An Emotional August

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Do you ever feel so overwhelmed that you become speechless? Does your heart ever swell so much that the only way to express it is through tears? Do you ever sit back and wonder how you got to be so lucky?

Those thoughts and feelings have been coursing through my blood for the last while. August was an extremely emotional month for me – so much so that I needed to give myself some time and space to find the right words. But, the right words will never come so these will have to do.

Like I said, August was an emotional month. I couldn’t have packed more into it:

There were only 5 weekends in August and 3 were full. Somewhere in there, I had to fit in training for my next ultra (Cle Elum 50k), lead the lululemon Robson Street Run Club, see friends and family, and relax.

In and amongst all of that, two very unplanned things happened.

On the Wednesday before SeaWheeze, it was a day like any other. Work during the day and then Run Club. Run Club gives me so much. I had a vision at the beginning of the year for Run Club and it was to build a run club that was a strong tight-knit supportive family, and it was very much becoming a reality. These amazing people inspire one another, support one another, motivate one another, and they make Wednesdays the highlight of my week. The fact that they are continually present for one another and for me is a pretty special thing. On that day, we were planning a route that goes down Bute to the seawall and then running along the seawall. Andrea, an educator from the store, asked if we could do our weekly icebreaker at the park a few blocks away and I agreed. The weather was gorgeous and it’s a nice short walk. So, that day, like any other, we left the store and walked up Bute towards Nelson Park. Two blocks in, a group jumped out cheering and with signs – it startled me! My first thought was, “Who are we surprising?” and then, “Why don’t I know about it?”

Lo and behold, that person was me. Earlier in the year, I set out to start an initiative called #GoalForward. It was an initiative to bring together the things I was passionate about – community, running, goals, and philanthropy. People would apply for #GoalForward, a program where they would get rewarded in charitable dollars for attaining a SMART goal. I would offer to coach and guide them along if they wanted. If not, it was just a matter of connecting with them and if they crushed their SMART goal, then I would send them $100 in charitable dollars. The money from which I was drawing was part of another campaign – One Year, One Percent. This campaign challenged you to put aside 1% of your annual earnings towards charity. I took this campaign and topped it up to an even $1,000 to be given out to 10 people.

lululemon Robson Street was surprising me that day with the gift of paying it forward. They were supporting my #GoalForward initiative by gifting me $500 for the program. So, now, I am able to pay it forward and reward 15 people instead of 10. I was humbled, floored, and overwhelmed with gratitude.

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The second occurrence was around SeaWheeze. I was a Pace Beaver last year and it was so much fun. This year, I was asked to be a Pace Beaver again and I was definitely excited. I was going to be pacing 2:10 and was so happy about it because that was the goal time of some of the people in my run club. Not only do I get to watch them train up to the half marathon distance, I now get to bring them across the finish line.

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Kat, Alex and Winnie from Run Club were toeing the line with me and my fellow 2:10 beavers, Susan and Marisa. The gun went off and we set out to find our pace. Susan, one of the other 2:10 beavers, and I were keeping each other in check to make sure we weren’t going too fast or too slow. Our strategy was to give ourselves a couple of minutes cushion and to finish just under 2:10 so that anyone who finished with us would not only reach their goal of 2:10, but they would in actual fact crush their goal. Not too long after we started, I realized Kat was the only one with us so I kept my eye on her, encouraging her, reminding her to fuel, pointing things out on the course and throwing in a few comments and jokes along the way. We were also running with another girl who ran SeaWheeze last year and she said that I got her across the finish line in her goal time – awesome.

