu Cantrell/Bittersweet
  23. “4 Minutes,” Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Timbaland/Celebration
  24. “Push It,” Salt-N-Pepa/The Best of Salt-N-Pepa
  25. “Woman,” Kesha, The Dap-Kings Horns/Rainbow
  26. “Shout Out to My Ex,” Little Mix/Glory Days (Deluxe)
  27. “Boss Ass Bitch,” Pretty Taking All Fades/Boss Ass Bitch
  28. “I Will Survive,” Gloria Gaynor/New In Town
  29. “Not Fair,” Lily Allen/It’s Not Me, It’s You
  30. “No Scrubs,” TLC/Fanmail
  31. “NO,” Meghan Trainer/NO
  32. “Shake It Off,” Taylor Swift/1989 (Deluxe Edition)
  33. “PBNJ,” Patti Cake$/Patti Cake$ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

This post may not be a rage-y feminist rant, but the playlist is warming me up for one! Hope it does the same for you.

fitness · Guest Post · running

Running and the ties that bind (guest post)

Image description: Alison Conway (right) and Karis Shearer (left) dressed for outdoor running, with light jackets and hats, outside on a beach with water and mountains behind them. Alison is giving a 'thumbs' up and both are smiling as they look directly into the camera for what is clearly a selfie.
Photo credit: Karis Shearer. Image description: Alison Conway (right) and Karis Shearer (left) dressed for outdoor running, with light jackets and hats, outside on a beach with water and mountains behind them. Alison is giving a ‘thumbs’ up and both are smiling as they look directly into the camera for what is clearly a selfie.”

by Alison Conway

Haruki Murakami is a contemporary novelist, famous for his blending of America crime noir conventions and Japanese culture. My first Murakami read was The WindUp Bird Chronicle, which I highly recommend for anyone interested detective fiction and/or the legacy of WW II in Japan. But the work by Murakami that captured my heart was not a novel, but a memoir titled What I Talk About When I Talk about Running.

I came back to running at age 50 with all the enthusiasm that anyone setting out after years of double-shifting full-time work and childcare brings to her new hobby. Which is to say, a lot. Reading about running is almost as much fun as running itself, with hearing about other people’s running following close behind. Murakami’s prose reads like running shoes hitting the pavement, carefully measured in its pacing, but also graceful, poetic.

Murakami claims, “I am no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary—or perhaps more like mediocre—level. But that’s not the point” (10). To be an ordinary runner is a wonderful freedom. I run and race for myself and have only my hard-earned, middle-aged personal best times to show for my efforts, times which will soon slip away from me as I approach my sixties. “I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together,” Murakami writes (172). I take perverse pleasure in thinking of myself as racing toward the grave.

But running, for me, isn’t about simply enjoying exercise in middle age. I train for races, and I spend a lot of time thinking about them. “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits; that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life,” says Murakami (83). Pushing myself, physically, reminds me to push myself in other areas of my life, especially those where I might feel insecure. Indeed, the mind games I play when heading to a finish line are the same games I play when dealing with difficult situations at work. Avoiding negative self-talk, keeping in mind that the pain is temporary: these strategies help me keep moving forward.

Where Murakami and I part ways is in the company we keep while running. Murakami likes to run alone, and I like to run with other people. I particularly like to run with women friends. On our runs, we can process the challenges we face at work and in our personal lives. Kinship grows as the miles pass, as well as the confidence that we’ve got each other’s backs. When I run down the street with my friends, I feel secure in my pod. And I am proud of the company I keep.

Recently, I was introduced to the work of Victoria Pitts-Taylor, author of The Brain’s Body. Pitts-Taylor is interested in the social brain, furthering the work of feminist materialism, which “explores biology as both agentic and entangled with social meanings and cultural practices” (19). The chapter that got me thinking about women running together is titled “Neurobiology and the Queerness of Kinship.” Here, Pitts-Taylor examines how scientists talk about the role oxytocin plays in forming bonds between mammals. Most commonly associated with mother-infant bonding, oxytocin, Pitts-Taylor reveals, appears in a wider range of bodies than science tends to examine: “Across species of mammals, varieties of social arrangements may reflect different underlying patterns of oxytocin receptors and related circuitry” (105). It is the bonding activity, rather than genetics, which establish kinship ties fueled by oxytocin, Pitts-Taylor argues: “Being biologically related does not have to mean genetically related; it can mean having a biological investment in another, in the form of an intercorporeal tie to another, that is the product of interaction, intimacy, or companionship” (117).

Back to running. Running, various studies show, produces oxytocin.[i] My theory, based only on subjective experience, is that the production of oxytocin in a group already primed by social context to value friendship and community contributes to a feeling of kinship among the bodies that run together. My sense that I belong to a pack or a pod when I run with women may, in fact, reflect a mammalian truth rather than my propensity, as an English professor, to think metaphorically. I like to think of my running friends as my “other” family; it may be that science proves me right in claiming kinship with them.

Works Cited

Murakami, Haruki. What I Talk About When I Talk about Running (2008). Trans. Philip Gabriel. Anchor, 2013.

