Tuesday, June 1, 2010

After thoughts

Last night, I had to drive to Ottawa for a course I am taking. My drive took me over the Pretoria Bridge and as I looked down, I was once again flooded with memories of the run. I have been on cloud 9 since Sunday and I haven't wanted to come down from my high for fear that returning to day-to-day life will feel like a big letdown. I'm also afraid that if I come down from my high, I will lose the strong emotions that have carried me since the race, and that I will be left feeling empty. In short, I'm experiencing the post-race blues.

In honour of my achievement, and to try to keep the feelings alive and strong in me, I have decided to put my medal on the wall in front of my desk. I've given it a place of honour in a room I spend a lot of time working in, and I hope that seeing it day after day will continue to give me the inspiration, the self-confidence and the drive to take on new challenges, spread my wings, take a leap of faith and soar. When I intently look at it, or when it catches my eyes, I hope it reignites the feelings I have that I can do anything in the world, and I will remember all the moments that still make me smile. These include: 

- Holding hands with Tyler as we started the race. Sharing this experience with my husband will always be one of my top moments. Running together has brought us closer and I am so grateful for his unconditional support and faith in my abilities;

- Talking with Yolande: An older lady we had never met, who asked us for directions to the green corral. She must have been in her seventies and with a bib on her shirt was also getting ready to take part in the race. I regret that I didn't ask her if she was walking or running it, but I thought of her many times during our race.

- Taking a moment to look and take in the picture as we ran past Parliament: Running past this landmark was very symbolic of the journey I have taken in my life from moving to Canada to study, to becoming a Canadian citizen. And on race day, Parliament was truly mine. How many people can really say that they stopped traffic and forced road closures so they could take a stroll in front of Parliament? I can :)

- Seeing a Poutine truck on the route: If I hadn't  been so set on my goal, I would definitely have taken a moment to chow down a Poutine! Who needs energy drinks after that?!

- Running on bridges: This one might  be silly, but there is something quite amazing about crossing a river while running Bridges have always fascinated me (I had to have a wedding picture taken on a bridge) and crossing two bridges while running the half-marathon was like icing on my cake. Not to mention the incredible panorama of the Ottawa landscape seen from the bridges.

- Wolf Pack Man: While running on the Gatineau side, I spotted an elderly gentleman running in front of me. He was hunched over from age, but his legs were going strong and I never caught up to him. I'm not sure how old he truly was, but his t-shirt made me laugh: in big, bold, black letters he was annoucing that he belonged to the Wolf Pack. How cool is that? And though it may sound like a Twilight/Jacob reference to some of you, I swear I wasn't thinking about it at the time :)

- High-Fiving the kids: No matter how much pain I was in, I couldn't help but run to the kids lining the sides of the street who were stretching their hands out and hoping for a high-five. They were as eager to high-five us, as I was to feed off their energy. And thank God for their energy! It carried me the last few kilometers.

- Clever signs: People can be so creative with their signs of encouragements. A few come to mind: "Free high-fives", "Suck it up Princess", "Marry Me!", and "In my dreams, I'm Kenyan." There was also a very inspiring quote that almost brought me to tears and really inspired me to keep going. Unfortunately, I don't remember the exact words but I'm determined to find it. The essence of it was that success is not necessarily crossing the finish line, but having the courage to start.

- Catching a sight of the finish line: While that one might be obvious, it really does have a powerful resonance. Nothing compares to seeing the finish, hearing the crowds, catching a glimpse of the clock and trying to make one final effort to race against time.

- Post-race photo and stretching: I'm very excited to see the photos of the race and I'm so glad we got one of the photographers on site to take our picture with our medals. This will be the official picture once I get my hands on it. Stretching afterwards felt so amazing and such a reward.

- Showing my medal to Jaime: When Jaime caught glimpse of my gold-colored medal, her first reaction was: "Oh my God Mom, did you win?" So I replied: "Yes, I did! and so did all the other runners."

I'm sure more moments will come to mind but these really stand out as my favourites. I would have loved to have my camera and to have taken pictures of those moments so I could share them with you, but racing and taking pictures at the same time is one type of multitasking I'm not sure I want to venture into.

Monday, May 31, 2010

I did it! 21.1 km in 2:24:11.6

I still have tears whenever I think of yesterday. It was a roller coaster of emotions and truly one of the best days of my life.

I didn't sleep very well the night before and had dreams that I took the wrong path at the starting line and got lost. When the alarm rang bright and early at 5:40 a.m. though, I was pumped. I literally jumped out of bed, put my running clothes on, and headed downstairs to prepare breakfast for everyone. We got the kids up around 6 a.m. and they were quite sleepy! After a good breakfast, we got out of the house at 6:45 a.m. and headed downtown.

The adrenaline was going crazy in my body and I was so excited that race morning had finally come.

As soon as we arrived, we found the kids' teacher Mr Blois in the crowd and got Austin and Jaime to the starting line of their kids marathon. Jaime seemed a little freaked out by the crowd, but she found another friend from school who's reassuring presence seemed to relax her. After big hugs and words of encouragement, we left the kids to make it to the spectators' area so we could watch them as they sprinted to the finish line.