We entered Stanley Park and I knew things were starting to get tough for our group. But I knew we could do it. For Kat, I knew she had it in her to do it. After all the physical rigours of training, it all comes down to a mental battle. When your body starts to get tired and sore, self doubt starts to seep its ugliness into your brain. Distraction is the best remedy. So we kept the chatter going – or maybe it was self-chatter for me. We got to Lumberman’s Arch and saw Maya, another Run Clubber, cheering and it definitely lifted spirits. There’s a big hill at Lumberman’s Arch and Susan and I were shouting encouragements to power up the hill. When we got to the top, we realized we had almost lost our group so big brakes came out until they caught up. Oops, a bit too excited. I still hadn’t seen Kat and I knew that it would be bad news if I continued without her so I didn’t. We were well under our goal time so I basically hung back until I saw her. Then I continued forward in baby steps until she caught me. My Run Club knows that I’m a bit of a mother hen – I call them my babies, in fact. So, to leave one of my babies to fend for herself – not going to happen. All the while, I knew I had a responsibility of being a Pace Beaver. But I had time. I had minutes to spare. So I was safe. Kat and I resumed our positions – me slightly ahead and her just slightly behind. I kept telling her that she was going to get her goal (and she was!), that we was doing SO great (and she was!), and that we would do it together (and we were!). I told her not to rush it. We were going to do it in HER pace, not mine. When, and ONLY when she saw the finish line, and if she had it in her, she could pick it up, but we were going to cross that line together.

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And damnit, we did. And it was fan-freakin-tastic. I can’t even express the emotions I was feeling – words don’t do it justice. I was so proud of her. That day changed both of us and we will forever be bonded by that experience.

And, if you check the results, she actually finished 2 seconds ahead of me. 🙂

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For the love of…

Speed.

I went through a natural progression from being a beginner road runner to a not-so-beginner road runner. I started with a 10km, did another 10km, thought it was too hard, so went to a 5km and worked my way up. I was never a fast runner, and the thing I loved about running was that it was an accomplishment that was measurable and was completely my own. How well I did or how poorly I did was 100% completely dependent on me. Some may like that and some may not. Sure, we can argue on the advantage your fellow runners in a race give you, as well as the lift you get from cheering spectators, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one powering my legs to push forward.

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My motivation for many, many years was speed. I wanted to get better, run faster, be stronger. I’m not out to win races, as I’m a realist and that will never be me. I’m completely ok with that. But I knew I could do better than I was – it just took time, effort, and determination.

Then came injury. Recover, rebuild, and try again. And then another injury. This time recovery wasn’t so easy so I was introduced to the world of trail running, but not JUST trail running – it was ultramarathon trail running. All of a sudden, I was running longer and farther, and staying injury-free. And the pressure was off. There was no pressure of speed, pace, metrics, or race results. It was all about setting a goal, and crushing it. Get to the finish and high five.

Over a year ago, I was feeling torn between these two different spectrums of the running scale. As friends who run road continue to get faster, I feel my inner roadie pulling me towards them. Taunting me. I’ve spent the last couple of years just getting miles under my belt, and I’ve become very comfortable in one speed. And even that one speed can become difficult the longer you run, so it’s not come without its own set of challenges. But I want that speed back – at least for now I do. There has to be a happy balance I can find between high miles and speed. They say there is, whoever they are, but they are always the experts, right?

IMG_6889I lead the lululemon Robson Run Club, and last week, in light of the recent tragedy in Boston, I went back to my old roots to when I was training for Boston and led the group in a track workout. Although I didn’t actually participate (a sacrifice I’m happy to make when leading), it stirred up some old feelings in me. Track was always tough, but it was always good. Even when it was bad, it was good, because I knew it was helping. Plus, track, and the people with whom I trained, propelled me into the vast world of road racing and where I saw the most gains, physically and mentally. It was all good, so now it’s time to reintroduce that good back to my world.

So, here’s the plan. The track. It’s not that exciting or elaborate, but I’m going to try it out and see how my body reacts, as I’ve got a nagging hamstring. Once a week for the next couple of months. Wish me luck and let’s hope my legs remember how to turn over quickly!

The long lonely road

Four ultramarathons and close to 2000 miles of training – after all that, some assume that each one gets easier than the next and training somehow gets easier.  That’s a myth.  To get to the start (and eventually the finish), you still need to put in those miles.  And each training block leading up to a race is still a test. Athletes constantly test themselves and see if they can train more efficiently and perhaps improve on the areas that they feel are the weakest. And sometimes, the thing that needs improving most is your mind.

