Thursday, January 19, 2017

Because it's there...

I've just done something that may turn out to be very, very foolish. I volunteered to run Leg 9 of the Cabot Trail Relay at the end of May. Here's how the organizers describe it:
17.84 km Rating 5 (start time: 1955hrs) Time to put on the reflective vest! This leg makes Smokey look like a piece of cake. North Mountain in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park climbs 385 km & reaches the top at 6.2 km then falls back to sea level. The route then levels off to finish at Mountain View Motel & Restaurant on the right at Pleasant Bay. Night will have fallen completely. The restaurant will be open and there will be two portables in the parking lot.
The road in the photo at the top of the post is a portion of the route. You can check out the elevation chart here.

I watched my friend David and 69 other runners complete Leg 9 in 2013 in total awe. How, I wondered, could anyone run up such a steep grade for 6.2 kms? Even more impressive were the downhill portions of the leg - more than 6 kms in length and just as steep. I was so damned proud of David. He did fantastically well and returned the next year to tackle the even tougher Leg 10 to the top of MacKenzie Mountain.

I've already run CTR four times - completing legs 1, 5, 12, and 14 - and my plan is do it just once more in honour of my 55th birthday in March. Given that it's likely to be my last CTR, I figured I might as well make it a good one, and running one of the mountain legs been on my bucket list since my first time out. I can't say why really. To quote George Mallory, "because it's there", I suppose.

That said, I confess to a moment of panic when the email arrived saying I'd been slotted in to run North Mountain. I've not done much hill training the past couple of years, and I'm a long way from being in top condition so it's not going to be easy. However, this isn't the first time I've taken on a big challenge. In the fall of 2013, I completed Cape to Cabot, the "toughest race in eastern North America". Comparing elevation charts for the two races, C2C actually has more ascents overall. And I ran C2C just five weeks after completing a full marathon, which made it more challenging.

Of course, the reality is that the hills on the C2C route are more spread out and I was three and a half years younger. Also, I ran it more slowly than I plan to run North Mountain. On the upside I've got nineteen weeks to train and three more years of racing experience. In addition, I'm determined not to let my teammates down.

I spent some time this week sketching out a training schedule. The goal is to run 4 times per week and include hills in nearly every run. For instance, two nights this week I changed my usual route so I could run up and down a long steep hill I normally avoid. I'll also do plenty of structured hill training as well as regular core workouts and yoga to keep everything in balance. I found some new strengthening exercises I'd like to build into my program as well.

For the rest of this month, my plan is to focus on solidifying my base and enhancing my diet to include more leafy greens and proteins. In early February, hill and speed training can begin in earnest. If the weather isn't cooperative, I'll hit the gym instead. Stay tuned for regular updates once I get underway.

In other news, Husband and I just spent an awesome weekend with two of our darling nieces. The girls live in the country and only get to the city now and again, so we had great fun showing them around and introducing them to the joys of public transit, the Museum of Natural History, the trampoline park (Get Air), the Emera Oval, and beavertails. They seemed to enjoy their time with us, but truthfully we enjoyed it more. They're at such fun and interesting ages, and were so appreciative of all that we did together. 

I offered to put her hair in a ponytail but she preferred to let it go wild
Showing off her gymnastics moves on the trampoline
With Husband on the ferry
First ride on a city bus
Littlest who skating on her own!

The weather here hasn't been too cold and miserable so far this winter. We've had a few brutal days here and there, but there have been lots of mild mornings like this too.

Hope winter's going well, wherever you are. Happy running and writing!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Happy New Year!

Here we are then - a few days into 2017, hoping against hope that this year will be better than last - though, given there's a dumb, climate change-denying, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic narcissist is about to be sworn in as President of the US, it's hard to imagine how it can be. :-(

Determined to think about things other than the sad state of the world, I've spent the better part of the past week contemplating my running goals for 2017. I'm certain I want to participate in the Cabot Trail Relay one last time if my team makes the cut again. We should hear soon. And I think I'd like to run another marathon - my 10th - to mark my 55th birthday - though I confess the idea doesn't hold the appeal it once did. Still, I stopped at the library this week and picked up a couple of books on marathon training, which I hope will inspire me to train more seriously this time around. If I'm going to run another 26.2, I want it to be faster than my last one.