3 mn 47 seconds or so later, the first kid ran past us leading with a huge margin to win the kids marathon. A sea of purple-coloured t-shirts later, I spotted Austin who was running hard and so close to the finish line. His time was 5:57.9, a very impressive finish, faster than Mom and Dad's average kilometer pace. I continued looking at the racers encouraging them to keep pushing hard and congratulating them. It was so incredible to see all these kids, healthy and active, giving their very best during this race. Finally, my friend Heather said : "I see Jaime!" It took me a while to spot my girl, but there she was, ponytail wagging from side to side as she ran past us. Jaime finished with a great 7:37.8 chip time!

I was so proud of my two little runners. We left the spectators area and went to the athletes' recovery area where I went to get Austin and Jaime. They had gotten their medals and were so thrilled with their results. We gave them big congratulatory hugs, posed for pictures and then Granny took the kids home while Tyler and I headed to the starting line of the half-marathon.

We found the green corral where we waited for the start. When we first got there, there weren't a lot of runners yet, but the corral quickly filled in with anxious runners waiting to go. It always amazes me to see the differences between runners: old and young, fit and less fit, tall and shorter. Every body type is represented, every age is proudly present, male and female side by side, proud to be a runner. While waiting, I tried to spot my friend Leslie but to no avail. I also had my friend Tracey in my thoughts: Tracey had started her run two hours prior to ours in her quest to complete her very first full marathon.

The half-marathon was full this year with 10,000 runners registered. For this reason, there were two starts to the half-marathon. The first wave started at 9:00 a.m. and the second wave at 9:15 a.m. We were in the second wave and when the gun blased at 9:00 a.m. we all erupted in cheers and applause as we saw the first group of runners go. From where we stood on the hill of Elgin street, we could see  the sea of runners from the first group running to the top of the street and turning left towards Parliament. It was exciting and exhilarating. I remember telling Tyler how much I loved the athmosphere during races and that I couldn't wait to register for my next one.

One thing that really made me happy was the weather conditions yesterday morning. The Ottawa skyline was completely overcast with a cool wind and dropplets of rain. These were perfect conditions for our run. Considering the sweltering heat we had had the previous week, it was a relief for all runners to see that the weather would not prove an added challenge to the run. As it happened, the weather ended up being a great help, allowing me to run to my full potential.

At 9:15 a.m., the horn blasted and our group finally started. Crossing the starting line mat was an incredible feeling and a success for me. I had made it and now my journey was coming to completion. We started our run cheered by people along the sideline which felt fabulous. I quickly was overcome by tears as I realized what I had accomplished in just getting to this point. I tried to swallow my tears. I just couldn't affort to  break down at the beginning of the race! After all, I still had 21.1 km to go!

As we continued to run our first kilometer, I realized that we had started way faster that we ever had. That is one of the challenges of races: starting at a slow pace without trying to keep up with the other runners. We did not do that! We started fast and I had to tell myself to be careful not to overdo it too much too soon. It was hard not to want to push, especially since behind us was the 2:30 pace bunny. In the back of my head from the beginning of my training, I was aiming tofinish the race around the 2hr30mn mark. I wasn't sure I could do it because I hadn't run that fast in training, so I tried to keep a realistic approach while aiming for that 2:30 mark. Having the 2:30 pace bunny behind us was a way to see if I could achieve that goal.

The half-marathon course is beautiful and stunning. It was amazing to run past Parliament, across the bridge to Gatineau, past several other landmarks that symbolize our beautiful country. Seeing all of this, while also catching a glimpse of runners in front and in the back of us is just beyond words.

Around kilometer 3, I was once again overcome by tears that I wasn't able to suppress this time. I thought of my Mom and all she had to go through in her battle with breast cancer and I wasn't able to keep my emotions at bay. I just let the tears come and thinking of my Mom gave me the drive the keep pushing. I knew at this point, that by maintaining this pace, the race would be hard and painful. I knew I would have to dig really deep to finish it at that pace, but I also knew that I wasn't going to back down. My Mom, and all the people who are fighting Cancer or some other life-altering disease, don't get a chance to back down, so why would I?

Along the way, Tyler and I chatted with other runners which was a lot of fun, and we also fueled and refueled with our energy drinks and gels. There were Gatorade and water stations every 3 kilometers and entertainment stations as well: musicians playing for us and singing motivating songs to keep us moving.

When we crossed back to the Ottawa side and passed the National Art Gallery, we ran past the 10 km point. Crowds had gathered along the Chateau Laurier and Colonel By drive to cheer us on and that was definitely a boost of energy. At that point, my time was around 1:06:00 and I knew if I kept on going, then I could run the half in under 2:30. But it's at that point that my body started to show signs of fatigue. I started feeling a running stitch under my right rib, my right knee started throbbing and it was harder for me to keep my breath. I asked Tyler to pace back a few times because I needed it, but a few seconds later I pushed forward again. I just wanted my goal so badly that I couldn't stand to slow down. I didn't like being passed by many people either: my competitive side kicked in. Through most of the run, I tried to follow this one woman who seemed to be just a little over my pace but a good measure of my goal. She was my carrot and by trying to keep pace with her, I was tracking my progress. Most times she was way ahead, but others she was within touching distance. I even saw her stop and walk a few times. We never stopped. It's actually very interesting that a lot of people combine running and walking the marathon. The runners that did it around us still managed to out finish us. I have heard of the run/walk being a very good way to actually recover and run faster and I might try it eventually.