I’ll be the first to tell you that my mind has not always been in “the game”.  I’ve struggled to get through weeks of running – yes, I said weeks. Getting mentally prepared to walk out the door and go for that long run, especially in the winter when the weather is not necessarily ideal, is not an easy thing. And even during runs, for whatever reason you’re struggling, it can be the most challenging thing to convince yourself to push through it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. In that regard, we are no different.

After running many races, I feel the only thing I’ve mastered at this point is my mindset going into the race and getting myself to the finish line. With 4 ultramarathons completed, I’ve definitely not mastered the training. Or, rather, I’ve not mastered the mindset of training.

I still get excited about the prospect of ultramarathons, whether it be the challenge of conquering new distances or exploring new places. When I signed up for Way Too Cool 50k, although I wasn’t sure whether I was quite ready to want to train again, I was excited about the possibility of running a race that had a great reputation for being very well organized and had a beautiful and fast course – elements which made it very popular and attracted some darn, speedy people. All reasons why registration was a lottery.

I had a few other friends who were interested in running this race, but the main reason why I was motivated to run was because one friend wanted a training partner. This was paramount. For my last race – my first 50 miler – I had friends who would jump in and run with me for parts of my long runs, but there was no one person who I was sharing the whole experience with and someone who kept me accountable and motivated. So, to have that agreement going in was a game changer.

Sadly, a couple of months before the race, she had to cancel. She was devastated, and my heart sank. My training suffered; without needing to go back to my training log, I know it was evident, with some training runs cut short or even missed. More importantly, my head was no longer in the game.

The only thing that kept my spirits high was the trip as a whole. Way Too Cool is located in northern California and we (Hozumi, who was racing, and Greg, who was supporting/spectating)  had planned to spend an extra couple of days in San Francisco. Now, some may say that SAD (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder) is a farce, but it’s not. Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, we are all affected by the weather. Look at how the mood of Vancouver changes when the weather changes – from Raincouver to Suncouver. You’ll all of a sudden see people smiling with heads held high even when the temperature is nipping at our noses and fingertips, which is a far cry from the glazed reflection of defeat in our averting eyes when the clouds roll through and rain envelops the city.

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The Way Too Cool 50k was located about 2 hours north of San Francisco in a great little town called Cool, CA. With a high of 16-18 degrees Celcius, I couldn’t complain. I was happier, more energetic, and slept better.

The morning of the race, the sun was shining and, as with most events, everyone was in good spirits.

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Even finding tears in both of my shoes en route didn’t dampen my mood.  We arrived at the race about 45 minutes early, unbeknownst to us that the line up to park would have us rushing to the start line with only 15 minutes to race start. To add insult to injury, I needed to to park myself at the back of a long bathroom lineup. Stress levels were not good. With 5 minutes to go, Hozumi came by and wished me luck as he took his position at the start. I, however, was still patiently but not so patiently waiting in the line to the loo. Finally! In and out as quick as I could, I rushed out of the port-a-potty and ran to the start with less than 30 seconds to start. In fact, they were mere seconds from doing the 10-second countdown. At this point, I was positioned right near the back. Now, I’m not expecting to win the race – far from it – but I knew I wasn’t in the right spot. And then the gun goes off! So, what do I do? Run a little hard to fight for a spot further up along the chain.  The course was quite runnable, especially in the first 8 miles.  It was a large expansive meadow with single track trails and a few creek crossings.  Some took the extra minute to cross the creeks, while others splashed through them to get a bit ahead.

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(c) 2013 Meeth Photography

With seemingly less training in my legs, I projected a time close to 6 hours – hopefully under.  My pace for the first 8 miles, which loops back to the Start/Finish area had me finishing just over 5 hours.  Big mistake.  And boy, did I feel it.  After the initial 8 miles, there was a good downhill section, which most people know I love.  So, throwing caution to the wind, I barreled down earning myself a handful more spots.  Note the photo of me sideways on the trail – this would be due to a lack of control running downhill.  SO FUN.

