Fit and fat revisited (ultra running doesn’t make everyone thin and lean)

One of Mirna Valerio's selfies, used to prove that she showed up and did it! From http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.ca/2015/07/thoughts-of-fatultrarunner.html

One of Mirna Valerio’s selfies, used to prove that she showed up and did it! From http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.ca/2015/07/thoughts-of-fatultrarunner.html

You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it.  Running is supposed to be the “best cardio” for weight loss. Have you seen the people who win marathons? They’re lean sometimes to the point of being barely there.

If marathoners are that thin, ultra runners must be even more so. Except that, no, it doesn’t work that way.  I’ve already talked about how endurance training won’t make you lean any more than basketball will make you tall and lanky. I found this out first hand when I trained for Olympic distance triathlons and then a half marathon and then a 30K and then a marathon. I lost no weight at all. Not one gram. My weight fluctuated by about 2 pounds over the entire 2 year period.

And so what? Here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue, we like to challenge the idea that fit and fat don’t go together, and also that being thin is a sign of fitness. It’s not. There are plenty of thin people who could use a regular fitness routine. Sam has a great post that muddies the waters around the so-called connection between inactivity and obesity.

This week, Runner’s World profiled a 250 pound ultra distance runner named Mirna Valerio. Valerio blogs about her running at Fat Girl Running. Mirna runs about 25 miles a week unless she’s training for an event, in which case she ups it to 35. Right now, she’s training for a 50K trail race.

Here’s what people say to her:

“People always say to me, ‘Anyone who runs as much as you do deserves to be skinny.’ Of course, what they’re really saying: ‘If you do all this running, why are you still so fat?’”

Mirna provides a powerful counterexample to the idea that being “overweight” by the lights of the charts is automatically a negative comment on your fitness and health. Recent science bears this out. The RW article states:

“The scientific evidence has become quite powerful to suggest that a healthful lifestyle dramatically mitigates the risks associated with mild levels of obesity,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., author of The Diet Fix and a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine in Canada. “Scales don’t measure the presence or absence of health. A woman with obesity running marathons makes a superb role model.”

Mirna’s training is a huge source of enjoyment in her life too. Part of her regular ritual is that each time she goes out she takes a selfie.

Every run, every race, every traverse of a mountain trail, every gym workout, Valerio begins by taking a photo. “To prove that I was out here,” she explains. “To document the fact that I achieved something today.”

She makes it fun. And she keeps it light. On her blog, she has a page “how to be a fat runner.” She explains it in ten simple steps, including “embrace the name” and “look in the mirror and smile even if it doesn’t feel genuine” and “look in the mirror again and admire yourself for being a fatrunner.”

So here we have an ultra runner who is not thin and lean. But we’re not going to challenge her fitness, right? Imagine how much joy she would have robbed herself of if, after running for a few weeks or months without losing weight, she decided it wasn’t “worth it”?

This is what happens when we focus on one goal only: the goal of weight loss.  When our activities are a means to that sole end, and we don’t achieve that end, we sometimes forgo perfectly good, health-promoting, and enjoyable forms of activity because they don’t “work.” But there are so many other ways that getting more active does “work.”

What an impoverished idea of any kind of training we would have if its only function was to help us drop fat and lose weight. If that’s the only reason I ran, I would have given it up long ago. And so would Mirna Valerio and countless others who found that actually, they didn’t end up looking like elite marathoners when they took up endurance training.

Check out the entire RW article about Mirna Valerio here.  And visit her Fat Girl Running blog here.

From Starting “Wine” to Finish “Whine,” Niagara Women’s Half Marathon Gets It Right

niagara falls women's half marathon 21.1 logoReaders of the blog will know how much I like women’s events. So I was pretty excited when Anita (my Scotiabank Half Marathon partner, local running buddy, and longtime friend) and I signed up for the Niagara Women’s Half Marathon way back in the late winter.  And I got more and more stoked as our road trip approached.

Race day was Sunday and we left for Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Saturday late morning. The plan — pick up our race kits, eat something, head to the outlet mall for some shopping, check in to the hotel, chill, eat again, sleep.  It all went to plan but for the “chill” part. Somehow the day got away from us and the next thing we knew it was 8 p.m. and we were just getting started on our appetizers.

Both of us were strangely calm the night before.  No nerves. No real worries other than that we might be a bit cold in the morning if we got there as early as they suggested (6:30 for an 8 a.m. start!).  So we decided we’d aim to get there by around 7:15 instead, and it was only 15 minutes from the hotel, so if we left at 7 a.m. no problem, right?

Not quite. When there are 4000 entrants and one road into the parking lot and no shuttle buses from the hotels, that’s a lot of vehicles trying to get to the same place.  15 minutes turned into 30 and eventually we got to the venue. If they’d said to get there early to avoid being stuck in traffic we might have listened. But they said get there early to hear the music and use the port-a-potties.

The event advertises their famous port-a-potties, each with a bouquet of flowers in it. They had a higher ratio of port-a-potties per competitors than usual because research shows that women take longer in the loo than men. They kind of overstated the awesomeness of these things. It’s true that the one I went into had a pot of flowers setting in the urinal. But that was about all that was different about it.

So with that out of the way and a few pre-race pics, we went to find our spot at the “Start Wine.”  Yes, that’s not a typo.  Niagara is a wine region after all. And there was even a bottle of wine in the race kit (meaning that Anita scored double the fun because I don’t drink). So we made our way to the Start Wine with less than 10 minutes to go.

Niagara Women's Half Marathon Start Wine

Niagara Women’s Half Marathon Start Wine

There we met several women from a lively, fun, and very well-represented group from the US called Black Girls Run. With 400 from various chapters across the US, they made up 10% of the total competitors in the race. Many had t-shirts and head bands with their smile-inducing slogan: “preserve the sexy.”