Pitts-Taylor, Victoria. The brain’s body: neuroscience and corporeal politics. Duke University Press, 2016.

[i] Trynke, R. de Jong, Rohit Menon, Anna Bludau, Thomas Grund, Verena Biermeier, Stefanie M. Klampfl, Benjamin Jurek, Oliver J. Bosch, Juliane Helhammer, Inga D. Neumann,  “Salivary oxytocin concentrations in response to running, sexual self-stimulation, breastfeeding and the TSST: The Regensburg Oxytocin Challenge (ROC) study,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 62, December 2015, 381-388

Alison Conway is a Professor of English, and Gender and Women’s Studies, at UBC, Okanagan. Her favorite workout is running the streets and trails of Kelowna BC.

fitness

Friends and Mutual Motivation

Image description: Tracy's two feet in robin blue running shoes on a stone slab beside the river, some dry leaves and greenery on the ground, the river cuts diagonally across the frame and you can see stones on the bottom through the clear water.
Image description: Tracy’s two feet in robin blue running shoes on a stone slab beside the river, some dry leaves and greenery on the ground, the river cuts diagonally across the frame and you can see stones on the bottom through the clear water.

A few weeks ago I got into a mutual motivation session on social media with my friend, Serene. I posted something about getting out for a run at lunch time. Serene said, “Go, Tracy, go!” That was enough to kick me into gear. When I got back I posted a series of pics with the status line: “Photo evidence that if Serene says go, I go.”

Serene then felt obligated to go to the gym later that day for her workout (I think she said, “OK now I have to drag my ass to the gym.” And she did.

We kept it light and fun, with me coming back with “Serene, now tell me to get going on grading those papers. You seem to be effective at getting me to do stuff I don’t really want to do.” Academics really, really struggle with grading papers. Ask any of us. It’s hands down the worst part of teaching.  Further evidence of it’s bottom ranking was Serene’s comment, “Anyone who thinks that working out is the hardest thing to make themselves do has never met grading.”

Too true. Indeed, in addition to Serene’s prompting, I think I went running that day at least in part to avoid grading.

So what happened there? What happened was a little exchange on social media got Serene and me out the door to do our things. She reported back later: “Update: definitely one of those days where your workout sucks no matter what you do, but I did it!”

I find friends are really great motivators, and it’s awesome when the motivation is mutual. After I posted earlier this week about my pull-ups, I had a few people message me to say that my post motivated them to give them another whirl. This is another example of the way we can motivate each other. I see you, my friend, do something awesome and it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I can do that awesome thing too.

Another way: workout dates with friends. Sunday morning long runs with Anita and Julie were the mainstay of my running training for the longest time (until Anita went to the UK for a year and Julie started suffering with foot troubles and has had to turn to spinning for a bit — waiting!). Knowing we had a commitment to meet up with one another was mutually motivating for all concerned. It also got us through the tough runs, when things became difficult and we wanted to quit. We’re always less likely to quit when we’ve got friends counting on us.

And lately, I’ve been meeting up with friends at the early hot yoga class on Saturday mornings. I love activity dates so much.

Do you and your friends engage in mutual motivation? How?

fitness

Bodies can surprise you (Guest post by Rebecca Kukla) #halfmarathon

a selfie of Joseph Rees and Rebecca Kukla
Joseph Rees (left) and Rebecca Kukla (right)

By Rebecca Kukla

On Saturday, I ran my third half-marathon, the Potomac River Run. Both of the other times I trained for a half-marathon, I was incredibly disciplined about training, driven largely by a fear of collapsing half-way through the course. I had all sorts of rituals: not only an elaborate weekly schedule of four to five runs, but much fussing over the details of my playlist, purchasing new shoes, collecting up the perfect set of snacks, planning out my water breaks, and so forth.

This time was different. Partly it was because for the first time I was not going to be running with my wonderful friends, FFI bloggers Tracy and Anita, so I didn’t have our shared enthusiasm and peer pressure keeping me on track. Two of the four in the group of us who planned to run this race together dropped out. My remaining racing buddy, Joseph, while a dear friend, was a man in his 20s who can run twice as fast as me while drunk and with a giant sea turtle strapped to his back. Partly it was because this year I am commuting between New York and Washington, DC every single week and taking a full graduate course load on top of my full-time academic job, and still training in two other sports, which in New York involves commuting to my boxing gym an hour and fifteen minutes in each direction almost every day. Something had to give. I was overwhelmed.

I ended up doing something like two thirds of my planned runs, and many of those I cut short or did at a slower pace than I planned because I was just exhausted or out of time or both. A couple of weeks I skipped altogether, because of travel, family illnesses and who knows what.

Long story short, by the time race day came, I had given up on any hope of a PR. I felt totally unprepared, and my trial 21K two weeks earlier had been my worst time ever. All was chaos. I forgot my running belt in New York. I woke up the morning of the race and realized I had no snacks to bring, and had done nothing to update my tired playlist since my last race. I had no idea where the course was. Indeed, we got lost three separate times on our way to the race. I wrongly thought that the race ended in the middle of DC, so I left all my things in my boyfriend’s car and planned to take the metro home at the end, but once we arrived we found out the course was actually an out-and-back. We were stranded in the chilly forest with no coats, and we had no way of getting home from the wilds of Maryland where we had been dropped off.