On the nutrition front, Husband and I are kicking off the new year by abstaining from alcohol for the month of January. We did the same in 2015 and found it tough, but it feels easier this time around. I suppose both my body and my mind were ready for the break after a wine-filled holiday season.

Husband suggested (and I agree) that one thing I need to focus on this year is sorting out my work situation. I haven't been terribly happy in my job for awhile so it would be good to change things up somehow. Truthfully, what I'd like to do is retire - from full time work at least - but I'm far too young and another few years of working full time could make a significant difference to our long term financial security.

On a happier topic, Husband and I are still mulling over what we'd like to do to celebrate our 30th "first date" anniversary in February and his 65th birthday. We're thinking about another trip to Europe but haven't settled on where. France and Ireland are possibilities. So too are Spain, Portugal and Greece. And, if we decide to cross the pond, we hope to spend at least a few days visiting friends in the Netherlands.

I haven't selected my word for the year yet either. I've been trying to come up with something positive but - truthfully - the word that feels right is "fierce" - as in strong, powerful, determined, and passionate. I suspect I'm going to have to be fierce to deal with the personal and professional challenges that lie ahead.  

As for my New Year's intentions (not resolutions, for the reasons I explained last year), I'm continuing to work on the ones I first articulated in 2015: read more, eat better, run more, train smarter, banish clutter, and put first things first. To help me stay focused, I've begun keeping a simple bullet journal and am logging my runs again.

Bullet journals are something I learned about only recently and I love the concept - though the beauty and complexity of some I've seen online makes the idea intimidating. Mine is a simple version since I haven't time for anything else and, so far, I'm finding it helpful.

Logging my runs is something I haven't done for awhile. For the first decade of my running career, I kept detailed records of training plans, workouts and race results but I gave up being data-obsessed a few years back and have recorded little since. In the past couple of years, the only time I've kept track of anything is in the 14 to 16 weeks leading up to a race, when typically I rough out a training plan then amend it as and when travel, work, injury or other factors intervene to keep me from sticking to it. At other times, I maintain a straightforward 3-4 day/week maintenance regime. Though I still wear my Garmin Forerunner 305 on most runs, I rarely transfer the data it gathers to my computer. Adopting a scaled back approach has worked okay because I haven't attempted to achieve any ambitious time goals. However, given that I'd like my last marathon to be a reasonably quick one (for me), I'm determined to do a better job of tracking my progress in 2017.

My other major intention for this year is to spend more time with my camera, paints, and quilting tools. However, since we listed our country house for sale today, it's possible life will intervene to prevent me from creating as much as I'd like. The real estate market's been slow in this part of the world so we don't expect to sell the house quickly, but who knows?

In any case, since 2017 is still so shiny and new and full of possibility, I'm determined not to waste time worrying about "what ifs". Provided I work hard and stay focused and positive, I'm bound to make some progress.

To close out this post, here are a few pics from my 10k run this morning. (There's another at the top of this post.) It was a perfect day for running - with light winds, comfortably cool temperatures, and a fresh blanket of snow that made everything look more beautiful. Wherever we end up living next, I hope it's close enough to visit these trails now and again.

Happy New Year of running and writing!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Now what?

There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s been a hellish couple of weeks. To be honest, with the awful environmental news lately (global warming appears to be accelerating, Greenland is melting), I was struggling to hang on to hope and optimism before the US election. Trump’s victory was the last straw. I’ve spent the 10 days since trying to get my head around what it means and how I might want to respond.

There’s no shortage of pundits telling us how the US got to this place and, to some degree, they’re all right. My own view is that Trump and his cronies won by exploiting people’s (understandable) anger with an oppressive economic, political and social system, then fanning flames of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia and misleading the electorate regarding the causes of and cures for their suffering. It didn’t hurt that a large number of holier-than-thou Democrats was prepared to condemn the world to a Trump presidency because they didn’t like the way Sanders was treated by the DNC. (Cynically, I suspect the majority of them were white men of a certain age and class who knew they'd never pay a price for that decision.)