With the sun out, we weren’t cold at all and in fact we both felt relieved that we didn’t load ourselves down with heavier clothes or throw-away sweaters or, in Anita’s case, capris instead of shorts.

The pre-race energy filled the air and the race announcer did a great job of getting everyone excited.  Then “O Canada,” a count-down, and we were off.  It took us just over three minutes to get across the start wine from where we were in the crowd.

Our race strategy was to do intervals of 10 minutes running, 30 seconds walking for as long as we could, switching to 10-1 intervals when 30 seconds started to feel too short.

niagara falls

Instead of giving a full report, I’m going to give some highlights:

1. We did indeed, as advertised, get to run past the Falls twice, both times during the first 5K which was an out-and-back from the Rapidsview parking lot, along the Niagara Falls Parkway to the base of Clifton Hill and back. We got some mist from the Falls, which felt lovely, and we also got to see the leaders of the race as they reached the turnaround and headed back our way.

2. There was a lot of crowd support all along the route. There were also all sorts of musical acts, including a marching band, a string duo playing a cello and a violin, a solo harpist, a solo sax player.

3. When the route looped back sort of past where we started, Kathrine Switzer was in the middle of the road high-fiving everyone she could. If you don’t know who she is, she is the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, way back in 1967. And she’s pretty darn amazing. I didn’t realize it was her but Anita had done her homework and told me that we’d just high-fived Kathy Switzer.

4. The course continued along the upper part of the Niagara River, across a bridge, and then followed a road for quite a distance all along the bank on the other side of the river until another turnaround.  Again, the second out and back made for exciting times when the lead racers, Stephanie and Dale, came blasting past us in the other direction, making their way to the finish wine, where they would arrive more than an hour before we did!

5. I’m not sure if it’s because I recently did a marathon, which seemed just endless, or if it was just my mood, but I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the kilometre markers.  We made a note, but it wasn’t until about the last 6K that I was constantly doing the mental calculations about how close we were to the end. With 5K to go I still felt pretty good, even though I knew we were off pace.

6. We got off pace fairly early. We’d wanted to keep our pace to 7 minutes a km, but early on we took a quick bathroom break, which of course added some time, and then once we crossed to the other side of the river there were some long, treeless stretches in the blazing sun. We didn’t talk a lot during those stretches. In fact, we didn’t talk as much as we usually do in general. For my part, I was soaking in the vibe — there was a lot of high energy and encouragement from the sidelines and from the other women. It felt good. But it felt more like a fun run than a race. Anita and I had both agreed ahead of time that we weren’t going to get too caught up in the pace and our time. We just wanted to enjoy ourselves.

7. Nutrition and hydration. I planned better this time, keeping my shot blocks in a pocket pouch rather than risking losing them from the loop of my fuel belt like I did in the dreaded Mississauga Marathon (more than a month out and I’m still committed to “never again”). I ate one block every 20 minutes or so. About an hour into it I started to feel a little bit light-headed. Despite not having experimented with Powerade before the event, I accepted it when offered at the water stations and also took some water. In that long hot stretch without trees, I took extra water and poured it into my hat. Anita by that point was dumping the water on her head.

8. My wall came at around 18K, with just 3.1K to go. What is that no matter what the distance, the last fraction of it always seems hard.  When I did the Around the Bay 30K and the Mississauga Marathon, up to 22K was no problem. But Sunday, 18-21.1 challenged me.  By then, we were taking our full minute for the walk breaks, or adding walk breaks before the 10 minutes were up, or taking a walk break and then walking through the water stations. Anita and I checked in with each other from time to time to see if the other was okay. We both said we were but later she admitted that she was struggling in the last little bit as well.

9.  The finish wine (probably best called the “finish WHINE”) was just around the bend forever! I really felt like we weren’t ever going to arrive at the end. But the next thing I knew, I could see it about 200m away. I said to myself, you run this short distance all the time. Keep going, keep going, keep going.  And then we were crossing the mat. And then the firefighters (yes! firefighters!) were putting the medals around our necks. And someone handed each of us a cool washcloth (yes, a cool, damp washcloth! what luxury). And we made our way to collect our boxed snack of a banana, an apple, and two cookies wrapped in tissue paper, and drinks.

We walked past a line-up of women waiting for FREE post-race massages. And then there was a seating area with a bunch of banquet tables set up with white table cloths and centre-pieces — definitely the most elegant post-race set-up I’ve ever seen.

Niagara post-race set upIt was the kind of set-up that made you want to hang around.  Which we did — long enough to see the overall and age-group winners collect their prizes, long enough to check our race results. And stretch and bask in the sense of accomplishment that running 21.1K brings no matter how long it took.

10. As Anita said on social media, we each achieved a PW — personal worst! It was my second half marathon, and I came in 11 minutes slower than the last one. But it was immeasurably more fun and relaxing.

I’m going to let Anita have the last word about the Niagara Women’s Half Marathon:

The Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon was an amazing race. Maybe one of the best I’ve ever done. Great swag bag that included a bottle of wine! There were about 4000 people (so not too big not too small), it was well organized with a beautiful route and lots of spectators and local musicians (sax player, harpist, marching band, other bands at various points along the route). One water station included someone with a hose spraying a mist out to cool us down bc it was so friggin hot. Really great, supportive atmosphere. A special shout out to the BGR contingent (Black Girls Run) – 400 women from all over the US wearing shirts with their awesome logo “Preserve the Sexy”. Despite running a PW (personal worst!!), Tracy and I had a brilliant time.

If you are interested in doing this race next year (June 5, 2016) the early bird registration before June 30th is only $68. Here’s the link.