By kilometer 14, I was dying. Tyler kept checking on me and I wasn't doing great. I had to use my head to push my body to keep going. "One more step" "One kilometer" "Almost there" were mantras repeated over and over in my mind from that point on until I finished. The crowd was incredible in keeping me going. Because your name is printed on your bib, people would call out: "Go, Go, Go, Emmanuelle! You can do it! You're amazing!" and that was enough to fuel me on a little further.

Pouring water on my head at the water stations helped a lot too (except when I forgot to remove my glasses and ran with foggy glasses for a while :) and drinking Gatorade.

At 18 kilometers, the stitch on my right side was very painful and I tried to massage it while breathing slow and deep. I remember swearing and saying to myself: "It can't get any more painful, just keep going" and I did.

We finally crossed Pretoria Bridge and I could almost see the finish line. More people had  gathered and cheered from the side. Tyler wanted to push faster but I just couldn't at that point. I kept checking my timer and knew that if I didn't push a little, I might not make the 2:30 mark. I had worked way too hard not to make it happen. So I kept on and tried pushing a little more. At the 750 meter banner, I tried to push some more, and then I saw the 500 meters banner. It was so hard at that point and exhilarating at the same time. I was almost there. With the Finish line in sight, and a little over 100 meters I found the strength to sprint and went full blast across the line. At that point, the emotions and the efforts overcame me and I was once again overcome by tears. Poor Tyler didn't quite know how to react! I sobbed and cried, stopped and sobbed and cried again. I was proud, sore, just happy that I had achieved what I thought was impossible 4 months ago. And more that anything, I had crossed the finish line with a time that had been impossible in my mind even a few hours before. When I got my medal and placed it around my neck, I felt triumphant. Here was the proof of my hard work. Here was the proof that nothing is impossible and I had just proved that to myself in more ways than one.

After stretching and walking around the athletes' recovery area and around the race village, we made our way home. I was a little sad that it was all over and I was also looking forward to sharing hugs with my kids. At the end of the race, I told Tyler that I would never, ever, run a half-marathon race again. Today, I can't wait to train harder and see what my body can do next time. Maybe there will even be a marathon in my future. The question is: Where and when will my next race be?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just one more sleep!

Just one more day before race day. Tomorrow, at this time, Austin and Jaime will be running in the kids marathon. 45 minutes later, Tyler and I will be standing among a crowd of runners waiting for the starting gun to signal the beginning of our half-marathon.

I have been giddy with excitement for the last 48 hours. The athmosphere in Ottawa seems effervescent. The City is transforming into a red carpet for runners. This is our moment, and downtown Ottawa has become our play ground. Banners and flags up on lamp posts scream pride and celebration: "Ottawa is a runner's town and we are so glad you have chosen our City to bring you training to completion. We are so proud that all these runners have chosen to pound our pavement with sweat and determination.Your personal efforts make Ottawa proud and we will support you in your journey."

Hearing abour road closures, weather reports, and race schedules makes me so excited, that I can barely stand to wait another day. My feet already want to run and be out there. My memories of previous 10 km races are pumping me up for tomorrow as well: There is nothing so inspiring than turning the corner onto Laurier to see thousands of runners lining up to the starting line. Simply trying to get to the starting corral is a matter of determination: there are so many people you have to fishtail through the crowd before the starting gun goes. Every one is smiling, every one jumps on the spot waiting with trepidation for the start. And then the gun blasts, and a huge cheer of joy from runners signals the moment we've all been waiting for. Crossing the starting line with huge crowds cheering us on from the sidelines is intoxicating. And the support continues to carry us on each step of the way.

My plan for today is to hydrate, eat carbs, and go to sleep early! I really hope I can fall asleep easily so I am well rested for the event. I wish my running friends a fantastic run: you have all been an inspiration and I stand by you proud that we will complete this journey together. In particular, kuddos to Tracey (running her first full Marathon tomorrow), Leslie (such an amazing inspiration), Susan (a baby last year, a first half-marathon this year), Jenn and Bill (celebrating their anniversary with a 10 km run). So proud of you guys! All the best for your races and hope to see you tomorrow!

My next blog will be my post-race blog, but I have already succeeded in my goal: I have made it to the starting line and I am very, very proud. Thanks everyone for your amazing support and I can't wait to share my race with you tomorrow. Hopefully, I will be able to post pictures as well. If you can, come cheer us on!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

6 Days to the starting line

I can't believe that in 6 days I will be standing with thousands of runners at the starting line of the half-marathon. I've done it! I've committed to training, and although my training differed somewhat from the traditional trainings suggested in books and on websites, I still managed to get out and run regularly.

I'm getting excited to be at the race, surrounded by my peers, together working at our own personal goals and feeling supported by the motivation and endurance of others which will no doubt transpire into powerful inspiration.

There are a few worries that keep creeping up on me these last few days, including the heat and my knee, but I try to put these worries aside and just focus on the feeling I will get when I cross the finish line and hold my medal tight. No words can describe this feeling, which so far in my mind, feels pretty incredible.

On Thursday we will get our race kits: Tyler and mine, as well as Austin and Jaime's who are running in the Kids' Marathon, an hour before we start our race. We are so proud of them and can't wait to share this special day as a family.

I look forward to sharing with you all the great moments of the race. It will be, by far, one of the best days and moments of my life.

