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!