Whatever. The US is where it is and it’s not pretty. Some argue we shouldn’t care what the US does – particularly, if it makes them less likely to interfere in the affairs of other nations – but I don’t buy it. So far as I can tell, Trump is just another in a string of right-wing and nationalist leaders taking the helm around the world – and it terrifies me to think how much more difficult it will be to coordinate positive international action - particularly around environmental protection and human rights. Seeing the hate that's been unleashed in the US and elsewhere has me especially worried.

So, now what? I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if the answer is to become a survivalist. I’ve a dark enough view of human nature to think it might be the only solution that has any chance of even limited success. But when the environmental shit hits the fan, having a two year stock of food and water isn’t going to do anyone much good.

Fortunately, I've plenty of reasons to stay engaged and try to contribute to positive change in the world - not least, these two cuties, my sister's daughters.

Husband and I got to spend a little time with them last weekend, which helped raise my spirits enormously because they reminded me we human beings aren't born nasty, selfish pieces of you-know-what. On the contrary, we enter the world loving, trusting, and accepting of others. We owe it to our young people to make some effort to clean up the godawful mess we've made.

The challenge is to figure out what to do. Personally, I believe there's a time and place for righteous anger but we also need to act positively to protect the progress that's been made. It occurred to me last weekend that part of the difficulty is structural. Humans have an intense instinct to preserve our own skins that makes it relatively easy for men like Trump to manipulate our fear and anxieties to the point our reptilian brains take over and we don't think clearly anymore. What's worse our fear is often generalized. We may not be afraid of individual Muslim/gay/black/communist/Evangelical Christian neighbours, but can still be fearful of Muslims/gays/blacks/communists/Christians in general.

By contrast, our love and compassion tend to be more focused on individuals and small groups to which we're closely connected. Rationally, we may know we should care about people on the other side of the planet, but we're often not as emotionally engaged with them as with members of our own families and communities.

So what the answer? It seems to me there are a few things we can and should do.

First, we can get out and connect with people who are unfamiliar to us - people of different faiths, cultures, political views and socio-economic groups - with the goal of finding some common ground upon which to build compassion, empathy and trust amongst individuals and communities. 

Second, we can commit ourselves to being more generous and walking more lightly on the planet. The truth is none of us is "entitled" to the lives we have. The manner in which each of experiences the world has far  more to do with where, when and how we were born than our individual efforts. As George Monboit has observed, If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”

Third, we can recognize that our individual actions matter. A child who sees us bullying learns to bully. When we consume more than we need, we waste opportunities to model responsible behaviour, support local producers and protect the environment. When we fail to confront misogyny, racism and others forms of injustice in our daily lives, we condone and encourage them. When we spend all our free time indulging ourselves, we have no time left to build better relationships and communities. Even if we can't change the whole world, we can make some piece of it a little better. 

Fourth, we can be courageous in words and in deeds, however uncomfortable or fearful we are. Evil won't be stopped by silence or inaction. I came across this video the other day that talks about how to disrupt racism when we witness it. It seems to me the same strategies could be useful in disrupting misogyny, homophobia and other forms of hate. I must say I've been pleased to see so many Canadian politicians (including Conservative MPs in the House of Commons) speaking out strongly against the racism that's erupted north of the border since the US election. 

Finally, we can work on staying optimistic, which is hard - really hard - at the moment. But we have to try because we'll never succeed in creating a better world if we don't first believe it's possible. Personally, I find it helpful to remember how much what we do now matters to future generations and to read stories of people who have demonstrated courage, strength, determination and resilience in overcoming great challenges. Seeking advice from elders can be helpful too. Often, they remind us - as Dr. Martin Luther King once did - that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We just need to keep believing and working for positive change - however grim the situation seems at the moment. 

Of course, running helps too - as it nearly always does. On that note, you might want to read this blog from one of my favourite bloggers.

Take care, friends. And remember to hang on to love, hope, empathy, compassion and optimism wherever you find them. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Race Report: Legs for Literacy Half Marathon, Moncton

Soooooo...thing's didn't go exactly as planned. My last few weeks of training were fine. I completed nearly all my scheduled workouts, got as much rest as I could given various work and family commitments, and ate well. Traveling to the race Saturday morning, I was optimistic a new PB was within reach. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas.