The race...before the race

Last Sunday, Tyler and I planned to run 19 kilometers in downtown Ottawa as our final "dress rehearsal" before race day. We hired our sitter for 4 hours and Tyler charted our path to be a little over 19 km. I wasn't too sure how I would do, since I had been at a birth the night before and had only gotten about 5 hours of sleep. So as we approached downtown, I started to get really nervous about my ability to run 19 km.

Downtown was beautiful and packed as we were in the midst of the Tulip Festival. We parked at our favourite spot, the World Exchange Plaza, and walked to our starting point, the park across the Lord Elgin Hotel.

We started our run slowly (in between sloth-pace and turtle-pace) as we made our way to Queen Elizabeth drive and shuffled through crowds of people enjoying the beautiful day in Ottawa. Our route followed Queen Elizabeth all the way to Dow's Lake, through the arboretum, across the Canal to Colonel By drive, back to downtown, through Chateau Laurier and Confederation Park (I think) across the bridge to Quebec around the civilization museum, back to the Portage Bridge, down the banks of the  river and back up the locks and our starting line. I won't give you a detailed account of all that went through my head during our run, but when my body started to ache and my legs felt like lead, I definitely had to shift and focus on my mental strategies to keep going.

The parallel between running and birth are so true and real in so many ways. I'm accustomed to teaching prenatal classes and telling participants that the parallels between running a marathon and working through labour and birth are powerful, but now I can really attest to how true this is. Only in reverse. While in class I motivate people by bringing marathon strategies into their birth experience, during my run, I was using strategies I had practiced in birth to help me run farther. I remember feeling very tired at one point and telling myself: "This is like transition, this is the hardest but the shortest and I can do it." It totally worked! I felt like giving up many times when I hit the rough spots (as in labour) but each time I dug deep within myself and chose to focus on just one step at a time (or one contraction at a time) to get to the finish.

When we finally stopped running and I looked at my ipod to see the distance and the time, I was stunned, followed by ecstatic and triumphant (as in birth). We had run 23.5 kilometer in 2:42:42 mn. Four more kilometers than we had planned, 2 more kilometers as would be required for the half-marathon, and I HAD DONE IT! The physical pain and discomfort I felt immediately after I stopped running didn't matter because I had just accomplished one of the most incredible, ambitious, and what I thought not-too-long ago to be an impossible feat!  I felt just as I had felt after I birthed 2 babies of my own physical and mental powers.

Here's what I know for sure now: nothing is impossible. Nothing at all. And I look forward to proving this to myself over and over again.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

100 kilometer challenge or my love story with my Nike+

I have to say that for the low price of $39.99, I may have found the best running gadget ever. The Nike+ is a little device you can insert inside the sole of Nike running shoes that acts as a pedometer recording your mileage, speed and time. It is connected via a sensor onto my ipod, which keeps track of the data and lets me know of my progress during my run, all the while allowing me to listen to music that pumps me up.

Once my workout is done, I simply plug my ipod into my computer and my itunes library sends the data to the Nike+ website. And there, my friend, is where I get hooked. This website keeps track of all my runs and compiles them into cool charts and a complete history of my runs so far. It also allows me to set challenges and goals for myself, and find running buddies if needed. My progress can be posted on Facebook to let my friends know how I'm doing, which, although not necessary, is a great way to validate my runs to the world. There are other websites that do similar things, but I find that the Nike+ website is engaging and extremely motivating. Imagine my surprise also when, after finishing one of my runs, Paula Radcliffe herself (for those of you who don't know her, she is one of the best female marathonians in the world) congratulated me on beating my fastest 5 km time. Now that's motivation. A few days later I beat it again, and this time Lance Armstrong offered his heartfelt congratulations on MY achievements. Way to make me feel special Nike+. I appreciate it!

All this to say that since I began using my Nike+, the simple act of tracking my progress has given me wings and so much pride. Not to brag or anything, but since I started using it on March 18th, I have ran 15 times for a total of 15 hours 40 mn 32 secs, 139 kilometers and burnt 10708 calories with an average speed of 06'46 mn per kilometer.

My goal this month is to run 100 kilometers by May 23rd. I only have 44 kilometers left to go. For the first time since I started this journey, I am beginning to see that my success on half-marathon day will not  be measured in the time it takes me to complete the race, but in the numbers of kilometers I will have been proud to have run along this journey.

If I can go from not exercising at all to running 100 km a month in just 15 weeks, then I know every one else can do the same too. Just as in birth, it's a question of confidence and believing that you can do it, or as Nike would remind us: Just do it!

The best thing about running is that it can be an integral part of your vacation package....

About a month ago, I flew to France to visit my family. Although I only wanted to bring a small carry-on suitcase, my running gear took precedence over any other piece of clothing I might have needed. Running shoes, check. Running clothes, check. Pair of pyjamas...we'll see if there's room! For someone who always brings extra, just in case, this was a drastic change.

I was really eager to get to my parents' house, three hours south of Paris, as my path to becoming a runner really began along the roadways of Billy Chevannes, 5 years ago, when Tyler coaxed me into running with him...for fun. Now, one thing you have to understand about running around my parents' house is that there is no flat road in sight! It's a very hilly region with many degrees of elevation and very few flat areas. When Tyler took me on our first "fun" run, it was a gentle climb through several villages and up (way up!) a forest trail. Within a few minutes, I was just about ready to kill him and his fun run! But I kept going with his encouragement and what I loved immediately was the beauty of the landscape along our run (chickens freely roaming the road were the only obstacles to manage, not a small feat for me). At the end of that run, I was wiped, felt out of shape (only being 5 months postpartum) and yet triumphant. We went back the next day, and the next and soon I managed to go for 11,5 km runs with Tyler and Sylvain, my cousin's husband and my other running partner.