My legs were starting to fatigue and the hamstring which had been giving me problems for almost 2 years started acting up and I hadn’t hit halfway yet.  By the time I was halfway in, I checked my watch and I was at 2:29 – uh oh.  And this was when the wheels starting falling off.  This was also when most of the downhill was over and it was time to start climbing back up to the Finish, including a ridiculous hill called Goat Hill, meaning it’s a hill that’s meant for 4 legged animals naturally inclined for climbing ridiculous hills.  FYI, I am NOT a goat nor am I feeling like a goat at just over a marathon distance in.

Up until this point, there was really no chatter on the trails, which added another element of difficulty to this race.  There is a lot of self talk that happens on runs, but the tone of that self talk declines rapidly the longer the run.  The best cure for that is to distract yourself by some great chatter with others who are also suffering.   Sadly, I didn’t get to enjoy this aspect and was stuck in my head, until I heard a voice that broke through it all at about 28 miles in.  My first reaction was one of relief and rejuvenation because I was feeling very much beyond my abilities.  But then the voice got clearer and clearer.  And it wasn’t good.  Unfortunately, this woman who was also in the race who was just behind me was told by someone on the course that the next aid station was 300 yards away.  When I first heard it and looked down at my watch, I knew it was off.  And by quite a bit.  I quickly told her that I think it was more like a mile .. at least.  This didn’t go over well.  We passed another person on the course, either a volunteer or spectator, and she confirmed this.  I all of a sudden heard a broken record of negativity behind me of how she had been wronged.  Don’t get me wrong – it was wrong and I can empathize with how she was feeling, but I also couldn’t be around it.  I had to get away or she’d weigh me down mentally.

I knew the next aid station would be coming up soon, and from there, the finish was very close.  When I first looked at the course map, I questioned having an aid station less than 2 miles from the finish.  At this point, it was a Godsend.  I got to the aid station first, saw her come in and heard her start her rant.  She started the final 1.4 mile uphill trek to the finish just a bit before me, but I passed her within the first 5 minutes.  There really was no running to be had on this section, as it was very rocky ascent so it was more hiking and scrambling.

All smiles to the finish line!
All smiles to the finish line!

A very enthusiastic volunteer just a bit ahead was announcing that we were a mile to go and I was ecstatic.  Energy is contagious and this volunteer was giving it away like it was nobody’s business.  Thank you – I’ll take what you got!  But then, the woman behind me started her rant and I had to get away as quick as I could.  And at this point, there was really no speed until I got to the top of the rocky ascent and was back on a single track packed dirt slightly uphill trail that led to the finish line.  Now, THAT was a glorious sight.  I had left every single ounce of my being out there and my hamstrings felt as though they were going to snap.

I hate to end to race report with a negative tone and everyone has good and bad days, and clearly, this woman was having a bad day.  So, I’ll end off thanking her for giving me that extra little push to get me to the finish line with all smiles.

IMG_2168Hozumi, of course, did amazing.  He finished 13th overall with a time of 3:56, which only shows how strong of a field he was up against.   After I managed to hobble my way around the finish area, we got to have a quick sit on some hay bales before heading back to the hotel for a quick turnaround to our trip to San Francisco!

The shoes, in case you were wondering, never came back from California.  🙂

On days like this…

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On days like this…

when you realize you forgot your lunch at home
when the weatherman lied and said it was going to be 9 degrees and you only brought shorts for your run
when the rain and wind are coming at you so hard, it feels like it’s hailing golf balls.
when your ears are so waterlogged, you’ve temporarily lost hearing
when so much rain gets in your eyes, they sting
when everything is so numb, you feel like you’re not wearing any pants
when your hands are locked in a claw position
when you realize it really is hailing
when you get that moment and then…

you decide to run 10miles instead of 6miles
you forget where you are
you think of this as fun
you find it so peaceful
you realize you’re smiling
you wish you could go on forever

…you find that moment of bliss.

Just remember: No one got stronger because they wimped out on a run.

Dear Jon.. Running Your First Half Marathon ‘Above the Line’

Dear Jon,

A couple of days ago, you asked me for tips on how to reach your goal of running your first half marathon in August. I’ve thought about it a bit more and thought these tips might help you.