I arrived in Moncton around noon on Saturday, after a tough drive through heavy winds and rain, picked up my race kit, and grabbed a quick lunch before checking into the official hotel - the Delta Beausejour. My room was super quiet and comfy with a nice view of the river, which I appreciated.

I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, swimming and eating well. There may have been stops at a couple of pubs (including the Tide and Boar, pictured below, where I had lunch) but mostly I spent the time reconnoitering in preparation for our next visit to Moncton.  ;-)

A little before supper, I headed back to the hotel intending to tackle some work but soon got distracted by the stunning double rainbow that appeared outside my window as the sun was setting. I hoped it was a good omen.

By 9:00, I was tucked into bed reading and turned the lights out soon after, then slept soundly until daybreak.  

Upon waking, I got up, made coffee, ate breakfast, pinned my bib on the shirt I planned to wear, and stretched gently to work out the kinks. Things seemed to be going according to plan as I made my way down seven flights of stairs headed for the start line, located in a courtyard just outside the hotel. 

When I arrived in the lobby, I realized that, despite checking the weather forecast, I'd badly miscalculated. I was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt while everyone around me was dressed in tights, long-sleeved shirts, jackets and hats. A few even wore gloves and toques! I made my way outside to see just how cold it was, then rushed back to the elevators. Fortunately, though they were completely jammed on the way down, they were empty going up so I didn't have long to wait. Back in my room, I changed into peddle pushers and a long-sleeved shirt, and re-pinned by bib before heading back down the stairs. As I reached the fourth floor, I realized I'd forgotten my garmin so turned and climbed three stories back to my room to retrieve it before finally making my way to the start line. Needless to say, I was nicely warmed up by the time I arrived. :-)

Since I was hoping to run beat my previous personal best time of 2:06, I lined up behind the 2:00 pace bunny to wait, chatting with a local runner, Camille, who was also hoping to break two hours though he'd been up late the night before celebrating his 40th anniversary with family and friends. It was cool and breezy but conditions seemed okay so I still felt confident. Unfortunately, as I was soon to discover, I'd just made my first significant mistake. 

When the horn sounded a few minutes later, I made another. As we got underway, I almost immediately realized the bunny was setting too fast a pace but assumed she was just putting some distance between our group and the one behind, and would soon slow down. I was wrong. In fact, she maintained the same hard pace for the next two kilometres and I (foolishly) stuck with her before finally coming to my senses and slowing to my goal pace.

At about the same time, I became aware of my earlier mistake. Being a "woman of a certain age", my body warms up quickly when I run so, despite the cool breezy weather, I suddenly felt completely overdressed. Stepping off the trail out of the way of other runners, I stopped long enough to shed my long-sleeved shirt and tie it around my waist. Fortunately, I was wearing a respectable sports bra so no one seemed too shocked by my wardrobe adjustment.

The next 9 or 10 kms went more or less according to plan. I stuck to my goal pace and felt reasonably good since the wind was mostly behind us and the course followed level, groomed gravel trails along the river. Things changed however when, after our second turn around, we were once again running into the wind, which had become noticeably stronger. My heart sank. With so much headwind, I knew a 2:00 half was out of reach.

Still, I persisted, knowing we'd soon cross a bridge and change direction again. With the wind  at my back, I thought I might still be able to make up enough time to finish in less than 2:06. As we approached the bridge, the sun broke through the clouds to reveal another rainbow, which I hoped was a good sign, and at 15k I was still on track for a PB - which is when the wind became even stronger, buffeting me from the side and back in a way that wasn't at all helpful. (I learned later that it was blowing at a steady 40k/hr, with gusts to 60k/hr, at that point.)

It was then my confidence and enthusiasm plummeted. I knew I'd be running more or less directly into the wind for at least the final two kms making a personal best time impossible. My heart sank. So much training and hard work and so little to show for it. It was all I could do to keep going. When I finally stumbled across the finish line, I posted a photo to let folks back home know I was okay, then made my way back to my room to stretch, shower and pack. Rationally, I knew I'd done okay in light of the conditions, but the time on the clock as I crossed the finish line - 2:12 (for a chip time of 2:11:41) - was deeply disappointing.