I have great memories of those first days of running in France and so felt very excited to go back and run there again. I was also a little nervous as I knew, this time, that I would be alone and would probably not venture too far on isolated trails on my own. I'm just not that adventurous.

A few days after I arrived, I laced up my running shoes, plugged my ipod and Nike+ on and was ready to go out when my niece, who will be 14 soon, said she wanted to go run with me. I was so excited and happy to have her join me on my run. She has ran at school as part of her physical education program, and was ready to tackle going around the block. I wanted to run 5 km, which is twice around the block. We started slow and it was a lot of fun to be running with Tiffany. I could see myself back at her age, thinking it didn't seem that long ago, yet it was. I was feeling proud to be somewhat role-modeling healthy living and exercising to her and kept giving her little bits of strategy for the run.

She made it around the block once and decided to stop, which was fine. I continued on, and cursed the steep incline of the hills, knowing that I would feel the effort in my legs the next day. One particular hill was particularly tricky: the higher you climbed, the longer it went on. I couldn't believe how hard it was for me to complete the 5 km loop, and how out of breath I was after the run. It really emphasized the need to mix up the runs with hills training to make sure to work the muscles in different ways.

A couple of days later, I went back out again with Tiffany and my oldest nephew Jeremy. This run with them will remain one of my favourite memories ever. We had so much fun! My nephew, who is a head taller and many pounds leaner was running ahead barely breaking a sweat while I huffed and puffed behind him. It was a sobering statement for my ego.

I would have liked to finish my trip to France with a run alongside my cousin and Sylvain in Ferney Voltaire, near Geneva, but unfortunately, our time together was short and we didn't get the chance. Sylvain has been a tremendous source of support and inspiration and I've enjoyed not only running with him in the past (including once or twice in North Gower 3 years ago) but his many (sometimes teasingly harsh) encouragements to keep me running.

Back in 2006, during one of our runs with Sylvain, I proclaimed I would run a Marathon with him in New York City. I hope that one day we can actually do it. For now, I'll focus on the half-marathon and see what happens from there. As for Sylvain, he has ran a few half-marathons already and will run his third this coming Sunday, May 9th. I wish him the best and can't wait to hear all about it.

Go Kroby Go!

Friday, March 26, 2010

So I realize it's hard to write every day :)

It's been a long time since I updated my blog. The initial excitement is still there, but my life has gotten very busy with various projects and the blog has landed towards the bottom of the priority pile. I apologize to all my fans who have checked daily for updates and found none.

I have to say that my training is not happening the way I intended it to, although I have managed to accomplish one run which I am really proud of.

Last week was March break and Tyler was gone on a business trip all week. He left on a Sunday and I hadn't actually had a chance to run since the Monday previous. Yikes! I knew with being on my own that I wouldn't be able to run, so I decided to put the kids in daycare on the afternoon of Thursday March 18th, in the hopes that I would go for a good run. That week was absolutely stunning with warm spring weather, and each day I was itching to go out.

On Thursday I was more than ready. I had downloaded some new songs from itunes and I was excited to go out. I was also looking forward to try my new toy: a Nike+ sensor that tracks my kilometres/times and that I can program to a specific training. I planned my run ahead of time and was hoping to complete my first ever 13 km.

The run was absolutely fabulous. I felt great and the new music was pumping me up! It was one of those runs during which you feel that you can go on forever and ever and ever. Mentally and physically, everything was aligned to give me a great run. I started slow, would speed up my pace every now and then, and when I felt it was too strong, I would pull back to a slower pace to recover. I felt I had great control over my run, the only dark side of which was trying to outrun a garbage truck which kept pulling in front of me and then back and then in front again. I eventually outran it, finally escaping the smell of exhaust which was not the fresh spring air I had  been hoping for!

Around 10 km I started feeling fatigue but I kept on. I realized that at this point, I should have planned for energy gel, or something sweet to eat in order to get a quick boost of energy to carry me in the last part of my run. I didn't stop though. I slowed down and kept going. Towards the end of my planned run, I checked with my Nike+ to see how far I had run. I was over 12 km and felt an incredible surge of pride. I decided to add another loop to my route to try and get to 14 km. I was cheering for myself and I did it!

When I finished the extra loop, I had run a little over 14 km, the farthest I had ever run before, and it was the most incredible feeling of achievement and pride I had ever felt. I arrived home and stretched for a good half hour and then had a bath with epsom salts. The next day, I barely had any soreness.

The high I felt from that run was beyond words. It gave me so much confidence.

On Saturday, two days later, I went for another run. The contrast between Thursday's run and Saturday's was like night and day. Saturday's run was tedious. I couldn't catch my breath, felt like I was dragging my feet and couldn't find my pace. I ran less far, a little over 8 km and it was a run I want to forget.

That's what I find challenging about running. One day you have the best run of your life, the next you barely make it and you hate every minute of it. I just hope that one race day, it is one of those great running days.