Niagara post-race medal

Mississauga Marathon 2015 Part Two: Tracy Runs and Runs and Runs and Runs Some More (Race Report)

[warning: this race report is interminably long–my apologies. TI]

Why do people run marathons?  This thought flashed through my mind somewhere between 30 and 32K on Sunday, as I ran the Mississauga Marathon, my first full distance marathon ever. And quite possibly my last. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: it’s one thing to be fast and cover these distances quickly, quite another to be slow and plod along for almost six hours. That takes its own special kind of underrated endurance.

I got to Mississauga the day before the event. The minute I got up to my hotel room I heard a baby crying in the adjacent room and another child who sounded like perhaps a toddler vying for parental attention.  It took me about 30 seconds to assess the situation and call down to the front desk for another room. They obliged. Whew!

I had dinner plans with my friend, Vicki, and she got there just the second I got the new room.  We did a quick shopping trip to the fancy Square One Mall, and then headed out in search of pasta.  Alioli exceeded my expectations for what kind of Italian food I might find in a mall neighborhood of a Toronto suburb.  You can feed me crusty white bread and Alioli’s jumbo ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and smothered in their marinara sauce every day.

After dinner we went for a walk because not only did we have a bit of time, but the weather was perfect as perfect can be on the weekend. We have suffered through the relentless winter and then soldiered further through what’s been a disappointing and unreliable spring.  And this weekend the weather gods delivered on Environment Canada’s promise of “the nicest weekend so far.”

Catching up with Vicki and wandering around on a warm evening in late spring kept my mind off of the reason I was there: to run 42.2 km in the morning.  As soon as we said good-night I fired up my laptop to check on some race details, like the exact location of the starting line, the frequency of water stations, and (though meaningless to me because I don’t know Mississauga at all), the route.  The route looked unforgivingly long.

Mississauga Full-Relay-and-Half-Route-I made a decision about shoes, clothes, accessories and laid everything out on the other bed so I wouldn’t have any decisions in the morning. I wrote myself the following note: 6 a.m. eat breakfast, 6:15 shower, 6:45 make way to starting line for the 7:30 start.

Lights out. Unsettled night of sleep but no screaming children.

Rise and shine. I woke up feeling rested enough and pretty excited. Put my cereal together (something with Chia seeds and dried fruit and soy milk that works well for me as a pre-race meal and is easy to pack for travel). Ate. Showered. Dressed. The temperature was still on the cool side, around 11 degrees C, but warm enough that I didn’t need a throwaway sweater. I could leave in my running tank and shorts, not a problem.

When I got down to the lobby a few people were headed out to the starting line. This is the first time I’ve been to a race out of town where I knew no one.  Gabbi, my triathlon coach, and Miriam and Mary, both from the club, were all in town but I didn’t have a plan to meet up with them and the starting line is kind of chaotic anyway.  Not knowing anyone can be both lonely and liberating. I experienced both as I walked to the starting area and waited for the race to begin.

I had one main plan: to cross the finish line. My longest run ever before Sunday was 30K, so it’s not as if I fully trained for the marathon. That kind of concerned me, but I knew that even if I had to slow down considerably, I would be able to get to the end.

My other bits of strategy included turning off the pace and distance fields from my Garmin so it would only show me how long I’d been out there.  This was so I could do it more intuitively. I knew there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about pace. I knew that at a certain point it would be enough just to keep moving forward. I thought that being hyper aware of my pace might feel demoralzing. Gabbi agreed and suggested that the only reason even to use the Garmin at all on race day was to have a data record to analyze later.

I set the Garmin to 10-1 intervals and committed to sticking to them. Gabbi had suggested doing water station intervals instead, that is, run between the aid stations and then walk through them. But with the stations being 4km apart and my pace being in the 7-7:30 km range, I thought that would deviate too far from how I’d been training. That might be something for another day.

I felt like a pack mule trying to fit all of my nutrition into my fuel belt and another little pocket thing I had.  I stuffed one package of shot bloks, some coconut covered dates, and a cliff bar in the pocket thing, 2 vega gels in my fuel belt zipper pocket, and slid another package of shot blocks into this elastic loop on the outside of the fuel belt. Between the fuelt belt and my phone belt and my bib belt I had more going on around my waist and hips that is probably recommended. But I don’t know how people organize themselves. I also had one small bottle of water that fit into my fuel belt so I could take sips on walk breaks when I wasn’t at water station and refill as needed.

Two further decisions: (1) no music and (2) practice some chi running focuses, specifically the column posture, peeling my feet of the ground, the midfoot strike, and the lean.

I divided the race into 4 parts: 0-12K, 12-22K, 22-32K, 32-42.2K.

The Mississauga Marathon is that great kind of race where they put your name on your bib.  As I was waiting to cross the street I saw a woman whose name was also Tracy. We high-fived, with “Tracys unite!” She was with a friend who was wearing a pink wig and had a dog. This will become relevant later.

I love the buzz of excitement at the starting area of a race, and this one was no different. A band was playing and people were milling about. I’d made enough trips to the loo before I left the comfort of my hotel room that I spared myself the line-up at the port-o-pottie. I’ve done enough races now that it’s the line-ups, not the port-o-potties themselves, that I want to avoid.

At the start and haven't yet lost my mojo!

At the start and haven’t yet lost my mojo!

As I walked through the starting area I got a bit choked up. I get emotional like that sometimes.  I think the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. I wanted to be near the back of the pack because I knew I was going to be in the slower group. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was that the slower group sort of gravitates towards the half marathon. Very few people near the back had the blue and red bibs that indicated the full. That kind of worried me. I was in for a lonely race.

Hazel McCallion, who was mayor of Mississauga for 36 years (until she retired last year at age 93), said a few word of welcome. Then we sang the national anthem. And then it was 30 seconds to the start, then we all did a 10-second countdown and I almost cried again. And we were off.