When I looked at the course, my heart sunk further. The promotional materials had promised a totally flat, fast course. I had assumed it would be a smooth running path along the river. One glance showed me that the course was actually a rough, uneven trail, and that the organizers’ conception of ‘completely flat’ was significantly different from mine. Mentally, I adjusted my finishing time up yet farther. We found out there were no bathrooms and no mile markers on the course. We had no water and no snacks. We started to joke about leaving and getting brunch instead. The colder we got, the less joke-y our jokes became.

Finally the race began, and I took off at what I thought was a light slow jog, trying to warm up slowly, as is my practice. After half a mile, my app informed me that I was pacing slightly faster than what was supposed to be my target pace – the pace I had long since given up hope of achieving anyhow. I was surprised and assumed GPS error. But no, after a mile I was still at that same pace. I considered slowing down on purpose so as not to burn out, but really it felt like I was just jogging comfortably. I couldn’t see any benefit to slowing down. I decided that I’d just keep up that pace as long as it was comfortable. I wouldn’t speed up, and I’d slow down or take a walk break if I needed to. I assumed I would need to, since I was pacing just around 9 minutes a mile, which is quite fast, for me. (I have very very little legs!)

I kept running, and I never felt the need to slow down. Water stations came and went, and I felt no need for them. There were some small hills, but they didn’t make me want to break stride. I made it to the halfway mark in just moments under an hour, and decided it was time to re-up my expectations. I had long wanted to finish a half-marathon in under two hours, and I was on track to do it! So I decided to just stay on pace and not slow down or walk unless I really needed to. And I didn’t. My pace was weirdly consistent, mile after mile. I made it through the whole race without a water or a walk break of any kind, and cruised through the finish line just seconds under 2:00, giving me a PR and meeting a goal that had felt totally unreachable a week before.

As I sat with my friend at the finish line, the overly enthusiastic guy with the microphone whose job it is to keep everyone ‘amped’ called out, “And Rebecca Kukla wins a prize!” I was baffled. I went up and asked, “Why, what did I win?” “YOU WIN A HAT!” he bellowed into the mic. “Um, that’s great, but why did I win a hat? What for?” “BECAUSE YOU’RE AWESOME,” he roared back. “Thanks!” I said. “But seriously, I don’t understand what I did that’s awesome. What did I win?” “YOU WIN A HAT!” he yelled back happily. I gave up and took the hat, which I dearly needed, since as I noted we were cold. The next day I found out that I had won second in my age group! I still don’t quite understand how that’s possible, but I did! It was a good day to be a woman in my 40s! I never expected to win any kind of prize for running, especially not yesterday.

What’s the moral of the story? I think just that bodies can surprise you. Who knows why they do what they do. All our neurotic efforts to discipline them and make them predictable are built on an underlying morass of chaos and contingency. I woke up the next morning, post-race, and felt great. I was in the gym boxing by 10 am. I have no idea why that all went so well. But goodness, there’s no better feeling than your body suddenly becoming dramatically more powerful and able than you had any right to expect!

Rebecca Kukla is Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University, and also a graduate student in urban geography at CUNY-Hunter College. She is a competitive boxer and powerlifter, a dedicated bike commuter, and a runner of wildly varying enthusiasm. She lives in Washington, DC with a passel of excellent human and non-human animals.

fitness · racing · running

Small Victories: Tracy’s Continuous 10K

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?

fitness

Accidental Personal Record

I didn’t want to do another half marathon but I promised. My partner signed me up for the Army Run in Ottawa. It was a marginally consensual sign up. But he was excited and I figured it would all be okay. 

The summer was busy and hot at the wrong times. I hate running in the heat. I didn’t train much. Neither did he frankly but he has that particular combination of base fitness and stubbornness that he can do just about anything he puts his mind to. So as the date approached, I knew that 21.1k was not going to happen for me. 

The event gave me the option of dropping down to the 10k and I took that instead. I thought I’d just take it easy and walk as much as I needed. It was going to be an obscenely hot day for September anyway. I had zero expectation. 

The event itself was huge. And you know what? It was super fun. It’s not just a Canadian Forces thing. It’s in support of wounded soldiers and they had a place of honour in the run. The city really owns that run. The Prime Minister ran the 5k (in 23 minutes !!! ). The Minister of Defence ran the Commander’s Challenge, the same run my partner did. It was the 5k and then the half. There were a couple of other Ministers running other distances too. There were kids and moms carrying kids and strollers and basically every combo you can imagine running 5 different events storming the streets of downtown. 

Doing politics on the run. The PM and the Minister of Defence

I just set out to do my best. Not a record, just survive really. And then, there it was, 10k in 1:13.20. A personal best by accident. 

I told my partner I’d do the half next year. It always seems so possible from this perspective. 

Who else has tripped over a personal best?

Sweaty white middle age woman in a green tank top looking pleased with herself.
Do I look smug? I was smug. And sweaty
fitness · Guest Post · race report · running

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.