I haven't run since Saturday and am starting to worry about the race. I worked out in my house on Monday and am again doing a strength training workout today. Tomorrow, however, Tyler and I are doing our long run and I'm hoping to go one more kilometer to 15 km.

We'll see how I do!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Let the sun shine!

I can't  believe the change that one week makes. From running with double layers, hat and mitts to single layers, and almost warm enough to simply run in a long sleeve shirt. Today's run felt like Spring was upon us, and the warm breeze on our face was an absolute blessing.

My father-in-law is visiting, so we took the opportunity to get Grampa to babysit so we could fit in our long run. Tyler wanted to show me this path he has taken in the past that includes a fair amount of hills. We started slow and had to marvel at how quickly the snow was melting all over. We could see people on lawn chairs outside, chatting with neighbours, while kids played outdoors happily. I have to say that stepping on snow on one or two occasion was almost blissful. With each step I felt like I was crushing the snow out of our way and making it go away for ever.

We continued our path to the big hill that Tyler wanted me to try. Past the hill was this isolated path that went on for about a kilometer with no one in sight. We were surrounded by fields, all was quiet except for the sound of our shoes hitting the ground. The sun was majestic and I was really happy that we had gone out.

As we continued our run, we increased our speed gradually. My legs felt ok, except for some tension in the heel, which is either caused by my shoe or the uneven pavement (the latter, I'm guessing). My knees were feeling some tension. I hope it is simply a sign that the muscles are working and they are getting stronger, not a sign of injury.

We finished the run with a small sprint which was lots of fun, except for the stitch I got on my right lung immediately following it :)

We ran just shy of 11 kilometers in 1.5 hours. It seems like the half-marathon is looking like a three-hour run right now....doesn't seem that great of a time, but I'm going to focus on just finishing it, not how long it will take. We still have 12 weeks to train, so lots of time to improve.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Frustration and a bounce back

So much for daily updates :) But there is a good reason for it. Last week was a total disaster infused with frustration. Mother nature decided to unleash a week of snowy wet weather, day after day, and I looked from the inside not feeling sure I wanted to venture outside.

I have been battling stupid excuses not to exercise and run, but this time, it didn't feel so stupid. I was really, truly, deeply concerned about running on slippery roads and injuring myself, so I made the decision to stay inside and wait it out. Now, thanks to some good friends, I now know that I could buy some straps that I could put over my shoes to keep from slipping on the snowy roads. I also know that some runners run on snowy roads and are just fine. But last week, I wasn't that confident about braving the elements, and I did beat myself up for not running, especially when I saw other runners keep on running. After a day of self-loathing, I decided that my motives were valid and it was ok to decide to prevent injury by not exercising outside. I tried cross-training with my indoor bike on Tuesday and it worked well, but the rest of the week was not as successful.

By Friday, my frustration reached top levels and I just lost it! It felt like I had gone back to bad patterns of behaviour when, once I stop doing something for a day, I just give it up entirely. It took me a few days to build up the confidence to go out again, and promise myself that no matter the set backs, I would keep trying. It helped a lot that I was inspired by our Canadian athletes who are just incredible role models, mentally strong and courageous, and determined to accomplish their objectives.

So on Monday, after putting the kids on the bus, I laced up my running shoes and went out for my first run in seven days. After 53 minutes of running, where I pushed myself a little (some kind of punishment for the time off :), I completed a 7.5 km run that felt triumphant. I had stopped the pattern of quitting, and resumed my path towards the half-marathon.

So the lesson is that no matter what comes across my journey, the challenges and the delays, I will have to be flexible and adapt to various situations along the way. A one-week hiatus will be forgiven by a 7.5 km run that puts me back on track. Two births coming up that will alter my running schedule will mean I will have to make up the time once the births are over. Adaptability, resilience and determination will be my new friends as I continue towards my goal.

There's no turning back, one step at a time, even with a bit of delay, I am getting closer to crossing that finish line. And with Spring around the corner, it seems like snow and slippery roads, will not be a problem for long.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Aches and pains

I woke up with sheer excitement, happiness and energy following yesterday's great run. I took a moment to take it all in, breathing in, exhaling with joy, and proceeded to take a leap of faith off my bed to welcome a new day full of opportunity. My leg swung over the ledge of the bed, touched the floor and then...the pain! One step forward, ouch, one more, ouch, and so began my slow descent down the stairs. I think I was more gracious walking at 9 months pregnant than I was today going down those stairs. But the pain only means that my body is working, so I decided to suck it up, and pretend nothing was wrong with me at all.

I could have fooled everyone too if it weren't for the uncontrollable cursing that came out frequently during the day. Tyler made fun of me in the nice, loving way that he does, theorizing that the only reason I cursed was to get attention. As if.....But no, the cursing was just a primal response to the aches and pain. I got to know a whole new set of muscles I never had awareness of before.

I was actually pretty happy to feel the aches and pain. It was sure proof of my body working and it felt great. Parts of me probably did want somebody to come up to me and say "Geez woman, you're walking all crooked-like, are you ok?" just so I could scream to the World: "That's cause I just ran 12 km, ya all!!!"

Now most reasonable people would probably just take a day off, stretch on the couch, watch the Olympic athletes do all the work for a change, but not me. Instead, I decided that the only way to cure the pain was to give my body...more pain. Logical isn't it?