0-12K

I thought I would finish in 5:00 to 5:30.  They say to take your half marathon time, double it and add 20 minutes. My half last October was just under 2:30, so that seemed like a reasonable estimate.  My biggest worry was that I would go out too fast.  So I hung back and paced myself easy, at what felt like around 7:20 or so, for the first few kilometers.

I took my walk breaks as scheduled even though I didn’t feel as if I needed them yet. I took in the cool air and the excitement and energy of the others around me. At about 4 km I saw a woman with pink hair and a dog at the side. She hollered out, “Tracy!”  And I couldn’t remember where I’d met her — I looked perplexed. She then shouted, “The other Tracy’s friend! You got this!”

And at that point, with almost one tenth of the race behind me, I felt like yes, I got this!

I plodded along at a slightly faster pace once I got a bit warmed up. At one point I sort of tripped over something that felt like a plastic candy bar wrapper or something. I didn’t bother to look down even though I wondered how it was that I could have tripped over something that I hadn’t seen, since I was alert and aware and had a clear view of the road.

At 6K when I reached down to grab my first shot block from the package in that elastic loop, it became clear to me why I hadn’t seen the thing I tripped over.  Okay. Half of my primary nutrition strategy was lying on Burnhamthorpe Road, unopened.  I can’t eat a whole lot of different things and shot blocks go down easier than gels do (for me–I know others are different). So: damn, that sucked. It also meant more Gatorade than I would usually take, but thank goodness they had Gatorade instead of Hammer Heed, because Heed doesn’t agree with me.

By then the mall-suburbs had given way to a scenic, forested area of Mississauga, and soon we entered the picturesque campus of University of Toronto, Mississauga. Maybe it’s because I’m an academic, or maybe it’s because I have two degrees from U of T, but I felt strangely comforted by those surroundings even though I have never set foot on that particular campus of U of T before.

I’d settled into a little group of people who were sort of catching up, passing, catching up, passing, based on different walk-run interval schedules. There was one woman in particular who was power walking the whole thing at an amazing walk-pace. I passed her whenever I was running, but not by much because she caught up with me on my one-minute walks.

We were a couple of kilometres winding through the campus and then we ended up in a stately and elegant residential area on the tree-lined Mississauga Rd.  Some of the locals were out cheering us on, and the race had amazing support from volunteers and from the police, who had a major presence at all intersections. The perfect weekend weather also brought out the cyclists, who were for the most part fine but got annoying later on when I hit the loneliest stretches of the marathon towards the end. But we’re not there yet.

Just before 12K I started looking at people’s bibs and that’s when I realized that almost everyone in my little group was doing the half, not the full.  Finally I caught up to an older man who was doing the full, and felt immediately relieved. He asked me what I was aiming for timewise. “Between 5:00 and 5:30. You?” I said.  He was aiming for six hours.

Six hours! I somehow had never even had in my head the idea that it could take six hours.  Good Lord.  But at that point 5:30 still seemed achievable. He talked about the “double your half and add twenty minutes” formula and I found that reassuring.

By the end of 12K I was feeling light and happy. We’d been in shade most of the time and it was still early in the day anyway.  I had no injuries or even niggling physical symptoms of any kind. And I was still apace with the amazing power walker, which I found both comforting and worrying (because she was walking, but don’t underestimate what some people can do pacewise when they’re walking).

12-22K

I was over the loss of the shot blocks by now and had opened the other package, eating one every time I hit a walk break at first, and then I rationed by switching to my dates, of which I had five to spread out over the race.

We were all clipping along nicely on more of the tree-lined shady residential streets of Mississauga, not yet down to the lake but it didn’t matter.  The shade kept it cool enough and in any case we were only expecting a high of 24C, which is so bearable compared to what it’s like in mid-summer when it’s much hotter than that and humid.

The moment of truth came between 14K and 15K, when the half marathon route veered off from the full:

Where the half marathon and the full marathon parted ways.

Where the half marathon and the full marathon parted ways.

When I did the Scotiabank Half last October, the part where they marathoners had to go a different route really demoralized me because I felt as if there was no way I could do what they had to do. I had to mentally prepare myself for that this time, and also because almost everyone went straight when I had to turn.

I soon caught up to a woman who was walking and listening to music. I asked her how she was doing. She took one of her earbuds out and said,”This is the loneliest marathon ever.” Her last one had been at Disney, and there is nothing lonely about that one. People everyone. Musicians along the side, all sorts of spectators.  Not like that in Mississauga. And we weren’t even halfway home.

Never having done a marathon before, I hadn’t really thought about it until she said it. But when I looked around I could see she was right. There were huge gaps between the runners. Then my walk-break was over and off I went.

At my next walk-break I caught up to another woman who was taking a break.  By now all of our emotional defenses were down. By the time the one minute we were walking together was over I knew that she had suddenly and out of the blue got her period one kilometre into the race. She had to stop at a convenience store to buy some supplies.  She had cramps. And she had had her last period only two weeks prior.  “Maybe it’s peri-menopause?” I suggested. I was just launching into my story of menopause when the walk-break ended and I started to run.

I made a commitment to stick to the walk-breaks as they came along but not to extend them.  I knew that once I started to mess around with the intervals, it would become all-too-easy to add a minute here and two minutes there.  The woman with her period and I played catch-up and pass for at least 15K, right up until I hit the wall at 30K.