First and foremost, keep your goal ‘above the line’. I know you’re familiar with the phrases ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ but let’s elaborate for the outside world – at least, my interpretation of them.

In Goal Setting, we want to ensure that all of our goals are coming from a place that keeps you motivated, inspired, and ultimately excited. Setting goals from ‘below the line’ is, as you can guess, the opposite of this. It comes from a place that is filled with expectations and “should’s”.

It’s just hitting me that I have the perfect example of this.

  • My first marathon (read race report here) came from a place where I thought I should do it. Running a marathon was never on my life list but given the amount of running I was doing and had done, and from what others were telling me, it seemed like the right thing to do. Fast forward, I finished the marathon and I was near tears .. but sad tears.
  • My second marathon (read race report here) started off from a place where I thought I should do it, again. But as I progressed and learned more, I was excited. When I stepped over the finish line, I was again near tears .. but tears of joy.

First marathon = ‘below the line’. Second marathon = ‘above the line’.
First marathon = ‘should’. Second marathon = ‘will’.

So back to running YOUR first half marathon. I’ve narrowed it down to a few steps, because I am a HUGE believer of breaking things down into smaller steps to keep things manageable:

1.  Declare Your Goal! I know goals are structured in the “I will (blank) by (blank).” I’m asking you to take it one step further and describe it – give the why’s and how’s and read it back to yourself. Make sure it’s coming from a place that’s ‘above the line’ so it makes you happy and excited. Keep this with you all the time. If your goal isn’t going to make you happy, excited, inspired, and motivated, then what’s going to get you there?

2. Set Your Milestones!  These are benchmarks that lead you to your goal. These could be things like:

I will join a run group by [16 weeks before your goal race]. Your race is in August, so it would be “I will join a run group by April.”
I will run once a week in January.
I will run twice a week in February.
I will run three times a week in March.

3. Build Your Tasks!  For each milestone, there are a number of tasks that need to be done. For example:

Milestone: Join a Run Group by April
Tasks:

– Find the running stores close to work and home that offer clinics.
– Visit each of the running stores to find out which one suits you best.
– Ask your friends, family, or coworkers to join you.
– etc.

4. Tips! This isn’t necessarily a step but some tips to make sure you don’t stray from your goal.

– Share your goal, milestones, and tasks with a friend, spouse, or coworker (or all three!) and ask them to keep you accountable. Ask them to check in on you. Or join you.
– Schedule your workouts! Put them in your calendar and don’t “snooze” or “dismiss” them unless you’ve done them.
– Read your goal to yourself when you’re feeling unmotivated. You’re in the midst of Winter and it’s not the most inspiring time to get outside so read your goal to yourself and get jazzed up again! Do this often.
Bottom Line: Have Fun. If you’re not having fun, why bother? When you’re out on a run, try to be aware of your surroundings and how you’re feeling. At those moments when you are loving it, remember it. Are you listening to music? Are you in trails? Are you on the seawall? Once you know what those positive triggers are, use them. When you think running’s not fun, pull your positive triggers out and activate them!

I’m going to share a couple of fun facts:

Fun Fact #1 – Yesterday, during the photo shoot, we were asked to smile a bit while we were running. One person said that they don’t really smile when they run. But I do. And, coincidentally, the location where we were shooting is often the place where I AM smiling because it can sometimes take me by surprise how beautiful Vancouver is and how lucky I am. So I smile. Because it rocks.

Fun Fact #2 – I learned to enjoy my really long runs solo through my iPod. I used to never run with music but you can’t always convince your friends to run 3 hours with you in the rain at 3pm in the afternoon. So I used it as an opportunity to tour through Vancouver. To music. I called it my “soundtrack to the city”.

Fun Fact #3 – Those happy triggers that I talked about.. I’m not a great hill runner so when I’m getting back into training and am finding it difficult to walk out the door, I go to my default. I run the seawall. Both the Stanley Park and False Creek seawall. iPod set with fab tunes and hitting some of my favourite spots. Epic. And I fall in love with running all over again.

Ok, those are all my secrets – but not so secret.  Happy training and smile when you cross that finish line.

linda.