I had been wanting to try a Hot Power Yoga class for some times now and had always found a good reason to wuss out. But because I'm now determined to face my fears, I just said that there would be no excuses today. I also thought that practicing yoga in a hot room would actually help my muscles stretch and my body feel better.

I have practiced yoga sporadically over the years, but have been wanting to get back into it regularly, hoping the benefits of yoga would help me manage my anxiety. Tonight's class was incredible. My body responded to the majority of the poses and it made me feel strong. I was worried about sweating in the hot room, but it was actually a great feeling and made the whole class seem even more of a workout. By the end of the one hour class, I was beyond happy.

Of course, 10 minutes later, my body reminded me that it's still a work in progress as new sets of muscles awakened and started aching in other places I didn't know existed. I might be walking crooked and cursing a lot, but trust me, right now, I wouldn't trade the aches and pain for nothing.

Tomorrow is a day of running. I look forward to seeing what I can do.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Misery likes company

Today was the day of my long run. Once a week, I need to run a long distance to condition myself for the half-marathon. A long distance to me, is more than I've ran before: 10 km and up. It's a lot easier to run long distances when you have a running budy (you know, misery likes company), so Tyler and I decided to hire a sitter for two hours so we could go on our long run together. Up to now, I would have turned away from spending money on a sitter to go for a run, but this year, it seems like a very smart investment: Not only are we training, but we get to talk with no interruptions for two hours! It's a date with fitness benefit, so it's well worth the money spent on babysitting.

We started really slowly. The weather was perfect. It had stopped snowing and the temperature was really mild. There was a bit of a wind at the start but it wasn't nasty. We decided to take a route on the outskirts of North Gower, going by dirt roads and seeing lots of nice scenery. Because we were going slow, the run was definitely manageable and dare I say, enjoyable.

It seemed very easy for the longest part and even as we progressed the physical fatigue didn't really kick in until the very end. At that point, we also kicked up the pace which made keeping my breath a lot harder too. But I felt fantastic and it was great to have fun while running.

We ended up running for 1hr46mn for a total of 12.280 kilometers. I was really disappointed as I felt I had run farther than that, more like 14 km. Somehow, at first, 12.28 km didn't seem like a big sucess. I think my expectations were that if I was going to run farther than I ever had, it was going to be by a long shot, not by 1 km.

Thankfully, I found some good perspective once I started thinking about the number some more. Two weeks ago, I did not exercise at all and made other things my priority. In 10 days, I've managed to run 5 times and accomplished a 12 km run. I had never run that long before and to have come so far in 10 days is huge. I think I worry about how long I will have to run to complete the marathon, but I will take it one day at a time. If on the half-marathon day my run can be as much fun as it was today, with just 9 more kilometres to go from today's distance, then I'll be feeling incredible.

Friday, February 19, 2010

On Nutrition (following a meal I'm not so proud of)

Thinking of food as fuel for my body has never really been my focus. I love food and eat a lot. Too much actually and I often indulge in my cravings. As I learn ways to manage my anxiety, I am more aware of the connection between food and my state of mind. I know that if I'm stressed or tired, I'll be craving unhealthy foods because they make me feel better instantly. But the more comfort food I eat, the more cravings I have. It's a vicious cycle which is very hard to break.

As I start on my running journey, I now have to take a look at food as my body's fuel. I know that making the right food choices will improve my endurance and performance, as well as my anxiety. Changing eating habits is going to be crucial and I am going to need to learn a lot more about which food in what quantities will give me the best nutrition to run the half-marathon. Jeff Galloway, a renowned running expert, advocates eating small meals every two hours to avoid hunger and maintain energy levels, rather than the traditional three meals per day. I like the idea and might give it a try.

I have actually noticed that I seem to be hungry all the time since I started running. My body seems to be giving me signs that it needs more regular refueling. I am craving carbs and tonight indulged in a veggie burger with fries and onion rings. Yikes...that's probably the nutritional equivalent of filling up a car with oil. Not the smartest decision.

So in the days ahead, in addition to my physical training and mental conditioning, I will need to put more energy into the nutritional choices I make. It will be interesting to see how my running improves. Not that I'll ever challenge Usain Bolt.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

That nasty little voice

A few months ago, I discovered a quote that has become one of my all time favourites. I've used it ad nauseum in my childbirth classes, and it has a special significance right now given that absolute magnitude of the challenge I've placed upon myself. Here's what it says: "It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually, you learn that competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit." This pearl of wisdom is courtesy of the late George Sheehan and probably the most accurate description of the importance of mental strategies to succeed at running (as a matter of fact, it can be applied to anything in life). I had to pull heavily on it this morning.

I woke up feeling very anxious that today was one of my running days. Even last night, I could feel myself getting anxious at the thought of my morning run. Instead of looking forward to it, I was feeling a sense of dread. I heard it would be snowing, I was thinking of the physical discomfort I feel when running and my mind spiralled into negative thoughts. This morning, I was tired and feeling down and the thought of having to go run was stressing me out. I think the pressure of making my commitment public is getting to me. Thankfully, I knew that this is a very normal pattern for me. When things get tough, I have a tendency to panic, stop dead in my tracks, turn around, dive under the covers and....quit. But I knew that today quitting was not an option. I have to stick to my training if I want to make it to the starting line.