22-32K

At 22K the course went into a quasi out-and-back portion.  There were lots of runners coming towards me who were then turning right (my left, their right).  But I still had to get to where they were all coming from, which involved a 4K stretch through a hot, treeless industrial area, then looping back with a short stretch along the water. This part of the route was, for me, one of the more soulless expanses and it just seemed to go on and on and on. Where in the heck is the turnaround? If I’d studied the map more carefully I’d have known. But I hadn’t, so I didn’t. That whole bit challenged me for almost 7K. The path along the lake felt quiet and idyllic, to be sure. But by then, because of the out and back, I could see clearly that there weren’t a lot of people behind me. Just a handful, nothing like the apparent hoards that were streaming towards me when I first began the “out” part of the out and back.

At the water station at the turn I took Gatorade and water. I dumped the water in my hat and drank the Gatorade. There was a band of drummer on the corner, about 6-8 older men in uniforms of some kind all playing different types of drums. The beat  boosted my spirits for a few moments, much-needed after the ordeal I’d just completed over the past 7K.  It seemed like a good time to use the bathroom, what with no line-up and the band of drummers.

I went into the port-o-pottie, probably more for the rest than anything else, and it turned out that I really didn’t need to go.  45 seconds wasted, but it was nice to be off my feet for a bit.

When I got out into the sunlight again, my friend with her period was just passing me.  Then there was a hill. And as I approached the 30K marker, I looked at my Garmin and saw I’d been out there for close to 4 hours already. I did a quick mental calculation and it became clear to me that there was no way I was going to make 5 hours, and I would be pressing my luck even to make 5:30.

That’s when I got a serious case of the “fuck-its.”  30-32K were the lowpoint of the event for me.  I gave myself a break and take an extended walk-interval and tried to get a more positive attitude. An older man running in sandals passed me as we entered another residential area that would eventually take us down towards the lake. We greeted each other and as he passed me he said something about having long come to accept the fact that he’s slow.

32-42.2K

At 32K I was about 4:30 into it and I had no idea how I would squeeze out another 10K but I kind of knew I was going to, one way or the other. By now, the woman with her period was out of reach. There was no way I would catch her again. The guy in sandals was still in sight.

Somewhere in this stretch the pylon truck started coming along to collect the pylons. I have to say, if a race has a stated limit and that limit isn’t past yet, and if you are within the pace that they said is required, then I just don’t think they should be collected the flipping pylons ahead of you. It’s demoralizing and it also makes it difficult to know if you’re going the right way.

From 32 to 38K, the route took us down into the park along the lake twice. By now, because remember it was the first beautiful weekend of the season, people were out in droves. Not spectators, just people enjoying their Sunday in the park — kids on scooters and skateboards, guys kicking around a soccer ball, families barbequing and picnicking, women and men out for their long Sunday run (not in the event!), couples strolling, people walking their dogs — you get the picture.

Although a few people encouraged me as I slowly passed them — they said stuff like “good job” and “way to go” — at this point I was having struggling with “when is this going to be over” and wasn’t in much of a mind to be able to interact all that much. I smiled and said thanks when I could, but in the end, I just wanted it to be over.

The 39K sign was the last one I saw. I was desperate to know how close I was to the end and people kept saying, “you’re almost there,” but either they removed the rest of the markers (bad form) or they never had them there in the first place (worse form).

The final 2K took me past the Port Credit marina, where I had fond memories of spending some time on a friend’s boat with Renald one year, along a pretty boardwalk and then into another lakeside park. This time, tons of people with race bibs and medals, adults and kids both, were streaming towards me leaving the finishing area. I guess they had a kids’ event at some point before the marathon was over, so it was just packed.

These people especially were telling me I was “almost there.” But I honestly had no idea at that point what that meant.  One kid, who had to be under 10 and I have no idea what kind of coaching he is used to but it must be fierce, hollered at me as I approached him, shouting “let’s go!” as if he was a drill sergeant and I was in boot camp.

Finally a guy said, “less than 500m” and then another guy said, “less than 400m.” Somewhere over that home stretch I passed the man running in sandals, both of us as if in slow motion.  I could see the finishing chute and I actually managed to pick up my pace a bit for a little burst at the end because I just wanted it to be over as fast as possible.  As I entered the finishing chute and ran towards the arch to cross over the timing mats, I started to sob a bit.

Then I noticed that there were race photographers all trying to capture my big moment. When I got married I sobbed all the way down the aisle and I have to say, the photos from that “special moment” aren’t pretty. I remembered that. So I pulled myself together. It’ll be something between a smile and a grimace I’m sure.

I had enough energy to throw my arms up, victory style, as I crossed the line.  I got my medal and then I put the wrong foot up on the step for the timing chip guy to remove my chip. He’d clearly removed enough chips that day and was probably annoyed at the late finishers, so that didn’t amuse him quite the way it amused me. I don’t think either that he realized how hard it was to get my foot up there in the first place. Anyway, I got the other foot up and he snipped the cable tie and took the chip.

As I made my way along, I was surprised that Gabbi, Mary, and Miriam had all waited around for over three hours after the half for me to get to the finish line. They all came up and congratulated me and hugged me and said how awesome I was.

The kids had eaten all the bananas (who needs a banana after a 2K fun run?) — I think the race organizers should do better to make sure that those of us who limp across the finish line after hours and hours and hours and hours and hours get a banana. Anyway, I got a bagel and a box of cereal and Mary gave me half of her banana. And I had a Clif bar in my pouch.

In the finishing area, water in one hand, box of cereal in the other, medal around my neck.

Gabbi offered to drive me back to my hotel. Her car was about 2K from the finish line and they kept reassuring me that it was a good thing to keep moving my legs after such a long run. I knew that but still. Longest 2K of my life, from the finish area to Gabbi’s car. Grateful nonetheless.

Time: 5:50

Would I do it again: too soon to say for sure, but I’m leaning towards a “no.”  Still, here I am the next day, with my race t-shirt and my medal, feeling pretty pleased to have completed an epic run, still smiling.