Fortunately, a few days later, I'm more satisfied with my performance. Was it ideal? Nope. Are there things I can improve for next time? You betcha. Who knows, if I dress properly and don't go out too fast, and the weather's a little more cooperative, perhaps a sub-2:00 half is actually do-able.

Now what? I'm not sure. It's been a busy week so I haven't had time to think much about it. The one thing I know for sure is that I'd like to be fit enough to run my fifth Cabot Trail Relay next May. The way my body's been feeling lately makes me wonder if I should get more serious about cross-training - perhaps swimming, weights, yoga, hiking, even dancing - to loosen things up so I feel more comfortable in my skin. Much will depend on what kind of a winter we have. Forecasters are saying it could be a nasty one, which will make it challenging to train for a spring race. In the short term, my plan is to go easy for a few weeks and recover fully before I make any decisions. If I opt to tackle another marathon, I've plenty of time to prepare.

In closing, kudos to the race organizers and volunteers who did a terrific job and raised $90,000 for literacy programs. The course was beautiful, the volunteers were friendly and helpful, the hotel was comfy and convenient, and everything worked like clockwork as far as I could tell. Nice bling too.

If you're looking for a friendly and relatively small race, I'd highly recommend Legs for Literacy and look forward to running it again one day.

What about you? Are you finished racing for the season? What are your plans for 2017? Are you happy with how things went in 2016?

Happy running and writing!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Running lessons: Life happens...

Woah. September was intense. Not bad. Just incredibly busy. I can't remember when I last felt so pulled in all directions. Fortunately, the road ahead looks less congested, but I'm overdue for some rest and looking forward to a relaxed Thanksgiving.

This period of frenetic activity has reminded me that life has a way of interfering with even the best laid and executed plans.

I've been training all year in hopes I'd run a marathon in a personal best time this fall. And I might have if life hadn't gotten in the way. But work travel, family celebrations, a funeral, and new job responsibilities meant I didn't getting the rest I needed to recover properly between workouts. As a result, training didn't make me stronger - just more and more tired. By mid-September, I was totally discouraged despite completing most of my planned workouts - including a couple of hot and hilly 26k runs.

At my lowest point, I had an appointment with my chiropractor, Eric Helson, who patiently listened to my tale of woe and reminded me that (a) marathoners always feel beat-up as race day approaches and (b) people of a certain age need more recovery to see any real progress. Rather than give up on my goal, he suggested I reduce the frequency and intensity of my runs for a couple of weeks, then see how I felt.

I took his advice and ran just a few times in the past two weeks in an effort to give my body time to catch up. One was the "glory leg" of the Rum Runners Relay last Saturday. After months of running in hot, humid weather, it felt wonderful to race in cool, crisp fall air. And despite being tired from a busy work week and a long day on the road, I completed my leg in a respectable time - making the mat with time to spare. I was relieved and happy - not least because my teammates all ran well and I was worried I'd let them down. (One of our teammates took the fun photo at the top of this post.)

Today, I tackled a long slow 18k in near perfect conditions. It was a grey and drizzly but temperatures were ideal and I felt strong for most of it. I faded in the last 3 or 4 kms but I suspect that may have been due to dehydration since I didn't take much water with me. Overall, the run went well enough that I feel ready to register for the Moncton half marathon in a few weeks.

That's right, I said half marathon. Despite feeling much better, and having nearly enough long runs under my belt, I've decided not to attempt another full this fall. It would have been nice to complete a 10th marathon before my 55th birthday in March but I've no interest in posting another slow finish time. When I next go the full  distance, I want to run a personal best, and that's not realistic right now.

What is realistic is a personal best half marathon. At RRR last weekend, I averaged 5:41/km over 11 kms, despite a hilly course and nasty blister, so I'm hoping I can manage something close to that in Moncton. If I succeed, I'll easily beat my best half marathon time of 2:06, clocked in New Glasgow more than a decade ago. Fingers crossed.

So that's the news from here. I'm still hoping to write posts about the rest of our vacation, my recent visit to the Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, and other bits and pieces soon, but life'll have to calm down some first.

In the meantime, here are a few photos. It's too bad life intervened to keep me from tackling a full marathon this fall but at least the past month's been fun and interesting.

Happy running and writing!