So I put my clothes on, trying to shut down my thoughts, put the kids on the bus, and inspired by the prowess of another of our Olympic Athletes, I started my run. I was about 400 meters in the run, when I started huffing and puffing. My legs were very sore and I wondered how on earth I was going to keep running. Enter George Sheehan and his weapon of a quote. I decided to ignore the nasty little voice that wants me to quit. The voice that has had the upper hand many times in my life when challenges prove a little bit more difficult and uncomfortable to my sense of safety. Any time my thoughts entered the negative, self-sabotage zone, I thought of the quote and kept running. It was a difficult run, with snowy and slippery roads. I had to walk three times to catch my breath but eventually completed a 6.82 km run in about 45 mn.

I'd like to say that I feel fantastic and incredible. I don't. I'm scared that the current physical limitations of my body are going to prevent me from running 21.1 km. I'm scared that the nasty little voice will get the best of me and that I will quit even before race day.

The only strategy I have right now is to focus on one run at a time and not judge my performance. It is what it is. I did the best that I could do today.

The good news is that in just one week, I have ran 4 times for a total of a little over 27 km. That's more than I did two weeks ago and it's progress that I can't ignore.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

15 years and still a long road ahead

Today was a day of rest following a 5.8 km interval training at dusk yesterday. My goal was to try to push myself by running faster than my usual easy pace in order to gain endurance and strength. It was tough! It wasn't just the fast pace that made the run challenging, but also the fact that I had to contend with pants that kept rolling down my hips and needed to be readjusted every two minutes. It was very distracting and made focusing a little bit tough. Wardrobe malfunction + feeling rushed to have a good run before darkness hit the street = an interesting run. But I did it. I found myself using a lot of positive self-talk and tried to stay in the moment, thinking of the next stride rather than focusing on the physical challenges of the run. I suspect I will get better at it overtime.

My body was feeling sore last night and this morning, and during my stretching session following the run, I wondered if doing yoga on my rest days might not only improve flexibility and recovery but also increase my overall body strength and endurance. I debated joining a Hot Power yoga class tonight, but something much more important needed to be celebrated. Tonight is the anniversary of our first kiss, the beginning of Tyler and my life together. Tyler made sure the day didn't go unnoticed. This morning, the kids gave me some cards they had made topped with chocolate kisses, and tonight he came home with Starbucks in hand. That would have been enough to make my day, but he went above and beyond. 15 gifts for 15 years together. Chocolate, roses, cards, bookmark, wine, a poem he wrote and a stunning jewellery set with matching earrings and necklace highlighted with diamonds and amethysts. The love I feel for this man is beyond what any word could describe and to say that I am the luckiest woman in the world is the pure simple truth. All presents aside, the most important gift Tyler gives me everyday is his complete support, encouragements and love. His faith in me is unwavering and when I doubt myself he is there, always to give me strength. We have accomplished so much together already and I am very excited that one of our next adventures will be running the half-marathon together. I cannot wait to cross the finish line together, hand in hand.
I wouldn't want to share this with anyone else and I look forward to many more years of strides taken together on our journey through life.
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The hardest part is to take the first steps....

When I mentioned to a friend of mine recently that I had just signed up to run the Ottawa Race Week-end half-marathon on May 30th, she looked at me and simply said: "Are you crazy?" The obvious answer was yes. I am crazy. Absolutely nuts. In more ways than one. But not when it comes to my decision to run the race. I must also assure you that when I filled in the registration form and paid my $55 to enter the race, I was sober and not under the influence of any other doubtful substances.

I'm sure I could come up with a couple of good reasons for doing it: That running makes me feel good, keeps me healthy, toned and beautiful. There are also the shallow ones: the free t-shirt, the medal, the supporters on the sideline that cheer enthusiastically as you pass by, sweaty and panting and give you the extra boost of energy you needed to push on and keep going. I also can't wait to buy myself a cute running skirt to wear on race day. Any reason to shop and buy new outfits is a great reason to sign up for a half-marathon...isn't it? Now that would be a crazy reason to sign up.

The truth is, while some of the above reasons are definitely a great benefit to signing up, there is only one reason that matters to me. I signed up because I wanted to prove to myself that I could follow through with a commitment that scares the shit out of me. Simple as that, and yet very complicated.

The half-marathon is my Everest. There is something holy in an event which not only requires physical endurance but also a lot of mental and emotional strength. I need both of these very much right now. And for me, the grueling part is going to be the weeks of training that precede the event. It will require time, discipline, effort and most of all a shift in thinking patterns: excuses are no longer acceptable, fear can no longer take over and prevent me from achievement. I have now committed and must ignore the excuses I've been coming up with for years to put exercise and health last on my to-do list ("it's too cold, too hot, the kids need me, I have to work, I'm too tired, blah, blah, blah"). My thoughts have been my sabotage mechanism but this is no longer acceptable. I needed a huge challenge to change my life and there it is. I cannot go back now.

As I struggle to live with anxiety, I cannot stay the status quo. As my mom battles breast cancer again, I cannot sit on the couch and ignore my health, lest I be willing to have a date with cancer too. 

I know that when I make it to the starting line of the half-marathon, I will be almost there. I know that when I cross the finish line, I will have climbed my Everest and this achievement will propel me to greater things. It all begins with the first few steps. During the training and along the way on race day, there will be many of my friends cheering me on. Friends who believe in me, even when I've bailed before on my commitment. And I'm lucky that I will be running the half-marathon with the person who believes in me the most: my husband Tyler.

Here's to first steps.