In my orange race t-shirt with my finishers medal.

Mississauga Marathon Part 1: Taper Time!

Exciting times! On Sunday I’ll be running my first marathon ever! Sam, who has a gift for generating blog ideas not just for herself but also for me, made a special request for a three-part series: 1. Taper week; 2. Race report; 3. Recovery week.

I’m not sure if anyone else is as interested as she is, but I’m going to oblige anyway.  Having set aside my terror, I’m feeling kind of stoked about the upcoming marathon. Here’s what I know. It may not be pretty, but I will make it across the finish line.  In my experience with anything I’ve not done before, feeling confident that I can finish one way or another is one key ingredient to making it to the end.

I’ve never gone into an event worried about a DNF, so why start now? I had my moment when I thought I might demote my registration to a half marathon, but I’m over it. A marathon it will be!

So what does taper week look like for me? I don’t have a very sophisticated understanding of what’s required. I didn’t do a lot of reading. I just consulted my coach. She suggested three short-ish runs this week: 40 minutes on Tuesday, 30 minutes on Thursday, and 20 minutes on Saturday. Nothing particularly exerting save for a few super-short sprint bursts on the longer run.

When I say I didn’t do a lot of reading, that’s because the reading I did start to do overwhelmed me. Much of what I saw on the internet suggested that my tapering should have started before this week. It kind of did, in that last week was a bit of a wash. But not in a structured or intentional way.

Then there’s the nutrition. Sam sent me this post about nutrition the week before the marathon. I started to read it but when it started talking about grams of carbs per 500 grams of body weight, it felt too complicated. For one thing, I’m just not all that good at counting grams of carbs.  And for another, I’m just not all that good at seeing to it that I get a certain number of grams of anything.

So far my week-leading-up-to-the-race nutrition doesn’t look much different from any other week.  Maybe I’ll regret that. The one thing I do plan to implement is low fiber, high carbs, and low fat for the 2-3 days before race day. I don’t need to count to be able to do that and it seems like a sensible plan.

I’m also going to follow the suggestion of 30-60g of easily digestible carbs for each hour that I’m out there. I can count race food–gels, shot blocks, dates–and figure out how much to bring and how best to spread it out over the duration, which I estimate will be at least five hours.

The psychological impact of taper week is that you have a lot more time to let your head mess with you.  I first heard about that in this video that Caitlin of Fit and Feminist talked about when she wrote about her taper leading up to her BQ a few weeks ago. Here’s the video:

Call it heightened sensitivity or whatever. But yes, I can relate. I’m hyper-aware of every physical thing going on. I attended a Chi Running workshop on the weekend (blog post coming) and something we did that day (maybe the part where we ran without shoes–which I did against my better judgment) really activated my plantar fasciitis all over again. My mind went into a spiral: How am I going to run 42.2 km with this feeling in my right foot?

It’s fine now.

They also talk about getting lots of rest. I’m trying, but there is a ton going on in my life right now besides the marathon. So as much as I want to make race day the focal point, it’s really just one thing among several this week and that’s not what I had in mind when I signed up way back in the fall.

So I wouldn’t say this taper time is going especially well or that I’m doing it “properly.”  But right now I can’t be too preoccupied with that. I’m getting in my runs as precribed, putting a halt on resistance training for the week, and doing one swim session on Friday.

I only have two real goals for race day (which I’m happy to report is expected to be partly sunny and warm but not hot hot): 1. Make it to the finish line and 2. have at least a little bit of fun.

Around the Bay Countdown

around the bay race logo -- around the bay road race with 30K in a red maple leaf in the lower left cornerThank you to everyone who commented not too long ago on my post “Hitting the Winter Running Wall.” Your comments all made me feel supported and actually kind of badass.

Betty and Jessica both said I was tough.  Steph said she was in awe. Caitlin said she was impressed. And a whole bunch of people offered suggestions (like existentialangst’s suggestion that maybe runners in Saskatchewan, on the prairies, could help me dress for the cold) and tons of encouragement (“it’s almost over” and “stick with it”) and commiseration (“I’m right there with you” and “winter running is so hard”).

The result: I stuck with my plan last week and got out there on Wednesday night and Thursday night — both with windchills in the high minus 20-range — and again for my long run on Sunday. And it all felt great.  If it hadn’t been for the support and for my public declaration that I would stick to my plans and attend all clinic runs last week, I would not have stepped out the door on Wednesday night or Thursday night.

I also have some incentive: I signed up for the Around the Bay 30K and it’s less than one month from now, on March 29th.

The Around the Bay Road Race is steeped in history. It is the oldest race in North America. Yes, it’s older than Boston by a few years:

Hamilton’s Around the Bay Road Race is the oldest on the continent, first run in 1894, three years before the Boston Marathon. Rich in tradition, it has been won by the best from around the world, including Boston Marathon winners and Olympic gold medallists. Become part of the continuing tradition by running this challenging course around Hamilton’s natural harbour!

The race director came to talk to the clinic last week (another reason I went out at all — and I was still reserving judgment about going for the run, but once you’re there, and everyone else is going, and it’s only 6K anyway, and you dressed for it, and the blog post…).

He told us some of the race’s venerable history. Canadians just love a thing that distinguishes us among Americans. It’s like that when you’re north of the most powerful country in the world, ten times your population. So of course he told us this:

In the early 1900’s, Jack Caffery and William Sherring battled it out and won two “Bay” races each. Caffery went on to stun the Americans at the Boston Marathon in 1900, by being the first Canadian to win Boston.

To add insult to injury, Hamilton’s William Sherring and Fred Hughson placed second and third, behind Caffery, making it a Canadian sweep. Caffery rubbed it in even further by coming back the next year 1901, to win Boston again.

Not to be outdone by Caffery, William Sherring went on to win the 1906 Olympic Marathon in Athens, Greece, making him a Canadian hero.

Tommy Longboat

That same year, Tommy Longboat, an Onondaga from Six Nations near Caledonia, won the “Bay” race and the next year in 1907, surprised everyone by winning the Boston Marathon. Hamilton’s James Duffy also went on to win the 1914 Boston Marathon, after two Consecutive Bay wins.

So that’s the race history. It’s also supposed to be a tough race. They say if you can do ATB, you are ready for any marathon.  I’m afraid to ask why exactly, but it has to do with hills. The race has some rolling hills, but it also traditionally has a super tough steep hill in the last 5K.

But not this year. Road work has forced a detour. So the hill that breaks more hearts than Heartbreak Hill will not be on this year’s course. That fact has divided the pack: 50% are relieved as all hell (those are my people) and 50% feel ripped off that they’re not getting the full challenge (who are you people?).

It’s just a few weeks  until the race. I started training specifically for this event with a Running Room group back in November. It’s a long commitment, but doing a clinic that culminates in a particular event is the best way for me to make it through the winter without bailing.

My training schedule got interrupted by that blasted knee injury (if you care, you can read about it in my post “Re-Connecting with Chi Running: Chi Marathon Training”), which coincided with snow, frigid temperatures, and the dreaded “wind chill factor, and then a vacation where it was a lot easier to kayak than to run.

So far I’ve maxed out at 26K.  I scaled it back a bit about a month ago, but I’m ready to test things again on Sunday. Last week I stayed cautious. I chose fartlek over hill repeats on Wednesday because my physiotherapist recommended against hills (confession: he also recommended against speed work but what’s wrong with a few fartleks? It’s Swedish for speed play, not speed work).

Come Sunday, I opted for 15K with Anita and our friend Julie instead of the 28K everyone else was doing. Anita signed up for the ABT two-person relay (15K each). Julie and I were lamenting that we had not. And now it’s too late because the relay is all filled up.  So we’re doing 30K whatever else happens!

With those training runs last week I experienced no difficulties with the knee (I am touching wood right now).  So this week I went back out for the speed play last night.  I need to try squeezing in a 6K today but I’m not sure that will happen.  And on Sunday I may just take a very, very slow 28K with the group.  My actual plan was for 20K, but if I feel okay and am not having any knee pain, I’m going to do 8 more.

The end of winter is kind of in sight. Not that it’s really warmer. We had some reprieve yesterday where it actually went above zero, but as I sit here all cozy in my bed with my laptop right now, it’s -17C outside and Environment Canada says the mercury is only creeping up to -11C today, but there’s a windchill of -25C for this morning. Yes, it’s as cold as it sounds.

But it’s March. And usually by the end of March the snow has all melted. Sometimes on St. Patrick’s Day the students have massive parties outside where people who have painted themselves green stagger around in “kiss me, I’m Irish” t-shirts and drinking green beer and getting arrested.  That’s always a good sign of the end of winter too.

And I’ve gone and done something so brazen that I can hardly believe it myself: on May 3rd I’m doing my first full marathon. So it’s not as if I can just let up on my training once the Around the Bay race is over. I need to keep it up, even add mileage, so I don’t crash and burn when I do the Mississauga Marathon.

I am Canadian and I will tough it out for the rest of this brutal winter! Winter training does have its perks. I’ve met new people and really bonded with them, the way people do in times of adversity. I’m a stronger runner than I’ve ever been, despite the difficulties I’ve had with the IT band and the knee.  Taking this time for myself each week has also been good for my mental health because when I am out there running, I don’t worry about any of the day to day bullshit — the crushing workload, the unpacked boxes, the extra furniture piled up in our condo that I haven’t had a chance to get rid of yet, the bins of motorcycle gear that I’m supposed to put on kijiji to sell for the spring riding season, etc.

If you have a race coming up early this spring that you’ve been training for all winter, yay for you!  Enjoy! And if you’re doing Around the Bay, see you there!

 

Reconnecting with Chi Running: Chi Marathon Training

Book cover for chi marathon. A group of eight or nine people running on a wide path with green grass on either side.Way back at the beginning of our blog, I wrote about Chi Running. Chi Running is a style of running that touts itself as “injury free.” For many, the idea of running without any injuries at all is a wishful thinking.

I was doing pretty well for awhile. I’d incorporated some of the techniques of chi running, like the midfoot strike, slight forward lean, and keeping a well-aligned “column.” All of this changed my running and over time it’s come to be something I really love.

But…

I’ve been training for the Around the Bay 30K on March 29th. It’s a race with a venerable history — first run three years before the first Boston Marathon! It’s a challenging course and many say that if you can do ATB the you can do a marathon (I guess it depends on the marathon). There’s usually a killer hill at the end, even more severe than Boston’s Heartbreak Hill. This year, road construction means we’re detouring past the brutal hill.

Back in November I joined a clinic to train for the race.  We do hills on Wednesdays, tempo runs on Thursdays, and LSDs (Long Slow Distance runs) on Sundays.

The distance runs have slowly, and then more quickly, built distance. Back in November 13K seemed long. But a few weeks ago, we did 23K, up from 19K the week before that.

And my knee. My poor knee.  About 18K into the 23, I felt a twinge on the outside of my knee. For the last little bit of the run, it just got worse and worse. And I couldn’t warm up my hands no matter what I did. And my feet got wet. But I made it. Not just that, I added an extra block to the route because with the store in sight we were still short of our 23 by 0.5K.

The next Sunday, we went back down to 19K and again, the knee acted up. And finally, I actually scaled back the week after that, running what should have been an easy 14K with Anita (my Scotiabank half marathon partner).  I limped along in thick slippery snow with a funky right knee for much of that route. That’s when a week of rest started to sound like a plan.

I’ve been seeing a great physiotherapist who encourages me to run through the pain if I can. But when I went in last week and said, “I’m thinking of taking a week off of running,” he thought it wasn’t a bad idea. His words: “If you’re thinking of taking a week off, then you should take it.”

I’ve been diligently doing my physio exercises to strengthen my hips and glutes so that my IT band has more support.  And my plantar fasciitis, which is the main reason I started going to my physiotherapist, is pretty much gone!

But I’m also supplementing all of that with a renewed interest in chi running. I picked up a book at the library called Chi Marathon. It’s also by Danny and Katherine Dreyer, authors of the original Chi Running book.  It’s reminded me of a lot of what’s recommended in the original book, and when I get back to running later this week I plan to practice some of what I’m re-learning.

Sam and I are making provisional plans (just ironing out some details) to attend a chi running workshop in Dayton, Ohio in May, with the man himself, Danny Dreyer.  I’m serious enough about running that I’m willing to drive a few hours for this sort of thing. I’ve read that the workshops make a huge difference and, frankly, I could use some feedback concerning my running technique.

All that is going to come a bit too late for the Around the Bay in March, and, gulp, the Mississauga Marathon that I’ve signed up for on May 3rd. They say that sailors get a thing called “foot-itis,” where you want a bigger and bigger boat.  I think a lot of runners get this too — distance-itis!  I’m guessing that in the end I’ll settle in at the half marathon distance. But I’m not going to do that until I run at least one marathon.  So, Mississauga here I come.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that this is all going to fall into place. When I first wrote about chi running, I’d been experiencing shin pain:

Where I used to have some shin pain and lower back pain before I tried Chi Running, the posture and foot placement alone have dealt with both. If I feel any discomfort when I am running, I just re-focus on my posture (they call it ‘leveling the pelvis’) and check in with my foot placement.  Giving this kind of attention to the form of running helps me address the source of discomfort as soon as I start to feel it, and to correct it right away.

I had high hopes that chi running would transform my running:

 

Learning to run without serious risk of injury means a lot to me. So far, I feel optimistic that Chi Running, once mastered, will help me achieve that goal.  I recommend the book to anyone interested in a gentler approach to running. Reading the book will give you enough of an idea of what Chi Running is about to decide whether you want to follow up with a workshop. I plan to do just that in the spring and look forward to reporting back once I do.

Well, I would hardly say I’ve mastered this approach.  And I’m happy to have an incentive (knee and hip pain and tight IT band) that has taken me back to the basics, renewing my commitment to chi running. I want to run for a long time.  And, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, we’re not in our twenties anymore!

 

The Sports Bra Dilemma

underarmor

Under Armor Sports bra.

Lately I’ve been looking for something very specific in a sports bra: something that fits comfortably without chafing, provides adequate support, and dries quickly.  I have been fortunate in the first two categories, probably because I’m not all that busty anyway.  I find the under armor sports bras I’ve been wearing are just about right for me.  They come in different cup sizes and they have three different hook settings.

They have padding, which some of us object to. See Sam’s post on nipple phobia and padded sports bras. But I don’t object to a bit of padding. Except that it doesn’t dry really quickly. And after the triathlon swim, it’s not all that comfortable to do the bike then the run with a wet bra.

So I tried my other favourite, the Champion compression-style sports bra, in my last triathlon. I got a two-pack of these at Costco for under $20, and I I have found them surprisingly comfortable for my home workouts. They don’t have padding, but the compression gives enough support for me.  But when I swam with it in Kincardine, it didn’t even come close to drying.  In fact, I think the Under Armor bra does better on that front except for the padding.

But my bra woes are just a fraction of the complaints that are out there, and minor by comparison. An article this week says that 75% of women marathoners report problems with sports bra fit!  The top complaints are about chafing and discomfort from shoulder straps.

According to the article:

In a survey of women at the 2012 London Marathon, three-quarters said they have issues with how their sports bra fit.

In the new data from the survey, of the 1,285 women who responded, three-quarters reported problems with how their sports bras fit. Chafing and shoulder straps digging in were the most common complaints, with larger-breasted women more likely to report problems.

In the previous study, which we reported on last April, lead researcher Nicola Brown, Ph.D., and colleagues found that the incidence of breast pain among the women marathoners was high even though 91% of them regularly ran in a sports bra. Brown told Runner’s World Newswire that sport bras don’t offer enough options in shape and construction to match the variety of everyday bras.

“Bra manufacturers need to do more research and work closely with scientists and women to design bras which allow women of all shapes and sizes to lead active and healthy lifestyles,” Brown said.

This is a really demoralizing report.  As Sam asks on our FB page, do you think if 75% of men had a complaint about some basic piece of running gear there would not be a solution yet?

Someone commented on our FB page that it’s not surprising, given that most women wear poorly fitting bras most of the time. There just are limits to how comfortable a bra can be.  And when you want comfort in an everyday bra, you need to pay for it.

But for the most part, sports bras are not cheap. Though the Champion two-pack was a bargain for sure, the Under Armor bras that I use most of the time when I run are almost $70 each. If you look at what’s on offer in most running stores, you’ll find that most sports bras that come in cup sizes and are good quality are at least $60 and often more than that.

It’s sad to think that lack of adequate breast support could be something that drives women away from pursuing the activities they enjoy.  When 75% of marathoners are reporting problems, this signals that manufacturers of sports clothing need to pay more attention to the needs of women athletes.

If you have found a sports bra that is excellent and comfortable, especially for women who need more support, please share about it in the comments. Also, if it has these features and dries quickly, even better!